All blog posts must be in this category.

A friend of mine who’s a rabbi teaches that if you say amen to a blessing, you have said the whole blessing. I loved learning that, because when I worship with Jewish friends and can’t recite the Hebrew, nevertheless I can affirm amen and I get divine credit for having said the whole prayer.

And I like knowing that because even if I have only a second to pay attention to a special moment in my day, I can say amen to that tiny noticing and it’s as if I have comprehended the whole of it.

When Jesus pronounced “amen” in his native Aramaic language, he would have said ah-MEEN, and that’s the way it’s pronounced in Arabic today. I like to pronounce the word AH-men (rather than AY-men) because ah is a sound of contentedness – we can use more of that to lubricate the complicated gears of our world.

Basically amen means “this is true,” “may this continue to be true,” “may it be so.” Or it may be used to say to God, okay, that’s the end of what I have to say, now it’s Your turn.

Amen is pronounced at the end of a Christian hymn or after many biblical psalms, to seal the psalm’s praise or complaint or lament. Amen can be said in joy (“this is wonderful!”) or grief (“I hate this, but nevertheless I trust that all shall – eventually – be well”). It can be repeated as a work song or a long farewell (think Sidney Poitier in Lilies of the Field.) Amen can be danced with glee, or moaned as a two-syllable bittersweet confession that I am very, very confused, I don’t have any other words to use, and I need some guidance here.

When I was a kid fidgeting in church, amen mostly meant the end to one more monotonous part of Sunday morning, and another step closer to my deliverance out into the snow that fell last night. At the dinner table it meant that we could now pass the mashed potatoes and dig in.

As an adult I really like the idea of saying amen to a blessing, even one I don’t understand. I want to be aware of all the moments in my day to which I can say “yes”; and more than that, I can say dozens of amens, acknowledging how many blessings there are, of all different sizes and shapes and sorts. My rabbi friend recommends saying amen to others’ blessings as well, to augment their moments of pleasure and good fortune.

It’s spring here on Whidbey Island, with daffodils and alder catkins and plum blossoms in profusion, birds copulating and building nests, hints that rain may be lessening. It’s a very good time to be aware of yes-moments, the times when we can say amen, when we can affirm and amplify the blessings in our lives. Amen.

Last week Meeting in the Margins and I were welcomed to Ravenna Third Place Books in Seattle for a reading/discussion hour.

As I usually do, I began my presentation with stories of offering compassionate touch to the street people of San Francisco. Those are arguably the more compelling stories in the book; they catch the attention and imagination of the audience.

Those stories may also be the “safest” ones for listeners to hear, because homelessness and slums are more remote from the personal experience of many bookstore shoppers than some other margins such as hospitals and nursing homes, or people who are physically or addictively ill or dying.

Folks who hear the street-stories are convinced that they would/could never interact with the people on “skid row.” That may be so. But what about the other margins, the more familiar, less dramatic ones? What about our neighbors who reside in those margins?

A friend who attended last week’s reading suggested that “the margins are wherever the familiar is strange.” That’s an idea worth unpacking.

We are uncomfortable imagining being in the margins. It’s a matter of our inexperience combined with situations that are as yet unexperienced. We can’t know what we haven’t yet learned. We can’t be proficient in what we’ve never done before – we are inexperienced; we can’t understand what we’ve not ever encountered – it is unexperienced.

But could we be willing simply to pay attention in those unpredictable times where the familiar turns out to be strange (a person sitting . . . not on a porch but on a curb; a child hurrying . . . not on a tricycle but in a wheelchair; an elegantly-dressed woman . . . not at a luncheon but wandering in traffic)?

Or can we allow for the opposite: a place or time where the “strange” turns out to be unremarkable and familiar (the corner panhandler has in his pocket a paperback book by your current favorite author, and the two of you have a brief conversation of appreciation not unlike the one you had yesterday with your friend in the coffee shop)?

Or could we welcome a moment when the taken-for-granted becomes mystical (a man dozing and drooling in his wheelchair in a nursing home corridor suddenly reaches for your hand, looks into your eyes, and begins praying for you in words that seem to embrace your soul)? Could we stay in the wonder of that moment and not flee?

If there is any “secret” to encountering the invisible people of the margins, it is saying “yes” to just a few of these opportunities, accumulating enough small experiences (I promise you that this is possible) that we actually want to go to the places where these little miracles can happen.

“Meeting in the margins” turns out to be a simple equation: one human Being unconditionally being with one other human Being for just a moment in time.

Meeting in the margins is the skill of being fascinated by the familiar and the strange, both at the same time.

Dad was a painfully private man, especially in his later years, after Mother was in the nursing home across the street and he lived in their apartment alone. I was visiting him one day when there was a knock on his door. He unlocked (but did not unchain) the door, peeked through the narrow opening, said, “No. I don’t want any. No,” and closed the door again.

“Who was it, Dad?”

“Oh, that old woman down the hall. She’s such a busybody.” He snorted, “I can’t stand her.”

“What did she want?”

“She had some pie, but I don’t want anything from her.” Then he proceeded to harangue against busybodies, gossips, scandalmongers, and (because he had been a journalist) even muckrakers (though he’d conveniently forgotten the proud history of that label).

I’d known Betty, “that old woman down the hall,” since I was three, when my family moved into a small Indiana village nestled in the sand dunes on the southern shore of Lake Michigan. For all my life I’d heard Dad’s assessment of her as “nosy”; I’d seen his discrete but dismissive grimace whenever she was near.

But as I grew up I became aware of a different aspect of Betty, one that changed my perception of who she was, what “gossip” is, and what intimate news might mean to a community.

Betty was a village story-carrier, not of rumor but of news – there is an important difference here. Rumor is interpretation that doesn’t need much basis in fact; news (as even my father knew) is verifiable events. Betty maintained the village “grapevine” through which we heard the news of who was sick, who was on vacation in Canada for two weeks, who needed help, who was available to help. Dad hated that invasion into the privacy of the village, and into his privacy in particular.

On a daily basis village both news and rumors were shared through our community’s switchboard, where (I’ve forgotten her name, but I’ll call her . . .) “Sadie” reigned over the connections of hand-cranked phones, each to the other. In an emergency she knew where the village doctor was at that minute; she knew how to alert the volunteer firemen (though on weekdays it was usually women) when there was a threatening autumn grass fire sweeping up the dunes toward our homes. Sadie also listened in on many conversations, but that was accepted as part of the cost of her services and, interestingly, she seldom disclosed anything she heard.

But the part of Sadie’s work that affected me most, and that I found out about only years after the fact, was the freedom she enabled for us kids as she kept track of where we were playing during the day. Our mothers could turn us loose after breakfast and not worry about us until dinner time because of Sadie. If we had stopped at Mandy’s house for a toilet break and a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and milk, within five minutes after we’d left, Mandy’s mom would have alerted Sadie, and Sadie would be letting all the mothers know that our gang of kids were safe and on our way to explore the pollywogs in the pond between the sand dunes. Was that gossip? Rumor? Small but important news?

I believe that Sadie and Betty and Mandy’s mom and other village “yentas” were the lifeblood of our village. Yes, there were some who engaged in what I now call “recreational sniping,” spreading negative rumors and taking smug pleasure in a temporary one-up position when they knew something and were the first to pass along that something to the next person. But (despite Dad’s opinion) these were few. Most of the story-carriers were benign and caring, and performed a valuable service for us all.

The word “gossip” derives from an Old English word, “godsibb,” meaning godparent. Betty took her gossip seriously. She kept in touch with the teens of our village as we became college students, found jobs and spouses, became parents, had teens and successes and tragedies of our own. Through her passing along of this information, I’m quite certain that she, who was also the village’s church organist, saw that we were surrounded in a cloud of protective prayer and concern far more often than we ever knew. And if any of us wondered, twenty or thirty years later, “What ever happened to Jean and Bobby?” it was certain that Betty would know, and probably had received a postcard from them just last week.

I have come to see that Betty was the keeper of a web of connections that was strong when we lived in our small, close-knit village. Were it not for her after we left, those strands would quickly have become fragile and, in the time long before Facebook, would have broken within a few years. But through Betty, maintaining her post at the center of the web even decades later in her retirement apartment with the seldom-closed and never-locked door, we were always connected to each other, and to a sense of “home.”

In the midst of our contemporary world of Twitter, People Magazine, and the endless supply of scandal and misinformation in online gossip blogs, I have a serious personal and professional reason for considering whether gossip has value. As a medical advocate, as a participant in several prayer chains, and, often, as a bedside caregiver for ill and dying people, I have to be exquisitely cautious about confidentiality. I have constantly to assess the quality and the motivation behind any news that I may be tempted to pass along to the small island community in which I now live.

However, though I sometimes get annoyed by it (I do have some of my father’s genes), I think I’d not like a world devoid of benevolent community gossip. I hope not to die the way Dad did. Ironically, in the end it was Betty, who had known him and cared about him and his family for thirty-five years, it was Betty, “that old woman down the hall,” with her yenta instincts, who alerted their building maintenance man that something was amiss. The man broke through the defenses of Dad’s apartment and found him, behind his locked and chained door, lying between the couch and the coffee table. Dead. Alone.

 

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Photo by Meneer Zjeroen

The significance of feathers as a personal symbol dawned on me in my early thirties. My thirteen-year-old son, Tommy, had died, a victim of being in the wrong place at the wrong time in a heavily armed city. My younger two children were confused and scared; my husband was inconsolable; by default I became the glue that held us together. And sometimes I had to get out of the house to walk off the tension required of good adhesive.

From time to time on these walks I’d notice and pick up a feather – usually crow or pigeon or sometimes robin or sparrow – absent-mindedly stroking the soft barbs as I carried the feather home.

One day I was surprised to correlate these finds with the times I felt especially bereft or angry or perplexed about what the hell was the purpose of life in general and of my life in particular. Gradually I realized that in these lowest moments, almost without fail I’d find a feather on my path. And always I’d collect it as mine.

I began to call these my “prayer feathers.”

You see, I believe that prayer at its best is not asking (or begging or bargaining) for a divine favor or intervention. Rather, prayer is a deep silence, a holy listening, sacred attention-paying. And, I believe, this is a two-way effort; God, too, listens and pays attention and is silent. Nothing more is needed, but that the Holy One and I take the time to notice each other and to be fully present to each other. And after my dark moments of feeling anguished before God, whenever I’d find a feather I took that as a sign of reciprocation, of Divinity having seen me, having felt with me and heard me – just as I am – and having blessed and affirmed me by seeing that a prayer feather was dropped in my path.

When I began working with marginalized people in hospitals and nursing homes and hospices and the streets, I needed these mutual prayer times with God more than ever. And even in such unlikely places as the bedroom of a dying woman (where a feather had worked its way out of her pillow) or the hiding place of a homeless man (where a pigeon had pulled a feather loose beside a freeway pillar), there was the symbol of God’s prayer with me.

Throughout my home there are feathers – everything from tiny hummingbird feathers taped in my journal to the polka-dotted feathers of guinea hens, to a feather from Augustus, the goose who saved my life (a story for a future blog, perhaps), to a vase of outrageous peacock feathers from a friend’s pompous flock. All these feathers are beautiful and complex and fascinating. And now you know that they are also sacred, because they were dropped ahead of me somewhere on my path.

I’m searching now for a graphic artist who can design for me a personal logo that includes a simple feather and some sense of what it means to me. If I’m successful in finding one, I’ll post the new logo in a future blog.

In the meantime . . . when you most need reassurance . . . may you find a feather on your path.

                    One feather,

                           beside a pillow,

                           on a path,

                           in a city gutter:

                                      consolation,

                                      billet-doux,

                                      prayer from God.

READING AT THE BOOK LAUNCH - Photo by Johnny Palka

READING AT THE BOOK LAUNCH – Photo by Johnny Palka

Throughout the evening there was a Knowing that THIS was a high point in my life. “Take it in,” the Knowing said. “Revel in it. Give this reading your very best attention and care. Oh, and don’t forget to ENJOY as well.”

The event was the Book Launch Party celebrating the previous week’s publication of my book, Meeting in the Margins. Folding chairs had been brought in and all the furniture had been rearranged in the dining room and the living room of Enso House, the end-of-life residence where I have volunteered as a caregiver over the years. The lights in all the rooms glowed; the friend-baked cookies were mounded on plates in the Garden Room, next to the tea and coffee and handmade cups; nearly 60 friends and neighbors were gathering, and some guests I hadn’t met yet; MoonRaker Bookstore was set up with piles of the newly-minted book for sale. Special-bought pens were waiting for me to inscribe books.

And then it was time to begin. I went to that place inside myself from which the best of my writing comes, that place where the essence of the people of the Margins meets the essence of me and tutors me. And from that place I read and spoke and for a few minutes I gave voice to our society’s invisible people, and they received the love and the affirmation of the assembled listeners. And it was very, very good.

It was, as the inner voice assured me – that Knowing voice of the wise people of the Margins – a singularly high point in my life.

 

[Meeting in the Margins: An Invitation to Encounter Society’s Invisible People is available at your local bookstore, and from Amazon.com]

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

meetinginthemargins-cover       Sharing thoughts – from the profound to the profane – this, as I understand it, is the purpose of a blog. Blogs are shared with friends and interested others. Writing and posting a blog takes less time than inviting and scheduling twenty individuals for a cuppa at a local coffee shop, and less effort than writing twenty different emails or paper letters (yes, I do still send those sometimes, as do two of my grandchildren, bless ‘em). Blogs may be the lazy person’s best way of reaching out and touching lots of someones.

This week the contents of my brain, from which my blogs emerge, are almost all centered around my book launch party coming up in just three weeks. On October 13, Meeting in the Margins: An Invitation to Encounter Society’s Invisible People will be presented in public! I will then be not just a writer, but an AUTHOR!

And in my brain the wonderings are whirling: will the books be shipped in time for the launch (the publisher has assured me they will). Did I remember to ask enough friends to bake cookies for the party refreshments? What kind of pens should I use to sign the books? Can I make myself heard without a sound system? What should I wear – does an author dress differently than a writer?

Even more important, how shall I organize my presentation? I can’t just read from the book the whole time, so how do I pace the readings and balance them with speaking off-the-cuff, and balance both of those with time for Q&A? I feel a little like the Flight Director counting down for a launch at NASA. (Sorry, I mean no offense to real Flight Directors!)

The only thing I know for sure is that all my questions will have been answered by the BIG DAY and the BIG EVENT.

For those of you in the Seattle, Whidbey Island area, the time and place are:

OCTOBER 13, AT 6:30PM, AT ENSO HOUSE, 6339 WAHL ROAD, FREELAND. If you need driving directions, you’ll find them at www.EnsoHouse.org.

I’ll also be offering book readings at the wonderful Freeland Library, on November 9 at 1:00PM and November 10 at 6:30PM.

And for those of you who live farther afield, I’d love to do a book reading in your area, especially if you have an independent bookstore near you that would like an opportunity to sell the books at the reading – I’m happy to share the joy (and the selling-price) of getting this book out into the world. Let me know if you think of a place that would like to have me present my book – I’ll be putting together a mini-tour after the first of the year, and will base my itinerary around suggestions from friends about their favorite bookstores or workshop spaces. I’d also be delighted to give presentations at churches, discussion groups, book clubs, schools.

There. That’s what’s whirling around in my brain this week, so that’s the content of this month’s blog. And there is yet one other wondering: now that I’ve become an author (and, God help me, a book marketer), how long will it be before I can return to being just a writer again? Just a poet? That’s the occupation I love the most. And I guess that will have to wait for a while, until the dust of the book launch settles, like rocket exhaust eventually does.

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furniture photo

In my fifty-some years of adulthood only once before have I had to furnish a nearly-empty home, and that was when I was 19 and the apartment was so small you could roll a desk chair across it without the chair losing momentum.

As a child, of course, the furniture in the room I shared with my sister was chosen by our mother. The whole house was furnished with heirlooms and refinished antiques and pieces that Mother hand-painted in the Pennsylvania Dutch style.

My college dorm room was furnished, though at that time I was so slovenly that it was difficult to find the furniture under all my stuff. When my boyfriend, Joe, and I decided to elope, our possessions consisted of our clothes, two milk crates, a coffee pot, my portable record player, Joe’s car, and my collection of Storybook dolls. We furnished our first apartment (the very small one) with castoffs, some literally found out on the street on garbage collection day.

Through the years, as children came and Joe was hired for better-paying jobs, we moved through a series of very similar three-bedroom “rambler” homes. Whatever furniture we had collected in one home fit in pretty much the same place in the next home. The criterion for selecting this furniture was not comfort, nor style, but cost.

A few years after Joe died I sold my Michigan house and its furnishings and moved to the West Coast. In Berkeley and Oakland I rented furnished apartments while I earned my masters degree and worked among the street people of San Francisco. When I moved to Whidbey Island in 2001 I bought a furnished house.

In 2009 I sold that small house, furnished. I had bought a large, totally EMPTY house; but not to worry: this would be a house-share with a friend who believed, as I do, that it’s silly for just one person to live alone in a house, using all the appliances and space and utilities that could better be used by two or more. The new house would be filled mostly with her furniture, while I would contribute a hutch, a couch, and two chairs, plus my great-grandmother’s four-poster bed for my bedroom. Now, in 2015, my friend and her furniture have moved on to a smaller place of her own.

I couldn’t bring myself (to say nothing of my credit card) to buy new matching furniture for my large, now-nearly-empty home. No matter how beautiful, such furniture would feel lifeless because there would be no story, no history imbued in it. Besides, my sense of style is more . . . “mixed,” shall we say, or maybe “mongrel.”

So now I’m buying used furniture, other people’s furniture, one piece at a time, from thrift stores, or friends, or one of the websites of things for sale. This evolving furniture “motif” has no single name, like Jacobean, or Colonial, or Victorian. Instead it comprises a question: “what pieces of furniture make me happy?” That’s what holds the “style” together: whatever I buy “matches” whatever else I’ve bought, simply because it pleases me. And it feels as if it has a history.

And so it is that lately I find myself listening, at quiet times during the night, to see if I can overhear one piece of furniture telling another what its story is, as they marvel together at the unexpectedness of meeting in a house that welcomes them all.

I look forward to listening to my next housemate’s stories in the same way, against the background hum of stories murmured by well-loved furniture.

 

 

The first one is filled with file folders, some notebooks, several old kitchen calendars, and a smaller box, labeled in my father’s hand: “Sentimental Journey.” None of this stuff is mine. Or at least it wasn’t mine originally. But I’ve carried it around with me, through 26 years and 5 moves, so it’s mine now. Along with the dozen other boxes of similar stuff.

My question is, Are the contents of this box (these boxes) a legacy or a burden? Are they my history and my heritage, or junk and emotional snares? If I comb through every piece in every box, will I be grateful when they offer me insight into my family’s story? Will the insight have been worth the effort? Or is all of it just an obligatory weight I’ve been hauling around, like an albatross?

Inside the “Sentimental Journey” box are a stack of black and white photos and a reel that holds a hundred 35mm slides. Each slide is numbered according to which slot it belongs to on the reel, but there is no identification on any of the slides. Nor is there any on the prints. Oh, Daddy, who are these people in the photos? Where are these woodlands and farms on the slides, these rivers and train tracks, these houses? Whose are these weather-worn headstones in the country graveyards? Should your sentimental journey matter to me?

And Mother, all these wall calendars are inscribed with your social engagements and medical appointments, along with reminders of birthdays and anniversaries. You kept them for decades past their particular years. Is it important to you now that I keep these details of your history? Are they my history too? If I throw them away, along with the class notes from your masters degree, and the children’s papers from the years of fourth-grade classes you taught – is that an insult to the meaning of your life?

The contents of these boxes are fragments of the good stories of the lives of good people. But how many photos of how many life stages of how many people is “enough”? Am I willing to spend the months and years of my own life that would be necessary to sort meticulously through the papers, piece them together, condense them into a narrative more manageable than the dozens of boxes of stuff? Or do I dare to throw it all away? Or shall I, once again, reseal the boxes, shove them back under my bed, and put off the decision for another year or two?

And what might I want from my own children and grandchildren? Will I care if they keep all my files of stuff, the details of the stories of my life? No, I think not.

I would hope that the next generations would know my name, keep one flattering photo, know that I was once here, and that I was somebody worth knowing. Even better, I’d love for them to ask me now, while I’m still here, for a few of the stories that have shaped me. Let me see my history, my legacy, reflected in their faces, illuminated by their interest.

Then after I die, I hope someone will pass along a copy of my published book to a generation or two. Maybe a few excerpts from some of my journals that I’ve illustrated with photos. Maybe a couple of my published poems. If that is done, then I’m pretty sure I’ll be fine with having the rest of my drawers of files (yes, it is junk) disposed of. I’ll be content for those details of my history to just fade away.

Here’s hoping my parents would, on reflection, feel the same way. Because the verdict is in on my original questions: These boxes may not be filled with junk, but they are definitely a burden. So this week I shall bless each box in its turn, then sort the contents quickly and simply with only the recycle center in mind.

Maybe next month I’ll start on the boxes of my own saved stuff.

 

We seem to have a built-in resistance to change. Perhaps it’s a survival instinct of our ego. Some deep part of us fears that every change is a small death – what was, is no more. It’s a little rehearsal for the leave-taking from a life we didn’t ask for in the first place (or did we?) but now that we’re in it we cherish it. We only want things to run along smoothly, filled with the familiar, the comfortable, the usual.

When changes gang up on us like a school of piranha, we wonder who we’ll be when the change-fest/feast is over. Will anyone recognizable as “me” remain? What can we hold onto that is unchanging, even as those damnable fish are nibbling away at what we thought was certain?

I have just returned from a two-week trip to the south of England, to be with my daughter in Devon as she swirls in the huge school of changes called breast-cancer-and-mastectomy. The plan was for me to bring emotional support, help her with the complexity of her prescriptions and supplements, and do some administrative work that arose with her new circumstances, while a rota of friends would bring food and help with household tasks and the garden. This would leave Katheryn free to rest and heal, to tend to her physical therapy, and to ponder the difficult decisions about which medical treatments to choose following her post-surgery test results. It was a lovely concept, featuring all of us making the best out of unwelcome circumstances.

But change just wouldn’t leave us alone. The surgical site didn’t heal as planned. New medical concerns cropped up after lab tests. Frequently medical personnel rescheduled appointments at the last minute, leaving Katheryn scrambling to cancel plans, arrange for new rides to hospitals and clinics, undo help that had already been put in place. Computers rebelled with seemingly intentional malice. Wet laundry blew off the line in an unexpected gust. Side effects of pain medications blossomed. The cat food supply ran out. Email addresses and phone numbers were not accurate. The healing rest didn’t happen, the physical therapy got short shrift, the ominous deadlines for decisions loomed with no clearer wisdom than was had the day before.

I wondered to myself, How is it possible for anyone to cope with such changes? Especially on top of the earth-shaking changes to one’s sense of self that a dreaded illness brings? What do people do who are older, frailer, more alone, more confused, less capable than my daughter?

And then, just when I was getting into the rhythms of knowing how best to help Katheryn, and where the brown rice and toasted sesame oil are stored, and what is the best technique for rousting Orion (my 17-year-old grandson) in the morning, and how the damned smartphone works . . . another wrenching change: time to return home.

So who am I now, as the mother of a woman with cancer? Who am I, 5000 miles away from her? What will her life look like a year from now? What will mine? How do she, and I, and Orion, and all of us find the essential place in ourselves and in each other that is unfazed by change? Is there such a place?

I’m too jet-lagged to have any answers right now.

Just questions.

And a dim but certain knowing that the answers are close at hand.

 

“Please, Mom, come sooner rather than later.”

 

It’s an email from my daughter Katheryn in England, a continent and an ocean away – Katheryn, who, three weeks ago, was given a diagnosis of breast cancer, stage two. She was told that she needed mastectomy surgery to save her life. It would likely be scheduled in the next month. “Please come sooner rather than later.”

 

I had begun searching through flight options when my housemate asked, “Is your passport current?”

 

Oops. It had expired in February of this year.

 

Go online, find the form, fill out the form, check the box for “expedite” (which guarantees three-week delivery instead of five or six) and add another $60 “expedite fee” to the total on my check. Find a place on Whidbey Island that does instant passport photos. Put everything, along with my expired passport, into an envelope with priority postage guaranteeing delivery at the Philadelphia Expedited Passport office on Monday morning. Hand it all to the postal clerk before closing time on Friday afternoon. Whew!

 

Then on Saturday morning I got a call. New tests had caused Katheryn’s docs to speed up the timetable. Surgery was now scheduled for the coming Friday.

 

Now what? I wouldn’t have a passport for another three weeks. A friend suggested I call my Congressman to see if he could help. Yeah, sure, I thought. Equating “Congress” with “help” is not likely these days. Nevertheless, I called the local office of Congressman Rick Larsen early Monday morning. I spoke with a staff person, Jamie, who listened patiently to my story, including the part about how my expired passport and all my info was now somewhere in the bowels of a bureaucratic office in Pennsylvania. She agreed to make some calls on my behalf, and would call me back. I remained skeptical.

 

The short version of the rest of my passport story is this: Jamie reached a congressional liaison in the passport offices; he okayed the emergency nature of my passport request and alerted the reception clerk in the Seattle Passport Office that I would be coming in on Wednesday morning. When I arrived the clerk (and his computer) located my paperwork in Philadelphia, including my check and my expired passport. The several clerks who worked with me did not fit my perception of “bureaucrat” at all – they were alert, kind, efficient, and respectful. I watched as they patiently moved many dozens of citizens through a streamlined system of service that did not feel at all like the stockyard feedlot I had expected. In less than an hour I was called back to Window Number Three, and was asked to return to the passport office at 2:00 that afternoon. By 2:30 I had a brand new, very expedited, valid passport in my hand.

 

When I went back to the reception clerk to thank him for all he and the others had done for me, I told him I would never (well, not for a long while, anyway) disparage “government bureaucracy” again!

 

Now: get those airline tickets, and get to England to be with my daughter.