Trumping the candle

Telluride Daily Planet, Sunday, December 27, 2015

We have just lit a candle. An expensive, beautiful smelling, long-burning candle, the scent of which is neroli, I believe, (citrus aurantium — the flower of the bitter orange — a heady, citrusy, flowery scent still prized, as it was in ancient Egypt, for its calming, tranquilizing and mood-elevating effects). It is widely used in the perfume industry, and suspected to be one of the secret ingredients in the recipe for Coca-Cola.

We have not lit this candle as vigil or to make the house redolent of some evocative, mysterious, unnamable thing that leads one by the nose to blissful realms. It has not been lit to mark the presence of guests or the dinner hour or even as a late night treat for watching flame shadows flicker against a wall. In fact, we’re not even at home. We’re at work.

We’ve lit a candle quickly, with a specific purpose in mind and are having a good laugh about it now. This candle and matches have been dispatched to dispel bad energy, to clear the air, to burn away any residual negativity and to begin a new moment. Because what we’ve just had in our midst is an unfortunate person who does not have much control at all over her thoughts or her mouth and whose go-to expression is one of sourness, negativity and fault-finding. Meanwhile, in reality and right outside the door, soft fat snowflakes are falling all around, dotting peoples’ noses and eyelashes and accumulating in frosting-like layers, blanketing the town in a quiet and beautiful peace.

We are laughing for a couple of reasons. Because of the quick first aid we’ve applied to our space, the great and perfunctory speed of the sequence at which we’ve allowed a negative person to exit through a door and gone to fetch a good candle. We’re laughing because of the visible drama of marking the moment instead of internalizing it, which would involve taking on someone else’s miserable day, and taking it personally, a switch-up that is truly liberating.

And we’re also laughing because we’ve all been there before, in that discontented place, marching around like Pigpen from “Peanuts,” neck deep in a cloud of angry or resentful or fearful or lonely pheromones — inattentive to the world around us, thoroughly smitten by our own up-and-and-down-and-all-around stories, unaware or uncaring of their undeniable effects on other people.

The candle smells really good. In contrast to crisp, fresh mountain air, which is intoxicating and soul-reviving in its own way, the warmth and sweetness of the candle calms, helps us pause, accompanies us. Now, we are able to relax. Reboot. Let go of someone’s sharp, unwitting commentary.

Candles, which have been around for thousands of years, from the tiniest birthday candles to the tallest pillars, never disappoint. From insect wax and tallow, to oils, petroleums and more current permutations, we have lit our way through time, consoling and marking the moments as small flames burn bright. Now more than ever — in the advent of blue-screen glow and fluorescent light — we can benefit from the purity and light of fire, even in its most diminutive format.

Very shortly after we’ve applied micro-fire and scent to our space, another person walks through the door, this time a well-known personality with a couple of teenaged children and a husband in tow. They are an up group, a group whose vibe, charged with laughter and good cheer, with positivity and a sense of fun all around, changes everything and all at once.

We can feel it permeate not just the space but also our bones, our brains. It’s sweet and infectious and transformative. The children are polite. There is no sense of privilege or entitlement or urgency — none of that; and once they leave with their bags, the air in the shop expands, charged with good sparks, with pleasure, gratitude and generosity. It is now the prevailing climate, the power of which has trumped the candle by a long shot.

And we are the beneficiaries. It leaves us with a moment of real gratitude for the goodness of people who behave well. Who spread lightness of heart and joy. It gives us a moment to reflect on all of those who have told us (from Ralph Waldo Emerson and Norman Vincent Peale to Louise

Hay, Pema Chodron and many others) how important it is to tend to our emotional health, to take responsibility, to

examine the quality of our thoughts and emotions and to take care as we birth them in every moment.

What we learn, once again, this time from the cute candle-trumper family, is that good behavior is its own reward. It feels good and it makes others feel good. And what more could we possibly ask for as we attempt to make the very most of our limited time here on planet Earth?


Path of The Country Bunny

Telluride Daily Planet, Sunday, December 12, 2015

Dear Santa,

Here’s my Christmas list.

Actually, in preamble, I have to admit that I have been thinking about the Easter Bunny lately — more specifically, the one portrayed in my favorite book of all time, “The Country Bunny and the Little Gold Shoes.” Do you remember it? It’s 1939. DuBose Heyward and Marjorie Flack, truly inspired, write and illustrate this gem. It’s a classic. Timeless. Indelibly sweet and true.

In the story, a country bumpkin female bunny — a single parent, actually, with 21 babies to whom she has ingeniously delegated all the work of keeping house — decides to vie for a recently vacated Easter Bunny position, a post notoriously dominated by males, a post almost too ridiculous for her even to consider. Nevertheless, courageously, she shows up, 21 Sunday-best bunnies in tow.

The old and wise grandfather and head Easter Bunny in charge of the competition — noting the shiny-clean order of the country bunny’s life and witnessing proof positive of all her other attributes — sees fit to elect her, in the end, to be one of his own. And because of her brilliant examples of cleverness, kindness, wisdom and speed, she is given the greatest honor of all: donning the little gold shoes to fly an Easter basket to an ailing boy on the top of a steep mountain.

Fantastic story! Beyond the giant pyramids of colored eggs in the Easter Palace and the competition on the lawn with all the naysayer jackrabbits showing off (until the country bunny speaks up and proves her mettle), this is also an early feminist tale, a tale driven by merit and virtue, the reward of which is, simply and unequivocally, the gift of service.

Now, we know very well that in the Santa Claus merit system, a good little girl or boy gets the gifts, sometimes even the impossible ones — the puppy, the visit from a long lost relative (or famous athlete), the miracle cure, the trip to Disneyland. But what if all Santa offered and all we got was…  giving? What if the greatest gift to get was the gift of being capable to give to others? To me, this feels like radically elevated thought — which may be one reason “The Country Bunny” story continues to influence me to this day.

This year — a beautiful, rich, challenging, profound year for me, in so many ways — I’d like to begin needing not so many material things (which I am an expert at doing, just like most of us are), but needing things that are both harder and easier to grasp, the idea being to shake it up, grab a person by the collar, bring her or him back to the things that matter the most. In short, to get on the path of the Country Bunny.

Here’s the beginning of my new and improved list, which I’m writing as much to myself as to you. You don’t need the buzzwords, but I do, as they sort of tack notions to the bulletin board of time.

Smiley face: The ability to get up every day and put a smile on, even in the dark, even in the cold, even after one has temporarily given up coffee, which is pretty much one’s only vice. A deep feeling for the net worth of a smile.

Deer in headlights: The ability to be stopped in my tracks by the beauty of nature. Three of four times a day would be a good start, more on particularly sparkly days.

Queen of hearts: To be a better sport at word and card games. I have no idea why my buttons get pushed here, but I am currently on hiatus for bad behavior. This is a red flag item.

Inner child: better behavior from the unruly inner-tantrum-throwing 3-year old, the one who slams inner emotional doors and marches off in an inner micro-huff. Yellow flag item.

Peace sign: more peace in my daily life. File under: acceptance and enjoyment of people as they are, deep satisfaction in the small things and gratitude for bounty, privilege and the gift of life.

Cash register: clean, clear ideas of service to others with no tit-for-tat or sense of owing or balancing accounts. Just being nice.

Windex: clearer eyes with which to see the world. A Mr. Potato Head sort of feeling that the eyes we see with can be the angry eyes, but they can also be clear and peaceful eyes. Relaxing the eyeballs.

Wax: Of course, I love candles and would take any and all candles offered me at Christmas or any other day of the year. The beauty of a candle is that it reminds us that life is a vigil, that we are here to stay awake and give watchful attention to the progress of our lives. Right?

These things may help get me moving in the right direction. Thanks in advance for any help from the office of the red and white suit.

Yours sincerely, MCW.

Holiday meditation: the gumdrop chakra

Telluride Daily Planet, Sunday, November 29, 2015

(First published in 2012; back by request.)

Lie down on the floor —arms and legs out, like a gingerbread man.

Imagine you have two gumdrop eyes and a big, messy, icing mouth, the kind gingerbread “men” have. Now tell yourself you are neither man nor woman, you are a spice cake, clove and cardamom and ginger essence through and through. Feel yourself sort of… floating… that unique feeling of a cookie cooling on a marble slab. Soon you will harden completely, but guess what? Your stiffness is perfectly natural, which is one of the delightful things about being a cookie. Your paralysis is not paralysis at all.

Relax deep into the core of your hardening dough. Like glass, you are really neither liquid nor solid but an in-between state. Feel the deep brown of the molasses coursing through your boneless and fingerless cookie hands, your fat cookie legs and then your crown chakra, which is an invisible gumdrop of pale purple sparkly sugar-light coming from a sugar-star about 93 million miles from here.

Imagine that crown gumdrop glowing now and spinning on, like, a toothpick, receiving celestial light… and that this light is infusing you, filling every melded morsel of butter, sugar, flour and spice in your being. You breathe in: clove. You breathe out: clove. This is universal clove. Feel it deeply.

Now, relax your icing smile until it is a flat loop, like a rubber band lying on the counter. You don’t always have to be happy, you know. You can be neutral. Just because you were born with a smile painted on doesn’t mean you can’t be aware of your true feelings. Like how it feels to be used as a tree decoration and then thrown away. Or how it feels when someone who doesn’t like cardamom takes one bite and spits your leg out into a napkin. Or when people lump you in with fruit cake and snickerdoodles. Not that those things have necessarily happened to you, but certainly to many of your ginger-brethren. But what about the regular, everyday stuff, like just a few hours ago when you were thinking to yourself, “Wow, why do I feel so flat inside — is there something wrong with me?”

No, there is nothing wrong with you. There is nothing wrong with not trying so hard. With having some flatter days. It’s not easy being gingerbread, you know: having to be hard while staying somewhat soft inside — not just for others, but for yourself. Do you really want a roller coaster ride, wind pulling dangerously at the edges of your icing mouth?

Now ask yourself this trick question: “How can I smell clove if I don’t have a nose?” Do you feel your mind stretching as you enter the answer-less state? Now visualize your astral body getting up and walking, walking quietly through what appears to be a spearmint forest and toward what appears to be a gingerbread house, the old-fashioned kind, that has a pretzel gate that your astral fingers unlatch, feeling salt crystals come off in your palm. You stop for a moment, admiring the house, its piped-on architectural details. Then your hand-that-is-not-a-hand reaches for the doorknob and you enter. Tiptoeing on feet without toes.

Inside the house, it is dark except for a light in the kitchen. You feel like an outsider looking in, but you sense your quasi-flat body moving forward on its own, with yourself inside it. Is this duality? Are you observer or observed? Keep smelling the universal clove as you enter the cozy room. There are cookies in the oven, cookies just like you — do you see them? They look so much like you: are they you? They also look like paper dolls, laid out in rows, like clones.  All of a sudden, you are scared, really scared that this is “The Twilight Zone” again and that Rod Serling is going to walk through the side door and tell you it’s all a dream, that cookies don’t exist except in the mind of some giant sugar-and-spice-and-everything-nice eating universe.

Be with your fear, breathing in, breathing out, flat heart beating in your flat chest. You are completely safe here and you are real. Look at the cookies through the glass oven door and see them with your mind’s gumdrop eye, going back, as if rewinding a tape, coming out of the oven, going back into the cookie cutters, and then finally… back into the bowl, the bowl of primordial dough from whence all gingerbread emerges, where unity of all confections exists, before hardness and softness even have come into being.

Are you happy? Calm? Of course you are, little cookie, because all is one. Now get out there and radiate your sugar-light in this brand new day.

Rainbow medicine

Telluride Daily Planet, Sunday, November 15, 2015

What have we to be thankful for? A living world of color (for one thing). The saturated and rich, the pale, the faded, the textured, the intense, the suggestive, the translucent. Eyeballs of today, screenburned, jaded and atrophied by narrowing fields of vision, need the good, strong, sane medicine of color.

Me, I like violets, humble and sweet, with heart-shaped leaves and deep, delicate petals. They ask us to bend down and bring our faces low, and remind us, growing there next to trees, of small next to big and big next to small. And sugar violets on cakes, can we love these, too? We can. Just like we can love the sweetness of sour grape balls and C. Howard’s Violet Scented Gum in the purple package.

Violet lives in cabbage leaves, the stretched out skin of figs, orchid parts, the insides of bitten plums. A strip of bright violet sky fades with the setting sun. Here’s another one: Elizabeth Taylor, with her one-of-a-kind violet eyes, an actual anomaly to go with another anomaly, her double set of eyelashes. Violet, a bunny’s favorite color, is the color of kings’ robes, amethyst rings, and little-girl leggings. It is the color of bygone ink scribbling, “Darling, I miss you.” In violet we trust.

Indigo, mysterious, dense, and delicious, is the true color of the so-called blueberry. It is the color of new denim jeans being washed in hot water. The indigo milk cap, a plain-seeming mushroom, can stain paper and fingers this shade of blue-black. Exotic indigo is the raw stuff of Halloween masks and dyed feathers, and poison, perhaps. It is the color of midnight shadows, of things that groan and creak, and of the massive North American indigo snake that eats other snakes for dinner. Indigo, going and gone. In indigo we lurk.

Blue speaks to both the bright and glum — the umbrella of sky and sorrows drooping. Bluebirds, top testifiers of cheer, cross the airy way with wings flashing bits and pieces of elemental hue. Blue! I love your name. You are a broad color with many cousins, from evening snow and crisp men’s shirts to glistering mirror lakes and crackled robins’ eggs. It is our blue planet ever so slowly creating with crushing power the bluest of Kashmir sapphires. What wallpapers a corner of my heart, though, is that medieval-painting blue, the one next to the gold of halos, beams of glory and tiny fleurs-de-lis. That blue is lush. In blue we sink or swim, we fly, or settle in.

Beneath the warming skin of ripening fruit like oranges and mangos is the high potentate of color – green — the color of life, ever ready. Green is Go, and Live, and Surge, and Conserve and Rejuvenate in shades of pine and olive, kelly, pistachio, lime, basil and stormy sea.  Green is all this: the frog, the lily pad, the insect on its tongue, and the willow’s leaves grazing the greenish pond. Yes, of course, green is envy, jealousy and the clear appraisal of a cat’s eye. Green is sometimes goo, and bile, mold, oxidation, and life attacking itself; one of the colors has to be both creator and destroyer, does it not? In green we surrender.

Yellow is thus experienced flawlessly: amid a stand of aspens all gone golden — whose  leaves contains the sun itself — the willing human stands receptive, allowing the color to penetrate and permeate first through the top of the head, then through closed eyelids, then back and down the throat and deep into the heart where it glows in its purest form long enough to carry us through the crawling months of blue-white winter. In yellow we thrill.

Orange, perhaps the most maligned of colors, is the color of the shirt or sweater you rarely wear. A loudmouth of a color. Really, how could we be expected to pull off the signature color of goldfish and pumpkins, Gerber daisies, tangerines, Himalayan salt lamps, carrot soup, rust and monarch butterflies? Chicken Tikka and Thai iced tea: Now, there are oranges you won’t soon forget. Orange is the exclamation point of colors. It’s the flaming hair of prancing foxes in the cold dry air. Orange is electric. In orange we vibrate.

Red, the color that points its fat finger right back to the beginning of the spectrum, is a red-ripe rose, a rosehip, an apple, a tomato and a raspberry. It is Rudolph’s nose.  Red is the color of heat, of blood, of fire engines, stop signs, corrected papers, and that red dress that says, “Get me my heels, I won’t be stopped. And help me with my coat, while you’re at it.” It is the bossy child of color and needs supervision at all times, unless it’s a flower or a piece of fruit. It is a bull’s favorite and least favorite color. In red we surge.

Life gives us a rainbow of colors every day. All we have to do is look up from our handheld devices long enough to see, register and marvel. Amen.


Game on (part two)

Telluride Daily Planet, Sunday, November 1, 2015

Having registered for Harvard Computer Science 50, an online course famous for changing people’s lives, I left off downloading Scratch, an MIT-generated program designed to teach children fundamental computer programming. The first homework assignment takes me eight hours. I am supposed to finish the nine-week course by December 19. I am thinking that means no Thanksgiving, no Christmas, no morning walks, and no interaction with any people or pets in my family.

I give myself three days to recover and refresh from Problem Set 0, overly pleased with myself for having masterminded — using interlocking puzzle parts simulating “code” — a set of fortune cookies moving through space that are clicked on for various effects and messages. My personal zenith? One of the cookies randomly hitting the edge and then ricocheting off over and over again. I call the game (which has no beginning, or end, or way to win) “Space Fortune.” It says very little — or perhaps it says everything — about my ability. It speaks volumes about my proclivities. A fortune cookie moving through space barking proverbs? I’m there.

But do I use enough events and operators, loops and variables and controls?  Are my sprites and backdrops and sound effects adequate? [Insert shrug here]. I like the Radiohead soundtrack I choose. I’ve always wanted to be a fortune cookie editor.

In the meantime, in real life, I bump into a few people wanting to explore the idea of online learning. “How rich,” someone says. “How empty”, says another. What is the future of learning without personal interaction? What exactly is learning? Good questions. Since I don’t see myself in a classroom at this point in my life (one never knows, though), I am content remaining unseen, a statistic. It’s the great leveler. No one knows my age or how fast my hand doesn’t shoot up to answer a question. Cool, right?

Yeah, until Problem Set 1.

Problem Set 1 requires the downloading of a very large Harvard “appliance” (essentially a computer inside my computer) that facilitates writing real code. I listen to three hours of lectures, thinking, “Wow, the world runs on mega-bazillions of bits of code authored mostly by men.” It takes me a couple of hours to download the appliance and learn how to use the terminal and write some basic code (with lots of remote hand-holding). “Hello, world!” is what we code to print on the screen. Those two words. Okay, I say to myself. Okay.

Then I read the actual assignment problems.  I watch all the side bar videos. How hard could it be, creating a half pyramid for a Mario game out of keyboard characters and then printing it out?

But I have no clue where to start. Sincerely yours, A lost person. I watch the hour-long walk-through on YouTube and see distant blips of light in the self-scan of my brain. If I watched the video again a couple of times, I could probably figure out PS1 in fifteen or twenty hours.

Meanwhile, I want to get to know this young woman walking me through. She seems nice. What did her parents do? Is she as smart and well-adjusted as she seems? I like the gap in her teeth. I want to look her up; but I resist the temptation. Briefly.

Fact is, for success here, I would need the sleep-away camp version of CS50, the remedial one offered in a secluded cabin island-bound off the coast of Maine, and I’d have to temporarily exit my life for that to happen, which is not an option right now. Maybe in another decade.

Well, gee, I start to wonder: who are my contemporaries in this class, anyway? Turns out, only 20 percent of the 150,000 or so registering in 2013 are female. Their median age is 29. The completion rate of all those who registered is 0.9 percent. Because of my life and responsibilities and natural disability with the subject, I am part of the 91.1 percent spectrum of people who do not complete it. (On campus, 99.6 percent complete the course.) Where do I stand now?

I stand corrected! I will not take on challenges so airily (copy 50 times). I will tend more toward the things I am good at and be less fascinated with what is difficult (copy 100 times). I will continue to explore online learning to enrich my mind (beginning with UCSD’s top-ten-listed Learning How to Learn: Powerful Mental Tools to Help You Master Tough Subjects!).

For now, though, I am just saying one thing: I am a Harvard dropout. At least that has a ring to it.


Game on (part one)

Telluride Daily Planet, Sunday, October 18, 2015

There’s no happy ending to this story, just to let you know up front. Because in a happy ending version, I am wearing a CS50 tee shirt, my brain is slightly more encephalized (bigger) and I have successfully reinvented and rerouted myself into mini-career number six or seven or whatever it is. That would be the long view of the happy ending. In the short view, I would be saying something like “Dang, this is interesting and applicable. And I’m getting it! Maybe I’ll finally get a big girl job.”

That doesn’t happen, though. And what you are getting instead is the reality version, the one where, for starters, I fall for the oldest trick in the middle-aged book: I hear my daughter tell me what all the young people at her job are doing and I get riled. “Well, if that’s what they’re doing, maybe that’s what I should be doing. Get with the program and think like a young person. Yeah. Yeah! Bring it on!” I slip on their lingo, the lingo of mass culture and parodies of mass culture, and the pep squad quadrant of my brain, up on its feet and shaking its pom-poms, adds, “Game on!” An expression I’ve never once used. This is what usually happens before I do something impulsive.

So I sign up. For Harvard’s Computer Science 50 (CS50), which, like lots of other classes at Harvard (and other universities), you can audit for free in an online version (via I don’t research how hard it will be or I’ll never do it. It’s not like I’m setting myself up for failure, I’m just giving myself a chance to succeed. I’ve done this before.

No, I don’t yet know that the class has preeeettty high difficulty and workload levels, that a lot of those touted no-prior-experience-with-programming stats just cannot be true (they say 78 percent). That, realistically, probably not a lot of women of a certain age — from art and writing and retail backgrounds — are signing up in droves. They’ve even asked me if this is out of my comfort zone, and I’ve replied, “Not really” or whatever the equivalent is, because learning is within my comfort zone, and I don’t yet know how far out of it learning programming might or might not be.

The online resources for this class are impressive. Wow! But I don’t really have time to explore them because I’m supposed to be done with the whole thing in nine weeks — by Dec. 19 — so I’d better get going. It’s not like I have lots of free time, you know. I don’t even have time to use the Facebook and Twitter sites and the study groups because there’s a real urgency here to dive in, even without my knowing, yet, that this class, which has been around since 1989, has snowballed itself into something legendary. It’s the biggest class at Harvard College (nearly 900 in 2014). A class with producers, managers, dozens of TAs, audiovisual staff, sponsors, a reputation for humor and quirk and a virtual cult of personality around its current professor, David J. Malan (Harvard ’99). (The course was first taught in 1989, and Malan took it himself in 1996. Whereupon a self-proclaimed uptight government major jumped the tracks and changed the course of his own life.)

Yeah, he’s good. Almost too good. I learn so much in the first lecture, I wonder what rock I’ve been living under my whole life. Oh, that’s what binary means! (And: hey, aren’t the men who understood this concept of programming from the get-go running the world now? How did that happen?)

There’s a lecture hall full of bright young diversified Harvard faces, and hands shoot up with every call for volunteers. They get novelty prizes for participating. There are bells, whistles and light bulbs, and at the end, students are invited to have lunch once a week with other CS50 students and staff and relish the rich learning environment. It’s not just a class, it’s a happening. A scene. So utterly other-planet from my late- ’70s college experience — where upper-level courses might have five or 10 students — it’s mind-blowing. In 1980, Apple had just created its first PC, and IBM was just about to. No normal people knew about this stuff back then.

But times have changed, and I’m on board with it. Yeah. Game on.

At the end of Week 0 and the first set of lectures, which I watch from the comfort of my own couch, covetous only of the CS50 tee shirt Dr. Malan is wearing, I click my way to Problem Set 1 and watch the adjunct videos of “walkthroughs” to help me. I download a program called Scratch, developed by MIT to help kids (and adults) learn the basics of programming, and do my first assignment, an assignment that takes me how many hours? And what does my elementary “game” (there’s no winning or losing or anything in between, just random clicking), Space Fortune, have to do with anything relevant?

Stay tuned for part two to find out.


Acts of rebellion

Telluride Daily Planet, Sunday, October 4, 2015

I am standing on floor 26 of 666 Fifth Avenue circa 1982 in a corner office that belongs to my boss, a middle-aged woman who has pulled herself up from the secretarial pool to VP status in one of the largest publishing houses in Manhattan. She is out to lunch and I, one of her minions, am on the phone, looking down at the tiny people milling below, as I speak with my mother who has promised to send me some cash, maybe $50, which was a lot of money for me back then.

She does this on the sly, without my father knowing, because, though I’ve done the impossible, which is to move to New York City to find work in publishing, I’m always broke. I make about $9,500 a year (publishing is an industry notorious for abysmal wages) and pay nearly $500 a month for my precious apartment in Yorkville, on the Upper East Side, that has a bath in the kitchen and a toilet down the hall. I penny pinch with groceries, attend free events and make my own dresses.

My father has been against the move to New York from the get-go. He doesn’t believe I will do it until he himself is standing on a platform at the Seattle train station, seeing me off on a six-day trans-Canada trip, suitcase in hand, on a journey that will land me at Grand Central Station.

When I quit the job in publishing after two years, my boss sees fit to tell me why I don’t have the stuff to rise through the ranks as she did. I rebel against publishing and find a job in a sweet little advertising firm and set my sights on copywriting, which turns out to be too much a man’s world even in the ‘80s; but, still, I last two more years before dropping out and heading West.

At this point, my father, who has never wanted me in New York in the first place, is against my moving away. He does not at all like the sound of the words “alternative lifestyle,” or the idea of scrabbling for jobs that have no merit in a town he has never heard of, pretty postcards aside. When I land in Telluride and have a series of ultra-innocuous adventures, probably none of which should have been revealed, the conservative, protective, ex-colonel with doctor-lawyer expectations for his youngest daughter cannot cope. He excommunicates me from the family.

My name is not spoken in the house. I lose contact with my older siblings. All conversations with my mother are done secretly, infrequently and with plenty of unspoken anguish on the line. I’m not a drug addict or a criminal, I’m something worse: a person with wasted potential who has fallen by the wayside. Someone who cannot be rehabilitated.

A couple of years later, my mother calls to tell me dad is dying and that I, along with the other children, need to come home. It’s uncomfortable, but the brave part of me kicks in, acting as if nothing has really happened, however much this emaciated version of my father cannot really look me in the eye. I’m unable to say how painful it has been, and certainly unable to receive or give the love we both need. And though I, along with the other children, am handed a gift from his sickbed — a charm bracelet of my grandmother’s — I can only stare at it, thank-you smile pasted on my face, thinking it is the most painful present I have ever received.

Before he dies, I write him a letter telling him I’ll probably marry the man I have found and live with — the one he hasn’t and won’t ask about. I write that I think he would probably like him and tell him why. My daughter, his eighth grandchild, born eight years after his death, is the only one of them he will never have a relationship with — but she is the spitting image of him as an infant.

Two years after she is born, I finally have a dream about my father in which there is a certain peace, wholeness, forgiveness and healing. Some years later, a psychic friend tells me that my father’s message for me is this: “I had it all wrong.”

“Does that make sense?” she asks me. Well, of course it does. Because of course he did.

Over the years I have had to ask myself to what extent my rebellion against my father was necessary for me to forge ahead in a way that made sense to me. Was all that pain and suffering really necessary?

What I came up with — and what I’ve come up with since, in other devastating situations in my life — is this: all the healing from suffering has been and is necessary. Every last speck of it.