“This is a powerful op-ed; made more so by the fact of [Melissa’s] own involvement in an incident like the ones described, even though her incident didn’t happen from malicious intent.” ~Marianne Leone Cooper
American film and television actress, screenwriter, and author of the memoir Jesse.
In response to “Vehicles are Weapons Too,” published by Melissa in The Jerusalem Post
“Melissa Cronin has a way of writing that gets to the heart of the matter. With purpose, she understands how to tell a story in a compelling and relatable way. Well beyond the who, what, and where, Cronin speaks to the depth we all seek.” ~ Carole Vasta Folley
Playwright, and Editor of The Other Paper, South Burlington, VTRead More
Every Thanksgiving I think about all that I’m grateful for, but this Thanksgiving is different, which isn’t to say I’m not grateful for a heated home, warm clothing, plenty of food in my refrigerator, my husband’s culinary skills, a fluffy pillow on which to lay my head every night, hot tea with local honey every morning, and, of course, family and friends. I am grateful for all of those things, and much more, including the time I cherish for writing. So how is this year different? The ever-widening wake of divisiveness ripping through our country, and beyond, has knocked the wind out of me with such great force that I’m finding it difficult to breath deeply these days, deeply enough so that I am fully sated with gratitude. (Just so you know that wasn’t easy to admit.) For as long as I can recall, no uninvited change of events, or individual, not even someone the likes of _______ (I still can’t say his name) has left me so winded.
But, as I write this somewhat depressing post (it gets better, I promise), I realize that, hey, it’s Thanksgiving, and I cannot, will not, let ______, or the divisiveness, continue to deprive me of the air I need to take full breaths. After all, if I don’t, what good am I? If I don’t breath in all the gratitude my belly can house, then I’m giving up. And isn’t giving up a selfish act? Just writing that makes me queasy. So, what next? My closest confidante tells me to act. But easier said than done, right? Maybe not. Maybe to act means starting small, even if small doesn’t seem like enough. Maybe to act means to listen – to others, all kinds of others. Closely. Maybe to act means to be proactive; to ask what others need before they have to ask for that need; to offer food or drink or a hat to people on the street before they have to beg for it; to speak out and give on behalf of others who have been tongue whipped into believing they have no voice at all.
I think I’ll act this Thanksgiving by asking my eleven-year old niece if she has any ideas about how to be proactive since _______ was elected. Who knows, maybe she’ll come up with one, or two or three, that will knock the wind out of me – that kind of breathlessness I welcome.
I hope you, too, will follow along, and fully breathe with me, because, hey, I need you; no one can do it alone. With that, I offer you a heaping serving of gratitude for listening to me. Thank you. Wishing each and everyone of you a happy Thanksgiving.
For dessert, here’s what else I’m grateful for:
My mother-in-law’s stories, and crocheted hats
The change in seasons
The awareness to listen
Flowers any day of the week
A lit candle
Things that make me laugh
Anything that makes me cry
A homeless man who says he likes my smile and to keep smiling
The time to volunteer
Visiting with my ninety-four-year-old neighbor
Pain (a reminder that I’m alive)
Relief from pain
My mother’s every-other-day phone calls
The nursing home staff who take good care of my father
My brother’s generosity, and humor; and his wife’s cheerful spirit
My three stepdaughters, who don’t mind my quirks
My niece, who still likes to play with my hair
My eight-year-old nephew, who still lets me give him smooches on the cheek
Chimes singing with the wind
The smell of a newborn baby
Holding a baby (someone else’s baby)
Walking barefoot in the sand or grass
Popcorn, lots of popcorn
My husband’s hands on my feet
My husband singing to me
A dog’s wagging tail
Personalized cards in the mail
All of those who have helped me become the writer I am today
Remember that punched-in-the-gut feeling when the one guy (or girl) you had a crush on in high school went to the prom with your best friend instead of you? Or how about the first time you tried out for the soccer team and you didn’t make the cut? Rejection doesn’t feel very good. You might as well be a deflated balloon. That’s what it felt like for me when a literary journal recently rejected an essay of mine. I’ve received lots of rejections from journals, but this one, for no reason I can explain, hurt like a motherfucker. Because I’m generally a curious person, I can’t help but wonder why rejection causes humans so much emotional pain.
By nature, humans are social beings. Just as we need food and water to survive, we depend on others to feel a sense of belonging. To be rejected is like suffering from hunger and thirst. Because we have access to technology and other modern conveniences, we could manage to lead a solitary existence, though it would likely be a depressing one. To say “I’m in a lot of pain” after receiving a rejection letter from your top choice college, or after failing to land your dream job is not merely a figure of speech. It’s as real as physical pain. Through MRI studies, researchers have found that rejection stimulates many of the same areas of the brain involved with physical pain. As researcher Naomi Eisenberger describes, “As far as your brain is concerned, a broken heart is not so different from a broken arm.”
So, if we feel just as lousy when rejected as we do when experiencing physical pain, maybe the two cold be treated in the same way. That’s what researchers thought, and had a group of volunteer subjects take Tylenol for three weeks, while a second group of subjects were given a placebo. At the end of the study period, those who were given the Tylenol reported fewer episodes of hurt feelings. To confirm those reports, MRIs were taken of the Tylenol group, and showed less activity in the pain regions of the brain. Similar results have been found in real-life: The same researchers conducted MRIs of individuals whose partners had recently ended their relationships, and when they were shown pictures of their ex-partners, the pain regions of the brain lit up.
Of course, while some individuals experience very few rejections over time (personally, I don’t know any of those people), others experience one rejection after another. And how each of us copes with rejection differs. Some are better at picking up and moving on; others crawl back into bed and bury themselves in the dark. (I’ll admit it: sometimes that’s where I end up, back in bed.) But, even though studies have proven that Tylenol can heal hurt feelings, pain serves us well. Since it’s an evolutionary advantage that we maintain social connections, though it means risking rejection, if we isolate ourselves, we’ll ultimately perish. So, the next time you receive a rejection of any kind, remember this: pain means you’re not as alone as you might think you are.Read More
Are you concerned about how much you’re spending on health care? Are you wondering if the blood test, X-ray, or MRI your doctor recommends is absolutely necessary? Maybe you don’t make it a habit to discuss the pros and cons of testing with your doctor because, after all, he or she is your doctor and always chooses wisely what is best for you, right? I do trust my own primary doctor’s recommendations, because she listens to me, closely. And she carefully considers whether or not a test is needed, then explains to me the reasons for her recommendation. Here’s the rub: We have a conversation about evidence-based practices before making any final decisions. In other words, she engages with me, as a human being – someone with worries, fears, doubts, and needs. So why am I sharing this with you? Last fall my husband went to his primary doctor for a physical exam. A month later we received a bill from the hospital she is affiliated with; the charges for routine blood work were far greater than I had expected. Though we have health insurance, like most people, we must first fulfill a yearly deductible, which doesn’t include copays and coinsurance. When I asked a representative from the health insurance company how they arrived at the number my husband and I were responsible to pay, and who decides on the formula, he answered with what amounted to the following: hospital charge – some random number chosen by a faceless person = contracted rate – deductible – ten percent co-insurance. I had no choice but to reach for the Advil in the kitchen cabinet nearby.
There’s more. Health insurance company administrators treat people not as human beings but as fixed codes that should fit snuggly into pre-printed, micro-millimeter boxes. So, since my husband’s doctor advised him to take Vitamin D supplements, because his lab work showed it to be low, we received another bill charging us a nominal fee for what our health insurance called a “consult.” (That single blood test alone cost us a chunk of $125.29.) It didn’t matter that the “consult” took place during his physical – it didn’t fit into the insurance company’s pre-fab, coded square for “preventative care.” But isn’t that why we have physicals, not only to be examined, but also to discuss what measures we can take to improve our overall health? That sounds a lot like the dictionary definition of “preventative”: the branch of medicine concerned with prolonging life and preventing disease.” If my husband’s doctor didn’t speak with him about his Vitamin D level, how else would he have known that he needed supplements? Health care has become much like an a la carte menu.
Here’s the good news: A friend and author at Strategy Health Care, Dr. Gene Lindsey, led me to a handy resource when I reached out to him with my concern about health care costs. That resource is Choosing Wisely. Launched, in 2012 by Advancing Medical Professionalism to Improve Health Care (ABIM), the goal of Choosing Wisely is to encourage dialogue between providers and patients in an effort to prevent unnecessary medical tests, treatments, and procedures. A practitioner of cardiology for nearly four decades, and President and CEO Emeritus of Atrius Health and Harvard Vanguard Medical Associates, I trusted Dr. Lindsey’s recommendation, as much as I trust my own primary doctor.
Choosing Wisely offers lists of health-related topics created by medical specialty societies, and represents evidence-based recommendations providers and patients should discuss. Topics range from plantar fasciitis to cancer drugs. Each topic includes information about when tests and procedures are deemed appropriate. The recommendations should not be relied upon to decide health care coverage, but to provoke conversation about whether or not particular treatments are necessary.
While reading through the list on Vitamin D testing and supplementation, this is what I learned: Testing doesn’t improve treatment. Most of us have low Vitamin D levels, but not “seriously low levels.” It’s recommended that we get a little more sun, eat foods rich in Vitamin D, and if we don’t get a lot of sun or eat enough D-rich foods, we should talk to our doctor about supplements. According to Choosing Wisely, “Getting tests that you don’t need often leads to treatments you don’t need, or treatments that can even be harmful. For example, if you take too much vitamin D, it can damage your kidneys and other organs.” And “doctors are ordering tests six times as often as in 2008.” Of course, there are conditions that warrant Vitamin D supplementation, like osteoporosis, and any disease that damages the body’s ability to absorb the vitamin.
Take a look at Choosing Wisely, and look out for yourself, your body, your health, because it’s you that matters.
Every year, on the last Thursday of November, American families, friends, neighbors, and the otherwise lonely, gather together to celebrate Thanksgiving. For many of us, this year will be no different, and we’ll engage in yet another gastronomic extravaganza. We’ll gnaw on spiced and tenderized turkey wings, eat forkfuls of oven-baked stuffing, scoopfuls of buttered mash potatoes, cleanse the palate with a slice or two of cranberry sauce, and slip into our sweatpants to make room for the must-have dessert: pumpkin pie. We will likely eat ourselves into a tryptophan daze.
Some of us may even dress up in native American costumes, or as Pilgrims, recalling what we learned in history class, how the Plymouth colonists and Wampanoag Indians indulged in a three-day affair of eating, fishing, and hunting in November 1621, celebrating what is acknowledged as the first Thanksgiving. In the winter of 1620, after much of the Pilgrim population was killed, the colonists requested help from the native Indians, who taught them how to hunt, fish and plant crops. In return, the Pilgrims invited the Wampanoag to feast on their bounty of ripe food to celebrate their first successful autumn harvest.
While the narrative of Thanksgiving is partly about how varying cultures and races can gather together and actually get along, the holiday is a time to reflect upon what we are thankful for – in other words, gratitude.
A few weeks ago, while engaging in meditation during a yoga class, the instructor spoke in a melodic chant, with the goal of centering our thoughts on self-appreciation and appreciation for others. She encouraged us to hold onto equanimity and to release ourselves from attachment and aversion, then asked us to imagine sharing that peace of mind with others – loved ones, friends, strangers, even those with whom we are experiencing a somewhat challenged relationship.
As I focused on my breath, filling my lungs with the sweetness of a Sunday morning, I thought about the once-upon-a-time gratitude journal in which I wrote daily statements of thanks each day. I couldn’t recall how long it had been since I had written in that journal. As the yoga instructor had encouraged, I carried my mindful practice into the rest of my day, also bringing with me the theme of gratitude. I told myself I would start a new gratitude journal, in which I would jot down brief observations, thoughts, anything that reminds me I have a lot to be grateful for: the hand-knit afghan my mother-in-law gave me, hot water, a refrigerator full of food, socks with no holes.
In my research about the benefits of gratitude, I learned that keeping a gratitude journal does more than remind me I have a lot to be thankful for. Studies have shown that gratitude improves our emotional, mental, and physical health. It makes us happier, helps us sleep better, inspires us to exercise more, keeps us connected, increases our social capital, makes us more productive and less envious, motivates us to make decisions.
If it’s that easy, writing in a gratitude journal five minutes each day as a means to improve our long-term well being, by more than ten percent researchers say, then I’m in, hook, line, and sinker. Are you? I can’t think of a better time than now, November, National Gratitude Month, to start penciling the page with, “I’m grateful for …”
“This a wonderful day. I’ve never seen this one before.” ~ Maya Angelou
The following tribute to Oliver Sacks, an eminent neurologist, prolific writer, and quintessential humanist who died from cancer at 82 on August 30, is dedicated to Christy Lyn Bailey, who died from Inflammatory Breast Cancer (IBC) in June 2015. A good friend to many people around the world, she lived each day with passion and curiosity – she traveled to nineteen different countries, completed marathons and triathlons, left her corporate job and joined the Peace Corps. Christy also pursued her passion for writing and teaching: she earned an MFA, and taught creative writing to university students, and to homeless children. And she wrote a memoir, which tells of her journey toward acceptance after losing her hair to alopecia areata.
Christy was a first-rate storyteller, and shared her IBC experience online with countless compassionate readers. Each story she shared revealed her bravery, sensitivity, love, and gratitude. As her mother says, “She dreamed big.” Christy worked hard to survive, to say all she needed to say, to write what she needed to write, but mostly she gave to others – right up until she fell into a peaceful and ever-lasting sleep.
Do you feel your work is done? Do you have more to do, to give, to write, to say? Oliver Sacks leaves us to ponder such existential inquiries in his essay, “Sabbath.”
It’s evident he had more to say, even as his death drew nigh: Fourteen days before he took his last breath, the New York Times published “Sabbath.” In the essay, Sacks speaks out about his withdrawal from the Jewish rituals he grew up with, his indifference to his parents’ beliefs, and his addiction to methamphetamines. In the context of his sexuality, he speaks to how the writing of his newly released memoir, On the Move, allowed him to finally unearth what he had kept buried away for far too long: “I had been able, for the first time in my life, to make a full and frank declaration of my sexuality, facing the world openly, with no more guilty secrets locked up inside me.”
Sacks was also the kind of man who thought deeply about others. His natural curiosity and interest in the world around him, and likely his sense of isolation from his family who questioned his sexual orientation, drove him to venture far from his family in England. In 1960, as a new physician, he left for Los Angeles, where he found what he called a “sort of connection.” Still, Sacks yearned for some deeper meaning – lacking that, an addiction to methamphetamines lured him in. But he recovered, slowly, and found his way: He worked as a physician at a chronic care hospital in the Bronx, where his fascination with his patients mobilized him to tell their stories, unfathomable stories he felt it was his mission to share. That’s when he became a storyteller, a storyteller of the human condition. Those stories span the pages of The Man Who Mistook his Wife for a Hat, in which Sacks shows the struggles of his patients living with various neurological disorders. At the same time, he eloquently describes the resilience of the human spirit, making each and every individual he writes about real life human beings on the page. Sacks’ curiosity and interest in others is steadfast and palpable in the other dozen books he has written such as Hallucinations, Awakenings, and The Mind’s Eye.
It’s Sacks’ open, empathetic, and introspective storytelling that prompts us to ask of ourselves, “What moves us? What must we share with others? In his essay, “Altered States,” though Sacks suggests that drugs is a “shortcut” to “transcendence,” he’s also clear about one thing: that understanding can be found through other means. As Sacks reminds us in the essay, the point is “To live on a day-to-day basis is insufficient for human beings; we need to transcend, transport, escape; we need meaning, understanding, and explanation; we need to see over-all patterns in our lives. We need hope, the sense of a future. And we need freedom (or, at least, the illusion of freedom) to get beyond ourselves … to travel to other worlds, to rise above our immediate surroundings.”
That’s exactly what Oliver Sacks and Christy Bailey did – they rose above their “immediate surroundings.” They left us with the and abundance of hope.Read More