May 2012


This week I was on the phone with a friend of mine, L. She is in the final stages of writing a biography about Toni Cade Bambara, an African-American writer and activist who was one of the influential personalities in the Civil Rights Era and beyond. L first met Toni she was a Professor of hers at Rutgers in the 1960s. It was the start of a life long friendship, one that lasted until Bambara passed away from cancer in 1995.

Bambara was a contemporary of the better known Toni, as in Morrison, winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature. L told me she was able to interview Toni Morrison (TM) recently for her book. When I asked incredulously how she was able to get to TM, she said that a friend of her’s told her that she’d seen an earlier book of L’s on Toni Morrison’s bookshelf (!), so her name was known to TM. Because L knew that TM had had some sort of a relationship with Bambara, when she reached out to TM’s assistant with a request to talk with TM, that was honored and the next thing she knew, she’d secured an interview.

The take-away from this story is the value of books – paper and print ones as opposed to electronic or kindle versions – and the value of writing. A writer never knows where their books will end up, who will read them, whose bookshelves they will inhabit, and how those books might come around and bless them much later. SO if you are in need of a pep talk about your own writing as I am, just keep at it, one word, one page at a time.

Years later, that experience could lead you to  some very unexpected but rich places!

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I have a confession to make.

I have really mixed feelings about holidays like Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, and even Valentine’s Day. After all, shouldn’t we be expressing gratitude and appreciation to our loved ones regularly without having a (commercial) holiday to remind us of this?

Also, when it comes to Mother’s Day, since my Mum lives in England, and they celebrate Mothering Sunday in March – it was on the 18th – I feel like everyone in the US is behind. I sent my card and flowers – an orchid this year – 2 months ago!

But this year, I’m happy to say I am genuinely grateful for Mother’s Day and that because I’m especially grateful that my neighbor, Francisca, affectionately called Paquita by those who are close to her, is home.

Paquita is an inspiration. She’s 86 and has been married to Jose (who lets me call him Pepito) for 64 years! Imagine that.  They have 3 children, the oldest of which began collecting social security this year (!) and 6 grandchildren.  I think they’ve had a fairly traditional marriage – he was a carpenter and she was a long time nanny for a family that lived in the neighborhood – but she is the one with the spunk.  At her age, she’s the one who still takes 2 buses and over an hour to go to church every Sunday. She’s the one who goes to the Senior Center, then uses her coupons at the Farmer’s Market, and stashes away organic apples for me. She’s the one who will put you in your place if you show her the slightest disrespect or try to infer that she’s somehow not with it.

All of these things,she was actively doing – until last Fall that is.  In the latter part of the year, she developed some stomach issues. Further investigation led to the discovery that she had a blockage in her large intestine, Turned out it was colon cancer, stage 3.

The week before Christmas she had surgery and spent that holiday recovering in the Milstein Pavilion at Columbia-Presbyterian.  She came home soon after the new year.   Though they told me her CAT scan following the surgery was clear, the doctors then started her on a course of chemotherapy. But her 4′ 10″ 90 pound frame couldn’t tolerate it. She developed swelling in her extremities and then a serious hematoma in her left arm. She spent Easter once again in Milstein.  Since then, she’s been in a Rehab Center, then back to Milstein, then to a Nursing Home, where she was also getting Rehab.

Going to visit her in all these health care facilities has been a window for me into the health care system in this city and sobering regarding what the end of life experience is like for some folks. [As a sidebar, let me plead with you to: Enjoy each day that God gives you for you really don’t know what tomorrow, or next year or the next decade will bring – that much is TRUE.]

Being so ill has sobered Paquita too.  It’s brought out a lot of anxiety, worry, and deep-seated anger. It’s left her fearful; it’s even shaken her desire to be married to Pepito. It’s also given me many reasons to read the Psalms to her. Lately, I’ve even begun to read them from her Spanish Bible even though I don’t speak Spanish – a kind of backward way of learning a language. I also pray regularly with and for her.

Obviously she’s not my biological mother, but this Mother’s Day, I’m so grateful for her sake and for the sake of her husband, children and grandchildren, that she will have an opportunity on Sunday to be appreciated by those who love her dearly, in the comfort of her very own living room.

Gracias!