Willingness to Speak

At a Zoom meeting last week, the presenter, to break the proverbial ice, asked what we liked best about working from home. The responses were not surprising–not having to get dressed, no commute, time with family. I added something similar.  But what I should have done is acknowledged my privilege and said “the fact that I can.”


I have remained largely silent these past two weeks–at least publicly. It would be easy to justify or at least rationalize my silence and say that I was digesting, thinking, absorbing, grieving. But the time for justifications or rationalizations must be over. The time for silence must end. What my one voice can add to the vital dialogue we must all have about race I cannot  be certain. But I know I have to say something. 


Nadine Gordimer wrote that “[w]riting is making sense of life”; but all the writing in the world is never going to render sensible this pain. The fact that any person has to state that their life matters, that their lives are worth just as much as anyone else’s is nothing short of gut-wrenching, and it should give us all enormous pause.


But after the pause must be action. Difficult conversations must be endured. Reckonings must be faced. Complicity must be acknowledged.  


And all of this requires a bravery we are capable of but so often disinclined to call upon. 


Life in this country is different for people of color. My life would have been different had I not been born white. I know what it’s like every once in a while to not be heard, to not be understood.  I cannot begin to conceive how I would function if this were my constant state of being. And I also know enough about human nature to know that being treated as less than, believing you don’t have a voice leads to sad if not tragic consequences.  


If your best friend or child or parent or colleague confided in you that they were in a relationship in which they felt invalidated, disrespected, as though they didn’t matter, you would tell them they do matter. You would do everything in your power to show them. You wouldn’t even question. 


Black lives matter because they do. The fact that it has to be said shows the extent of the work we need to do–as a nation and as human beings.  


We are capable of the most incredible feats of physical prowess, of intellectual daring, of enlightenment and empathy, of gentleness and hope. 


The work involved in recognizing your worth in this imperfect world is messy, not remotely linear, colossally inconvenient, and rife with pain and sometimes loss.


We are capable of doing so much better. 


The question is are we finally willing?


The new year ushers in with it a host of platitudes designed to inspire change, to elicit a fresh start from each of us flawed humans meandering along and muddling through our own personal journeys.  But the turn of a page of a calendar cannot command growth, an arbitrarily chosen date is not where change dwells. Change comes when it comes, heedless of any particular month, any particular day; and it’s what we do next, how we respond that truly determines whether good will come, whether we will learn and ultimately grow.

It is tempting to hop on the bandwagon of our collective notion of new year, new start, but I won’t. I can’t. Because I also know that the dismissal of one year also has the potential to dismiss all of its lessons.

So, as 2018 looms, I am carrying 2017 with me. It’s tucked into a pocket, but I am keeping my hand on it, to remind me how truly lucky I am.



Eulogy for Beauty

IMG_3918She had asked me long ago to write this, long before the thought that it would be imminently necessary, amidst practical reminders from her that, of course, one day it would be necessary. 

I told her I was honored.  That I would write it. And then I filed her request deep in the recesses of my brain, where I thought it could stay for a long, long time.  

My children’s grandmother, the woman who was my mother-in-law, passed away on Saturday, 23 September 2017.  Today I spoke these words to her family and friends.  I share them here today so that my children will know just how much I love their grandmother, so that their father knows just how much I love his mother, so that her family and many friends know just how much I love her.  

I take no credit for these words.  Her life inspired them, yes, but I don’t remember writing them.  One minute the screen was blank.  The next minute this.  She had a hand in this.  They are her words.  I am grateful she allowed me to share them.  

“Looking around this room today, there is evidence, ample evidence, of a life well-lived.

“Family, friends . . . and friends who in the capacious and loving aura of Mary Farias felt like family.

“Colleagues.  Neighbors.  Fellow parishioners, of course.

“And acquaintances.  The waiter at her favorite restaurant.  A cashier at the store down the street.  A mother she only just met at the playground.

“Mary Farias truly embodied the notion that a stranger is simply a friend you have yet to meet.

“So, how does one person cultivate such relationships?  How does one person extend their reach and hold gently such a wide swath of humanity?

“It’s simple, really.


“She spent time.  She made time.  She made you feel as though you were worth her time.

“Because you were.

“She wanted to know what you were feeling.  How you were.  What you were thinking and why you were thinking it.

“And this came from a place of genuine interest.  From a desire to connect with you and learn from you.

“You see, in this world where we are running–running here and running there–Mary Farias slowed everything down.  Asked you to sit, to stop running.  Because she knew this was important.  That this was everything.

“Because when you stop running and reach out your hand, open your arms and your heart, you discover our purpose as human beings, why we are here in the first place, why we are here of all the places we could be.

“It is to love.

“Love, to Mary Farias, was a verb.  It was action.  She was action.  Whether she was cooking for you, shopping with you, helping you find what you needed in the library, asking you about your day or telling you about hers, she expressed her love.

“Her love for people.  And her love for life.  This life.

“She saw life for the gift it is, and she honored that gift by moving through this life with dignity and purpose, her grace and her wit and her beauty surviving under oftentimes extreme pressure.

“This week much of our family’s conversation revolved around what Mary would have wanted.

“When I look out at all of you here today, I would say, “This.”  This is exactly what she would have wanted.  The people she loved, the people she touched, to be here together, sitting next to one another, holding onto one another and stopping for a brief moment to consider what all this means.

“Thank you all for being here today to honor a woman who was feisty, bold, inquisitive, and in many ways so ahead of her time.  A woman who endeavored tirelessly to understand and to be understood, who loved and was loved.

“The legacy of Mary Farias, the legacy she leaves behind is in each one of you.  She planted it there . . . possibly without your ever realizing it:  Spend time.  Listen closely.  Hug tightly.  Persevere.

“She is in me and she is in you.

And since you know Mary Farias, you know it is truly the only place she ever wanted to be.”


An Invitation to Sit

I will often advise students when writing a narrative or a reflective piece to start in the middle of the story. There is a certain power to cutting right to the point.

So, here goes.



Two letters and what I would loosely call a word hurled toward me on a beautiful summer afternoon in a playground in the city I call my home. With my family and a family friend. While I was playing frisbee.

By a group of middle-school boys.


I have spent enough years on the planet to have had the opportunity to be called many things. Having survived middle school myself, the range of insults runs the predictable gamut.

But “ho” is new.

And having to explain this to my children even newer.

But it is my reaction to the word that required the most careful deconstruction.

I have taught my children to walk away from bullies, to disempower them by ignoring them.

But I am not a child. I am rather a grown-up. And a mother. And a teacher. And this group of boys was not unlike any other group of individuals who in a group is compelled to mask their insecurities and frustrations and pain, collective and individual, by lashing out at others.

I could have lashed back. I could have walked away. But instead I walked toward them. Sat at their table. Told them who I was and most decidedly who I was not.

They were disarmed and thus desperately continued their diatribe with all they had, descending into vulgarities that belied their young years.

But I did not move.

And neither did they save for one young man who initially went to another table but then promptly came back.

I spoke to them . . . gently. And I continued to hold them accountable for every word they said.

I refused to move.

And my family watched.

And my sons had questions later. A lot of questions.

Why didn’t you call the police? Why didn’t you just walk away? What was accomplished by sitting with them? Why do you care?

Because they are children.

Not mine but still mine.

Because one day these children will become men.

And because sitting at the same table, literally, is the only way anything will ever change.

House to Home

We buried St. Joseph right in the front as we were supposed to.

We scoured Walmart for sage and burned it in the four corners of the house.

We have cleaned, decluttered, decluttered again, and lowered the price . . . twice.

And still our house hasn’t sold.


It needs cosmetic touches, to that I can attest.  And for some who may desire a more contemporary open floor plan, the 1900 Victorian cottage rooms I find cozy may translate to an expense if not the proverbial can of worms that comes with knocking down a wall or two.

The kitchen still features what I can only assume are sixty-plus-year-old cabinets and cannot boast the most up-to-date layouts photographed in multi-page spreads in cooking magazines.  And yet if you ask around, you might find that some delicious meals have come out of that kitchen.

The bathrooms have fully functioning sinks, toilets, and showers, as my family’s relative cleanliness on most days can testify, though there is nothing particularly luxurious or high-end anywhere in sight.

There is no driveway, no garage.  But in twenty years, I have never not been able to park in front of the house.  With just eight houses on this dead-end street tucked off the beaten path of one of Newport’s most historic, most beautiful neighborhoods, the only people who ever find us have to be looking for us, and sometimes even then, only if they’re lucky.

Why it has not sold remains a mystery to me.  The part of me that believes in fate sometimes thinks that perhaps where we are going next isn’t quite yet ready for us.  The mystical part of me believes that maybe the house isn’t entirely ready to let us go.

Whatever it is, like everything else that has perplexed me, challenged me, caused me angst, I believe eventually the answers will reveal themselves, that this waiting, this limbo will one day make sense.

A good friend of mine told me recently to simply relax and enjoy the summer here–that people pay exorbitant rents to summer in this very neighborhood, walking distance to downtown Newport but still quiet, just three blocks from the water and the most stunning sunsets, perpetually bathed in the smell of salt water and fresh air.

But our family does not need a house, ideally located as this one may be.

We need a home.






Let’s Do the Time Warp Again . . . and Again


The way she looked at him took my breath away and sent me rooting for my camera.

The way she talked to him reminded me I probably shouldn’t be eavesdropping.

But there she was, an embodiment of a 17th-century woman from Massachusetts serenely tending her garden.  And there he was, an exuberant 11-year-old boy I occasionally feel was born far too late.

She spoke to him of her vegetables, the progress of her radishes, and how she was looking forward to the harvest so she could “slice them thinly and place them on buttered toast.”

He listened, soaking in her words, completely present in her moment and in this time.  He replied, “That sounds absolutely delicious.”

And he meant it.  To him, from her, though he had no prior experience with radishes on or off buttered toast, she spoke a truth that was alternately familiar and intoxicating.

Whether she broke character at that moment of connection and became a person who found him simply a sweet little boy out for the day with his family at Plimoth Plantation or remained a character out of place and from another time who found in my son a kindred soul, I do not know.

What I do know is that the softness of her eyes, the gentleness of her posture, the mystique of her words elicited from him what I know to be the best in him.

And every time someone can see what I see in this beautiful boy,  no matter in what century they may happen to reside, I can exhale.  A little bit more. And intentionally.


A few days ago I woke up and knew it was time.

Time to put fingers to keyboard and start to write, start to move through this phase of my journey in the same way I have negotiated so many other moments.

Nadine Gordimer famously remarked that “writing is making sense of life.”

So, tonight I begin to make sense of this life of mine and write about divorce.

Divorce is all around us, if the statistics are to be believed, and it is and was certainly all around me.  My grandmother, mother, family members, friends, colleagues.  But as much as one human being can appreciate and empathize with another’s experience, it is not until you are in the throes of it yourself that you begin to truly understand.

Six months into the process, I most certainly cannot proclaim to be an expert nor do I yet have words of wisdom to impart.

What I do have is six months of learning and, fortunately, now, just as much hope.

17972018_10210696807670594_2708914811719925191_oThree weeks ago today, for the first time, I climbed a mountain–a small mountain, but a mountain nonetheless.  The boundless metaphors I encountered on that journey paled in comparison to that moment in the car, driving forward and back to my family, when I realized I had done something I never before thought possible and that there actually and still resides within me a strength sufficient to keep climbing and now to start writing.

For them, of course

But also for me.





A Twelve-Year-Old’s Response


My twelve-year-old has recently become a master of the monologue.  Any subject can get him going—preteen angst, the perils of middle school, having to take out the trash, the fact that it’s Thursday.  Occasionally bringing me to tearful laughter, his curmudgeonly tirades are almost unfailingly accurate. 

So, his take on the election, I knew, would be especially edifying.

He listens but also puts all he garners through his own well-honed critical filter.  He sees and therefore thinks and communicates clearly, and conversing with him on subjects that step outside the realm of the occasionally coarse purview of twelve-year-old boy gives me hope. 

He was disgusted and sad and angry on Wednesday morning.

But what he was and is not is confused when he says the rancor of this election season and its attendant results prove how very far we still have to go—as a nation, as people. 

A twelve-year-old who sees clearly.

And a mother whose hope has been renewed. 

Once Bitten

After torrential rains and an all-around meteorological dreary day, to see this dog sashaying down the street was a spot of sun.  He was tan and tiny and fierce and moved, despite his leash, as though he owned the sidewalk.  He was also carrying a tiny stuffed reindeer in his mouth.  Probably Rudolph.  No doubt his favorite toy.

And as this dog and his owner passed, I naturally smiled.  Anyone would have.  The woman walking him smiled back.  She then said, admonishingly, “He’s cute, but he has psychological problems.”  I clearly had the look of one who was unfazed and intended to pet her dog, “psychological problems” notwithstanding; so, to be clear, she added I should probably not pet him lest he bite.

And as they continued walking along, her and her dog’s backs now to me, she added, “I adopted him.  So, you can’t blame me for his problems.”

Heavy sigh.

And where to begin . . .

Well, first off, it probably goes without saying that no bite that tiny dog could have inflicted would have stung more than that seemingly unwitting, seemingly harmless remark.

In our language, we use the word “adopt” to describe “highways,” “spots,” “attitudes,” animals, and, of course, people.  And while I have always leaned toward wishing for more synonyms so the word “adopt” could be reserved for people, I understand its linguistic flexibility.  That being said, it’s the fact that this woman, in a mere moment and eleven words, cut to the core of a problem much more prevalent and insidious than mere semantics.

Before I continue on, I know she didn’t mean it, didn’t mean anything by it.  Most people don’t and never do.  And maybe that is a significant part of the problem.  That people don’t realize it.  But in her remark she effectively linked adoption and “psychological problems,” said that those who are adopted come with said problems, problems for which someone else is to “blame,” and that despite an adoption, the psychological problems linger and that the best one can do is muddle through.

In eleven words.

And therein is the trouble. 

As the mother of a family formed by adoption, it pains me that my children are going to hear the word tossed about in this manner, the word our language has to describe the process by which our family was formed, hurled blithely and without regard, a word that is and will be at times participially attached to them. 

The woman I encountered today didn’t know me, didn’t know my beautiful sons, and didn’t realize the extent of the subtext of her remarks. 

She also didn’t share with me something I didn’t already know.  

She just reminded me that some people bite.


Quirky Is As Quirky Does

IMG_7345“So, you’re Oscar’s mom?”

I nod my assent and settle into my spot as the parent in the parent/teacher conference that is about to unfold.

“So, Oscar?”

I wait patiently for the next sentence, the next word, the insight I long for, the glimpse of who my son is outside the four walls and comfort of our home.

And then it comes.

“Well, Oscar is a little . . . cue the dramatic pause . . .  quirky.”


I took a breath and responded the way I often do when I’m not sure how to respond—with a self-deprecating joke and a quick deflection.

And then we moved on.

But quirky?

The word is loaded with connotation—both positive and less-than-positive.

His teacher could see him as a true original or as simply odd.  Both are replete with judgment—but one has the power to lift him up, the other ostensibly to weigh him down.

For me, as a mother, though, I embrace the quirky, cultivate it even, encourage him in word and, I hope, in deed, to stand out without showing off.

But the net result, perhaps even the cost, of this, I suppose, is that there will be those who reduce him to quirky in the worst sense of the word, who have a sense of what “normal” is and note that he doesn’t fit it.

I will never know how Oscar’s teacher defines the word “quirky” or how she truly sees my son.  I didn’t ask, and I won’t.  I simply said that I saw it as a compliment and proceeded to discuss his classroom performance.

And then I went home to my quirky sons—all of them—and felt like the luckiest mother in the world.