When Whitney Clapper invited me to attend the Patagonia and Alaska Wilderness League event celebrating the 56 years of protecting the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Washing DC, I didn’t think I could go on such short notice. As usual, my husband rallied scrambling together hotel points and Southwest miles, knowing it was important to me.
Our first visit to Washington DC came after my father passed away in 1998. Gary & I volunteered and attended The Environmental Defense Fund charity in Santa Barbara. My husband, trying to cheer me up, bid on, and won, a trip to DC. The airline miles were donated by Peter No-one (at the time VP of global retail). Gary had the Library of Congress, among the many sites, on our itinerary. To myself I thought, “it’s a library”. Along with being the national archive of all things written and recorded, it turned out to be my favorite and most memorable of all the monuments we visited.
In 2006 I attended my first Patagonia Tool Conference at Fallen Leaf. One of the exercises was with Ron Hunter (Patagonia’s Environmental Activism Manager), Ron’s wife Kaitlin, along with a team leader that instructed us in a mock lobbying scenario. I was to represent a Native American. I tried a diplomatic approach, presenting a compromise. Kaitlin gently corrected me & said tribal people would never compromise in this way because they are a sovereign nation. Admittedly, intimidated by all the incredibly dedicated and young activist at Tools, I learned much, and never in my wildest dreams did I think that roll playing would one day prepare me to be comfortably sitting in a Senator’s office, and, alongside Ron.
It was important for me to attend DC for the opportunity to learn, to celebrate the success of protecting, thus far, a place I may never visit, but that is so important to the species and people that live there. This company, the foresight of such important campaigns, my colleagues that work incredible hours to make our stories come beautifully to fruition, and then there is Florian. Florian Schultz and I have become good friends over the years, beginning with my first licensing negotiation for our Freedom to Roam Campaign. He helped me to understand what goes into documenting the wildlife and region of such a remote frigid place.
Whitney, Ron, Lisa Pike, Scott Carrington and I rendezvoused at the Hart Senate Building. We met with Senator Harry Reid’s right hand gal. The meeting room we gathered in had all its bookshelves cleaned out and any art or framed documents that once adorned the walls were also removed.
I went into the experience with the intention of being a fly on the wall. Ron is amazing and polished. He and Senator Reid’s staffer chatted about the Refuge, and along with Lisa, they discussed hope that the Obama administration does the right thing by designating Gold Butte and Bears Ears before POTUS leaves office. After a few questions from myself, Whitney and Scott, about the incoming administration and how we can best be more effective, she said calling in, more than electronic petitions, were impactful. And, to the local offices. She also assured us, the democrats would only work with the republicans on issues that are realistic.
Reid’s office arranged for us to have a congressional private tour. Although I had taken the tour when I first came to DC. That was 18 years prior. I know more now, and I recalled some of the details about our capital more clearly the second time. I was in hog heaven
Needing to rest, I returned to my hotel, while the rest went back to Senator’s Reid’s office where they presented him, in person, with a limited edition of Florian’s Caribou Migrating print.
The Monday before our full day, I had to return to the Library of Congress, what is referred to as The Temple of Knowledge. And, like before I became emotional at the fresco painted walls with quotes of wisdom from our founding fathers. (I know, I sound just like Forest Gump.) I kept thinking; Trump, and his family, need to spend an entire day reading every single profound quote. I cannot imagine how one could not be inspired to be a champion of justice after doing so.
I also saw the inauguration scaffolding being erected, and saying to myself “this is really happening”. I polled every cab driver, a global microcosm, that included men from Senegal, Ethiopia, India, and a Sikh, to name a few. I would start the conversation with “Do you like President Obama? Then, “how about the president-elect”. Obama got high ratings with “he has Grace”, “a good heart”, “he is kind and cares about our country”. A few polled preferred President Clinton more than Obama. All were not happy with the incoming president stating “he’s not a statesman”. Trump doesn’t attend his security briefings, but he’ll watch Saturday Night Live and spend his time complaining in Tweets”. Another said, “every republican president has gotten us in a war”, naming them off, and ending with “Trump will take us to war”. Then there was the security guard at The Liaison Hotel, who said to me “I don’t know how you voted, but this new one, he doesn’t care about our environment”
Tuesday night we gathered at the most beautiful venue; The National Museum of the American Indian, where we celebrated together, beginning with a blessing from a Gwich’in Mother, along with Bernadette, featured in our Refuge film, AWL, activists from Care2, some DC store employees, and dignitaries.
It was magical, in that this many just, good people, working this hard for this long, I standing alongside them, with millions more in the world having this same selfless intention.
Then I remembered this quote “All great changes are preceded by chaos” ~ Deepak Chopra
Today was her day
To my daughter, who called me when she was moving back to Vegas and couldn’t take Martini. I said without hesitation, I’ll take her! It was suppose to be for a month. I transferred all my Love of my daughter into this one year old pup.
From his website about loss, Howard Lunche describes:“Mourning is the expression of sorrow for the dead. It is what we do to demonstrate the grief we are experiencing, and is the means for sharing the pain and disruption caused by a death. Funerals, prayer, unveilings, wearing black, sobbing, visiting the gravesite, journaling, memorials, and looking at photos are examples of how we overtly express and acknowledge the importance of the one who died and his or her death and absence. It is important to foster grief’s natural and healthy progression toward an outcome of acceptance of, and adjustment to, the reality of the death. Mourning is how we do this.
In summary, grief is what is happening to us; our uniquely personal experience in all realms of our being. Bereavement is about who we are without the one who has died. Mourning is the method by which we alleviate the pain and disruption of grief and solidify the memory of the deceased and meaningfulness of our shared life and relationship.”
We buried Martini’s ashes on Easter Sunday, as we did with her doggy sister and best friend Betty just three years earlier. In a beautiful cardboard daisy shaped box with pastel polkadots, along with all the condolence cards we received, next to the fountain in the rose garden under the juniper where she liked to lay her belly to cool. I see thirteen pink hearts every morning from my kitchen window. Somehow this tribute / memorial art installation, lifts and carries me.
I’ve learned that some mental illness can germinate in the refusal to take responsibility for one’s own actions. That boundaries aren’t in the realm of the mentally ill, and blame is the go-to, with never uttering an apology.
It took me a long time, with much reflection, to navigate beyond the negative misogynistic aspects of a religious upbringing. Insecurities with a need to please, not knowing when enough is enough, and sometimes we simply can’t fix it, or have the means to help someone we Love. Why should we be the ones to fix it, or go into emotional and financial debt. The black hole will never be filled. What kind of ego or guilt takes over our own reason, often times resulting in neglect of self.
The disfunction is all around us; A restaurant manager who says out loud in public earshot, “watch me make a hostess cry”. To sexually harassesing a waitress by cornering her, feeling her breast under her shirt in front of his drunk friends at the close of the night. Or, impacting an entire staff’s income by scheduling the best table section preference to the food server he is currently dating.
The solipsist, void of boundaries, neighbor, who simply doesn’t get-it, inflicting decades of sanctimonious harassment.
A tyrannical manager who announces to his assistant, “it’s your fault”, for whatever personal task was demanded, and the professional project didn’t meet deadline.
The spouse who thinks “helping” is an acceptable form of parenting or household management, instead of sharing in the partnership of responsibilities. One does not babysits one’s own children. You spend precious time with them.
The professional, privy to the grief a client is suffering from a recent loss, incrementally and systematically increases the quote to excess. When challenged, his response “I understand there is an inheritance” Good, quality paid services deserve a fair rate. What justifies spending this kind of money on any skill is having your expectations met. A principled work ethic.
More personally, when our Mother’s second husband methodically isolated her from her family and friends. Controlling her to the point of removing all photos and traces of her daughters and grandchildren, and what use to feel like home when visiting was reduced to a holiday visit in a hotel.
This incivility is heightened with social media, liken to cyber Tourettes, where faceless masses post cruel judgements on public sites. More intimately, an infallibility-complexed friend, or in-law posts on a Facebook wall, other than their own, touting their extreme political view or violent, in-your-face observations of the world, to make a point of being “correct”, in spite of the truth.
All these abuses, if enough, and over time, can fuck you up. Even more so, on a professional level, if in need of the job and income, as most of the population, indeed, are to simply survive. One doubt oneself, and wonder could more have been done or differently. Crazy get in your head, and the obsessive negative self talk is difficult to quiet.
Only a few of these scenarios are my own. The majority have been shared by friends because of my sensitivity and empathic ear. Although, all have taught me, and affirmed, it’s critical to know one’s self. This is never more valuable then when entering a romantic relationship. Give yourself the gift of time, necessary for growth. Learn to value and trust your own feelings, and then one can take responsibility for one’s own choices. Setting clear boundaries, and learning what those healthy boundaries are, can be a life long journey. Although, it’s never too early, or late, to start.
More and more with these life experiences I have premonitions of the manipulation to come. These dysfunctional efforts to control are obvious and transparent. Saying no, when it’s appropriate, reclaims personal power.
Unconditional Love doesn’t mean you neglect in Loving yourself enough to assess and ask “what would make this okay if I really do want to make myself available to this person who is exhausting me”. Being kind doesn’t have to mean being weak. Refusing to allow yourself to be manipulated by toxic drama not only takes care of yourself, but forces the person inflicting such behavior to face inevitable consequences. Don’t get me wrong. Everyone deserves a second chance. Unfortunately, I have learned, third, forth, and fifth chances rarely work. More importantly, we can only control our own behavior. No matter how kind, just or pure an intention, it does not mean it will be received as such.
My own boundaries keep me in check. I’ll consider helping when health and safety are at risk. However, sometimes professional help is the only course of action. Then again, professional help will not work if resisted. One has to want and invite therapy, and/or social services, for the healing to beginning.
In a professional setting, when someone is being a bully, just get more professional. If the abuser is a supervisor, requesting help to re-prioritize jobs and/or seek clarity of salary for tasks done on off hours isn’t unreasonable. VPs, or managers, be certain what personal favor you are asking, or is being offered. Is the “favor” a choice and not an obligation out of fear. Then practice resprocity with a gesture that is from you, not at the companies expense.
With a spouse, support and compromise doesn’t mean your own needs are never considered or continually being minimized.
I’m no stranger to irrational thinking and feelings taking its toll. It took me years of work, and with many “therapist” that were unhealthy themselves, before finding a few who did some real good in their guidance and lifting of my consciousness. I was sick, and all I wanted was to “be normal” I’m a rape survivor. I learned that anger turned inward sometimes results in suicide attempts. I can only conclude that anger turned out, is what, at times, leads to impulsive homicide. The second, and third big depressions I survived where while raising my young daughter. Economic struggles, coupled with more unhealthy choices. Lastly, escalating adolescent behavior with my child’s own destructive choices took me to the darkest of places. Although, high functioning, I, to this day, have traces of PTSD. Just because one does not see a handicap, doesn’t mean there isn’t one.
The butterfly of happiness finally landed on my shoulder, and I never want her to leave. Therefore I try to avoid manic or unreasonable behavior in people, films, or books, or what I allow into my psyche, as I never want to go back. Back to that suffocating, repetitive, self hate mind chatter.
I’ve been lifted many times during the valleys of my life; by my friends, my parents, and all economic levels of my work colleges. With the emotional, financial, and spiritual generosity I’ve been blessed to received, I pushed myself, forcing myself to grow, to one day pay it forward, to share, to not get comfortable in only receiving.
Just like that flight attendant’s preflight announcement; in the event of an emergency, be sure to secure your oxygen mask first before assisting your children or elderly parent.
Please, take responsibility, and, good care of yourself.
*Title: coined by Dr. Andrew Bassak in paraphrase my thoughts
*I first read about the “butterfly of happiness” in the book Love, Medicine & Miracles by
Dr. Bernie S. Siegel
A photographer I work with said to me, he detecting I was in a “partly cloudy” funk; “keep going toward your own bright Light”. That is exactly what I’ve done, just striving to be my best self. His words lifted me and became my mantra for more than a year, a time of great loss; Beginning with the decision to put our 18-year dog to sleep as her quality of life and body dwindled, my Mother passing away, although she was 86, it felt sudden. And, within months, the murder of our 20-yr. old nephew, just 20-months after his older 20yr. old brother lost his own battle with Myelodysplasia. Immediately, came a car accident where miraculously we walked away with my husband suffering just a scratch, especially since it looked as if a disco ball exploded in my car and we were both covered with thousands of pieces of glass shards. When I needed my family the most, and my husband would certainly have been greatly comforted by our nephew (my sister’s son) reaching out to him, the coup de grås, was my nuclear family turning their backs and disconnecting themselves from me.
I was in the depths of despair and grief. In time, I started to gain clarity, and as always my dear friend expressed his wisdom. He said to me; they’ve been living unprincipled lives. It was bound to happen. Their choices were to inevitably impact you. I remembered Janis Joplin and her line from Me & Bobby McGee “Freedom is just another word for nothing left to lose” I choose to view the change in my sisterhood as a gift, although it took some time before I actually believed this to be true. If not for this disconnect it’s doubtful I would have pulled aside an ounce of Mom’s ashes with the thought of taking them to Sicily.
Twenty-one months later that is exactly what my husband & I did. I’ve learned so much on our trip to Petralia, Mom’s maiden name, and the name of the two villages that rest in the mountainous region 43 miles southeast of Palermo, isn’t her maiden name at all. No buses or train to transport us, we rented a taxi for €200 Euros, with the condition our driver would not smoke or drive crazy. Toto, our driver, was very kind. He took his duty to heart knowing our intention, turning into our personal guide. Popping in a classical CD, stating “you bambino”, leisurely driving us for 2 1/2hrs. through stunning countryside, stopping to point out sites like Mt. Etna, a natural mountain spring that was made into a watering fountain centuries ago, and pulling to the side of the road where he broke off a branch from the Genista Aetneneis bush.
The clipping was fragrant with beautiful yellow flowers, then Toto successfully explained, in mostly Italian, that this thorny shrub was the plant branches used over two-thousand years ago to make Christ’s crucifixion crown. Toto knew I was in search of “documents” as he put it, taking us to a government building, and guiding us through halls and floors until we came to a clerk. He explained we came from America. She stopped what she was doing opening an armoires of sorts, filled with oversized handwritten bound books of names and birth dates hundreds of years old. I wanted so badly to take photos, but I already felt I was intruding on her day, and since they were vital records, to ask might have come across as disrespectful at the lest, and possibly illegal to do so at the worst, if those names were not my own family’s. During this effort the biggest discovery is that Petralia has been mis-pronounced for three generations, and by many American families besides our own. Phonetically spelled; Pet tra lee-a. Also, that my grandfather had a different last name that was dropped when they immigrated to the United States through Ellis Island. When I told the clerk his name was Joseph, she said adamantly “no Joseph, Giuseppe. Giuseppe last name of Petralia.
Then I showed her my Grandmother’s birth certificate, which Grandma Ann had changed the birthdate as she wanted to claim being younger by four years. When the clerk pointed to this obvious alteration I just shrugged my shoulders. Grandma’s maiden name noted on the New Jersey birth certificate states Falco, and how I’ve always known it to be. The clerk again, with hand gestures, corrected the error, and mispronunciation; Falco?!? Fal cone ay! She was so generous, as well as patient, with her time considering I had so little to go on. I thanked her and we left.
Across from the government building is a square with a monument of two figures; a soldier and a monk holding up a sword together, on a pillar. Across from that monument a terrace that overlooks the valley, and town of Petralia Sottana. Directly below this raised stone terrace was beautiful foliage, flora & fauna, and butterflies. There is where we let Mama’s remaining ashes fly.
Not all of the ashes fell out of the herb bottle that held her. I didn’t want to force it, so the tiny bit that stayed behind I took with me back to our rented flat in Cefalu, which is situation directly across from the ocean bluffs. There we emptied the oregano jar completely.
Mom rests next to her husband at the Riverside Veterans Memorial Cemetery, in the hills of Petralia Soprana, and released into the Tyrrhenian Sea of the Mediterranean Proper. How amazing that her daughter and son-in-law traveled the 6,622 miles to make the journey, to mark her life, my ancestors lives, and the adventure that brought them across the Atlantic to the United States of America.Nearly two years after such loss and despair, I am so happy. The storm made way to the most beautiful of rainbows. We journeyed beyond the island of Sicily. I journeyed back to me…Fulfilled, living my life in truth, peace, freedom, and forgiveness. My proclamation of my sister’s rejection being a gift, in spite of how much I miss her, as it turns out, is true after all.
Suggested film for anyone who has had family immigrate from Europe through Ellis Island.
My father was a huge influence in my life. I can not imagine who I would have turned out to be without him. And, much later in life, standing up to him made it possible to stand up to men, and for myself, in general.
Even though I made poor choices, and I have allowed myself to be put in negative situations, what others end up learning, once I’ve had enough, is mistaking my kindness for weakness. Dad hated when I was bullied. He would try to hold back, but often times he couldn’t stand it and would go out of his way to make it better.
Our home in West Covina, moving there when I was just in diapers, was the first home I recall. I even remember the address; 1334 Glendora Ave. With that first home came my first friend, Ricky. We lived next door to the Fox family. I Loved his parents, Helen and her husband. They had two much older children than Ricky, a son and a daughter, who didn’t pay much attention to their younger brother, or me. They were Jewish and owned a deli. To this day I have never had such crisp and tasty pickles as from their family owned restaurant. I would make paper ring chains with Ricky at Hanukkah, and remember fondly their menorah. We rarely displayed candles in our home, so I found this to be very pretty, and different from our traditions.
Ricky came over to our house daily asking if he could play with me, and when he did my Father dreaded it. More often than not, Ricky would hurt, and make me cry. Everything from bite marks on my hands and arms, to bouncing my hand in the car door. Not sure why my fingers weren’t broken. I just recall a huge bandage on my thumb. Once he got the brilliant idea that he would get the baseball that was stuck on his roof down by hitting another ball up on the roof to knock it loose. He wanted me to watch his know-how so he instructed me to stand directly behind him while he swung his wooden bat, tossing a ball into the air as he aimed to hit it. Well, he smacked me in the head instead, knocking me out cold.
Helen was a responsible, responsive parent. When my sister and I tattled on Ricky for swearing, his mother promptly grabbed Ricky by his ear pulling him into her bathroom, telling us “you stay right here and watch”! She then literally washed Ricky’s mouth out with white bar soap as he struggled and wailed. My sister and my eye’s were the size of saucers!
My childhood recollection of our backyard was an expansive green lawn. Ricky and I were playing as usually, and as usually, he made me cry. As I turned to run into the house, my Father was standing right behind me in an angered Jolly Green Giant stance. Scanning up from his knees, to his 6′ 1″ height, he was indeed a giant in stature. He pointed at Ricky and said “hit him”. I looked down, shook my head no. “If you don’t hit him, I’m going to hit you”. Gulp… as I turned to Ricky, his distance, and the backyard itself, instantaneously grew further away from me as if a warp speed burst just occurred. Ricky was frozen as I slowly approached him. With all my courage, I slapped him across the face. I couldn’t believe I did it! He went running and screaming to his home. I turned to look at my Dad, still stern, he said, “how did it feel”? I said good, and then he affirmed what I’ve been learning my entire life, “sometimes you just have to stand up for yourself.”
The most tender of his rescues was when our family went to Balboa Island Crystal Cove beach. My parents and toddler sister were under the umbrella, and I spent what felt like hours collecting sea shells. I was in my own world, completely content, gathering beautiful treasures. An older boy than me, came up to me, seeming friendly at first, then he stole my entire day’s beach combing. Returning to my parents blanket quietly suffering, my Father abruptly left. He was gone for a long time. I thought perhaps he had gone looking for the young thief and worried for my Dad. When Dad returned, he brought me out from under the umbrella and told me to dig in the sand. I didn’t understand, but he was smiling, and pointing to a specific spot. Low and behold, what I dug up was a huge, gorgeous abalone shell. As young as I was I figured out what he had done. Walking Balboa Island to find a shell shop to buy me the biggest shell he could find, and then hiding it for me to discover. I stayed under the umbrella the rest of the day relishing, and protecting, my grand treasure, not letting it out of my sight, not letting on to my Father that I suspected I didn’t really find and earn this one on my own. Knowing in my entire being, the most important thing that happened that day. Love heals.
When I first returned home from Hawaii in the 70’s, damaged from being raped, I started working the counter at a Bob’s Big Boy in Hacienda Heights. My father would come in for a cup of coffee, stay awhile and when he left he’d leave 50cents on the counter, but bills under his plate. I was shy and apprehensive interacting with the customers, hating to be touched in anyway, claustrophobic in tight quarters, which continued for many years.
One day this really nice, pleasant looking young fellow came in and sat in my station. We became friendly, with many chats and soon I introduced him to my sister Julie. He became my sister’s boyfriend, and even more interestingly, one of my Father’s dearest friends. My Father became John’s musical mentor, which influenced John’s entire life, becoming a saxaphone player himself.
John got himself an older VW Bug. He was driving, Julie was in the passenger seat and my Dad in the back. When Dad told the story he said, “I don’t know if John was showing off”… But John took the corner of the street too fast, spinning out and crashing into the parked car in the tract housing near our home. Dad knew John didn’t have car insurance, as he hired John as one of his journeyman house painters. They car pooled to many jobs together, sharing stories, and life. In this predicament, my Father said “quick, change places!” I could just see my 6’1″ father crawling over the front seat of a Bug while John clearly over 5’10” nose diving into the back seat, before witnesses or police arrived.
John Loved our family, my Mother’s cooking, and even after he knew the relationship with my sister had run it’s course, he didn’t want to break up with the Kicielinskis. We were all so unique to him. He once called us Hacienda Height’s Adams Family. John was the brother-in-law I wish I had, and when he and Julie did in fact grow apart, my Dad & John continued to hang out. Julie didn’t like this at all and told my Father he couldn’t see John anymore. Dad stubbornly said no, he and John were friends and she was going to have to understand.
When my father passed away in 1998, I called John who was now living in Oregon, and asked him if he would come down to the service and play Dad’s Tenor sax. He said of course, and Gary picked John up at the airport a couple of days before the service. We had our own mini “Big Chill” as we gathered at my parent’s home in Victorville. Julie and John shared many touching stories with the wisdom of time on their side, a closure of sorts for my stubborn Scorpian grudge holding sister. John played Amazing Grace on Dad’s horn, and it made the service all the more perfect.
John and I continue to have long distance phone conversations. He brings to life my Father recalling stories and imitating my Dad to perfection. John has taken on some of my Father’s cadence, and even when he calls him by his name Joe it’s endearing. He soaked up my parents living Love story and recalls things about them together that I forgot. He knows me well, and he knew me then, sometimes calling me the Catholic matriarch picking up the torch, and unjustly being denied recognition. His words, not mine.
Thanksgiving 2012 we received a call from John wishing us a Happy Thanksgiving and he played the piano for us over the phone with the message that his life, his Love of music, and all his talent & musical therory is from my Father. Forty-two years later we continue on with an enduring friendship, always appreciated and valued by him. My Father living on in our recollections and hearts.