icon caret-left icon caret-right instagram pinterest linkedin facebook twitter goodreads question-circle facebook circle twitter circle linkedin circle instagram circle goodreads circle pinterest circle

Jean's Blog (Check out links to Guest Blogs in lefthand Column)

Mother Love, Mother's Day

My mother, aged 99, is sinking slowly and inexorably into a quagmire from which she cannot escape. Strangling in the tentacles of advanced vascular dementia, she has lost her hold on the world as we know it. Most of the time, now, she does not know who I am. She has lost the ability to smile. Words emerge garbled, or not at all.
I wrote this essay five years ago, fearing and foreseeing this day.

     My mother navigates her days suspended in a chaos of past experiences. They blur at the edges, undefined by time and space. Every day she is less herself. She mourns the creeping losses of age. Her eyes see less well. Her ears fail her. Her fingers are gnarled and stiff from the arthritis that is slowly invading her joints. She sleeps, and awakens into a strange space that is neither today, tomorrow nor yesterday. I try to define it for her, try to find a context that will create meaning for her, that might situate her firmly into the moment her body occupies. But her voice, once so assured, trembles with doubt and pain.
     Her own childhood memories blend indistinguishably with memories of my childhood, memories of my brother and sister and of my children when they were small. “I remember...” she says with certainty and her voice trails off, then resumes a memory that has jumbled the messages of the past beyond understanding.
     She wanders in a maze, her every thought stunted by tall hedges. The story she is trying to tell, the point she is trying to make, all are obscured by the twists and turns her mind takes as it tries to find its way to the center of the maze where she knows that we wait patiently to greet her. More often than not, she gives up with a shrug and a laugh, or deviates abruptly into a different memory, another thought, irrelevant and unbidden, that takes her into yet another journey into the unknown, she who was always happiest with the tried and true.
     We watch, listen, and wonder. Where will all this confusion lead her? Will she lose herself completely and find no way back? We wait in pain and fear, patiently sending out balls of twine to roll to her feet and lead her back into her life, into her mind, into her heart where we, her children, wait, sure of our welcome.
     Conversation between us starts out valiantly enough and comes to an abrupt stop. I have come to realize how much of our interaction with those we love is dependent on question and answer, filling in the blanks of time spent apart. “What did you do today?” I ask, knowing that she may have been out for a walk with the kindly woman who is her home attendant. “Today?” she repeats in bewilderment. “Today? I can't remember. I slept a lot.” She is almost afraid of sleep, afraid that it will sweep her into the eternal sleep from which there is no awakening.
     At ninety-four she still lives in her own home, surrounded by photos of people she has loved, the piano she can still play, the rich exuberance of the paintings she created, the furniture she has known for most of her life. But returning from her walk she turns to us at her door and says “Where are we? I want to go home.”
     She never thought to be so old. She is half proud of her great age and half resentful. Why is she still here? she asks. I remind her of the grandchildren and great grandchildren whose presence she so enjoys. I remind her that we love her and that her presence in our lives continues to illuminate them. A flicker lights in her eyes. Almost, she is there again. Almost, she remembers.
     The feeling she has not forgotten, will never forget, is love. Every night when I call to see how her day went, we move in circles around the factual elements that shape experience and that seem to matter less and less with every day that passes. As we say goodnight, every night, every small parting as she loosens her bonds with life a little more, she takes care of my future as she has always done. “I love you,” she says, her voice filled with warmth. “I am so proud of you. You are a good girl.” and we hang up, both uncertain of whether tomorrow will allow us to speak to each other again.
     But my mother has wrapped my night in love, taken care of my future.
     I am learning from her as I have done all my life what it means to be a mother. She is still my mother, and if the day comes when that memory too floats into the fog of age and vanishes, she makes sure every night that I will always remember her voice speaking love.

I do remember, Mum, I will always remember.
And that is what sustains me as I watch her drift farther and farther away, a small ship without an anchor, leaving us behind in this world.
 Read More 
Post a comment

A woman's world

Today, I am part Jewish mother preparing for Passover, that most rigorous of holidays: recipes and the organizing of closets rattling through my mind like the escalating gusts of wind outside that rattle the branches of street trees and tear at the plastic covering on the rosebush on my terrace. Today, I am also part literary agent attending to client matters, sitting at my computer, discussing fonts with one author, publishers with another, and structure of the novel with a third. A tiny sliver of mother-of-the-bridegroom glints here and there as a small part of my mind hovers anxiously over hotel and travel arrangements for my eldest son's wedding in LA. I try to ignore a deep desire to get up and search out something wicked and sweet to eat, but thoughts of the dress I have already bought for the wedding slide in and block out all subversive chatter.
"What's for dinner tonight?" asks my husband as he circles the apartment like a wolf on the prowl. The phone rings. I pick up. It is a recording about revised rates for Con Ed. Again. I slam the phone down and turn to the computer, but the phone rings again, almost immediately. I grab the receiver, prepared to do battle with the robot on the other end, but I am greeted by the voice of the kind lady from Dorot, wanting to run her week's menu by me for me to choose what they will deliver to my 99-year-old mother before the storm kicks in. I am always a wife. Always a daughter.
Tomorrow, they expect snow, rain, and sleet, as I hear the authoritative voice on the radio in my husband's study announce. I am sitting in front of the computer staring sadly at my notes. My concentration wobbles. Tomorrow, at 2:30, I will be shaking out my author hat and sticking it on my head, attempting to cover the havoc wrought by yet another winter storm when it is already supposed to be spring. I will slip and slide to my commitment to give a talk/reading from Sipping from the Nile, at Health Outreach, where I fear gazing out at a vast empty space as our latest unwelcome March storm sweeps all hope of an audience out of reach.
Tomorrow, I get to have a grandma moment in the afternoon, the highlight of my week, as my thirteen-year-old granddaughter comes into view, bowed under an enormous backpack sagging with the weight of all the learning she is supposed to absorb before she starts High School next year. Sighing and expressing concern is useless, but waves of worry take over. Will it ruin her back? "Hi, Granny," She shakes out waves of shiny long hair seductively from her knitted cap, grins disarmingly and lifts her cold face for a kiss, and love floods out the worry. She is a coper, this charming girl, part child, part woman, her chatter scattering itself through my heart like tiny flecks of golden delight. She, too, will lead a woman's life one day, a life of many compartments and many rewards. Yes, the lives of women are quite amazing. I have no doubt she will be more than equal to the task.  Read More 
Post a comment

Where Did January Go?

Longing for spring
Yesterday, it was December. It was another year. Glamour and glitter filled our early darkness with the promise of festivities and the huge twinkling tree in Rockefeller Center dominated skaters twirling on the ice below.
This week, the gorgeous snake I had spotted wrapping sparkle around the Bulgari storefront on the corner of Fifth Avenue and Fifty-seventh street is still making me catch my breath in delight as I hurry past, but how can it be that the calendar is spilling into February next week? Where did January go?
We have not had our major winter snowstorm yet, the one that makes people slip and slide on black ice hidden under the slush of neglected pavements and swear that they don't know why they live here, in this teeming Northern city with its thrum of constant energy, its terrifying highs and lows, its captivating diversity and challenging architecture. The city has been chilling down into the worst freeze in seventeen years, and my head is spinning cabin fever, guilty to be warm when so many have been deprived of their homes by Hurricane Sandy. I have lost moorings, drifting in the grim glaze of winter days, longing for spring. Friends have fled to Florida where sun and sea await them. They are just a phone call away, but it feels like the distance to stars the grey skies hide from me.
Yesterday has vanished, and tomorrow is almost here. As long as there is tomorrow, there is life, and as long as there is life, there is hope, lifting the heart.
And did I really notice tiny buds breaking through the dry skin of branches on city trees?
Soon. Read More 
Be the first to comment

Reflections on a brave new year

Winter again. Below freezing and mighty winds but a crisp blue sky that belies the knife-like slashes at any visible skin.
This demanding year is winding down and hope lurks hidden in the dawning of a new year. My life has been moving ahead at warp speed for years, while behind me trails a twisting stream of unfinished things, damaged minutiae in need of repair, repainting, refinishing; mountains of photos in need of order; books cascading unopened through the interstices of past years. This is the year for me to grasp time with both hands and pull in the slipstream so that I can evaluate it and discard or complete. I hear the rumble of the winged chariot. I hear it as a call to order. I hear it as the opportunity to examine stray filaments escaped from so many past years, and to consolidate the roving elements of this design I live.
Closure calls and time slips past its bounds and beckons from the unknown. I pray for health and clarity. I pray for strength and joy. I pray that the coming year will give direction to me and mine and grace to the architecture that together we create.
2013, here we come.  Read More 
Post a comment

A life

I wear two hats. One propels me out into the world to do battle for others. The other sits silent on my head in a corner of a room and weaves words. Both hats fit well and are often admired. One slept in my heart for decades while the other spun circles over my head, sent chariots to the sun, and reached for the stars.
When I am wearing neither, I knit, or bake, I love, listen, sing or sleep, read, or hug children when they stray close enough and belong. I am happy and I am sad. I string years into a necklace and wear it proudly. Sometimes I wonder, but most often I put one foot in front of another and advance, leaning into the future and taking comfort from the past. The world is always ancient and always new. Time is evanescent. Loving is everything.
Sighing, I reach for a hat. The weaving of words makes a pillow for my heart. The hat sits neatly where it has always belonged. I will eschew battle for a while, or two, or three. I will let my head fall back and see if there are stars. I will see if I can weave the cloth of life with words. Read More 
Post a comment

After The Storm

New York City has slowly lumbered to its feet after the most devastating storm to hit the Tri-State area in living memory . Power is back on in most areas of Manhattan, and shivering New Yorkers are exhaling gratitude and delight as they stand again in hot showers, eat hot food cooked in their own kitchens, and find many buses and subways running to take them about their daily tasks. Being able to charge electronic devices in one's own home has begun to feel like a luxury not to be taken lightly. Televisions are casting their light into living rooms, and computers are knitting the world back into a pattern it has learned to rely on. People fitting awkwardly into the lives and homes of friends and family during the crisis have moved out of these makeshift communes into their own familiar environments, thankful for the shelter and power, even more thankful for a return to privacy and familiarity. Most kids are back in school, although the city had to undertake a tremendous clean-up operation to ready school buildings that had been used as shelters for days, and one has to wonder where all those unfortunate people have gone, who are now homeless for an indeterminate amount of time until their houses and apartments are restored to them.
Today, I am thinking of the time, many years ago, when I saw John Geilgud in King Lear. He was a force of nature as he echoed Nature's force in Shakespeare's words:

"Blow, winds, and crack your cheeks! rage! blow!
You cataracts and hurricanoes, spout
Till you have drench'd our steeples, drown'd the cocks!
You sulphurous and thought-executing fires,
Vaunt-couriers to oak-cleaving thunderbolts,
Singe my white head! And thou, all-shaking thunder,
Smite flat the thick rotundity o' the world!
Crack nature's moulds, an germens spill at once,
That make ingrateful man!"

I think of Lear today because Nature has once again unleashed its full powers outside my window, albeit less furiously than Hurricane Sandy. Powerful winds are swirling over Manhattan with gusts of over 60 miles an hour, sleet and wet snow are driving sideways, assaulting anything in the storm's path. Mayor Bloomberg again has cautioned everyone to stay indoors until this Nor'easter has stopped shaking us like dead leaves in a gale. Winter has come roaring into my world, leering at departing autumn, catching trees still heavy with their glory of color and hurling them to the ground.
I am so grateful for shelter, and heat, and good books to read. I am grateful for life, and all those caring hearts. I am grateful that President Obama won a second term. I have hope for the future and pleasure in the past.
 Read More 
Be the first to comment

The Perfect Storm

The fury of Hurricane Sandy
So this is how it was, deep into the night as we listened to the raging monster hurling itself at our quaking windows from the challenged safety of our apartment building, electric lights still on, food in the refrigerator, bottles of water in a neat row on the kitchen window sill. We knew her name, Hurricane Sandy, joining forces with a cold front from Canada and some other stalled weather system, swollen by the tidal excesses of a full moon, surging over walls, into tunnels and basements, hurling houses off their foundations, whipping ancient trees out by their roots. Nature's unleashed fury reduced humanity's swollen ego to a speck, as we watched scenes of unimaginable devastation unfold on television, checking that the slow-burn candle was in place as lights flickered and somehow held, grateful that we could still hear the voices of our loved ones on the phone, that Nature 's excesses would sweep on past us and be gone - for now...
Somehow safety lost meaning. Strength was an illusion. With Sandy's departure came the chilling realization that when she willed it, Nature could blast us all into oblivion with one fierce breath. Of course, we always knew, subliminally, and doubtless the knowledge will again vanish deep into the collective psyche as we go about our self-important lives, certain that we are the ones in control. Read More 
Be the first to comment

Fall Reflections

Fall vistas upstate
Outside my city window float memories of London long ago. How did so many years speed by since my student days? Youth is a superb state. I do not remember, then, seeing the weather as anything more or less than challenge or delight.
A mild rain drips everywhere out of a leaden sky today. I have become addicted to the bright blue skies, brisk chill and flamboyant vistas of glowing leaves of my many years here in New York. Wisps of cloud-fog creep over rooftops I can see from my terrace, casting a film of unwelcome melancholy into the day. This was always my favorite season, more bite and brilliance than spring, and definitely to be embraced over the excesses of winter and summer, bitter winds or heavy humidity endured in the deep canyons of Manhattan.
I find myself wondering what the weather is like in all the places where my children and grandchildren are busy living their lives. I wish them weather to float their dreams and to streak flame colors everywhere to illuminate their days.
Now, as I confront the reality of autumn inside and out, I lose myself in a miasma of memory, nostalgia and gloom. Geography has become a state of mind...
The weather channel promises better weather tomorrow. I'll wait this out with a good book. Read More 
Be the first to comment

Echoes of a past and intimations of a future

My parents on their honeymoon in Luxor in 1937
In 1937, my parents, Guido Mosseri and Joyce Smouha, were married in the Nebi Daniel synagogue, in Alexandria, Egypt. The synagogue was ablaze with flowers and candles and packed with relatives and guests. So it was with a gathering sadness that I read a recent blog in Tablet Magazine (see my biography page for the link) and learned that a handful of elderly Jews -all that was left in Egypt from a community 80,000 strong - will in fact be deprived of a rabbi and cantor and do not have enough men for a minyan as we approach the High Holidays. Rosh Hashana services will not be performed in Egypt in 2012, probably the first time in 2000 years.
As Egyptians riot in self-righteous clamor in the name of insults to their faith, and Libyans commit murder in the name of outraged religious fervor, I am struck by the irony lived by the Egyptian Jews, last guardians of their past, elderly, vulnerable, and unable to rise above the menace that surrounds them.
And what of the Coptic Christians? They who claim to possibly be descended from the Pharaonic splendors of old? Their churches are burned and their populations suffer silently in fear of exile from the only country that holds their roots.
Why is there not more clamor? Human values are at issue here. The Middle East hosts a war that destroys history and leaves the Arab lands in economic chaos, unable to fill the void they themselves have caused. This virus will not die, and it will compromise everything we hold dear unless an antidote is found soon.  Read More 
Be the first to comment

1956-2012: We meet again in London and remember.

56 years later, Jean signing Brian Massey's book in London
Lost in wonder, we talk about the days when he was an earnest small boy, and I was his teacher, in a world we all invented to guide us to unknown worlds that lay ahead. Brian also brought a book about heroes that I had given him as an award for hard work, and he told me that it had been one of his favorite books growing up. I looked at the message Jean Mosseri had written carefully onto the flyleaf of his prize, then at his smiling face, then at the words Jean Naggar had just written into his early copy of SIPPING FROM THE NILE that had brought us back together after all these years, and I marveled at the ways of fate and destiny. Read More 
Be the first to comment