Sunday, October 28, 2018

Memories of Squirrel Hill

The Squirrel Hill mass shooting near Pittsburgh has sickened me. I could spend many paragraphs describing the depth of my outrage, but we all share it as we try to comprehend what has just taken place inside a haven of friendship and fellowship —  the very place many of us seek out for refuge.

Having cut my broadcasting teeth on Christian radio in Gateway Towers, I spent a couple of culturally rich years learning to appreciate the ethnic diversity that is Pittsburgh. WPIT-AM and FM reached the Tri-State area with Christian programming; they still do.

Squirrel Hill brings back fond memories of learning to drive in the city, after having grown up in rural Russell PA. My late husband, Roger, wanted to acclimate me to the busy network of highways. On Sunday afternoons, we would leave our Wilkinsburg apartment and drive to Squirrel Hill to begin. From that historic community, we would wend our way closer down into the labyrinth of one-way streets that used to frighten me; with his help, I became more and more confident, eventually joining the ranks of the most assertive Pittsburgh drivers.

My station manager in the 80’s, Michael Komichak, honored every cultural community-group in the listening region by programming Saturdays to a wonderful array of programs heard nowhere else: The American Slovene Hour, The Ukrainian Radio Show, The Carpatho-Rusyn Heritage Hour, the Slovak Hour and The Blarney Hour, to mention a few. In those days the hosts would pre-record their programs, including everything from polka music to Irish ballads — it was a melting pot of old world heritage, a gathering-in of listeners from every background and country of origin. We aired news from home and music for listeners with roots in Slovenia, Poland, Serbia, Croatia, Lithuania, Hungary and Bulgaria. Truly, it was an audio feast of language and music, even if one didn't
understand it all.

I’m sure, if they wanted a spot on the program, the Hebrew community could have done so. That was Mr. Komichak’s heart.

Mr. Komichak looms large in my memory as a leader always looking to fill a need; promoting the surrounding neighborhoods was his idea, and it was not always popular with the folks crunching algorithms and measuring target audiences. After all, they said, ours is a contemporary music format — why put on shows on the weekends that sound so different from our programming Monday through Friday?

But Mr. K kept at it until his final broadcast days in the 90’s just prior to his death. To this day his legacy continues, on-air and in the grateful hearts of the diverse communities that nestle tightly around Pittsburgh.

What happened Saturday at Tree of Life Synagogue has now been tagged a hate crime: lives stolen and families left devastated because of a heart filled with hatred. Let’s pray for the loved ones struggling to comprehend what has happened in Pittsburgh; a city that will continue forward and lead the nation in healing the unthinkable.

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I invite you to look for my books, Breath of Joy! Simply Summer and Breath of Joy! Ah, Autumn.

Saturday, October 27, 2018

Hello, Gorgeous
As it happened, I flew to Denver on my wedding anniversary; it would have been our 32nd. Ten years ago, all such celebrations were suddenly halted when my husband, Roger, suffered a massive heart attack while watching his favorite TV show, Gunsmoke.

That first year without him, on the occasion of what should have been our 22nd year of marriage, I wept. Not the Hallmark Movie kind of pretty weeping — it was ugly crying with deep guttural sounds I didn’t realize were coming from the depths of my aching, broken heart.

On what would be our 23rd, I posted pictures and wrote pretty words; a shaky facade of bravery over a still-jagged heart.

Fast-forward to our 25th ... I was resentful and jealous of my friends posting their mile-marker anniversaries as still intact, living and breathing couples.

This is the part where I dearly wish I could tell you I finally came to terms with one-sided wedding anniversaries. But I’d be lying.

I will never come to terms with one-person wedding anniversaries, even if I live long enough to carry our torch to our 50th.

And this is why: We had something significant. Honest. Gritty at times, messy always, with intervals of stony silence between us.

Still, it was a rare blend of stubborn love, failing, trying again, loving under the protection of a sacred promise and showing up every day.

We had planned to grow old together.

Instead, I was left to soldier on without my 6-foot-4 German policeman-farmer. Left to raise two daughters, find jobs, lose them, quit them, start over again.

Move away. Move back.

Sell the farm. Endure what would become a family rift over a piece of acreage.

Live to tell about it, but never quite recover from family rejection.

Eventually, the anniversaries sort of tiptoed in cautiously, unsure of my response. My friend and fellow sojourner had reminded me of the necessity of putting a vacation or some kind of special occasion on the calendar, in place of the abyss of an important yawning date. Like an anniversary. Or his birthday.

Eventually, I made a truce: celebrate the happiness of others instead of lingering over my loss. That simple, small act of the will has resulted, over the years, in a genuine, deep sense of joy over my friends’ anniversaries.

Because each and every arrival at another year is an affirmation of the vows; a collection of timeless memories; a demonstration to the young people that they can stay together, if they’d just slog through the hard parts.

And so on this, my 32nd remembrance, I am flying over my beloved Rockies and coming in for a landing in the very place we kept our promises and raised our daughters and went to work and found lifelong friends.

On this flight my heart swells with gratitude at the sweet sight of an elderly couple grasping for each other’s hands during liftoff. “Hello, Gorgeous!” He says, as though they’ve just met.

Upon touchdown I notice the same couple instinctively reach across the aisle again to clasp weathered, wrinkled hands in a grip of graceful knowing.

At the gate my heart is warmed by the sudden glimpse of a young man holding a large bouquet of roses, scanning the travelers for his beloved. I like to think they are anniversary roses.

So, dear Reader, I have not lost love; I have sustained a love that mattered. I have carried my memories into a treasure vault of love I can experience again and again, because what we had was enduring.

And in that moment of knowing, I can look around and be exquisitely happy for the couples still within physical reach of each other; still slogging through, still showing up, still growing old together.

On this, my 32nd, I have quietly realized this one thing: my story is bearable if I tell it.

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Although I didn't sign up for it, I have become well acquainted with the grief journey; you can read more of my journey toward joy in the books, "Breath of Joy! Simply Summer" and "Breath of Joy! Ah, Autumn".