Graduation

Here’s a little short for you to enjoy!

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Graduation

The tempo of the evening had slowed dramatically. The euphoric feeling brought about by his fourth rum and coke would have to be savored and not pounded like the previous cocktails he’d enjoyed tonight. His buddies had adjourned already and he was the last one here. This little hall had been their favorite pub. They had come here religiously, several times a week over the last three years. It was their home away from home, their Cheers, but would they still come after tomorrow?

Tomorrow.

Tomorrow he and a couple thousand others would cross the stage and achieve the dream their parents had sought for them longer than most of them had been alive.

Graduation.

After tomorrow, there would be no more all nighters, no cafeteria-blues, no more security text messages from campus cops, but there would also be no more late night talks with his friends in the dorm common rooms. No more studying abroad on scholarship, no more school sponsored trips to the apple orchards, or the incredible student events that happened so often.

The story of his life was about to make a dramatic shift and instead of being excited, the opposite was filling his soul. He was terrified. He knew that the paradise of college life had designed him to be a real adult and while he had a real adult beverage in hand, the obscene reality was that a stone wall stood between him and what was really out there. He had no idea how to start paying his loans. He did not know how to get an apartment. ‘Do you do that through Craigslist? Isn’t that sketchy?’

He did not really understand how to apply for a job beyond the grounds of his campus. When he really thought on it, the most he had learned in the last four years was how to turn in papers on time and how to make it appear like he had poured ounces of effort into them, when in fact they were started, completed and printed merely minutes before being due. His parents had always done everything for him. Even now his mother was likely pressing the red college gown and it’s black hood in preparation for him to wear tomorrow.

A sick feeling filled his gut.

Would he have to start pressing his own clothes after tomorrow? He had seen his mother do it a thousand times, surely that task couldn’t be that hard.

The plain road of adulthood beyond the safe and comfortable confines of campus seemed wildly intimidating, but one thing was true. Come what may, he would meet it head on. Surely there were YouTube videos on how to do everything and anything he would ever need beyond the marks of his degree. And if not there, Google had yet to let him down.

The moment of panic passed and he adjusted comfortably on his barstool. He motioned to his friend and bartender for his final check.

Taking the last sip of his adult drink, the graduate swore that he would be ready. Ready to meet the world and be a real adult.

It was getting late and tomorrow was his big day.

End.

Happy graduation everyone! May there nothing but fair winds and following seas ahead for you! Don’t let the impending demands of adulthood unravel you, dear graduates. It’s going to be ok. Honestly, mostly everything you don’t know can likely be found in the circle of those you trust, your parents, your siblings your friends, but most especially on YouTube.

Your humble author,

S. Faxon

Entirely Hers

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It was the weekend at last.

Her nine-to-five had taken her through the ringer and back, only to meet further agitation from her family and friends. But this was her weekend. There would be no happy hour, no brunches, no spontaneous trips out to the local spots. She had one plan or this weekend and she was determined to see it through.

She crossed the threshold into her living room and kicked off her pointed toed shoes, immediately feeling relaxed and unbound.

The phone was silenced and placed on the coffee table screen down. There would be no tweets, buzzing, blinking or ringing to disturb her tonight.

With ginger beer in hand, she collapsed onto the couch and released a tremendous sigh. “This is where I will make camp,” she declared to her cat, curled on the pillow beside her. The lovely calico took little care. Her mama was there beside her, which meant that pets were soon to come.

Pulling up YouTube on her smart tv, she indulged in videos of piglets, sloths and petting zoo fails. She knew that this was a complete waste of time. She knew that she could be laughing at happy hour with her friends, or out at a movie, writing one of her books, working on projects around her pad, or she could be out trying to save the world, but tonight was hers.

With the couch as her throne and her loyal cat-subject deep in a nap beside her, in this moment, she felt utterly and peace.

Your humble author,

S. Faxon

Looking for entertaining escapes in-between the weekly reads? Follow the adventures of my cat children and me on Instagram at s_faxon

Life – the End, the Beginning

It’s been a while…to review or to see where this started, here’s a look back at where this journey started with the girls:  A Tribute for Betty White

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Part 5 In our Golden Girls Series: Life – the End, the Beginning

“Picture it, Sicily, 1910…” – Sophia Petrillo

Words of wisdom or words of abject ridiculousness were bound to follow whenever Estelle Getty’s character Sophia Petrillo, breathed the words, “Picture it; Siciliy, 1910…” Some of Sophia’s stories rivaled Rose’s with their nonsense and hilarity, but many of Sophia’s tales did possess of a ring of wisdom, especially the ones we the viewers see her live.

Sophia’s character, if you are not familiar, is that of a Sicilian immigrant who moved to Brooklyn with her mother, married another Sicilian immigrant and had two children, Dorothy and Phil. There could not have been greater physical differences between Dorothy and Sophia. For starters, Estelle maybe stood five-foot-1, whereas Bea Arthur was near to six feet, so their height differences alone set the stage for amazing comedy. Side note, one of my favorite moments in the Girls is when Sophia goes to make one of her classic hard-punch one liners, Dorothy slaps her hand right over Sophia’s mouth and to dismiss the moment says to the others, “I just love my mommy so much!” Pretty sure I cried laughing the first few times I saw that.

Anyway, there’s a remarkable amount of depth to Sophia’s character. Indeed, there are times when Sophia’s gruff exterior make us cringe, but at the end of the day, her heart is one of gold. Sophia volunteers and does not tell her girls about the sweet, selfless acts she does in a day. She stands up for the little guys and she is motherly, in her own way, to her girls. But most importantly, Sophia’s character gave voice to a generation that was disappearing in silence. A generation that was suffering with few in their corner. Society’s forgotten were and are our own grandparents and great-grandparents fading in the dark, but Sophia Petrillo brought them back to our attention.

There are quite a few episodes of the Girls that humbled their audiences to tears. There have been countless movies and shows that demonstrate grandparents and great grandparents deteriorating from the perspective of their loved ones, but few from the perspective of the elder themselves. Perhaps it is because people are afraid of the unknown “end” and would rather write about it from a disconnected perspective rather than throw themselves in those shoes. But the Golden Girls went there, and they went there in quite a few episodes.

In the episode, “Not Another Monday”, Sophia’s good friend Martha and her go to the funeral of another good friend, Lydia. Martha is deeply rattled by the funeral. Her family is gone. Her best friend just died. She has arthritis, angina, pills beyond imagining, and so she decides that she doesn’t want to go out in pain the way her friend had.

Martha invites Sophia out to a lavish dinner and appears to have a new attitude on life until the following conversation, which begins with Martha saying to Sophia, “I want you to come over to my place tomorrow night.”

Sophia asks, “What is it your birthday?”

“Sophia,” Martha says solemnly, “There aren’t going to be any more birthdays.”

Eventually the conversation goes on for Martha to tell Sophia, “I want you to be there when I kill myself.”

The scene breaks with Sophia and the audience in shock. Martha tells Sophia that she wanted to decide when it was her turn to go, to which Sophia replies, “I always thought somebody named God did that.” Martha continues to tell her that she doesn’t want to die in pain or alone, so she wants her friend to be there to hold her hand.

Sophia is deeply troubled by this. She understands that her friend is terrified to have seen her friend go out slowly and in pain. To be fair, we all fear that sort of demise.

Sophia keeps having nightmares of being there when her friend ends it. She consults with her girls and of course Dorothy fears for what the situation will do to her mother, but Sophia decides that she is going to be there for her friend and so she goes. Her friend gives her an amazing diamond and they begin to reflect on the good times. Martha has her pills at the ready on the table in front of her and once she realizes that she has everything prepared, she says to Sophia, “I’m so glad I don’t have to go alone.”

Sophia stands from the couch where they are sitting in Martha’s home and says, “Do you remember how we met?”

Perking up significantly, Martha says, “Yes, about 8 years ago we shared a room in a hospital. You had the heart scare, I had the gull-bladder.”

“They gave you my sponge bath by mistake.”

“You ate my jello. It was a horrible little room. We couldn’t wait to get out of it.”

“Because we wanted to live,” Sophia quickly reminds.

“Yes, I remember.”

“Remember better! Remember life!” Sophia desperately pleas.

Shaking her head, Martha replies, “I don’t have much of one. I’m not like you. You live with friends and family. Holidays and warmth. I hear the silence.”

Sitting back on the couch with Martha, Sophia says, “We’ll talk. We’ll talk all the time. You can come over Thanksgiving, Christmas. Every Friday night, I may not always be there, but you can always talk to Rose.”

“No, I want to go. Lydia looked so peaceful.” Martha grabs her hand full of pills, but Sophia grabs them from her.

“We’re not in this life for peace.”

“You’re crying.”

“No I’m not, I don’t cry!” Sophia protests.

“I can see your tears!”

“And I can see yours and you know what that tells me?”

“What?”

“You’re not as ready to die as you think you are. You still want to live, kid.”

“Some kid. I don’t know what to do.”

“That’s the point. If you’re not sure, you can’t change your mind tomorrow. You wanted me to be here for your death, how about letting me be here for your life?

“Like a friend?”

“Like a best friend.”

This may be one of the most powerful dialogues in the entire seven years of the show.  Yes, death is imminent and often times it can be premised with great pain, but it is the love of our friends and family that must keep us strong.  Life is not easy and sometimes we are presented with great challenges that make us question everything, but every morning, the sun rises. Hope is reborn. We just have to hold on to those bursts of light, even on cloud stricken days. This lesson of appreciating every moment, every smile, every friend is something that Sophia teaches us in this and many other episodes. Her wisdom of strength through love is beautiful and one that we would all do well to abide. Fear of the unknown weakens us and makes us so susceptible to terrible decisions and isolation, creating an ever-downward spiral. Sophia’s remedy is simple and so easy to abide; love. Open your heart to the world around you and you will find beauty, you will find reprieve and peace of mind, even if you are suffering. It is friendship and laughter that frees us from our chains. My own grandmother, Nelva Faye, was very sick towards the end of her life, but she was surrounded by her loved ones and I remember her laughing, singing, even when in what she and we all knew to be her last few days in this plain with us. She did not die alone and she lives on through us, her family and her friends.

If you have a loved one who is getting on in years, please don’t let them be forgotten. Do everything in your power to prevent that fate. They have contributed more to this world than we yet have, so let them know that they are loved and appreciated. Invite them out to tea, for wine tasting, for beach combing, whatever they or you deem worth, just don’t let them fade. If you are in your later years, fill your life with laughter. Don’t let yourself become isolated – go sailing, go walking, join clubs, go on cruises. There is so much life out there – live it to the last, dear readers. You only get one shot at this, so make it good.

Many people have said that it’s the things that we overcome, the mountains that we climb, that we remember most, but I want to add it’s the loved ones who were with us as we met those challenges that we should hold most dearly in our hearts. This is the lesson that Sophia Petrillo teaches us. The “end” only comes if we allow ourselves to loose sight of the truly important and dear things in life: love, laughter, friendship. Surround yourself with these blessings, my dear Readers. Endure, smile, explore. Even if you are in your golden years and especially if you are in a rut. You are not alone. Trust me, I know at times the road is rough, but keep Sophia’s words in your heart; “We’re not in it for the peace” and “keep your seat belts on, there’s a lot of twists and turns.” You never know what the road will bring.

That concludes our mini-series with Sophia, Dorothy, Blanche and Rose. Let me know if you’ve enjoyed this journey in the comment section below and feel free to share it too!

I’ll see you next time, dear readers!

Your humble author,

S. Faxon

It’s Not Normal, But It’s Ours

Part 4 In our Golden Girls Series: It’s Not Normal, But It’s Ours.

Just tuning in? Here’s a look back at where this journey started with the girls:  A Tribute for Betty White

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Photo courtesy of Closer Weekly’s Collectors Edition The Golden Girls magazine, from spring of 2017.

“You’re a furry little gnome and we feed you too much.” – Dorothy Zbornak to her mother.

Family is one of the most complicated subjects that we are confronted with in life and one that has puzzled people, authors, philosophers throughout the ages. Shakespeare demonstrated the heavy struggles of family loyalty and duty in Romeo and Juliet. Leave It To Beaver demonstrated the squeaky-clean, “American” ideal image of family, one that has been stuck to our conscious as though applied with glue.

We’ve been conditioned to think of the ideal family as a mom, dad, a couple of tots and perhaps a dog. I often think of the show Growing Pains where there was the working dad, the stay at home mom (for many years and yes, eventually she returned to work), two brothers and two sisters. Yes, the family was not without our typical every day issues, but there was a level of societal perfection to it that so many of us do not boast. And guess what: it’s ok.

So what if your family does not have the a-typical 4 Bedroom, 2.5 bath house with (Mom + Dad = pre-determined amount of babies)…that feels way too much like an algebra problem and not real life. Real life is better shown in shows like today’s Modern Family, but of course, we’re here to talk about the Golden Girls.

Each one of the girls have their own demonstrations that family is not always the ideal Leave It To Beaver structure we’ve been taught to believe in; Blanche is nearly disowned from her family because of her pride when she refuses to go to her father’s funeral. Rose has a sister who is wickedly manipulative to the point where she attempts to ostracize her from her friends. Sophia was not married to the most handsome, clever, or smart man in the village, but her late-husband Sal loved her with all of his heart and that was all she needed. Then there’s Dorothy’s brother Phil. Oh, Phil. Where to begin?

Let’s start with Dorothy, or more formally, Dorothea Petrillo, daughter of immigrants Salvatore and Sophia Petrillo, mother of Michael and Kate, sister of Phil, and former wife of Stanley Zbornak, “first class yutz.” Her family demonstrates the a-typical American family, and no, not the televised American family, the REAL American family. Maybe not your own, but I can almost guarantee that among your friends, your relatives, neighbors or colleagues, there’s more than a few like this one. Each member of Dorothy’s family could compose an entire chapter on the ins-and-outs representing American life, Stan could be a book to himself, but we’re going to focus on her little brother Phil and we’ll start with his death.

At the beginning of the episode, we learn that the girls are preparing for Phil’s funeral. The girls are obviously in mourning, but we are almost instantly reminded of a lifestyle preference of Phil’s that had been mentioned on numerous occasions about the character throughout the show, though we never actually get to meet Phil: he passed away from a heart attack while trying on evening gowns.

Sophia comes out into the living room and in her mourning clothes, asks of the girls:

“Dorothy, I never understood why your brother liked to wear women’s clothes, unless he was queer.”

Blanche respectfully replies, “Sophia, people don’t say queer any more, they say gay.”

To which Sophia corrects, “They say gay if a guy can sing the entire score of GiGi. But a six-foot-three, two hundred pound married man with kids who likes to dress up like Dorothy Lamore, I think you have to go with queer.”

Phil is an extraordinarily unique character within the show. It’s easy to assume that a man who wears women’s clothes and watches Gladiator movies has a penchant to be gay, BUT, we are lead to believe that he wasn’t. Blanche ends up having a gay brother, but Dorothy’s brother is simply different from what society expects and the whole conversation of Phil throughout the series sheds light on the fact that it’s ok to be different and to have a family member who is different. Regardless if the members of our family are different or the perceived “normal,” we love them anyway because they’re family and that’s what you do.

This question though of why someone is different and how they came to their choices is difficult for some to accept. Sophia demonstrates the questioning of “what did I do wrong” a parent may feel if their child doesn’t meet that ideal image that they create for their babe. Parents imagine this ideal image of what their baby’s life should be and when their child’s reality is different from their parents’ dreams, that can be a difficult concept to accept. Most parents do and that is wonderful, but some resent the fact that their child’s dreams are different from their own. We see this later point with Sophia. She goes DECADES without stepping foot in her son’s home because she alleges to resent Phil’s wife, Sally, when in reality she is resentful to the fact that her baby boy’s lifestyle was drastically different from her ideal image and she fears that people blame her his choices. Dorothy goes to wit’s end trying to play peace-builder to her mother and sister-in-law and in the process she realizes that she loved her brother unconditionally regardless of his life choices. He was her brother and that was all that mattered. Eventually, Rose becomes moderator between the clashing Titans, Phil’s surviving wife and Sophia.

Rose asks Sophia why she is so upset at Sally. Sophia replies, “The dress thing, why didn’t she stop the dress thing?” 

Sally defends herself that Phil’s cross dressing didn’t start with her and Sophia immediately responds, “Oh, so it was my fault?”

Rose asks, “Are you worried that people will think it’s your fault, Sophia?” In a backwards way, Sophia admits that yes, she was concerned by this. Rose establishes that Phil was a good provider, a good human being. Rose then proceeds to go into a St. Olaf story, most of which I’ll spare you from, but she ends with, “It was shame that kept Aunt Katrina from loving slow Ingmar and it ruined her life. So what if he was different? It’s ok that you loved him.”

Realizing her folly, Sophia says, “I did love him. He was my son. My little boy. But every time I saw him I always wondered what I did, what I said, when was the day that I did whatever I did to make him the way he was.”

Sally stands and says, “What he was, Sophia, was a good man.”

Falling apart, strong Sophia cries, “My baby is gone.”

It’s an intense scene; a mother realizing that she didn’t show her boy all of her love because she was ashamed and scared that she would be judged for his decisions. In an earlier scene, Dorothy gives the eulogy at her brother’s funeral and the dialogue is worth reading because it demonstrates the importance the absolute importance of loving and appreciating every moment we have with our loved ones because we don’t know when they will be taken away:

“Seems like I’m always mad at my brother Phil. I was mad the day my parents brought him back from the hospital; I thought he’d take their love away from me, and instead their love expanded and we felt ore like a family. I was mad at him when I was ten and he was four and we moved to a new neighborhood; I was mad because he always made new friends more easily than I did. And I’m mad today because I never wanted to give the eulogy at my kid brother’s funeral. I’m mad because he died he didn’t have the wisdom to know that family members shouldn’t allow themselves to grow apart because when this day comes they can no longer tell each other how they care. If he had that wisdom he could have shared that with me and I would have of just the two of us eating ice cream on the stoop of our building, going through the drawers of grandma’s house, or dressing up like the Bronte sisters. How those memories fill me with joy. Why didn’t you have that wisdom Phil? Why didn’t you give us a chance to tell you how much we loved you?”

Love takes so little effort and yet it seems that we are so much quicker to hate. It doesn’t make sense. Don’t let society, stereotypes, misguided ignorance or assumptions determine the love that you share. If your child is happy, loving, gracious, humble and successful, is that not something to be proud of? If their dreams are different than yours, have you not created a strong, independent individual? If your sibling’s life is different from your own, hey, at least you won’t have to compete over the same victories, however large or small.

Family is crazy, family can be a mess. It can be stability. It can be our biggest frustration. It can be our peace. Regardless of what you find it to be, it’s likely not “normal,” it’s not what we grew up believing in it to be, but it’s ours and it’s something to hold and to treasure, especially if it’s not perfect. It’s helped to influence who you are today.

My workplace has this odd family connection, where we are dysfunctional, mostly crazy, and we are certainly not without our inner conflict, but at the end of the day, we are all under the same colors and we do for each other, as we do for our own blood. The Golden Girls show us that blood is not the only thing that makes “family.” Love, friendship, loyalty, pride, and faith are what binds us as family. And I’m extraordinarily grateful for all of mine.

We’ll see you next week for the conclusion of our Golden Girls series!

Your humble author,

S. Faxon

PS – I did not make it to my storage last week to collect my DVD player, nor have I subscribed to Hulu to watch Golden Girls while I work on these. I did see a new magazine though regarding the Girls at my local grocery store. Somehow I missed picking it up, but have any of you seen it?

Post Post Script – this chapter is dedicated in honor of my friends, one who recently lost his father, and my other friends who recently lost their mother. Their love will never leave you and they will live on forever in your hearts. 

Rose by Another Name

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A personalized photo I received from Betty White a few years ago after I wrote her a letter describing how watching the Golden Girls makes me feel like I’m home again. This photo has hung on the wall of every living space I’ve occupied since receiving it and yes, currently it lives next to a rubber chicken. Why? It just felt right.

“Back in St. Olaf…” -Rose

When preparing to find the actress for the character of Rose Nylund, writer and producer Susan Harris told the then auditioning Betty White, “Rose is so naive. She’s totally naive; she never gets the double meaning of anything, no sarcasm.” And on the spot, Betty White created one of the most beloved and confounding characters in television history. Originally, Betty had been auditioned as the vamp Blanche Deveraux, but because Rue McLanahan knew that Blanche was the role she was born to play, the girls switched and magic was what followed. If you have seen a single episode of The Golden Girls, you know that Betty hit the role of the dim-witted, innocent Rose right on the nose, and yes, at times, it did hurt a little. There were many instances where it seemed likely that Blanche, Dorothy or Sophia were about ready to murder Rose just to shut her up. In one episode Sophia made an attempt with a cleverly disguised story and a stove-pot, but much to her disappointment, she was interrupted by Blanche.

From her rambling and confusing “back in St. Olaf” stories to believing that she was the daughter of Bob Hope, Rose makes for one brilliantly entertaining, odd duck character. Her childlike innocence and scattered brained tales of impossibly out-there situations may make her seem like a rather dull knife with little to contribute, but that is not the case. I will admit that when I originally started drafting my ideas for this project, I felt a bit like Dorothy when she was telling her boyfriend about the lessons the girls had taught her; Blanch had taught Dorothy to be comfortable as a woman, her mother had passed on the wisdom of life, but when she came to Rose, she concentrated intently and gave up after a considerable span of time to move on to a different topic, but mid-sentence she realized that Rose had indeed taught her something; “A square knot.”

Funny as that may be, Rose was not a mere square in the plots. Indeed, it is time that we look at Rose in a very different light than the mere comic relief in a comedy. Leaving the countless charities in which she was involved aside, some of the most dramatic issues that occurred within the series happen to Rose. She was addicted to pain killers. She was nearly taken advantage of in a case of false identity. She struggled with finding work after being laid off at a grief counseling center. She was tormented by the paranoia of being robbed after a break-in at her home. She was groped by her dentist. Worst of all, sweet, innocent Rose was confronted with one of the scariest diseases of modern times: AIDs. Yes, the child-like character goes seventy-two hours with the dark shadow hanging over her. But how? Now, you may be thinking that we know generally how HIV spreads, we learn that in our ninth grade science classes, but there was another way the disease was spreading and it was brought up TWICE in the Golden Girls. Any ideas? If you guessed via transfusions, then you are correct. If you thought Rose Nylund was needle-sharing, then in the words of Sophia Petrillo, you botchagalloop! Go back to Golden Girls 101 and review your character notes.

That’s right, transfusions. How could that be? Don’t hospitals screen blood donors and test the samples before they put blood from one person into another? Well, the answer for today is yes, but the reason did not seem necessary until the AIDs pandemic that left the world in shock. For my Millennial readers and back, we may not remember the fear and the hatred, the lies and the misinformed stereotypes that spun out from the early days of AIDs in the 1980s. Today, we know that it is spread by unsafe sex, the exchange of blood, plasma, or other bodily fluids, and from needle sharing. But in the early ‘80s when AIDs was the new terror on the scene, it was shamefully referred to as “Gay-Related Immune Deficiency.” Why? because the first several cases of patients being admitted with symptoms of HIV in the US were homosexual men. After a short while, scientists and the health community began to realize that this was not a disease that was limited to the gay-male community, but who were these other victims? Some were users, but, as the years went on, quite a few were hemophiliacs, people whose lives depended on blood transfusions, as well as people who needed any sort of transfusions. The main focus on television (news media especially) was not on those victims, save for the Golden Girls, who again, did so twice.

In the first episode, Sophia brings a boy in a hospital a nectarine. His name is Sam. He can’t be more than twelve years old and he is living in the hospital, wheel chair bound. Sophia visits with him, but the boy is sad because, “no one’s ever beat it before.” It’s a short scene, but important. For those who were paying attention as they watched in the ‘80s, this little boy gave a new face to a seriously misunderstood virus. The general public failed to realize the amount of children AIDS patients in the 1980s. Between the mid-80s and the early 1990s, there were almost 7,500 cases of children being diagnosed with AIDS, of them, 601 through transfusions, the rest, from their mothers (CDC). All of these victims were the silent victims. They experienced cruelty and terror that no human deserves, deemed by the general public as enemies to be feared and ostracized.

Every other year or so it seems that there’s a new virus that is blown-out of proportion on the media to be the next walking dead bringing Apocalypse. Between 2000 and 2017 alone, we’ve had Mad Cow, Bird Flu, Swine Flu, Ebola, Zika, Hepatitis, and the good ol’ regular flu. Now, this is not to downplay the serious and absolutely devastating effects these abhorrent afflictions have plagued the human race. This is instead to point out that historically, our focus on these diseases do not center around prevention, treatment, or information. Instead, we focus on the deaths and the carriers of the diseases. Granted, our streets are not filled with panic stricken folk running about madly, but things are substantially different today than they were thirty years ago. For starters, we have far greater access to information via any electronic device we posses. This wasn’t the case in the eighties. People relied on the papers and the TV to tell them what was going on. The information from doctors, scientists, researchers was not as accessible to the general public as it is today, so fear of this new plague, AIDs, was tremendous. People, even scientists of the day, just did not know what was going on. Unfortunately, fear quite often fills the void that lack of knowledge leaves behind.

The producers and the writing team of Golden Girls knew that they had the attention of the globe; they had been in the top ten spot since their first year and in their 5th season, they had upheld their desire to portray real family and real people problems with humor and with the episode “72 Hours,” that’s exactly what they did. They did not have the answers to the AIDs pandemic, but they knew two things: AIDs was not a “bad persons” disease and no one could get through the process, whether they be waiting to be diagnosed or pushing through, without the support of their loved ones. Unfortunately, for far too many AIDs victims, they were forced to suffer and die alone.

For Blanche, Dorothy, and Sophia, they knew that no matter the outcome of Rose’s test, she would not be alone. There were quite a few stereotypes within the episode that the Girls addressed: Sophia doesn’t want to use the same bathroom as Rose for fear of catching AIDs, which Dorothy helps her mother to debunk. Sophia labels cups with Rs to keep herself from using Rose’s under the same fear of AIDs being spread via sharing dishes, which is debunked by Dorothy and Blanche. There are a few instances in the episode where Rose expresses her fear of becoming isolated as no one would want her around if she is diagnosed as people back then had a difficult time finding work or maintaining their jobs due to the stereotypes that existed, but solidarity and the tight bonds of their friendship help prove to Rose that no matter what, her girls would be there for her.

Rose is eventually declared clear, but over 100,000 American people from 1981 to 1990 were not so fortunate and fell to the subsequent degenerations of the virus. Today, we do know substantially more about AIDs, but still, people are being diagnosed. Approximately 40,000 were diagnosed in 2014, but this is a significant decrease from previous decades.

It is our duty as informed citizens to not let information about AIDs slip. Parents need to talk about safe sex with their children. We cannot depend on the school system to tell our children about the real dangers that are out there. Even Dorothy makes this point to her mother during the episode, after which Sophia proudly says that she has come a long way from telling her daughter to not let boys touch her “you know w-h-e-r-e” (yes, she spelled out where), and proves it by giving to Dorothy a bag of condoms. That may indeed be a bit of an extreme example of talking safe sex, but it makes a good point.

TV is highly influential in our lives and the writers of Golden Girls knew this. For better or for worse, we learn a LOT from our TVs. Using innocent Rose as a banner for people who are scared and possibly very sick remains to be one of the most brilliant episodes of the Golden Girls, if not television history, in this author’s humble opinion. It showed how misinformed minds become subject so quickly to fear and to panic. In 2016, look at how drastic the measures were to prevent Ebola from entering our country. Look at the words used by the media about the victims. Would it not make more sense to inform and instruct people about an extremely serious disease, rather than make those suffering out to be the enemies? The next time our zombie-making disease arises, think of Rose Nylund, an adult woman who had a teddy bear named Fernando. Think about her when you hear about the victims who need love and support, not condemnation and neglect. Learn what you can about the disease itself and the preventative action that you may take. Learn from the Golden Girls, who sought nothing else than to show us how compassion and friendship can make the world, even a sick world, right.

We’ll see you next week when we take a peak at family from the perspective of Dorothy Zborknak, a divorced substitute school teacher who still lives with her mother, and hey, as someone who still lives at home with her mom, let me tell you now, it’s perfectly normal…even if at times, our family drives us nuts.

Your humble author,

S. Faxon

PS – As I’m editing these, I’m realizing that my DVD player is in storage and it seems sacrilegious to be writing these without the Girls on in the background! Will I brave my storage unit to find my DVD player? Will I be lazy and subscribe to Hulu and stream them from that instead? Follow this blog and find out next week!

The Gems in Their Crowns

Continuing our theme from last week of walking with the Golden Girls, let’s take a moment to look more closely at the gems in Blanche’s crown as well as the heroes that have emerged in recent weeks.

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Photo courtesy of Closer Weekly’s Collectors Edition The Golden Girls magazine, from spring of 2017.

“Like I’m the only one who’s ever mixed a margarita in a sailor’s mouth.” – Blanche

On the surface, Blanche Elizabeth Devereaux is a fun loving lady who deems herself a queen of the old South. To any outsider, and often to her friends, she is vain, attention hoarding and the world revolves around her. However, a dive beneath the shallow waters reveals a more complex character with deeper strengths and flaws that reveal her to be quite human. The humanization of characters may seem like an odd concept for which to aspire, but it is the flaws, the problems of our favorite TV characters that make them “real” and more like us viewers. Indeed, the Golden Girls were constrained by the twenty-eight minute or so air-time, and most of their problems were solved in that brief frame, but the issues they touched, as we will see with our first highlighted golden girl, remain to be profound in modern times.

Throughout the twentieth century, we ladies have made tremendous leaps in the United States, but the value of women as more than mere house-wives who had the right to vote was emerging as a common theme in 1980s cinema and sitcoms. The Cosby Show had Dr. Claire Huxtable. The ladies of Nine-To-Five proved to their good-for-nothing boss that karma packed one mean powerful punch. And the Golden Girls had Blanche, a vixen who had married rich, was temporarily engaged to an extremely wealthy man, was for the majority of her life a house-wife and had a governess to take care of her children. Blanche pushed the envelope in many ways, but it was not towards backwards thinking as may be immediately assumed. Blanche is a character full of surprises. Diving just a bit deeper we see that regardless her assertions as a meek, yet sexually free female, she has principles and stands up when her loved ones are or integrity is threatened.

There is one episode in particular that seems especially relevant in our current times. In an episode in Season One appropriately entitled, “Adult Education,” Blanche is taking a few extra courses to complete a degree, which will help to have her considered for a promotion at work. This alone is something to stop, analyze, and admire. In the 1980s, 25% of the female population 18-24 years old in the USA were enrolled at college, compared to the over 45% today (Mather and Adams). That’s all well and good, but realize that the average age of college for females even to date is between 18 and 24. Blanche was in her fifties vying for a promotion by trying to earn her degree. This is a subtle detail in the episode, but incredibly inspiring. It shows that you don’t have to be twenty-something to be a college student hoping to advance yourself professionally. Hope to better one’s self does not have to and nor should it stop just because you’ve built a family, or in Blanche’s case, that she lived in a mostly empty nest, save for the few “coo-coos” who were her roommates. (Die-hard Golden Girls fans will likely understand that reference. If you don’t get it, watch Season Seven.)

In Blanche’s quest to achieve that promotion, she hits a snag. She needs to bring up her grade in Psychology; she failed her midterm and if she doesn’t pass the class, she won’t have the GPA to receive her degree. Trust me, if anything stands in the way between you and your degree, a piece of paper that you have put your blood, sweat, and tears into, you’re going to be upset and willing to do almost anything to achieve that most desired end. After consulting her girls, Blanche decides to ask her professor for assistance to see what she can do to earn a better grade in the class. The professor listens to her story and unfortunately, he does have a way that will guarantee her the path to a passing grade. A path that of course excites her until she realizes that the extra-credit would involve extra-curricular activities. Blanche is prone to be drawn to those activities, in fact the word “addict” come to mind, but she knows that she wants to be proud of her degree. Sleeping with the professor would forever hinder her from holding her head high whenever she looked at or thought about her degree.

After the incident Blanche consults with her girls and they all agree that she needs to report it to the administration.  When she does, alas, for Blanche the ol’ song and dance that many people who blow the whistle fear; the administrator said to her, “It’s your word against his.” Like it’s not terrifying enough for victims of sexual harassment to come forward, particularly when their harassers are in positions of power, the person who was supposed to provide her help, refused to take her seriously because there was no witness and because, to quote the administrator, “A man’s career [was] at stake.” Blanche’s pride, respect and self esteem, evidently were not. This horrible thought that one person’s career is valued over another person’s pride and self respect has been in the news more than we’d like to believe in these last few months, a thought that’s been around likely as long as we have been conscious beings on this earth. Just think, within this month alone, over 150, ONE-HUNDRED AND FIFTY SIX young women came forward to have their stories, their voices heard in court regarding the abuse they incurred from a man whose profession was valued over their pride and self respect. These women were the young athletes, most of which were Olympian athletes, people we cheered for and rejoiced with at every win and victory. These women, who were young girls at the time, were sexually abused by one authoritative figure that they were told to trust, one man affected countless lives, but these women are not victims. They are survivors. They deserve our applause and cheers now more than ever. They will rise as phoenixes and they will teach us how to break our silences as they have been able at last to end theirs.

Now, many of those young girls had come forward over the years. Many in years passed had tried to make his demons known, but they were silenced like Blanche and so many other survivors before.

Blanche could easily have accepted this, she could have kneeled to the idea that her report could ruin a man’s career, but she decided to take a stand for her own rights. She buried herself in the books and even missed a Frank Sinatra concert to take her final exam. Towards the end of the episode, Blanche is the last student remaining in the class. The professor tells her that it is time for pencils down. When she stands up, the professor again asks her to consider his offer, but Blanche was not about to stand down after all of the work she went through. Standing proud, Blanche told the professor to kiss her “A.” (Her grade, of course.)

Blanche, promiscuous, fun loving Blanche, stood up for herself and for women’s rights by saying, “No” because in her particular situation, she was able to. Many survivors are not given that choice. Now, unfortunately for Blanche, she did not receive the promotion because some other woman took a different road by using her body (having a butt lift) to receive the promotion. The girls gave Blanche words of sympathy, but with the biggest smile, Blanche replied that it was alright as, “one day her but’ll turn to mush, but I’ll always have my degree.”

We are living in a very interesting time. Things are changing and changing for the good. It’s going to be a long period of hurt and confusion as heroes crumble from sins and other heroes rise from their courage to stand up. The #MeToo and the #TimesUp movements, though both sparking a variety of opinions, have demonstrated one extremely important message: if you have been in a situation where you were asked or forced into a sexual deed and compelled to be silent, you are not alone. You are not alone. There are COUNTLESS women and men who have gone through similar circumstances and their stories of survival are breaking through.

A quote comes to mind from a marvelous book a dear friend loaned to me; “You are never given a wish without also being given the power to make it true. You may have to work for it however.” Richard Bach, Illusions. If an abuser stands in your way, don’t let them stop you. Do not be silenced. Do not let your dreams fail or fall because someone tries to stand in your way. You are more powerful than you know, but those abusers know, and they fear you because of the strength they see inside you. That strength is the greatest gem in your crown.

The tenacity Blanche demonstrated to not give in to the social norms or to what was expected of her as a fun loving, spoiled house wife is what makes her a remarkable character. For the women and men experiencing abuse at the hands of people we are supposed to trust, keep Blanche, the courageous athletes and all of the people standing up in your hearts. Let them be your shield and your words, your weapons.

For the abusers out there, #TimesUp.

Until next week, your humble author,

S. Faxon

PS – In next week’s chapter we are going to go where few have gone before – beneath the peroxide colored hair of Rose Nylund.

A Tribute for Betty White

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A remarkable event occurred this week; an international treasure celebrated her birthday. This incredible woman is none other than Betty White. With the seven decades of work Betty White has contributed to the entertainment world and her lifelong pursuit of protecting animal rights, Betty has given incalculable amounts of laughter and love to the entire global community and animal kingdoms. She is probably best known for her work in the NBC series The Golden Girls, a comedy that’s legacy will live on forever because it remains relevant thirty years after its initial airing date and likely will be for many decades to come.

For my readers who’ve been around a while, you may recall the posts I did a few years back about the Girls and their impacts on society. I mentioned in those posts that I’d like to eventually pursue a full length book, an in-depth analysis of the program and the social issues that the creators boldly touched when no one else would. With Betty White’s 96th birthday, I’ve decided to publish, via the Reading Escape, the second edition of those posts week by week. A bit of work has been done to them and I would LOVE to flesh out the rest of the ideas that I have. If you think I’m on to something, leave me a note! I’d really appreciate your feedback prior to submitting this Golden tribute to the Golden Girls (playing around with that as the title).

If you’re reading this, Betty White, may you have another glorious, golden year ahead, filled with nothing but laughter, hot dogs, and vodka! You get ’em girl!

Enjoy!

A Golden Tribute to the Golden Girls

By S. Faxon

Introduction 

The potato salad and the Deviled-Egg serving dish were out on the counter. That could only mean one thing – we were going to Ruth’s house. Every second Wednesday of the month promised a ritual that had been maintained religiously by the ladies on the Hill since World War II, at least, that’s how the legend was told. Rain or shine, (with shine being the far more likely) every second Wednesday of the month, for as far back as I could remember, I would walk up the street with my grandma to the pretty pink house on the left hand of the street. That was where we all convened.

We did not use the front door, for what sense would that make? Instead, we used the tall white gate that enclosed the breeze way to enter Ruth’s home. We didn’t go inside though. We walked down the cool covered breezeway, down the first flight of concrete steps, across the yard, passing the concreted area where empty clothes lines were hung, and down a few more steps to the magical place, the enclosed patio. A green screen wooden door would swing open into a small mud room. The conversations that we could hear rolling out from the patio welcomed us with the familiar smells of potluck delicacies. The ladies already inside would help one another unburden their arms full of plates and trays. Laughter was instant and the feeling of community, of neighbors, of family welcomed us with warm smiles and the promise of home cooked food.

Once inside and our dishes out on display, Grandma and I would claim our positions at the table. Grandma always sat at the right hand of Ruth, the leader of the ladies, who was positioned accordingly at the head of the table. Doris, Ruth’s sister-in-law would sit to her left. I sat to the right of grandma. My grandma’s dear friend Evelyn would usually sit across from me, then Hannah, in her beautiful outfits and gorgeous jewelry, would sit to my right. We’d all wait patiently chatting or arranging our foods on the long counter, the outdoor stove and the red-brick fireplace, typical of older homes in San Diego, until the familiar “cling, cling, cling” of Ruth’s knife to the glass or the silver bell would sing. We’d all quiet down for Ruth to lead the prayer, “Bless us, oh Lord, give us this day our daily bread…” Then we’d pick up our plates and hop in line. We’d visit and visit, scoop up potato salad, beans, coleslaw, chicken and then help ourselves to tea or water, which were on the table in a variety of different shaped and colored pitchers.

Once we were all settled we’d eat from our paper plates and visit some more. At some point during the meal, Ruth would ring her bell again and stand to give the neighborhood announcements. Usually this would include reading these new fangled email chain letters that one of the advanced-tech ladies on the hill would provide. Being that I was just a young’un I’d usually excuse myself to go and play in the little fairy garden that was a partially enclosed extension of the community’s center. I remember the little garden being filled with ferns. There were three concrete steps that led into this sacred place, a refuge for a child to play with her sister’s cat, who followed her closely, or to chase away the mean feral that we knew on the hill as Grey Cat.

To an outsider, a non-hill resident, this gaggle of gals looked like nothing more than a bunch of grandmas convening to discuss knitting patterns and to communally babysit some curly-haired kid, but it was so much more than that. This was where the women went to talk about their families, their homes, their plans, and most importantly their lives.

The Widow’s, or the “Widda’s” luncheon, as my grandma would say, was wonderfully shaping for me. It was under their guidance and at these luncheons that I learned how to be a lady. I also learned that there was more to ladies than purses and lipstick. One thing that I appreciated even then was that the ladies never really censored themselves when I was around. They told their crass jokes and gossiped around me like I was one of them, and I was the luckiest kid in the world; I had more grandma figures than anyone! But I didn’t look at them like that – they were my dear neighbors and friends, extensions of my family and home. As an adult, I cannot describe how much I miss that feeling of community.

It’s of little wonder then that I took to liking NBC’s sitcom The Golden Girls. In my formative years, I hadn’t seen a single episode of The Golden Girls until one afternoon, probably a year after my grandmother passed away, at my best friend Victoria’s house. We were probably seventeen and I remember I was standing on one side of the breakfast bar in her kitchen. It was a bright, San Diego afternoon and this funny show was on about these four older ladies living together in Miami. My seventeen-year-old self asked Victoria, “What is this show?”

You don’t know the Golden Girls?!” she replied, unable to believe that I was in the dark. After we established that I had absolutely no familiarity with it, Victoria sat me down on the couch, prepared some popcorn and said, “Trust me. You’re going to like it.”

And that was it. I was hooked.

The more I watched, the more I fell in love with the stories, the lessons, the comedy and, of course, the ladies. Blanch, Rose, Dorothy and Sophia were concentrations of the ladies I knew as a child, all thirty or so of my neighbors who would show every second Wednesday of the month around those four tables held together by mix-matched plastic tablecloths. While my family had left that blessed neighborhood on the hill and while I hadn’t seen any of the girls I knew and loved for years, every time I see an episode of The Golden Girls, I feel like I’m home again and that’s a feeling worth sharing.

Now just like those ladies on the hill, the golden girls represented more than met the eye. When the sitcom was first aired, no one expected the hit that it would come. We laughed with them, sometimes we, “laughed ‘till we peed”, to quote the great Sophia Petrillo. We cried with them. We felt their hurts and tackled with them the struggles of the day. The issues that arose on the show are as relevant today as they were in the eighties, right down to Rose’s letter to Gorbachev. What the golden girls left us was more than a few laughs; they taught us that it’s okay to grow old, that previous social taboos, having a sex life after your spouse dies, being around people with AIDs, and countless other faux pas, can be addressed head on. These are all issues that this blog will cover in the weeks to follow.

This project started when one of my sisters sent me a link to an article regarding an analysis of the Mary Tyler Moore show. The article discussed the residual impact of the sitcom on viewers and its influence on social norms. My sister sent me the link with this simple comment: “You could do this with the ‘Golden Girls!’ No one knows them better than you.”

When I first started this journey through my original blog, The Weekly Read, I had not claimed to be the number one fan, still don’t, but I have always deeply respected and admired the messages within the show and the strength of their characters. When I was a professor at St. John’s University, I considered proposing to instruct a semester long college course on the ‘Politics of the Golden Girls,’ so this project struck me as a positive first step toward achieving this goal and it continues to do so today.

Whether you are interested, but not familiar with the sitcom that aired in 1984, or if the girls are dear friends, sit back, relax, and in the words of Sophia, “Fasten your seat belt slut puppy, this ain’t going to be no cakewalk.” While that’s probably not the case for all of you, the posts in the weeks to follow will be discussing social issues that were controversial at the time of the show’s running life and that remain pressing relevant issues to-date. So curl up, grab a cup of coffee, and maybe even, dare I say it, a slice of cheesecake as we prepare to dive into the legacies that these four ladies and the creators of the program left behind.

We’ll see you next week, dear readers, with our first look back at Blanche Elizabeth Devereaux who’s, as Dorothy realized, initials spell “BED.”

Your humble author,

S. Faxon

My Great Abuela

Happy New Year!

The birth of a new year is a time of reflection and hope. This dawning of the new year has been exceptionally bright for me for many reasons, one of which stems from the inspiration of my great grandmother who just celebrated her 103rd birthday.

Yes, 103.

Think for a moment on the things this sweet woman has seen. We’ve all grown accustom to having our phone in our pockets, car keys on our belt, and plastic cards in our wallets. My great grandma remembers not having a phone in the house, let alone in her pocket, having to walk and take wagons because cars were not available to the average citizens, and having to use the paper currency that was accepted at the time. She was born in the early days of World War One, supported our troops during World War Two. She watched in fascination with the rest of the world as man took their first steps on the moon. She’s seen technology advance from rotary phones to touch screens, phonographs to digital players, type writers to bluetooth keyboards. This incredible woman has seen it all.

Meet my great grandma, Consuelo.

Great Grandama Hererra This is an older photo, but I think it shows why she is loved so much.

Great grandma is the core, the foundation of my family. She has taught us all what it means to love unconditionally and to always open one’s door to friends, family and to those who are in need. We have learned the power of perseverance through her stories of the hardships she endured with the guiding hand of her faith. Her story has been told beautifully by my cousin, David Ortega, in the graphic novels, Dia De Los Consuelo.

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This photo is from Christmas a few years back, from left to right: my mom, my sister, great grandma, me, and grandma. This photo was taken in the center of her home where the beautiful tree stands tall to great all who enter.

Whenever we visit great grandma, we know to go with empty stomachs as we would be stuffed to the brim. My mom and I recently saw Disney/Pixar’s Coco and we laughed ’till we cried when the main character Miguel’s abuela made him take another tamale even though he was full…that’s great grandma. Never say you’re full in her house. It’s a concept that is not accepted.

Great grandma is known for her salsa. It’s the spiciest, tastiest stuff around. Legend tells that my older cousins couldn’t stay in the house when she was cooking it because their eyes would burn from the fumes. We joke that it’s the spice from the chili that’s kept her going so strong for so long, but we all know the truth: it’s her faith and the love from the family that surrounds her. Great grandma’s children, her grand children, great grand children, and yes, great-great grand children, have filled her home with life and love all these years. Surrounding yourself with love, dear readers, is the key not just to a long life, but to a full one.

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This is a five generation photo. My great grandma, Consuelo, her daughter, Betty, my mom, Roni, my sister Jen, and her son, Zakary. That’s one of the most special photos we have.

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My great grandma and me.

Grandma

Happy birthday, great grandma! And happy new year to you, dear readers.

Your humble author,

S. Faxon

Christmas Spiders

It’s become tradition, like stringing up Christmas lights, drinking eggnog, or watching your favorite holiday flick, for me to post the following tale. This is the story that my grandmother used to tell my sisters and me every year. She had these lovely golden beaded spiders that she would hang on the tree. They were beautiful and I hold vivid memories of them in my heart, though I have not seen them for over eleven years.

Hopefully this sweet story will bring a a slightly different perspective for you of our eight legged friends and a little bit of warmth to your day.

This  specific story is a section from my original story I published on my previous blog site, called Providence. If you’d like to see that read, here you go: Providence.

In that space of time the reverend stared at three faux-gold beaded spiders perched atop a mess of silver tensile on the far side of the room. The story of the three spiders popped into the reverend’s head. It was the tale of the arachnids being very curious about a tree, which came into their home. From their corner in the living room, they happily watched the family of the home adorn the tree with all sorts of sparkling decorations and candlesticks aglow. Once the family decided that their task had been one well done, the people left the living rooms to adjourn to their beds. The spiders took the opportunity to look at every limb and trinket upon the tree. They oohed at the golden beads. They awed at the knitted angels. But they were most struck and most impressed with the beautiful glass star that crowned the mighty tree. Quite simply, it was the most spectacular thing that the spiders had ever seen. Feeling satisfied by their explorations, the spiders lowered themselves to the ground, only to discover in great horror that they had unintentionally completely covered the entire tree and decorations with their webbing. The spiders began to wail and cry because they thought that they had had ruined the hard and magnificent efforts of the family with their mess of web and they despaired. However, a shimmering light appeared and an angelic voice spoke to the three spiders and he said to them, ‘But, no, look again,’ and in an instant the grey web turned to silver tinsel and the three spiders glittered like gold from their unintended gifts. The tree was not ruined, but changed into something even more great. 
 
The reverend smiled to think of this story, which he told every year to the children of Providence on Christmas Eve with the intended message that no matter how messy or entangled life could sometimes become there is always a chance for a happy ending if one only looks at the situation another way. The changed perspectives of the spiders warmed the reverend’s heart even though indeed his present situation  still appeared to be very dark. 
 
Merry Christmas to you all! May you have nothing but comfort and joy this year!
Until next time dear readers,
Your humble author,
S. Faxon
beeps

Comfort and Joy

Every now and then life has a way of bringing moments of sorrow to our path. These life events leave us hurt, confused, sometimes even lost. This was one of those weeks for me. My friends and I experienced some intensely sad and unexpected losses, leaving us heart broken by these major life changes. There were many tears. As it was all passing I kept thinking of that scene in Lord of the Rings where the Hobbits bid the companions of their fellowship goodbye. One of our hobbits had to leave this week and it was heart breaking to watch him board the ship and sail into the west.

But the sun rose from the east this morning as it always has and always will. I rose a glass to my friend last night and this morning found comfort on a restorative run at a local park. The song of the birds and the soundtrack of my favorite movie, Hook, pushed me on and reassured me that everything is going to be ok. With the grass as my seat, I wrote this post, the beautiful, still waters of the bay before me.

No one knows what will happen next, no one knows why sadness is brought to us, but one of my good friends said it best yesterday as we were all saying our goodbyes to our hobbit; good things don’t last forever because we wouldn’t enjoy or appreciate them if they did.

On my run, my eyes still puffy from crying the day before, I was able to find joy from the memories of all the wonderful, laugh filled moments we shared and those yet ahead. I realized that sometimes chapters must come to an end, but that doesn’t mean the story is over. If you turn the page, the setting may have changed, but the characters will remain the same. Realizing this brought me great peace, comfort and joy, as I hope it may for you too, dear readers, if anything like this is happening to you.

All my love, dear readers, and until next week!

Your humble author,

S.Faxon