Being Mugged at Gunpoint, not an Everyday Experience…

Philadelphia Magic Garden outside wall

In May of 2019, I visited my youngest son and one of my best friends in what has become one of my favorite cities, Philadelphia.

Friday night we had a grand reunion gathering with many friends I had grown to love during my time in Pennsylvania. Good food, lots of laughter, and reminiscing. They all enjoyed meeting my son.

On Saturday the two of us drove to Bethlehem, PA to spend time with his girlfriend. We had a very enjoyable day. It was filled with a wonderful Greek food festival, followed by a horrible wine tasting event and ear screeching music – the stuff memories are made of – lol.

When we returned to Philly, we called my friend and arranged to meet behind his condo so I could buy him at least one glass of wine to thank him for his generosity over the weekend.

Unfortunately, things went south pretty quickly.

The three of us were walking nonchalantly down the cobblestone path that connects my friend’s condo residence with the wine bar we were walking toward. We were laughing and talking about the events of the day and looking forward to catching up further over a glass of wine.

Out of the blue, three men stepped out of the shadows and pulled a gun on us. We all froze in unexpected surprise and bewilderment.

The guy that was in charge demanded that we get down on our knees, we did. Before that, they frisked us all and pulled out my friend’s wallet as well as my son’s and ripped the backpack off of his shoulders.

In the end, they stole all of our phones, $200 in cash from my friend – also his car keys, driver’s license, and credit cards, as well as my son’s ID.

After kneeling against a stair stoop with a gun held to my head (Words I never imagined myself saying), we waited for them to leave and in a harried moment, I convinced a woman to let us use her phone to call the police.

She looked scared at first, but it didn’t take long for her to realize that we were for real. The police showed up in seconds. This was far from the first time they’ve had a similar incident. I’m just going to say that going to Police Headquarters to make a statement is far from a pleasant experience, in oh so many ways.

The material losses were small ones in the grand scheme of things. We all made it through the ordeal safely, and while more than a bit rattled, it could have been so much worse. It’s simply one of those things that you never expect will happen to you.

I’ve honestly had a really hard time letting go of the experience. I still find myself jumping at unexpected noises.

Perhaps this will change over time.

Words are how I process.

 

 

Color Blindness and Assimilation, Food for Thought…

I’m currently listening to the thought-provoking book How to Be an Antiracist by  Ibram X. Kendi.

As a white woman, ‘of a certain age,’ I grew up believing that being ‘color blind’ was the equivalent of being antiracist. This, to me, has been a belief that racial classification does not limit a person’s opportunities. The reality is, it does.

The underlying falsehood associated with being color blind is that it ignores the fact that to succeed in the U.S. and perhaps in the world at large, is that it’s necessary for people to assimilate themselves into a society dominated by white men.

I’ve just begun the book, but the clear message from the author has already prompted me to take pause and evaluate my points of view as it relates to racism, sexual discrimination and prejudice exhibited toward individuals who identify with the LBGTQ community. As open-minded and accepting as I believed myself to be, I’m quickly learning that there is more for me to grasp.

There’s no denying that the struggles and oppression faced by the black citizens of our nation have been egregious and have persisted for centuries, it also strikes me that the attitudes regarding the need to assimilate apply to many of us.

For centuries women have been considered to be inferior to men, and still, in 2020, they continue to bang their heads up against the glass ceiling. It seems as though the only way they can break through it is to adopt a harsh and cut-throat approach to the world in which they are trying to succeed. I regularly shake my head in dismay at many of these women who seem to have abandoned what makes them women in favor of achieving in a ‘man’s world.’ People of the LGBTQ community have also hidden their truths until the last couple of decades.

A key difference is that if your skin color is white, regardless of whether you’re a woman or identify with a sexual orientation other than straight, it’s easier to assimilate into the white male world. You can ‘hide’ your identity and your viewpoints on life if you feel the need to.

If you are a person of color, it’s impossible to mask who you are, God forbid you are both a person of color and a woman or sexually identify with a gender that doesn’t match the stereotyped expectations,

While I abhor what has happened recently with the brutal murder of George Flloyd, an event that has triggered a worldwide movement toward awareness and a cry for a compassionate, equitable, and consistent execution of the law – I am also grateful.

Recent events have caused me to remove myself from my comfort zone and examine my contributions to the problems and consider ways to be an active part of the solution, in my own way.

Building Community During COVID19

My move to Update NY has been a tough one for a variety of reasons, one of them being, it’s been challenging to build community and make friends. Something I’ve prided myself on finally learning how to do when moving someplace new.

I intentionally moved into a townhouse community over an apartment because I hoped that because we would all be living side by side with mini-yards and driveways, it would be easier to form connections than in an apartment building. Turns out I was wrong.

December was not the optimal month to move to one of the snowiest cities in the U.S. and expect to make friends. My new job and moving in kept me more than busy during the first several months after arriving here. Finally, summer came, and the pool opened. I thought, here is my chance to meet some people to invite for brunch.

Wow, what a rude awakening I experienced.

After several conversations with a couple (in my age range), I said to the wife, “I really like to build community when I move somewhere new, and brunch is always a fun meal to share. Would you and your husband like to join me some Sunday?”

She looked me straight in the eye and responded, “No, we have enough friends.”

End of conversation.

It’s a good thing I’m persistent because I’ve met some wonderful friends as an extension of meeting a gal while volunteering at a local state park. The friendship has grown, and I’m now part of a group that I refer to as the “Bunco girls.” We meet once a month and play bunco, which is a perfect game for me. The rules are easy to understand, and it’s mostly about catching up with each other, laughter, wine and snacks.

My network has continued to slowly expand within the city, but I still had not managed to make any connections where I live. I was on the verge of hosting brunch for my new next-door neighbors, and then COVID hit, needless to say, they haven’t been over for brunch.

Finally, the sun came out, the skies turned from grey to blue, and the temperatures invited people to spend time outside. A welcome change that also led to an unexpected event.

Saturday, I had the first neighborhood/community experience that I’ve had since moving to Syracuse.

I spotted a little turtle crawling out of the natural grass in the middle of the common area behind my townhouse.

Naturally, I quickly pulled out my phone to try and capture the moment.

Lazurus the turtle

Before I knew it, Gavin (10) and Kenna (5) were beside me watching the little guy’s movements.

They live two doors down from me.

I didn’t know for sure if the turtle was a male, so I asked Gavin how we could figure that out. He said, “Well, we’d have to pick it up and look underneath. But I’m pretty sure it’s a boy.” I nearly fell over laughing.

After we watched the little turtle crawl back into the grassy space that he emerged from, we went and shared the experience with their mom. We all agreed that the turtle needs a name.

I told them about the turtle that hangs out on my mom’s patio – he always looks like he is about dead, disappears, and then he comes back. She’s named him Lazarus, which is very fitting. They all got a kick out of it.

The kids are going to come up with a name for the turtle and let me know what it is. We will have some fun watching it throughout the summer.

Sunday was even more special.

It got off to a bit of a rough start, but in the end, it was a beautiful day. Not only was the weather picture-perfect, but we also had a fun family zoom call, and I finally had the opportunity to visit with my next-door neighbors – Ben and Jen.

The best part of the day, though, was creating some artwork on my driveway with sidewalk chalk.

After drawing in a few leaves, I realized that I had drawn an enormous tree and was starting to wonder how in the world I would ever finish it. Just then, my neighbor’s wife came out – followed by her youngest daughter.

We chatted a bit, and I asked Amira if she wanted to help me finish the tree. She shyly nodded yes, and then skipped over to my driveway.

I picked out three colors of green chalk and handed them to her, showed her how to draw a leaf, and then we went to work in companionable silence.

Tree Driveway Art Close Up

I was explaining the need to create some grass at the bottom of the tree to anchor the tree. I said, “We can’t leave the roots hanging out all alone, they need someplace to live.”

She nodded with understanding.

We finished the grass and were just getting ready to start the wildflowers when her older sister joined us. I said, “Pick out colors that you want to use for flowers, and I’ll show you how we’ll make them.”

They both listened intently as I demonstrated my technique. The three of us did a fantastic job.

Tree Driveway Art Flowers.2

Afterward, we stood back and admired our beautiful work of art.

Tree_Driveway Art

A bit later, as I was finishing my domestic chores, the doorbell rang, and on my step stood four neighborhood kids, including the two sisters from next door.

With sweet politeness, they asked, “We were wondering if we could use your sidewalk chalk to draw.”

I responded, “Of course you can, thank you so much for asking so nicely.”

The older sister, with some hesitation, asked, “How much may we use?”

I said, “You may use all three boxes. All I ask is that you put the chalk back in the boxes and back in front of my door. Have fun and create beautiful art!”

The boxes of chalk were indeed returned to my front door, and the neighborhood is blessed with new sidewalk chalk art.

Sidewalk Chalk Art.kids

It turns out it’s possible to connect with neighbors, even during a pandemic. It just takes patience, and in some cases, a bit of sidewalk chalk.

#Blacklivesmatter

To say there has been a lot of controversy, conflict and unrest over the past week would be the understatement of the year.

The violence that has erupted across the country is, unfortunately, not a new occurrence. Unwarranted brutality and violence toward the black citizens of our nation began when they first became enslaved and were forced into lives that were riddled with cruelty, injustice and sickening forms of physical abuse.

Racial riots began as early as 1866 in Memphis, Tennessee, during the early stages of Reconstruction.

To this day, the KKK still has an active presence, despite their supposed declining long term trend of people being associated with the nefarious organization. I can’t help but wonder if their ‘declining membership’ hasn’t just been replaced by the skinheads and neo-nazis of the world. In fact, I’ve read articles indicating that the white number of active hate groups in the US has reached a 20-year high.

From my perspective, the hashtags and signs that say #alllivesmatter and #bluelives matter are missing the point. Yes, all lives matter and I have a deep respect for the officers in our communities who genuinely are in the police force because they want to serve and protect. I believe, they minimize the current issue at hand, the violence toward black members of our communities.

There is no denying that the violent, brutal discrimination against African Americans in the US is egregious. The most recent example is the murder of George Floyd – but it’s far from the only one.

A little over a year ago, I was mugged at gunpoint in Center City Philadelphia. I was with my youngest son and one of my best friends. A phrase I never thought I’d hear myself say, is, “He held a gun to my head.”

The criminals happened to be three young black men.

I’d be lying if I said that it didn’t have an effect on me and the way I react when I see young black men wearing hooded sweatshirts and avoiding eye contact, especially at night. I also know that if it had been three young men of any race, I would have experienced the same reactions. To be honest, I’ve grown to have a very wary response to any young man who looks like he’s up to no good. I think that’s pretty human.

I am rational enough to know that my reaction to the situation is not a reflection of how I feel about the black population of our country. It’s a reaction to the situation I experienced.

As one of my close friends says, “There are bad eggs in every basket. It doesn’t matter what color they are.”

Let’s stop focusing on the bad eggs and turn our attention to what the systemic issues are. We have a fundamental problem with racism and violence and for whatever reason, many people seem to generalize and lump people together by their ethnic origins.

Have you seen the video of George Floyd’s brother praying and pleading with people to honor his brother’s death with dignity, not violence? It’s powerful.

All of us need to educate ourselves about the culture and history of those that are different from us. I definitely have not done enough of this, but plan to expand my education beyond a visit to the Harriet Tubman Museum. (which, was remarkably insightful)

I thought I understood…but I didn’t

The climate in the U.S. is in such an unbelievable state of turmoil, hatred and discord. Racial tensions are higher than ever, and I remember watching riots in the ’60s on the news. I didn’t think it could get worse than that.

I’ve always considered myself to be an inclusive person, someone who understood and empathized with people in situations and from backgrounds different than mine. I was blessed to be raised by parents who strive to understand the world outside of their own.

My first introduction to real-life violence and injustice was shortly after graduating from college. It involved a heart-breaking visit to the hospital, a friend of mine had been beaten within an inch of his life simply because he was gay.

I thought I understood. But now, I’m reasonably sure I didn’t.

One of the very odd things that has happened as a part of my move to Syracuse, NY – one of the least diverse places I’ve ever lived, is that I’ve become very close friends with a wonderful young black man.

He’s become not only a valued colleague at work, he’s also become one of my best friends.

Recent events have, rightfully so, ignited anger within him.

Throughout our friendship, he’s shared stories with me. Like the time he was pulled over by the police in his parent’s neighborhood while driving their car. The assumption was, he had stolen it.

So wrong.

We can’t put ourselves in another person’s shoes if we haven’t lived their reality. But, we can speak out about injustice and stand up for what’s right.

At Last, a Break from the Clouds and Monotony

It’s April 26, 2020, and today marks the 38th day of self-isolation and the shut-down of nonessential businesses in New York State. I was shocked when I did the math and realized that millions of Americans have been at home for just over 10% of the current year, no wonder we’re going a bit stir crazy.

I was forewarned before moving to Upstate, NY, about the overcast nature of the weather. Although I thought I was mentally prepared for it, the reality is that the cloudy, rainy, dreary days far outnumber the sunny ones. This year has been compounded by the need to stay at home, below-average temperatures, and snowfall as recently as a few days ago.

Yesterday there was finally a break in the weather pattern, and it was a gloriously sunny and mild day. I met up with my friend Rodney, and we went for what I thought was going to be a leisurely stroll around one of the state parks. It turned out to be so much better than that.

Green Lakes is a magnificent park. Even the entrance is strikingly scenic, with its evergreen lined paths to the hiking trails.

Evergreen lined entrance_Green Lakes

The paved path leading into the park met my initial expectation about the nature of the walk, it was a bit hillier than I imagined but still reasonably easy.

As we reached the top of the hill and the first glimpse of the interior of the park and the area my friend wanted to give me a walking tour of, my impressions began to change a little. Instead of a paved path, the first walking path he showed me was covered in a blanket of emerald green grass.

Grassy Path at Green Lakes

The path was flanked by Reed grass (I think that’s what it is) and trees that are still waiting for weather warm enough to coax them into spring.

We didn’t take this path, but seeing it did alter my expectations a bit – the trails wouldn’t be paved, but I anticipated the walk would be a little more challenging, but very manageable.

Fast forward through the rest of our six-mile ‘walk.’ There were steep hills and gentle inclines, smooth grassy paths, and dirt paths spotted with tree roots emerging through the earth as well as a few rocks scattered here and there.

Our final descent involved a steep hill with a very narrow dirt path that contained more than one spot peppered with small loose rocks. Steep Trail at Green Lakes

We stood at the top of the hill, and Rodney said, “Beth, I’m so sorry! I forgot about this hill.”

I responded, “It’s ok, I’m up for the challenge – let’s do it!”

Rodney and Mo (short for Geronimo), his trusted Chocolate Lab, were sure-footed as they began the downward climb. As for me, not so much – I was hesitant at best, but determined to make it.

I could tell I was making Rodney nervous, and he was concerned for my safety because he kept stopping, turning around, and coaching me. “Place your feet a little wider apart on this next part of the trail, oh, and walk to the left. It’s wider, and there are fewer loose rocks.” Through his coaching and a virtual helping hand, I made it safely to the bottom of the hill.

All I can say is I felt accomplished after doing so!

It was a far different walk from my usual stroll around the flat and uninteresting streets of my neighborhood. Instead of listening to my book, I listened to nature and engaged in conversations filled with good-natured banter.

It was also nice to see people outside of the grocery store, albeit in masks and from at least six feet away. It somehow still felt a bit more normal than the past few weeks have seemed.

The walk, or the hike, was life-affirming and a reminder that as we go through our days on this earth, we will experience both easy and challenging times. But when it’s all said and done, if we face those challenging times head-on and accept help along the way, life is truly joyous and rewarding.

The little lake at Green Lakes

Rooftop Parking at the Airport – Here’s to being prepared!

Well, I can’t say that I’d intentionally plan my travel experiences over Thanksgiving, but as always, one can turn it into a good story.

My flights were actually on time, other than a really long layover in Chicago, the flying part was uneventful.

Fast forward to the rooftop of the Syracuse airport parking garage, and things took a not unexpected turn for the worse. While I was in St. Louis, many, many inches of snow fell.

My poor little car was not entirely buried in snow, but let’s just say that the snow came up to my knees and it wasn’t all that easy to get my suitcase in the car or to retrieve my snow brush/scraper.

As I examined my situation, it became clear that a shovel was needed. As it just so happened, I had one in my trunk.

Almost a year ago to the day, in preparation for my move, I equipped my car with a winter emergency kit. A compact shovel was one of the long shots, I had no idea if it would hold up to the task if the situation arose.

Tonight it came in more than handy.

I opened my trunk and at the same time, noticed a young couple a few spots down the lot – their car wasn’t going anywhere.

He got out of the car and started pacing. I shouted, “Do you need a shovel? I have one.”

He walked over and looked at me. “You have a shovel?”

“I do, it’s never been used. It might be horrible, but here it is.”

He took the plastic shrink wrap off and unfolded the handle and locked it into place.

“This is sweet! I’m in the army, and right now, you’re more prepared than me. But then again, it’s hard for a newbie to know what to expect in Syracuse.”

He shoveled out his car while I brushed the snow off of mine. Then he shoveled out my car.

Snowtop roof parking

There was another man across from us who was going through the same struggles, at first he turned down my offer to use the little but apparently sturdy shovel. I’m not sure why he thought it would be better to continue trying to scoop the snow with his hands instead of using my shovel.

In the end, he asked if he could use it, of course, I handed it to him. He then stood near my car to make sure I could get out ok.

Two life lessons were validated that night. There really are good people in the world, and it’s a good idea to be prepared.

I will Uber for my Christmas travels.

Just Wondering…

Can someone reconnect with a friend whom they met in the sixth grade, exchanged letters for a few years, but hasn’t communicated with in over 40 years?

I’m going to try.

Over Thanksgiving, tales of my adventures with my best friend from sixth grade were told and retold. She and I shared some wonderful times exchanging secrets, torturing siblings and attempting to build tree houses. We also went to movies, played barbies and spent hours ice skating under the guise of looking for cute boys.

Our conversation at Thanksgiving prompted my dad to contact an acquaintance who might know Lynn’s dad, a conversation that led to my receiving an email with the contact information for my best friend.

In a newspaper article, celebrating the 90th birthday of her dad – she was mentioned within the context of her married name. From there it wasn’t all that difficult to find the contact information for her husband. Thus the email I received, which included a not so subtle nudge from my dad to find a way to reach out to her via the contact info he found.

This past weekend, I unearthed my one and only Scrapbook and memories of the past rolled down my face and at the same time, filled me with joy. There, within the yellowed pages and still bound to the pages by yellow, brittle scotch tape, were letters from Lynn – my best friend at the time, a person I’ve never forgotten and always have held dear.

What to do?

Here I was with a boatload of memories from my scrapbook and the contact information for an Orthopedic Dr. in Rapid City, South Dakota, the name of the man she is married to.

Is it her? I can’t be sure, but it seems like a reliable trail of clues. I felt more than a bit of angst over calling or emailing the office to make a connection with her. These days, I’m certain I would have been written off as a total weirdo.

So, instead – at my mom’s suggestion, I found her home address through a Google Search. I know, that sounds a little creepy as well – but, honestly, the internet is cool when used in the right ways.

I’ve composed a letter, and am sending her a copy of one of her correspondences to me – we’ll see where this goes.

I hope we reconnect.

More to come…

Sixth grade memories

So many memories flying around in my head right now.

We’ve Reached a Fork in the Road, or have we?

My parents and I were talking tonight about things related to business dealings, politics and life in general.

The phrase, “we’ve reached a fork in the road” came up, it was followed by “it’s time to make a decision.” This doesn’t just imply it’s time to make a choice, it explicitly states there is only one next step. There is one way or another, nothing in between. I honestly don’t think that’s what either person means. But, it’s how it can be and probably is most often interpreted.

As we were talking, I had two images flash through my brain. One was of an actual fork – one we use to eat with. The other was of a fork in a road. The difference between them struck me immediately. I know this is strange, but it’s how my brain works.

As we picture a fork in the road – there are only two choices, you go left, or you go right. Those are the only options. Perhaps we limit ourselves.

Oddly enough, the fork we use in everyday life, as a utensil to consume food, has three prongs. Can you imagine how difficult it would be to pick up a piece of meat or a potato wedge with a physical fork that only had two prongs? Especially if they were pointing in opposite directions…

It made me think – perhaps, the third prong, the middle road so to speak, represents the opportunity for a “win, win” approach to life.

We seem to be faced with so many it has to be ‘this way’ or ‘that way’ choices these days.

Perhaps it’s time we started to look at the “fork in the road” in a new way and find common ground. It’s time to carve a new path – it’s in between the “fork in the road.”