THE RELUCTANT MIDWIFE – BY ELLIN CURLEY

I just spent time with an old friend and she reminded me of a wonderful experience we shared 34 years ago.

My friend, Jane, lived in my apartment building in New York City, a few floors down. She had a two-year old and was pregnant with her second child, due in a month. Her husband was out of the country. So I volunteered to be her support system if she went into labor before he got home.

You can see where this is going. I got the call around 4:20 AM. Jane had been having contractions for hours and the doctor finally told her to go to the hospital. My then husband brought Jane’s toddler to our apartment to wait for her grandmother to arrive to take care of her. I was taking Jane to the hospital.

Penguin giving birth

We got down the elevator to the lobby and I ran down the very long corridor between the elevator and the front door. The plan was to get a taxi ASAP. I ran outside to find the streets totally deserted. There had just been a major blizzard and there wasn’t a single car on all of Park Avenue. That was very rare and very inopportune. I ran back inside to tell Jane but she hadn’t made it to the lobby. I found her half way down the long hallway in a chair. Her water had broken and she felt an overwhelming desire to ‘push’.

I got her to the lobby and immediately called for an ambulance. My main job was to keep Jane from pushing the baby out right there in the lobby. The ambulance seemed to take forever so I called again. I was told that it was on it’s way. But then the operator added “Don’t let the woman in labor go to the bathroom. And whatever you do, DON’T CUT THE UMBILICAL CORD!” Umbilical cord! WTF?!!!

I’d had a baby myself, but my son was born 8-½ weeks early – the day before my Lamaze class was scheduled to start!! So I knew nothing about breathing or the stages of contractions and even less about umbilical cords. I was panicked, to say the least.

The ambulance finally came. But we had to drive slowly because the medics were afraid that hitting a pothole could catapult the baby out like a cannon ball. Miraculously, we made it to the hospital and even to the maternity floor hallway.

The doctors and nurses on call started discussing whose patient Jane was and who would handle her case. Jane suddenly propped herself up on her elbows and announced “I’m sorry, but the baby’s coming!”

All of a sudden there was a flurry of activity around Jane and cries of “Oh my God! The head! The head is coming!” And out came Sarah!. In the hallway with me standing right there next to Jane! The staff ran off with the baby and wheeled Jane into the OR. Her doctor eventually arrived, but he’d had a hard time getting to the hospital at all.

So I got to see a baby born the way most father’s do. Standing next to the mother and watching the miracle happen. Usually women witness birth from a different angle – the other end of the birthing canal. This was an exhilarating experience!

Jane gave me a scallop shell silver pendant as a thank you. I still wear it all the time. It’s very special to me because it reminds me of the wonder of birth and the meaning of true friendship.

A SHADE OF DIFFERENCE – RICH PASCHALL

What are your colors? by Rich Paschall, Sunday Night Blog


Everyone has favorite colors. You can probably tell which ones by the walls of their homes.  The wall coverings were likely chosen not just by color, but also by shade of color. Big home improvement stores will mix and match colors for you so you have just the right shade. They stock color palates and have little colored papers you can take with you while you stare at the walls and envision how they will look. Some will even give you a little sample so you can stare at a brush stroke you put on the wall and dream of a whole room in that color.

Blue is a nice color to me, but I would never paint the walls a dark blue, only pastels. As a matter of fact, there would be no dark colors in my home decorating, if you can call it that. Purples and dark greens certainly are too harsh anyway, but maybe they would appear on your walls. That’s fine for you. Who am I to judge you by your color selection?skin-colors-cropped

I like Hunter Green in kitchen accessories, but not on the walls. Does that seem strange to you? For a number of years I found it the color of choice in Tupperware and kitchen utensils, but I would never paint with it. Never. Does that sound a little biased? If I found the sea green of your bathroom just a little too garish, would you hold it against me?

At a past place of employment, I had a manager who wanted to paint his office a nice shade of lavender. If it was good enough for his bedroom, soothing and relaxing, then perhaps it would be good for his office. After all, the company said he could have any color he wanted. Unfortunately, there were those who did not like lavender, especially on office walls. He was derided for his choice of color. Some snickered behind his back, while others openly pointed out the folly of associating with such colors, and at work no less! The color of choice around the building was rather bland. You know the one, an off white that looks about the same no matter how long it is on the wall. The shade of lavender was…well, rather gay according to some people.  What does that say about a new manager? He was judged, but he was certainly straight (or as certain as I can be). Anyway, it was a nice shade.

This prejudice against color is not limited to the walls at home or the office. It goes well beyond the choice of furniture and carpet. It is not just the accessories in your house or your life. It has to do with all your color choices. “Are my friends really judging me by the colors I choose?  If I chose white am I boring? If I choose black am I too Gothic? If I choose lavender am I too gay?” Perhaps this sounds a bit ridiculous.

Yet, people choose their friends this way. They make instant judgments of people they do not know by their shade of color. Some can look across a crowded street and when they spot a person of another color, they formulate an instant opinion. Perhaps an “olive shade” looks like a gangster, and you should avoid crossing the street. Then there are those who are a certain shade of white that is different from my shade. Many people will quickly decide they are crooks, or they are greedy or they are shiftless.

This is not just an issue between races, but also within a race. White people judge other white people and black people do the same. You do not think so? Ask around. Many have color palates for race that are far more discriminating than their choices of wall color.  Recently I was watching the FOX Sports 1 show MLB Whiparound and immediately noticed that baseball analyst Frank Thomas was a distinctly different shade than the other analyst, Dontrelle Willis.  I am not sure what Thomas said, but I instantly decided I liked his opinions better!  Crazy, no?

When the turbulent civil rights era of the 1960’s appeared to tear down color barriers, society was pleased with the progress. While some laws now prohibit color choices, the fact is that color choices are as pervasive as ever. These prejudices are perpetuated by social media and Fake News reports that are meant to push people to the left, right, middle and anywhere else that can separate one from another. “Progressive” radio, “Patriot” radio, “Conservative” radio, “Liberal” radio all highlight the difference between us and “them.” If you don’t think “them” frequently means another color, listen more closely. If you think that many of these talk and Fake News shows hated the last President of the United States because he is black, you may be on the right track.

The proliferation of these judgments by everyone from politicians and so-called newsmen to the average person on-line demonstrates that the color scheme of society today is more divided than ever. We may no longer be segregated by law, but we are now segregated by personal choice. Many can not find it in their hearts to celebrate the different shades of life. They only want certain colors to be approved for the walls they put up in their own existence. Perhaps this sounds just a bit ridiculous, because it is.

So we’re different colours
And we’re different creeds
And different people have different needs.
It’s obvious you hate me
Though I’ve done nothing wrong
I’ve never even met you so what could I have done?

For 10 Song About Racism That Don’t Suck, check out all the videos on flavorwire.com  You won’t see some of the hip-hop songs of today that deal with race, but you may recognize some of the rock songs of other eras.  The 10th song on the list is the harsh vision of the old South by Billie Holiday performing Strange Fruit.

FINALLY WHAT?

When I saw “final” as the word of the day, I got a chill. In the past two weeks, I have lost at least three friends with more on the way. Not to mention that my email is full of warnings of: “This is the final hour! Send $3 now!”

Courtesy of Evil Squirrel, here’s the song that rocks it.

I fondly hope this isn’t the final hour for all of us, but it has recently been the final hour for more than a few friends and loved ones.  I don’t know how many more are on the special waiting line. I’m hoping that Death is like the guy in Terry Pratchett’s books. Pragmatic, friendly and most of the time, there to give you a hand to find your right place.

It is a strange feeling watching your friends grow smaller. My mother told me a long time ago that “You know you are officially old when you start to lose your friends.” I thought it was the creepiest thing she ever said. Later, I read versions of the same concept in various books. Mostly memoirs by “famous people.” Which is when I thought “There is nothing to prevent that final loss. No money, power, or fame can change it in any way.” It’s not that I thought money, power, or fame would stop the progression of life toward its ending, but I hadn’t given it much thought. That’s probably why I wonder how come the very richest people in the world are so obsessed with getting more and more money. What are they going to do with it anyway?

Many of these super rich folks already have more money than they could ever spend in a lifetime. Two or three lifetimes. So why is accumulating endless more so urgent that they will rob the poorest? I do not understand it and I hope I never will.

After all these years, I still don’t know how I feel about this ongoing march to a final hour, whether the end of the world or the end of me, but it is the way the world rolls. From opening day to final curtain, the play goes on.

Are we looking at the final days of the earth? Final years of democracy? Final end to everything in which I believed? Or just the inevitable shearing off of living people whose time is done?

If this is final, what does that mean? The final what?

THE FINAL WHAT?

When I saw “final” as the word of the day, I got a chill. In the past two weeks, I have lost at least three friends with more on the way. Not to mention that my email is full of warnings of: “This is the final hour! Send $3 now!”

I fondly hope this isn’t the final hour for all of us, but it has recently been the final hour for more than a few friends and loved ones.  I don’t know how many more are on the special waiting line. I’m hoping that Death is like the guy in Terry Pratchett’s books. Pragmatic, friendly and most of the time, there to give you a hand to find your right place.

It is a strange feeling watching your group of friends grow smaller day by day. My mother told me a long time ago that “You know you are old when you start to lose your friends.”

I thought it was the creepiest thing she ever said. Later, I read a version of the same idea in various books. Mostly memoirs by “famous people.” I thought “There is nothing to prevent this final loss. No money, power, or fame can change it in any way.” It’s not that I thought money, power, or fame would stop the progression of life toward its ending, but I hadn’t given it deep thought.

To a degree, that hasn’t changed. I am pragmatic. I care, but I’m not sticky about it. I’ve come close enough to that line to realize it is never as far away as we might think. Final is. Like life is.  So I don’t brood about it, accept it when news arrives, feel the absence of another person I loved. I get notes from friends about their husbands. From the family of friends. A few really good friends. Others are sick and getting sicker. There won’t be an end to this. Someday, I suppose I’ll be the note in someone’s inbox. I hope it will be a generous and kindly note that skips over my failures and all those times I’ve been an asshole. Try to remember the laughter and humor. It’s the part I worked hardest at.

After all these years, I still don’t know how I feel about this ongoing march from birth to that final hour. When I was in my twenties and we — our group — lost someone, usually to a car accident or another unexpected thing, it shook us badly. We were too young. It wasn’t supposed to happen … was it?

Now it is the way the world rolls.

Final.

Final days of the earth? Final years of democracy? Final end to everything in which I believed? Or just the inevitable shearing off of living people whose time was finished?

If this is final, what does that mean? The final what?

MY SUNDAY HOMILY – RICH PASCHALL

A sermon on smoking and other pastimes by Rich Paschall, Sunday Night Blog

From time to time I think about this topic, but rarely come to the lectern to speak about it. If you have been attending Sunday services here at the House of SERENDIPITY, you may recall I spoke about Betty, a friend and co-author of a play (Liberation).

Emphysema robbed her of her breath. She was a chain smoker throughout the years I knew her. I also recalled the time I received a text message from a cousin to advise me that the husband of one of our many cousins had passed away of throat cancer and various complications resulting from chemotherapy. He was 52 and had been a heavy smoker. I am saddened by the people who die so young.  Years ago, I would tell people that my parents gave up smoking.  My mother had a stroke and my father died of lung cancer.

cig and ashtray-1When you mention these things to smokers you may get one of the following excuses: “What difference does it make?  You have to die of something.”

Under this sort of thinking you might was well jump in front of a fast-moving train or jump off the Willis (aka Sears) Tower. Of course we are all going to die of something, someday. That does not mean we should try hard to cut this life short. I don’t even care if you think there is another life out there for you. Why would you willingly give up a sure thing — on a bet?

2.  “It will never happen to me.” I never thought I would have nerve damage in my foot and have difficulty moving about. I never thought someone in an 18-wheeler would  run me off the road and total my car, with me in it. I never thought the rich would wish to deny healthcare to the poor. You never know, so why take chances?

3.  “My uncle smoked a pack a day and nothing ever happened to him.” OK, some people win the Lotto too, but I would not count on that as passing down through the family. My father’s older brother smoked as much and perhaps more than my father ever did and he outlived my dad by a lot. Perhaps it was because he smoked a different brand. Perhaps it was because he had a better diet. Perhaps it was just dumb luck.

4.  “I’m going to quit. I just can’t do it right now.” I think I have heard this one the most. So when is the time going to come? Will it happen after you have lung cancer, throat cancer, or whatever? Do you remember Roger Ebert? Do you know what happened to him? He had part of his jaw removed.  He had to give up his popular television show. He had to wear a mask in public. He lost his voice. While you are waiting for the right time to quit, you can end up like that.

5. “I can quit anytime I want.” Really? Then why don’t you? No one is fooled. No one believes you. You don’t want to quit or you can’t quit. Either way, you should get help, buddy. I am as serious as a heart attack. Maybe not the heart attack you might have, but serious anyway. If you don’t give it up, then you are addicted or you don’t want to quit. If you are addicted, get help. Your friends and family will support you. If they won’t, avoid them. If you don’t want to quit, you are not living in the real world and watching the cancer statistics. Google “smoking deaths” or something like that and tell us what you get.

6.  “Everyone has some sort of vice.” I am not sure about that, but yes, a lot of people drink too much, do too many recreational drugs, have too much casual sex or something that may kill them. Is that a reason to do something that might kill you?

Since it is Sunday, I confess that I have not been an angel on earth. As I get older, however, I am more aware of the stupid stuff that can do me harm and try to avoid it if I can. What about you? This may be the last Sunday I am going to preach on this topic, although I will not promise that.

Anyway, if you did not get the point this time, go to church next Sunday and pray for guidance. Seriously.

SOMETHING WENT BUMP IN THE NIGHT

From ghoulies and ghosties
And long-legged beasties
And things that go bump in the night
Good Lord, deliver us!
– Traditional Scottish Prayer

Never met a ghoul and I have various issues with long-legged beasties, but I can speak from personal experience about “Things That Go Bump in the Night.” Long ago in a house far away, we had our ghosts. Friendly ghosts or at least, friendly to us.

Ghosts have been part of human mythology as long as tales have been told around campfires. Maybe before campfires. I don’t think if any religion excludes the possibility of ghosts. There seems to be a general agreement that ghosts and wraiths are spirits of the dead who linger on Earth after they have slipped that mortal coil. Some are malevolent, others benevolent or merely curious. Ghosts vary by mythology, religion and era. Even today, there are rumors and stories.

I cannot claim to have seen a ghost, but I lived in a house where everyone could hear our ghosts. It was 1965 when for $20,300, we were able to buy a tidy little brick house built in 1932. On the first floor were two bedrooms and a bathroom. There was a big bedroom on the partially finished second floor. The house was small but solid, walking distance from the college where my husband worked and I was finishing my degree.

The ambiance of the house from the moment we walked into it was overtly friendly. It welcomed everyone and made them feel at home. The little house had been built by a couple who had lived, raised children, and then died in it. They were not murdered or anything sordid. They merely grew old and passed on in the home they loved.

We loved it too. My son wouldn’t come onto the scene for 4 more years, but it was a good house to raise babies. I could feel it.

The house was a bit neglected. Not falling down but in need of paint and some modernization of its infrastructure. It still had its original heating system, converted from a coal burner to an oil furnace. Not very efficient and the radiators were huge, old and iron. Oil was cheap; we didn’t worry about it. We’d get to it eventually.

 

Initially we lived on the first floor since the bathroom was there. The upstairs had been an attic, but half had been turned into a big bedroom. We wanted to move up there. It was much bigger and had wonderful light, but we wanted to fix it up first. Before anything else, we wanted to paint. The entire house was painted pale salmon pink. It wasn’t ugly, but it wasn’t any color we’d have chosen. Worse, it was high gloss paint, like one would use in a kitchen or bath.

We painted the downstairs first. Every night, we heard our ghosts walking. You could hear the sound of heavy, loud footsteps upstairs, sharp, like the soles of hard leather shoes or boots. Everyone on the lower floor heard it. The walking started around eight in the evening, continued for a few minutes. Then the footsteps would pause and restart randomly until around midnight. The footsteps always stopped by midnight and never began before eight at night.

We called them “The Old Man” and “The Old Woman.” They wore different shoes. Her shoes had a sharp sound, like high heels on a hardwood floor. His were clunkier, like maybe work boots. Both of them had died in the house, so they were prime candidates for ghosthood, especially since no one else ever in the house we moved in.

At first, we also heard them on the steps, but after we painted the stairway, the footsteps retreated and we only heard them in the attic and bedroom. After we began painting the bedroom, we continued to hear them for a while in the attic and then, one day, they were gone, never to return.

Were they watching to see if we properly cared for and loved their home? I thought so. Were we all hallucinating? It was the 1960s, so anything is possible, but I think it was the couple who had lived there before us, watching to make sure we did right by the house. We did indeed. I guess they felt it was okay to depart.

Life is full of strangeness. Panicked might be too strong a word, but it was definitely weird. Meanwhile, if anyone has bumped into a long-legged beastie, please tell me about it. I’m dying to know.

CONTROL, REALITY, AND LIVING YOUR LIFE

You can’t control life. We think we are in control, especially when everything is moving according to plan.


It’s an illusion.

The first time your life-road takes a sharp turn and hits a big rock, it’s a crash. All of your firm belief that nothing can stop you doesn’t help — because there are things — many things — that can and will stop you. If you don’t die, of course.

I love it when people tell me nothing will stop them, that whatever they want, they can get it. All they have to do is want it enough. I don’t argue with people who talk like that. They believe it and who am I to ruin their dreams? I’ve personally hit a lot of rocks, ditches, unexpected  turns and had my “life vehicle” battered to a creaking hulk. I learned, painfully, slowly, when it’s time to give up control and go with the flow. To find a path in the life you are really living that works for you.

Life can change in a split second. As it did for Christopher Reeve. One minute, he was a big, handsome, strapping movie star. A dreadful split second later, he was someone completely different.

In other lives, it’s slower. For me, it was at the pace at which bones and joints calcify. I refused to pay any attention to the wreckage of my spine. It was mind over matter and I am strong. I would prevail. And I tried and for a while, it worked.

Turns out, mind over matter only takes you so far. Eventually, pain starts to take over. It’s not something that happens in an afternoon. More like a decade. Maybe two. I eventually found the best doctor who told me what I had heard before but hoped was not the real answer. He said: “Your back has got you through this far. It’ll take you the rest of the way. Pain control, gentle exercise. Recognize your limits. Don’t do anything stupid. No car crashes. No falling. No lifting.”

No horses, no hauling. Got that. And of course, this was before all the heart surgery, which further eliminated the likelihood of any of these dangerous activities. So. I’m not doing anything stupid. Okay, not anything very stupid. Maybe only a little bit stupid. Nothing that will break something more.

There’s no moral to this story. It’s just life. If you don’t die young, you will get old. Which means that parts of you are likely to hurt. Whether or not you are in a position to help fix the hurt with exercise or physical therapy depends on what’s wrong in the first place. The one thing you cannot plan is a controlled life where you are always in charge.

We all have some control, but ultimately, no one has full control. Ever.

When life throws you a curve, you have a choice. Spend your life fighting for something you can’t be or with a bit of grace, find your way to being who you have become. Now. In this time. In this place. It is not a tragedy unless you make it one.

Reality is not the worst plan in the world. Our lives are full of weirdness, lies, and illusion, but facing the truth can be uplifting. You don’t have to give up living. You do have to learn to live a life that makes sense. For you.