I walked along the leaf-strewn path flanking the eastern base of Mt. Tamalpais. A soft fog floated aimlessly between naked trees and redwood groves. A gentle rain was falling. The only sound was the crush of my boots against a tapestry of fallen leaves. Nothing stirred. I was an intruder almost in a glen stilled by winter, eerily motionless. How calm, how quiet, how. . . misleading.

I stooped to pick up a fallen leaf; vivid splashes of red and gold but crimped by age at the edges. A dead leaf, yes, but also a symbol of renewal. This panoply of leaves on which I walked would gradually decompose, providing sustenance for insects and fungi which would, in turn, produce a nutrient-rich soil for future growth; a constantly on-going, recycling process where nothing really dies but merely changes character, from leaf to mulch to growth again. And though the process is terrestrial, it requires an orchestration of sun, wind, rain and soil in the miraculous recycling of Earth’s components.

The sky opened up as the gentle rain turned to a heavy downpour. My usual reaction would be to run for cover, but this time, I lifted my face to the rain, and tasted the sensation, realizing at once, that we, too, are a part of this renewal process. At the end of the path, I spotted a sapling, alone but well-nurtured by the process that had brought is this far. I looked back at where I had strolled: nothing was really calm or still in this glen. Rather, it was all a staging area, a reassemblage of energy poised and ready for the next Spring.

With a Perspective, I’m Deidre Silverman.

Deidre Silverman lives in San Rafael.

Although schools are intended to be a place of tolerance and equality among students, for Youth Radio’s Arnav Gupta fissures appeared in how he views his community.

I attend an elite private school. It’s like a tiny utopia, within the already liberal bubble of the Bay Area. But recently, my perception of my school community as an accepting, tolerant place was shaken dramatically.

It started when my best friend and I got selected as advice columnists for our school newspaper. We sent out an online form to the entire campus, soliciting questions for our column. We were asking people to bare their souls, anonymously of course, revealing their innermost thoughts and feelings.

But those unspoken sentiments… well, they weren’t exactly what we expected.

“Why is your nose so big?” “When are you two getting married?” “Why are you perpetually single?”

My best friend and I are both Indian in a student body that’s majority white. So it’s hard not to read some of these statements as racially charged. At the very least, they were cruel. They didn’t have playful or joking connotations – they were incredibly personal.

Once my classmates had the opportunity to speak anonymously, it was like an entirely new side of them came out, one of fervent hatred and unashamed criticism. They went after my physical appearance, quirks and characteristics, relationship status, while at the same time smiling at me in the hallways.

Knowing the disparaging things that my peers are thinking about me, it affects me on a daily basis. I have no idea who submitted these statements, no way of tracking them down. I unconsciously view classmates with inherent suspicion; unsure if the persona they’re projecting outwards is just a cover for their internal hatred.

It may be naive, but before seeing those survey results, I felt protected from this kind of bullying. My school especially, has preached the virtues of embracing each other’s differences, of standing strong together as members of a tight-knit community.

I’m still mourning the sense of safety I lost, but deep down I knew it couldn’t last forever. I’ll have to confront these prejudices everyday anyways, might as well start training early.

With a Perspective, I’m Arnav Gupta.

17-year-old Arnav Gupta is a high school senior and lives in Fremont. His Perspective comes to us from Youth Radio.

Many of us associate getting old with diminishing capacity, both physical and intellectual. Pete Gavin doesn’t see it that way.

An old friend and teacher of mine has an exhibit in Berkeley on what it means to be old, something many of us don’t think a lot about – at least not directly. Or…we think about it too much, though not in a welcoming way. Yet, there are many advantages to aging.

When interviewed on television and asked what his favorite word was, Anthony Hopkins said, “No. Because it took me a lifetime to learn to say it.”

As I age, I worry less about conforming to rules of decorum and etiquette. I have license to be true to my real self. Life is too short to do things I don’t want to do.

Another benefit of age is learning what’s really important. Things that once caused stress or anxiety sort of wash away because in the big picture, they don’t matter that much. Like my wife reminds me, “Do you want to be right, or do you want to be happy?”

As I start to shed my rigid self, I’m exposed to thoughts and experiences previously not possible. I am learning to be more open-minded, more accepting, and I see beauty in places I never did before. By letting go, I open up.

George Bernard Shaw said, “Youth is wasted on the young.” I think he meant younger folks take things for granted. As I age, I pause and notice beauty, humor, contentment, a warm soothing breeze, a stranger’s engaging smile, the freshness of a piece of fruit. It’s easier to laugh at myself when I do something silly or stupid because my ego is less controlling.

When I was a kid, lying awake at night imaging my future life, I always thought my 20s would be my favorite decade, but what I found was the opposite. Every decade was better than the one before. I’ve had a good life, but I wouldn’t want to relive it. I’m grateful for the memories, but I’m even more excited for what’s coming than what’s been.

With a Perspective, I’m Pete Gavin.

Pete Gavin is a retired teacher of middle school English.

We almost didn’t find it. Our 1960s map showed the archaeological site along a creek by a trail. No one had seen it since. We crisscrossed the area. About to give up, we checked the thick brush, and peeking out from the poison oak were clam shells, obsidian and dark soil. I scrambled through and dropped down into the creekbed. There, in the cutbank, was a black band of soil, the remnants of Coast Miwok habitation here in Point Reyes from centuries ago.

When the first archaeologists were here, this was ranchland, and the ground was exposed. They saw everything, whereas now we’re lucky to get to it. The coastal chaparral is so dense that it’s hard to get anywhere without a machete.

It didn’t look like this when the Coast Miwok were here, either. This site was open, as were all of the occupied places along the coast. By changing the landscape to what we thought was a pristine environment, we’ve taken humans off the land. This is not the same as returning it to what it was before white people came. Recent research from UC Berkeley has found that Coast Miwok have periodically burned portions of Point Reyes for at least 2,000 years. It kept grazing land clear, parasites down, and enriched the soil for young plants.

The tribal community has been telling us for centuries now that people are part of the land, part of the seasonal rhythms of plants and animals, and they help shape the world they live. If we wanted an environment before humans, we’d have to go back to the Pleistocene. Unless we reintroduce Colombian mammoth, we’re not going back to a pre-human natural landscape. What we’re left with now are public lands choked with brush that are both a fire hazard and a challenge towards maintaining biodiversity. The time has come to revisit our land management policies, and bring people back to the land in ways that build environmental resiliency and long-term health in our parks and forests.

With a Perspective, this is Mike Newland.

Mike Newland is an archaeologist.

Hello, I’m Paul and I am a member of the coastal elite. I’ve been told I live in a bubble.

Now if this really were a 12-step group you’d all greet me in unison and then I would share my tale of woe. But that’s not going to happen.

Instead of expressing regret, I want to give you a tour of my bubble.

When I leave for work and walk down my block I pass by homes where men live with their husbands and women with their wives, because in my bubble, people can love as they choose without fear of persecution and harassment.

When I get to the BART station I don’t expect everything to be in working order. But there is one thing I can count on: the train I board will be filled with people drawn from every continent. The family connections in my bubble extend to the four corners of the Earth.

My commute takes me under the bay and then emerges above ground in West Oakland. Here is the evidence that not everything in my bubble is state of the art and new and shiny. I can see what happens when jobs leave and the government response is inadequate or misguided. In my bubble the plight of the white working class has been the struggle of the black and brown working class for decades.

My commute ends in downtown Oakland, a place where all the challenge and promise of urban America intersect. In my bubble the work continues and it is never finished.

In the evening when I return home, depending on the season, I walk in sunshine or fog, in the wind or in the rain, and this reminds me that my bubble is part of something larger: a fragile green and blue sphere that calls for stewardship, not exploitation.

This bubble is where I live with the people I love and it is where I will take my stand. I am not looking for guidance on how to accept the things I cannot change. Instead, I am vowing to change the things I cannot accept.

With a Perspective, this is Paul Staley.

Paul Staley lives in San Francisco.

We do what’s important to us. And for Maria del Rosario Chan that meant giving her great uncle what he wanted and need most as his health was failing.

I gave him something he didn’t have much left of, and that was time.

Every day, I called him around 5 pm. Any later, he might be asleep. He would have good days and bad days. On his good days, I might be able to sound out the words he was murmuring. But on his bad days, he couldn’t even respond. All he could do was listen. The one-sided conversations with their long silence made me uncomfortable. I would just wait for his next utterance and think of something next to say.

Kao gong, my 78-year-old great uncle, lived in a nursing home in Las Vegas. I used to see him every day growing up. He drove me everywhere and did every kind of errand to make my life better. Whatever I wanted or needed, he gave me. I had to be careful not to mention if I liked something, because the next thing you know, there it was; not just one, but a hundred of them.

Eventually, the acts of generosity stopped when Kao gong moved to Las Vegas. I missed him terribly and would only call occasionally. But as his condition worsened, the phone calls became more frequent and my nightly prayers got longer. Regardless of what I was doing, I dropped everything and called him. My great aunt would tell me if I made him smile, and if he ate well or looked alert. I prayed for good days like that.

Teenagers are not known to be so affectionate with the elderly. We may not have the patience to converse and keep them company. For me, there was nothing I loved more than to talk to my great uncle and hear that he was doing well. I wanted him to eke out one more day, to have one more tomorrow.

On my last call, I told him we would be visiting in two weeks and that maybe I could take him out to walk around the garden. That was one of our best calls. He responded with energy and clarity–because he was using all the strength he had left.

The next day, I did not have to make that call at 5 o’clock. Kao gong’s time was up. And I didn’t know what to do with that extra time. All I could do was miss him.

With a Perspective, I’m Maria del Rosario Chan.

Maria del Rosario Chan is a sophomore at Piedmont High School.

If any one should be able to exercise neutral objectivity, it should be a professional mediator like Richard Friedlander. But it’s easier said than done.

An urban legend tells us that anything that happens to you has also happened on Seinfeld. Which is quite something for a show that was was about nothing. The same could be said of mediation. Not that it’s about nothing, but the problems of communication also visit Seinfeld. When I was learning the mediator trade in a community setting, a sacred cow mooed that mediators had to share the same ethnicity or gender as the parties to mediate a dispute. To me, this was utter nonsense. After all, mediation is the belief that parties can settle disputes by themselves, that what counts is the mediator’s ability to listen, categorizing is irrelevant, and after all, mediators are neutral.

If I ever believed that categorizing didn’t matter, I was being naive. People are inclined to believe someone of their own background will understand them better than an outsider. And psst!: no mediator is completely neutral.

Profiling also has a major role on Seinfeld, since it’s something we do every day, often without thought: a precondition to reducing the world to a manageable size. For instance, I can’t read every book ever written. The unwitting shadow cast by an author’s name, photograph or bio I find hard to ignore. In legal speak, I am accepting ad hominem evidence: reacting to a person rather than to whatever they might tell me. Thus, he, being a he, is automatically barred from writing on women’s issues; and, of course, vice-versa. And yet, her natural female bias must naturally taint what she says about women, and ditto for men. Hence, I am caught in an illogical cleft-stick of my own making.

Being an outsider does not necessarily disqualify our views any more than being an insider validates them. Sometimes, outsiders can see a forest where insiders see only trees. Ignoring my reading prejudices might open me to worthwhile adventures. Parties that can accept a mediator from another tribe just might resolve their problem. If not, the world isn’t a village; it’s a closet. And not as funny as Seinfeld.

With a Perspective, I’m Richard Friedlander.

Richard Friedlander is a mediator and actor. He lives in the East Bay.

Early morning weekday mass is a quiet scene. About two dozen folks show up for some meditative time and scripture, prayers of intentions and gratitude, Communion, some socializing.

On any given morning there is an eclectic mix of attendees; a young Hispanic mom with two kids, older couples, a nun in a windbreaker and khaki pants, a young person or two on their way to school or work, a shy homeless gent by the door with his gigantic backpack, elderly ladies quietly telling their rosary beads.

One of the regulars is a cheerful, diminutive Hispanic woman, well into her 70’s who, despite the predictable eighth-decade health issues, shows up rain or shine, and often does the scripture readings. Over the years I’ve known her, I’ve seen her at peace demonstrations or politically related events; cooking enchiladas at fundraisers or feeding the hungry in our community. This, of course, when I was usually busy with much more “important things” to do.

On a recent morning I was looking for her after mass to share some news. I found her in a small alcove of the church standing before an image of Our Lady of Guadalupe, head bowed, the bright morning sun streaming through the stained glass, illuminating her head of cropped, white hair. I stood at a distance until she turned and recognized me with her familiar smile. We spoke briefly, and I helped her push open the heavy church door, as she ambled out into the morning on her new knee, and the door thudded closed behind her.

For a minute I thought about what little I really knew about her life’s journey and the principled spirit that I see quietly burning in her. I’d like to think, I have to think, that the world is full of people like her – non-celebrities who don’t take themselves too seriously but who take on what they do with purpose and humor.

Incidentally, her first name is “Esperanza”, Spanish for “Hope.”



A good idea, that.

With a Perspective, I’m Joe Pramuk.

Joe Pramuk is a retired physician. He lives in Napa.

My name is Fay and I’m a recovering alcoholic. I grew up in the Bay Area and went to college, got a masters, married, raised kids, and built my career. During most of that time, alcohol and drugs were my fuel.

I started using as a teenager when my brother died. That didn’t make me an alcoholic. It was just the reason I turned to drugs and alcohol. I felt uncomfortable, lonely, and different. Drinking and drugging changed that. Partying meant no pain and not being alone. I spent most of those years buzzed, but the good grades, sports, leadership positions, and promotions – they were proof that life was on-track.

In college, I discovered most people don’t blackout when they drink. But, alcohol and drugs were a social norm and part of the fun. And I fit right in.

Two decades later, they stopped working for me. I began to feel a bit insane. I couldn’t stop using and wouldn’t ask for help. So I divorced, moved, got in better shape, changed jobs, cut out sugar and flour. Yet, the insanity was I couldn’t cut out drinking.

Nine years ago this week, I got sober. The journey back to life has been incredible. I have ups and downs, of course, but I no longer seek escape through alcohol or drugs. Yet so many friends didn’t understand why I stopped.

Addiction is isolating, insanity-making, debilitating, and goes largely untreated due to stigma, ignorance and shame. Those of us who get sober stay silent to avoid judgment. But by sharing our stories we can change understanding.

Addiction is not a choice, moral failing, or sign of weakness. And recovery can look like you and me. There are hundreds of thousands of people in the Bay Area living successfully in recovery, yet they are virtually invisible.

Today, I am using my voice to call attention to the health, happiness and healing possible in recovery. I know this. My life is proof. Its time to end shame and open up about recovery.

With a Perspective, I’m Fay Zenoff.

Fay Zenoff is executive director of a San Francisco nonprofit working to erase the stigma of addiction and promote the benefits of recovery.

Wildlife doesn’t exist only in the wild, and Colleen Patrick-Goudreau has some tips for how we can be better neighbors.

The animals who live among us are part of our communities; they are residents, cohabitants, contributors — not outsiders or intruders. What’s more, our assault on them can be viewed as harbingers of our larger environmental destiny. If we can’t attend to the animals in our own backyards, the long-term chances for biological diversity in the rest of this world are grim.

Every animal whose space we share in our urban and suburban neighborhoods — from the diurnal deer, squirrels, bees, and birds to the nocturnal foxes, skunks, rats, raccoons, mountain lions, and opossums — face challenges that threaten their very survival every day: noisy leaf-blowers and unleashed dogs, speeding cars and light pollution, chemical runoff, rampant habitat loss, and a human species so hostile to their existence we install non-native landscapes they can’t eat, delicious plants they love but are hindered from or punished for eating, and fences that inhibit their ability to travel freely to find food, water, or shelter.

Biological diversity in our urban and suburban areas is declining at alarming rates, and since the underlying cause is easy to identify — human behavior — the underlying solutions are equally apparent: human behavior.

A few changes can make all the difference. We can:

*Stop planting non-native landscapes. Animals can’t survive without the plants they co-evolved with.

*Give plant-eaters a break. Yes, newly planted trees and shrubs will be tested by hungry deer, but just keeping new plants protected from these natural herbivores for the first few years means they can withstand a little nibbling once they’re more mature.

*Stop using netting to protect those trees. Animals who get caught in them suffer tremendously.

*Stop poisoning rats. If not because there are more humane ways to deal with uninvited critters in our homes, then because rat poison hurts everyone in the food web.

*Create wildlife corridors to allow animals to move freely through our yards without risking the dangers of the road.

It’s not that we can make a difference in this world. It’s that we do make a difference. Everything we do has an impact on something or someone else. The question is: do we want that difference to be negative or positive.

With a Perspective, this is Colleen Patrick-Goudreau.

Colleen Patrick-Goudreau is an animal activist and writer living in Oakland.

The worlds of entertainment and government have been rocked by a torrent of sexual misconduct stories, but they’re far from the only work environments with longstanding sexual harassment problems. Molly Martin has this Perspective.

Women are speaking out against sexual predators — even movie moguls and presidents –like never before. Women in the building trades like me applaud them for telling their stories. Every tradeswoman has experienced harassment and can say #Metoo.

In 1980 I was the only female electrician on a big construction site in San Francisco. I would do my job, dressed in boots, hardhat and work clothes just like the men, but looking over my shoulder anticipating violence and hostility. In the port-a -potties amidst the genitalia drawn on the walls I saw my name written underneath expletives.

I spent my working life in a hostile work environment. We had no word for it then. There was no recourse. You could complain to your foreman or your union rep but told the harassment was your fault and if you couldn’t take it, you should leave the job. I loved the work, I loved the paycheck. I kept my mouth shut and my head down.

Some things have not changed since then. Women still make up less than three percent of the construction workforce. We are often alone in a crowd of hundreds of men.

But some things have changed thanks to feminist organizing. Sexual harassment is now against the law and our working lives have improved.

In 1986 the Supreme Court distinguished between and prohibited two kinds of sexual harassment. Quid pro quo harassment occurred when women were made offers in exchange for a sexual favor. But the harassment tradeswomen most frequently endure — threats, hostility, offensive images, and abusive language – were also outlawed.

Women in male-dominated occupations are on the front lines of feminism defending our sisters, supporting laws to protect women and helping employers and unions accept their responsibility.

I’m glad sexual harassment is now a mainstream issue, but for us it’s nothing new. We’ve been resisting for decades and still, we persist.

With a Perspective, I’m Molly Martin.

Molly Martin is a retired electrician. She lives in San Francisco.

Among the astoundingly brave men and women who saved property and lives from the Wine Country fires is one group that is intentionally shielded from accolades. But Andrew Lewis has this tribute to their heroism.

The call came sometime around one a.m. Three crews from Konocti Camp were roused from their sleep and dispatched over the mountain toward Santa Rosa.

What they encountered defied belief and imagination. A firestorm raged down the slope, engulfing entire neighborhoods. Although these particular men and women were trained to defend wild lands, they now found themselves defending homes. That night they hauled chainsaws, equipment and hoses. They dug lines out along Mark West Road and in the Fountaingrove neighborhood working to save everything they could. They fought house by house as hurricane force winds blew over them, jumping the freeway, forcing them to abandon firebreaks to establish new ones to defend lives and property.

The crews worked 24 to 72 hours straight. When they returned to base camp, they were exhausted. But there was something else. They were dead quiet. Some would say that the fireball was unlike anything they’d ever seen. They hoped never in their lives to see it again.

Unlike the CalFire crews wearing yellow protective clothing, these fire fighters wore orange. They were inmates in the California Department of Corrections, serving sentences for possession or trafficking or theft.

A veil separates these men from the rest of the world. As inmates in the correctional system, these fire fighting professionals are not allowed to socialize with other responders. They’re not permitted to communicate with the public. They can neither give nor receive gifts. For many of those whose homes and property they saved, they will remain forever anonymous.

Tragedy can bring communities together. But the true measure of community may not be our connection to those with whom we’re already familiar. It may be in recognizing our bond with those from whom we may have previously felt separate.

With a Perspective, this is Andrew Lewis.

Andrew Lewis works with at-risk youth while completing an intergenerational memoir.

Richard Swerdlow’s mother is elderly and when he can he tries to make sure all her practical needs are taken care of. But that, he learns, is not what she really needs.

My mother is 88, and lives in an assisted living facility. They take good care of her, but I help when I have time.

It’s a couple hours drive, and since I can only get there once a month or so, there’s a long to-do list. No time to waste. Each visit, I strategically plan maximum use of minimum time. With military precision, I swing into action. Mom needs to get hair cut, nails done. There’s the heart doctor, eye doctor, dentist. Maybe buying new stockings, if she feels up to it, which she seldom does anymore.

Back in her room, I rapidly organize, go through mail, sort bills, make sure medications are correct, prioritize requirements. Does she need shoes? Is that sweater looking too ragged to wear?

With that long drive home weighing on my mind, I’m pressed for time. I power through the day, double-checking I’ve efficiently handled everything. Mom is so old, confused and slow these days, and I’m in a hurry. Last visit, after I went through my mental checklist, I spoke in a bossy voice. “Looks like everything’s done, so I’ll be leaving. Anything else you need?”

There was a long pause.

“Yes,” she said. “Can you just sit with me for a little while?”

And I realized what wasn’t on the to-do list. The simple gift of time, so we could sit together and I can listen. Listen to her memories, about her childhood, me when I was a baby. About my brothers, about her parents, about when she was a young wife, about her long life, like all lives, at once both ordinary and extraordinary.

“Yes, I can,” I said.

And as we sat there together, she actually didn’t talk much. But, somehow, sitting silently, we were communicating at the deepest level. And, I realized, this isn’t a waste of time at all. You can always buy new stockings, but you can’t buy more time. And time is running out.

So next visit, I’ll skip the over-scheduled list.

Instead I’ll sit with Mom and let her take pleasure in what comfort and companionship she can still enjoy, though her mind’s foggy now, and she can barely walk, or hear, or even talk.

There may not be a lot of time left. But what time remains, this is how we’ll spend it.

Life is rushed, and I’m busy.

But, yes, Mom. I can sit with you for a little while.

With a Perspective, I’m Richard Swerdlow.

Richard Swerdlow teaches in the San Francisco Unified School District.

For a Halloween costume contest, a young Lane Parker and his stepfather had meticulously prepared an elaborate costume. How could he lose?

A long time ago in a city far enough away… a starry-eyed sixth grader entered a costume contest.

October 1977. The first Star Wars movie had come out just five months earlier, and I’d already decided to be a storm trooper for Halloween when I heard about the big costume contest. On contest day my whole family went. I joined the line snaking onto the stage and past the judges’ table. I gave a few bursts from my blaster and moved on, my white armor shining.

Finally two contestants remained: me, and some pumpkin man walking on his hands.

And the prize went to… the pumpkin man.

My family and I were shocked. What were those judges thinking? They didn’t know how hard my stepfather and I had worked, putting in countless hours over several weeks, making each piece of the costume, cutting and shaping wire, layering papier-mâché, applying high-gloss white spray paint till I grew woozy from the fumes, fashioning a blaster out of PVC pipe and a flashlight with red cellophane covering the bulb.

They didn’t know that it wasn’t until I went to school on costume day, struggled into the suit in the boys’ bathroom, and got to class that I discovered I couldn’t sit down. I leaned, crouched and bent at my desk until I got so achy I had to change and then watch the other kids circle around in the costume parade.

Those judges didn’t know any of this. My faith in humanity, or at least in Halloween costume contest judges, was shaken.

Only recently it occurred to me that I might have been judging those judges unfairly. They really didn’t know the story behind my costume. They probably saw a man who’d cleverly dressed upside down and lodged a pumpkin in his crotch, and a kid whose parents had paid big bucks for a fancy costume. They likely didn’t know you couldn’t buy storm trooper costumes then.

We all wear some kind of costume, and we rarely see the real story behind the façades of others. It’s good to remember that the life behind the mask is more interesting than what the outside world observes and judges.

With a Perspective, I’m Lane Parker.

Lane Parker is a writer, editor and stay-at-home dad in San Francisco.

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