Monday, October 30, 2017

Community Support - "How Can I Help?

"How can I help?"

A lot times when you live in a suburban area, you never get to really know your neighbors.  Yet, there are things that can break down that barrier.  Sometimes, its a common church, synagogue, family or other connections.  And sometimes is a gathering together in support around a family in need.  A house burned to ground in our neighborhood and neighbors and friends near and far jumped up to help with meals and other support.  In our own life, there has been a continuing very serious medical problem.  And again the walls of community indifference collapse and, as Mr. Rogers said, the "helpers" come forward to help and it leads to more connections then there ever was.

So, why?  I believe it is our innate desire as humans to help one another.  However, the real stumbling block isn't about having the will to help - it's about having a way to help.  That is, people want to help, but don't know how.

Sometimes they spontaneously offer to do something that you may or may not find helpful.  Other times the say "Let me know if you need anything" or "Let me know if there is any way I can help" or "Call me anytime".  All of these are usually offered in sincerity, but for those in need of help they often aren't the best way to support someone/a family in need.

What I've learned from dealing with my wife's cancer is that you need to get to specifics.  Either in your offer to help or, as the person struggling, in your request.  So, for instance, asking if you can make a meal is great.  Asking if you can bring something for dinner on Tuesday - what time is a good time and what foods would you want that you can't get to make now?  The difference is in being specific.  Families in trouble have a million things on their mind.  Figuring out what to say is harder than looking at the calendar for doctor's appointments and treatments to figure out when it works and to tell what foods your family will eat.

Another thing to do is to be specific in your listening.  When we were in the lowest initial phase of cancer treatment, a neighbor walking by with her dog asked about my wife.  I gave her the "Cliff Notes" version. Then she did the "and how are you?" side question.  I gave the short form answer that I was "hanging in there", but then I mentioned getting a bit behind on my yard work, absently brushing my foot across the longer than ideal grass on our lawn.  Just to be clear - this wasn't an intentional request.  I was already out there looking at the task that needed to be done and trying to figure out how I would do it given my overpopulated list of things to do.  Without missing a beat she looked at me and said - my son and husband will come over and cut your lawn for you. I said that wasn't necessary, but she politely said it was not a big deal (e.g. a polite mom's response meaning you WILL be having your lawn cut for you).  For the next three weeks, they came over - with a tractor, push mower and edger.  I was then able to pick up the chore again having gotten relief for a specific problem.  It was specific, it was important (to me), it was greatly appreciated, and it allowed me to focused on important things including (what everyone tells you to do, but never have time to do) taking time for me to rest.

I had a similar experience with my garden.  I love growing veggies and flowers, but just wasn't getting to the shopping and labor involved.  I indirectly shared my frustration with a friend and next thing we knew she was in my garden with her husband kids planting tomatoes and veggies and even putting flowers into the pots on our deck.  I came outside to see them and nearly cried (not something I do easily).

Sometimes an offer might be very appealing and yet you really have to turn it down - laundry is the clearest example.  It needs doing and that's especially the case if it's the sick persons normal chore and a totally alien task to you (at least since I was a bachelor).  However, the idea of having the neighbors know the answer to "boxers or briefs" or other personal things a family's laundry will tell, is just not as appealing to many folks.  That was true for us - for others in need, they may see that one completely differently.  My key point is that specific offers or, if you are the one needing support, specific requests are the best way to provide/get meaningful help.

Here's two valuable resources:
    This site lets a support network coordinate meals and scheduling.  It allows the receiving family to say when they need meals and what food preferences/allergies they have.  (e.g. no one eats brussel sprouts in our house)
    This is a great resource to coordinate tasks with helpers.  We have a special needs son who can't drive and we needed to get him to therapeutic riding lessons and college classes.  We also needed "chemo buddies" to drive to/from and stay with Wendy during chemo visits (5-7 or more hours).
Remember, to help, offer something SPECIFIC.  When you need help - ask for something SPECIFIC!  Nobility isn't helping you - so ask. And think of specifics.  Lastly, get a systematic approach.  A helpful, close family member or friend can set up one of the above sites for you.  We were blessed with an "Angel" neighbor (MW - we love ya!) who did it for us.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Friday Night Lights Shouldn't Mean Lights Out!

Okay, let's start with a disclaimer.  I was in the marching band. 

So stadium lights in HS on Saturday night were MUCH more important for the band than those for the football squad.... and that reflects a bigger problem here in the bosom of suburbia and beyond across the entire US landscape.

The "news" this week is that an overpaid football star (two or actually even more) was physically abusive to their spouse.  Very much so.  Not a minor problem at all, especially given the NFL willingness to sweep it under the rug.   And, tonight, another "star" has been brought up on felony abuse charges after using a "switch" on their very young son.  And both still aren't behind bars or shunned by all of their "fans".

These athletes are quote, unquote "skill" players.  Stars in the NFL.  And that status all the more explains what is happening.

I went to a great academically focused liberal arts college, Muhlenberg College.  The thing people remember about the school is how it prepped folks for secondary degrees, especially MD, DO, DMD, JD, MBA.  In other words, its prestige was for its academic output and not its football squad.  Thank God!

There are high schools all over America where being the big football star gets you all kinds of extra treatment and education support (e.g. better grades than you should earn) higher than does the greatest clarinet player in the entire county.  Be the best academic student MIGHT get you a great scholarship to college, but be the best tight end, wide receiver or quarterback at a good size HS and you get a full free ride at some college.  That's just messed up.

The "Big 10", SEC conference and all manner of other college NCAA sports machines generate all kinds of $$ from their sports programs, with football being the biggest money machine of them all.  If you get picked to be a "student athlete", you are in for one of the most protected, unbelievable ill-conceived, rides of your life.

That undue dependence on sports means that an unduly "macho" violence oriented (and not at all tacitly supported) culture emerges where those with superior athletic skills are mean that student is given all kinds of help not available to the next super software designer or biologist (who creates a world saving food solution) elsewhere in that university.  

These "student athletes"  (and they are all young men) are given one forgiveness after another for treating others poorly, poor academic performance, and disrespect for others (and especially women).  They are reinforced for their violence, their swagger, their dominance.  After all, its what helps them succeed on the gridiron (or the boards, or the ice, etc., etc.)  And so, we breed an aggressive, often violent, group of "ordained" men who are encouraged to be tyrants and sociopathic in their violence.  Except, they aren't called that.  They are called world class athletes.

And so we create these violent, self-centered beings and are shocked ("shocked"!!!!) when they are violent toward the vulnerable in their lives.  Truth - we created and endorsed that perspective and they live out what they were encouraged to be.  AND - even worse, they are often role-models for young men all across the country who see their behavior as something to emulate vs. be repulsed at.

So, back to marching band.  Our local suburban township board of education sent out a brochure encouraging voters to support lighting our HS football field.  And it had some great points, like protecting the safety of our "student athletes".  

Except for two things.  

The band, which has brought home many more championships than any of the sports teams, was not mentioned at all as benefiting from the lights (all their local competitors have field lights) AND not one word was spent on how the maintenance and ongoing power needs costs for those lights would be funded.  I know - we will.  

So, once more, we idolize our athletes.  Encourage them to be macho and aggressive men and women.  And then we "shocked", "just shocked" when one of them takes that endowed sense of violence out against one of the more vulnerable in their life.

Well, its time to stop.  Enough with full force endorsement of the violence generated out of a sense of privilege.  If you want to be in the varsity level band, you better have the grades with out any special supports.  It you want to play Div I NCAA sports, guess what?  You have to pass English 101 without a special class or lenient professor.

And if you are a scholarship level athlete, you need to be held to an even higher standard of behavior just to make sure you know that you have no endowed privilege to be abusive, sexist, or violent.  

Oh, and back to the marching band.  It is never okay to use your body to shove around the trombone player.  
It was their turn for 8 minutes of glory you insolent offe.  You get 60 minutes (+ an unbearable amount of commercials) to show your stuff.  Leave the band geeks alone.  Odds are they will be making a great life and better income long after your knees are screaming at you to have been a science major instead of a "sports science" major.

One band, one sound!  There's a group of champions - with a GPA to knock your valves off.  GO BAND.

Sunday, May 25, 2014

The Sounds of Silence and .... Sirens

If you are outdoors on any given spring/summer/fall weekend day in suburbia the first sound that will probably come to your ears will be the buzzing of small gas engines attached to some kind of lawn mower, tractor, or edger.  Dads, moms, daughters, sons on tractors, push mowers and other devices of grass mono-culture.  You'll probably find me somewhere out there with the crowd.

Night time in suburbia sounds like..... actually not much.  Its quiet and, even on temperate weather day when the windows are open, still very quiet.  Barking dogs are brought inside or quieted by their nature or their owners.  Occasionally, you will hear music and laughter from a backyard or pool party, but by 10 or 11, all is done and quiet.

Sirens are rare and cause for consideration that it could be someone you know.  Trucks are the trash trucks, landscaper trucks and a few UPS/Fed-Ex vans that come and go early and aren't heard from again.  Buses are not in the neighborhoods and just not heard when they go by on the main roads outside the development.  

When the temperature climbs windows and shades close and you can add the continual hum of outside air conditioner units.  And not much more.  The number of neighbors outside drops to the same low as seen on very cold winter day.  Once again, the quiet reigns and, at times, can be stifling in the lack of personal connection inherent in it.

But, here's the thing - I grew up in the city for most of my childhood.  And travel to cities on business as an adult.  Night time in the city is different.  

Day time in the city offers car horns, trucks and buses.  Sirens from police  and fire are routinely heard.  Trash service is usually a municipal service and runs a larger part of the day. At night, these sounds continue and, unfortunately, are, in some neighborhoods punctuated by sounds of gunfire or other signs of someone in peril.  

On hot nights, more folks are outside and you can routinely hear kids outside playing day and night once you get off the main streets and into the neighborhoods.  In the summer block parties and outdoor BBQs connect neighbors and families.  Apartment buildings lead to hallway encounters while getting the mail from the hallway box.

Even in the city, though, it is an effort to connect.  Its easier to keep your head down and do what you need to do.  Don't make eye contact - don't talk unless you need to.    And that's exactly like in the suburbs (except maybe at the entrance to a WaWa - see my prior blog entry).

The challenge in both neighborhoods - suburban or city, is for us to stay connected to our neighbors.  Friends we want as friends, others we want just as acquaintances.  Whichever category they fall in, let them know that we are all together in support of each other, whether its noisy or quiet.    Reach out to one another.  Know who your neighbors are.  Fight the barriers offered by the noise or the quiet so that we all know we are connected in the light of day or dark of night.

Saturday, March 8, 2014

Hometown? What's that mean to a suburbanite?

When I first started using Facebook, I set up a profile and one of the things they  asked was what was your "hometown".  That one stumped me and I bet it has for lots of folks in cities, towns, hamlets, and even here in the bosom of suburbia.

See, my parents are from Brooklyn.  That's their hometown even though they haven't been there in 30-40 years.   You ask them and they say it clearly and with out hesitating.  

Bruce Springsteen had that feeling in his song "My Hometown".  Bruce Springsteen - My Home Town The inherent pessimism of the song, as well as the longing it are not quite the feeling one thinks of when posting a hometown on Facebook.  It references scenes (in my mind, at least) of Freehold, NJ, about 10 minute from one of my home towns, Monroe Township, NJ.  A nice enough town, but still not the ideal "American" little town.

You could go with Paul Simon and Art Garfinkel singing about "My Little Town" - a really pessimistic view  Simon & Garfunkel - My Little Town singing about the dead and dying in their old town.  I'm not grooving that either.   

Here's the thing, I've lived in lots of places:  I'm not sure what to put down. I was born in Elizabeth, NJ, lived in Jersey City, Monroe Township, Frederick, MD (actually Braddock Heights area), Allentown, PA for college, one summer break in Beaufort, SC, one summer in Memphis, TN, a year or so in Rockledge, PA, Willow Grove, PA, Warrington, PA, Hatfield Township, PA and now in Worcester PA. And, its the last one that I have lived in the longest. Any advice?  What should I put as the absolute home town?
With my brother, Lars, in Jersey City
Monroe Twp, NJ 6th grade.

Some say you should put where you are now, others say you should put your high school town, but I have two of those, both of which are very important to me.  Others say that home is where your heart is.  We've lived in this area around Lansdale, the bosom of suburbia outside of Philly for 20+ years, so maybe that should be my official "home-town"??  

Any number of other songs work on this challenge.  "Our House in the Middle of Our Street" Our House is our Castle & Our Keep but that one seems to gloss over a number of things and also makes fun of the shelter a house can be as we grow up.

Home and hometown are a continually resonating theme.  On American Idol, a winner's big launch hit was about it  -  I like this one, it has the longing and caring about the person you want to bring to your home, but something is too syrupy in it for me.  

Ancient rock and roll touched it often, including this gem from Simon and Garfunkel:  Homeward Bound by Simon and Garfunkel .  It expresses a sense of being exhausted by the initial bumps of life and heading toward the shelter and love one needs to be restored before facing the world again.

Even old Hollywood standards, like the Wizard of Oz, tap into this root.   Dorothy's wishes are in her hands all along, but she needed to leave Kansas for some other things to realisze the value home had for her.  

1977 "Styling" TJ HS
Grad Picture
So why all this wondering and wandering?  Today I went to the Englishtown Auction (which doesn't have any type of auction), one of the country's largest flea markets.  Its an amazing mix of junk and treasures, cultures from all over the walls, bargains and rip-offs and may other things in between.  Lunch was Filipino grilled pork on a stick and all American sweet tea.  Not what you could find there in 1974 at all.

After lunch I left the "auction" and drove around Monroe Township and environs where I lived from 6th grade until moving in the summer after my 10th grade.  I drove past my grammar school (where I wore very stylish (for 1974) white loafers under my dark blue graduation gown, my high school (which is now the middle school), the church where I was confirmed (a much enlarged, beautiful looking place).  Lots of the area was changed, but lots were the same.  It all seemed bigger when I was there as a kid, but ironically, it is all smaller than I imagined and I am bigger (around the middle) than I was then.

So, where is your "home-town"?  For me, it's here, where I have lived for 20+ years, its Monroe Township, NJ, and its Frederick, MD.  Its okay to have 3 hometowns, I hope, because I am sticking with that.  I have too many folks I love and loved in every single one of them to let one be picked over the other as being the "place I come from".

So, if you are sitting in Bangalore, Beijing, Sidney,  Oslo,  Baghdad, Rome or some where in the bosom of suburban Mexico City, you have a home town and a home, and maybe, just maybe the difference or names of the two don't matter at all. 

After all, its all where you are is and has been shaped - hurt or loved, changed or solidified.  Its all in you and part of how you interact in the world.  And maybe, just maybe, we all have the same "home-town" - our world, with all its bumps, bruises, joys and triumphs.  We are all neighbors, and that gives us a moment to consider caring for each other in way we would only do for the family next door.

So, where are you from........??? 

Homeward Bound by Simon & Garfunkel

There's No Place Like Home

Phillip Phillips - Home