Good things often happen when you're looking the other way.

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Reconnected

To all my faithful readers — 

As you probably know, I took the Former Things blog down several months ago. 

The reason: My daughter and I have reconnected and out of respect for her, I decided to discontinue the blog.

At some point, I will write a new blog concerning various topics, but not necessarily on family estrangement.

The fact that my daughter and I have reconnected is miraculous because I had myself convinced that I would never see her again. How wrong I was. She has three wonderful children, and I have had the pleasure of meeting them, too.

I leave you with some final thoughts: Even when all seems hopeless, there is still hope. Continue to think good thoughts about your children and pray that the day will come when you see them again. 

It can happen. Believe that it will. If it happened for me, it can happen for you.

Love to you all,
Gail

P.S. Boomerbookings.blogspot.com is still up and running. So is stagewhispers-greaterboston.blogspot.com.


Friday, February 13, 2015

The Light Between Oceans

It's hit or miss when you belong to a book club and are assigned a book you might not have chosen yourself.

A few years ago, one member of my book club assigned To The Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf. There was a 50-50 split between thumbs up and thumbs down. I happened to love the book, and so did the friend who assigned it. 

I joked with her recently and we both enjoyed a good laugh when I said, "We're going to the lighthouse again. The book I'm planning to assign for February is set on a remote island off the coast of western Australia and it involves a lighthouse keeper and his wife."

I couldn't resist The Light Between Oceans by M.L. Stedman when I read the synopsis. The story is about Tom and Isabel, a couple who meet and marry after WWI. They move to a remote island off Australia where Tom becomes keeper of the lighthouse, which requires that he maintain meticulous and accurate records of everything that happens on the island and in the ocean water that surrounds the island. 

Isabel has a maternal instinct and longs for a baby, but she miscarries not once, but three times. One day while tending the tiny graves of the babies lost to her, she thinks she hears a crying infant. Surely the wind is playing tricks on her, she tells herself. But she listens again. And yes, if it isn't a baby she hears crying somewhere nearby. She stands up and looks at her surroundings. And there, on the shore not far away she sees that a dinghy has washed ashore. On inspection of the boat, she finds a man, slumped over and dead. And then there is the source of the tearful wailing — an infant about two months old, lying on the bottom of the boat.

She picks up the poor, innocent baby girl and cuddles it to her, thinking "A gift from God!" With the baby in her arms, she runs home to tell Tom. And in the telling, she convinces him — against his better judgment — to allow her to keep the baby just for today, and maybe tomorrow. 

Soon, the days go by and Isabel cannot bear to part with the child she has named Lucy (for light), and Tom cannot bear to disappoint his wife, who still grieves the loss of their three babies. 

Three years later Tom's government contract ends, and they return to the mainland. It is then that they discover that a woman there is grieving not only the loss of her husband, but her baby, too. Tom and Isabel's choice to keep Lucy as their own is now coming back to haunt them.

The Light Between Oceans, Stedman's remarkable debut novel, is the single most heart-wrenching story I have ever read. Its prose is gorgeous and haunting; its chapters rich in history and emotion. I will not add any spoilers to this narrative, but I will tell you that the book is so good that Steven Spielberg is working on bringing it to the big screen. Filming is in progress as I write.

One of the themes in this book is family estrangement — specifically, Tom's estrangement from his father due to an innocent remark he made as a child that had far-reaching consequences for his entire family. When Isabel hears about it, she wants details about what happened, but Tom would rather leave the past in the past. 

Isabel replies, "Your family's never in the past. You carry it around with you everywhere."

How true. No matter how much those who are estranged may try to wipe the past off the chalkboards inside their minds and hearts, events, emotions and dialogue that may have been long forgotten have a way of creeping into their consciousness when they least expect it.

As Maya Angelou once wrote, "You are the sum total of everything you've ever seen, heard, eaten, smelled, been told, forgot — it's all there. Everything influences each of us, and because of that I try to make sure that my experiences are positive."

I'll take that one step further — I try to make sure that my experiences are not only positive, but that my present and future words and actions will be loving, kind and compassionate — without losing myself in the process — because that is how I wish to be remembered when I'm gone.

The Light Between Oceans is a love story not just about a husband and wife but about two mothers who love the same child. I can't think of a better Valentine's Day gift to give yourself or to another woman. Men with soft hearts will probably love it, too.

May all my readers have love this Valentine's Day weekend — and remember…love is something you have to give if you hope to get it in return. I love you all.

Sunday, January 4, 2015

May the New Year bring you wonder upon wonder

Like everyone else, I’ve had my share of sad days. The day I was told I would never give birth to a child. The day I learned my father had died. The day I had to separate from my first husband. The day my mother died. Right up there, among all the rest, was the day I came home from work and listened to a message left by my daughter. The words she spoke into the phone tore my heart right out of my chest.

I had not seen her in four months, not since the day she graduated from college. The day I listened to that message – telling me she needed a break from family and that I should not contact her and that she would contact me when she was ready – caused me so much anguish and grief I had nowhere to go but my knees.

The date was Thursday, September 24, 1998. The date is significant to what I am about to write here. September 24, 1998. The twenty-fourth day of the ninth month. Read on and you’ll see why.

I was raised an Episcopalian. My parents took my sister and me to church every Sunday when we were children, but in my youth I never thought much about having a personal relationship with God. Instead, I thought of Him as a great being, one far more intelligent than I could ever imagine, one that was so far removed from my earthly pin-dot life. I was sure He didn’t even know I existed, let alone care.

Today, I have a very different view of God and who He is than the view I had before September 24, 1998. I’ve written about my faith on these pages, but I’ve never said why I believe as I do. It’s time I explained.
That night – the twenty-fourth day of the ninth month in the year 1998 – was what I now think of as Ground Zero. First, it is the day the estrangement I have with my daughter got underway and second, it was the day I finally understood that God is a real and true presence and He is not some ephemeral, disconnected being floating around in the sky.

I could not believe my daughter’s words when I listened to her message. I knew she was involved in a relationship with a man and that they had moved in together after only a few months of dating. I knew also that she was devoted to making the relationship work and that she was committed to making sure he knew he was number one. But I was being squeezed out, and I wasn’t sure why.

My heart beat wildly inside my chest as it began to dawn on me that she wanted nothing to do with me – at least for a while. Tears stung my eyes and seconds later I sat on my bed and sobbed. I looked around my bedroom. How many times had we lain there, side by side, while talking about everything from what she should study in college to what she would like for a birthday gift. No subject was off limits. At one time, we enjoyed a close mother-daughter relationship. Yes, we fought, too. But most mothers of teen girls say the same thing. I had to tell her to lower her skirt or not go to the dance. I had to tell her “no” when she tried to push for a 1 a.m. curfew. I did what I thought was best for my daughter. She probably perceived me as being too strict, and maybe I was, but it was my job as her mother to keep her safe. I didn’t want anything bad to happen to her.

As I continued to look around the room, my eyes rested on a framed photograph of her. I saw a bottle of body lotion on my bureau – a gift from her. I saw, also, my mother’s old Bible. Steeped in emotional agony, I took the book from the top of  my bureau and opened it to a random page. “God, please speak to me. I need you,” I said.

I opened the book to a random page. At the top was written “Haggai.” I had turned to a page in the Old Testament, and Haggai was a minor character but one who had his own book. I had never heard of him. Drying my eyes, I read:

 “Now give careful though to this from this day on – consider how things were before one stone was laid on another in the Lord’s temple. When anyone came to a heap of twenty measures, there were only ten. When anyone went to a wine vat to draw fifty measures, there were only twenty. I struck all the work of your hands with blight, mildew and hail, yet you did not return to me,” declares the Lord. “From this day on, from this twenty-fourth day of the ninth month, give careful thought to the day when the foundation of the Lord’s temple was laid. Give careful thought: Is there any seed left in the barn? Until now, the vine and the fig tree, the pomegranate and the olive tree have not borne fruit. From this day on, I will bless you.”
I would not have given much thought to what I read except for one thing: The date. The Bible I was holding in my hands contained about 1,200 pages. What were the odds that I would turn to the one page that would specifically mention the twenty-fourth day of the ninth month?

I read the words again. What did they mean? What stood out was the sentence that began, “I struck all the work of your hands … yet you did not return to me.”

It was true. The work of my hands – my marriage, my role as mother – had been struck. And it wasn’t until then that I returned to God. Then I read the final sentence. “From this day on, I will bless you.”

Never mind that I had always been a church-goer. Never mind that I had gone on a church retreat years before to renew my faith. Never mind that I raised my daughter in the church. It wasn’t until I read that passage that I knew God wanted a personal relationship with me. And I began to watch for those blessings.
It didn’t take long. Soon, I heard from an old friend and we renewed our friendship. Following this, other amazing things began to happen. Some benefited me but many benefited other people. As an example, my daughter had told me only months before that I should buy a new living room couch. I liked the old one but thought maybe it needed new upholstery. So I went to a fabric store to see if I could find a pattern I liked. Nothing appealed to me, so the store manager suggested I try a hole-in-the-wall upholstery shop on the other side of town. I had nothing to lose, so off I went. While flipping through the fabric sample books, I thought I saw a wad of cash stuck inside one of the pages. I flipped back and sure enough, there was a stack of folded bills. I pulled out the cash and called the manager over. “Look what I found,” I said, watching as an ear-to-ear grin spread across his face. He told me he had misplaced the money – all $580 of it – after visiting a customer’s home. He said he thought he had put the deposit in his pocket, but later discovered he had not and thought he had lost it. I had saved the day. That’s not all. He told me that he had planned to send that particular book back to the manufacturer the next day because no one ever ordered anything from it.

This is the kind of “miracle” that happened again and again. Chance encounters that led to my good. Finding one-of-a-kind gifts. And the most amazing one of all – meeting and marrying my husband Tony, moving to a new town, finding the job of my dreams and writing Former Things.
What else is there for me to think? The hand of God was on my life during the good times and the bad. And He made Himself known to me on one of the most agonizing days of my life. I can tell you this – I have not been the same since. The hand of God is still on my life.

Some people think life is a game. Other people think it’s a journey. I think of it as a magnificent puzzle, and the first piece is laid the day we’re born. Each puzzle piece continues to connect to the next one until the day we die. If we are fortunate enough to live a long life, we can see the picture in the puzzle begin to take shape. We can see the landscape of our lives the Master Puzzle-maker created for each of us.

Take a look at your puzzle. Are all the pieces fitting snugly? Is the picture emerging? Do you think it might be even more beautiful if you turn your life over to the care of God?

I do. And though I still don’t have the company of my beloved daughter – my beautiful, smart and wonderful girl – I have the company of family and friends and most important of all – God.
May the New Year bring you wonder upon wonder. May you, too, believe.




Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Recipe for happiness: Give much, expect little

It was Norman Vincent Peale who gave us 10 simple words about how to have a happy life:

• Expect little
• Give much
• Live simply
• Love much
• Forget self

Like many others in my generation, my parents struggled to survive the Great Depression, took calculated risks to improve their lot, made saving money a priority and probably made a boatload of mistakes along the way.

My father was one of six kids. Born in a rural area of Nova Scotia, he and his brothers and sisters were all happy with little. On Christmas morning, they looked forward to seeing what Saint Nicholas left in each of their stockings. One year, they all got an orange, a fruit that had to be shipped in from Florida or California, places that seemed as far away as Timbuktu. Oranges in those days were probably equivalent to a dinner today at the Ritz.

Family legend has it that my father hid his orange in a secret place so his brothers and sisters wouldn't help themselves to it, and every day when no one was looking he'd take that orange out of its hiding place and have a sniff. Today, psychologists would say that he was showing his emotional maturity by delaying gratification. Rather than gobble it down in one gulp, he was content to have a daily sniff of that fruity citrus.

He told my sister and me that he loved to rub his fingers over the orange's nubbly skin and looked forward to his first bite. He even measured the orange and figured it was more than six inches in circumference, the biggest one he had ever seen. How he loved that orange, and how he looked forward to the day he would finally peel away it skin and take extreme pleasure in savoring every drop of juice, every bit of pulp. But then came the day when he went to sniff his orange, only to find that it had shriveled to about four inches.

There had been a severe cold snap that week, and the orange suffered the consequences. When he sliced open his treasured orange, he found it all dried up and shriveled. Not one drop of juice and the pulp was no more edible than wood shavings. A valuable lesson my father learned that day, and he reminded us often: Don't put off your enjoyments today because they may evaporate tomorrow. To balance his lesson, he also instructed that a greedy, "must have right now" attitude was not the way to go, either. 

"Grab something too greedily, and it will slip right through your fingers" was his message. My mother's message had more to do with sharing. "Sharing brings you joy," she said. 

Greed, or avarice, and its cousin envy, have been with us since the beginning of human history. But in the past decade, greed has taken over headlines, beginning with Bernie Madoff and ending with the Koch brothers. There's even a TV show called American Greed.

I found an online essay on greed recently, and the crux of the piece was that possessions — from McMansions to BMWs and everything in between — will never bring happiness. And the more people clamor for things and the more they have, the less happy they'll be in the long run.

How many of us have given our children the toys of their dreams for Christmas or Hanukkah, only to discover them a few months later, forgotten at the back of their closet. How many women have bought an expensive designer pocketbook, only to tire of it later on. Possessions do not bring lasting happiness, and they do nothing to fill the void in us all. It's as simple as that. 

The love of money and what it can buy is a dangerous trap that has ruined family relations. It has forced couples into separation and divorce. It has brought down corporations and even Wall Street.

When my daughter was about 13, she tried her hand at running her own business. One day we sat at the kitchen table and brainstormed about what she could offer as a babysitter that other kids her age might not think of. She then used crayons and Magic Markers to design a grocery store bag with colorful letters that said "My Babysitting Magic." She filled the bag with coloring books and crayons, Play-Doh and water color paints and construction paper and went door to door in our neighborhood offering her "specialized" babysitting services to mothers of young children. 

"Your kids will never be bored while I'm watching them" was her mission statement. She got quite a few jobs and gained some experience about what it takes to promote a business. I insisted that the money she earned was not to be spent only on her own desires but split three ways: Charity, savings and then herself. I also tried to tell her not to ever trust money because it can be gone in a flash. 

"As much as you might grow to love money, remember this: It will never make you happy and it will never love you back," I said. 

While raising her, I tried to instill other values like helping the lonely and needy and giving beyond what was expected. It's what my own parents taught, so it seemed natural to pass down their teachings to the next generation.

The spirit of the Christmas season is everywhere — in stores, on corners where Salvation Army bell ringers are hoping for donations, in churches and in private homes where Christmas cards are being written and the Elf on the Shelf is showing up in strange and amusing places. 

But the spirit of Christmas is sorely needed in other areas — homeless shelters, soup kitchens and halfway houses. When you review your shopping list, remember what Norman Vincent Peale taught and "give much." 


Enjoy the season — it only comes once a year, after all. But avoid letting the worldly attitude of greed enter in. It will only spoil things for you and your family and diminish the importance of what Christmas is all about: The world's greatest gift — hope.

Enjoy a wonderful Christmas — or Hanukkah — and a peaceful, healthy New Year!

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Six degrees

There is a man I’ve known for a while now who has served Thanksgiving Dinner to the needy for the past 28 years. They are the destitute, the lonely and the aged. They are often people who have no family to share dinner with. This will mark year 29 of Scott’s outpouring of generosity and caring. I got to know Scott when I wrote about what he does to “serve God’s people,” as he put it, for the newspaper where I work.

Scott pays for everything – turkeys, stuffing, vegetables, cranberry sauce, rolls and butter, desserts, beverages and anything else he needs – and he will not accept donations. He also cooks the food and enlists a few people to do the serving. Then he cleans up. This all takes place in a church hall. This year, he had to move his regular venue to another church because there was a problem with the oven.

Scott owns a vacuum cleaner and supplies store near where I live, and last week I paid him a visit to see if he would be hosting Thanksgiving again this year. The answer was yes, and this year he had asked a man I knew in the past to help him out. When I heard the news, I thought about those six degrees of separation and how they apply to each of our lives. I haven’t seen the man who will help Scott for a long time, but I’ve thought about him now and then and wondered how he was doing. Next time I visit Scott he’ll tell me. Who knows? We may even reconnect.

That’s how it is with those six degrees of separation. Someone we haven’t seen for a long time will suddenly pop up in the most unlikely of places or under bizarre circumstances. I personally hold on to those six degrees of separation because there may be a likelihood that someone, somewhere will bring me news about my daughter – or, in the best case scenario, I will see her myself.

I’m happy to hear that my old friend will be helping Scott this year because I can’t think of a more meaningful way to observe Thanksgiving. It’s a day to be thankful AND a day set aside for giving. If I didn’t already have plans for the holiday, I might volunteer myself.

But I do have plans, and I will be spending the day with my husband and family, and that suits me fine, too.

From our home to yours, here’s a wish for all of you – That you will enjoy this special day and have peace and love in every corner.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Boomer Bookings and Stage Whispers

Travel buffs might be interested in reading my review of the Nova Star cruise ferry out of Portland, Maine and a review of DOUBT A PARABLE now playing at The Stoneham Theatre in Stoneham, Mass.

Visit www.boomerbookings.blogspot.com and www.stagewhispers-greaterboston.blogspot.com.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Living in an upside down world

This week I spoke with our town’s Police Chief about the wave of violence being reported among star athletes. Chief Smith commented: “Domestic violence is an ‘unacceptable crime.’” Well, what he meant is that all crime is unacceptable, but domestic violence simply should not happen among people who profess to love one another. But it does happen and probably always has because people are people, and when there’s a clash of wills domestic violence is often the result.

I was thinking about this today along with the notion that we live in an upside down world. It’s something the Chief and I talked about yesterday while we were “off the record.” We both agreed that the world has gone out of whack, and what once was thought to be good is now considered bad and what was once thought of as bad is now good. This extends to family life, and I have a story to prove it.

It was in 2001 that I got an urge to have a child in my life, a child I could nurture and grow to love. And so I signed up for a mentoring program offered by an organization run by the state. After a background and CORI check, I was assigned to a little girl eight years old. She had a sister a year or so older, and she was waiting for her own mentor but few were available so I got permission to include her in outings. Both girls lived with their mother in a three-family home.

Our times together were fun and sometimes even exciting. The child assigned to me was overweight, so I signed us up for swimming at the local YMCA on Friday nights. And yes, her sister came along, too. I got tickets to the county fair and went on rides with them. One morning we had breakfast at a municipal airport and watched the small private planes take off and land. We talked about where they might be going and that led to discussions about traveling to far off places.
My neighbor and close friend Joan would give me bags of cast-off clothing (all bought in trendy boutiques and high-end stores by Joan’s friend who gave them to her) with the idea that they would fit the girls. They did, and their wardrobe grew beyond what their closet could hold. The girls got to go to theatrical events with me, and I might have even taken them on vacations if our relationship had continued. Having not one but two little girls to care about felt good and natural. I’m a born mother and love being around young children.

Things began to change, however, a few years after we first met. The younger girl was now ten or eleven and was quiet when I would pick her up. I tried to engage her in conversation, but she held back. Something was clearly bothering her. As time passed, she became even more quiet to the point that I worried about her constantly. I mentioned the situation to the family’s caseworker and a visit was paid to the girls’ home. And what was discovered? That their mother was using drugs right in front of her young daughters. I was later told that the mother was making a habit of living with various men, too. She was also found to be negligent. Very little food was in the refrigerator or the cupboards. The girls were going to bed hungry.

I am sad to report that the girls had to be removed from their home and placed into foster care. Since I was not certified as a foster parent, I was not eligible to take them. The younger child ended up at a home south of Boston in a seaside community where she learned to ride a horse. The older child went with a family closer to Boston. I can’t imagine the pain they must have suffered, first knowing that their mother was using drugs, second that they had to be separated and third going to live  with people who were not family members. We lost contact because the caseworker determined their adjustment to new living situations would be easier for them if I wasn't in the picture. I missed them greatly and thought of them all the time.

But in spite of their difficulties they seem to have survived and even thrived. A while ago, I searched the Internet for them and found that they were all grown up. There are pictures of them with their boyfriends. Pictures of them having fun at various events. And pictures of them with their arms around their mother.

This is a most curious thing from my point of view. Here was a woman guilty of hard drug abuse (cocaine). Here was a woman guilty of cohabiting with men who were not her children’s father. Here was a woman guilty of neglect. And yet there were her children, firmly attached to her.

Seeing these photos left me scratching my head. How is it that this mother has the affection of her children and I don’t? I’m not comparing myself to this mother because it would not be fair and it would also be judgmental. At the same time, it boggles my mind.

The only conclusion I can come to is that we do, indeed, live in an upside down world. How else can it be explained?