Saturday, July 17, 2010

Dysfunctional Planet

Sometimes we are so blinded by the bigger picture that we fail to notice it's made up of small pieces of exquisite and painful artistic moments that pass for our collective lives. And there's nothing like a death in the family to bring everything to a flash of blinding and humbling clarity.

For me, my mother's death and the circumstances around it painted a very clear picture of the world we live in. We are one large dysfunctional family who desperately need to change our relationship to each other and the planet if we are to survive as anything but wounded automatons. Within each of our own families are the families that occupy this planet. Within each of us and our respective villages lives both the cause and the cure. We have to open our eyes and our hearts and set aside the divisions or it's the end of us as a species worth anything but a scornful footnote in the passage of time.

Think carefully on this because it means our survival. Think of the last decade, the Bush/Cheney/Rove years, the divisions, the taking of sides, the losses, the rage, the despair,  and apply it not only to my family but to your own, and then apply it to the planet.

Look and see how expertly our fears and hurts and disappointments were and continue to be manipulated by those who can see what we no longer even recognize in ourselves anymore--that we are being led to the slaughter by those who care nothing about us other than the material sum of our parts. We are used by the politicians, the churches, the greedy until there's nothing left inside us that is our own anymore. We belong to them and they use us and then toss us aside because there's a continual replacement for us when we no longer suit their needs.

They are able to do this because dysfunctional is the new normal when it comes to families. How many of us have family members who don't speak to each other over something that happened years ago, something that I doubt most people can remember in complete details anymore if asked to explain it to someone else. All that remains is the gaping chest wound of misunderstanding, of division, of taking sides, of the us and them that divides us all.

How many of us have people in our lives from broken relationships that fester in pain, that isolate us and them from the heartbreak of loss? How many shattered friendships do we have that can never be repaired? How much of our lives are taken up by avoiding people instead of welcoming them? How much hate grows inside us like an evil little seed waiting to destroy everything in us that can love?

When we are like this, we are weak instead of strong. The users come along and find easy pickings. All they have to do is put on a TV show that gives us images of those we fear and then play upon that fear. Why, in the 21st century, do we still allow manipulative and evil entities like Fox News and its hateful talking heads, the Rush Limbaughs pushing drug-fueled hatred, the politicians who are beholden to corporations instead of people, to define us?

Can anyone on this planet who swallows that crap on a daily basis explain to me in anything but slogans why they hate someone? Or is everything now a talking point written by someone else, reduced to a sound bite with no substance, with no purpose but to divide us from one another?

How far back in time does someone have to go before the immigrant becomes the invader? When these hatemongers talk about taking our country back, who do we take it back from? The Native Americans we stole it from, the Mexicans who were disenfranchised from it because white people wanted it without having to pay anything for it? The Canadians whose boundaries crisscrossed our own so often we can barely tell each other apart?

Where are the papers of those who invaded this country and filled it with hateful white people? Under what justification did those same people enslave other people based on the color of their skin and think of it as anything but the most evil of actions another human being can perpetuate on another?

When did religion become an excuse to hate, to divide, to conquer? Do these haters even bother to read the Bible and its message sof love, tolerance, and acceptance? When did unholy intermediaries with hateful agendas become humanity's direct link to spirituality and connectedness with nature and each other? And why in this supposedly advanced civilization do we still allow the same people who believed the earth was flat to define who we love and marry? What the fuck is wrong with us that so many swallow this crap so easily?

I think the answers to all these questions lie within our own families, our own relationships, our own discarded and destroyed friendships. We are the small pictures within the large picture and we need to take a very close look at it before any hope of a better world for those that come after us, dies with us. Will our decade be the one that destroys hope for the entire planet because we were so obsessed with our own wounds that we failed to see how deeply others were wounded too?

I'm asking people to start within themselves and heal at least a small piece as a precious beginning to a new world. My own family never had a chance because war took their humanity before it had a chance to grow into something strong enough to fight against the divisions. But that doesn't mean I can't heal at least a small wound in myself that is there because of their wounds.

Maybe by doing so I can forgive those who hurt me so they won't continue to hurt me by taking up permanent residence in my heart. I understand all too well my parents were victims of things beyond their control but that doesn't mean I have to follow on that path. I have options they never had and if I let those options go to waste, then what was the point of their hurt, for nothing exists just to exist. Something gives it birth, something feeds it to make it live, something makes it grow strong and powerful.

I've said over and over again that working for peace is not for the weak. It takes strength to move forward when others view it as wasted idealism. It takes courage to look war in the face and say I will defeat you. It takes setting aside the divisions and working together to stand up to power and say we are stronger than you. It takes finding the place inside yourself that wants peace and making it strong enough to defeat hate.

That place is there inside us all. We must find it. We must ignore the noise machine of hate and work together for a better world, one where corporations don't destroy our planet in their greed to satisfy our own greed. We must simplify what we believe and how we live. We must reach out to each other and stop putting up walls, stop blaming others for things that are our own fault. We must grow up and be accountable for our own actions and quit using Bibles and religions and dead friendships as excuses to be complete and total jerks. We must embrace our humanity or we will lose it forever.


Wednesday, July 07, 2010

And the story ends this way...

The reason no one in the family was notified of our mother's death was because she requested no one be told. She asked only to be allowed to die alone. It was her last fuck you to anyone left in her life, which was a very short list. She went out the way she lived, alone, oblivious to the pain and suffering of others and concerned only with her own needs.

But she left a legacy in me, a stubborn legacy not even her meanness can kill. Unlike her, I care about people. I will always care about people. I will always trust people until they give me reason not to. And in her memory I will work for peace, for the poor, for the disadvantaged because she was a victim of war, a pampered rich child who one day found herself out on the street having to work, having to survive, having to live like those she disdained, lived during most of her privileged life. This, I will always believe was the true source of her anger, that she was suddenly one of the people she had always looked own upon. She didn't care about people. She cared only about what was done to HER and that's how she lived her life.

Yes, she suffered greatly during the war, but so did a lot of people but most did not allow it to destroy their humanity. My aunt who lived side by side her most her life was a kind, compassionate and delightful human being. My mother was just the opposite, and she chose to be that way. That was a choice she made, to punish the world for what was done to her, to hate, to condemn, to live as a bigoted hateful person.

It's a familiar perspective to those of us who lived with her. Life was about her. I think sometimes she put up with the abuse because it allowed her to reaffirm the world sucked and she wanted us children to get a permanent lesson on how badly it sucked, on why it was a bad idea to fall in love, to care about people, to allow yourself moments of weakness that others called happiness. She wanted us to know how disgusting and horrible life was so we wouldn't be disappointed as she was disappointed. She wore her suffering as a badge of honor, as some kind of demented trophy, and she did nothing to stop us from getting beat, hurt, and abused. It was the message she wanted to send us, that life really sucked and we didn't deserve better. So it's only fitting that in the end, her death was also all about her.

I know that it's not the end of it for me yet. I know I'm angry, especially for my sister who really did try and help her, who stayed in touch, who sent her money, who made sure she had what she needed. I'm sorry she never thanked my sister for this, that she never appreciated what she did for her, and in the end punished her for caring too much. I'm sorry for my cousins who treated her with love and kindness and even though they lived in Las Vegas where she died, she didn't allow them to say goodbye.

But anger can be a useful thing. It can help you grow. It can help you move forward. It can motivate you in ways nothing else can. The way I see it, my life begins new every day. On this day, it just took a larger beginning than most. It allowed me to see the richness of my life, the love I have, the cherished friends who mean more to me than anything.

In that sense, I already have more than she ever did. She was a lonely, bitter excuse for a human being and the best we can do as her children, is to not let what infected her also infect us. We are all works in progress and the message here if one is necessary, is that it is never too late to give birth to yourself.

I just did.

Top left to right, my uncle is the third one. From top row right, my grandparents are the second couple. Bottom row, my mother is the child on the pillow surrounded by servants.
The castle in Trieste where she lived until the Germans took it over for their headquarters as it sat on a hill and was accessible only by a tram car.
My grandmother who was the one who actually raised us. She was born in what is now Pazin, Croatia.
My brother and I. Of us all, he inherited her anger and hatred at the world. My sincere hope is that one day he allows himself to heal from it and grow into a good human being. It's in him, he just has to find it.

I don't have anything but recent pictures of my sister and since this is about the past I'll refrain from posting any new ones.

"Our parents give birth to us twice, the second time when they die."  Anais Nin


Thursday, July 01, 2010


The update on my mother is that after spending all day and most of the night yesterday contacting all the records divisions of various counties in California to see if they had a death certificate for anyone matching my mother's name, age, and/or description, my cousin found out she died in Las Vegas and had never made it to California. She was cremated and is in one of those pleasantly named crypt memorial "parks" in Las Vegas.

First of all, other than an immense sense of relief that it is over, I have to say that my faith in the essential goodness of human beings has been heartily reaffirmed. I talked and corresponded with some of the nicest, most caring people on the planet. These clerks didn't have to go out of their way to help me. They had nothing invested in helping find a missing 87 year old woman who was dead and buried who knew where.

But they did with a kindness and compassion that brought me to tears many times over. California, you have some astonishing public servants. Value them for the good people they are. So many went out of their way to help me, even to the point of tracking down where my mother had died and having the Las Vegas coroner call me this morning.

The only exception that stood out in the sea of kindness was Marin County. If you have to die somewhere, make sure you can at least crawl to the next county...or have money to buy someone's interest. Enough said about them. Karma's a bitch and it will find them too one day. I will forever see that place as California's sore thumb and avoid it like the plague it is. And I will also forever know that all the kindness that surrounds them will more than make up for their cruel indifference. Such as the balance of earth, time, and human nature.

I gained some and I lost some in all this. I gained a new appreciation for my cousins on both sides of the family. Not only are they exceptional people, but they chose as their mates other exceptional people. They really took to heart the words "you must be kind" that both Jerry Garcia and Kurt Vonnegut conveyed so beautifully.

I learned to appreciate the strength of my sister, the youngest in our family who held it together as a strong and powerful woman. After what she's been through in her life, to see her this way is an unforgettable affirmation of the awesomeness of inner strength. I don't know how she dealt with it all privately and I hope it was merciful and she was easy on herself. She deserves to praise herself as much as we all need to thank her for taking on the brunt of this.

I only did what I do best, write letters, talk to people, and find a way to push aside the sadness over what might have been instead of what was. The saddest thing is the knowledge my mother died alone with no family. But it was her choice as was much of her life. She really had no family other than the husband she lost several years ago. If she loved anyone it was him, for all his faults, his cruelty, his horrible treatment of us children. In her mind he always was the man who saved her even if she had to pay for that salvation every day of her life. Still, I see now in retrospect that the decay in her personality began the day he died. She no longer had anyone to be against the world with and was left to fight alone. It was more than she could handle alone and yet she chose by her actions to be alone.

One day my brother will understand just how much he is her son and maybe that will be the day we can finally sit down and talk with each other as reasonable adults. Until then he is as much a casualty of war as we all are. It just took longer for his wounds to manifest.

I am convinced she went the way she wanted to go, quickly, privately and with all the details taken care of before any of us knew she was gone. She controlled her passing as she controlled her life and that was her choice. I must respect and honor that.

I feel both a sadness and a sense of freedom and understand so well what Anais Nin wrote about our parents giving birth to us twice, the second time when they die. I am new today. I am free. The fear is gone and there is only one direction, up.

And yet, I know how clearly I am not and will never be my mother. I have always had a close circle of friends, people I love, people who would notice if I was missing for a few hours and would send out the hounds if it was longer than a day. I will not die alone. I will have a crowd around me propping me up so I can get one last dance in before I go, and I will be loved and cherished and missed. In that knowing is the realization that the wounds of the past can heal. We just have to want ourselves badly enough.

Just yesterday I wrote to a former professsor friend whose art blog I accidently stumbled across. I had spent several minutes admiring his incredible work, noticed the familiar name and wrote to him. One of the things I said was in the time since I graduated from college and now, I have always been my own bear. Yes, it hasn't led me to the kind of life many people would have chosen for me, but it did lead me to a life I chose for myself. In the end, that is all we really have, isn't it?