Saturday night in the Berkshires


There’s a storm rolling in this evening and I have box seats with a sweeping view of the mountain range circling the Stockbridge Bowl from my bunk bed in the dormitory at Kripalu Center for Yoga & Health.

The dorm was empty when I arrived back from the crowded dining hall and the world outside suddenly stilled, amplifying the humanity I’d left behind. It was hard to pull myself away from the dinner conversation, with the evening concert about to begin, and cafe and the gift store humming—But it was necessary. Residing, as I do, on a dirt road in Vermont, Kripalu is much like a city to me—with all its people and energy—magnified by my expanded role this week—assisting not one presenter, but a team of 9.

There was a time when I thrived on this kind of action, depended on it really—to distract myself from myself. The complexity still gives me a thrill–attending to presenters & participants, surround & sound, timing & content. I do this a little more than a handful of times a year and it allows me to resurrect capacities I’ve long since disowned (the restaurant I managed, the classrooms, the non-profits), but it’s also a resurrection of a deeper familiarity, I fear, of a childhood parentified, overwhelmed and traumatized.

By the time I left home as a young adult, the sound of silence terrified me, and in the absence of something to occupy my mind, I’d turn up the radio to drown out the noise, inside. I felt this familiar tensing when I arrived back to the dorm in the calm before the storm. Twice, maybe three times, I stood up from my bunk to go in search of something more interesting to do; it seems the more amped up I get, the more stimulation I crave. But in the hush around me, I found a deep exhale, and with that, a surrender, and a homecoming, consciously embodied, where I most belong.

There was a storm on my first weekend at Kripalu back in 2006, a wild, wintry one, taking down trees and power lines. I was a guest then in a program held in the cozy Orchard Room with its line of windows through which I watched the branches of apple trees collect snow. Almost a decade later, I was in the Orchard Room again just after I turned 50 and rounded the corner on a work of memoir whose corners alas are still rounding (at 55!) in what had become a spiral path instead of the linear one I had in mind.

Which is to say, I shouldn’t be surprised that on my way from the crowded dining hall to the empty dormitory, I passed the Orchard Room, and recognized there, somehow for the first time, three iconic representations from my childhood of which I’ve gone to great lengths to describe in my work of memoir centering as it does in my grandmother Lila’s home.

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“…I don’t know exactly what a prayer is,” wrote Mary Oliver, “I do know how to pay attention…”

One of the presenters spoke that verse, and it’s lingered as a guidepost for me though I’m not sure where it’s pointing. I’d volunteered as the program assistant for Radical Listening: Narrative Medicine for a Polarized World out of curiosity and desperation and hope—not just for our country—but for my path forward. My youngest graduates this week and so it is that the day-to-day vocation of 25 years (or a lifetime—as the oldest of 8) comes to a close.

I’m after a new beginning, and I’ve long thought that I might find it in the medicine of narrative, finally claiming the legacy handed down through generations of family physicians before me. But alas after a 4-day immersion among those described as the “Mount Rushmore” of the field (including its founder from the program at Columbia), I am pointed back home where I am finishing this piece, in the quiet morning air beside the rock outcropping off my writing studio, attending to the slightest movement among the ferns, as the thrush sings and the balsam wafts, and I wait to see the return of my spring friends the fox kits who must have grown so much in the 5 days since I’ve been gone.

I can’t say that writing saved me when I began the practice at 18, but I know for certain that it was my companion through pain and loss and overwhelm, and I know it helped/helps shape my path forward.

“The quality of attention shapes the story,” the presenters said to the participants, and I imagine this is just as true with life.

Because I am a mother and my mother is dead

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Tidal pools of rage and grief release into composition as my husband hangs the first load of the season out on the line.

He came to me like this.

33 summers ago, I hired him as a waiter because I had been obliged to do so (his mother sold us ad time), but I soon came to recognize, not only the fullness of his pleasure/presence ((oh, the gifts of a second son)), but his ability–to be male, and to be aware, of the world around him.

You’ve heard the joke, right?

How many men does it take to screw in a lightbulb?

Because my husband likes routine and the physical world, and because I like systems and the world of contemplation, we complement one another, which, as we were once told, is the hardest relationship to thrive.

(Perhaps that first therapist had been wrong, but there’s still time.)

Because I did not marry my first love who adored me and “placed me on a shelf,” I was not only lucky in second loving, but wise.

If not for the man my husband is, I would not have space to be who I am ((rediscover who I am)) alongside being a wife and mother; though my mother found ways didn’t she–abandoning everything and starting over again, and then abandoning herself for that crime, almost entirely, until she arrived, near death, closer toward the center of her own life, where the men we love reside, with permission implied, just about everywhere…

How many men does it take to screw in a lightbulb?

Just one.
While he waits
for the whole world
to revolve
around Him.

Which is to say that the mother I am, the writer I am, the thinker and teacher I am, is in large part because of the man in the yard hanging the laundry, and because of that, I am fortunate and grateful and angry, hoping my granddaughter won’t need to rely upon the good nature of yet another man to carve out a center of her own.

(mothers day 2019)

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Heart & Soul

I was a girl. There was a party. My grandfather sat down at the piano, already our hero. Who knew he could play! Who knew Heart & Soul had two parts! I sat down beside him on the bench and he showed me how. We played together, grandfather and granddaughter.

Didn’t this song stream over the radio just as I was writing about him today.

“Hi, Poppop!” I call out.

Those twinkling eyes. His height. His kindness. The way everybody loved him. EVERYBODY, except perhaps my grandmother at times. How he’d hurt her. How being female hurt her. How his life and light blossomed. How hers dimmed. How I adored them both. But saw in her, despite the increasing slurring, and the absence of societal mark, the greater power, the indomitable strength, the wind, the water, the earth, beneath his feet, our feet, as he smiled and wooed and flipped our pancakes into silver dollars, while she, who once held so much promise–French & Chinese at Rutgers–grew bitter with neglect.

A leading role came at 55, a tragedy, her dramatic exit.

And although his eyes did twinkle from time to time, he never stood as tall.

With her, half the man was gone.

Midnight. Imbolc.


I was 18 when I began keeping vigil with all that was lost; which is to say, I began writing.

My youngest is 18 now.

His older brother was home this afternoon for a quick half-hour, just in time to hop in the car with his father and head south to my husband’s family home 300 miles away.

I waved from the mudroom as they pulled down the driveway and then Aidan and I turned to empty the dishwasher. As I was bent over the silverware it hit me. “All three of you share something I don’t,” I said.

Home.

Turns out, it’s hard to give your kids something you never had, and not for the obvious reasons.

While it’s been healing to offer the kind of upbringing I needed, it’s also surprisingly painful, especially now that they’re the age I was when there was hardly a home or parents to turn toward.

Lately, I’ve been thinking about moving. Far away. By myself. Like the time I lived in London or the time I backpacked through Europe or the time I went out to the Rockies. At 18 and 23, my boys are like bookends of the age I was then. It must be time.

Integrity is one of several paths. It distinguishes itself from the others because it is the right path, and the only one upon which you will never get lost.

I came across this passage in a framed print at the second-hand store years ago, and slowly it wove itself into our family fabric, especially as my boys entered adolecence and I asked them to recite it again and again.

I leaned into that instruction myself, intuitively, 30 years earlier, after a miscarriage, as I prepared to leave my first teaching position. A colleague remarked on my diligence with the end of the year paperwork. “Why bother,” she said. “You’re leaving for Vermont.”

It was something I would hear echoed, again and again, each time I left a job, a rental, a relationship.

Integrity.

Ending well.

Tonight I looked for jobs across the ocean.

What must it be like to have a home to which you can return? I wondered this as my older son sat beside me on the stairs before he left with his father. “I’ll be leaving right away when we get back on Sunday,” he said.

I marveled at how he could “drop-in” to the familiar sights and sounds and smells of a lifetime, and then be on his way again, securely rooted and released, without any need to grasp or hold on or catalogue the memories before they vanished.

The restlessness I feel inside is almost unbearable.
UPROOT, it says, UPROOT!

I don’t want a house or a husband or a community.

But I’ve cultivated a lifetime of tools that enable me to stay with what hurts and what is uncomfortable and what makes me want to run.

Writing. Breath. Music. Dance. Meditation. Spiritual texts. Self-compassion.

“Observing desire without acting on it enlarges our freedom to choose,” writes Tara Brach, in Radical Acceptance.

Freedom is on the horizon.
Especially with January behind us.

Christmas Heartbreak

If not the sobriety of Menopause (2 years this past Thanksgiving), then the house guest for whom the holiday was a foreigner, or perhaps the alchemy of both together accounted for the way Christmas was tilted, like a snow globe, and shook loose of all of its accoutrements–gifts & food & music & ritual–until it was seen, if not for the first time, then at least anew.

The build-up.
The expectations.
The arbitrariness.
The absurdity.
The excess.
The holy?

One could say, as many do, that it’s the absence of the Christ Child that hollows out the holiday like a cheap, chocolate Easter Bunny.

But what of our rich personal traditions, steeped in soul and meaning?

Each Christmas Eve we read aloud the Nativity story, and each Christmas Morning, we read this stunning excerpt from Little Women:

Jo was the first to wake in the gray dawn of Christmas morning. No stockings hung at the fireplace, and for a moment she felt as much disappointed as she did long ago, when her little sock fell down because it was crammed so full of goodies. Then she remembered her mother’s promise and, slipping her hand under her pillow, drew out a little crimson-covered book. She knew it very well, for it was that beautiful old story of the best life ever lived, and Jo felt that it was a true guidebook for any pilgrim going on a long journey. She woke Meg with a Merry Christmas, and bade her see what was under her pillow. A green-covered book appeared, with the same picture inside, and a few words written by their mother, which made their one present very precious in their eyes. Presently Beth and Amy woke to rummage and find their little books also, one dove-colored, the other blue, and all sat looking at and talking about them, while the east grew rosy with the coming day.

“While the east grew rosy with the coming day!” Gush!!! And each and every Day in December we read from the National WIldlife Treasury…

December may be the last page on our calendar, but it belongs to no single year… ruled less by time than by age-old traditions…

But is reading meaning?
What of the heart?

My late mother’s birthday is Christmas Day, as was my great Aunt Doll’s.
Certainly, that’s enough heart for a single day.

Let your heart be light…

My youngest, and his maternal and paternal grandfathers before him, dismiss the traditions of faith as if religion is a personal affront to their God-given, white-male sovereignty, and at least in my son’s defense, this is accompanied by an abiding passion for all things scientific.

Lesser beings, like myself, of smaller minds and opportunity, oftentimes rely upon magic and soul. Alas, my capacity for the former, carefully attended since childhood, is almost extinguished, for which I can barely muster concern which in itself is alarming.

At one time, most of my friends could hear the bell, but as years passed, it fell silent for all of them…(Chris Van Allsburg, The Polar Express) 

First thing Christmas morning, my youngest led his older brother in a brief yoga practice, sounding through the chakras, the two of them flanking me on my mat in front of my bedroom balcony doors as the sun rose above the trees in the East–their Warrior Threes on each side of my Balanced Tree–a morning practice to better prepare ourselves for the extraordinary self-connection required of the day’s togetherness; which on sons’ part was no doubt an effort to humor their mother so that the gift-giving could commence sooner.

Having sped through the chakras with a pose for each one, they left the room, encouraging me along, while moments later my youngest returned with his old, golden & gem clad, Egyptology book in hand.

“Eylem pulled this off the shelf,” he explained, “Look at this,” he said, pointing to an excerpt from the Book of the Dead, beneath an illustration of Horus which read:

My heart, my mother, my heart, my mother, my heart, my coming into being! May there be nothing to resist me at my judgment… may there be no parting of thee from me in the presence of him who keeps the scales!

He went on to explain that at death the heart is weighed. And only if it is lighter than a feather may the dead pass on to “heaven.”

Let your heart be light…

It’s not just the heartbreak of my mother’s absence, or the Christmas Eve fire that destroyed a neighbor’s home, or the tsunami on the Sundra Straits of Indonesia sweeping away a pop band while it performed for concert goers on the beach, or even the impending separation between two lovers in my livingroom, star-crossed by timing and culture and place of birth (not to mention visas) or the heartbreak of disappointing yourself, like my youngest, in your first semester away at school, it was the revelation that came with the lightening of my own heart as we sat around the fire on Christmas Eve, while the Gospel of Luke was read aloud with a Turkish accent, followed by the spontaneous singing of carols, giving rise to bouts of laughter, particularly my own, which led my oldest to posit that his mother must be very, very tired, or the moment earlier in the day just before we left to skate on the Retreat Meadows when I stepped toward my husband’s in an embrace, not weary, but full of love, which is how I realized how very tight and parsimonious I’ve let my heart become.

ps: best ever illustrated book of the Gospel of Luke/nativity story, Julie Vivas (of Australia):

Rose-Gold Solstice Tears

 

I am typing this morning on a rose-gold laptop, meant to be unboxed ritualistically with Solstice. 

But when my husband arrived home last night with the new purchase, I took it in my arms and said:

“Where is my old computer?”

Stunned, he said nothing at first, and then sensing my distress, replied: “They told me that it was on its last legs.”

He then proceeded to list all its ailments; of which, I was intimately aware.

Still, upon grasping this finality, I sat down on the stairs, with the box on my lap, and surprised us both.

I cried. I cried out loud as I had (or had wanted to) once when I watched from the curb outside our apartment as the tow truck pulled away with my friend.

That silver Mercury Lynx, a relatively unattractive car, without a single upgrade, did its best to transport me and my belongings to college and back home on weekends and vacations; and soon after, between homes with my younger siblings after our parents’ marriage came to a reckless end.

Sometimes I drove them to school, or to birthday parties, or to Easter egg hunts or out Trick or Treating. Later, when addiction split the 8 of us in half between parents, the Lynx provided for long-awaited reunions and adventures, near and far–the beach, the boardwalk, the Chinese restaurant, the pizza parlor, the historical village, the science center, the art museum, the zoo, the ballpark, the Berkshires.

That car accompanied me on solo trips too, riding the ferry across the Delaware Bay where my great-grandparents lived, and years later it brought me back to sit with my Nana in the hospital in her final days. (Or maybe that was the Honda.)

That little lemon of a vehicle from Ford took Casey and me across the country and back during our first winter together, spent in the Rockies, and the next winter, it went with me to my first teaching job; while long before that, it traversed the island and over to the mainland with friends on roadtrips to the mall or to concerts or back and forth to the waterside restaurant that I’d managed in the summertime.

I’d sobbed inside that car, after hours, to and from the restaurant in early July my first love proposed to another.

I sang at the top of lungs, “Somewhere over the rainbow,” on my drive home after graduation to which my mother, inebriated, never arrived.

I talked myself through difficulties and decisions; and from time to time, I thought about veering off my path to head somewhere unknown without telling a soul.

Despite the sputtering of its faulty carburetor, I learned to drive in that car with its manual transmission, and it became a part of me and my agency, of who I was, and who I wanted to be.

I can still see the Kermit the Frog decal on my back window on the morning my little brother helped me attach it. I can hear my little sister begging for some of my pizza goldfish from the back seat. I remember the tin of cookies between Casey and me that were baked for our two-thousand-mile journey to the Rockies, but which we opened before we’d left town. There was the cassette tape that I made for that trip, introducing him, to his dismay, to my childhood icon, John Denver, whom by the drive home, several months later, he loved too.

I began wearing glasses in that car, just at night.

Casey crossed the room and took a seat beside me on the stairs and patted my back as I wept.

“I started my book on that computer,” I said, and with that added realization, I cried even harder, leaving him a bit perplexed about the absence of joy given the expensive purchase on my lap, or maybe he understood completely, having loved me for so long.

Sometimes I wonder if I’m more attached to places and things than I am to people. Most of my photos, even the ones that I took when I was a youthful traveler, are of light and angles and objects, rather than familiar faces.

Maybe the experience of so much loss, so young, made me withdraw from the transient nature of human relationships.

“This new computer is a stranger,” I said, putting the box down beside me so that I could tuck my head under the railing of the stairs and lean my head against the wall while tears trickled down my cheeks.

I find myself there often of late, under the railing, shrinking life’s uncertainties I suppose, as I open into all the unknowns, no longer needing to be strong or clear or directed in this empty nest of ours.

I’ve felt deeply into this emptiness since August. I’ve grieved and been ill and wondered what the point–of me–was.

My entire life has been defined by care. In large part because I was born female. And because I was born the oldest. And because everything around me fell apart and someone needed to pay attention. And finally, because I chose occupations and careers that centered around the capacities cultivated in the face of tragedy and loss.

Even yesterday, while skating alone out across the frozen Retreat Meadows, I watched to be sure another skater returned from beyond the grassy mounds before I took another pass myself.

And still, I sense that I’ve reached some turning point, some great letting go, some tentative acceptance of an invitation–to lift my head out from under the railing and claim the space which was always meant to be mine.

This costly, rose-gold laptop is a necessity, I tell myself, much like a car. It’s how I get to work and back (even if I earn less now than I did when I was in school.)

My very first laptop was delivered much like this one, at the door, but unexpectedly so by a friend who had refurbished it, and thrusting into my arms, said:

“You’re a writer. Write.”

I left the classroom to do just that.

But Writing and I began our affair, decades earlier, just after my first year at college when my family fell apart, and I needed someone to turn toward too.

In journal after journal, I wrote to myself or to some larger aspect of myself, or to consciousness itself–through college and backpacking across Europe, to marriage and moving to Vermont, to becoming a mother and leaving the classroom.

Together we transcended relationships, locations, identities, vehicles, and even computers.

At first by accident, and then tentatively, I began submitting articles and essays until I felt the stirrings of a book.

“What will I write about?” I asked Casey. And in the absence of subject, and so ever-practical (and ever-so prematurely), I investigated the ins and outs of publishing, which pointed me toward something called “a platform,” ie. Facebook, Twitter, and blogging which fortunately or unfortunately better suited my need for self-direction until I was no longer submitting, in favor of writing what I wanted, when I wanted, in live-partnership with readers, ie. fellow soul seekers (but without a paycheck.)

You could say I’ve wasted many years here on Facebook, a decade, in fact, come 2019.

Or you could say that I’ve honed my voice and found new avenues of full-hearted participation.

Though I haven’t attempted to publish, I have written through three memoirs since that nascent stirring. The first in a single summer. The second during a school year. (Both shelved until my capacity for the craft matched my vision.) The third, written through again and again, over the course of what is now several years—the lifespan of a laptop that has lived past its time.

“They called it vintage,” Casey said, explaining how it wasn’t worth repair.

Earlier this month, he drove me to the sea, and there, at the hour of my birth, the largest or deepest essence of my book was revealed, like the small, but solid figure at the center of a set of nesting dolls.

“The beings that were un-manifest want to help,” an intuitive said just yesterday of the babies that I miscarried long ago.

And for the first time, since holding my newborn son in my arms, I felt the grief of those losses return, and something else–the gift of reconnection–and the space to occupy it.

And now, I discover that I have christened this laptop along with whoever is inclined to read something this long in the season with so much to do.

May this rose-gold light shine the way forward with all the accoutrements that accompany success.

Greedily, or better yet, full-heartedly, I want Everything—meaning, purpose, healing, publication, outreach, travel, income and wellbeing.

Thank you to each set of eyes and each heart and mind that helped me better understand my place in what amounts to a decade of live-journaling in this shared constellation of LOVE. Your light nourishes my own.

May your wishes rise in the dark in the certain embrace of Light’s return.

May it be so.

Pulling ahead of the Patriarchy


I was fourteen, ”14 and a half,” to be precise, at the cusp of everything—body, mind, emotion, soul—coming together—in full expression.

I aced each of my Regents exams, had friends from the Rockies to the Hudson to the Atlantic, cultivated a deep connection to not only my “personal savior” but to nature, and self (all of which I now call Spirit); and to top it off–as I walked by the deep end of Delafield Pond in my bikini on my way to the high dive (which I’d done countless times the previous summer)–the cadets, face down on their beach towels, lifted their heads.

Cue: Tragedy.

Not mine, Silly. I was only heading for the 10-foot dive (to jump no less.) The 30-foot dive isn’t even there anymore which is something I discovered two summers ago when I returned to the base for a visit. (And let me tell you, returning to the place where you used to live isn’t easy in post 9/11, USMA.)

But back to Tragedy.

Enter: Stage left.

Have you ever noticed how Mack Trucks dominate the road? They’re either going too fast or too slow, or they’re crossing the line or coming too hard into a steep curve that’s icy with snow; or they’re tearing up the backroads because the highway is closed after another one tipped itself on its side; or maybe, it’s simply a gorgeous summer day, like the very one when I was at Delafield Pond with the cadets lifting their heads, and 150 miles south a Mack Truck is climbing a bridge while the sun is high in the sky, and the visibility is prime, and still, the Mack Truck, being a Mack Truck, doesn’t even notice a broken down car up ahead with 4 women inside.

Come to think of it a Mack Truck is a good metaphor for something else that oppresses and destroys.

To this day, I grip the steering wheel or I hold onto the handle above the passenger seat or I press my feet up against the dashboard.

This was especially true in those first years, and exponentially so when crossing over a bridge; and then again, in the past handful of years once I began time traveling to rescue that 14-
& a half year old girl whose soul was left behind in the debris spread the length of a football field across a multi-lane bridge outside the city of Philadelphia.

Come to think of it, those guys from my highschool days, the ones who have been trolling my Facebook wall with their support of #45, are a lot like Mack Trucks.

Spreaders, is that what they’re called on public transportation?

“What? What’s the big deal?” says the Patriarchy, “This is how it’s always been. It’s never been a problem before.” or  “I was just joking. Don’t be so serious.”

What the Patriarchy fails to understand, doesn’t even begin to understand, and is apparently uninterested in understanding is that it’s always been a problem for the rest of us. We’ve just been too afraid to say too much or to say it too loud or too often, because. Mac Trucks.

I stayed up too late on the night of the Mid-Terms. I over-used my eyes and my heart and my brain and my patience, but surprisingly I fell to sleep with ease.

Still, I must not have slept well or enough because I dozed off on the mat this morning, and each time the teacher spoke into the savasana meditation of air and bliss, I stirred, wondering where I was, only to fall back to sleep again before I fully came to, until she said those dreaded words:

“Make small movements with your wrists and ankles before coming up to a seated position.”

I could hardly move off my mat but I had to move because the class was over and my mat was partially in the doorway because the class was unexpectedly relocated to the basement where there wasn’t enough room for so many women, all of which I took personally on behalf of women, given the election.

I mean the whole reason I drove an hour south into the Berkshires for this series of 4 elemental yoga classes (earth-water-fire-air) at the Clark Art Institute was the glass room upstair with the stunning view. Still, last week the water pool had been emptied and filled with rocks so that was already depressing.

But the basement? Relocating a group of aging women to the basement for the “Air” element on the morning after the election is hugely symbolic but I’m too tired to figure that out right now.

I got off my mat and dragged myself to the bathroom, where I noticed that my eyes were exceedingly small and puffy. They’ve been this way for days. (This happened once before, didn’t it? When was that?)

My mind flashes to something my therapist wrote to me last winter. We were talking about #metoo and the report I was making about a man who rubbed his hands across my ass in a public setting. She noticed my eyes that day right away, and I received this email from her when I got home:

These processes of going public with violating men ask you to be so reasonable and reasoned. Where do the anger and vigorous pushback go? Is it expressed in a safe place for you? Is it getting stuck in the windows of your soul, around your eyes? Such dilemmas–wanting to be of service to move consciousness along but… where does our vigor go? STOP to the violators or stopped up in us?

I postponed my post-yoga working lunch in the Clark café, and dragged my weary eyes outside into the woods and up the hillside.

Mack Trucks.

I left home for the Berkshires early this morning so that I wouldn’t get caught up in election news (particularly Texas or Florida or Georgia) or be distracted by volleys with the Jersey boys from highschool who were gung ho about their guy Trump.

The drive through the Green Mountains was surprisingly trafficky for Vermont, but then I remembered that my earlier departure meant I was traveling during the morning commute.

Just after I passed a utility truck and returned to the right lane to prepare to climb one last hill before turning south into the Berkshires, I saw a Mack Truck in my rear view mirror.

Crap, I thought to myself, and then I sped up a little, wanting to avoid any proximity, particularly with the high winds we were experiencing as the morning temperatures rose.

The Mack Truck sped up too.

I looked in my rearview mirror once more, prepared to let the Mack Truck pass me, but then I noticed that it was losing ground in the climb.

My small car, so low to the earth was less buffeted by the winds, and my engine remained steady and strong.

I watched in the mirror as the Mack Truck lagged further and further behind, and for the very first time in the 40 years since my grandmother and my aunties and their golf clubs were crushed under 18 wheels, I felt something else instead of consumed by fear.

More than 123 women were elected to Congress last week.