East Coast, West Coast

I’ve been lucky to do some coast-to-coast trips in recent weeks, enjoying life on both sides of the country over that time – which included the July 4th weekend. It prompted these profound reflections on east v west that may be worth recording:
Patriotism – Flag-waving still survives, though it’s certainly not just Old Glory any more (almost as many rainbow flags abound in Atlanta neighborhoods as in San Francisco, and tony suburbs are awash in flags of flowers and turtles and mantras the specific meaning of which eludes me.) Over the Fourth I was in the N. GA mountains at Lake Rabun (check out the after-race photos, p 4, #67, 69 & 70 for testimony as to the concluding event of my recent, extended birthday celebration.) There were flags on boathouses, there was bunting on fences, and it felt altogether warm and fuzzy. Perhaps the display of Old Glory hasn’t totally been co-opted by the far right; patriotism was such a happy thing before it became a dirty word. Small-town parades proliferate everywhere too, and with flags and kids and wagons and decorated bikes galore, they are among the warmest and fuzziest still.
Oceans – Of course the ocean on the west coast is on the wrong side of the street, but it’s a mighty ocean indeed. Oceans and coasts are metaphors waiting to happen. The breathtaking vistas, the rugged cliffs and rocks and crags of the Pacific shores are a source of wonder; the serene expanses of beach and tidal grasses along the Atlantic (especially south of the Massachussetts and upwards cliffs and rocks and crags) offer an emotional counterpoint worth treasuring. Plus, sunsets and sunrises over oceans and lakes alike make one wonder why anybody ever gets mad at anybody.
Colors – Especially if you’ve just come from the San Francisco Bay area or the deserts of nearby elsewhere, the east is startlingly green. San Francisco and environs abound with California gold, but I still call it brown and the greenness of summer on the east coast is a marvel to behold once you’ve wandered afar from it.
Cellphones and traffic – They’re everywhere. At least California has followed NY with hands-free driving laws, but being a pedestrian is chancy at best in the urban U.S.. Plus this: giving way with a smile to some impatient driver who is hell-bent on getting there first, wherever in the world you’re both headed, is a fascinating experiment anywhere. Once in San Francisco I had a lane-changing SUV driver throw up both hands and laugh (which could’ve gotten us killed, but still…) Once in Washington D.C. a little old lady (I’m one too) figured I was being smart and flipped me the bird. Her life may have been short on views of sunset with the fog rolling in.

A gentle apparition

My mother, who died at 70 in 1967, made a brief reappearance here in San Francisco last week. It was during a visit I made to the bedside of Lik Kiu Ding, age 90-something (born in the jungles of Borneo he never knew exactly when.) I had not seen him in years, until learning he’s now at a nearby assisted living facility. Lik Kiu was like a son to my father, who helped him finish his education in the U.S. (at Randolph-Macon College in my hometown of Ashland, VA.) After his medical training Lik Kiu and his Chinese wife Lillian, also a physician, lived, worked and raised their family in Hong Kong, returning to the States before Lillian’s death of cancer in the ‘90s. (Her remarkable story is part of my book, Dying Unafraid.) Beaming from under his tightly-tucked blankets, Lik Kiu took my hand as I bent near, reached out one long finger to touch my cheek, pointing first to my eyes, then my mouth, then making small circles around my face. His daughter Mary, standing nearby, said, “You look like your mother, don’t you?” It’s true, I’m a double for my mother before her own health began to fail. For those few moments, trying not to cry over his still-handsome face, I evaporated. It was my mother who was holding his hand.

Comfort and Joy

I spoke recently to a group of incredibly informed and articulate women, members of the San Francisco OWL chapter. (It used to be an acronym for Older Women’s League, but is now simply OWL, and its members do tend to be very wise.) Plus, any time you can get several dozen busy women to come out on a cold, gray, drizzly, Saturday morning for a talk entitled Living for Now, Preparing for Later, it has to be an encouraging day. More encouraging were the questions and comments. They pretty much boiled down to this: the participants wanted to make sure their documents (and their lives) were in order in case they got hit by a truck this afternoon; many wanted to get involved in my Compassion & Choices of N.CA cause, all of them were very definitely living for now. A few days later, when I met another informed and articulate woman named Colette Lafia and her new book Comfort and Joy: Simple Ways to Care for Ourselves and Others, the two episodes made a nice fit. (More about that on my Redroom.com blog.) Colette’s lovely little book is designed as a personal guide for finding comfort; there are even ‘Cultivating Comfort’ advisories at the end of each segment. The good women of OWL, who focus consistently on local, national and international issues of all sorts, are taking care of their own basic now-and-later comfort issues. And guess where it leads? To joy. Good tidings.

Barack and Jane and Me

I had such a good time writing a brief blog about bonding with Barack, thanks to a sometime shared agent, on my Red Room blog, perhaps you’ll surf over to my author page on redroom.com and read it. Too lazy to re-write. But I AM going to get something new and profound up on this space soon, I am, I am!