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Cougars & Perverts

"The Unlikely Couple," Cranach the Elder, circa 1517. Age mismatched couoles became a trope during the Lutheran Reformation. Cranach painted a series, most with older men and younger women in transactional, monetary relationships. Note the woman with her hand on a purse.


…The instantaneous personal magnetism of other people

is almost overwhelming sometimes, whether attractive or repelling…


-Nick Laird, from "Talking to the Sun in Washington Square"



Standing in line at the Department of Motor Vehicles, the gatekeeper was friendly, polite and encouraging. The line was long, we'd get there soon, he said. He chit-chatted to everyone, and then gave a woman about to leave a hug. They knew each other, apparently, had worked together  The hug was "appropriate," it was innocent. The line sighed in relief, at least the women in the line did. The woman standing in front of me threw me a conspiratorial look. She'd been living in Barcelona where men and women, gay and trans, flirted with abandon, she told me, No big deal. So what has happened here? Americans are uptight, she said, they are Puritanical, the codes are different, the come-ons regulated by convention and laws. It's not just #metoo which legitimately confronts abuse, assault, and worse. It's something else, something embedded in our culture. Our mating rituals are all askew.


I'm a feminist, long married woman who likes men. I have never minded being hit on and usually have managed a comeback at a workplace encounter that bristled. Mostly, I've been okay. I'm tall and athletic, self-confident in my sexuality, and only once in my life felt fearful of a man when I was nearly accosted on the running track around the reservoir in New York City. I had foolishly decided to take a run off hours when the track was nearly empty. I turned around quickly, out-ran the guy, and shouted like a mad woman to "fuck off." And even that metaphor—mad woman—tells a story of learned, inter-generational, female self-denigration.


Long before #metoo, construction workers in New York City stopped "wolf" whistling at passing women, and men stopped exposing themselves on buses and subways, not that those are comparable; they aren't. I missed the whistles—I guess I was getting older—and thought, why shouldn't older women get a whistle?  But I didn't miss the unzipped pants on the buses and was grateful when the configuration of the seats was changed to open plan.


Fast forward to 2023 and the gatekeeper at the DMV. When I got to the head of the line I asked—jokingly—if  he always gave women on the line a hug? He laughed and explained that he knew the woman. "Well, that was obvious," I said."I heard your conversation." Then the DMV shut down for lunch but not before I was told that my husband had to sign the registration renewal, not me. And why is the car only registered in his name? And why couldn't I change the registration without his permission? Another long story.


"I see you are back," the gatekeeper said. "Did you tell your husband you asked for a hug from a younger guy?"  I laughed. My husband laughed. No big deal. But then the guy said, "Why is that when older women hit on younger men they are called Cougars, and when older men hit on younger women they are called perverts?"


Hmm. How to explain? He thought being called a Cougar was a compliment.

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Our Dystopian Nuclear World

Sueichi Kido and Erio Nakita, the curator of the exhibit, at the UN in 2015. Photo © Carol Bergman


As for the use of the bomb, she would say, "It was war and we had to expect it." And then she would add, "Shikata ga nai," a Japanese expression as common as, and corresponding to, the Russian word "nichevo": "It can't be helped. Oh, well. Too bad." Dr. Fujii said approximately the same thing about the use of the bomb to Father Kleinsorge one evening, in German: "Da ist nichts zu machen. There's nothing to be done about it."


― John Hersey, "Hiroshima," 1946



In May, 2015, I went to the United Nations to meet Sueichi Kido from Nagasaki. He was one of twenty survivors of the atomic blasts on Hiroshima and Nagasaki who traveled to New York for the opening of an exhibit in the UN lobby, discussions at the UN about the world's nuclear arsenal, and a commemorative concert at Ethical Culture School. Now 83-years-old, Mr. Kido attended the G7 summit in Hiroshima last week, and was interviewed by the Associated Press. He remained hopeful, he said, that nuclear disarmament will be discussed at the summit. But both Mr. Kido and any talks about disarmament were upstaged by Zelensky's dramatic arrival. Forgive me if I missed it in the press handouts, but I don't think that the United States was ever mentioned as the perpetrator of the first and only atomic blasts. Putin's bomb rattling may be unsettling and dangerous, but that does not erase the disgrace of Hiroshima and Nagasaki:


A uranium gun-type atomic bomb (Little Boy) was dropped on Hiroshima on August 6, 1945, followed by a plutonium implosion-type bomb (Fat Man) on the city of Nagasaki on August 9. Little Boy exploded 2,000 feet above Hiroshima in a blast equal to 12-15,000 tons of TNT, destroying five square miles of the city. Within the first two to four months of the bombings, the acute effects of the atomic bombings killed 90,000–166,000 people in Hiroshima and 39,000–80,000 in Nagasaki; roughly half of the deaths in each city occurred on the first day. During the following months, large numbers died from the effect of burns, radiation sickness, and other injuries, compounded by illness and malnutrition. In both cities, most of the dead were civilians, although Hiroshima had a sizable military garrison.     


                                                        – Source, Wikipedia.

The survivors of the bombings are called hibakusha, a Japanese word that literally translates to "explosion-affected people." Hibakusha and their children have been stigmatized in Japan and it is only recently that the government has recognized their medical complaints as a consequence of the blasts. My husband's uncle, Norman Cousins, the editor of The Saturday Review of Literature used the platform of the magazine for a post-blast adoptions program. Subscribers sponsored orphans and later brought twelve disfigured  "Hiroshima Maidens" to the United States for reconstructive surgery. You can read about the project here:




There is a plaque set in a stone dedicated to Norman Cousins at the Peace Park in Hiroshima,  and members of our family still attend ceremonies there every year. I am deeply proud to have married into this family who have worked for a just and peaceful world across the generations. And I am deeply concerned about the escalations in Ukraine as reported by Luke Mogelson in The New Yorker this week. The soldiers are enduring abhorrent conditions in the trenches, and they are dying in great numbers on both sides. 


The Americans—President Truman and his advisers—who unleashed the atomic weapons of mass destruction, censored the press after the blasts and suppressed the stories of the military witnesses and survivors. Even General MacArthur doubted the wisdom of dropping the bombs, and feared it. He argued that the saturation bombing of Tokyo—200, 000 killed—just  prior to the nuclear blasts, would end the war just as quickly.

A small man with a cherubic face once badly burned, Mr. Kido, a retired history professor, has devoted his retirement years to telling his story. "There aren't many of us left. We are getting old, we are sick," he says. Five-years-old at the time of the blast and living within the 2km epicenter, his mother carried him away from the wind and flames in search of shelter. Flesh was melting off their bodies, they were thirsty. There was no water, no shelter, no medical facility. The city had been incinerated. Needless to say, there was no question of a normal childhood for Mr. Kido after this holocaust. He didn't stop trembling until he was ten-years-old, or laugh, or play. PTSD doesn't describe the implosion in his body and his soul.


Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, who has an ancestral connection to Hiroshima, chose Hiroshima for the G7 to highlight nuclear nonproliferation efforts, and to give the rapidly aging and suffering survivors a chance to see each other, perhaps for the last time, at Peace Memorial Park.



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Virus Without Borders #101

               © Ed Koenig holding a photo of his husband, Jody Settle, during a recent vigil, with permission.                                                      


I am part of all that I have met.


-Alfred, Lord Tennyson, "Ulysses"



I started writing this blog post on May 11, the day the government declared the end of the Covid emergency in the United States. It's not a watershed moment; it's just one moment to take a healthy breath—if we are so fortunate—to celebrate the end of restrictions, fear, survival, the survival of our loved ones—if we are so fortunate. And not everyone is, far from. More than one million deaths just in the United States. Is our grief communal, individual, or both? Are some of us untouched and unscathed by these past difficult months and years? Is that even possible? And what about people in war zones, or poor countries, who never received a vaccine? Or the migrants crossing our borders and the EU's borders? In a way, the pandemic was --and is-- an ecological disaster, too. And AI mapping won't help us contain another one, or will it?


So this is back-to-basics, Virus Without Borders # 101, like the first day of college, or the day I began the dedicated Virus Without Borders blog posts more than three years ago, utterly confused and ignorant. What have we learned since? What have we learned that we can apply to whatever is next for us? For this country? For our troubled world? If we are indeed free of worry about this still mutating virus, how will we use that freedom? Will we become more indifferent and self-centered, or more engaged and responsible? And why is it, all too often, that those who suffer the most, become kinder, smarter, and willing to sacrifice? I have a theory: The privilege and self-centeredness in our personal lives—and  as a nation, and within our nation—has  been amplified by deprivation and fear, or released by deprivation and fear, depending on our personal challenges, traumas, upbringing, politics, spiritual beliefs, and temperament. 


My student, Ed Koenig, lost his husband, Jody Settle, to Covid.  Ed has become an advocate for the children who lost their parents, not to mention that he's been assisting migrants at his local church. This week he will attend a launch party of an anthology of stories, Who We Lost. He will stand up in front a group of people and read his essay, "On The Road Again," about Jody aloud.


The collection was curated and edited by Martha Greenwald, a former adjunct professor of writing and a well-known poet, originally from New Jersey; she lives in Louisville, Kentucky. Throughout 2020, Governor Andy Beshear held televised pandemic update conferences; they included  brief stories about someone who had recently died. Martha's own visceral grief was stirred each time he spoke. Her optometrist father had died in a tragic accident in 2009 when he was hit by a car, ironically, by a driver who had no peripheral vision. The story is described in the acknowledgments of  Who We Lost, but not in the introduction. "I didn't want the book to be about me," she told me in a telephone interview.


Still in quarantine, wanting to do something positive for others, she launched the not-for-profit  https://whowelost.org/ website and then approached Belt Publishing with an offer to curate an anthology from the website as a living, portable memorial. The website is still online collecting stories, and for those who have never written before—and even for those who have—it includes a fascinating "toolbox," with prompts. 


In truth, we have all felt vulnerable, we've all suffered, though perhaps not as grievously. I have not lost anyone as close to me as a partner, or even a friend, or relative. I've been free of that particular pain. I even felt somewhat elated on May 11 as I'd just received my 6th Covid shot and wanted to celebrate. I bought a new lipstick, a frivolous, pleasurable, self-care reward. I've missed everyone's chins and lips. I've missed my own chin and lips, my husbands chin and lips, my doctors' chin and lips.  I had an eye doc appointment this week and LOL everyone in the office was unmasked. "Oh, what a nice face you have," we said to each other. And, as I was departing, "It's been so nice to see you, I mean really see you. And how did you and your loved ones survive Covid? Did everyone make it through?"

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Oh, Did I Miss Another Shooting?

With thanks to Joyce Vance for permission to use this adorable photo of her well-trained German Shepherd calmly enjoying the backyard with her chickens. photo © Joyce Vance 2023



Every time someone talks to you about opposing abortion, ask them about their views on the Second Amendment. And if they tell you they're pro-gun, point out that's inconsistent with being pro-life.


-Joyce Vance in her "Civil Discourse" Substack Newsletter 5/4/2023



My new most favorite podcast is #SistersInLaw with Joyce Vance, Kimberly Atkins, Jill Wine-Banks and Barb McQuade, all clear-thinking, plain-speaking lawyers. I also subscribe to Joyce's Substack newsletter where she posts photos of her chickens, stories about her knitting, and signs off with "in this together." She's a southerner, and a storyteller in the great American Southern tradition. When she writes, I'm with her at the chicken coop helping her unpack the seed, a welcome working guest. Like so many strong, professional women I know—women  of all ages—she's  a model of informed integrity, balancing her work with her life as a parent, a partner, member of her immediate community, and the larger community of the troubled United States of America.


All the women on the podcast are exemplary—take a Google moment to check them out—and I am particularly thankful for them right now as they straighten out my thinking about the tangled challenges we are facing in the run-up to the 2024 election. The campaign is underway, requests for money already a constant. Joyce writes often about the fascism at our door, and the historical imperative of a second Biden and Harris ticket. Take another moment and have a read of her newsletter this morning:




The podcasts are long—I usually take two days to finish them as I have others I listen to—and they have advertisements, which are entertaining, even hilarious. The women themselves tout various products and discuss them—everything from furniture to an at-home nail salon—polish that does not chip! I'm assuming they do really use these products, at least I hope so, even though I really don't care. I want them to keep on keeping on, and they need advertisements.


And just a short addendum. I wrote Joyce a note at her University of Alabama School of Law email address to ask permission to use a photo of her chickens and she replied in two days: "Of course you can!" 


Thank you Joyce and company for helping me, and your thousands of other subscribers, to sustain both activism and hope. In this together indeed!

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Freudian Slips

My mother, as a carefree young medical student at the U of Vienna, before the genocide.


There are many who do not know they are fascists but will find it out when the time comes.


― Ernest Hemingway, "For Whom the Bell Tolls"



My mother became a neo-Freudian psychoanalyst later in life, studying at the dining room table while my sister was still in her high chair and I was doing my homework. I remember the day she first mentioned Freudian slips. I thought she was talking about underwear, but no, it wasn't that. It took me a few years to understand that she thought she knew more than I knew about me because she could peer into my unconscious, via malaprops, which she called Freudian slips. What teenager wants an intrusive mother in her face? Rhetorical question. That said, I would have enjoyed her take on Tucker Carlson's obsession with testicles and testosterone. Let me try to understand: Because the All-American White Male is losing his potency, he has to air out his testicles on a beach in the Bahamas. Get some sun on them. Is that it? In one frame in Tucker's testosterone video, a  naked man on top of a pile of rocks exposes his genitals to a red light emanating from an air purifier to the sounds of a film score resembling  the 2001 Space Odyssey.


What say you Freudians among us?


Equally fascinating are the pundits who have not mentioned that this obsession is a wee bit weird, a wee bit idiotic. As the Roman Gladiator Decimus Maximus once said, "There is only one thing worse than an idiot: An idiot with a following."  Meaning that the idiot is a demagogue and like all demagogues, he is vulgar, racist, a whore among orators. Yet, when Tucker and/or Trump—and at times they seem interchangeable—spew their falsehoods, there is a flame inside them that attracts a huge following, even love letters from bereft women yet to be abused or raped. (Hitler was the recipient of many love letters.) These men live on spite and hate. They resemble mangy wolves scouring the dregs of society in the hinterland.  


America has a long tradition of demagogues on its air waves—radio before television, television before cable. I'm reminded of Father Charles Coughlin, who I studied in graduate school. I listened to his screeds at the Museum of Broadcasting as Philip Roth must have as he was writing The Plot Against America. Or, maybe Roth heard them live.  


Coughlin railed against the Jews as Hitler was murdering my family. Of the 120 million Americans alive at that time, 30 million listened to this demagogue on the radio. My family had just arrived in New York as refugees, and when they turned on the radio, they wondered if Hitler had arrived in America before them. Coughlin was finally shut down in 1942  by FDR's Attorney General, Francis Biddle, but it took America's entry into the war after Pearl Harbor to invoke the controversial 1917 Espionage Act to shut him down.


God Bless America and our First Amendment. The Europeans think we are nuts, that someone is shouting fire in the theater all the time, a loophole in our democracy, or a black hole?

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My Dentist is a Storyteller

Dr. Thomas Cingel poses for my camera on a recent visit.


You mean people pay you to do this to them? I thought you had captured these people and brought them here against their will! How do I become a dentist?"


 Michael Buckley, "Magic and Other Misdemeanors"



I remember the first time I met my dentist, not my long-ago dentist—actually, there have been several—but  my new dentist, the one I found through a friend of my daughter's after I moved upstate. His office in Kingston, NY is about a forty-minute drive from where I live, and I was in toothache agony until I got there, my husband driving, of course.  I'd already been to a dentist in my small town that day and all s/he wanted to do was take my blood pressure and insurance information.  I walked out, called round to friends and family to get referrals, and zipped up to Kingston. 


I am not a fluoride baby; no one in my generation is, and I lived in England for ten years. If memory serves, the Brits resisted fluoride in drinking water until--hard to believe--2021. And don't get me started about National Health British Dentistry. National Health everything else is okay, more than okay, but not dentistry. No instruction in preventive protocols. No regular cleanings. My husband and I have paid the price. Our mouths are pock-marked with fillings and implants and god knows what else. Not to mention that I have vivid memories of my long-ago pediatric dentist giving me a lollipop as I walked out the door because I had behaved myself in the dental chair. How sweet, no pun intended.


Enter Dr. Thomas Cingel DDS, a graduate of SUNY Buffalo, raised in a modest middle class family, an upstater, married to a mid-wife and raising two adorable children. His office is an oasis of competent health care and human connection, more so, if that is possible, during Covid. But it was before the PPEs and masks that I first took notice of Dr. Cingel as an exceptional person, as well as an exceptional high-tech artisanal dentist. He had told me a story about seeing a "live" painting for the first time in a museum.  I'm not even sure he'd remember this as he tells many stories to many patients every day, but I do. I'd never met anyone who had not been to a museum, because everyone I knew when I grew up in a big city, and then lived overseas in a big city, wouldn't think twice about going to a museum, or how special it is.   I wanted to respond, but I couldn't. My mouth was open as he was working on something—a sick molar probably—but I listened attentively and took it in.


All dentists love to talk, but not all of them are good storytellers, or have written amusing, illustrated books called Avid Flosser  about the importance of flossing, or are taking a class in stand-up comedy because they are hyper-aware of the absurdity of contemporary life and care, really care, about people. I lucked out with Dr. Cingel, and so did my aging teeth, whatever is left of them.


This post is dedicated to the front line workers in Dr. Cingel's office: Sharon, Karen, Jackie, Kayla and Dagny.


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Reading Backwards

 Kyiv at night. Photo © copyright Peter Zalmayev 2023 with permission


He had not gone to the West to study "the art of government." Although in Protestant Europe he was surrounded by evidence of the new civil and political rights of individual men embodied in constitutions, bills of rights and parliaments, he did not return to Russia determined to share power with his people.


=Robert K. Massie, Peter the Great; His Life and World



As soon as I started writing about  Peter Zalmayev. a broadcaster in Ukraine, a man I have met and admire, I realized how little I knew about Russian and Ukrainian history, or even that it is necessary to separate them. I had memories of my husband's shelf of books about Russia when we lived in London. He had studied Russian at the Holborn School of Languages, and then entered an MA program in International Relations at the London School of Economics. His books were left behind when we returned to New York, but Jim's insight and knowledge traveled with us back to America. I am therefore blessed with a live-in expert on Russian, Ukrainian and Polish history, not to mention family connections; his father was born in Poland, his grandmother in Kiev, now Kyiv, the name change a history lesson in itself. I remember his grandmother well, our struggles to communicate, her home-made yogurt.


As the horrendous shooting war on the European continent continues unabated, and without a ceasefire in sight, I decided to deepen my education beginning with the Robert K. Massie history of Peter the Great, a page turner. Emperor from 1682-1725, he understood that, compared to the Europeans, Russia was "backward." His goal was to bring it forward into what we now call "the enlightenment."  He spoke several languages, traveled incessantly, but he was also a warrior who defeated the Swedes and the Turks with his well-trained army, and many mercenaries in that army. (There were mercenaries in every army in those days and they shifted sides often.)


Are the seeds of the current war between Russia and Ukraine in these pages? And how, if at all, could it have been prevented? And how will it end? I have no definitive answers other than, yes, every past has a future, the fault lines are there as they are in every nation's history, including ours, but there are also rogues, despots and renegades who turn the rivers of change to their selfish advantage. Given the advances Russia made since the fall of the Soviet Union, we'd have to say that Putin is a rogue and a despot, a throwback to an era even before Peter the Great came to the throne, and that the Russian Federation is experiencing a steep and rapid devolution. I hope we cannot say the same for these United States.


Ever hopeful as I read, both backwards and forwards into the text, I search for interesting quotidian details to relieve the stress of endless battles, domestic mischief, and cruel punishments. Peter's peasant wife Catherine had twelve children, and traveled to meet him on the battlefield while pregnant. Their love letters are quoted in the book, and they are fascinating and beautifully written, albeit in translation. Peter loved ships and became a master shipbuilder. His sojourns in Holland, England, and Versailles, after the death of Louis XIV, were remarkable. Imagine what travel was like in those days: arduous. And one can feel the efflorescing culture of diplomacy in Peter's efforts, his fascination with the world beyond Russia's borders, his insatiable willingness to learn. Indeed, he was brilliant and forward thinking, though often misguided and ruthless. He also drank a lot, as did so many others in his entourage. And though weapons were cruder in those days, he understood that once they were launched, the damage was done and the battle begun.


Every act of war, then and now, has both deliberate and unintended consequences, consequences that reverberate and threaten to break us all beyond repair.


This post is dedicated to Daniel Ellsberg and his family. 

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Chasing Ghosts

photo  © copyright Michael Gold 2023 with permission



After all, the true seeing is within.


― George Eliot, "Middlemarch"



There have been complicated and painful estrangements in my life, but I have never been "ghosted" by a friend until recently. I'm a writer; communication is my middle name. Talking, writing, thinking about what I say or don't say, and how to say it, deep listening when I interview people, maintaining a civil discourse between combative parties using my certificate studies in mediation and conflict resolution—all of these tools have worked for me most of the time. Communication takes practice and it's never perfect; I am never perfect. But shunning a friend, especially an old friend, well, it's just not something I'd do, or even think of doing.  It's a calculated—albeit silent—act unworthy of civilized people.


So, I was perplexed, and also sad, when two women friends ghosted me. As there have been two such painful events, I've had to ask myself whether or not I did anything wrong, hurtful, or foolish. And the answer is: nothing that warrants such callous, hostile behavior. And ghosting is callous, totally unlike anything I have experienced before, contemporary in its provocative intensity, an expression of grievance, hate and rage. Is it possible that my two highly intelligent, well-educated, accomplished friends have caught this disease? That we all went a little insane during the pandemic? Is it possible that our reliance on electronic media to sustain connection during the pandemic has distorted our human connections?  


But then another thought crossed my troubled, feminist mind: Would any of my male friends do this to me? And, I'd have to say, I don't think so, though I'm not sure why not. I know that men ghost women in the online dating universe—so many horror stories, akin to emotional abuse. Are my women friends mirroring this behavior and feeling more powerful? Or, are they experiencing the frustrations and challenges of aging in an agist society and shedding relationships they find, what? Dear Reader, please fill in the blank.


I won't hypothesize further. My ghosting friends have my contact information and know that I will answer all missives and phone calls promptly, should they ever want to talk or write. And though I remain hopeful, and keep my heart open, I don't know how I would feel about a reconnection without apologies, self-examination on both sides,  and a slow renewal of trust—the essence of loving friendships and nations at peace.


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Our Better Angels

 We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory, stretching from every battlefield and patriot grave to every living heart and hearthstone all over this broad land, will yet swell the chorus of the Union, when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.


-Abraham Lincoln, from the First Inaugural Address, March 4, 1861



Though I am profoundly secular, I cannot abstain entirely from the imperatives of what for so many in the world is a contemplative, holy week: Passover, Easter, Ramadan. I am not a student of religion, so perhaps the Hindus also have such a week; if so, please educate me.  


I have no plans to pray this holy week—prayer has always eluded me—though I will listen attentively as others pray, and if a person of the faith, any faith, blesses me at the end of a conversation or an encounter, I will  accept and cherish the blessing.


Thank you to all the believers out there for remaining hopeful that this worrisome world will right itself before the apocalypse, or that we will forestall an apocalypse—environmental, political, or both. Are we celebrating the first of several indictments? Not just yet.


Let us pray!!


Two of my doctors are observant Jews. They enter the office to examine me wearing yarmulkes and ask how is my family. If the family is healthy, we are well, one of them says, a faith based on modern medicine as well as religious tenets, I suppose. I recite the news of the wellness or medical challenges in my family and include myself in the dissertation. The examination proceeds apace as I continue,"This time of year, I think of my family murdered in the camps and my great-uncle Arnold, a doctor such as yourself, who tried to save people before their transport from Terezin to Auschwitz, or perhaps ease their passage." My observant and religiously observant physician probably did not expect such a long, pithy answer, but I can't get my lost family out of my mind, or disregard them, ever. Not to mention the recent atrocities in Ukraine, or the unexpected demise of so many lost to Covid, or at the hands of police, or the violence and demonstrations in Israel and Palestine, or the parched Salt Lake, and so on, all over the world.


Are we being tested, I wonder, and if so, by whom, or what? Have we inflicted all these afflictions upon ourselves?


My secular existence aside, the Talmud and the Mishnah are intriguing for a writer. These are commentaries, discussions, critiques of the text, a historic template for a writer's workshop. And written so long ago. Millenia.


Perhaps there are explanations of human cruelty in these tomes, and guidance for an altruistic path forward, such as this one: "Do not be daunted by the enormity of the world's grief… Walk humbly now…You are not obligated to complete the work. But neither are you free to abandon it." Various riffs on this aphorism turned up on social media a lot during the pandemic, though there's an argument, religious in its intensity, whether it is from the Mishnah or the Talmud. What say you scholars? Does it matter? Is there a similar aphorism in the Quran? Or the Bible? Or the Bill of Rights? Are our foundational origin stories, myths, and beliefs, the beginning of an argument, a lifelong schism, a violent outburst, a war? Or will the better angels of our nature surface in the maelstrom as we pray for peace, or, at the very least, imagine it.


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Christ the King Church in Stoneridge, NY has a pop-up fund-raising Afghan meal every third Thursday of the month. Food is prepared by a resettled Afghan family. Reserve from a menu on the website: https://www.ctkstoneridge.org





Must living in peace - so fervently wished for throughout human history and yet enjoyed in only a few parts of the world - inevitably result in refusing to share it with those seeking refuge, defending it instead so aggressively that it almost looks like war?


-Jenny Erpenbeck, "Go, Went, Gone"



The asylees and refugees arrived for a  CV clinic. I could imagine my refugee parents in that room pulling an old suitcase with all their belongings, speaking in a foreign tongue, all their valuable dog-eared, well-fingered documents neatly held in a small satchel, the sorrow of family and friends left behind visible in their gestures and facial expressions. I was there, and I am here, because the United States took them in, a lifeline.  


I had volunteered that day because I wanted to do something useful after the earthquakes in Turkey and Syria, strengthened restrictions at our southern border, and the backlash against refugees and asylees in the EU, the US, and now Canada where migrants are pressing for entry. New York State shares a 5,525 mile border with Canada, the longest international border in the world; our problem becomes their problem. With this week's treaty signing, Biden and Trudeau are in concert: we will share firefighters during a wildfire season, as we did on the Minnewaska Ridge last summer, and we'll send illegal migrants back to their first port of entry into the United States.


I have two cousins who began their lives in Canada because the refugee agency placed them there, separating the family. This happens a lot, even today, or even more so today. My husband and I mentored Nathan, a young Tamil man from Sri Lanka. His family was displaced during the Civil War after his father was killed. Nathan and his mother and sister fled, eventually reaching a refugee camp in Tamil-speaking South India. Because he was young and fit, Nathan was sent to America to work and study by the UNHCR; his mother and sister were sponsored by relatives in Canada. But Nathan had been granted asylum in the United States, which meant that he could not request asylum in any other country. "At least we are close enough to visit," he told us during one of our last visits before we moved upstate. His mother's promise to find him a bride could be easily fulfilled from within the Tamil community in North America.


At the CV clinic, I was matched with a young man from the Arab-speaking world whose father and uncle had been killed in a civil war. His schooling had been interrupted, his family scattered, many killed; his mother was missing and assumed kidnapped. I didn't get the full story; that wasn't my job. I had to find a way to create a one-page CV quickly so that he could find an internship or volunteer position while awaiting asylum, which can take years. This meant using my interviewing and rewriting skills. The CV he presented needed a lot of work. It was challenging to figure out what experience might be applicable and how to present it.


The young man has to be nameless here—asylum is not guaranteed, and deportation is always a possibility—but suffice to say he was sophisticated, educated, a former competitive swimmer and marathon runner, easy to work with—eager like most young people are—to complete his education and remake his life. I enjoyed myself, enjoyed getting to know him, enjoyed helping him. I am a swimmer, too, so that was our first touching point. Many others followed. It takes a village and this young man has lost his through no fault of his own. Now, he was rebuilding connection, however fragile.


He is one of many. In 2022, 103 million people were displaced. Each and every one are protected by international law, protocols and conventions, a set of guidelines on the treatment of people fleeing natural disaster, war, or persecution. Migrants, refugees, asylees, all have varying definitions in law, but, in essence, all the labels describe people on the move, people who have had to flee their homes against their will. Alas, laws, even international laws, do not guarantee humane treatment.


Small, mostly privately funded community resettlement programs are working in the United States, and the Afghan Circle in the Mid-Hudson Valley is hosting seven families, for example, but without government funding, they are struggling to raise funds through donations, fund raisers, and micro-grants. 


No atrocity, war, or civil war and subsequent migration happens in isolation from the flow of world events, particularly colonialism in all its past and present iterations. No flood or famine occurs in isolation from global climate change. What is our responsibility and what isn't? Some people feel the world's woes keenly, some are insular and apathetic. The call to duty, donation, or volunteerism is for every person to answer individually according to their own conscience.


Note: In the United States, the major difference between refugees and asylees is the location of the person at the time of application. Refugees are usually outside of the United States when they are screened for resettlement, whereas asylum seekers submit their applications while they are physically present in the United States or at a U.S. port of entry. Refugees and asylees also differ in admissions process used and agencies responsible for reviewing their application.



Volunteer opportunities in my community are listed below. Please add yours in the comments:









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