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As the Soberanes fire in Carmel threatens the Monterey peninsula, our cabin may become a charred monument to quiet weekends, solitude, and cherished family gatherings.

I’m told it’s roaring through canyons with heat that melts metal. As I prepared to retrieve treasured objects, I learned the road to the cabin is closed and mandatory evacuations are in effect.

For days I watched dramatic pictures of the fire on Facebook, juxtaposed to families celebrating and people describing their breakfast.

In my hospice work, I shared the pain of relatives who couldn’t stop the death of a loved one. They could only witness the event. Their helplessness is what I’m experiencing now. The destruction of the cabin and it’s contents will be inconsequential compared to the loss of a loved one. But how do I deal with losing something so treasured just the words, “our cabin,” causes me to smile? I’ll do it through memories.

For 15 years I counseled caregivers about the importance of letting go. Now it’s my turn. My turn to let go believing a miracle will stop the fire. My turn to let go of the source of much happiness. My turn to let go of the belief my needs can prevent the inevitable.

We often hold on to the past with a grasp so tight it stops us from experiencing the present and moving into the future. Life without my retreat will be difficult, but the memories it created for 30 years will remain. When Ilsa and Rick in the movie, Casablanca, are departing for the last time, he tries to console her by saying, “We’ll always have Paris.” It’s my turn now to say goodbye to my cabin. Your memories, just as Paris did with Rick and Ilsa, will always be with me.

With a Perspective, I’m Stan Goldberg.

Stan Goldberg lives in San Francisco and is the author of several books on loss.

When I was 19, immortal and free of the need of my parent’s permission, I jumped out of an airplane. My exit off the wing was perfect but I botched the landing and broke my leg. On the way to the hospital we celebrated with a special herb from Columbia my buddy and I had saved for the occasion. Arriving at the hospital serenely happy, I was immediately whisked into surgery and outfitted with a large, heavy cast. I still have three heavy screws in that leg.

You’d have thought I would learn something about risk, but I was 19. Living on a lake with a bunch of other rowdy kids, I promptly took our tiny sailboat out with my broken leg, an old broom for a paddle and no life jackets. If I had gone overboard, I would’ve sunk to the bottom like a Mafia hit.

A month after the parachuting accident on our way home late one night after some serious partying, my friend swerved to avoid a possum crossing the road. Of course no one was wearing a seat belt, as the car rolled three times. Chuck Berry was playing ‘No Particular Place to Go’ on the eight-track as we came to an abrupt end in a ditch, headlights shining up into the darkness, windshield gone, tires hung up on fenders.

We managed to extricate ourselves and limped to the hospital. My friend had broken his neck and I had a cracked sternum to add to that broken leg. As soon as my cast was off I bought a nice Triumph Bonneville motorcycle. No helmet! By the end of my 19th year I had been arrested and thrown into the Knox County Jail and tear-gassed at an anti-war rally in D.C.

I did survive that last teen year, but barely.

For 45 years since then I’ve been free of major illness or injury, thanks in no small part to equal helpings of luck and adult common sense. But recently I took a serious fall while running and this week I had rotator cuff surgery. I have lost the use of my right arm for six weeks. It may never get back to normal. But I managed to survive young and stupid. I’m hoping older and wiser is just as forgiving.

This is Michael Ellis with a Perspective.

Michael Ellis is a naturalist who leads trips throughout the world. He lives in Santa Rosa.

Young people aren’t supposed to be the jaded ones, yet more and more, it feels like gallows humor is the only tool I have to face the day.

This summer we’ve seen the biggest mass shooting in American history, and repeated examples of black men getting killed by the police, on camera. But our society’s reaction to these events is what truly haunts me. To be young and growing up in the 21st century is a constant exercise in aching.

We go to schools that cost more to get jobs that pay less to live in a housing market that borders on class warfare.

I grew up in Washington DC. I bought into the beltway groupthink that government is a force for good, and elected officials are fighting to make actual change in the world.

But by the end of my first semester of college, the banks had been bailed out. Trayvon had been murdered. And 26 kids and teachers got mowed down at Sandy Hook.

And what changed? Well, not much. Our mass shootings are more frequent and more deadly, black people continue to be killed by police, having their lives reduced to little more than a hashtag on social media, while the architects of the great recession got off scot-free.

I want to be part of the change. That earnest part of me from childhood still exists. But the hope so many of my generation felt when Barack Obama campaigned for president — it honestly doesn’t even seem real or possible anymore.

I’m at an age when I’m supposed to find myself. Choose a major. Build towards a career where I can see myself for years to come. However, at college I’ve cycled through majors like Instagram filters. Because when the world resembles a dystopia out of Philip K. Dick, how is someone my age supposed to figure out where I belong in all of this?

With a Perspective, I’m Andrew Meyer.

Andrew Meyer is 22-years-old and attends Sarah Lawrence College. His commentary was produced by Youth Radio.

I was saddened to hear that Nate Thurmond had passed away. The media focused on his basketball career, but I was mourning, it was Big Nate Thurmond, BBQ Pitmaster.

When I met him, I was a young chef trying to build my repertoire, chasing the hot trend of Rediscovered Southern Cuisine. One person after another pointed me to Big Nate’s South of Market on Folsom.

How hard could it be?

First time I saw him, he was wearing a rubber butcher’s apron meant to cover a man from chest to shoes. On him it finished right about the knees. He was checking the smokers with one of his cooks and giving instructions like an encouraging teacher, the same way he spoke to me as he went about his tasks prepping for lunch. On the back table were some resting smoked briskets. He demonstrated how he liked to separate the point from the flat, how he took off most of the burnt outer bark while the meat rested. I should have been taking notes.

We moved on to his office where he sketched out a menu to feed my staff of 40. Each item had a story or comment that went with it. The man was deep in his menu. I asked him about his Memphis pork sandwich and received a whole geography lesson about regional sauces.

“You have to fall in love with it”, that’s what Big Nate taught me. I’d underestimated what it would take to learn BBQ. Those people obsessed with it, they’re not hobbyists. They’re in love. I later learned that he famously didn’t like talking about his basketball career, but would talk BBQ all day long.

Me, I wasn’t in love. I just wanted a one night stand and bottle of sauce to take home. But I did learn to respect the integrity and art of the pitmaster, also the person who spends two days making pozole, the woman who makes her own fish sauce, the guy who has worked on his chili recipe his whole adult life.

With a Perspective I’m Christopher Skrocke.

Christopher Skrocke now teaches culinary arts and career skills to high school students in Newark.

I couldn’t find her. She was there. On the porch. I went inside to start dinner. Then 15, maybe 20, minutes later I went back out and she was gone.

I slipped on my shoes and patrolled the yard, raking every corner with my eyes. The panic began to swell in my chest, then my throat. I shouldn’t have left her alone.

A few months ago we found out that our dog has cancer, a tumor in her lung bigger than a fist that had started to spread throughout her body. We watched her decline like passengers in a boat that had sprung a leak, then another, patching her up while we all held on. Forced breathing. Loss of appetite. Limbs that would suddenly crumple like napkins beneath her. We knew where we were going with her. We were buying time.

But now she was gone.

I grabbed my car key and rolled through the neighborhood, windows down, calling and calling. Jordy!

A dog is more than a pet. She’s a breathing memorial to your family’s life together. She was there with her wide belly for your 5-year-old daughter to rest her head, absolute trust; with your boys in the days when they were weedy and wild, throwing sticks across the lake, splashing together above a muddy clam bed. At your husband’s feet after so many long days, her deep, happy sigh as he rubbed her neck and shoulders. Whatever moments happened between us or among us, she would always love us in the same way, always come when we called.

Until she couldn’t.

As I rolled down a side street, something moved up-ahead. And then I could see – her four legs, withering body. I popped the car into park and jumped out, wrapping my arms around her. “Don’t do that,” I whispered in her ear, then, “I’m sorry.”

And now she is gone. Yesterday we gathered around her, choking back tears as she drifted into sleep one last time. Our sweet, sweet girl – in the heart of our family forever found.

With a Perspective, I’m Susan Dix Lyons.

Susan Dix Lyons is founder of an international health care non-profit based in the North Bay.

Some experts predict automated cars will be commonplace in five to ten years. Ride sharing and automobile manufacturing companies are investing heavily in this technology. Yet I was not surprised by the recent news of a fatality caused by misuse of a Tesla’s autopilot.

On a recent family vacation to visit cousins in Sweden, we rented a new Volvo that had many automatic features, although unlike a Tesla, the driver was mostly in charge. I was excited to try this technology: cruise control that followed other cars, automatic steering to keep you in your lane, to name a few. This was the brave new world of car automation and I was excited to give it a try.

My family tolerated several minutes of my enthusiastic discussion of these features. It was exciting the first time our Volvo followed the car in front from highway speed down to a complete stop, through a round-about, and then back up to highway speed without ever touching the peddles. When I veered slightly in my lane, the steering wheel would turn itself to correct my path. If I got too close to the edge, the wheel would shake to let me know. A coffee cup symbol appeared at one point to warn me I was getting erratic and suggested a break. Amazing.

Over time, however, frustration replaced enthusiasm. I couldn’t always get the cruise control to follow the car in front. Sometimes when changing lanes, the car would fight me by turning the wheel in the opposite direction. Oddly, our smart car wasn’t bright enough to realize that a brake light on the car ahead meant the driver was slowing. By the end of the vacation it became obvious that safely using the automation took a lot of effort and was very different than normal driving. The last hour of the trip I shut off the automation and just drove the car. It was easier that way, and probably safer, too.

All new technologies need time to develop and I’m excited that companies are pushing the envelope. But judging from our Swedish holiday, the future of automated cars may be a little farther off than the experts seem to think.

With a Perspective, I’m Grant Young.

Grant Young is an industrial psychologist. He lives in San Francisco.

Grass Valley. Spring. As I gazed out the kitchen window, I noted a huge derrick jutting skyward next to a Great Blue Heron rookery neighbors claim had been there for at least 30 years. I stared at the intrusion lurking between the huge gray pines that house a dozen nests of the great birds.

By the time the building department investigated, a road had been excavated, graveled, a well dug, and a pad cut directly adjacent to the rookery — -all without permits. No erosion control, no drainage planned for. “We do not levy fines,” the inspector said, which left me with the fond hope that the herons levied fines of their own, depositing semi-digested fish parts on a few select heads.

This is private land, 12.5 acres of it. Owning property housing such magnificent birds seems a gift, and with that gift comes the obligation to protect, not destroy. Was there not another suitable building site on 12.5 acres? The house in question was built on spec, the asking price higher than anything in the area.

Great Blue Herons fly from as far as 30 miles away in order to roost in the same trees year after year. According to an ornithologist at the Audubon Canyon Ranch in Stinson Beach, herons are shy birds that resent human intrusion and may abandon nests if threatened.

The Wild Bird Conservation Act, The California Species of Concern list, protect birds such as the heron. The powers that be can slap hands, but it takes a genuine desire to live in harmony with the wildlife in our midst. It takes risking another person’s wrath, for sadly there are too many who honor the holy dollar, but not the holy.

If only words were strong enough to bring to light the assaults the land sustains at the hands of some. Birds, too, have property rights. They may not pay taxes, though they fill us with wonder, and the delight they give is payment of another sort. Is it not our responsibility to act in ways that honor their existence?

In sad air, the question hovers.

With a Perspective, this is Judie Rae.

Judie Rae lives in Nevada City and despite heft fines and new permits required of the developer, the herons never returned.

If you walk into a typical high school staff room in May, you would be hard pressed to find enthusiastic teachers collaborating on a lesson. The energy is more like mile 23 of a marathon: “Just get me to the end.” Or “God, let June 15 arrive without me killing Jimmy Smith.”

And then summer’s here, and like Sisyphus, I walk down the mountain after a year of pushing students to the summit. If you prefer a more hopeful simile, then like the Phoenix, I am reborn. Yes, next year we will be better. In very few careers can one annually press a reset button.

A canard against teachers is that while we work hard during school, we have the entire summer to lounge about, drink margaritas and binge watch Breaking Bad. While it is true teachers have longer vacations than most professionals, summer is much more than lying on a tropical beach trying to forget the Jimmy Smiths.

We attend conferences, take classes and work on curriculum. We tweak what worked and jettison what did not. Summer is when we remind ourselves that we teach because we love kid energy and believe we can help them grow. We teach because we want to stoke the fires of their minds. And so we take a good chunk of summer to improve. We will have stronger lessons. We will be more empathetic and patient. We will not give up on Jimmy.

Summer is a time of infinite promise.

I am reminded of the last page of ‘The Great Gatsby’. The narrator, Nick Carraway, reflects on the smashed dream of Jay Gatsby which in the minds of most readers symbolizes the American Dream. Fitzgerald seems to say that we know the American Dream is not real; nevertheless, we all chase it, as he puts it, “So we beat on, boats against the current.”

I will never be the perfect teacher, but still during the summer hiatus, I beat on to become a bit better.

With a Perspective, this Matt Biers-Ariel.

Matt Biers-Ariel teaches English at Winters High School in Winters.

I am an atheist, and I pray. To many, my praying contradicts my atheism: How can I pray when I do not believe in God? Whom do I pray to? What do I pray?

It’s not that I haven’t experienced religious traditions. I grew up in a Hindu family, attended a Catholic school, and married a Jewish woman, whose conservative synagogue I attend and whose rituals I observe. For years I practiced meditation and read widely on religion. But I am an atheist because I do not accept the notion of a super-natural God who, having created the universe, guides our destiny, which to me is essential to being a theist. Under this literal definition of theism, I suspect there are many more atheists than people willing to call themselves as such.

So why do I pray? Why do I recite the liturgy that refers to the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob? Not because I ascribe any authority to the words of the Torah but because the ideas expressed in them-and in prayers from other traditions-resonate with me. Stripped of the reference to God, prayers are expressions of wonderment, of our aspirations and desires, and of contrition. This world is awesome and amazing, and I am thankful to experience it. I have aspirations. I wish I could be kinder, more loving, and less prone to anger. I wish the world were a more peaceful place. Occasionally when I find these ideas expressed in certain passages of liturgy, I get goose bumps. The feeling is real, and I want to experience it every time.

Friends have argued that this feeling is evidence of God’s presence. But that feeling cannot be a proof of God’s existence. It is just me wishing that God exists; and such an expression is a prayer.

With a Perspective, I am Ripudaman Malhotra.


Ripudaman Malhotra is a research scientist specializing in the chemistry of energy and fuels. He lives in San Carlos.

Dave. His name is Dave.

I forgot about Dave. We met last summer when we were both working the Escape From Alcatraz triathlon pulling the very early, very cold and very foggy shift at the Legion of Honor. He was a motorcycle police officer and I was behind a video camera. He rumbled past me on his drive-bys, occasionally stopping to chat. Before the event started he asked me if I wanted a coffee. Perhaps my shivering was a telltale sign. He left and came back shortly with a cappuccino and a scone. At that moment it was a warm reminder of our humanity but time passes and the memory faded and was lost.

Until this day. This time we were both working the Kaiser Half Marathon. I was flagging down an approaching motorcycle officer to ask a question and recognized him immediately when he stopped.

“Remember me? Escape From Alcatraz? You got me a coffee. I’m Laura.”

I gave him an enthusiastic hug. It was a spontaneous gesture, done without considering the wisdom of hugging an armed on-duty police officer. He looked a bit shocked. I’m sure he wasn’t expecting to have
this strange woman throwing herself at him. Then he recognized me, too.

“Dave,” he shook my hand. “Right! Legion of Honor. I carried the coffees right here.” He tapped the storage box on his motorcycle.

We reminisced for a few minutes then he answered my race-related questions. I couldn’t stop smiling. I thanked him again for his earlier kindness and we parted ways once more.

I don’t know why I was so thrilled to see him. I think I was just glad to know he was okay. In his line of work tomorrow is not a guarantee, not that it is for any of us really, but it would seem that particular
unknown is more tangibly a part of his life than it is for most of us.

I forgot him the first time we met. I won’t for the second.

Be safe, Dave.

With a Perspective, I’m Laura Bello.

Laura Bello is an ultra runner and works in Facilities Management at UC, San Francisco.

In the quiet suburban parking lot of Trader Joe’s the other day, another woman and I stopped and turned toward the sudden sound of a clanging railroad crossing nearby. We gazed at the flashing lights and lowering gate of the new Smart Train testing intersection and I said, “Wow, I grew up with railroad crossings, did you?”

“Yes!” she said, eyes sparkling. It was as if there had been a magical edit undo on extinct trains. We hugged each other, like crazy strangers.

And a few weeks ago a giant bookstore opened in my town and a hundred people lined up at the register, jostling for position in the check-out line. And just across the street, the boarded up single-screen movie theater is being restored. These all stop me in my tracks, with odd relief.

I’m not so codgery as to crave the days before Kindle or cars or multiplexes. It’s just the idea of, well, changing lost things back. As if things precious to me could just be spruced up, restored, like a revival healing. And all would be set right.

Like moving my 92 year-old dad this week from the city, where he lived in relative isolation, to his new assisted retirement apartment. We packed for hours, setting things just so. Seeing him on his couch surrounded by antiques and art, his Sudoku and bagels in place, his TV, internet and landline finally working perfectly, I thought, we’ve returned his future to him. He is guaranteed to live forever now. It’s all fixed.

Well, maybe not everything is really fixed. But I do know one thing. The love of what we no longer have will always be here. Just the sound of a clanging railroad crossing, the smell of a new book, or the look in my father’s eyes when he says, “I’m going to like it here,” restores the love of what has been lost, in a way that will never change.

With a Perspective, I’m Jolie Kanat.

Jolie Kanat is a business executive in Marin.

In this time of national crisis, many call for unity, calm and understanding. Perhaps we should go beyond attitudes and hear the call to action. I believe we must move to help others.

Admittedly, many of us feel threatened by the horrible events of recent days. Turning within is natural. We evaluate our own resources and look to those like ourselves in self-defense. Appeals to national unity offset this inwardness. But our nation has splintered into separate identities by race, class, ethnicity, gender, ideology.

Helping others breaks through those walls. We can start simply, just by helping anyone other than our self: a sibling, a child, a classmate, a partner and then perhaps a neighbor, an employee, a customer. Eventually we may help those unlike ourselves, those of different loyalties, those we might even perceive as enemies. Why do that? The answer is one we’ve often heard in different ways. Parables and folktales from many different cultures teach it: the Good Samaritan, Androcles and the Lion. We all know the slogans, “Love thy neighbor,” “Pay it forward,” “Be the change you wish to see.”

But helping others adds a twist that may encourage even more cooperation. It begins a chain reaction. It teaches by example. Who is more likely to help others, one who has received help or one who is excluded? The more people help others, the more people help others. Help for others reproduces itself exponentially. This program is not specific to any group: it is universally applicable. The more it is tested, the more it will work.

If you don’t believe me, try it.

With a Perspective, I’m Alan Bernstein.

Alan Bernstein is a retired professor of history who lives in Oakland.

The debate over the Bill of Rights was one of the most contentious of our Constitutional Convention. The proponents and their antagonists represented the two poles of human behavior: the need to be governed and the desire to be free of all restraint. In the end, the creative tension produced an ingenious, if imperfect, compromise consistent with the living spirit of the Constitution itself. A momentous event for us, yes, but just another battle in the on-going conflict between John Locke’s view that government is the true source of freedom, and John Jacques Rousseau’s exaltation of the natural state, where reason is uncorrupted by the compromises civilization requires.

At different times, one gains the ascendancy and then the other. The French Revolution started as a libertarian bloodbath and ended with a return to monarchy. Our own revolution pitted loyalists against rebels, as did the Civil War, and the contest continues down to this moment, making us what we are for better or worse. To whom the common good is to be entrusted is a question in which everyone feels they have a stake. Traditional group allegiances are shattering as we shift toward the exercise of individual identity.

Edward Snowden and Daniel Ellsberg are heroes to some, traitors to others. Citizens now assert a right to recall judges with whom they personally disagree. California ballot propositions promote direct democracy. Social media provides an instant channel for expressing personal opinions with little or no regulation or accountability. Corporations fly whichever flag is convenient to them: creatures of the state on some issues, individuals on others. In a box office breaking musical featuring we, the people, the hero is an avowed elitist bent on curtailing immigration.

Back and forth the pendulum swings, in personal and public life, never resting for long in one spot. A good thing, too, because too much of anything is too much: we’ve seen what happens when either the establishment or the mob wields absolute power. The Greek fabulist, Aesop, may have had the final say on the matter thousands of years ago. The frogs demanded a king. So, they were given a log. When they complained that the log did nothing, they were given a stork. Who ate up all the frogs.

With a Perspective, I’m Richard Friedlander.

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

At a recent business meeting, I found myself feeling distinctly out of place. At first I didn’t know why.

I realized that in this room full of senior business professionals, I was the only woman. One of the men extended his hand, and asked… which of the other men I was with. Not my name, not who I worked for, but who I was with.

As I’ve progressed to my current position as general counsel, I’ve increasingly found myself the lone woman in a sea of men. Seeing a woman in corporate leadership is so rare that this man assumed I was someone’s guest.

I laughed it off then, but the lack of gender diversity in corporate leadership is no joke. 24 Fortune 500 companies have no women on their boards. And although women hold more than half of all professional-level jobs, they make up only 14.6% of executive officers and 4.6% of Fortune 500 CEOs.

When I talk about adding women to boards, I’m asked one question: Why add women to leadership positions? My answer is — why not? Why is the default leader male?

Studies show that having women in leadership maximize shareholder value. We should stop questioning the value women bring to a company!

We should also stop questioning the supply of qualified women. The real problem is not supply, but demand. The talent pool is already there, it’s up to companies to recruit from it.

To achieve gender equality, we need to focus on the right issues. It’s not about “adding women” for diversity’s sake. Let’s start shifting the burden of proof. Let’s stop asking whether women should be in leadership, and start asking why they’ve been excluded in the first place.

With a Perspective, I’m Olga Mack.

Olga Mack is general counsel for a sales and marketing engagement platform in San Francisco and the mother of two daughters.

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