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Bruce Sinclair Swasey 1928-2015

February 22, 2015

Bruce died almost a month ago. Peacefully, at age 86, surrounded by his children, as one would want.

Much like my dad, he died with no trouble or fuss to anyone. He decided it was time, quit eating, and called his children to come. Hospice came in two days before he passed. The night before he died, he awoke at 3 am and chatted through the night with his son, Chad, even going through some math problems. Bruce was a technical guy, and loved math problems.

It’s hard to overestimate how important he was to us. Not just to me, to us, our community of Toastmasters. He belonged to so many clubs – it was impossible to determine how many. Toastmasters was his social life, his true calling. He welcomed and drew people in and helped them take their first shaky steps into public speaking. He encouraged and called, or more often wrote. He wrote notes and letters and cards. I have a whole file folder full, and I only kept maybe a third of them.

You know that phrase “covered in glory”? That’s what it felt like to be loved by Bruce. He covered me in glory. He praised me endlessly and acted like I was a goddess sprung from a clamshell. He was effusive, concerned, honest. He took my petty offerings with such open-hearted enthusiasm, like the time I gave him a book of poetry the girls in a writing mentorship program had written, and he stayed awake all night reading it. He reported back that it had given him new courage and enthusiasm to write poetry himself. This was a man in his 80s, unabashedly diving into writing poetry, cheered by the bravery of teenaged girls to put pen to paper.

About six months before he died, he began telling us all, his friends, that he loved us. He said he had decided that he didn’t want to leave this world without us knowing that. So at every parting, we said “I love you.” We said it often.

God, I miss him so much. At his memorial the other day, we sang “What a Wonderful World,” together. I think it was a perfect tribute, because if everyone behaved like Bruce, what a wonderful world it would be.

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Bruce, on the right, doing what he loved most – goofing around at a Toastmasters meeting.

1000 Posts for Compassion

February 20, 2015

Love and Compassion

1000 Posts for Compassion

January 20, 2015

Updated: haha I posted a month early! I guess I’ll be back doing this again on Feb. 20, the real date. I don’t mind. More kindness and compassion is better than less.

Today I’m joining with 999 other bloggers to fill the internet with posts about compassion and kindness, so now I guess I have to say something profound.

Compassion comes from a the root words meaning “to suffer with.” Suffering. The last thing we ever want to do. The thing we try to avoid at all costs. If we want to be compassionate, though, we suffer with.

Suffer with. Be with. Sit with. Share in the moments where certainty is not given. Breathe. Pray. Hold. Hold on.

Everything in modern America tells us not to do this. Run away! Take a drink. A pill. A vacation. Get away. Make an inspirational quote photo. Do anything to get the hell away from that pain.

I dated a guy who had a stroke when he was about the age I am now. Not a devastating one, but serious enough to require a cardiac pacemaker due to heart damage brought on by years of untreated high blood pressure. He had no health insurance, so he had to go to our county hospital, a creaky old place with no air conditioning.

There was a more modern hospital across the road, but there was no way he could afford it. I was afraid the care he got at County would be sub-par, but what was there to do? To top it off, he was terrified. He had never suspected, until he had the stroke, that he was in any way unwell. He was in shock.

A nurse who looked to be about 45 came in to the hospital on her day off. She had heard about his situation. She told him that she, too, had a cardiac pacemaker. She told him she had felt scared and devastated by her heart problems, certain she would never be the same. She pulled back her shirt collar and let him run his fingers over her pacemaker, right there under her skin. She explained that the pacemaker allowed her to continue her life much as it had been before.

The nurse gave him exactly the care he needed at that moment – the experience only someone else with a pacemaker could share. She had the compassion to come in when she didn’t have to because she knew there was a human in need. He was instantly better, calmer, ready. She had given him something the most modern hospital couldn’t offer – a light on the path, shone by a human soul.

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All the Meals that Have Loved Me

January 3, 2015

Coffee and toast

One of my cookbooks said that part of classical Indian cuisine is to enter the kitchen with a loving heart – that part of creating a nourishing meal is the mood with which the chef cooks.

The best meals are created with the eater in mind – part of the pleasure of the cook is the cook imagining the pleasure of the eater. Each ingredient is chosen and prepared as a gift.

The worst meals can feel like an assault. When the food is before you, you think “No one cares about me,” or worse, “The person who made this hates me.”

I remember a salad with green apples I ordered at a Marie Callender’s that was prepared so carelessly that it made my heart hurt for the world. I know that sounds melodramatic, but the sight of that limp, browning lettuce and hacked-up apples made me feel like a trust had been broken. The message from the person on the other end of that salad was “This will probably make you unhappy. I do not care.”

Then there are the other meals, meals that feel like a blessing. I remember a meal from more than 10 years ago that a friend made and served on his Santa Monica patio – a pasta alla checca that was simple and fresh and so perfect for the evening. It was, in a word, beautiful. He took a great deal of pride in his cooking, and the friends that gathered that night were fed by his love of food and his care for us.

I made a berry cobbler for a church potluck last year that prompted a man to grab my hands and declare “Marry me!” We both laughed – he’s already married – but I’m happy he could feel my care in that food.

I was meditating this morning on things I love to do (I’m going through Mark Nepo’s ‘The Book of Awakening’) and cooking came up. This year, I want to cook for more people. I want to let them know they’re important and cared for. It’s a small thing, a passing thing, but in the end, even the Parthenon falls. Most of us will build no great buildings, but we can build small moments of great care. That’s what I want to do.

The other side of the Gilmore Girls coin

December 22, 2014

Now we flip the coin over to come to the important question of the ages: Which Gilmore Girls character is most awesome? There is so much awesome to go around!

Candidate 1: Lorelai
Evidence: She’s a strong independent woman. Expert at witty repartee. Looks good in clothes. Seems to get a lot of work done without putting forth any visible effort. Apparently a smart businesswoman because she can afford a staff of 20 at the inn, with only 10 rooms.

Candidate 2: Rory (she doesn’t get a bolded name because everything about her is so not bold. She’ll be lucky to make italics).
Evidence: Smarty pants. Hard worker. Not an ounce of trouble to anyone. Rules follower. Trustworthy. Eventually a cute dresser.

Candidate 3: Emily
Evidence: Nobody’s fool. Will of iron. Snappy dresser. Doesn’t miss much. Makes gorgeous floral arrangements.

Candidate 4: Richard
Evidence: Gentleman. Good head for business. Sharp dresser, articulate, kind to everyone but the business partner he knifed in the back.

Candidate 5: Dean
Evidence: Hard worker. Humble. Athletic. Nice to everyone he meets. He built his girlfriend a car. Dated for 2 teenage years apparently without pressuring his girlfriend for sex.

Candidate 6: Jess
Evidence: Kinda cute. Employee of the month. Knows how to drive a forklift. Um…reaching here.

Candidate 7: Taylor
Evidence: Strong sense of civic duty. Good businessman. Um….

Candidate 8: Kirk
Evidence: He has all the jobs. Speaks forthrightly. And…what else?

Candidate 9: Sookie
Evidence: Cutie pie. Awesome chef. Good friend. Good wife and mom. Sweet as a meringue cookie.

Candidate 10: Luke
Evidence: Manly. Hard-working. Looks good in jeans (though a little too much like my brother for my perving purposes). Honest. Loves his dad. Super dependable. Handy.

Candidate 11: Michel
Evidence: Kind to his dogs. Looks good in suits. And…I’m out.

Ok, there’s 11 good solid candidates. I could reach into the second-string, slightly less awesome ranks of Miss Patty, Babette and Rory’s vaguely-drawn roommates. And I’m leaving out Paris because I couldn’t think of any good attributes.

It just goes to show you, we’re all lovely if you think about it hard enough. Or at least the characters in Stars Hollow are. Take your pick.

Ok, step up and vote. Who will take the Crown of Awesomeness?

Which Gilmore Girls character is most odious? An exploration.

December 21, 2014

Now we come to the important question of the ages: Which Gilmore Girls character is most odious? There is so much odious to go around!

Candidate 1: Lorelai
Evidence: She’s an adult who acts as entitled as a Disney stepsister. She lies a lot, but gets furious when people don’t tell her the truth. She left her fiancee at the altar for no discernable reason and then didn’t bother to leave a post-it note. She sleeps with her ex-husband on the reg, even when he’s involved with someone else. She talks ALL THE DAMN TIME. She drank up ALL THE COFFEE.

Candidate 2: Rory (she doesn’t get a bolded name because everything about her is so not bold. She’ll be lucky to make italics).
Evidence: Everyone thinks she’s so great, but I can’t figure out why. Has she ever done anything for anyone else? She moons around with her doe-eyes and tiny voice all through her freshman college year, never making friends beyond the electric-sander-voiced Paris. People do amazing things for her all the time – like pay her way through a fancy-pants private high school and YALE fergodssake and she barely seems to acknowledge it. She dumps a great guy for a loser, then puts up with a lot of boring crap from him without ever yelling “WTF??” at him for being such a noodge. She’s supposed to be BFFs with Lane, but she never invites Lane to anything. When she finally loses her virginity, it’s to a married guy. She’s inexplicably popular with guys, which is annoying as hell.

Candidate 3: Emily
Evidence: She’s the world’s biggest snob, and that is in a world with 7 billion people. She bumps Baptists off airplanes so she can take her grandaughter on a spur-of-the-moment European tour. She bosses people around in a way that would make Sheryl Sandberg ok with calling her bossy. Can’t keep a maid. She serves escargot to people she knows hate escargot.

Candidate 4: Richard
Evidence: Convinced that insurance is a dynamic and interesting field. Wears bow ties. Destroy’s his partner’s career, just to save his own bacon, even though his daughter is dating the partner.  Forces a guy who runs a diner to buy golf clubs he can’t afford. Complicit with his wife in scaring his granddaughter’s boyfriend away. Sings the Yale bulldog song proudly and in public. Doesn’t know he’s a cliche.

Candidate 5: Dean
Evidence: Floppy hair. Has never said an interesting sentence in his life. Deploys wounded puppy dog eyes as a weapon. Is apparently a sexless eunuch in 2 years of teen dating, until he suddenly cheats on his cute wife, who just finally learned to cook a roast for him, dammit.

Candidate 6: Jess
Evidence: Emo-ier than anyone has ever emoed before. Tries for darkly brooding, but the effect is ruined by his poofy chicken hair. Causes trouble and havoc wherever he goes. Is rude to customers. Horrible to anyone who comes near him. Reads Kerouac and Bukowski. Also doesn’t know he’s a cliche.

Candidate 7: Taylor
Evidence: Petty bureaucrat with complicated facial hair. Know-it-all. Dresses in old-timey outfits whenever he gets the chance.

Candidate 8: Kirk
Evidence: More anxious than Woody Allen. Lives with his mom. Takes all the jobs from everyone who needs them. Runs amok naked.

Candidate 9: Sookie
Evidence: She claims to be a chef, yet is clumsy and thinks small peaches are watery. Needs a kitchen brigade of 5 in an inn with 20 guests max. She uses a whisk to make meringue and whipped cream and this is AFTER the invention of electricity. Often speaks in a high-pitched baby voice. Wears kerchiefs.

Candidate 10: Luke
Evidence: Cranky to everyone. Lets his no-good nephew sponge off him. Has some weird kind of razor that leaves him with 3-day stubble every single day. Dresses like a serial killer, the kind that disappears into the woods afterwards. Yelly. Gets married on a whim. Takes Monte Cristo sandwiches off the menu.

Candidate 11: Michel
Evidence: Almost forgot him, but he is the person I’d be most likely to throttle if I met in real life. Complete customer service jackass, yet works in customer service. Works the desk at an inn, but acts like he’s running the Ritz EXCEPT THE RITZ WOULD NEVER HIRE THIS GUY. Gives the French a bad name. Likes Chow dogs.

Ok, there’s 11 good solid candidates. I could reach into the second-string, slightly less annoying ranks of Miss Patty, Babette and Rory’s dopey roommates. And I’m leaving out Paris because: too obvious.

It just goes to show you, we’re all annoying if you think about it hard enough. Or at least the characters in Stars Hollow are. Take your pick.

Ok, step up and vote. Who will take the Crown of Annoyingness?

Lorelai and Me in sweat pants

December 14, 2014

So here it is winter. Least surprising lead sentence of any blog post ever. You’re welcome. You get what you pay for.

I’m mostly sitting around in my Sport Knit Pants from Land’s End (the motto of these pants is “We don’t make you feel quite as self-loathing as baggy sweats”) and watching Gilmore Girls.

I have never watched Gilmore Girls before and am not quite sure why I’m watching it now, except that I want to see how Lorelai, Sookie and Michel can support three grown adult people on a 10-room inn that required a major remodel. I’m not economist, but I can do some math, and their occupancy rate is going to have to be about 335% for them to survive. Just saying.

But still, since it is the dark of winter, that show is occupying most of my brain space. I don’t want to go out. I don’t want to socialize. I don’t want a lot for Christmas, just a comfy chair and something warm to drink and to watch the damn Gilmore Girls until I am done. The funny part is that about half of Twitter and Facebook are doing the same thing, because I see people tweeting thing like “How does Lorelai not weigh 450 pounds?” (Oh, wait, that was me. Nevermind).

For the uninitiated, the reason every woman with a computer seems to be watching Gilmore Girls all at once is that Netflix just released all 7 seasons for streaming. The show ended in 2007, so we get to see quaint olden customs, like the use of flip phones and people having meals while talking to each other, not texting AT ALL. It’s like Little House on the Prairie, practically.

I have so many questions about Gilmore Girls. I spend most of my time watching it yelling questions. Like:

  • How does someone who works in hospitality never have to work nights or weekends?
  • Does Kirk really have every job?
  • Why have parents never freaked out about Miss Patty smoking in the dance studio?
  • Why do the seasons go spring, winter, spring, fall, winter, summer and change every week?
  • How many kitchen employees does the Inn have?
  • And why are they all whipping egg whites by hand? No one has ever whipped egg whites by hand since the invention of electricity. As a matter of fact, right after Edison invented the light bulb, Hobart invented the electric mixer, and everyone beat their hand whisks into plowshares. Fact.
  • Why has no one ever killed Lorelai for talking all the time?
  • If Lorelai were ugly, would she get away with even 5% of what she does?
  • How come no one ever gets pissed at Luke for having full-on arguments with Lorelai while he is waiting on them? I’d at least give him a pissy face or maybe the massive throat-clear that sounds like a walrus mating call.
  • Does Lorelai ever work? Seriously. Ever??
  • Why does the Inn’s kitchen have tiny home sizes of food products, not industrial-sized buckets?
  • What makes Sookie think small peaches are watery?

Oh, I could go on. I’m thinking of having GilmoreGirlsCon, where we all meet up at the Burbank Airport Hilton ballroom to discuss. We could have panels like “Floral Design in the Emily and Richard Gilmore Home” and “UCLA as Yale: An Insult to the Ivy League?”

Join me. I’ll be the one standing by the door holding a sock, in case Lorelai shows up and I can finally put one in it.

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