Don’t Count Me Out: I’m not going down that path

Who thought at 72 I would still be asking myself: “Who am I?” This is not the first time I’ve asked myself that. Maybe the 100th? But I thought by now I’d know.

Last spring I still thought I was 50. Well, maybe 60. I was in great shape — walking five miles a day, doing yoga, working out — and also very productive — writing several chapters for my book, my blog and short stories. I was marching in protests, keeping up with my kids and grandkids, doing it all.

I’ve always liked to do it all–it might be my manic. Sometimes I have trouble sleeping because it seems like a waste of time. I do think our age group had this thrust on us. As the vanguard of the babyboomers, we “girls” couldn’t just be a pretty face. We had to be that, but also be athletic, get straight A’s and have meaningful professions–as well as becoming perfect wives and mothers.

Then last spring I got a bad virus that might have come to me via Brazil. At first I joked about it. I even wrote a humorous blog about all the medications I was taking from the East and West medical experts. Well, I did refuse the antibiotic — Heck, I was no senior citizen who had to jump to that extreme!

As the summer wore on, I felt worse and then better. Then worse and then worser. I did have a chest X-ray, but it was Fourth of July and the doctors were on vacation so no one read it. My cough took over the situation until I felt just like this car below. I’d been a cute model in my time, but now I held together by duct tape.

I was finally diagnosed with walking pneumonia. They should have told me I had go-to-bed pneumonia ‘cuz instead, I just kept walking around doing my normal stuff. That’s when being 70 caught up with me. Turned out I have COPD that was being exacerbated by the bug and the pneumonia. My lungs and bronchials are permanently damaged, which explains why I get so tired when others don’t. It’s taken months to get back enough energy to create a normal life; and it’s a new normal, at that.

That became jeopardized last week when I got sick with a respiratory bug. I felt like I was the star of “Groundhog’s Day”, repeating the same symptoms as six months before: fever, sore throat, cough, swollen glands, nasal and ear congestion. A year ago, I’d have said I had a head cold, but this time I saw the doctor and was on a Z pack within two days. And I’ve added an inhaler into the mix. Plus I’m eating a healthy diet: eliminating gluten and dairy and most sugars.

I started lying around all day, like the older person I am. Especially because of all the articles about people dying from the flu. And my friends advising me not to take this illness lighting. And because the doctor told me to lay low. And my husband telling me to please not exert myself. Actually, I had so many well intentioned warnings that I started getting short of breath just from anxiety. I was a nervous wreck!

Yesterday I realized I’m beginning to think of myself as an invalid. I ventured out to do yoga and walk a half a mile. What’s going to happen, I wondered with trepidation. I came home and pampered myself, making sure I took my medications, rested, and checked in the mirror often to see how ashen my face looked. It was when I woke from my nap that I began to question: Who am I?

One thing I can tell you, the answer is not going to be invalid. When the going gets tough, the tough get going! I like cliches that are helpful.

 

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Marching for the American Way

 

I was surprised last night when I went on Facebook and saw negative comments about the Women’s March, especially surprised to read those from women. “Why are you marching? What don’t you have?” someone asked to women in general as if we are spoiled little girls who just want more and more!
“What were all these women doing blocking the roads when people needed them to get to work?” another person groused.
“Why take up the time of the police? They have better things to do than herd women with little pink pussies on their heads,” said someone else.


Okay, I thought.  I’m not sure why, out of all things going on, people are so annoyed about women organizing and marching. Obviously, they just don’t get it. Women, and men, marched together for what we were taught in school: American values. The March supported women, yes: equal pay, protection from harassment, the right to female healthcare–those kinds of issues. But it also supported the values of honor, integrity, respect, truth and fair play. We marched for equality and justice for all.

Did I think I’d be doing this at 72? No, not at all. Did I think my sisters from all over the country would be marching in January because we felt we needed to? No, but here we are.

I went to the Kona March with 12 people, male and female. We ranged in age from 2 and 1/2 to 88. We weren’t a militant group–just neighbors who care about each other and the United States.

It was hot. We needed water, and lots of it. No one complained, even the baby girl!

There were all kinds of people there–people who cared enough to come out and stand together . It felt good to chant: RESIST, PERSIST, INSIST. We will resist injustice. We will not be good little girls and go away–we will persist as we insist that our flag stands for everybody. We are a diverse nation–that’s a fact. And we love it.

A man asked me what I thought about the Trump year. He recorded what I said (Will I be arrested soon?), which was: “I think the band aid has been ripped off the cover of America, and the ugly wound festering beneath has been revealed. Perhaps now there can be some healing.”

No Laughing Matter

At the beginning of the summer I wrote an, “Oh, so funny. I have a cold”, blog. Only it turned out to be no laughing matter. It was a bad virus that lasted for weeks. I stopped taking my temperature after nine days. After nine days, you don’t have a temperature anymore with a cold, right?

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(do not ask me why I took this picture–I don’t know. I must have had a reason, but it couldn’t have been a good one.)

 

And I only had a cold…all you had to do was ask me and I’d tell that I had the same virus that knocked out Rachel Madow. I refused to believe it was anything else and put away all my cold paraphernalia.

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I’d been coughing for so long that I stopped hearing myself cough. I was on the verge of total exhaustion by 8:30 in the morning, but I began taking my daily walk again.

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This cough medicine and Vick’s VapoRub stayed on the counter.

I didn’t realize I was spending a lot of time in bed. “Mimi takes rests,” my five-year-old granddaughter said in the middle of the summer and I laughed.

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Here she is entertaining me when I woke up one afternoon.

After the first ten days, I did go to the doctor, but he said it was a virus so no antibiotics were necessary. Three weeks later, I even had a chest X-ray—my husband insisted on it, which should have given me a clue something was up. But when you’re sick and so tired, you have trouble adding up two and two let alone that you’re husband’s mind, which is always on golf, was cognizant I was not doing well. Another clue that I was really sick was that I kept cancelling my manicure appointments. When you don’t have the energy to drive fifteen minutes to sit for a half an hour, you just might have a problem. Oh well, hindsight is 20:20.

The Fourth of July holiday is not a good time to be sick. Everyone in a doctor’s office is on vacation or wants to be on vacation. Chest X-rays don’t get read. Lungs aren’t checked. Temperatures aren’t taken. I was given an Okay when I shouldn’t have been.

By mid-July I had walking pneumonia. I knew it had to be walking pneumonia because I was still out walking the dog, no matter how exhausted I was. I began to sleep more during the day and continued coughing most of the night. This was when I began to feel like a wreck.

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In August, when I went for my annual check up, I insisted on another chest X-ray. That’s when things started hopping. The radiologist was so alarmed by what he saw that he called the doctor immediately. I was scheduled for a CT scan the next day.

This was around the time I asked my Facebook friends whether I could put off my mammogram. How much radiation can a person take in so short a time? I wondered.

In any case, the CT scan showed all kinds of gunk in my lungs and bronchioles. One pulmonary specialist sent me to a special lab to have 14 vials of blood taken. I guess they were looking for what kind of microbe had set off the chain of events.

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I started seeing a UCLA pulmonary specialist in September. He assured me that the nodules were so small they weren’t cancerous. “No problem. We’ll keep track of them with CT scans every six months,” he said. “But you do have a lot of schmutz in your lungs.” Schmutz! Now there was terminology I could understand.

After a gazillion tests, he diagnosed me with bronchiectasis and COPD, and said the virus had set off an exacerbation. All of a sudden, the little cold had turned into a full time job!

I must admit to a bit of panic during the time between the CT scan and the diagnosis. Oh, all right: a lot of panic. And the diagnosis didn’t really ring my bell either. I had never thought of myself as a Spiriva type of person. Shows you what I know.

I am much better than I was. I look back on July and wonder how I dragged myself to the Bruno Mars concert in Vancouver, B.C.

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I think about how gray my face was in September at our anniversary party.

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Even in November, I was in a state of exhaustion that could lead to coughing spells. A low blood sugar attack could hit me unawares, which was not pleasant either. That’s better now.

Still, the slightest thing can set me off. I never wanted to be the Princess and the Pea, but I am more than ever. I’ve become hypersensitive to scents, especially chemicals. I can’t walk down the grocery store aisle stocked with detergents, etc. without going into a coughing spell. And no more perfumes or colognes! I have to dust my bedroom a couple of times a week. All that kind of stuff. And I had to have flu and pneumonia shots because I’ve been cautioned not to get a respiratory illness! I don’t like being difficult. I had a difficult mother and my compass has always pointed directly away from her actions. Still, if I don’t hug you, don’t feel offended.

So what prompted me to write this expose? The smoke filled air. I’ve become one of those people who must check the air before I go outside. We have a lot of smoke from the tragic uncontained fires around here in Southern California, and my lungs can be endangered by poor air quality. I’ve needed to stay inside several days. Yes, me! I can’t believe it either. I was healthy as a horse in May.

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I share my story to encourage everyone to see their doctor if they have symptoms of any kind that persist. I also love this new site someone clued me in on: AirNow.gov. You get up-to-date reports about the air quality in your zip code.

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Also, I share my story because I realize now how depressed I was. And afraid. Even though I had a lot of people around me, I didn’t feel I should bother them. Nor am I good at accepting help. I kept trying to do everything alone and I wasn’t doing a good job of it. God forbid, I should admit to slowing down! How embarrassing!

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Now things are definitely looking up. Seven months into this, I’m taking the medications I’m supposed to (didn’t want to do inhalers) sparingly. I do breathing exercises and Nettypot twice a day! I eat more healthy foods more times during the day.

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I’ve also decided I needed to think more positively. I do NOT want to wear a tag that says I have an elephant sitting on my diaphragm. I’m renaming the diseases I was labeled with. Bronchiectasis is a scary thing so I’ve decided to say I have chronic bronchitis. COPD is the third leading cause of death in the United States so I don’t need that hanging around my neck. Instead, I acknowledge I have asthma. But I’m not just going to use prescription meds. I’m going to yoga three times a week and walking every day.

I’ve learned that it’s important to avail ourselves of western medicine. But I don’t want to be trapped in it. One thing I know. I’ll never give up.

 

 

 

I AM AN AMERICAN

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I am an American.

I believe in truth, justice and the American way.

I am an American.

I believe in facts. Lying, cheating and editing the truth to

Distort Reality is not part of who I am.

I am an American.

I am not a bigot.

I do not condone the actions of Neo-Fascist White Supremacists. I do not believe that our President should align himself with them.

I am an American.

I believe all Americans should have food in their bellies and Medical Care if they need it. That means helping others who need help.

I am an American.

I am the granddaughter of immigrants who pursued the American Dream.

I reap the benefits of their toil and courage. I believe I can’t hoard all of it.

I am an American.

I am a grandmother who worries about the future of my grandchildren. I want this planet to survive long after I’m gone.

I am an American.

I want to live in this amazing country and feel safe. I don’t want to feel threatened by anyone, including terrorists or a gunman showing up in my neighborhood mall.

I am an American.

The Declaration of Independence states: “We hold these Truths to be selfevident, that all Men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness….”

We Americans need to remember that. We need to work on making those words true.

I am an American.

I’m here for the long haul. I won’t go away.

A Turkey in the Produce Aisle

via A Turkey in the Produce Aisle

A Turkey in the Produce Aisle

 

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I live such an eventful life. Take yesterday morning at the grocery store…the Tuesday before Thanksgiving. I was there before nine. I knew the one item I had to have would be scarce and in demand: chopped onions. I hate to chop onions! No matter how often I tell myself not to blink, I always end up rubbing at my eyes until they sting and painful tears blur my vision of my smelly fingers. I was so happy when grocery stores started carrying previously chopped ones. But I’ve learned the hard way–you have to get them early or they’re off the shelves.

Once in the store, I made a beeline to the produce section. It was packed. And packed with people who looked like they needed a mental health professional immediately. I zigzagged through them as if I were in contention for the Heisman Trophy, but as I approached my goal, I saw a man headed in the same direction. He beat me by an arm’s length, scooping up four boxes of chopped onions and celery.

Meanwhile, I could see in my peripheral vision that a woman was coming up beside me.

As I picked up the one remaining square box and put it in my cart, I smilingly said, “Wow, this is such a popular spot today. It’s a good thing there’s lots more chopped onion containers over here. Otherwise we might have had to share.”

 

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The man, horrified by the “share” word, clutched his boxes to his chest. “These are a combination of chopped onions and celery,” he clarified. Then he hurried away.

I turned to roll my eyes at the woman behind me. We smiled and she shrugged her shoulders in that “what can you do?” kind of shrug. That’s when I noticed she didn’t really have any arms. And her hands had only three fingers on them. (I didn’t want to be rude so I didn’t look that closely, but I’m pretty sure one hand had a thumb.)

I leaned over and picked up the last box of chopped onions and celery from my cart. “Here you go,” I said, handing it to her.

“Thank you.” She held up her hands. “I can do it, but it is a little difficult for me to manage chopping all this.”

Somehow I found myself holding up my five healthy, if arthritic fingers, and saying, “I bet! I can barely do it with all ten of these.”

Now, you may think this was an awkward thing to say, but somehow it was exactly right. I wasn’t pretending not to notice her lack of appendages and she seemed to appreciate it. We chatted for a few minutes about Thanksgiving and grandchildren and then went on our ways.

As I told my daughter the story, I realized this was another Curb Your Enthusiasm episode in my life. Can’t you just imagine the greedy man as Larry David?

 

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An Abstract-Random Mindfulness

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It finally happened just like I knew it would. I’ve been having a few health issues (that I still haven’t accepted–never thought it would happen to me!) so I’ve been going to a lot of new doctors and filling out those long forms. At one doctor’s office, the forms didn’t just cover your physical health, but also mental and emotional. So here was the question I’d been waiting for:

“Do you ever go into a room and not know why you were there?”

The answer to that is : “YES! But I have a BUT! Please listen to my BUT before you institutionalize me!!!! I’ve been walking into rooms like that since I was in my twenties.”

Between the kitchen and the bedroom, I start thinking of other things. Or I start outlining a story in my head. Or I remember I need to call the podiatrist. It’s not Dementia for me–it’s my Abstract-Random learning style in my Overactive Mind. Truly, my brain is mostly in overdrive, but I know the young doctors won’t believe me.

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I, of course, have senioritis as do most of my contemporaries. Like the other day, Valerie was telling me about the great lecture she attended the night before.

“It was sponsored by National Geographic and….” She pauses and gives me the round-eyed look we all get when we can’t remember the dang name of something.

“It’s a great museum. The best. It’s in Washington D.C. ” she says.

I start nodding. “Yes, I know what you mean. It’s on the Mall. It’s got everything. From airplanes to first ladies inauguration dresses.”

Valerie nods back. “Yes, yes. It starts with an S.”

We continue to nod and mutter “yes” as we go to our respective cars.

Two hours later, while cutting up carrots,  I shout in triumph, “Smithsonian!”

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But that’s senioritis. I’m talking about a more fundamental way of approaching the world. My learning style is defined as Abstract Random, which is great for creativity but can get in the way of task completion. For instance, I need to pack for an upcoming trip. That was the task I put on my list.

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(Lists, btw, are my salvation. I have lists on top of my lists. I have long range lists. I have weekly lists. I have daily lists. If I lose my daily list, I can become like the “Frog and Toad” character: I can spend my day looking for my list but not accomplishing anything on it.)

Getting back to packing. Somehow instead of filling my suitcase that I carried up to my bedroom at 8:00 AM, I’m writing this blog. A random thought flitted through my mind that on my trip I won’t be able to write a blog for a couple of weeks so I should write one before I leave. So here I am at 12:10 PM at the computer. And this blog wasn’t even going to be about memory. It was going to be about old Betamax tapes I just found.

Oh, well. That can be for another day. I need to go pack.

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Superwoman Bites the Dust, Part 2

You know how people say, “Listen to your body,”? It occurred to me this morning that I rarely do that. Instead I say, “Listen, body, do what I want.”

Since I had pneumonia, I must have had fifty people say, “Listen to your body.” I jokingly reply that the doctor should never have diagnosed walking pneumonia because I just kept walking around. Instead, she should have said, “Cindy, you have ‘going to bed and resting pneumonia.” I’d end up in bed only because I couldn’t do anything else, and I’d feel guilty about it.

Although I’m much better (I’ve turned the corner!), I’m still a work in progress. I may start off well when I get up, but I can hit the wall at about 11:00 A.M. Then I might be done for the day. So I’ve been trying to short circuit the fatigue by resting before I’m overcome by exhaustion. I make plans for what I can do—things that I never counted before like going to the market or dropping stuff at the cleaners.

When I walked this morning, I got quiet and went inward. I tried to listen? What was my body saying? It was hard to perceive any instructive advice because I’d turned that voice off years ago.

“How the hell should I know?” were the only words that came out—and those were from my mind. Which continued: “You can walk a little farther. You should be able to! You were walking five miles some days before. You need the exercise—you gained weight on your vacation! No pain, no gain! Don’t be a sissy!”

All of a sudden Dr. Phil was there in my head too. “And how’s that been working for ya?” he asked.

When the pulmonary specialist had said, “Don’t push yourself. Don’t walk too far so you’re too tired to walk back,” the words floated to my memory bank but not my conscious decision making center.

But Dr. Phil’s a big guy. His booming voice stood out in the crowd of bullies in my brain who urged me on. So I listened to him and turned towards home.

There’s more to this never-ending story, which I’ll share later. It includes chest X-rays, CAT scans, blood tests, pulmonary tests, inhalers, netty pots and a “No cancer,” diagnosis. It also includes me needing to make an attitude adjustment, which I’m working on. It’s hard to give up the feeling that you’re invincible. I don’t like it.

 

 

 

The High Holy Days

People often ask what we Jewish people do on the High Holy Days. What’s the Jewish New Year? “Do you have parties and fireworks?” And what’s the Day of Atonement? “Do you get absolved of all the things you’ve done wrong?” Let me see if I can provide some answers from my Reform Judaism and own point of you. Apologies already to my Orthodox friends who are much more observant than we are. This is bare bones here.

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Rosh Hashanah celebrates the beginning of the Jewish New Year. It’s in the 7th month of the Jewish calendar. Wikipedia says: Rosh Hashanah customs include sounding the shofar (a hollowed-out ram’s horn), as prescribed in the Torah. (Below is Moe practicing at our daughter’s in Seattle while we’re Skyping with our son and daughter-in-law’s family in California. Our granddaughter is in awe while I’m busting a gut.)

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Despite this moment of hilarity, the High Holy Days are very solemn. It is a time to look into your soul.

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People attend synagogue services and read special prayers and liturgy that has been read by our forefathers and mothers for thousands of years.

 

It’s also a time to gather with family and friends to enjoy delicious meals with symbolic and traditional foods. (This requires hours in the kitchen and sacrificing manicures!!!!)

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Here’s part of something I wrote for our Rosh Hashanah dinner this year.

Tonight, we celebrate the beginning of the Jewish New Year 5778.

We celebrate

  • our love for family and all humanity,
  • our desire to help our fellow man,
  • our hope to be the best people we can be,
  • our prayers for peace in the world.

We celebrate by reflecting on our past year. We remember the good things we have done, and the bad. We make a pledge to be better people—to do more good things—to put our words into action. Life is not a game of perfect, we will make some mistakes. But we never give up. We have ten days to think about who we are and who we want to be. We search our inner selves. We slow down to take stock. We recite the prayers our great-great-grandmothers and grandfathers did, as well. We carry on our heritage and connect with the generations before us. In these Ten Days of Awe, we center ourselves by remembering we are not the sum of our accomplishments or the amount of our possessions. No, we are just human beings. Human beings who are moral at our core.

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On Yom Kippur, you fast from sundown to sundown. It is a time for prayer and reflection, a time to get back to your center—to listen to the still, small voice inside that knows right from wrong. As we did on Rosh Hashanah, we go to synagogue to pray together . We ask forgiveness from God for what we have done wrong, and ask for the wisdom to not make the same mistakes. We say memorial prayers for our loved ones who are no longer with us.

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At sundown, we once again gather to break-the-fast. Another time to be with family and eat traditional foods.

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This is not in any way a definitive explanation of the High Holy Days. Mostly it’s a glimpse into how the family Muscatel observes them.

Shalom. Peace. Amen.

In the Blink of an Eye

“Racial profiling is a longstanding and deeply troubling national problem despite claims that the United States has entered a “post-racial era.” It occurs every day, in cities and towns across the country, when law enforcement and private security target people of color for humiliating and often frightening detentions, interrogations, and searches without evidence of criminal activity and based on perceived race, ethnicity, national origin, or religion.”

 

I read a blog sent out by ACLU that said just because police are afraid of an African-American man (or woman) that is no excuse to kill them.

It got me thinking about Malcolm Gladwell’s book Blink.

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He says that we make decisions in the blink of an eye. Sometimes this is excellent. Some could call it intuition. But it often leads to the kinds of tragedies that are played out on the streets of big and small cities across America.

Police officers answering calls, especially domestic violence calls, are afraid for their lives. They know what has happened to other officers and that it could happen to them. They pull their guns fast and use them faster. If it’s a person of color it seems even faster. I’m not sure it’s because of racial hatred. It’s definitely racial profiling.

Ruminating about this, I started thinking about my own quick impressions of people. If I see a white older man in a suit, I think to myself: If that guy is a senator and a Republican he’s probably a Christian who only feels charity to other Christians. If he’s a “southern gentleman”, I throw in that he’s a racist bigot. I know it’s wrong to think that way. I’m trying to get over it.

Living in California there are many Hispanic people around me. Yesterday I got my car washed and sat next to two women speaking rapid fire Spanish. I’ve been working on my Spanish so I always eavesdrop to try to figure out what’s being said. As usual, I could pick out a few words here and there, but it was too quick for me. The men washing the cars, the man who took my information, the young woman who checked me out—they were all Hispanic. Should I generalize that all Hispanics are working class so how could they afford to get their car washed? A scene in the movie Beatrice At Dinner illustrates this well. When Beatrice, a guest, comes up to speak to Lithgow’s character, he asks her to refill his drink. He assumes she’s a servant. It’s not only because she’s wearing casual clothing; it’s because she’s Hispanic by birth. It’s a cringe-worthy moment.

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The ACLU blog got me thinking about how I feel if I see a black man. Do I immediately blink and feel fear? I don’t. I’m very happy to say that. I do not want to be a racist. I do not want to jump to conclusions about a person because of his or her race.

I was fortunate to grow up in Seattle and attend schools that were multi-racial and ethnic. I went back and taught in my junior high school and learned as much from my students as I taught them. So I avoided a lot of the scourge of racism. Not all, of course. But like Spanish, I keep working on it.

Besides being “white”, I am Jewish, which makes me a little schizophrenic in America, and always a little afraid.

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I don’t “look Jewish” so I can pass easily in society. Until someone spouts a Jewish slur. That’s why I announce early into a conversation with a new acquaintance that I’m Jewish. I don’t want to suffer again the embarrassment of hearing someone say: “Don’t Jew me down.”

I’ve never wanted to admit that America is not the land of the free and the home of the brave. I love that myth. I love the stories of the Pilgrims and the Indians sharing the first Thanksgiving.

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It’s so sad at 71 to be aware it was a mythology we were taught. My generation was raised on Westerns where homesteaders and cowboys were heroes.

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We never realized that the scalps being taken and the arrows being shot were from the knives and bows of the people the land belonged to.

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They were defending their property! We had no compassion whatsoever. It’s taken me a long time and perhaps the Donald Trump administration to pull the blinders fully from my rose colored eye-apparel.

I’m not saying I’m not proud to be an American. I am.

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I know how lucky I am that my grandparents had the courage to immigrate here, to a democratic capitalist nation. To a place where they had opportunity. I’m just acknowledging that the United States is not perfect. Nothing is. (Not even me.) But we can keep learning and growing.

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We don’t have to be a melting pot to create a fabulous America. We can be a mixed salad with innovative and flavorful ingredients. Remember the posters United WE Stand after 9/11? Let’s remember that is our greatness.