Category Archives: Micro-observations

When did Compassion Become Political?


My dad called the other night to let me know that his oldest brother, an uncle I have not seen in several years, was taken by ambulance to the hospital. According to my dad, his oxygen levels are at 72% when resting and drop even lower when he gets up or tries to move or walk. They drained 1.5 liters of fluid off his lungs yet… they say he doesn’t have pneumonia, cirrhosis, kidney issues, heart issues, a blood clot or another discernible reason for the issues.

After the traditional and expected “I’m so sorry” and “Is there anything I can do” responses, I asked my dad if there was any family history of such events or if he had any suspicions about the cause.

My dad was silent for a minute before telling me he had asked the doctor if my uncle’s illness could be related to a small rodent problem he was experiencing. The doctor dismissed it as being unlikely. However, the way he delivered this information made me wonder so, I asked a follow up question.

“What kind of small rodent problem?”

My dad proceeded to explain that when my uncle had stopped farming, the price of corn had been low. He decided to winter it in the grain bins and sell it in the spring. But… he never did and the corn sat untouched.

And then, the rats came.

He said my uncle put out poison but instead of working the way he had intended, the poison was ingested by his horde of barn cats, leaving the rats unchecked.

Before long, they moved into his house and later into his car.

My dad and his siblings had been taking turns visiting him, bringing him food, helping him with basic housekeeping responsibilities. The scattered droppings behind the dishes each week gave his secret away but they just cleaned up it since my uncle never talked about it much.

When the scattered droppings turned into piles of droppings – even with weekly cleanings – my dad and his siblings started setting traps.  When rats began to make an appearance and scattered across the floor on a regular basis during their visits, my dad’s sister walked out and refused to step foot in the house again.

Apparently, that was more than three years ago. This is just the first time it has been mentioned to me.

When questioned further, my dad admitted that at this point, rats freely roam the house oblivious to human presence. He told me that my uncle’s stove is unusable as the rats have chewed all the insulation from it and have nests in the oven. They have also destroyed insulation in the walls of the house, chewed on cupboard doors, eaten through the sofa and shredded my uncle’s bed sheets and a few blankets. Apparently, they crawl on him while he sleeps and the whole house reeks with rat urine and feces.

According to my dad, my uncle says it doesn’t bother him that much. He doesn’t have a use for a lot of the stuff that was ruined and, if he takes out his hearing aids, he doesn’t even hear them.

Dad and his younger brother have been trying to get him to move out of the house into senior living but he is stubborn and refuses. So, they simply continue to take turns visiting him to bring him food, empty the traps and clean the best they can.

My dad said that they have not talked with his doctor or any other official about the conditions of the house because they don’t want to embarrass their big brother or cause trouble.

This is not an uncle I am close to but… he is a human being!

No one deserves to live like this. No one.

I encouraged my dad to be honest with my uncle’s doctors, to let them know the condition of the house and the extent of the rat problem. He is a vet. Between VA programs and social services, there has to be other people who can help convince him to take care of himself, to accept some help.

But my dad, relieved to not be carrying the secret any more, simply sighed and said, “My brother bought that house for my mom and dad when he left the navy. He has lived there his whole life and wants to die there. He doesn’t want to move anywhere else. We’ve taken him around to look and he is pretty adamant about it. He’s my big brother! I don’t want to make him upset or cause problems! What else am I supposed to do?”

Understanding that the Encephalitis my dad had in 2005 has left huge scarring of his brain tissue, I decided not to argue and to simply agree. My dad’s last neurological check indicated 92% of his left temporal lobe is gone as is 30% of his right temporal lobe. The rest of his brain is fine. This means he has all of his personality and if you met him on the street, you’d have no idea. However, my stoic, German father is now emotional and ‘huggy.’ He also cannot do math, write his own name, learn new card games etc. It is not fair to expect him to do the logically ‘right’ thing. It is somewhat miraculous – when you think about it – that he is able to help at all. Brains are funny and wondrous things.

My uncle needed some sort of intervention and he doesn’t have anyone in his life who – for various reasons – could do it. So, I did it. I called the Department of Public Health that serves his town. I reported the conditions of his house and asked what could be done.

Unfortunately, they told me that because his home is in a rural area, it is not subject to nuisance laws and, because there are no small children they cannot intervene or order a clean-up. He may qualify as a vulnerable adult but because he is neglecting himself and is not being abused by someone else, they may not be able to intervene. I am disappointed but I understand.

So, I will do my best to support my dad and his younger brother in trying to convince him to voluntarily clean-up and move. I can be there to help deal with the aftermath when he passes away or does decide to move.

What in the world will that house look like a year from now? Or five years from now? Ten years from now? I can’t even fathom… Will it be our – the family’s – responsibility to clean this up or has he willed it to someone else?

This is unfortunate but… as I understand it, not an unusual experience with an older family member who lives alone.

I was having coffee with long-time friends and shared this story. We do this, share things that have happened in our lives. It’s what friends do.

But… my friends did not commiserate. Instead, they responded to my concern about my uncle in a very different way.

“I can NOT believe you reported your uncle. You completed violated his property rights!”

“Of course! Call the government to fix it. Everyone and their uncle – literally in this case – feels entitled! Those are my tax dollars, honey!”

“Exactly. If he wants to live in a house infested with rats, who are you to judge him?”

“He is rural! He isn’t hurting anyone by living like this and you and your family just decide he is the drama of the month and try to take over? Un-believable!”

“If you don’t like how he chooses to live, just don’t go over there.”

“When I get older don’t come and bring me meals! I don’t need your judgment and harassment.”

I acknowledge that I have not been close with him over the years. There are reasons for that. But… he is still my uncle. He is still a human being.

There is still right and wrong.

Isn’t there?

Why is it wrong, judgmental and offensive to be concerned about someone’s health and safety, their well-being?

When did compassion become political?

Who are these women I had coffee with?

What happened to my long-time friends?















Common Ground


“Name three things you and your partner appear to have in common.”

What do I have in common with my fiancé?

Well… we both love art. In fact, we met in an art class – over 30 years ago – back when we were both 15 year old infants. We have carried this love of art into our adulthood and we often visit museums together, talk about films and music, analyzing the artists’ intent, the message, the relevance, whether we relate to it, whether we plain old like it.

We are both news junkies and often discuss stories.

We play cards together.

We go for walks together.

We both have a similar sense of dark, biting humor.

We visit car shows and both dream of (and have started saving our pennies for) a Dodge SRT Hellcat Challenger in Plum Crazy Purple with Oracle Halo Lights (in either blue or white), Lambo doors, custom rims and an after market air intake.  (That being said, we’d also settle for a Charger. It depends on what is available when we have money.)

We dream of taking occasional road trips as this car will be our one large toy – in lieu of the stereotypical cabin or boat.

We are on the same page financially. We made plans and goals together and are equally committed to them.

We both put our kids first before anyone else except each other. And the thing is, neither of us can think of anything more fun or amazing or important than dropping our plans to get a visit from one of them – his or mine.

But really, it goes deeper than that.

When I reconnected with the beautiful soul I once called my friend who I soon will call my husband, I heard his story – over time – from our missing years. I came to understand that he values his needs, feelings and wants the same way he values other people’s needs, feelings and wants.  He does not feel guilty for his needs, feelings and wants and does not feel guilty for communicating what he wants or needs.  He respects my rights and recognizes and acknowledges them as being equally important to his own. He does not feel threatened because I have my own wants, needs, thoughts and feelings. He does not judge my (or anyone else’s) needs, wants, thoughts and feelings.

He is not afraid of losing my love, friendship or approval by expressing himself. He is the first to apologize if he has done something wrong or insensitive but… he does not apologize for things that are out of his control and out of his realm of responsibility. He decided long ago that he was not going to live life being angry or resentful.  He was not going to live a life filled with ‘what ifs.’ He is done with the facades and pretending. He is perfectly happy living life, content with how he was created, satisfied doing the very best that he can.

And… I love that about him.

My soul shouts, ‘Me, too!’

While it is a work in progress and he is a little farther along than I am, we are both done with being something we are not.

We are both happy and committed to being our individual selves.

We have both decided to ignore the noise of the world and to live authentically, true to ourselves – quietly – under our own terms.

And, we plan on doing this together the rest of our lives.


hi·a·tus (hīˈādəs/)

So… I’ve been gone a while. I really wanted to write but I was busy living a little bit of life, learning some lessons – mostly about myself. I worked on removing myself from my children’s choices and learning what I want.  I also paid a lot of attention and started figuring out what exactly makes me happy. So far, the things that make me happiest are:

  • “Not dates” because it doesn’t matter what they are labeled when it is really the best thing ever just hanging out with each other
  • Art – all kinds but especially surrealism and art that tells a story
  • Art stores
  • Bargains
  • Being a rock star and accomplishing the exact things everyone else says I can’t
  • Being caught off guard by something really sweet
  • Being creative
  • Being forehead to forehead with someone as they whisper in your ear
  • Being generous
  • Being silly
  • Being so tired, I don’t even feel tired anymore
  • Bookstores
  • Breathtaking scenery
  • Bubble baths
  • Butterflies and fireflies
  • Cheddar cheese and olive sandwiches
  • Cheese – all varieties
  • Chocolate Thunder from Down Under at Outback
  • City lights at night
  • Coffee shops
  • Cold, clean sheets
  • Comedy Clubs
  • Craft stores – they are just inspirational
  • Creating a magical world for people I love
  • Crunchy leaves on the sidewalk
  • Crying happy tears
  • Cuddles on the couch with someone I love
  • Discovering new music that speaks to my soul
  • Discovering a new book
  • Doing something I was afraid of doing, being successful and realizing my fears were ridiculous
  • Doing things that normally would be really boring but… because I am doing them with really awesome people, the boring things are suddenly really awesome
  • Dragons and fairies
  • Driving in my car alone and being able to scream / sing as loud as I want to just because I can
  • Emails and facebook chat messages that feeling like having coffee with someone
  • Emoticons. They are extremely helpful.
  • Game nights
  • Family
  • Feeling safe and loved wrapped in the arms of someone I love
  • Figuring out how to make due with what I have
  • Finding out that somebody who acts all cool and collected is actually just as nervous as I am
  • Finding something I didn’t know I was looking for
  • Fitting into pants I couldn’t fit into last year
  • Font play
  • Found art
  • Fresh beginnings
  • Fresh flowers (But no red roses. Those make me sad for some reason)
  • Friends
  • Giving unexpected gifts
  • Going for walks while listening to tunes
  • Grace
  • Grilled Lobster
  • Hanging out with somebody and it’s time to go home but I can tell they don’t really want me to leave
  • Having someone in my life who I can be completely 100% honest with and have good conversations with
  • Head banging to polka in the car with my son while sitting at stop lights
  • Hearing embarrassing stories from family and friends
  • Heart shaped rocks unexpectedly received
  • Holding hands with someone I love (No dead fish stuff – just playful and sensuous)
  • Honest and authentic compliments
  • Late night dessert runs
  • Laughing
  • Lazy Saturdays
  • Learning new things
  • Listening to well-loved music loaded with memories (New ones, old ones and ones I am hoping to have)
  • Looking back on something that’s really funny even though it really sucked at the time
  • Lying in bed with cold sheets and warm blankets watching tree branches dance in the wind through the window
  • Lying in bed for an extra hour because it’s warm and because I can
  • Making other people feel special
  • Making up stories while people watching
  • Managing my money in such a way that it no longer worries me
  • Movie marathons
  • Newly sharpened pencils
  • Old leather books each one with a beautiful flyleaf
  • Open Mic nights
  • Parsimonious shopping
  • Peanut butter and pickle sandwiches
  • Pens with purple ink
  • Peonies
  • People watching
  • People who bring out the best in me
  • People who don’t mind taking care of spiders and centipedes for me
  • People who have an awesome and distinct laugh
  • People who make me laugh
  • People who put up with me even when I am grumpy, anxious or neurotic
  • Pizza
  • Playing the piano (even though I don’t get to do it that much anymore and I’m not that good at it)
  • Playing with food
  • Poetry
  • Practical jokes (clever, not hurtful ones)
  • Praying through the Bible
  • Pretty smelling things – candles, incense etc
  • Quotes
  • Rainy mornings
  • Random acts of kindness
  • Randomly finding an album I used to listen to ages ago at the music store and being able to buy it for peanuts because no one really understands how important that album truly is
  • Reading a really good book
  • Reading my Bible
  • Reading other people’s blogs and ideas
  • Reading profound quotes
  • Reading the news (especially on the BBC)
  • Re-dos and re-makes
  • Sharing a piece of my soul with someone I love and having them embrace the gift
  • Singing in the car when no one is there
  • Sitting so close to somebody that I can hear them breathing
  • Slow dancing with someone I love in a random place just because I can
  • Small towns with cute boutiques and thrift stores
  • Smiles from strangers
  • Snuggling up in a pile of blankets on a cold day
  • Solving problems and implementing (not finishing) them
  • Staying up until 2am talking with my best friend
  • Sunlight and shadows
  • Surprises (Good ones)
  • Talking with people who are living the life they were created to live
  • The internet – the things you can learn!
  • The way someone looks at me when they love me
  • Two hearts beating in tandem
  • Walking in the dark, right before a storm
  • Wearing an outfit I feel good in
  • When a beautiful man has a little bit of stubble on his face
  • When a friend is completely honest with me about something they are struggling with. When they are willing to be vulnerable even though it’s risky
  • When I am being a hot mess and a friend calls me on it because they care more about me in the long run than they do about the fact that I might take it the wrong way for a little while
  • When I am feeling stupidly anxious about something and somebody talks me off the ledge even though I am being ridiculous and absolutely know better
  • When I am having a bad day and someone notices and refuses to accept my “I’m okay”
  • When I catch somebody’s eye across the room and we have one of those moments where we say things without using words and I feel like they are 20 times closer because of it
  • When I need somebody to hold me and somebody just gets than without me saying anything and steps up to be that person
  • When I spend a long time cuddling up with someone I love and when they leave, I can still smell them
  • When I tell someone I miss them and they say “I miss you too” back. And they mean it.
  • When I’m sad or feeling down or just lazy and somebody runs their fingers through my hair or strokes my hair away from my face
  • When little kids say ridiculous things when they are trying to say something else
  • When my back really, really hurts and someone insists on rubbing it even when their wrists ache
  • When people are funny when they aren’t trying to be funny
  • When people follow through and do something they said they would do
  • When somebody notices something about me that I didn’t even know. And they think its cute.
  • When somebody rubs my neck and shoulders and I haven’t been complaining about how sore it is
  • When somebody scratches my back for me
  • When somebody trusts me enough to tell me a secret of their heart
  • When the person I think is funnier than anyone else in my life laughs at my jokes
  • Writing
  • When someone stops trying to be impressive with me and starts being real
  • When I can stop trying to be impressive with someone and start being real