Tuesday, December 13, 2011

What's with the Attitude?

Because I'm blogging again and feel a certain level of accountability to my readers, I've been on guard when it comes to my impatience, my anger level, and my road rage.  And because that has all been kept in check or more honestly, suppressed, it's inevitable for all of that bad behavior to spew some place else.  After all, we all need an outlet.  I know a few who overeat, some who watch movies, preferably violent ones, a handful who cry, and a few, like myself, who take it out on the innocent.

"I said the Plaza on New Dorp, babe," I repeated, taking a deep breath.  My family and I were on the road on a Saturday to do some Christmas shopping on a budget.  I had heard about the 5 dollar and under store from my sister and since my Christmas List had close to fifty names, that store was going to be the one and only destination.

"There are two plazas in the area, babe," my husband also repeated, minus the deep breaths and the rolling of the eyes.  "I just need to know which one."

"I said it, remember? I said it three times.  The plaza where Aaron took Karate when he was four.  Remember?  Don't you remember the place?  We took him there every Saturday for a year, remember?  That plaza.  I said it.  Three times."

There are moments in my life when I find my own self unbearable and yet, for some reason beyond my own cosmic control, I keep plowing towards that despicable place until I've reached a point of no return.

My husband's jaws moved back and forth a little.  He didn't say anything but kept his eyes on the road and continued driving.  Now, you must understand who I'm married to.  I probably subconsciously started this blog toward Virtue because I am married to that alien-from-outer-space-are-you-for-real man?  I mean, my husband is Mr. Virtuous. I've refrained myself from writing about him so as not to incite jealousy from other husbands and perhaps other wives.  Honestly, I've refrained from writing about him to keep everyone from gasping, "What have you ever done to deserve Mr. Perfect?"  You would have to know him to fully appreciate what I'm saying and then you too, like some of my close friends and family, male and female, would sigh and say, "I want to marry him!"

That perfect man began signaling to make a turn into the wrong street away from that plaza "where Aaron had taken Karate when he was four years old for a year."

"Where are you going?" I said.  "The plaza over there!"  I was pointing now.  "The plaza over there where Aaron took Karate for a year.  Don't you remember?"

"Babe, I remember."

"Then why are you turning here?"  Exaggerated sighs.  Sucking teeth.  Eyes rolling like an exorcist.

"You said to go to Dr. Broillet's office.  That was the way to his office."

I had a rebuttal, of course.  But even I can't write that rebuttal now because it makes me want to go back into the past and slap that nagging wife senseless.

My husband's face became grim, a rare occurrence and I took note of it.  He kept driving, this time in restrained silence.  I kept talking, like most wives who deserve a time-out chair.  My husband finally spoke.  I could think whatever I wanted to think, he said.  There was obviously a miscommunication somewhere.  And no, it wasn't true.  He was listening.  I was often guilty of the same thing--listening but not hearing correctly.  I didn't want him to start listing my offenses.

I wasn't yelling.  My voice wasn't even raised but my tone and my dripping sarcasm disturbed my 9-year-old son.  He chimed in and echoed his Dad.  Mom, it's not a big deal, ok?

We pulled in the parking lot and my mind began to race.  I looked at my husband.  This wasn't a matter of right and wrong.  I had been demeaning, speaking to my husband like he suffered from cerebral coma.  Over what?  Over driving directions.  Over a wrong turning signal.  I had been under some stress at work and my patience ran extremely thin but my attitude was inexcusable.

I grew up in a home filled with constant bickering, sharp arguments and full blown fights.  I never heard my parents apologize to each other, although perhaps behind closed doors they did.  I grew up in an environment where saying "I'm sorry" and admitting you're wrong were foreign and uncomfortable.  And the hardest thing for me to do, to this day, is apologize.

I looked at my husband again and thought, this was a silly disagreement.  It was no big deal.  But it could be a seed of resentment that I am unintentionally planting in his heart and should another disagreement come around, and of course it will, I could water that seed.  I suppose that's how some marriages fail.  A collection of small little nonsense that turn into a field of bitterness and unforgiveness.

"Babe," I said softly, holding back my husband's hand from unlocking his seatbelt.  "I'm sorry.  I'm sorry for being so snotty.  I'm sorry for having an attitude."

My husband's face relaxed.  He looked at me, his eyes had immediately softened.  He chuckled.  "Yea, what's with the attitude?"

"I'm stressed!" I said, throwing my hands up in the air in an exaggerated, melodramatic way.  My husband and my children all giggled.

Stress was okay, my husband said.  He would like to be the stress reliever and not my punching bag.  My husband is known for  his "sayings" and I thought he would quote some famous phrase in French.  But he didn't.  He just smiled and shook his head at me.  I apologized again and in a child-like voice I told him I wanted to be like him when I grew up.  He was amazing.  How did he become so amazing? He was my Mr. Virtuous.

My husband shook his head and got out of the car.  Compliments make him uncomfortable.  "Stop that nonsense, " he said.  "We all just have to control ourselves and watch what we say."

And that's the challenge.  Controlling ourselves and watching what we say.  Relieving our stress in a healthy manner and not using the innocent, our espouse or children, as punching bags.

Thank God for a good man.  Left on my own, I just might self-destruct.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Just one kidney, please

I walked in yesterday on what seemed to be a rather emotionally charged conversation on the phone between my assistant and who I assumed was a friend and I immediately closed the door to the office and gave her some privacy.  "Anna Marie, no," she called out, trying to summon me back into the office but I made my way to our make-shift cafeteria that could fit approximately two malnourished adults and waited.  She followed me and explained that it was her mother on the phone.  A friend was dying.  His situation seemed hopeless.  He needed a kidney.

"He can't find anyone to give him one," she said, clearly concerned.  Then she went on to explain that he did not want a kidney from his children or his nephews and nieces and his wife and siblings were far too unhealthy to be donors.  "He won't do dialysis.  He'd rather die."

We continued to talk about the situation, the pro's and con's.  Pro's that a kidney could extend his life another 20 years.  Con's that his blood type was rare and a match was virtually impossible.

"And really, he can't find anyone in his family that could give him a kidney."

We reflected on this horrid, horrid situation then asked each other honestly if we would be willing to volunteer a kidney to a family member?  It's a very painful procedure and you, as a donor, would have to take medications for the rest of your life.

"I'd do it for my Dad," she said.  "If he were still alive and he needed one, I would do it in a heartbeat."

Forever the psychosomatic, I immediately put myself in the shoes of the ill.  "No one would give me a kidney, I  don't think."

My assistant laughed, as my staff often do when I make random comments.  "Your husband would!"

Yes, he would, I mused.  But I really didn't think anyone else would.  I combed through the closest people in my life and thought about the sacrifice a kidney would take and the more I thought about it, the more convinced I became that placed in the same awful situation I would probably be left spending everyday on my knees making amends with my Maker to secure a spot in heaven.

"He should just go to Europe or something and make the best of his last days, " I said.  "I know that's what I would do."  And then I pictured myself becoming very ill in the middle of Paris, dying somewhere in the Louvre, unable to say goodbye to everyone I loved.  I would be buried in France without a tombstone.  Maybe staying local would be the safer move.

I thought about a handful people I knew.  People who would probably get a line of donors should they find themselves in such a terrible state.  What made them so special?  What made everyone just absolutely and positively love them enough to do whatever it would take to keep them around?

Later that day, while on the BQE, where my deepest thoughts often take place, I thought about the Virtuous Woman.  Would Sarah have gotten a kidney immediately?  Not from Hagar, of course not, but I wondered if she were surrounded by people who would fight each other over that sacrifice.  Yes, she clearly was surrounded by admirers and a husband who adored her, but did she have a circle of family and friends who would do whatever it would take to keep her around?

That's the problem with strength, I thought to myself.  You get too strong to need anyone's help.  And even if you did need it, you would be too proud to ask.  Ah, the problem again with vulnerability!

I remember crying at 18 and a family member walked in on me, stood, and watched me cry.  Then he closed the door and I heard him chuckle, "How the mighty has fallen!"  My God, it's been that long.  I've had such a reputation for so long!

Who gives a kidney to the mighty?

It's this balance between strength and vulnerability that I find most challenging.  And I keep wondering, did the Woman of Virtue have a soft side?  Did she ever seem to others in need of anything?  Surely she wasn't a complaining, bemoaning drama queen who wallowed in self pity but my Lord, was she ever vulnerable enough to need someone in order to stand on her own two feet even for just a moment?

I opened my wallet to locate a phone number this afternoon after pulling in my driveway and noticed a heart on my driver's license.  I'm a donor.  I giggled at the irony.  I had forgotten about that.  Someday my heart may beat for someone else, my pancreas may save a diabetic little boy, and my kidneys...my kidneys may add another 20 years to a dying man.

That's it, I thought.  You can't spend your days reflecting on what can be done for you.  You must always be in the state of readiness to do for someone else.  And should the moment come when you find yourself in an unfortunate, hopeless bind, help will come to you perhaps in more ways than you could have ever imagined.  Mighty or not, someone will step up to the plate.  It's the law of nature, I suppose.  Virtue begets virtue.

And the very fact that I can't seem to imagine a line of people offering their kidneys tells me that I have a long way to go to be that Virtuous Woman.  Because strength and accomplishment and bravery alone could not have made her virtuous.  Goodness, kindness, mercy and meekness are all characteristics of virtue.  And if you have all of that, very few around you would hesitate to hand you their kidney in a heartbeat.

I need to get to that place.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Falling Off the Wagon

The last time I was on this blog, I made a proclamation--an epiphany--that I, indeed, may already be the Virtuous Woman described in Proverbs 31.  That, no, I no longer needed to strive to be Elizabeth because I am, alas, already her!  And here I am, nearly 6 months later, my joints rustier, my mornings chaotic, and my prayer life shameful.  But that's really not why I decided to get back on the wagon, a wagon that had gone nowhere since I stopped blogging, freed from the sense of accountability from a surprising amount of readers that spanned across the United States and extended overseas.  I remember lazy mornings where I reluctantly pulled myself from my warm bed to pray and exercise knowing that there were people, friends, families, and complete strangers following me in my journey towards Elizabeth--to that difficult, challenging place of perfection.  I am sooo far from that place.  But alas I'm back because I need Elizabeth to spring me not only back on my feet but to keep my attitude in check.

I think it may be approaching 40--all of this hormonal change, or perhaps an early sign of menopause, God forbid, that has me recently on an extremely crabby mood.  I mean, crabby as in don't-look-at-me-or-I-just-might-throw-this-zucchin-at-you in the supermarket.  And I can't even tell you the thoughts that run through my head when the Verrazzano is jammed early in the morning and I'm desperately trying to get to work on an alternate side parking day in Brooklyn.  There are some people that should just not be driving out there--atleast not on the Verrazzano or the Belt, or Ocean Parkway.  There should be laws against driving in NYC if you're a highway phobic.  Because then women like me who are striving to remain Godly endanger the possibility of entering the pearly gates.

Have you ever been so annoyed that you want to crawl out of your own skin?  That's where I am.  And it seems as though no amount of buying new boots or drinking Starbucks coffee or sneaking to finish off some stale Halloween chocolates can simmer me down.  The awful thing is, I can't come up with a legitimate reason for the irritability and the last time I went to the doctor my blood pressure was so high he told me to take up Yoga.  Then, he thought better of it.  He knew about my inflexible joints.  "Maybe just stretch," he said.  "And walk.  Walking is good.  Yoga you can do much later."  And because I am psychosomatic, that night I told my husband I was having a heart attack.  "I have high blood pressure.  It can lead to a heart attack."  My husband wasn't sure what to make of this asymptomatic myocardial infarction so he said, "See your doctor in the morning."  I told him I would be dead by then.  

That was two months ago.  And I'm sure my blood pressure is steadily rising.

So today, while driving home from church I thought, "My God, I need Elizabeth.  I need to get back on the wagon and snap out of this."  

Then I thought of Sarah, the epitome of Virtue and I wondered if she dealt with anger, justified or not.  And then I remembered how angry she had gotten over Ishmael and Hagar; she was so "wroth" that she coldly sent them off to the wilderness, not caring what would become of them.  She had felt insulted and undermined in her own home and, wildly angry, she sent her husband's concubine and young son packing to some undetermined destination.

Maybe that wasn't the exact passage I needed to remember to simmer me down.  But whatever Sarah's case maybe, her anger, we later find out, was God-ordained.  It was instrumental to fulfilling what would become of Ishmael and Isaac.

I doubt my irritability has the same purpose of equal epic proportion.  

I really do think I just need to start praying more...to start organizing my day...to start, again, striving for goodness and kindness and love and oh, that foreign word in a place like NYC, long-suffering...

So here I am, climbing back on this wagon, planning for an early morning rise tomorrow, a moment of prayer, a few minutes of stretching, and the slow, steady ascent back towards virtue.  Pray for me.

Monday, July 25, 2011

A Less Than Perfect Life

I was riding in the car of a good friend once when he sincerely told me, "I used to be so jealous of your life.  But I see all these things that you go through and I realize I would be destroyed if I were you.  So, thank God for my life."  I remember laughing and then stopping quickly and saying dryly, "Gee, thanks."

I stayed quiet in that short ride but I knew what he meant.  I am not unfamiliar to heartfelt compliments: You have such a good marriage. You're so talented. Your children are beautiful. But I think those who know my life well enough know to stop short of completely envying what I have and wishing they wore my size 7 shoes. 

For 3 months now I've wanted to be Elizabeth, the name I've given to the Virtuous Woman.  But when I look closely at her life I think to myself, "Why in the world would you want that?"  Sure, Elizabeth was above all honorable ones and she was wise and well favored and beautiful.  Beautiful.  I think of how lovely Bathsheba, the inspiration for Proverbs 31, must have been.  A righteous king followed his animal instincts, murdered, and shamed himself because of her.  An older man once asked my husband, "Who can resist a beautiful woman?"  Not King David, apparently.  And neither could any king who caught a glimpse of Sarah, the supposed real representation of the Virtuous Woman.  Every king in every city wanted her and poor Abraham had to lie and deny that she was his wife for fear of his own life. (It is no wonder I am never going to be the Virtuous Woman.  It has been ages since I was found irresistible by a king! So long now that the memory of it has escaped me.)

But as I wrote in detail in Blog 5, Bathsheba, I think might have lived a life of quiet desperation.  Of course I could be wrong.  She might have spent everyday in blissful hysteria but I highly doubt it.  One thing I'm sure of, however, is that Sarah agonized for more than a decade about not having a child.  For everything that she was, her beauty, her wisdom, her uniqueness, she experienced a sense of isolation and desperation that only barreness could bring.  She must have felt lacking as an individual despite the accolades thrown her way because she failed to do what is expected of a woman--give birth. No wonder she was so bitter towards Hagar.  A servant easily did what she, a woman of Valour, was powerless to do. And I think to myself, does Virtue and suffering come hand in hand?  Why would I want Elizabeth's life for all that she had if it included all her suffering?  But sometimes I wonder if perhaps I am not already Elizabeth.

On that particular ride with this good friend, his sentiment about my life, though ill-timed, was understandable.  We were, after all, on the way to Columbia Hospital to see my little girl who was fighting for her life.  And I suppose no one would have wanted to trade places with me in that exact moment. My friend had been there by our side when my husband lost his job from a Fortune 500 company and we struggled for the next year and a half living on an impoverished budget in a cramped apartment good only for anyone under five foot ten.  And then, amidst the struggle, our son, our firstborn at a year and half was diagnosed with Diabetes.

I am not unfamiliar to suffering.  That much I have in common with the Woman of Valour. 

But I must admit that Proverbs 31 also describes a woman whose life seemed to be surrounded by love, filled with substance, and full of blessings.  And this too, I have in common with the Woman of Valour.  I am reminded of this right now as we get ready for our nightly family devotion.  I have a son whose diabetes have not made him any less confident, any less talented.  He started reading at the age of 3 and just ended 3rd grade the top of his gifted class.  I have a daughter whose beauty draws instant favour and whose life, whose miraculous life, is an immeasurable gift in itself.  And I am married to a man other men admire and wish to become and after 10 years of marriage, he still adores and worships the ground I walk on and we still share a love that is deep and unshakeable.

I am not unfamiliar to suffering but indeed my life is surrounded by love, filled with substance and full of blessings.

I am beginning to wonder if perhaps I may just be living the life of a Virtous Woman.

Monday, June 20, 2011

How Far to Virtue?

Last month, I sat across my Hasidic Jewish boss. She talked passionately about politics (although our meeting was not supposed to be about that) and I asked her where she found time to do all of this? She had 12 schools, a business on the side and was in the middle of an audit. She smiled and said that her children were grown now and at night, there was always time. She's a woman in her 50's with two masters, 7 children, and innumerable grandchildren and has a lot more in her plate than most women I know. I told her about my blog--my pursuit to virtue and she was amused. I asked if she knew that the Woman of Valour was supposed to be Sarah and Bathsheba. My boss rolled her eyes. She said the Virtuous Woman was not a particular woman. "It could be any woman," she said. "It's the type of woman she is. She works hard, she takes care of her family, she takes care of herself. She's educated. She runs a business. She is..." my boss looked up and smiled dryly.

"A Jewish woman," I finished. "How is it done?" I asked.

Three months ago I embarked on a journey to become the Woman of Valour found in Proverbs 31.  I established that Elizabeth, as I named her, was perfect and that I, Anna Marie, was an epic failure in comparison but hey, I'm almost 40 and I was determined to achieve the unachievable and with a little bit of attitude trimming, some self-control, several sacrifices, denials of everyday pleasures, I too could become the Virtuous Woman. But here I am, after 12 weeks, thankful that my blog is only the "pursuit" towards perfection and not "gaining" perfection because shocking as it might be, I am still very far behind.

Frankly, I might have regressed.

I tried really hard in the beginning to wake up every morning, pray, exercise (stretch) and spend atleast 5 minutes on my hair and I knew, I KNEW, I should not have taken the weekends off.  Any good coach could tell you that if you sit your best players two games a week, that player will lose his mojo.  And so, I did.  The weekend reprieve from daily routine of waking before dawn, praying, exercising and primping extended to Monday mornings.  And yes, yes, eventually, the reprieve lasted five days and the commitment dwindled down to a resentful two and finally, I was overcome by the who-are-you-really-kidding mantra that played in my head every time I tried to get up to get right back on track.  And I have decided never to enter a depriving type of diet ever again.  The 9 weeks no sugar diet I capriciously committed to left me with an insaitiable desire to ingest anything and everything with corn syrup and I have spent everyday since the end of that diet eating brownies, cookies, and cakes.  And maybe I broke that diet way before it was over.  It's hard to imagine the Woman of Valour binging on pastries and afterwards staring at herself in the mirror and mumbling, "You're a pathetic failure."

Last week, as I sat trying to make a left turn in the middle of traffic at Ocean Parkway and none of the drivers would let me through, I knew as I screamed, "Stupid Brooklyn Drivers, let me through you morons!" that it was time to re-evaluate my pursuit to Virtue. Time to get back on track or get off altogether.

You see, it's been over two weeks since I wrote on this blog.  I knew I would have to confess to my readers.  And here I am.  Ashamed.

I got up this morning wondering where this pursuit has taken me.  Nowhere?  Here I am, still getting up later than I should, running like a wildfire in the mornings before work, hoping I don't scare the children I teach with my unruly hair, my prayer life hanging on a balance, my cluttered closet looking like a clearance sale, still as disorganized as ever.  How far was I to virtue?
"Well, Anna Marie, how do you do it?" My boss asked, smiling.  "You're doing a lot and you have a family and small children."

I supposed she was right but I wondered how much does the woman herself, my boss, her daughters, and women like them, mattered in the height of their own virtue? It's hard for me to imagine my boss enjoying herself.  I realized that this journey has led me to discoveries unintended for this pursuit. Or perhaps God being God, knew I needed to make some detours before I can reach my own destination to Virtue.  I've started getting to know the root of my emotions. I've uncovered the reason why I don't cry. And I've revisited bravely the day I almost lost my daughter. In 3 months time I've gotten to know myself more than I have the last 37 years of my life and realized more than ever that truly, Elizabeth is the type of woman I really want to become but I don't want to reach my destination having gained all of what makes one virtuous while neglecting the woman herself.  I have a deep desire for success and I want to achieve as much as I can for as long as God would allow but this blog has made me realize that I also want to be happy, know who I am, and not lose myself for the sake of what I should be.

And then today I spent a portion of the day with my boss's beautiful 28-year-old daughter. She is a Board Certified Behavior Analyst, has her master's in special education, and the genius behind her mother's schools.  She also has five children.  It's just their way of life, she explained matter-of-factly.  Not all Jewish women reach the level of Elizabeth but yes, that is the woman they're to become.  It's the guideline they follow and that's just the way it is.  She seemed neither impressed nor overwhelmed with the set of standards outlined in that last chapter of Proverbs.  As far as she was concerned it was as expected as an 18-year-old going off to college.  It was simply the thing to do.

Needless to say, I am a long way to Virtue. Unlike a Jewish little girl born into the culture that sees the Woman of Valour not only as someone she can become but a woman that she must become, I come from the secular culture that sees the Woman of Valour as a mythological figure whose qualities make the average person hyperventilate. So I think the key is for me to stop glorifying Elizabeth and saying quite simply, hey, this is the set of guidelines I'm going to follow.  As far as I'm concerned it's as achievable as going to college.  It's simply the thing to do. No big deal.  And should I need to hyperventilate, I'll always keep a paper bag within reach.  But I will keep running after Virtue and I will keep pursuing Elizabeth, even if I  did stop for a water break the last two weeks.

Monday, May 30, 2011

The Shadow of Death

My three-year-old daughter stood on the scale last night, looked down at her feet and mused, "Thirty pounds and twenty-two, mommy."  I beamed and told her that that was wonderful, it was the perfect weight and I wished I weighed the same.  She waved her hand and shook her head, interrupting my glee. "No, no," she corrected.  "Thirty-one and twenty-two." I put on a perplexed face and repeated her newfound weight.  She confirmed that indeed, that was the result on the scale and she walked away, satisfied at my confused state.  I laughed out loud and of course, predictably, I saw her lying on a hospital bed and I heard the sound of beeping machines and I shuddered as I do everyday and whispered, "Thank you, Lord, she's here." 

If you know me then you know, of course, what happened to Alanna early last year.  I tell everyone that my husband picked up the swine flu from a local gym where he worked out religiously three times a week. I tell you these gyms are a laboratory for germs that'll kill you if you're not careful.  Wlad picked up the swine flu and then Nana got real sick, etc., etc., so I'd stay away from these gyms if I were you!  But the root of the virus' origin and how my husband and Alanna came across it I don't really know but the gym theory sounds plausible and so I tell it with conviction as though I myself had swabbed the equipment in the place and discovered H1N1 under a microscope.  I get "wow" and "oh really?" and then, a thoughtful reply, "I don't think the gym I go to has the swine flu, though.  It's pretty clean."  And so the message goes unheeded.

Alanna's fifth day in the hospital will remain seared in my memory for as long as I live.  There were numerous, harrowing moments lived in the depths of hell during that hospitalization but the morning of Alanna's transfer from Staten Island Hospital to Columbia Presbyterian will never leave me.  After never leaving her side, hardly ever sleeping and neglecting to use the bathroom that resulted in a bladder infection, my cousin, a respiratory therapist, and my best friend, a doctor at John Hopkins, convinced me to go home and get some rest.  My two-year-old was already on a respirator and all she needed now was close observation.  She had fought the doctors and nurses the night before as they struggled to put a C-Pap on her to help her breathe and she finally conceded, in pure exhaustion, but laid on her crib with a look of horror on her face, her mouth frozen in a frightened state, teeth exposed for a long time, an oversized mask over her tiny face.  She was paralyzed with fear and she searched my face with her large, bewildered eyes and I stood over her, helpless, asking for her forgiveness.  I could not help her and I could see that that was the only thing she wanted.  I called my husband who was recovering from the swine flu himself.  He had been begging to come and see Alanna but we all decided that it was better for him to stay home and regain his strength.  I told him to come.  Alanna might not make it in the morning and then I went to the bathroom, laid in a fetal position, and sobbed quietly.

The next day, she was placed on life support but before her elected intubation I looked at her and said, "Nana, you're going to sleep for a while.  You'll play with Gabba Gabba and eat all the strawberries you want."  I didn't want to frighten her with my tears so I fought them back.  She was fatigued, burning with fever, and every breath brought her excruciating pain.  The large mask on her face made a loud sound of air pushing in and out.  The nurses prepared to move her crib.  I said, "Nana, I love..." and through the sound of the machines, her fever, pain and exhaustion, Nana said loudly, "you."

That night, left in the care of ICU nurses and under the close eye of my cousin and my friend, I went home to get some rest.  By five o'clock the next morning I received a text from my friend.  Something had gone terribly wrong.  Alanna's lungs which were filled with infection had both collapsed.  I remember running wildly in the quiet hallways of the hospital, the security guards looking at me without asking for identification, their conversations diminished into concerned whispers as I kept repeating, "Jesus, Jesus, Jesus," under my breath.  I got to the 4th floor and I could hear the sound of loud, furious beeping.  I could hear frantic commotion and when I got to my daughter's room doctors and nurses were running and there was my baby girl in a paralyzed coma, a tube in her mouth, her body sunken in the bed and life, life was clearly leaving her.  I stood over her bed and shook, "You fight, Nana," I pleaded.  "You fight, baby girl!"

I was ushered out of the room and they closed the door.  I could hear the angry alarms of the machines and I could hear feet running.  I collapsed on the floor and I yelled out my daughter's name.  People say that life flashes before your eyes before you die and I think that may be true.  Because all I could see while I screamed was Alanna smiling, eating, laughing, and watching her cartoons.  Snapshots that I had just seen her do the week before.  And I wanted to rewind time to go back to the week before.  I wanted it to be the week before!

How maddening it is to live in the shadow of death!

An orthodox Jewish friend of mine whose company I truly enjoy surprised me with this information outside of the scriptures about Sarah, the virtuous woman:  "She died of a broken heart, did you know?  Goth, the giant, coveted her and told her that Isaac, her only son, was dead.  And she died on the spot.  She died of a broken heart."

I told him that I could understand that.  That losing a child may be the worst thing that could happen to any woman, virtuous or not.  Then I thought, what a shame it was that Sarah did not realize that Isaac was not dead, that the pain she suffered from the loss was in fact just the shadow of death and that that pain, though harrowing and excruciating, one day would pass.  But it's hard to tell a mother in the face of death that there's nothing to fear and that a miracle can happen.

I'm watching my daughter right now coloring and talking to herself, a smudge of ice cream across her upper lip.  She bosses all of us around in the house and we let her.  I remember asking God in her suffering to take her if it was His will.  I was shaking and heaving and wailing.  But God knew better.  He knew that Alanna was just under the shadow of death and that my daughter's pain and my anguish, though harrowing and excrucitaing, one day would pass. 

(To see Alanna's miraculous account please check out www.worshipandpraise.net  and click under "testimonials.")

Saturday, May 21, 2011


So Doomsday, apparently, is in a few hours.  I had a chance to google it late yesterday.  The info was vague but the message, like those on torn boxes carried by a few homeless men in Manhattan, was clear:  The end of the world is here.  The good ones are being raptured.  The rest of you will suffer an inconceivable death.  Repent.

Thankfully, the time and date and year are provided so a handful of people have decided to throw "grown and sexy" (as per one post on facebook) parties but prepared to repent the very last minute and walk with ease into the Pearly Gates. May 21, 2011 at 6PM.  Some people at my 2nd job asked me what I thought.  One older woman, a bit panicked, seemed unsure about the lunacy of the whole thing and she wondered, what IF, what IF, Brooklyn was really going to be thrown across to California?  What then?  She seemed disheartened and I assured her that apparently she had plently of time to make it right with God and so, in essence, she was going to be just fine.  "You're right, dear," she said but didn't appear any less worried.  Then she pressed, "But what do you think, dear?  What if the world is going to end Saturday?  What do you think?"

I told her that I was going to be pretty upset.  I had been studying for a Board Exam that would determine my promotion in September as a director of our ABA program (I didn't give her all that detail, but I touched the surface.) And then I told her that I had always wanted a Gucci bag and my 3rd job was going to pay for it but you know, these Gucci bags are made out of secret diamonds and it would take me a year of working before affording one so Doomsday could not, must not, come this weekend! I laughed, amused at my own ramblings and the woman walked away.  I could hear my mother's rebuke, that I joke around way too much and I could see my brother, the pastor, and his pleading eyes for me to "please be serious for once" and finally my husband's somber face, reminding me that not everyone understands my humor.  I ran after that woman and touched her arm gently.  I knew that she was raised a Baptist and I had a feeling that if we grew up under the same spiritual tutelage, Doomsday was most likely used as a weapon to shape her into goodness.  If she had not been in her absolute best behavior, May 21st quite possibly brought her much terror.  I reminded her that no one knew the day or the hour.  No one knew it.  It was in the Bible, I said softly, loud enough for only the both of us to hear.  The same man had predicted the end of the world more than 15 years ago and here we were still, we were here still.  She relaxed and smiled, "You're right, dear.  That is what the Bible says."

On the drive home in the BQE, where most of my random thoughts take place, I thought about the many things I would love to put on my Bucket List.  Sky diving, going to India, learning how to ride a motorcycle (a fantasy I've had since I was a little girl after watching Grease 2), spending a day in a Tibetan village, etc.,  I chuckled at my own thoughts as I often do and then I realized that if I never get to do any of these things, it wouldn't really matter.   But running my own school, getting my PhD., speaking at an Autism Convention, writing a best seller, are personal accomplishments that mean deeply to me. 

This morning is the morning of Doomsday.  I woke up before seven and as customary of my mornings, I went to the bathroom and looked at myself in the mirror. Hair wild against my cheeks and resting carelessly on my shoulders. It is a phenomenon because it is in the very early morning, upon rising, that I look my best.  Maybe because I'm refreshed, maybe because the markings of the day's stress do not begin until 8 o'clock, or maybe because I often inspect my face in the mirror with the lights off in the bathroom.  I met my eyes and a thought hit me: What difference have you made?  It's not what you've accomplished for yourself but how you've touched the lives of others that matter when you're gone.  I really do not like these moments but I do get them and in this quest for Virtue, I've had to confront these moments more than I would prefer.  I thought for a while, jogging my memory of ways I've touched lives around me.  Had I really made a difference?  And I don't mean a difference in my nuclear family or close friends but those outside of my circle, outside of the people I see on a daily basis and inevitably give of myself to.  Have I been a source of dread or hope?  Have I extended kindness always, always, always?  Has my existence made another's life better, happier, easier?

Hell no longer scares me the way it did growing up.  It's imprisoning and haunting affect has lost its grip on me and so Doomsday whether today or tomorrow brings me no terror.  But my markings on this earth, the difference I've made because I lived here, the legacy I leave behind is what concerns me more.  To have lived and made no mark, no difference, is to have lived and not mattered at all.  That's worse than any apocalypse that could come my way.  I'm hoping a conscientious life of valour, honor and virtue would inevitably touch those I love, those I meet or encounter in passing.  And then I thought, it would be a tragic irony if Doomsday is really today, now that I've been forced to do some instrospection and I've been discovering some deeply hidden things about myself.  Because wouldn't that be the biggest catastrophe of all?  To have lived my whole life not knowing who I really truly was and giving of someone I really did not know? And since I'm still trying to make it there, the end of the world can't come.  Not tomorrow, not next year.  And certainly, not today.  Not yet.  I need more time.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

The Naked Truth

My most well read blog, "Quiet Desperation" took 2 weeks to reach an impressive amount of views.  But surprisingly,  it only took 3 days for my last blog, "The Reason Why I Don't Cry" to reach those same numbers and then surpass it quickly.  I think some people might have opened the blog in search for an answer to that phrase and as it turned out, most of them could relate.

One of the blog readers asked me a question regarding the last blog that made me look deep into myself, into my past and inevitably, into my childhood.  I'm not one to argue therapy but I must admit I have questionable respect for psychiatrists and their long, soft couches, and the delving into the past so we could answer questions like why can't we sleep in the dark alone or why do we have such phobias against spiders?  Maybe this is because I come from a different school of thought.  I am, after all, a behavior analyst and as such I tend to frown on the "mentalist" point-of-view.  Nevertheless, that hasn't kept me from intermittently acting like a psuedo pyschotherapist who try to convince friends that what happened in their past quite possibly shaped the condition of their present.  I remember sitting across a successful, brilliant friend in Starbucks in downtown Manhattan and urging him to confront the broken little boy from his childhood who was most likely lurking in the shawdows of his subconscious, causing him so much anger and turmoil.  I was sure I was onto something and I braced myself for a possible breakdown and a sobbing confession of, "You're so right! My God, it is because of my childhood!"  Instead, true to form, my friend looked me square in the eye and said, "Chic, if that kid is still following me around I'd like to see him so I can beat the $!#@* out of him!"  He wasn't going to take part of my pyscho mumbo-jumbo and inevitably, I was resigned to a fit of wild laughter.

But one of the readers urged me in my inability to be vulnerable to perhaps ask myself  what I was afraid of "in the mutual exchange of shared experience."  And included this quote: "You're one of those people who only give.  You never let anyone give to you."  It was, unknown to the reader, a question I had been asking myself for over a year.  I am accustomed to being awakened at all times of the night by phone calls from women controlling their sobs, by acquaintances who weep in my arms, and by friends who disclose excruciating secrets that they beg me to tell no one, not even my spouse.  None of these things shake me.  I do not walk away thinking any less of these broken souls and I feel privileged that they would share with me such intimate moments of vulnerability.  But a "mutual exchange of that shared experience"?  The very idea of it is frightening.

But the scattered surprised response I got last year when I cried helplessly in the ICU while my baby girl fought for her life deeply disturbed me.  When I fought back tears over the phone with my son's godmother six years ago after he, barely two years old, was diagnosed with diabetes and she panicked, Wait, are you crying? I was not the least bit surprised.  And when my husband peered under my hair at my grandmother's funeral and asked, perplexed, Babe, are you really crying? I wasn't bothered.  But for heaven's sake, here was my daughter on a respirator barely alive and surrounded by doctors who prepared us for what they thought to be the inevitable--wasn't I, the mother, atleast entitled to a moment of absolute, unrestrained hysteria?  A long time friend could not keep himself from repeating over and over, "Wow, I never thought I'd see you cry like this.  Wow, I never thought I'd see this day."

Well, needless to say, the shocked response to my most vulnerable moment have forced me to look deep into myself.  Why was I so afraid of vulnerability? And so, I've stumbled upon this distant memory in my childhood that may have  been the genesis of my fears:

I had a friend when I was five years old who gave me a shirt, a skirt, a pair of slippers and a clean, white underwear.  I don't know why but on this particular day I decided to wear everything she had given me and I went out with my sister to play with her and a few other friends.  As customary of most kids, an argument ensued and this time it was between this girl and my sister.  Because my oldest sister was the bulldog in the neighborhood and I was the perpetual, whimpy cry baby, that little girl focused her anger on me.  "Give me back my clothes," she demanded.

I think even I as a five-year-old thought this demand was rather ridiculous but I could tell that she was serious.

"We don't care about your stuff," my sister said.

"Give me my clothes," the little girl hissed.  Then she added, "Cry, go ahead and cry."

"Don't cry," my sister said firmly.  She looked at our friend.  "She doesn't want your things and she won't cry."

"Give me my shirt!"  I gave her her shirt.

"Give me my skirt!" I gave her her skirt.

"Give me my slippers!"  I gave her her slippers.

"Give me my underwear!"  I started...

"No!" my sister interjected.  Thank God for big sisters!  I kept the underwear on.

"Cry," the little girl hissed.

My sister and I left that play date.  I walked home, a good ten minutes away.  No shirt, no skirt, no slippers.  An underwear--but no tears.  I can still see everything so clearly as though it happened this morning.  I can feel the urge to wail and heave and sob---but I can also feel every fiber in my being pulling together to do what I could never do before.  Hold back my tears when I was falling apart inside.

I think that may very well have been the last time I allowed anyone to see me come close to falling apart.  I learned a misconstrued lesson at a tender age that people can take back what they give you and prey on your vulnerability.  That some will stop at nothing until they leave you barren and naked and they will rejoice at your brokeness.  And perhaps that's why I can give and give but "I never let anyone give (to me)."

It wasn't meant to be a lifelong lesson.  It was just a play date gone wrong among innocent, young children.  But I learned a lesson on the power of stoicism.  I may have walked home as good as naked but I was able to maintain my dignity because I refused to cry. I'd like to think in some way that that 5-year-old little girl walking home that day, summoning her will power to stay strong, has taught me to do the same when life over the years became difficult and unkind.  But I too have to admit that while an undressed 5-year-old may evoke just curious stares from everyone, a 37-year-old walking in the same manner is not only creepy but highly unlikely.  There's probably no reason now to  be afraid to allow myself to be vulnerable to those closest to me knowing full well they will never hiss or prey on my vulnerability.

What a lesson I've learned about myself in this journey to Virtue! I told that same blog reader that perhaps only when I can get to know the real me can I become someone else--Elizabeth.   And perhaps Elizabeth was sent by God so that I can get to know the real me and who knows, maybe when I finally find the whole truth about myself I may discover that Elizabeth was in me all along.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

The Reason Why I Don't Cry

I recently took a personality test.  It revealed that I am mostly a woman who likes results, who's goal-oriented, no-nonesense, determined to accomplish what I set out to do.  To be honest the result did not shock me, as could be expected coming from the "Country of Control" (as per the personality test).  Words like "deep thinker", "strong-willed", "born a leader" that would make someone else wince give me a warm, fuzzy feeling.  I'd like to think that the Virtuous Woman came from the Country of Control.  I'd like to think that she had tenacity; that she wasn't wishy-washy and that when she had something purposed in her heart, she saw to it that it was met. (Okay, perhaps my country's a little inactive when it comes to waking early, praying, exercising, etc., but we already established in Blog 5 that the Virtuous Woman wasn't perfect.)

But what disturbed me and disturbed me deeply was when placed on the scale of human warmth, I scored an  icy 120 on the side of "hard" and my soft side merely met half of that scale.  I stared at that result for a long time, stunned by my score, my head buzzing with rebuttal as I fought the urge to declare, "My God, I'm the tin man.  All metal, no heart!"  It was a blunt revelation of hidden things inside my physical shell.  It explained with some attempt on euphemism that I am deathly afraid to show my feelings unless it's to someone I completely trust and even with that, the walls of protection rise up instantly at the very first sign of questionable support.  But 120?  What was the matter with me?  What trauma did I experience as a child buried deep into my subconscious that made me place an iron cast on my vulnerable side?  There is no way on this planet that the Virtuous Woman was emotionless!  I was venturing on a senseless journey with no finish line!

That week while driving through Prospect Parkway there was heavy gridlock coming from Manhattan, the opposite side of my direction.  As I came closer to the traffic I saw the cause of that volume--two collided cars, thrown in different directions.  An FDNY was attempting to open the side door of one car with a huge machinery to get to a woman who was slumped against the driver's side.  In the meantime, the EMTs had lifted a person on a gurney to put inside the ambulance.  The only thing I could think of were the families of these victims waiting for them to get home from work but here they were involved in an accident that may be fatal.  I burst into tears praying outloud in my car, "Please, God! Please, God! Let everyone be ok!" And I know it wasn't the proper time to think about it but this is the circuitry of my brain function--when I got to the light on my exit, seconds after the accident, I thought, "But wait, how could that affect me so deeply when I'm a cold, cold person?"

I immediately took out  a mental list that outlined situations in my life that evoked such responses.  Running out of work to meet an acquaintance suffering with depression.  Driving to the hospital after working over time to stand by a friend's side as they cried over an ill family member.  Taking out from my family's savings to help someone in need.  I am being honest.  I started making a list of all my good deeds that seemed to me were generated from a soft side in a dire attempt to prove, if only to myself, beyond the shadow of a doubt, that indeed, I do have a heart.  This very act, I must tell you, disturbed me---recalling acts of good work that the Bible teaches us to forget in order to pacify my fear that I perhaps did not care about anyone.  I had to get into a prayer mode in the middle of the BQE and ask God if indeed I was the tin man reincarnate.  Then I saw a haunting vision of a good friend who, upon discovering infidelity in her marriage, cried at my feet and wailed as she begged me to remove the pain from her heart.  I buckled down on my knees and we held each other and wept and I was awed by her open demonstration of pain.  I thought at that moment that I would never be able to exhibit outwardly that much pain nomatter how excruciating it was and I admired her honest and naked response which exposed the depth of her suffering.  I thought that she was one of the bravest women I knew.  To be able to declare publicly that she was in deep pain, for me, took immense courage.

So God made me realize that the hard part was directed solely at me, sadly.  That while I could be vulnerable for others it was a feat for me to be vulnerable for myself.  "You have to atleast trust one person," my husband has said in times past.  "I would love for that person to be me."

And this is my newest quest, in addition to waking up early, praying, stretching, etc., To work on the issue of vulnerability.  To believe, indeed, that vulnerability in me could come from courage and that it is, to some extent, a part of virtue.  I'll retake that test in a year and hopefully, the tin woman would have, in a year, found her heart.

Friday, April 29, 2011

Moral Obligation

My attempt at becoming Elizabeth isn't wishful thinking.  I really, ultimately, want to be just like this woman.  But it's been an uphill battle with setbacks and relapses, like forgoing the waking up really early, praying, and stretching pledge throughout the entire Easter vacation.  I tried words of encouragement: "You can do this.  With real determination, this can be done!" When that didn't work, a little guilt trip:  "How could you sleep through the morning?  You've made a commitment, aren't you ashamed?" Then, slander: "You lazy louse! You've no right to look at yourself in the mirror!"  Nevertheless, I made the more desirable yet less plausible choice:  I slept in late during my vacation.

I kept telling myself to just make the right choice.  Choose to get up early.  Choose to pray early.  Choose to stretch. Late one morning during the break and stricken with guilt, I suddenly started stretching in the middle of the kitchen floor much to the bewilderment of my kids and my 3-year-old nephew.  I pulled, bent, arched like a cat and they watched in stunned silence, clutching on to their juice boxes.  I think they knew that I was trying to pacify a guilty conscience.

There hasn't been a day in weeks that I do not carry on a conversation with the woman in Proverbs 31.  How did Elizabeth do it?  Did she never, ever desire to sleep in?  Did she never, ever neglect her family for a day because she had to prepare for a Board Exam?  Was she never tempted to walk out of the house in sloppy sweats because it took too much effort to wrap her body in purple linen?  How was she, daily, able to make the better choice?  I think of the first day I studied with fervent commitment the first weekend of Spring break.  I had ten modules to do and one of the modules alone had over 600 questions but there I was at Starbucks, a Skinny Latte in hand, books on the table, a laptop with an expensive review software blinking in front of me.  I had tunnel vision, concentrating, focused.  Then the next day I found out Starbucks had free wifi and continuous access to facebook and attention deficit became my friend.

At the end of my Easter break I decided to take a breather from studying and assess a supervision case I was offered.  The hours were going to be painfully inconvenient, the paperwork unreasonable, the pay less than half of my usual hourly rate.  I pride myself in having a heart but also a bigger brain which carries within its cerebrum some common sense.  It was, to say the least, a perfunctory visit.

I sat across brandnew parents devastated by a recent diagnosis of autism.  The father held his non-verbal daughter in his arms, answering questions I'm sure he had been asked a million times before. I watched the therapist work with the child and then I listened to stories of frustration, the disorganized behavior programs, the team meetings with no direction, the lack of appropriate lessons because of the absence of a skilled supervisor. And then I watched the child look up at me, her baby blue eyes bright, her smile beautiful and contagious.  She made only incoherent sounds and she screamed to gain access to her wants.  I could feel the wheels in my head turning and I could see in this mental conveyer belt an array of behavior interventions that could quickly target areas of deficit which would provide skills for the child and hope for the parents.  I thought of the schedule again, the amount of paper work involved and the lack of compensation.  "Don't..." I told myself. "Don't do it."

I shook hands with the parents.  I shook hands with the therapist, then I stooped down to meet the child face to face.  I would do the best I could, I tell them, smiling at the child.  I could not make any promises but I would do my best and if all things go well, progress in the most basic needed skills should develop and develop quickly.

I stood in that livingroom and realized that not all decisions are made from choices. There are just some things that do not come from a heiarchy of selections and are not weighed on the balance of self-gain or convenience. Rather, some decisions are made out of moral obligation.

And maybe Elizabeth lived her life that way.  Her devotion to her God, to her family, to the less fortunate and even to herself was not founded on a mere choice. Perhaps both her position of leadership and servitude came from a sense of moral obligation. And perhaps it was this moral obligation that contributed to her life of virtue.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Quiet Desperation

Ever since I learned that the Virtuous Woman could have possibly been Bathsheba aside from Sarah, I've been wondering if she had been happy.  For some reason the word "happy" doesn't seem to apply to Sarah.  When I think of the Matriarch of Judaism, I imagine a strong-willed, determined woman who pretty much could plow a land single-handedly while milking a cow and delivering a baby.  And happiness was a feeling so unimportant that there was no need to experience such a sensation.  There was work to be done and being "happy" was not part of the equation.

But then I think of Bathsheba.  She was an ordinary woman.  Sure, sure she was so beautiful that King David was willing to forgo all his moral principles and respond only to his basic instincts but as a woman of class, she wasn't by any means above average.  But if she indeed carried within herself the qualities of a Virtuous Woman how must she have felt when she was torn from her home, subjected to adultery by her king, and then lose her husband to premeditated murder and become the wife of the man who planned her husband's death?  The only thing I could think of is that she was oblivious to the murder plot.  But even so, as a virtuous woman, when she layed with her king knowing that her husband was out in the battle field how did she, a woman of principle, feel about the whole thing?  And what did she think when she realized she was carrying the King's unborn child inside her?  I mean, we're not talking about a married groupie here who had a crush on a king and was giddy at the opportunity of a moment of passion with the most powerful man in the country, we are talking about Elizabeth, the Virtuous Woman, the woman of Valour, the one who surpassed all other honorable ones.  She had to have loved Uriah and even if she was only married through cultural arrangement, she must have atleast been loyal to him. I wonder if she told a close friend, if she prayed, if she cried herself to sleep.  And when she became the queen, I wonder if she thought about how she got to her own throne and I wonder if she ever looked toward her old home (after all, it had to have been within an eye shot away since King David saw her bathing) and I wonder and have been wondering if Bathsheba lived in quiet desperation?

I've read and re-read Proverbs 31 and while it lists in detail the qualities of this Virtuous Woman, there is no mention of down time for her, no mention of laughter, no mention of friends.  No mention of happiness.  Maybe a virtuous woman never has to stop to dwell on what may be lacking in her life---perhaps she has nothing lacking in her life, therefore she never experiences a moment of absolute void. Could virtue be synonimous to happiness?  Somehow I doubt it.

My bestfriend is the closest thing to Elizabeth that I know.  She is an operating doctor in one of the top hospitals in the world.  She barely has any time to sleep.  Her body is trembling with exhaustion when she gets home yet she religiously bathes her daughter, reads her a book and prays with her as she tucks her to sleep. On her days off she cooks enough for the week and catches up on laundry while simultaneously works on Abstract Presentations for the next medical workshop she has to conduct in some city filled with medical students.  And of course, she is beautiful.

But because she is my friend I know of her quiet desperations, and she knows of mine.  She's aware of questions like, "What am I doing?  Am I doing enough?  What does all of this even mean?"  And she's aware of my paranoia, my silent fears, my insatitable desire for success which deepens the well of a mother's guilt.

There are good mothers I think who stop and reflect on their lives and wonder what if they had gone to school and did more for themselves as much as they do for their children?  There are business women who lose friends as they gain success and perhaps wonder to themselves if everything gained would be worth the loss if it means gaining back things more meaningful?  And then there are carreer moms like me who live in constant guilt because our sense of fulfillment is met outside the comfort of our homes.

It would be comforting to know that Elizabeth had her moment of quiet desperation.  That it did not make her less amazing but that in the height of her virtue she felt some kind of void that some women experience.  I think to myself, the greater you become the less those around you can relate to your greatness.  And when you're in a league all on your own, there must be moments of isolation.  Isolation, for me, is often a relief but it also brings some level of loneliness.

I wonder if Bathsheba felt the same.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Beyond Borders

So after two and a half weeks of diligently waking up in the morning, praying, and stretching, (taking breaks on the weekends, of course), I have broken my streak this morning.  The most alarming part about this setback is my lack of guilt.  I am somehow resigned to the fact that since I'm on my Easter break the next ten days are like an extended long, long weekend.  But then I know, deep down, I will wake up early tomorrow morning and get at it again because guiltless as I am, I am not a stupid woman and knowing me for 37 years, I know this extended long weekend can easily morph into another 37 years.  Maybe that's why I'm not laden with guilt--knowing full well that tomorrow I will pull myself out of bed and do what I begrudgingly been doing for the last 17 days.

I am also aware that saying to myself at 2 this morning, "I'm not getting up tomorrow, no way, Jose" sealed the setback deal.  I've been studying for a couple of days now for an upcoming board certification exam that has caused an actual migraine when, in my exhaustion, I decided to take a brain break and watch a movie from Netflix after midnight.  I was going to let the movie tuck me in bed but "Beyond Borders" was not the kind of lullabuy that puts anyone to sleep.  I was engrossed within the first two minutes and I, having been brought up in a guilt-laden home, quickly thought about my staggering lack of contribution to humanity and my anemic compassion for the rest of the suffering world.  I don't know if any of you have seen the movie.  Clive Owens is this brutish, handsome altruistic-no-borders-doctor who trots the world risking his life and giving of himself to vaccinate and save the lives of Ethiopian, Cambodian, etc., men, women, and children who would otherwise die if there were no Clive Owens around.  And then there's socialite Angelina Jolie who's moved with compassion and likewise intermittently gives of herself to helping the cause and becomes a UN rep for the least fortunate in these countries (quite a prophetic movie for her).  Of course they fall in love but Clive Owens says in his anguish, "I am crazy about you.  You're in my head, in my heart, in every part of me but you belong there with your family and I belong here with this people.  This can never work!" And Angelina breaks into sobs, "No, no!" and I can't breathe at 2 in the morning.  The good doctor has given up luxury, money, and even love to save those whose names he doesn't even know!  How does one fall asleep?

I quickly think about my new obsession: designer stuff.  I've been on a quest to buy a pair of Prada shoes since snatching my Cole Haan bag and I wanted to unravel the dust bag in the middle of the night, look at that shiny leather and say, "My God, how many vaccinations could this buy?" (If I had paid the full price, that is.)  I place no judgment on anyone who wants to spend on themselves since I'm only insterested in my own masochism and I think, "What have I really done for others?"  I thought of my different contributions but somehow only one thing could pacify my conviction: sponsor a child.  I discarded my usual thoughts of, "Will it really go to the child?  Will the head of the foundation pocket it and buy an android phone? Etc.,"

I think of Elizabeth.  The Bible said that she gave of herself to her servants.  She gave to the poor and the orphans.  And I think, what a wonderful woman she must have really been.  And because she was merely human, there must be a few Elizabeths out there.  I want so badly to be one but the journey up this Mount Everest is full of slippery muds and sharp rocks, not considering the exhausting climb and my chronic asthma.  But I know somewhere out there Elizabeth already exist.  She would have been a volunteer of Clive Owens.

I want to meet her in person.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

An Imperfect Elizabeth

I was once told that it takes 21 days to change a habit.  I have since stopped believing that saying after three years of doing a Daniel Fast that did nothing but push me to binge on meats and brownies and deep fried foods once the fast was over.  It would probably take 90 days of consistent commitment for anything to make a lasting, permanent change in my life (forget the no sugar 90-day diet; I have cheated atleast 3 times in the past 2 weeks).  And so, I'm really quite proud that even though I take breaks on the weekends from waking and rising early and stretching, once the weekday begins, I am back on track.  Yesterday morning was rather emotional for me.  I bent down and touched my toes.  I am not a crying woman, which is something I'm working on, but I was overwhelmed with emotion when the tip of my fingers reached farther than I could have expected this early on in the game.  I mean, there I was, bending, touching my toes, bending, touching my toes.  I thought, "My Lord, I should've been video-chronicling this journey to perfection!"

I was really proud of myself until I crossed the Verrazzano Bridge into the Belt Parkway.  I am an avid Star 99.1 listener and I am absolutely enamored with Pastor Rob Cruver who does the "Go For It" every morning right after "Name Five Things." He talks about simple rather rhetorical things but they are relatable and he ends his messages with "Let's go for it!" For example, he could talk about the cloudy weather and say something about how sometimes our lives can be cloudy and isn't it wonderful that our Heavenly Father is the constant, bright Sun that lights up our clouded day and so, if we're feeling down and depressed under a heavy, emotional cloud, just look up to the sky and know that the Lord is there to brighten our day. Let's go for it!

I often wonder what it would be like to sit in a Cafe with my decaf coffee with Rob Cruver while he infuses me with "Go For It" words of simple wisdom but then I think neither his wife nor my husband would approve.  A few people dabble with infidelity and the rest of us women can't throw caution to the wind and have an innocent breakfast with soft spoken men like Rob Cruver!  Anyway, Rob Cruver started his message by talking about how he grudgingly got out of bed early in the morning to join a few friends for prayer but once he was there, what a prayer it was! I didn't hear the rest because my mind quickly wandered to my own morning prayer.  A repeated, half asleep chant of, "Thank you, Lord. Hallelujah, hallelujah" is the gist of my meditation and I thought, "I wonder if God notice?" And of course, I know the answer to that.

I think to myself, where is this Elizabeth?  Why has she come to torment me and remind me daily of my shortcomings and my imperfections? I got out of the house proud of touching my toes and here I was feeling less than accomplished because Rob Cruver had inadvertently uncovered my pseudo morning prayers recited daily not to connect with God but to appease my convictions. When was I going to get this right?!  I had a sudden vision of gathering everyone in my house and proposing that we collectively rise at 6 in the morning and pray for half an hour until Easter.  I obviously need a community to help me with this thing.  But then I pictured my sister's quizzical face and my brother-in-law's flustered look and finally, my husband's exhausted eyes and I thought, "Forget it, I'm obviously on my own in this thing!"

Later that day at work I told our Jewish speech therapist about my quest for Elizabeth, the perfect one of Proverbs 31.  She said, "The woman of valour?  That's who a Jewish woman is supposed to aspire to become." I nodded.  It was encouraging to know that I was not alone.  Then I thought of the Jewish, career women I know who have more than five children and run a business on the side and I wanted to throw my hands up in the air in utter defeat.

"That was Abraham's eulogy for Sarah," she said.  For Sarah?  But it was written in the book of Proverbs.  "Yes, Solomon took Abraham's eulogy for Sarah and wrote that poem for his mother."

Elizabeth was Sarah?  The Sarah who laughed when it was told that she would get pregnant at an old age?  The Sarah who doubted God who was also less than merciful to her servant, Hagar? And Elizabeth was Bathsheba?  The Bathsheba who David committed adultery with and whose husband David murdered?  Bathsheba was a representation of sin and temptation, wasn't she?

I couldn't believe my ears.  Sarah and Bathsheba.  Bathsheba and Sarah. 


I felt God speak to my heart.  Pursue virtue.  Pursue greatness.  But don't be too hard on yourself.  The woman you seek to become was less than perfect.

"Thank you," I said to the speech therapist.  "I didn't know any of that."

But now I do, and this morning I got up to pray and although my prayer was short somehow God felt nearer, closer, ever present.  I didn't feel like I was on a quest to reach the top of a measuring stick.  I'm still on a quest for the Virtuous Woman but somehow she's so much more human and less fictional.  A woman more attainable and less judgmental.  An imperfect Elizabeth.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Just a bag

Today I bought a Cole Haan bag.  Very unElizabethan, yes, but to my defense I didn't know what a Cole Haan bag was until recently.  And really, I felt as though I owed it not only to myself but to the bag itself to purchase it.  There it was on the shelf.  From $550 to $360 to $150 and then, a desperate $75.  I felt an absolute obligation to buy the clearly unwanted thing even though really I could use the money for something I really need but hey, I now own something in a dust bag with a price tag that makes my heart skip a beat.  I've taken it out a few times today, turned it, inspected it and shook my head, "Five hundred fifty? But why?"

I'd like to say that the purchase was hinged on consumer genius, a frugality that in the end resulted in a quality buy worth nearly 90% less than its original price.  But the truth is, ever since my boss bought me an expensive bag beyond what I considered morally acceptable for my birthday, I've had an insatiable, ungodly desire to buy another one. Those that know me will gasp at this confession because I have never, ever been this type of woman. I have never been moved by material things and Ann Taylor Loft has been the closest designer tag I've ever owned.  And now, here I am, pursuing Elizabeth yet physically craving for a designer bag that I will stuff with old phone bills and gas receipts. Nevermind shaming Elizabeth, I'm ashamed of myself just writing about it!

I knew I would buy a bag today.  I knew it by ten o'clock last night when I hung my head down and told my husband in a restrained, soft voice that I have never done anything for myself.  That all my life everything I've done has been career related, nothing personal that's centered on fun.  I work two jobs, I'm cramming for my boards to get certified in behavior analysis and I'm flipping through the Princeton Review Book everyday at lunch to prepare for the July GRE in hopes to get into a PhD program by this fall. And because I need my own laptop so I can stop monopolizing on everybody else's, I took a third job to start supervising therapists  who provide behavior treatment for children with autism.  It's actually a job I really enjoy but I also enjoy coming home by the time the kids arrive from school but--I need a laptop and these therapists need supervision.  It's a win-win situation. I'm not sure how this whole rant on my busy schedule turned into a pity-party that can only be pacified by a designer bag but somewhere in my diseased mind I concluded that a good purchase would be my cure.  And really, what a good purchase it was and I'm quite giddy just writing about it!  I am aware however that I cannot continue this behavior.  The last thing I would want to become is a possible candidate for a reality TV intervention and I'm trying to be Elizabeth, the woman who would never have hung her head down while fiddling her own violin.

I felt more relaxed today.  I got up early enough for decent prayer, stretched far enough to hold onto my shin for ten seconds and straightened my hair on a rainy day (I skipped only once on doing my hair this week, the only day it did not rain). After work I ran to the the post office to send out some documents for my certification, got my coveted bag, studied at Starbucks, did some food shopping then ended my night with good company at a small, Pakistani restaurant.  While there my husband and brother-in-law examined the bag my boss had given me for a gift.  It had nicks and scratches already.  How could something worth a couple of hundreds of dollars not withstand being pulled, tossed and dropped?

 "You're supposed to treat it with care," my sister said.

I nodded in agreement.  I needed a bag that I can just carry, worry-free.  A bag fit for my busy lifestyle.  "A coach, maybe?" I said and then I laughed. I was tainted, my sister had said.  Once I experienced quality, I was done for.  My husband interjected that I will still not pay for it.  I may buy designer bags but there was no way I would ever pay the price.

And that's true.  I am far too sensible, far too practical, far too poor to do such a thing.

I wonder if Elizabeth would have ever bought a Cole Haan?

Monday, April 4, 2011

Thank you, Elizabeth

When I got up this morning it was no longer dark. I've come to realize that really, this isn't my problem.  I mean, I was up at 6:30, not my usual 6:45, and I was ripped from a deep sleep, in the middle of an intense dream.  Usually, I would stir and ignore the alarm until my phone, at 6:45, dutifully joins the clock and reluctantly, I surrender to the call of duty.  But not this morning.  I jumped up, my heart beating wildly against my chest, my breathing heavy, my hands trembling.  They say it's worse to startle a sleeping man than a drunk man.  I have never been drunk but I have full experience on the sleepy part and I can tell you that nothing is more obnoxious than "ee-ee-ee-ee-ee" early in the morning in the middle of an intense dream.

But here I am, attempting to be Elizabeth.

I sat at the edge of my bed and prayed.  I don't really remember what I said but what I do remember is thinking about the verse that says" you pray with your lips but your heart is far from me." So I rubbed my face with my hands, sighed and meditated a little deeper, trying my best not to focus on the fact that I am under a time constraint.  Then off I go to my daughter's bedroom to stretch.  I was proud that I reached below my knees without pulling anything.  I think of the other day when everyone at work, one by one, showed me how easily you can rest your palms on your feet and they laughed at me, convinced that the "ouch-ouch-ouch" was an exaggeration and the inability to touch past my knees was simply a comical exhibition.  I don't get discouraged, of course, since I'm surrounded by a bunch of twenty-year-old's.  I'm sure when I was twenty my foot could bend back wards and touch the back of my head but man, that was almost twenty years ago and I cannot have such high expectations now on a body that makes a painful rubbing sound whenever it rains.  I am starting to be convinced that Elizabeth was not even thirty, which explains why she could get up before dawn and have a skip in her step!

I straightened my hair again by merely flat ironing the bottom of my hair.  Granted my hair everywhere else looked unruly but I thought, I really don't need a Japanese look when I can already pass for Japanese--and whose idea was it for women to go on an iron craze, anyway?  I wish the wild, unkempt look would return.  I really liked it when Penelope Cruz walked around looking half electrocuted and I was hoping it would turn into a revolutionary sensation for women but apparently only I and a string of married men found it attractive.  And there lies my problem, I am emulating Penelope Cruz when I should be focused on my target:  Elizabeth, the virtuous, perfect woman of the Book of Proverbs.  The woman who surpasses all honorable ones.  The constant reminder of my failures, my imperfections and how far behind I am!

If I don't catch up to Elizabeth, I will atleast be forced to confront my deficiencies and work through them the way I worked through inferiority complex in high school.  The process should be nostalgic.  And if that doesn't work, I'm hoping that when everything is said and then I would be able to atleast bend and touch my toes.  I think I'm halfway there and it's been less than five days.

And if I'm able to do that, I would still owe Elizabeth some form of gratitude.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Virtuous, here I come...

Because unknown forces in the universe work against any attempt for perfection, here was how my first day to becoming Elizabeth turned out:

I awoke to daybreak, my alarm clock beeping furiously.  It was almost 7 in the morning and I cannot remember the last time I woke up this late.  The extent of my prayer went something like this, "Oh, my Lord, I'm late for work!"  And I ran to the window, peered into the streets which confirmed that indeed, it is no longer dark.  I said a couple of acceptable, Christian profanities and planted my feet slightly apart on the floor.  I bent forward to touch my knees, the extent of my flexibility.  One, two, three.  There.  I stretched.  Then, like a derailed train, I proceeded to get myself and daughter ready for work and school.

I walked into work ten minutes late.  Shoot, shoot, shoot!  Epic failure on the first day but no worries, there was always tomorrow.  I examined myself in the bathroom mirror and grimaced--this was not the picture of beauty.  Crumpled hair, crusts in the corner of my eyes.  I am shaming Elizabeth!

The following day was much better.  I got up before 6AM--5:59AM to be exact (I'm serious!).  I had time to say a prayer with several phrases and then I walked in my daughter's bedroom.  Stretch time, baby!  I placed an arm in an angle over my head and pulled.  I'm sure I didn't do it right based on the searing pain that shot up from the back of my neck to the crown of my head.  I went for the knee stretch, then the cat pose.  I liked the cat pose because it was the least painful, which probably means I did it correctly, I hope.

Because the morning before was short of humiliating, I heated up my flat iron while I showered.  And then, I made myself beautifully acceptable.  My husband said, "Be careful out there.  You look extra pretty today and you know how that can go."  I nodded, yea, yea, not knowing what that meant.  I felt good.  I was awake while it was yet dark, I had prayed (somewhat), and I had stretched (somewhat), and for good measure, I spent some time on myself.  It was going to be a good day.

I opened the door.  It was raining.  My hair slowly but surely, started sticking up.  I didn't know who to yell at.  At work, the girls said, "You straightened your hair on a rainy day?"

I could hear Elizabeth laughing.  But wait, she wouldn't do that.  She'd smile at me approvingly for trying.  But there was laughter somewhere, probably from my coworkers.

I went to my second job later that day after trying to call out--again.  People were happy to see me.  I was proud of myself for being accountable.  Then I went to the kitchen, and there it was.  Brownies.  I had bonded with my sister on her journey to a 90 day no-sugar diet and I had done real good, including drinking bitter coffee, for two days.  Anyone who knows me knows I would probably sell my left kidney for a brownie.  I heard Elizabeth speak:
               Elizabeth:  Don't do it, Chic.  It's not worth it.  You made a commitment.
                       Me:  It's the size of my pinky.
               Elizabeth:  It's a matter of principle, which reflects your character.  You made a commitment.
                       Me:  It's Kosher.
               Elizabeth:  You made a commitment.
                      Me:   (Grab the brownie, shove it in my mouth, chewed and swallowed without tasting.)
               Elizabeth: Nooooooooooooooo!!!!!

Needless to say, I returned to the dining room of this residential home where I treat a special needs child feeling like an absolute idiot.  A brownie, the size of a pinky.  And I was having such a good day.

I can only blame my poor start to these unseen forces in the universe.  Clearly, they don't want another Elizabeth to exist.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011


I'm going to call the Virtuous Woman in Proverbs 31 "Elizabeth", mainly because she's deserving of a memorable name and also calling her "Virtuous Woman in Proverbs 31" throughout the lifespan of this blog is going to be tedious.  I figured Elizabeth is a good name.  It sounds strong, poised, regal, and if that's not enough, beautiful.  Also, my mom told me that she was going to call me Elizabeth but somehow, and I don't know why, I turned into Anna Marie.  Anna, the prophetess, and Marie, the bitter one.  And then my nickname since birth is Chic, fashionable, mod, cool and trendy.  A bitter prophetess who's fashionably cool just doesn't seem to fit but that about sums up my personality in a nutshell.  And that, in a nutshell, is going to be my Mount Everest in my quest to becoming like Elizabeth.  Let's face it.  That woman is not really simply Ms. Virtuous.  Afterall, the Bible says that she surpasses all women, even the most honorable ones. She is, in every sense of the word, Perfect.  And all you have to do is be on the passenger side of my car during alternate side parking in Brooklyn on Tuesdays and Wednesdays to know that I am far from Elizabeth and that becoming like her would not only require ample fasting and praying, but a miracle. And that is why this blog is in "pursuit" of Proverbs 31.  I expect to do just that.  Pursue, with no guarantees of ever catching up.  But I thought, what the heck, it's worth a try!

Elizabeth and I have a couple of things in common.  She was a working woman.  Check.  She was a busy woman.  Check.  She was a determined woman. Check.  She had a strong personality.  Check.  She was a deep thinker.  Check.  She was a leader.  Check.  She was a wife.  Check.  She was a mother.  Check. She loved her God. Check.

She slept late.  Double Check.

Here is where we differ:

She was a good housekeeper. She was patient.  She was organized.  She was calculated.  She planned ahead. She was two steps ahead of everything, in fact.  She was business-minded. She secured her future and laughed at adversities.  She was dripping with the right, soft words and was immensely wise. She kept herself beautiful. 

And as though that wasn't enough to make me throw in the towel, she also woke up real early.  Real early.

I waited behind an idling car today in Avenue C and honked my horn as passionately as I could because the car in front of me was too scared to turn for fear of crashing into cars coming from 2 miles ahead.  When the red light came on, my lips were dripping with all sorts of things but soft words.  (No, I wasn't cursing.  Thankfully, I do no such things.  I came close when I was stuck in heavy traffic at Forest Avenue because a robo cop decided to pull a guy over in the middle of the road and parked his undercover car right between the lines of the lane--I mean, seriously, he deserved to be called a moron but hey, Elizabeth would have probably just given him a word of wisdom.) And as I gripped the steering wheel of my truck and growled under my breath I glanced at my fingers and grimaced at my chipped, uncut nails and wondered how long it would take for the left over nail polish to completely peel off from my right thumb nail.  And, of course, I thought of the Virtuous Woman.  "I bet she had beautiful nails."

So I've decided to start with the most basic.  Something quantifiable.  Something I can check off my list and know, for sure, that I am eye to eye with Elizabeth.

The Bible says that the Virtuous Woman wakes up while it's yet dark and honestly, I think, well hey, that's a piece of cake.  My alarm is set for 6:30 and I get up, religiously, at 6:45 and it is yet dark so I'm off to a good start.  But I realize that in a couple of weeks the sun will seep through my blinds before that alarm goes off and if I'm going to be in pursuit of this woman, I have got to be up and beat that sun. And just the thought of being up before 6:30 heightens the "Marie" part of my name but I'm determined, real determined to get a couple of checkmarks from my list to evolve into this mythological figure. (Ok, take it easy Pentecostals.  I'm not calling that chapter a myth.  The Bible doesn't say she is an actual figure, after all.  It just describes what a true, virtuous woman is like and as far as I know, as far as I've heard and read, no such woman so far has been discovered.)

So here it is.  I will be getting up while "it is yet dark," whenever that is.  Because it's almost midnight now, I'm hoping it's not until 7 o'clock tomorrow morning.  We'll see.  And because I'm sure Elizabeth prayed, I will not microwave a prayer but spend some time in meditation.  Also I'm sure if she were the woman of today, after prayer, she would exercise.  But let's all just take it easy here.  I'm only going to stretch, which is a titanic move on my part.  So in my pursuit, starting tomorrow, I am going to wake up from now on while it is yet dark, pray, and stretch.

I'm sure the Virtuous Woman relaxed on the weekends. 

In my quest to be like her, I will also do the same.