Friday, November 16, 2012


What I am learning

Notes from Depression by Richard O’Connor,Ph.D., c. 2010.

Skills of depressed people:
Ability to put on false front.
Isolation from affection, no emotion showing.
Somatization (body reveals through some illness)
Denial: anger turned inward or outward.
Repression: displaced emotion to other event (death of a pet, for example)
            Or “forgetting”  everything
Projection onto others, blaming
Externalization (blaming)
Anehedonia (loss of joy in anything)
Hopelessness and apathy
Overwork, inability to prioritize
Obsessive/compulsive activities
Victimizing or violence towards others, or self mutilation
Negative self-talk
Selective attention to negative events
Depressed logic
Restricting social circle to depressed/dependcy
Counter dependency or porous boundaries
Impossible goals
No goals/lots of guilt
Passive-aggressive vs. self (set up failures)

Lack of exercise
neglecting of medical care/ succumbing to quacks
abuse of alcohol or drugs

Depression is apparently a “threshold disease” like heart disease, that builds until it is discernible.
Back to healthy eating, exercise, reduce stress, increase involvement.  Pay attention to messages the body is sending.
Develop trust confidants, emotional engagement and support, seek understanding not advice.
Forego emotional control
Forego perfectionism
Develop mindfulness.

Know how you DO depression, to get clues how to Undo it.

Learn to feel.  Emotion are reflexes.  Pay attention to initial responses.
Feel, then decide how to express yourself.
Keep a mood journal, look for underlying causes.

Acedia (sloth) is a state of mild chronic depression.
Practice happiness.

Planning to see a therapist?  Choose with care.
Note your gut reaction to him/her.  Do you trust?
References, esp. from former patients.?
Experienced with depression?
Openness to medication?
Willingness to be directive if needed?

Request info from NIMH.
CBT= cognitive behavior therapy.
IPT+ interpersonal therapy.
Psychodynamic therapy refers to belief in unconscious motivations and reactions, a therapy which is better than medication in the long run.

The Mindful Way Through Depression with CD of guided meditations is recommended.
There is no specific self-help group for depressed people.
Go to sleep focused on happy events that day.  It grows new neurons!  Happy ones!
Engage in creativity.  Do not be seduced by stagnation.  The choice is to grow or die.

Practice self-constructive behavior.

Lots of recommended reading.

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If Life is a Game

If Life is a Game, These Are the Rules
By Cherie Carter-Scott Ph.D.  c.1998

  1. You will receive and body.
  2. You will be presented with lessons.
  3. There are no mistakes, only lessons.
  4. A lesson is repeated until learned.
  5. Learning does not end.
  6. “There” is no better than “here.”
  7. Others are only mirrors of you.
  8. What you make of your life is up to you.
  9. All your answers lie inside you.
  10. You will forget all this at birth.

I affirm that all of the above is true in my experience.

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Thursday, December 15, 2011

Amazed Grandson

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A Beam in the Eye of the Beholder

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Are You There?

I think to be interactive, a blog needs to ask a question.

What strategy or tactic is helping you as you age, to stay positive and happy?

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Getting Older Every Day

What seems obvious but is hard to live out is the way our bodies fail us, eventually. Each of my friends has health issues, if not for herself, then with her spouse. We can all whine together now in this stage of life about the cost of health care, and the restrictions poor health place on our activities. We can complain about how the world is being run as we withdraw from it, for surely we did it better when we were in charge, right?

What is a better response to this inevitable end? What have I learned so far?

  1. Don’t talk about health except with selected few. Listen to your friends. Younger people really don’t want to hear about it. They don’t identify with such issues, yet.
  2. Pay attention to current events in the news and sports, so you can talk about today. Be interested in their lives. Vote. Write letters to the editors. Share your wisdom in appropriate ways.
  3. Stay current with technology. Cell phones, HD, email, Twitter, are here to stay in this form or morphed into another.
  4. Be a model to the next generation. Take care of yourself and your spouse and your friends in their needy times. Be present to them.
  5. Be as healthy as you can by exercising daily and eating a healthy diet. Stop excusing your bad habits, and replace them with fruits, vegetables and moderate portions.
  6. Develop waiting room activities: knit, quilt, catch up on reading. Boredom is a state of mind.
  7. Make eye contact so you can smile and talk to others. They are ill and scared too. See these as Divine Encounters.
  8. If night driving is out, arrange to see plays, eat out, or otherwise be entertained in the day time. Afternoon shows are just as good.
  9. Give up driving when your responses are too slow for safety of everyone on the road. If you are having minor accidents or getting lost, take that seriously.
  10. Sign and prominently display a POLST agreement, so everyone will know not to go to extreme lengths in prolonging your life.
  11. Clear out the junk in your spaces.
  12. Go for quality of experience, not quantity.
  13. Learn something new every day.

Spiritually, learn to meditate or pray. Study your scriptures. You aren’t the first person to grow old.

Forgive everyone everything, all the way back in life, to anything you remember.

Show an attitude of gratitude to those in your life today.

Hug someone every day.

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Monday, October 31, 2011

Labyrinth in Marylhurst Park

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Sunday, June 19, 2011

My Dad Remembered on Father's Day

Dad filled the old converted army tank trunk with water, and then as he stood high the framework, poured in a bag full of yellow chemicals. Some spilled on his green work clothes. He dusted himself off with bare hands, and brushed his hands together too.

“That’s done. Let’s go say good-bye too your mother.”

“We’re going over along Vincent Street today.” Dad gave my mother a peck on the cheek. “Lots of old orange groves over that way.” He picked up the sack lunches as he passed the kitchen counter.

“O.K.” she responded. She was sitting at the table with her cup of coffee and first cigarette of the day. I don’t know where my sister Patty was, perhaps in bed yet, with my sister Monica in her crib, with a bottle. My mother handled the billing, if there was any, and made phone calls to set up business for my Dad two days in advance. When there was a long period of rain or wind, he had no work, and sat around the house reading the papers, and my mother would grow more irritable every day. She acted like we didn’t have enough, but I never lacked for food or clothes or missed school. I didn’t understand her attitude at all.

I followed my Dad back out to the truck, and he opened the door for me to climb in before him. Steps up required some climbing on my part, but I made it, and settled in beside him. He put our lunches on the seat between us. Then he pushed his work hat back from his brow and took and let out a deep breath.

Dad was not a talkative person at home but he smiled at me now. He leaned forward and started the engine. It rumbled to life, metal grating on metal in a noisy way, which sometimes didn’t happen. Then my Dad would be home all day, leaning into the stomach of that truck, or sliding under it, greasy hands reaching for just the right tool. Sometimes it was me that was fetching them for him since I was the oldest kid around.

Today was sunny and bright and smelled of Spring, but just a little too early for the orange blossom fragrance that would fill the air in a week or two. This was the window of time for spraying the trees to prevent aphis from destroying the crops in local back yards. Some owners cared enough about their coming oranges to have them sprayed, and others didn’t. I hunkered up close to the front window. Dad backed carefully down our long driveway, leaving behind us but in front of me, our small house with the big elm tree in the yard that didn’t let the grass grow under it. Dad and my uncle had added two bedrooms to one end.

“We’re off!” Dad drove with his window open, one elbow draped out side, waving to the neighbors and always smiling. We passed the tall palm trees lining the right side of the road, and the houses of old retired people who lived there on big lots, taking a little profit from their chickens and rabbits and now and then a pig or a calf that would be slaughtered: the Carsons, the Winslows, the Scotts, and the Pihls. They grew flowers and harvested vegetables in season that they shared with us. The sign on the truck door said “SeLegue Spray Service” with the logo of a cute smiling skunk who appeared to be aiming his tail at the viewer. We had a box of plastic thermometers with the same logo and our phone number on it to hand out to customers too.

We rumbled down Walnut Street, over the railroad tracks, up Garvey Avenue, turned right on Pacific Avenue, and into the neighbourhoods of West Covina, with old orange groves and walnut groves, now interspersed with new houses built right after WWII.

“This is a good street. I will pay you five cents for each tree you line up for me to spray. Tell them I will be along in a few minutes, OK?” Dad smiled again. “Go on now.” I climbed down from the passenger side. This would be a great deal for me at ten years old. I walked along the street, turning up the walks or driveways to knock on the door. It being Saturday, most people were at home.

“My Dad is SeLegue Spray Service. He’s coming along this street pretty soon, spraying trees against aphis for $1 each. Would you like him to stop here?” I stood politely well beyond the screen door in my sweater and shirt, jeans and tennis shoes, thin with lanky hair.

“Yeah, tell him to stop here.” A man or woman answering the door, indistinct in the interior, would respond to me. Or sometimes no one would answer the doorbell or knock, though I could hear the TV. And sometimes they said, “I think not,” and shut the door firmly. I worked one side of the street, and then the other, back to where my Dad was, and told him which houses wanted him to stop there. Each neat street had curbs, tidy houses recently painted, pretty plants and green grass, with only an occasional neglected house. I skipped those houses. These were very nice neighbourhoods. I didn’t go to another block until Dad was close to done with that one, so there was some waiting time, when I sat in the truck and read.

The truck had slippery seats, cold to my thighs until the day warmed up. It smelled of oil, gasoline, and chemicals like Malathion and DDT, and a dusting of yellow powder on the dash and the floor. I just waited.

My Dad visited with every person who came out to watch, while he shot a stream of light yellow water high into the air, as he walked around the trees, one at a time. For a little more, he told them, he would hit the bushes around the house too, and did they want that? He held the powerful compressor nozzle under his left arm, aiming with care, shutting if off as soon as he was done with a tree while he moved to the next. If there was any distance between the houses, he manually rolled up the hose with a crank before moving the truck.

The homeowner stood by, ready to pay, and sometimes to talk. My Dad would laugh and exchange chat about the weather or politics or religion. Sometimes people would offer him a cup of coffee, and he would go inside, and that would take a really long time. Sometimes I got cookies.

Eventually he would stop long enough for us to eat the lunches mother packed, as we sat in the truck. He had a thermos of coffee, and I had one of milk. Mother included her latest home-made cookies too, which I didn’t think were as good as “store bought”, even if other people thought they were better.

The day was lovely out, warm and good smelling. We ate in such silence so the crunching of a paper sack was a loud sound.

“Get out the map and show me where we are,” my Dad directed. I unfolded the crinkly large paper map, laying it on the seat with north at the up end, and south towards me. Our house was marked, so I started there and traced the path I knew we had taken to where we are now, glanced up to the street sign on the corner, and then focused on the map.

“I think we are right here,” I said as I looked up at him. He smiled.

“Right you are. And now we are heading over to here,” where he pointed with a fat oil stained forefinger. “Ready?”

So that day flew by in a measured and careful way as we worked that part of town. I only got to do this on Saturdays, so it was never a burden to me. I ended up with a couple of dollars to tuck into my drawer until something would take my fancy, and I would spend it. Probably candy bars.

Eventually we moved into one of those neat houses on Leland Avenue, a broad street with curbs where all the houses were tidy and no one kept chickens or rabbits.

I always earned my own spending money, moving on to babysitting at age twelve, housework at 16, Sears store clerk at 18, personal secretary at 21, and teacher at 22. I paid my own expenses not covered by scholarships during college. I enjoy working and meeting the public still.

The chemicals eventually caused cancer that killed my Dad at age 52. A thousand people came to his funeral, and for three years after people called to ask for him, and were sad to hear that he had died. Every other man who worked in that field in his time, all his old competitors, also died before their time, of cancer. Such chemical use is severely restricted now, and cancer can be cured, but not in those days.

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Thursday, March 17, 2011

New Grandchild

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Monday, March 07, 2011

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Sayulita Wedding March 4, 2011

What the Mother of the Bride Saw

In my living room there is a folk painting of a wedding in Mexico, which came true! Check out the photos and plans for the week at They planned a week of events for more than a hundred men, women and children on vacation from rain and snow in northern climes. Think in red, turquoise, and flip-flops! Sayulita is about 26 miles from Puerta Vallarta, a village of some cobblestone streets, but mostly dirt roads, full of pot holes, coconut and banana trees dropping fruit, and houses with no glass so the air can flow freely. The main road is crossed by a stream that destroys yesterday’s rearrangement of the path every day. A twenty-minute walk puts you in the heart of the plaza, with café seating on the sidewalks, street vendors everywhere hawking their colorful wares, a small church where the hours of service are good guesses. Whatever your worry, don’t worry. It doesn’t matter.

Mexico must be full of artists. Everywhere there is beauty, in colors and shapes, sounds and smells to delight you. Like some artists, there is a lack of rules and discipline, so projects are left unfinished. But it doesn’t matter because the air is gentle. I didn’t hear a harsh word. People were patient in the cafes and streets.

The children leaving the school were met by their parents, or walked home down the center of dusty streets. Dogs wandered freely, including “ours” which thought he owned our house and chased others away. Iguanas hung out obviously in only one tree. The “markets” are the size of a small bedroom at home, packed with goods ceiling to floor, with baskets of fruits and vegetables spilling out the door. Pastries are covered lightly with loose clothes. If you don’t see what you want, you should just ask, as they probably do have it. The streets are the width of three cars, which often requires someone to wait while others pass, and a golf cart is the ideal mode of transportation.

Our house was chief in the compound, three large bedrooms with a bathroom each, a huge living room/kitchen with French doors facing the sea that opened to a large palapa covered patio, and then a grass area stretching down to the sand. Then lapping came the ocean, waves sounding the heartbeat of the earth. No TV, no phones, no radios. Yoga at nine, surf boarding at 11, followed by lunch and shopping in the village, fishing or whale watching trips. Always sunny and 78, good for laying about on the beach anytime..

Every day a woman came and brought pan dulces (sweet breads as in corn, banana, walnut, coconut, fruit and cheese pies) that I laid out and made pots of coffee to wash them down. Everyone came looking for something to eat and start the day. They also asked for bandaides, benedryl, and antiseptics. We had “agua pura” all the time, but a few persons did take sick. All recovered. The golf cart was moored outside our door. Other women came every day to make the beds, do the laundry, and mop the floors. Wasn’t that nice? Ben and I held the fort for the Rivera’s. We were never lonely.

The Cogswells and friends did a lot too. Each night a group of them hosted some event: Sunday fish taco BBQ, Monday Ladies Night (the gents went out too, of course). Tuesday salsa dancing lessons. Wednesday Wedding Welcome BBQ (since most everyone was now present) with a special song and dance in costume honouring Slade and Christina. Thursday the rehearsal dinner included everyone on the beach at the best restaurant around. Friday the wedding starting at 5 and ending sometime after the old people left at midnight. A house full of Vail friends had its counterpart in a house full of high school, Santa Clara U. friends, Colgate Friends, Dragons friends, and assorted relatives, plus those who stayed in other hotels, time shares and on couches wherever they could.

Slade reserved the top of the Hotal Amor for the bridal party (and his honeymoon night), not far from the Palapa where the wedding and reception would be. From there we saw the whales leaping in the bay, in this place known to be the most bio-diverse in the hemisphere. Birds flew in flocks of hundreds, waded in the streams, and called to one another all day. Roosters crowed us awake. The ladies dressed here, and hung out the window to see the men arrive on horses far below, including Christina’s father! While the rest of the bridal party went up to the Palapa, Ben and I waited with Christina for the sign to bring her on, in the golf cart, up a dirt road, past the cemetery, up the steep steps.

Michelle Hovey was the minister, whose talk placed this couple in the crosshairs of rising tides of intentional global living in our world. I read the traditional description of love, Paul to the Corinthians, Chap. 13, and a part of Ps. 139, blessing them forever into the arms of the Universe. John read a Native American blessing. The bride and groom walked out to the trumpet sounds of a Mariachi Band. Dinner was served, including cupcakes made by Slade’s aunts for desert. Slade and Christina presented a slide show of their story. A team of girls danced the Firefly Dance for our entertainment, the Churro Makers served them up on the lawn, and the fireworks went off at 10:30. Ben and I, John and Patti Cogswell spoke, and then the dancing began! The salsa lessons paid off. The “mature” adults left about midnight, after the band and the DJ had gone, but IPOD music had taken over, so the dancing went on.

Saturday morning came early, and everyone departed before noon, to other places to stay or back to cold weather and shovelling. Our planes ran a little bit late, but it didn’t matter. We didn’t worry. A two-hour layover at LAX barely gave us time to catch our connecting flight, although we walked as fast as we could through Customs, Immigration, bag checks, and terminals. And now we are really tired, and it doesn’t matter, because we had a wonderful week in Mexico, and the pleasure of seeing our last child married into a good family. The Cogswell’s captured Christina, but we get Slade!

My camera ran out of battery power and memory just before the ceremony, but there were many other photographers to take those photos. The clothes I fretted over while packing were all just fine. I was pleased that my Spanish came back. I feel like I have some new friends and family, plus a tan. I want to learn to make huevos rancheros. And I am truly happy for and proud of Christina, whom everyone thinks is “amazing”, including me, her mother.

Mary Jean Rivera

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Sunday, February 13, 2011

Why I Am A Writer

Never ending self analysis

Understanding my emotions

Extroversion of interior states

Clarity of knowledge

Reaction to situations

Thinking out loud before acting

Thinking out loud after acting or reacting

Commanded to be reflective

Activity of a creative God in me

Gathering life’s lessons

Antidote to being alone

Conversations with God

Remembering made concrete

Holding on to ideas, thoughts


Understanding others’ stories, feelings, actions, thoughts

Sharing personally through letters, emails, blogs

Searching for “fixed points” in reality

Managing change

Sorting facts from fiction

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Waking Up Dead on November 11, 2010

DR. Jill Stromberg, b. April 1954, anaesthesiologist, two daughters, long bout with cancer

Larry Craft, b. July 1937. loved sailing, retired teacher, donations to OPB

Jackie Homing, b. Sept. 1928, lived in Alaska, six children.

Doris Jameson, b. Dec. 1924, husband died already, one son.

Richard Potter, b. June 1950, real estate agent, memorial service at a country club.

Lee Sylvester Watson, b. Nov. 10, 1913, retail lumberyard manager.

“So where ARE we?” Dr. Jill blinked and addressed the group she was with now, looking like a crew in nightgowns.

“Well,” chuckled Jackie, “it’s sure not Alaska!” She shrugged her shoulders, turned her head far to right and then to left, looking as far as she could. “No trees, no mountains, no water.” She shook her head as if to clear it, then looked down towards her feet.

“I think I am dead, in fact, I am sure of it. I want to see my husband.” Doris has a set look to her face, making this demand. She crossed her arms on her chest.

“What do you think will happen now?” asked Richard, “I mean, if we really are dead that is. I mean, where’s St. Peter or whoever greets the newbies?”

“You know,” mused Lee, “Yesterday was my birthday. Ninety-seven years young! And today I could have been in the Vet’s parade, you know.” He paused. “Only I didn’t feel up to it this week.” He laughed. “No wonder!”

Dr. Jill looked around, past the group, to the white walls that looked more like thick clouds. She reached out to touch one, which just receded away. She encountered nothing.

“This must be some kind of foyer or waiting area. Hmm.” Dr. Jill then just disappeared, surprising Larry!

“Whoa!” said Larry, “Where did she go? She was right here, and now she’s

gone! Geez, this is kinda scary.”

Dr. Jill reappeared in the group, near Jackie.

“Oh, you startled me!” Jackie took a step back. “What happened?”

“I just wondered about my family, my girls, and then I was right there, seeing them both. Something’s different with time now. I think I was in a future time. They both had little kids with them. I didn’t see my husband any place, but I know he does fine when I am away.”

“So you just wondered about them, and you went there?” asked Jackie.

“I guess. That’s what happened.” Dr. Jill looked a little puzzled herself.

“Why are you back here?” asked Larry.

“Well,” she replied, “I guess I was satisfied that they’re OK. And here I am. I didn’t think of wanting to be here. No offence.” Dr. Jill smiled.

“I am going to try that,” said Lee. “I wanted to go to that parade.” Lee closed his eyes, and promptly disappeared.

“Well, do tell!” snapped Doris. “I want to see my Clyde.” She closed her eyes tight, clenched her fists, and remained where she was. So she opened her eyes again.
“That’s not fair! Clyde misses me, too!”

“Maybe he came around to see you when he died, and went away happy,” offered Richard, smiling knowingly. “You know, maybe he saw you were doing OK without him?”

“Humph.” Doris turned her back on the group. “It’s just like you, a stranger, to tell me what for,” she grumbled.

“Maybe, since he’s been dead so long, you can’t follow him. Wasn’t there someone alive with you whom you’d want to see now?”

“Hardly! Just a bunch of old people in that rest home and my son. All half-dead anyway. They didn’t bother me, and I didn’t bother them, including my son.” Doris looked sideways at Richard.

“Well, I am going to try this too. See you later, maybe.” Richard disappeared.

Larry shook his head slowly, looking down.

“There are so many I would like to look in on, it will take an eternity. Some of my students had such promise, but it’s the others I worry about and hope they caught on to some threads in life, married well, or found work that kept them in groceries anyway.” He wagged his head again. “Maybe I don’t want to see them after all. I probably could have done more than I did, when I had the chance. Although I don’t know what. I always thought people made their own beds, created their own lives, you know? Got what they deserved? Did you think that too?” Larry addressed the group.

“You bet they got what they deserved!” Doris spoke sourly.

“I never thought about it at all,” responded Jackie. “I was too busy, I guess, working and all, to think about too much. God made me to be a mother, and that’s what I did. That takes all your life!” She laughed quietly with her whole face in a smile. “I saw the birds every day until they went south for the winter. It was so exciting to see them come back. In the spring I would just be excited all the time, like my sap was rising!”

Dr. Jill held her left elbow in her right hand, thoughtful now. “A lot happens to people that isn’t their fault, you know. Especially sickness. Of course, some people endanger their health with life style choices, but a lot is crap shoot, from what your grandmother ate when she was pregnant with your mother, to who coughed in the same room with you yesterday.”

Richard and Lee both reappeared!

Richard sounded a tad annoyed as he reported: “My family and friends are having a good lunch on me now. I was always a good provider. I hope they all remember that at least.”

“WELL! That was a fun parade! I love seeing those armored trucks and all the flags waving, and the little kids scrambling for candies!” Lee waved his arms to illustrate.

“So now what?” asked Richard, impatient for something to happen.

“I am going sailing,” said Larry, and promptly disappeared.

“I think I’ll go to Haiti,” said Dr. Jill, and she disappeared too.

“I am going to ride one of those Humvees in Iraq,” said Lee. Gone.

‘I wish I was an Arctic tern,” was the last thing Jackie said.

“Well. I am going to stay right here until Clyde comes for me.” Doris gave a stern look to Richard, the only one left with her now.

“Guess I will go hang out with my wife and daughters. I might learn something.”

And then Doris was alone.

Merlin Porter, b. Aug. 1924. Jazz drummer, barber, three children, Catholic.

Kathleen Crocker, b. June 1945, Quaker.

Grace Ditzel, b. June 1926. Care companion at the Senior Center.

Jenny Harrison, b. Nov. 1948. Homemaker, survived by her mother and three siblings.

Doris waited for Clyde to come for her so long that she was glad when others appeared.

“Hell!” Merlin announced his presence with an epithat. “What the heck is this place! I’ve had a lot of gigs, but this is the quietest ever.”

“Watch your language, please.” A diminutive older lady touched Merlin’s elbow, drawing his attention down to her, and smiling to make her remark more acceptable.

“You have to admit, lady, that this is something of a surprise. I never did buy all that crap the priests put out, but they never mentioned being kept in a white room forever. How long will this go on?”

‘It’s not so bad,” answered Jenny, as she approached from a little distance, growing larger as she came nearer to them. She was as tall as Merlin, perhaps six feet, tall for a woman. “I kind of like the quiet. I needed a rest.”

Doris feigned indifference to their presence at first, but now felt called upon to comment. “It was quiet before you all got here. Let’s keep it that way. No call to be chattering on about nothing.”

“Why are you so cross?” asked Grace.

“Yeah, buzz off!” Merlin gestured to Doris with a wave of his hand.

“Why don’t you just go somewhere else, like the others did. I am waiting here for my husband, Clyde. He’ll come soon.”

“What others?” Merlin asked. “There’s just you bunch of ladies as far as I can tell.”

Doris groaned. She would explain if it would get them to go away.

All you have to do is THINK where you want to be, and you will be there. So, why don’t you just do that?” She pressed her lips tightly together, as if she would say no more.

“Oh, dear,” came a small voice. “This isn’t at all what I had expected.”

“And you are whom?” asked Grace, ever pleasant and correct.

“Kathleen. I am a Quaker. Which way do you think we Quakers should go?”

“Yeah, where’s the Catholic entrance!” Merlin’s voice rose above them all. “I did my time in church. My wife donated enough for both of us and all the kids went through Catholic schools. I am sure they are all praying for me now, so show me where to go. I got a ticket!” Merlin raised his hand high, fist clenched.

“I think everyone has a ticket,” said Jackie.

Doris moved herself away from the conversation area, to show she was not involved, but close enough to hear still. Merlin rubbed both hands over his face.

“Lordy. Now what?” He looked upwards, but all around them was white. Just white. Neither hot nor cold. Not solid, not airy. Just whiteness without depth.

“Did you hear that music?” he asked suddenly. Each of the ladies shook her head no. “I wonder where it’s coming from?” Merlin disappeared.

“Good riddance, I say,” spoke Doris from her little distance. “Not a man I could make good use of, I bet.”

“Did you say there were others here, dear?” Grace gave her full attention to Doris, as she always did when interacting with others.

“They’ve all gone off, to do as they like, I guess. Why don’t you go, too?”

“But where, and how?” asked Kathleen. Doris turned away and refused to answer that question again.

“Well,” said Jenny, “if I can do as I like, I think I would like a good night’s sleep in a good bed, in a fine hotel, with fresh mountain air coming in the window.” With that Jenny faded from the group.

Kathleen and Grace looked at each other. “What shall we do?” Grace was getting excited about the possibilities, and leaned towards Kathleen, whispering. They both spoke at the same time. “I have never been to DisneyWorld, have you? Or New York City!” “I’ll come with you, wherever. OK?” Kathleen was tentative.

“Let’s see if we can do this. Hold hands. Think DisneyWorld, in Florida.” And the two were gone. Doris glanced around her and saw and heard no one.

Then they were all back! Talking to each other, telling their stories of Haiti and Florida and God knows where they were. It was probably all in their heads.

“I have a more sensible head than that,” Doris comforted herself. Still no Clyde. “Why are you all back here?” she asked loudly from her position outside the group.

“Why are we all back here?” echoed Dr. Jill. “There must be a reason.”

“We all died on the same day, didn’t we? Does that matter?” asked Larry.

“Would this be heaven, or purgatory, or you know where?” Merlin’s eyes grew big as he considered these options. “Geez, I was a pretty good guy. Took care of my family, treated people well. Those other women didn’t mean anything to me.” He paused. “Shoot.” They all hung about in silence for a while.

“Doesn’t it seem like some kind of teacher or mentor ought to show up to help us here?” offered Richard. ‘I mean, there ought to be a short cut some way. This could take forever, literally.”

Larry spoke up. “Can I suggest we form a circle here, for the sake of better communication. Doris, you want to join us?”

“I think not.” She faced away from the group, arms crossed still.

“OK, then,” Larry continued. Have you ever heard of a “compressed conflict?”” No one responded, and several shook their heads. “Well, it’s a problem for a group to solve, that can only be solved if the group all work together. We used to give them to student groups I supervised. Sometimes the staff would do them. They have a way of building group cohesion, you know, consensus decision-making and so on. Helps the kids get along better.”

“So what are you suggesting, Larry?” asked Richard. “You got a problem for us to solve?” He laughed. Then he crossed his arms and looked down.

“Figuring out what the challenge IS is the first part, I bet,” said Larry.

“What the hell… heck is the problem, anyway?” Merlin glanced at Grace as he used profanity again. Impatiently, he moved away. Lee smiled at each of them in turn.

“Whatever!” Lee chimed in. The group seemed to be moving apart.

“OK, let’s give it some thought,” put in Dr. Jill. “No hurry!” Then they all laughed, except Doris, of course.

‘I have an idea,” offered Grace. “We need to come up with a project that we can all do together. At the Senior Center…”

“Geez, don’t tell us about the Senior Center,” Doris interrupted from her listening post, not too far away. “Old people passing the time, is all. Useless.”

“Senior Centers have a lot to offer, I think,” said Jenny. “Somewhere for older people to go visit and have activities. I don’t know why you are so down on them. If it weren’t for the Senior Center I would never have had a break from Mother. My brothers were no help.”

“I think we have to demonstrate Peace somehow,” offered Kathleen. “In Quaker meetings we sit quietly together, and when someone has something to share, he or she speaks up, and the others listen. Really listen, I mean.”

“So you think we ought to just hang around in a circle like this until some great idea pops into someone’s head? And they will just share it? And we’ll do it, and it will all be hunky dory? And THEN what? We all get into the Pearly Gates, which I haven’t seen yet? Dumb and dumber.” Merlin wagged his head and rolled his eyes, looking for a laugh, but he didn’t get one.

“She’s right, at least in part. We should listen to each other. Among us we must have a lot of experience and ideas.” Dr. Jill’s voice was always calming. “Let’s try the circle and the quiet zone. I think we need a rule too, that when someone speaks, others don’t interrupt or denigrate them.”

“I guess I know how to listen, after thirty-five years as a barber,” quipped Merlin.

“I agree,” put in Jackie as Jenny nodded. Dr. Jill made eye contact with each of the others, passing from one to the next, hoping for assent. Each nodded, or smiled, or shrugged assent. Only Doris stood facing away from the group. “Doris? You too? You agree to try this?”

Doris looked over her should at them. “Maybe. But I have to keep a watch out for Clyde. You go on with whatever you want to do.”

The group was together, considering, for what might have been an eternity, but maybe not.

“Time’s a wasting! Let’s do something!” Richard is a get-it-done sort of person.

“Time is one thing that doesn’t matter anymore, near as I can tell.” Jenny tipped her head back and closed her eyes as if to sleep.

More waiting for inspiration, maybe another eternity.

/ / / / / / / / /

“We know we can each go anywhere we want, at will, right? How about we each go off now and do some good deeds?” Lee smiled. “I could maybe cancel out some of the Iraqi’s I wasted.” The whole group looked at him.

“You killed people?” Larry was aghast.

“Well, not really. I just looked down the sights of the guns and cheered when the troops got a hit, you know. It was fun! Like a video game. I haven’t been in a good fight in, oh, maybe 50 years. Not since the Korean War.”

“Well, thank goodness we don’t have so much power over events now. Or do we? Can we influence events on earth? Or should we?” Larry raised his eyebrows in question.

“Did anyone make anything happen, when you went away, you know, when we first got here? Did you change any event?” Dr. Jill looked around at the quiet group. No one said anything. “So, then, that’s out. We don’t have to stop wars or anything like that.” She paused. “Did any of you, on your trip, create anything out of your thoughts? Did you make something exist that wasn’t there before? I tried to make change in Haiti and got nowhere. Anyone else?” Again the group was desultory.

“Peanut butter and jelly sandwich,” Jackie said loudly.

‘Is that relevant now?” Richard asked her.

“I always like P B and J, so I tried to create one. Didn’t work. I am not hungry anyway.”

“OK, scratch creating from our TO DO List. What sort of power do we have?” Dr. Jill asked again.

“Could we pray? Praise God and Jesus and ask Mary for help?” suggested Jenny. “My mother prayed every day for an hour. Now that I think about it, I doubt that changed anything, not even her. She was pretty difficult, you might say.”

“Thank God, prayer is off the list!” Merlin couldn’t resist that one, with a laugh. “So, we might as well sing and dance!” He threw up his hands and did a little jig in mock revelry.

“Now that is probably something we could do. Who will go first?” asked Dr. Jill.

“This is not a first to last type activity,” said Larry. “I think we have to do it all together.”

“Just try me!” shouted Doris. “See if I sing and dance before Clyde gets here!” Obviously she was listening.

Rayna Solari, b. June 1993. African refugee from the Congo at age 3, to Tanganyika, Tanzania, in Portland, OR, since 2007, a “joyful spirit who loved to swim, dance and sing.”

“Hey, what are you all doing?” A cheerful voice interrupted the serious circle. “I am Rayna. This is some place, isn’t it? You been around the other side yet?”

“The OTHER side? Where?” Merlin was incredulous, looking behind him.

“By the lake, where all the birds are nesting. Over that way! Reminds me of Africa.” Rayna tossed her head in the general direction behind her. “I just loved watching them. They got their own kind of singing and dancing, you know?” She stood looking at everyone. “So what’s going on here?”

“Well,” Dr. Jill began. “We’ve concluded that we need to work together somehow,, to, ah, get somewhere else. Move on. Go to heaven?”

Rayna laughed. “That’s silly. You are in heaven. This is it. You’re always where you are, and that’s heaven. Remember your Bible? The kingdom of heaven is within you. Jesus said that, and the other great teachers too. Every child knows that.”

“Maybe we’re all too old,” observed Lee. “We gotta get younger again. Maybe that’s what we have to do.”

“Listen, don’t you hear that music? Makes me want to dance. Come on!” Rayna grabbed hands with Larry who was nearest her. Somewhere he heard a single note from a piccolo. He felt embarrassed and drew back. Regina took Richard’s hands in her own, but he didn’t join in either, raising them in a gesture of stop. What he heard was a trumpet.

“Don’t you hear that music?” Rayna’s voice was pleading now. She wondered how you get old people to hear music. “Old” must mean you don’t hear the music anymore. “I am glad I didn’t get old!” she announced. She stomped off and stood at a distance, then looked back over her shoulder at them all watching to see what she would do next. A smile flooded her face, and her eyes crinkled up. She returned to the group.

“Come on. Get a little closer together, OK?” Willing to try anything, the women all stepped forward, a little closer together, except Doris, who faced them now but at some distance. Each could hear a single sustained note.

‘Just hold hands.” Hands reached out, touching one another. Their faces lit up in smiles.

“So what’s going on, you twits?” Doris was practically shouting Jill, Grace, Jenny, Jackie, Kathleen and Rayna giggled. A current of happiness ran through them.

“What is this, some kind of women’s circle? My wife was always going off to some kind “circle”, exercize, or book club, or Bible study. Geez,” said Merlin.

“Mine too,” said Richard. I like football better myself. Crashing through a line of big guys and getting the ball over the goal line was a peak experience. I watched a lot football games.”

“I liked watching basketball better myself,” offered Lee. “Go Blazers!”

“I used to be a drummer. Played in a band. Now that was a “peak experience,” as you called it. Haven’t done anything like that for years, I mean, for a really long time.” Merlin looked around into the white distance. “There doesn’t seem to BE a time here.”

“Hey, guys! Come closer to us! Come ON!” Dr. Jill’s excitement was catching on. “I think we are each a note. We need you all. Get closer! You’ll see!”

Reluctantly the men worked their way into the loose circle. They could hear it now, a kind of humming. If they leaned in, it seemed to get a little louder.

“That’s a great percussionist in there,” noted Merlin. “The rhythm is just 120 beats per minute, a little faster than a heartbeat. Good for dancing.” He smiled then. “Let’s just tighten up this circle a bit, OK?” He moved further into it. They all moved forward a bit more.

“Doris, honey. We need you here. Will you come here please?” cajoled Grace.

“I like being alone,” she called from her distance. “Clyde always was late.” But she was growing curious about the current situation, enough to draw her nearer and face the circle. And then hands reached out and pulled her in.. Her eyes opened wide in surprise. The sound of a soaring violin arched over the group! Cymbals clashed! And the symphony began!

“Why, Clyde! There you are!”

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