Rise like the day

Bath, England, 2010 Photo by Brenda L. BeckerSomeone shared a music video of a magnificent singer named Andra Day, singing a beautiful song, "Rise Up." The video (below), directed by M. Night Shyamalan, unleashed a flood tide inside me, with its tender, spare depiction of a couple in love, one of whom is physically dependent utterly on the other.

You're broken down and tired
Of living life on a merry-go-round
And you can't find the fighter

I've done my years as a caregiver--I know just where to reach for the brakes on a wheelchair, the safety belt in the back of an ambulance. I have "hacks" for full assisted transfers, bed shampoos, bedsore prevention. I've said a thousand versions of this, in nursing homes, ICUs, my mother's bedroom: 

But I see it in you so we gonna walk it out
And move mountains
We gonna walk it out
And move mountains

But now, in a heart-aching rush, so many people I love have been called upon to move mountains.

My beloved cousin, an irrepressible paraplegic, just marked a year since he fell from his wheelchair, sustaining a fresh injury that will not heal. His beautiful wife, an effervescent woman with a core of steel, manages his overwhelming medical and logistical needs (with help from their grown daughters) while never losing sight of the man she loves--a doctor, a gentleman farmer, an advocate for the disabled. This year, when he finally returned to their Michigan home, they created a new garden he could see from his window.

And I'll rise up
I'll rise like the day
I'll rise up
I'll rise unafraid

My old friend and colleague, a creative and brilliant medical writer, is on an epic journey with his wife, a mother and artist, as they battle her breast cancer together. With her fury and courage, and his agile mind and deep clinical knowledge, they continue to navigate through a labyrinth of oncologists, tests, treatments, seeking hope, and most of all, seeking compassion.

All we need, all we need is hope
And for that we have each other
And for that we have each other 

My two dear friends from church, who finally married when the law recognized their longtime love, now hold one another's hands in the coronary care unit of a Brooklyn hospital. They are adorable--a Tall Guy and a Short Guy, both theater-world veterans and devout Catholics. It was years ago, watching Tall Guy push Short Guy's wheelchair home from church, that I truly recognized the sacramentality of marriage beyond its traditional bounds--"an outward sign signifying God's grace." Now Tall Guy strokes his husband's silver hair when the pain and fear grow too much. "What do you see?" Short Guy asked him this week, terror in his eyes--the terror of vanishing, a look I know all too well. "I see the person I love," his love replied.

When the silence isn't quiet
And it feels like it's getting hard to breathe
And I know you feel like dying
But I promise we'll take the world to its feet
And move mountains

And now, my BFF, my best friend forever. Her love, too, is at her bedside night and day. Working the system. Making the nurse come faster. Adjusting the pillows and covers, the piece of the world she currently rules. Strategizing for discharge, rolling with the punches, and hoping for hope. Leaning over and seeing the person he loves, assuring her she is not, as she fears, disappearing from anything resembling the life she has known.

I'll rise up
In spite of the ache
I'll rise up
And I'll do it a thousand times again

And there we have the genius of this song. Whether the songwriters knew it or not, with this lyric they reach in and recognize the heart and soul of the caregiver journey.

The ache. In spite of the ache. A thousand times again. Where does it come from, that rising, every day? What refills the well a thousand times? It isn't just a well, if you're lucky, or blessed. It is a spring. A wellspring, for the well and the sick. It rises not from one of you but from both. Love dissolves your boundaries. You go past the place where the chattering advice absurdly says "Take time for yourself. Get a massage. Have a manicure. Relax over a special cup of coffee. Put the oxygen mask on yourself first, ha ha."

We once had a crazy old pastor--seriously, mad as a bat out of hell--who wagged a finger and told the congregation, "There are no coffee breaks on the Cross."

The caregiver journey goes past the Oprah-esque, treat-yourself-to-a-cappuccino stage at some point right to the foot of the Cross. "Me before you" or "you before me" ceases to be an issue; they are what Richard Rohr calls "false dualities." Things can actually seem lighter then, in a way. Light enough to rise.

I'll rise up
I'll rise unafraid
I'll rise up
And I'll do it a thousand times again
For you

"Rise Up" Written by Cassandra Monique Batie, Jennifer Decilveo • Copyright © BMG Rights Management US, LLC

Posted on Thursday, August 11, 2016 at 12:03PM by Registered CommenterBrenda from Brooklyn | Comments1 Comment

The Da

It was an afternoon much like this one, precisely 30 years ago, cold and as bright as a distant sun allowed, when I walked out of Mount Sinai Hospital, fatherless. Except that I wasn't. Leukemia had ended my dad's 69 years one week before Christmas--and so terribly prematurely, it seemed. I have now been without him longer than I was with him.

Yet not a day has passed that he hasn't been with me. He literally taught me how to be happy, through a humble self-forgetfulness that I can only dream of emulating. He lived a life without fame or great material gain, in the insurance industry--and managed to sanctify that unglamorous work, taking satisfaction and joy in selling policies honestly and helping men (and back then, it was always men) provide for their families after their deaths. He treated everyone, from janitors to vice-presidents, with respect and affection. He held his wife and daughter in chivalrous esteem, and his brother and sisters in unwavering filial affection. I never heard him utter a bitter or judgmental word in his life.

An adult convert to Roman Catholicism, he modeled the personality of Christ to all he met. Hours before his death, weakened by opportunistic infections, he told me he had been "contemplating the mystical body of Christ." The day he died, his doctor, scheduled to fly back to New York from Italy, was unaccountably moved to change his flight--and thus avoided being at the Air Italia desk when a terrorist bomb ripped through the airport. One year ago today, my best friend, whom he loved like his own daughter, underwent dangerous surgery--and I knew that this day, once so steeped in sorrow a week before Christmas--was an auspicious one. (And after a hellish year of treatment, she is doing well.)

Over the years, I have become convinced that a life lived in holiness burns a channel through time and space, a portal of grace; such a channel was how Therese of Lisieux sent her "shower of roses." My dad has become that portal for me. I miss him terribly and often; he was the one person in the world who made me feel truly safe. And I ask myself, safe against what?

And the answer comes back: Safe against evil. The only way I find to assuage the missing of him is to try to bring him back through the channel. He held doors for frustratingly slow walkers; smiled at cranky babies; listened patiently to the rambling tales of long-winded, lonely old men with genuine interest; fixed broken things with ingenuity; gave everyone the benefit of the doubt. When I do these things, we are together again.

Happy birthday in heaven, Richard Q. Becker. (And if you need a friend up there, ask for Quen--no one but business associates called him Richard.)

Posted on Saturday, December 19, 2015 at 11:10AM by Registered CommenterBrenda from Brooklyn | Comments2 Comments

Enchanted twilight

If there is anything lovelier than walking home through the "magic land" of Prospect Park South at twilight, it's walking in the unseasonable warmth of a gentle December, passing radiant century-old mansions lit within and without for Christmas. I'm so glad these folks don't bother with curtains, drapes, or blinds. 

Not everyone on Marlborough Road went for a classic tree; these folks have a sparkling silver tree twinkling behind Dickensian leaded-glass diamond panes. Gosh, how I yearned for a silver (or better yet, pink!) aluminum tree as a child--while still wanting the fresh, fragrant natural tree that we always got.


 For the 29 years that we have lived a block away, I have admired the perfect proportions of this house, like something from Colonial Williamsburg. (And I love blue doors, especially with wreaths.)






Porches and columns of every description are signatures of this neighborhood's sprawling homes. But it's not the spot to look for Disney World-worthy displays of Christmas characters or wattage visible from outer space; head to Dyker Heights for that scene.


When you cross hectic Church Avenue, you leave the magic landmark land behind and enter a somewhat less grandiose level of domestic architecture, but Caton Park is our realm and we love it. The Crazy Stable is looking almost respectable, these days, especially with its fringe of lights. I love the sky at precisely this l'heure bleu, or what I call "Maxfield Parrish light."

 As I stepped onto the porch, I heard a gravelly voice moaning and hollering in the driveway...the same unruly singer who has been keeping us up at night carolling lustily. The last two Christmas lights of the evening lit up from atop the fence!

Posted on Saturday, December 12, 2015 at 05:49PM by Registered CommenterBrenda from Brooklyn | CommentsPost a Comment

Wild and Crazy (Stable) Guys

Several friends have recently bought big old houses; they've gotten them renovated within months, in a blitz of interior and exterior makeovers. Our time frame is more "geologic"–say, 30 years. But we're getting there.

Early this year, for example, we finally got the hallway plastered. This epic task will be covered fully in another post, but suffice it to say that your Stablemistress decided to "do the trim herself." That would be: 15 paneled doors and one zillion linear feet of molding, all encased in at least 90 years of chipping, cruddy paint. Many moldings have phone wire embedded in them and painted over; the doors bear brutal gouges from multiple mortises for countless locks. Yep, no biggie there.

So I've started scraping off the loose stuff, or as the Daughter puts it, "scratching at the walls," and adding a coat of pop-white Ben Moore "Chantilly Lace" to the creamy golden "Soleil" on the walls...a lot of bang for the buck, considering that we've looked at this soul-sucking dirty-white for all those years.

Yesterday, as I cleaned up the door to the living room, I scraped off something that had always puzzled me—a small, square, round-edged patch that old Mr. Chang in typical fashion had simply rollered paint over. (He also painted over wads of gum on the floor.) The top layer of latex almost popped off as the patch fell into my hand.

This, folks, is original detail, Crazy Stable style!

When we first moved in, a former resident had left behind a pinup calendar in what is now the Daughter's room, opened to "Miss Hawaii." I like to think that an earlier generation of bachelor made this little statement, turning his lonely room into a bit of Hef's mansion. And speaking of mansions...

...the other day I stumbled on the original ad for the Crazy Stable in the New York Times real estate section. I had completely forgotten that it was billed as a "one-family mansion." (It was, in fact, basically a flophouse.) The price was a ludicrously low one even at the time and went lower; the "TLC" is ongoing. But the playboys are gone.

Posted on Thursday, November 19, 2015 at 10:13AM by Registered CommenterBrenda from Brooklyn | Comments1 Comment

A thousand windows and doors

Say this city has ten million souls,
Some are living in mansions, some are living in holes:
Yet there's no place for us, my dear, yet there's no place for us.

Once we had a country and we thought it fair,
Look in the atlas and you'll find it there:
We cannot go there now, my dear, we cannot go there now.

In the village churchyard there grows an old yew,
Every spring it blossoms anew:
Old passports can't do that, my dear, old passports can't do that.

The consul banged the table and said,
"If you've got no passport you're officially dead":
But we are still alive, my dear, but we are still alive.

Went to a committee; they offered me a chair;
Asked me politely to return next year:
But where shall we go to-day, my dear, but where shall we go to-day?

Came to a public meeting; the speaker got up and said;
"If we let them in, they will steal our daily bread":
He was talking of you and me, my dear, he was talking of you and me.

Thought I heard the thunder rumbling in the sky;
It was Hitler over Europe, saying, "They must die":
O we were in his mind, my dear, O we were in his mind.

Saw a poodle in a jacket fastened with a pin,
Saw a door opened and a cat let in:
But they weren't German Jews, my dear, but they weren't German Jews.

Went down the harbour and stood upon the quay,
Saw the fish swimming as if they were free:
Only ten feet away, my dear, only ten feet away.

Walked through a wood, saw the birds in the trees;
They had no politicians and sang at their ease:
They weren't the human race, my dear, they weren't the human race.

Dreamed I saw a building with a thousand floors,
A thousand windows and a thousand doors:
Not one of them was ours, my dear, not one of them was ours.

Stood on a great plain in the falling snow;
Ten thousand soldiers marched to and fro:
Looking for you and me, my dear, looking for you and me.

W. H. Auden, "Refugee Blues"

Migrants walk to the border with Hungary after arriving by train at Botovo, Croatia October 16, 2015. Reuters/Antonio Bronic

Posted on Tuesday, November 17, 2015 at 11:21AM by Registered CommenterBrenda from Brooklyn | CommentsPost a Comment