I have permission to post this true story. Names have been withheld.
Electric shaver buzz hums along my scalp. Hairs trickle and prickle down.
When I am shorn short, writing a check, I ask the stylist, “What’s the story of your tattoo?”
She has a Native American woman’s portrait in full fur and feather headdress from shoulder to elbow.
“Oh, I’ll tell you the story,” she says, sitting in one of the styling chairs. “When I was twenty, I decided that I wanted to be a permanent make-up artist.”
“Like tattooing eyeliner and eyebrows?” I ask. “A friend of mine did eyeliner.”
“Yeah, but you can do a lot more than that. Lip liner and shading, and blemish erasing. It’s awesome. So, I went to a training school. And as part of the training, we had to practice on each other. I chose a Tree of Life for my back. Each of the students got so many minutes to work on my back.”
I’m already thinking, this is not going to turn out well.
“Of course, I couldn’t see what they were doing. They put all these stupid things hiding in the tree branches, like an emoji happy face, cartoon characters, and some joker tattooed a penis on my shoulder.”
At this point, I’m wondering why she didn’t look at her back while they were doing the tattoos. I don’t ask, though.
“This happened ten years ago. I didn’t let anyone see my back for ages. I never wore a bathing suit or a sundress. I was so embarrassed and angry.
“I took them to court, and I won. They paid the fine, but they never showed any remorse. They still thought it was a big joke.
“Finally, I showed the tattoo to my boyfriend’s friend who was a tattoo artist. He didn’t laugh. My boyfriend paid him to fix the Tree of Life. And this one, the woman on my shoulder and arm? That’s my grandmother. I’m part Romanian and part Native American. See—she covers up the pee-pee that was right here.”
Stuffy nose! Sinus pain! Headaches! Unable to breathe at four a.m.! Since September, I’d been having nose trouble. Was it allergies? A sinus infection? If I went to an ENT doctor, would she tell me to get rid of my cat?
Finally, in December, I’d had enough so I went to a new ENT in Middletown. She peered into my facial orifices and pronounced there was no sinus infection. But I should, she said, see the allergist. I went the next day and met Dr. P., a young Korean doctor. While typing rapidly on the computer, he took down my medical history. I was impressed with his speedy keyboarding.
I mentioned that I’d been retired from teaching for eleven years.
“Oh, what did you teach?”
“Second grade for sixteen years, and then ENL—English as a New Language—for eight years,” I answered. “I loved it,” I added. “I loved working with those students and their families.”
Dr. P. stopped typing. “I was in ESL when my family came to the U.S.,” he said. “I still remember my teacher’s name and her face.”
He went on to tell me that he’d come from Korea to a high school in Baltimore in ninth grade. The teacher was so caring and helpful, he said, and she provided a comfortable space for him and her other students.
“She didn’t just teach English,” said the doctor. “She taught us about American culture and customs—stuff we needed to know.”
I nodded in agreement. “It’s a special person who chooses to teach ENL,” I said. “I ended up hearing things about my students that a regular classroom teacher with twenty-five or more in a class would never learn. ENL teachers become advocates for the kids and their families.”
In my mind, I saw my students: the kindergartener from China who only knew one word in English, toilet. The fifth-grade girl from Mexico who wanted to be a doctor. The first-grade girl who refused to speak for an entire year. So many that I loved and nurtured and watched adjust to the new language, new school, new everything.
Dr. P. was now putting on his blue non-latex gloves to examine my sinuses. “You ESL teachers do really important work,” he said. “I will never forget my teacher and her kindness.”
I sat in the exam chair feeling warmed, like a golden shower of light had just poured down on me. This was grace, a sudden rush of appreciation from someone I’d just met, for a job I did a decade ago. Dr. P. offered his gratitude to me and all those dedicated teachers who reach out to immigrant students. And on my part, I was filled with gratitude for the recognition.
The Karakesh Chronicles: fantasy adventure for middle grade readers.
Lots of Candles, Plenty of Cake by Anna Quindlen–Random House, 2013.
Here is a wise and humorous commentary on life, women, and aging. It’s a memoir plus reflections on women’s lives at home and in the workplace. Quindlen comments on the many aspects of our lives, from aging bodies to mothering to friendship.
On friendship, she writes:
We trust our friends to tell us what we need to know, and to shield us from what we don’t need to discover, and to have the wisdom to know the difference. Real friends offer both hard truths and soft landings and realize that it’s sometimes more important to be nice than to be honest.
I particularly appreciated Quindlen’s musings on solitude, as I’m an introvert who, like Quindlen’s son, would probably choose to hide in my bedroom at my own party.
Quindlen writes about solitude: I feel as though being alone is hanging out with someone I like.
I totally agree.
On my wall, I have a quote from Lori Gottlieb’s book, Maybe You Should See Someone. It says:
Being silent is like emptying the trash. Introverts need solitude and silence.
On women in the workplace, Quindlen writes: It’s amazing how few women are required on a corporate board to satisfy the suits that they’ve done the woman thing.
If you’re a woman of a certain age, especially one who juggled work and parenting, you’ll likely enjoy this book.
A couple of months ago I joined an online study group that meets weekly to read and discuss the Course in Miracles. First published in 1976, the book’s content originated with two professors of medical psychology, Helen Schucman and William Thetford, at Columbia University. I have the third edition which includes the preface, text, workbook for students, manual for teachers, clarification of terms, and supplements.
To explain how the book came to be, it’s best to cite Schucman’s own words from the preface:
Three startling months preceded the actual writing, during which time Bill (Thetford) suggested that I write down the highly symbolic dreams and descriptions of the strange images that were coming to me. Although I had grown more accustomed to the unexpected by that time, I was still very surprised when I wrote, “This is a course in miracles.” That was my introduction to the Voice. It made no sound, but seemed to be giving me a kind of rapid, inner dictation which I took down in a shorthand notebook. The writing was never automatic. It could be interrupted at any time and later picked up again. It made me very uncomfortable, but it never seriously occurred to me to stop. It seemed to be a special assignment I had somehow, somewhere agreed to complete.…The whole process took about seven years. (p. vii-viii)
The material in the Course in Miracles is dense and profound. I must reread sentences multiple times, and even then, the connections and meanings may elude me. It has felt like a return to my college philosophy class, but much more demanding of focus.
That we are spiritual beings having a physical experience in a world that is only an illusion is a premise hard for me to maintain in daily life. Most of the other members of the study group are more experienced students of the Course.
Some passages are so glorious that I return to them again and again:
2. Father, I ask for nothing but the truth. I have had many foolish thoughts about myself and my creation, and have brought a dream of fear into my mind. Today, I would not dream. I choose the way to You instead of madness and instead of fear. For truth is safe, and only love is sure.
2. This day my mind is quiet, to receive the Thoughts You offer me. And I accept what comes from You, instead of from myself. I do not know the way to You. But You are wholly certain. Father, guide Your Son along the quiet path that leads to You. Let my forgiveness be complete, and let the memory of You return to me.
To hear Marianne Williamson explaining aspects of the Course in Miracles, go to this link: