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The Bliss Blog

As a child of the 60’s and 70’s, the rock band that hailed from England and became a worldwide phenomenon is now the topic of a newly released biopic, focusing on its central character, the chameleon-esque Freddie Mercury.  Since I saw the trailer for Bohemian Rhapsody, I felt my heart leaping, much like Freddie did on stage and knew I had to be in the movie theater audience, perhaps to make up for never have been in any of the concert venues in which Queen played.

I didn’t know his back-story and the movie sheds a light on the reasons he so craved the spotlight and at times, protected his privacy. Born in Zanzibar as Farrokh Bulsara into an Indian Parsi family, he changed his name to reinvent himself, since perhaps he felt pigeon-holed by racial slurs and saw himself as a skyrocketing shooting star. His family’s spiritual tradition was Zoroastrianism and the guidance toward “Good thoughts, good words, good deeds,” was echoed throughout the movie, coming to a crescendo with Queen’s rocking the stage at Wembley Stadium for the epic Live Aid concert in 1985.

The film begins with Freddie loading baggage at Heathrow Airport and disgusted by being called a “Paki”; referring to those perceived as being Pakistani. He goes out at night to hear a band play and is mesmerized by what he sees and hears, perhaps imagining himself on stage. When their lead singer quits, he offers to take his place among his bandmates Brian May, John Deacon, and Roger Taylor. Hearing him vocalize, they are blown away and a legend is born. A physical anomaly about which he is uncomfortable (Freddie had a prominent overbite) became a vivid plot point in the film and he explained that he thought it helped him sing better.

The evolution of Queen as a musical band as well as a band of brothers who co-create, fight, dissolve and re-unite, seeing their iconic lead singer through addiction, lifestyle excesses made accessible by wealth and fame, ego-flares and loneliness, despite being surrounded by love, is heartwarming to behold. The actors blended their own voices and instrumentation with the original sound of the band.

An underlying thread was the love that Freddie shared with Mary Austin who he met when she was 19 and he was 24.  Sparks flew, the relationship deepened and he proposed marriage and then discovered that he was Gay. Their bond remained, despite her marrying and having children and Freddie had many lovers per the film and then settled down with a man he met who challenged him to befriend himself before he could truly let someone in. Both, according to various biographical accounts, were with him at the end of his life in 1991, with AIDS claiming him.

A wink and nod that I hadn’t realized until researching for this article, was that Mike Myers (Wayne’s World) was tapped to play Ray Foster who bankrolled Queen’s first album and declined to go further when he objected to the six-minute long Bohemian Rhapsody being presented to radio stations for airplay. He claims that the song will never have teenagers headbang and sing along to the song in their cars.  In a 2010 NPR interview with Brian May, he explains to Terry Gross that it was that scene in the 1992 movie introduce young fans to their music.

Although there are factual inaccuracies in the film (such as the scenes in which Freddie plans to go solo, which upsets the apple cart, when other bandmates had already done it and the revelation of his AIDS diagnosis prior to Live Aid when he came out about it a few years later), it is still a stunning portrayal of a man whose music and very presence on the planet will leave a grand imprint. Rami Malek who played the star was well chosen as his mannerisms and ability to strut his stuff did Freddie proud.

Why was Queen such a bloody good success? In a powerful line, Freddie explains, “Tell you what it is, Mr. Reid. Now we’re four misfits who don’t belong together, we’re playing for the other misfits. They’re the outcasts, right at the back of the room. We’re pretty sure they don’t belong either. We belong to them.” The thundering foot stomping and clapping along to We Will Rock You, as audience participatory art is evidence of that.

 

 

My writing writes me. Sometimes the words come through while I am awake, eyes wide open. Much of what pours out arrives in the wee hours, while in dreamland. This morning’s missive was one of those.

Recently I was speaking with someone whose view of himself was dim. He had impossibly high standards, with the intent of finding favor with God. Ironically, hellfire and brimstone was not part of his upbringing. He didn’t ascribe to a belief that he was going to burn if he took a misstep. It was more of a sense of not having a ‘life well lived’. This, despite the fact that he was relatively young, in his 30’s. We spoke about the formation of his self-flagellation. Likely its onset was childhood. He was a lonely kiddo, without many friends. He read into that, that he must not be likable and carried that into his adulthood. Since spirituality was part of his paradigm, we decided to use the Divine as part of our discussion. He accepted the concept that we are made in the image and likeness of God. I then asked how he saw God. His response was ‘kind, compassionate, loving’. My natural rebound was that if this was the case, by extension, wouldn’t he be also?  A small smile spread across his face, as he nodded, “I guess so.”  Not totally convinced, we continued to meander down a path that had him sharing what kind, compassionate and loving acts he might engage in. I then asked if he could see himself the way God saw him, how might that feel? He admitted that it would feel pretty good. I suggested that he put his God-glasses on.

I too, experience ‘not-enough-ness’ as I wonder what more I can do to feel worthy. I can list stuff that I do to make the world a better place. I hold space for others to do that as well, and yet…I trail off wistfully. I imagine that you feel that way from time to time. I attempt to take my own inventory each day, asking if what I am about to do is of benefit not only to myself but to others as well and if what I am about to do is of benefit to myself and not just others. I learned to be self-sacrificial since my parents modeled that behavior, or at least I interpreted it that way. My father was one who would ‘take the shirt off his back’ for other people and yet, would repeat the concept that ‘charity begins at home.’ I never felt neglected when he would volunteer time at the synagogue and the local firehouse. I didn’t feel as if we mattered less than our community when my mother volunteered at the hospital. They didn’t do it to earn brownie points. They did it because they could. They did it because they were mensches, translated from Yiddish as ‘good people.’ I would like to think that my motivation is the same. Sometimes I doubt that what I do has an impact. Then I remember that we all form ripples on the pond with our actions.

How do I imagine the Divine views me? Perhaps as a thriving human being who need not be a human ‘doing’ to feel like she is enough. Might be like someone who has lofty visions for what her life can be that has her reaching and striving to be more than she thought was possible. Could be a woman who lets loose on the world, the gifts, skills, and talents she has been given. One of them is embracing the world by offering FREE Hugs. I have hugged people in Philly, DC, NY, and Portland, at train stations and airports, at my polling place on a few Election Days, on street corners and street fairs, at sporting events, festivals and rallies. This past May I hugged my way across Ireland.

In the past few days, seven friends have sent me the video of a toddler hugging people at an outdoor event. How lovely that they see me that way.

Perhaps I need to put my God-glasses on.

 

 

 

Sitting in my comfy cozy bed on November 1st, 2018, pondering, as I do every day, the state of the world into which I was born 60 years ago. In my childhood, I felt safe and protected by loving parents, extended family, and friends of the family. I lived in a suburban South Jersey neighborhood near Philadelphia. I could hop on my bike in the morning, tool around town on a beautiful summer day, head to the pool, hang out with friends, come home for lunch, go to the local park, maybe the library. My parents rarely worried about my safety, knowing that I would be under the watchful eye of other parents since we were a community and took care of each other. I saw it modeled in the volunteering that my parents did at the local hospital, fire department and synagogue. My mom would offer her services at the hospital on Christmas and Easter at times so her Christian co-workers could take time off to be with their families. Each of them was what in the Jewish religion of my upbringing,  is referred to as a ‘mensch’ which translates to ‘good person’.

Back then I was also taught that God watches over us like a protective parent. I heard it in the liturgy and sermon delivered by various rabbis over the years in the synagogue and I believed it. Now, I’m not so sure.

As an interfaith minister and therapist, I am called on to answer questions that pull apart the fabric of human existence..the biggie is “How could God let this happen?”  War, abuse, accidents, the death of children, natural disasters….the list is endless. My answer remains the same for now, “What if God doesn’t make anything happen? What if God doesn’t prevent anything from happening?” Why, then do we pray? How do some prayers seem to be answered in our favor? How do some prayers seem to be responded to in polar opposition to our declared intention and desires? Clearly, this tests my faith.

I look back at traumatic events in my own life, such as the deaths of my husband and parents, the destruction of our home in Hurricane Andrew and numerous illnesses from which I have recovered in the past five years. From each incident, I have connected with my own inner wisdom, strength, and resilience. From each incident, I have compiled a toolkit from which I can pull to help others. All gifts.

On this day, I, like many throughout the world are attempting to make sense of recent events. Maurice Stallard and Vickie Lee Jones were gunned down by hatred in Kentucky while shopping. Joyce Feinburg, Richard Gottfried, Rose Mallinger, Jerry Robinowitz, Cecil Rosenthal, David Rosenthal, Bernice Simon, Sylvan Simon, Daniel Stein, Melvin Wax,  and Irving Yunger, were gunned down by hatred while worshipping in a Pittsburgh neighborhood synagogue. Prominent Democrats and those who challenge this administration were sent pipe bombs intended for special delivery, fueled by hatred.

Where was God on those days? Was S/he casually sitting in the Celestial Cinema, popcorn in hand, watching to see how the movie unfolds? Is S/he the director or are we?

I happen to believe that the personal is universal and vice versa. Even though I have no direct connection with anyone who was killed, it still impacts me because they are part of my human family. In my own immediate circles are people in treatment for various illness and injuries, who are facing their own traumas and pain. In my therapy practice are people who are abuse survivors, who are dealing with mental health diagnoses and addiction. With each of these folks, I hold space for their healing. I have experienced a sense of loving detachment that initially was alarming because I thought I was numbing out and repressing my feelings. My dear friend/mentor/mama figure, Yvonne Kaye reminded me over pumpkin pancakes yesterday morning that it was self-protective since, in order for me to be there for those who need me, I need to take care of myself. This was one way to do it. Good self-care includes getting rest, going to the gym (which I will be doing shortly), crying when the impulse to do so arises, spending time with kindred spirits, hugging, being in nature, prayer, meditation, writing and oh yes, questioning everything.

 

Funny, the things you remember all these years later. When my mom was on hospice back in 2010, she told me at one point that she still had all her marbles. I knew what she meant since when my dad was in the last few months of his life in 2008, his were outside his grasp at times. Parkinsons’ Disease had diminished his cognitive functioning. I joked with her (as we did often in those waning days) that I would retrieve any that rolled under the couch should she lose control of her own. As far as I could tell, it wasn’t necessary and she kept her wits about her as she made her needs and feelings known succinctly. What might have felt like memory became the present-day reality for her.  It didn’t seem like she was hallucinating, but rather, a gathering of moments. Flashes of time with my handsome father who was her sweetheart from the night they met more than 54 years earlier. Snippets of experiences as a young woman who had grown up with her mother, father, and brother in Philadelphia, only to lose my grandfather when she was 18. She and my grandmother were an unstoppable team and traveling companions. She became like a third parent to me who died when I was four. I know my mom missed her deeply and endeavored to emulate her. When my mom passed on November 26, 2010, I took on that mantle. There are days when I look in the mirror and see her face, gaze down at my hands and imagine hers, hear my voice speaking some of what she would have said. All good things, since she was a beautiful woman whose hands healed and voice shared wisdom and encouragement. I am the family matriarch now and most of the time it feels like a fit. At other moments, I question my fitness to fill shoes that are bigger (not in reality, since we wore the same size) than I could ever possibly. Can you tell that I idealize her?

I turned 60 a few weeks ago. When my mother was that age, she and my dad still lived in New Jersey and worked full time. He was a SEPTA bus driver and she was a Sears switchboard operator. I was 28 and had just gotten married. Life was about to become far different than my idyllic childhood. In 1988, Michael and I started a business; a magazine called Visions. It is where I launched my career as a journalist having loved writing since childhood. A few years later, after my parents retired and moved to Florida, we followed them and published from there. In 1992, a series of whirlwind events (one literal) occurred. We adopted our then 4-year-old son, I had an ectopic pregnancy, Michael was diagnosed with Hepatitis C, we lost our home to Hurricane Andrew in Homestead and then early the next year we moved back to the Philadelphia area where we had both grown up.  Six years later, I found myself a widow with an 11-year-old son to raise. Blessedly, I had solid supports among family and friends as the village that helped me raise him. Now he is a happily married 31-year-old man with a new home, a job he enjoys, good friends and a solid sense of integrity and love. What more could a mother want for her child? Not to say that I don’t still worry at times. I do my best to let him live his own life without interference, trusting that he will come to me for guidance as needed. When he has, I make sure that he and his wife are each others’ primary consultants and I am here as backup.

Now that I am on the other side of the threshold, leaping into the seventh decade, I am aware that, despite my best intentions and effort, my body doesn’t do what it used to do. I work out at the gym several times a week, walk and dance and on occasion, practice yoga. Still, even with the aid of Vitamin D, I feel stiff and sore. Fatigue is a common visitor. As I approach my fifth cardiaversary next June, I am mindful of and grateful for my healthier heart and the work it does to keep me on this side of the veil.

What concerns me is my cognitive capacity. A few years ago, I took a test to determine if there was a predisposition for the disease that took my father’s life. Fortunately, I passed with flying colors. Still, I notice memory blips…I had to think for a moment to come up with the word ‘predisposition’. There are times when I am driving in familiar territory and can’t remember which way to turn…thank goodness that the GPS has become a functioning part of my brain. I sometimes walk into a room and can’t recall why. It is then that I go back to the place where the thought originated and voila! The thought recurs. Names escape me, especially if I see folks out of context. I no longer feel embarrassed, calling these blips my middle age moments or wise woman moments, since allegedly, the older we get, the wiser we get. My peers totally get it and laugh along with me.

My primary work is that of a therapist, speaker, and writer. All three call on me to keep my mind sharp. As long as I can think and create, I can be gainfully employed in those fields. Lately, I find myself ‘channeling’ information, having to stretch a bit to find facts. Google has become my best bud and another part of my cranium. Fessing up that my biggest fear is that I will need to tapdance and finesse my way through these challenges and reach realllly far under the couch to fetch those rolling marbles. So far, so good.