My retrospective on a recent trip to Canada. I feel compelled to share it because it sheds light on how Americans may now be perceived by people in other countries. Click on the link below:
Category Archives: Journal Arts
Club Maplewood, they called it. A dance at the nursing home, complete with disco lights, a Tom Jones-type performer, ginger-ale champagne, and a wide-open dance floor. A dance floor lined with 70 walkers and wheelchairs.
As part of the entertainment, there are expert ballroom dancers performing choreographed routines. They twirl each other around the dance floor as the wheelchair-bound residents sit, solemn-faced, on the sidelines and watch. My discomfort is palpable. How cruel to subject the residents to this spectacle! Do the fancy dancers realize that although they might be superior in their abilities now, the same fate might befall them someday? I am convinced that this so-called “dance” is a bad idea. A really bad idea. I want to leave and take my dad with me.
Then the magic begins to unfold, like a scene from the movie Cocoon. People start to tap their feet and clap their hands. The performer sings to the elderly women, and they swoon. And slowly, other dancers join the pros on the dance floor. The aides work the room, holding up those with walkers who move slowly but in time to the rhythm. Wheelchairs begin to appear, and residents are twirled by partners with two good legs.
I realize at this moment that there is a dancer in every one of us, no matter our age, and even when the flesh gets weak, the spirit remains willing.
The scene is not lost on my father. He comments on how good the dancers are, looking at me intently. “Do you want to dance?” I ask him hesitantly. “No,” he says, giving me a moment of relief before adding, “Unless you want to?”
With much reservation, I wheel my dad onto the now-crowded dance floor. We start to dance, this little man “standing” three feet high in his wheelchair and me in my high heels and business suit. We dance the jitterbug, holding both hands and moving back and forth. Despite his diminished stature, he insists on leading and on twirling me, for which I have to stoop considerably. He grins.
Cameras flash. The scene is nothing less than extraordinary. We dance for the rest of the evening until the last song: Last Dance. And there, at the nursing home disco, I dance what is likely to be my last dance with my father. His eyes sparkle; mine fill with tears.
While I am tired, my father could have kept going, way past his bedtime. We are among the last to leave the event. And as I wheel him down the hall, two of the professional dancers approach him.
“You were good,” he tells them.
“No, you were good!” they respond almost simultaneously. They introduce themselves to him and ask for his name. They tell him they loved watching him dance, that he has great rhythm and so much enthusiasm. They tell him it was a privilege to be on the same dance floor with him.
He could have burst with pride, thanks to their kindness and sensitivity. And I am delighted to have my skepticism proven unwarranted for the second time that evening.
I take him to his little room, and we say goodnight. “Thank you for dancing with me, Dad,” I say, as I turn to go.
“Did you have fun?” he asks.
“Yes,” I respond emphatically. For it was truly the best dance I have ever attended.
Excerpt from They Live On: Saying Goodbye to Mom and Dad by Patricia A. Nugent
Dolly is without pedigree papers, so her date of birth is unknown. I’m told she was born on a farm in mid-May, so I designate Mother’s Day as her birthday. Today, she’s two years old.
Since I’m without mother or child, I take the birthday girl for a walk, hoping to generate enough serotonin to lift the funk of this motherless child. There are many middle-aged single women living on my lane, and I notice they all seem to be home alone. From that observation, I surmise that on this day designated to honor our earthly source of life, many mothers are not with their adult children. And many adult children are not with their mothers.
After I moved four hours away from my hometown, I seldom saw my mother on Mother’s Day. We postponed paying homage to motherhood each year to keep peace in our family. My father’s birthday followed by less than two weeks, so we’d celebrate both on the same day – his day. To have done the opposite would have been unthinkable…to him. So, my mother was one of those women without her children on Mother’s Day. She always assured me that a phone call would suffice until we gathered for his birthday. “It’s not that big a deal to me. Really.”
I now wonder if it might have been a bigger deal than she let on. Like most mothers, she was used to sacrificing. Now that my parents are gone, I wish we’d had two celebrations. But at the time, one was all I could handle due to the accompanying family drama.
In a bizarre way, this neighborhood scene – all these women alone on Mother’s Day – gives me comfort: Even if I’d had children, I might still be alone today. There are no guarantees of affiliation or proximity. But it also makes me want to shout out, to rent a billboard, to sound the warning: If you still have a mother on this earthly plane, spend as much time with her as you can. Because too soon, she’ll be gone forever.
(excerpt from Chapter XV of manuscript Healing with Dolly Lama: Finding God in Dog by Patricia A. Nugent)
To honor those students lifting their voices today against gun violence…
I’m embarrassed to post this story, yet recognize the value of exposing our own shortcomings, in hopes that we and others will learn from them.
‘Tis the season…click below.
Workers on the landscaping crew look different this spring. They’re typical American guys now – overweight, sporting baseball caps and tattoos.
The Mexicans used to bug me somewhat – they didn’t speak English so it wasn’t possible to communicate with them as they worked in neighbors’ yards. But they were very friendly and polite. And everyone vouched that they were meticulous, hard workers: “Try to get them if you have a project,” I was repeatedly advised. One neighbor used to let them use his cell phone on their breaks, so they could call across the border to speak to loved ones. They wept in gratitude, it had been so long since family contact.
Five Mexicans used to jump off the truck in years gone by to tackle spring clean-ups. Today three Americans have arrived instead. Probably for the same price.
“Looks like a whole new crew this year,” I commented to the three rakers as I walked past.
“Yup,” one said. “Sure is.”
“Where’d the other guys go?” I didn’t slow my pace, just kept walking my dog, trying not to act all that interested.
One stopped raking and started to say, “Well….” and was immediately cut off by the other shaking his head and saying, “We don’t know. We don’t know.”
The third was on his cell phone.
As I walked away, I heard them laugh. Snigger, maybe’s more like it.
I don’t know if the Mexican workers were fired due to lack of documentation, are in hiding, or have been rounded up by I.C.E. I do know that I could never understand how Germans could have allowed their neighbors to simply disappear and not ask more questions, not demand that it be stopped.
Yet now, I flounder not knowing the best course of action to stop this madness in my own country.
My latest essay, published by Vox Populi, February 16, 2016.
Wearing t-shirts that read, Today I am a Muslim too, twenty of us piled into the United Church of Christ’s bus to head to our local mosque. When we disembarked, three times our number were already there. People of all denominations and ethnicities were gathered on that cold December night for the same purpose: To show solidarity with Muslims, defending their right to worship as they are called to do.
While Muslims prayed inside the mosque, we stood outside with candles and sang a hymn written by the mission’s organizer that included the refrain, You’re never alone because we stand beside you. We were then invited to join the worshipers, leaving our shoes at the door. The mosque was strikingly bare with no statues, paintings, or furniture; no “false gods before” them. The men prayed up front, women in the back, heads covered – admittedly ruffling my feminist spirit.
The imam spoke in Arabic, the sound disarming with its harsh consonants coupled with our inability to comprehend the foreign tongue. A tongue showcased by the media as radical and violent.
We stood in the back as worshipers bowed prostrate to their God. Our God.
After the prayers, we were invited into the worship area. The imam explained that we’d been asked to remove our shoes so that the area would remain clean for God; typically, we’d also have been asked to wash our hands to be pure for God. He explained that the worship area was stark so nothing would distract worshipers from focusing their attention on God.
He told us the prayers recited were about “the beautiful story of Jesus and Mary” – that Muslims also commemorate the birth of Jesus this time of year. There was at least one audible gasp in the group, reflecting our collective ignorance of the Muslim faith.
As the imam spoke, children ran around, playing games, and laughing. Muslims love their children too, a parody of Sting’s song about Russians, went through my head. We were hugged and photographed in appreciation. We laughed, cried, and broke bread together.
The imam expressed gratitude for support received since bullying and hate crimes against Muslims are on the rise. When asked if they have an outreach plan to teach other religious, educational, and civic organizations about their faith, he said they’re a humble people who don’t want to push themselves on others. But they’d be delighted to explain their beliefs when invited to do so.
It’s important to understand the basic precepts of a religion before condemning those who practice it. If the Roman Catholic Church were to be judged solely by the Crusades, the Inquisitions, witch hunts, Nazi-collusion, Timothy McVeigh, or bombings of Planned Parenthood centers, it would be judged as one of the most dangerous and violent religions. As Pope Francis said in August of this year, “There is always a small group of extremists in practically every religion. We have them too.”
In Jesus’ day, there was violent hostility between Jews and Samaritans. In the Gospel of Luke, Jesus exhorted followers to “Love your neighbor as yourself.” When asked, “Who is my neighbor?” Jesus told the story of the Samaritan who had stopped to care for a Jewish man who’d been beaten, while others – even the most holy – had walked on by. Jesus answered that the neighbor was “the one who had mercy on him.” Then Jesus instructed, in his native Aramaic tongue, “Go and do likewise.”
If you are a school leader, member of a religious or civic organization, invite the imam of your local mosque to speak about the Muslim religion. They are our neighbors; they deserve mercy.
Patricia A. Nugent
I’m no shrinking violet. Most who know me, or read my work, think me somewhat bold and outspoken. Not afraid of a showdown if I deem it a moral imperative. But I could not screw up enough courage to watch the recent presidential debate. The thought of watching that know-nothing misogynist harass the candidate President Obama considers “the most qualified person to ever seek the office” made my stomach turn over.
So at 9pm, after Hillary’s historic entrance, I took to my bed. Scared and nervous, filled with negative energy. There’s so much at stake in this election; I’m very emotionally involved. For distraction, I reached for the biography of Julia Ward Howe and snuggled in to read. (She wrote that catchy little song, The Battle Hymn of the Republic, although too few recognize her name.)
But there was no escaping the debate. Text messages started pouring in from friends filled with similar angst. Giving me a blow-by-blow of how Trump was steamrolling Hillary and hogging air time, yet the moderator wasn’t keeping him in check. With matching vitriol, I replied to each for a while and then decided that these pinging messages were equally bad for my mental health.
I recalled that my friend Ellen is trying to convert her abhorrence of Donald Trump to energetic support of Hillary Clinton. Admirable as that is, I’ve been so consumed by my own loathing of him that I’ve made no effort to follow suit. My Facebook page reflects my obsession with exposing him in order to defeat him; I can think of little else.
Yet seeking refuge in bed at 9pm forced me to re-think my reactions to this campaign. I decided to focus on what I want rather than on what I don’t want.
To center myself, I lit a candle. Breathing deeply, I closed my eyes and envisioned Hillary in her red suit surrounded by purifying white light. I began to send Reiki to her right there on stage. (I had enough confidence to hope it wouldn’t relax her so much that she’d appear “low energy.”) I sent her light and love, strength and wisdom. I whispered my intention that she be forthright and a force for peace. I asked that she be able to break through the barriers that prevent so many from fully embracing her candidacy. I even wished her more likeability, allowing myself to laugh out loud at the ridiculousness of that sexist view.
When I was done, I rested my head on the pillow, calmer and more confident that all shall be well. My terror was gone.
Texts from friends kept coming, but their tone had changed. My correspondents were now reporting that Hillary was strong, really knew her stuff, got in a few zingers, and looked radiant.
When I knew for sure the debate was over, I crawled out from under the covers to watch the postmortem. Many analysts had detected a noticeable shift about forty minutes into the debate. While Trump had started out somewhat coherent, she’d seemed tentative. She then became “scorching,” according to the New York Times. And he melted down.
The timing of her gaining momentum perfectly correlated with the timing of my sending out positive energy.
I’m not claiming any credit for Hillary’s debate performance; that would be absurd. She’s worked hard for this moment and has the cred to whip his butt. But I do believe that the universe showed me that using energy to empower her is more productive than railing against a madman. (See? I haven’t fully reformed…) Perhaps my little ray of white light joined forces with light sent by others who believe in the power of intention. Those who are also tired of being scared, anxious, and angry. Perhaps our collective white light can be refracted as through a prism to generate an inclusive rainbow of color. If so, together we can be an impetus for tipping the scale toward a more civilized America.
If nothing else, my new commitment will help me survive the next month. I’ve been giving Donald Trump way too much of my energy; I’m taking it back to resend it to the only person right now who can save us from imminent self-destruction.
Dolly swam this morning. Like many mornings this summer. In and out. Smiling as she wades in, wagging her tail until it’s submerged. Smiling as she runs out.
She doesn’t know it’s Labor Day, doesn’t realize the significance of the fireworks that scared her half to death last night. Doesn’t realize that summer is coming to an end. All she knows is that she went swimming.
She doesn’t know that it might be the last time she swims this season. That the cool evenings will give way to cool days. That too soon, the lake will be frozen once more.
Because she isn’t cursed with that knowing, Dolly suffers no melancholy. But she also isn’t blessed with knowing that she should savor every moment because it’s fleeting – and perhaps should linger a while longer in the cool waters of the mountain lake.
I’m both blessed and cursed with awareness that things change; life is ephemeral. Yet I still fought back my desire to swim in the dark blue water under the stars last night.
Tonight, maybe I’ll have another opportunity.
-Patricia A. Nugent, September 2016