Friday, November 20, 2015

The Unwelcome Mat

 After the mass murder of 129 innocent people in Paris by ISIS terrorists, are you surprised that many countries—including the US—are reluctant to allow Syrian refugees entrance?  Paul Ryan and other conservative politicians are rightly worried about the wolf in sheep’s clothing: what if 1 out of 100 Syrians fleeing ISIS violence turns out to be a jihad perpetrator instead of a victim?  The governors of 27 states, including Alabama, Georgia, Texas, Michigan, Illinois, New Hampshire and Maine have already declared their unwillingness to take to accept any of the 10,000 Syrian refugees President Obama agreed to allow into the US next year. Hatred, fear and the misunderstanding that all Muslims are potential jihadists has created an even wider gulf between what we now perceive as them and us.

     The unwelcome mats have been thrown down in front of doors, multiplying as the world becomes an ever more hostile and terrifying place.  Gone are the carefree days of leisure activities for Americans and Europeans both. Going out for drinks, attending a sporting event or a concert— and especially going on vacation— are all overshadowed with worry today.  Now we have to wonder: what if some crazy psychopaths show up with machine guns and suicide vests while we’re listening to our favorite band at Madison Square Garden? What if there’s a bomb on the plane taking your whole family to Florida for some sun?                                                                          Can you blame the average person for being afraid?

     On the other hand, succumbing to fear (and hatred) is what keeps making conditions worse for everyone.  Xenophobia didn’t work out so well for us in World War II, and it’s not a viable or moral solution now either.  Why don’t we work together with other countries to eliminate ISIS, before we have World War III?  Beyond bombs, drones, and “boots on the ground,” we need to invest in the young, disenfranchised Muslims who are tired of living in abject poverty (while watching Americans live it up on TV.) Any group of disenfranchised youth is at risk when they are unable to get the training and jobs they need to improve their lives and develop a mature sense of self-worth. Instead of treating our fellow humans across the globe like second class citizens, let’s help them become productive members of society BEFORE they morph into enraged fanatics. Suicide is a desperate and (presumably) preventable act. Desperate people do desperate things; we all know that. Unfortunately, most of us who have reasonably happy and productive lives don’t pay enough attention to the "have-nots." But terrorists have made sure those ignorance-is-bliss days are over…forever. (And wasn’t that their goal, after all?) We must focus on these long-ignored and disenfranchised groups of people—NOW.

     What do I know about marginalized people, the way they suffer, and how they lash out in pain when their most basic needs are ignored?  Glad you asked! Not only am I an American citizen born and raised in NYC who lived through 9/11, but I am also the mother of a young adult on the autistic spectrum. How does being a parent of a special needs child give me a deeper understanding of global terrorism?  Children with disabilities like autism are marginalized and abandoned by society the moment they become young adults. My daughter Sarah has had the benefit of the best therapy and education available, along with parents who are ferocious advocates – yet still there are few to no jobs or opportunities for her here in New York City, one of the world’s richest cities in the wealthiest of nations. 

     Appropriate housing options are almost non-existent for Sarah and others with disabilities like hers. My daughter is on a waiting list that I’m told could take TEN years. In that case, Sarah will be 34 when she moves out of the family nest.  Of course it would be ridiculous to suggest that my daughter is a potential jihad recruit for ISIS, but she has always dreamed of living independently, and we have done everything in our power to help her—along with many other parents who are struggling to help their sons and daughters lead productive lives. Shouldn’t Sarah be able to move forward toward an adult life (the way her neurotypical twin brother has done) instead of waiting on the sidelines for who-knows-how-long?

     Thousands of frustrated parents like me are filling out mountains of paperwork, attending autism conferences, and town hall meetings.  How could we NOT be angry and disappointed at the woefully inadequate resources that reflect the lack of compassion and understanding offered to the most vulnerable of all unemployed millennials?  The unwelcome mat is everywhere we turn.  Obviously I’m not planning to strap on a suicide vest, but I can’t help empathizing with the rage of the “have-nots” in ways I wouldn’t if I wasn’t Sarah’s mother. Special needs parents like me have a unique perspective.  I’m one of the “haves.”  Having a career, a home and a comfortable life for me and my family were never in doubt—until now.  Henry and I are not going to live forever, and even if we were immortal, don’t the Sarahs of the world deserve to lead productive and independent lives?  How long must young adults with disabilities wait to take their legitimate place in society and escape from being a “have-not?”

     Sadly, the problem of marginalized adults on the autistic spectrum is about to increase exponentially.  According to the most recent research results, the CDC just announced that 1 in 45 children—instead of 1 in 68—are being born on the autistic spectrum. Hopefully, bureaucrats and thought leaders will stop wasting time arguing over whether these frightening statistics are exaggerated, (due to better screening or changing criteria) and start thinking about how to accommodate all of these young people reaching adulthood.  If we don’t invest in these young adults and find meaningful ways to include them in our society NOW, the disabled homeless population will continue to grow until one day a hopeless (and expensive) caliphate is scattered on our street corners as well as in (tax payer funded) institutions.  Let’s remove the unwelcome mat for victims of violence, terror AND those born with an autistic spectrum disorder.  Isn’t it time to exercise some compassion? Or would you rather consider the alternative?   It’s never too late for the George Orwell world of 1984

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Nest Displacement

   Beyond the loss of a loved one, there may be nothing more tragic than the loss of a family home.  Never before, have I read so many news headlines about people losing their homes to war and violence.  In many parts of the world, children are growing up in massive refugee camps, where host countries don’t exactly make them feel welcome. According to The New York Times Magazine, 11/8/15, there are approximately 30 million children who have been displaced by war—“longing for home, or too terrified to think of home, or trying to forget home and settle somewhere new.”

     More of these children are fleeing Syria than any other country, comprising at least half of the 4,000,000 Syrians who have emigrated since the war began in 2011. There are also plenty of displaced families from the Ukraine, Africa and other nations. To make matters worse, countries like Lebanon, Turkey and Jordan have tightened their borders. Hungary even built a wall with barbed wire.  The result?  More and more Syrians are falling prey to human traffickers, or fleeing overseas in rickety boats and scrambling over land on long, exhausting treks, desperately attempting the treacherous trip to Western Europe. Drowning babies washing ashore off the island of Lesbos are no longer front page news.  However overwhelming the horror of these deaths and displacements, the blood curdling reports eventually become mind-numbing, repetitious even—until you read about the plight of individual children.

     I applaud the New York Times for featuring the stories of three displaced children in “a multimedia journey in text, photographs and a virtual-reality film,” in their Sunday magazine.  First, we meet Hana, age 12, a Syrian refugee who has “lived one quarter of her life in a debilitating state of suspension in Lebanon” in a tent. She spends her days—which begin at 4:45 am—picking almonds, plums, and cucumbers (depending on the season) in blistering heat to help support her family. As much as Hana and her cousin long to go home to Syria, they no longer ask why that’s not possible.  Better to be yelled at and cursed by farm supervisors than to have their heads cut off.

 Next we meet Oleg, 11, living in the wreckage of his home in Nikishino, in the separatist area of Eastern Ukraine.  He and his family fled during the fighting in 2014 and returned after a cease-fire to find their village destroyed and his school reduced to rubble.  Sadder still was the discovery of Oleg’s grandfather, dead and frozen in his own backyard, probably lying there undiscovered for months. “Before the war, I visited him every day,” Oleg said. “Now I visit his grave.”  Yet Oleg is—absurdly—“luckier” than many other members of displaced families. He lives with his parents in the portion of his home where the walls still stand, and he attends school in a neighboring village. His father was able to go back to work as a coal miner and slowly earn money toward rebuilding their home.  According to the Times, about 3.2 million people (including Oleg and his family) now live amid shattered glass, crumbled concrete, and burnt wood, in desperate need of humanitarian relief.

   Last and perhaps most heart-rending of all the Times’ stories is the portrait of Chuol, now 9, from South Sudan. Two years ago, civil war reached Chuol’s village, bringing unimaginable atrocities.  Chuol remembers all the horrifying details of men being murdered and women being raped. His father and grandfather were herded into a small hut and burned alive. Chuol’s grandmother described to the Times reporter how a group of fighters argued about who would rape a 12-year-old girl. Unable to agree, they shot her dead.

     Chuol, his mother and grandmother, managed to escape that horror only to arrive in a new nightmare in the swamps. “When I was holding onto a reed in the water, my feet not able to touch the ground, I would think I could die at any time if a crocodile came and got me,” Chuol recounted. “When we would find land at night, I would think about all the bad things that happened that day.” Not only did this little boy wade through snake infested waters, dodging crocodiles and eating mostly grass, he also worried about his mother, who had run away in a different direction. For months, Chuol did not know if his mother was dead or alive, although Unicef has received reports that she was seen alive in the country. Eventually, Chuol and his grandmother reached a tiny island (unnamed out of the Times concern for their safety) and then moved onto another camp in Kenya to join relatives. Chuol’s grandmother plans to go back to South Sudan to look for her daughter. As for Chuol, his dreams have not yet died. “If I grow up and leave this place,” he said, “maybe I can still become a doctor.”

       I hope the amazing strength and resilience of these three displaced children—and the millions of others whose stories remain untold—enable their dreams to survive along with their bodies.  At the very least, these children and their families all deserve what many Americans take for granted: home sweet home in a country where they feel safe. Despite the wonderful photos, well-written text and cardboard contraptions delivered by The New York Times for the purpose of gaining a deeper understanding of this global disaster, newspaper profiles will not bring a halt to the violence or help these kids and their families find homes, rebuild their identities and create new and better memories.  (Assembling the cardboard contraption in pursuit of “a virtual reality film” was beyond my expertise and patience on a Sunday while drinking my morning coffee, and I suspect other Times readers felt the same).

     What I’m hoping now is that there are screenwriters, producers and film makers out in the world who read last Sunday’s Times and thought: “Wow!  What a GREAT idea for a movie (or even) television!” Might not Hollywood cast some of these displaced people in films or on TV, or at least PAY them for their stories? Look at the success of a TV series like Homeland or movies like Schindler’s List.   Let’s have the entertainment industry bring these brave survivors into our living rooms, movie theaters, and computer screens, enabling them to rebuild their family nests (along with a nest egg for education). Over time, with artful, provocative filming, minds and hearts might be won over. Steven Spielberg and Martin Scorsese, are you listening?

Friday, October 30, 2015

Halloween Includes Everyone

    "I thought Halloween was just for children,” my 88 year old mother remarked in a tone of disbelief (and some disdain) when I said I was going to a Halloween party. (Clearly, my mom is not a fan of the marvelously entertaining Halloween Parade in the Big Apple which is mostly all adults, and also includes pets.)  While dressing up in costumes and collecting candy door to door is mostly a children’s affair, lots of adults end up participating in Halloween whether they like it or not. Parents are the ones who make or buy costumes and candy, accompany their young kids door to door, and hand out Tootsie Pops, Twizzlers, Snickers, Milky Ways etc. when the doorbell rings.  Most—but not all—adults enjoy seeing cute children and teenagers in costume and don’t mind doling out candy.  And Halloween is a GREAT excuse for parents to eat some of their favorite forbidden sweets too. Why NOT give a Halloween Party if you’re in your 40s, 50s or 60s?
       Unlike other holidays, such as Thanksgiving and Christmas, there’s no religious or moral component in Halloween—at least not any more.  Although Halloween originated with the Celts 2000 years ago and was designated by Pope Gregory in the 8th Century to honor all saints and martyrs, the holiday evolved into a secular event by the early 20th century here in America. On October 31st, celebrants are not required to stay up past midnight, or encouraged to imbibe large quantities of alcohol and engage in a romantic interlude as they are on December 31st, aka New Year’s Eve (clearly NOT for kids). Nowadays, Halloween is simply about being creative and having fun. The last time I went to a friend’s Halloween party I was in my early 20's and enjoyed dressing up as geisha girl. Over 30 years later, that same friend is having a party and insisting everyone arrives in costume.  This Halloween evite was totally different from my friend’s low-tech 1970s invitation which was color Xeroxed and sent by snail mail. At first I felt a little like my mom and Scrooge rolled into one opening my Halloween evite.  Finding costumes for me and Henry seemed silly, another annoying chore to add to my lengthy ‘to do’ list, and an unnecessary expense. But then Henry and I started poking around our closets to see if there were any masks or wigs left over from our kids’ Halloween days that we might use, and suddenly we were laughing and having fun trying on crazy (and sometimes suffocating) head wear.

     Wandering down Halloween memory lane, we found Sarah’s Raggedy Anne and Hiawatha costumes, along with Max’s Grim Reaper outfit, and an assortment of accessories. From this amusing Halloween detritus, Henry came up with the costume idea of a dead judge. Who here remembers Rowan and Martin’s Laugh In? “Here comes the judge!”(Henry won’t identify the judge until the party, because he wants to surprise our host, who will no doubt be reading this post before the 31st).  In order to be a proper escort for my husband, I ordered a silvery female ghost costume on line. I’m hoping to hit that sweet spot—the right combination of creepy and pretty.  Immersing myself further into the holiday spirit, I opted for a manicure with silver polish, except for my ring fingers which are black.  As always, I have bought my favorite candies for trick-or-treaters, hoping to enjoy a few leftover mini-Snickers myself.

     Maybe I sound childish, but having fun and laughing with friends has become more precious as I’ve grown older because there are so many more demands and challenges now than when I was single and childless. My daughter Sarah, on the autistic spectrum, has taught me how to have as much fun as possible in the moment and how to hold onto that fun moment as long as humanly possible. Sarah continued to trick or treat beyond her early teen age years, long after her twin brother Max and his neurotypical friends had decided that ringing doorbells was childish and uncool.  Fortunately, nobody ever bullied Sarah or her younger friends as she proudly trick or treated independently.

     But the best news of all is that the world is slowly opening its arms to children with all types of disabilities—at least on Halloween.  Target recently ran an ad for Halloween costumes featuring a disabled girl as Elsa from “Frozen.” A week ago Sesame Street introduced a new autistic Muppet, Julia, so that more people could understand what autism is like from the point of

view of a child on the spectrum.  There’s even a book, Sesame Street and Autism: See Amazing in All Children, which highlights the commonalities among children—the desire for friendship and inclusion—instead of the differences.  What’s amazing to me—(and “amazing” is coincidentally Sarah’s favorite word of the moment)—is that next year and in the years to come, more kids with disabilities will be able to dress up and participate in Halloween. All kinds of disabled kids will model a variety of costumes; and maybe some kids will choose to dress up as Julia instead of as Elmo or Cookie Monster.

     Halloween offers the perfect holiday opportunity to include myriad different types of people of all ages. What other holiday exists for the sole purpose of using your imagination and having fun?  If you can think of one, count me in.

Friday, October 23, 2015

Is ‘Yes’ a Pipe Dream?

     Is there any way on earth to end government gridlock?  Will it ever be possible for the “No!” party (See “The ‘No!’ Party,” 10/16/15) to plod forward and grapple with the yes-word instead?  Call me crazy, but I wanted to offer a couple of positive suggestions that might lead to (gasp!) change.   Surely by now a few of those Conservatives in Congress may have noticed that their beloved platforms of preserving status quo—and better yet, trying to turn back the clock— haven’t worked out so well.  Republicans seem dead set on lowering taxes for the wealthy and eliminating social programs, while Democrats are equally determined to raise taxes on the highest income brackets to pay for more social programs. Where is the middle ground?

     Maybe I’ll be labelled an “old hippie” (I’ve been called worse) for suggesting that we legalize marijuana in all 50 states. This idea is hardly revolutionary.  Legalizing marijuana in Colorado and Washington State has so far worked out extremely well.  Even Colorado governor John Hickenlooper, who initially opposed legalization, has grudgingly admitted that there has been no a-pot-calypse: “It seems like people that were smoking before are smoking now.  What that means is we’re not having more drugged driving, or driving while high. But we’re going to have a system where we’re actually regulating and taxing that in the state of Colorado, and we’re not supporting a corrupt system of gangsters.”  (Hear, Hear!) Along with what has become a $700 million dollar pot industry—not to mention the associated benefits in added tax revenues and jobs—there has actually been a decrease in traffic fatalities. Yes, you heard that correctly.

                   Hey, Governor Cuomo, why aren’t you paying more attention?  New York State could use a multi-million dollar cash infusion too. Imagine all the jobs and tax revenues the marijuana industry could bring to the Big Apple and the rest of our over-taxed, under-serviced state.  Given that New York is a Democratic state,  with some of the highest state and city taxes in America,  I’m betting a lot of voters—even Republicans—would salivate over the idea of LOWERING individual taxes if the marijuana industry generated enough revenue. Think of all the jobs that would be created, all of the low level consumers and all of the young people who would no longer be prosecuted and sent to jail— at taxpayer expense— simply for smoking pot.   In addition to preventing the millions of wasted dollars on arrest and imprisonment of pot users, just think of all the people who would no longer have criminal records and who would be able to get jobs and become productive tax payers themselves.

     Or could it be that some powerful politicians and businessmen actually profit from jailing our youth and minorities? Consider this: why would any businessman running a privatized jail want to let a prisoner out when the Federal government will pay $40,000 annually to keep that inmate in his cell? Releasing pot smokers is just bad business for these powerful few, who employ their inmates at hourly rates of less than a dollar. (Should an inmate refuse to work for pennies, he or she can be sent into solitary until they reconsider.) With such a sweet deal on (slave) labor, why legalize marijuana? Are you already thinking of the famous mafia sentiment: “Nothing personal, it’s just business.”
     The question we have to ask ourselves is WHO do we want conducting business? Should it be the government or the gangsters? Right now, there’s a wide open field for organized crime in marijuana.  The government has lost its ridiculous war on pot many times over, as the weed has proven not only impossible to stamp out, but also medically beneficial. How about a little common sense across our great nation?  Pot is big business, and the weed is not going away anytime soon.
     Colorado isn’t the only state smart enough to benefit from legalizing marijuana. According to a one year status report in Washington State, legalizing pot has resulted in $83 million in tax revenues and provided funds for substance abuse prevention and treatment, among other much-needed services.  At the same time, there has been no increase in youth marijuana use or traffic fatalities, while arrests for marijuana have plummeted 98%.  Sounds like a win-win-win. 
     Of course there will be naysayers. Some will argue that pot smoking harms long-term memory in adolescent brains, or that the negative effects of high THC levels are still unknown.  Others will speculate with gloom and doom that kids will start smoking pot younger.  The truth, as I see it, is that if the government passed laws to oversee the cultivation, possession and consumption of marijuana, young people who experiment (which they will continue to do whether pot is legal or not) will have safer drugs. Government quality control will be far safer than the current trickle down from organized crime cartels. Isn’t it time we put the gangsters out of business? Remember the opening scene of season 1 “Boardwalk Empire?” All the criminals are gathered at a fancy dinner in Atlantic City to toast the onset of prohibition with champagne. Prohibition is good news for organized crime and always has been. The remedy for this situation is obvious.
     After legalizing marijuana, the next logical step is to free the THOUSANDS of young people who have been unfairly incarcerated for low level drug offenses at enormous expense to taxpayers.  Let’s free the next generation to join the workforce, become stakeholders in the future of mankind and help solve some of the truly serious global problems plaguing our world.  If we consider teenagers “mature” enough to fight our wars and risk death in some God forsaken hell hole on the other side of the planet, we should not be arresting and imprisoning them for being adventurous enough to experiment with pot. The United States has more prisoners in jail than any other country in the world—at an astronomical financial and emotional cost.  Why do these disturbing statistics remain unchanged?  The Koch brothers and other wealthy corporate giants are profiting from prisoners who are forced to produce their products for miniscule pay—thus depriving our economy of more jobs and taxable income. The Netflix hit, "Orange is the New Black," is addressing the issue of inmate employment and underpayment by corporate-run jails in the recently released season 3. The American fiasco of over-jailing our citizens—(right here in the land of the FREE and the brave!) is not a secret, but it continues nevertheless. Could it be that we just don’t care???
     The Justice Department is releasing 6,000 non-violent inmates, and Obama has already
pardoned 89 low-level drug offenders, but that’s just the tip of the iceberg. (Check out “Overcrowded Prisons – Nightmare Nests,” 7/31/15).  Why not free all the non-violent, low-level drug offenders and spend money on rehab instead of jail, job training and education instead of preying on prisoners by using them as a source of cheap (slave?) labor. Maybe that sounds like a pipe dream.  But wouldn’t America be a lot better off if more people smoked that pipe?

Friday, October 16, 2015

The ‘No!’ Party

   If I had to pick one word to describe the Republican Party today, I’d choose “no!” And, yes, the exclamation point IS necessary.  Perhaps it sounds insulting to compare Republican politicians to a bunch of “terrible” two year olds who prefer to say “no!” if they don’t get their way. We’ve all witnessed toddlers (including our own) who collapse in the street, throwing tantrums when Mommy or Daddy won’t grant their wishes du jour. Those toddler tantrums might be frustrating and stressful (or hilarious), but at least parents know their kids will eventually outgrow their noisy
meltdowns,which are developmentally appropriate at ages 2-3. Far worse than any generation of terrible twos is our current crop of Republicans in Congress--unfortunately the majority--who continuously lie down on the Floor, symbolically hurling hyperbole just as toddlers frantically flail their limbs. " No, no, no!" They refuse to negotiate or sign any legislation that includes terms they don't like. Sound harsh, or only familiar? Are some US politicians in a state of arrested development?

    Even life-long Republicans—especially the Tea Party—would have to acknowledge their profound negativity on these major questions:  Support Planned Parenthood and uphold Roe vs. Wade? Same sex marriage? More restrictive gun control laws?  Higher taxes for the super wealthy? Universal health care? Saving social security? Climate control?  To all of these questions the Republican answer is a resounding “No!”  The GOP would prefer to shut down the federal government rather than compromise.
     No wonder the media has focused on Donald Trump who—despite his bluster and buffoonery—is at least entertaining when he’s not being completely offensive. The fact that he’s leading in the polls doesn’t mean voters will elect him president, as many people fear.  New York Magazine ran an article (“Donald Trump is Saving Our Democracy,” 9/20/15) saying that Trump’s candidacy was a healthy antidote to politics as usual, and I tend to agree.  Expelling all illegal aliens, building a fancy wall to keep the rest out, and suggesting that John McCain isn’t a war hero because he was caught are all absurd ideas to most people.  However crazy Trump might sound, he has stolen the limelight from the “No!” party, which may force the rest of the Republicans to re-examine their party’s platform and come out with new and constructive ideas—an event as rare these days as a solar eclipse.  It is also refreshing that Trump (like Bloomberg) is wealthy enough to fund his own campaign, and thus is not beholden to any special interest groups. Trump is free to express his truth and behave in whatever manner he believes is right (however misguided).  He is free to speak vicariously for voters of both parties who feel muzzled and trapped by financial considerations.
     The fact that John Boehner quit as Speaker of the House and no one wants the job speaks volumes.   Before the “No!” party became entrenched, the job of Speaker was considered an honorable and coveted position.  Now that many hard line conservatives refuse to negotiate, the Speaker is doomed to failure. If the Speaker tries to suggest Republicans compromise in order to pass a necessary bill, he is viewed as weak (at best) or a turncoat (at worst).  If the Speaker refuses to negotiate and the bill dies, the press and voters of both parties will denounce him as stubborn and ineffectual. Any representative with presidential aspirations does not want what has become a thankless job. Witness Paul Ryan quietly kicking and screaming in protest of Republicans begging him to become Speaker.  These days, the Speaker’s job is a losing proposition regardless of what the Speaker actually does. Above all else, politicians hate to lose.  Instead of risking reelection, they would rather do nothing, say “no,” and let their fellow Americans suffer the consequences

Friday, October 9, 2015

Peace – Just For a Change

   Tired of the tedious, depressing headlines in the news? Every day I read about more human misery: the war in Syria…human traffickers preying on migrants desperate to escape endless violence… the entire country of Greece drowning in debt, and all the individuals across the globe at the mercy of cultural clashes and political power grabs, trying to cobble together a new life and rebuild their family nests… while conflict continues to escalate between Israel and Palestine. Turning to local news here in America, we have yet another mass shooting—this time at Umpqua Community College—by another angry, isolated young man unable to find a girlfriend. (Beware the unloved adolescent!) All of the hand-wringing and pontificating by media and politicians about overhauling gun control laws versus our Second Amendment rights to bear arms has given me a ferocious headache.  Advil isn’t doing the trick. 

     Although I’m not in a war-torn country, trying to reach Greece in an over-crowded raft, there’s still plenty to worry a mama bird in her semi-empty, Manhattan nest. Both my kids just finished filming their respective movies.  Max and his girlfriend survived a cross-country move from Maine to California in a 16 foot U-Haul driving day and night.  With his bank account dwindling, Max needs to put the finishing touches on his second project in order to avoid becoming a (truly) starving artist.  With every passing month, Henry and I must adjust to the fact that our son now lives faraway and may never return.  Does Max’s relocation mean that one day our (prospective) grandchildren will grow up on the west coast, in a different time zone? Will we be too old and feeble to journey cross country often enough to know our potential grand babies?  But that’s far off into the nebulous future, so I should stop worrying, right?

     More immediate and profound is my worry for Sarah, on the autistic spectrum—who unlike her twin brother—has no job and no idea if (or when) she’ll ever be offered meaningful work. Can our society really afford to pour millions of dollars into research, education and therapy for children on the autistic spectrum and then totally abandon them as adults?  Educators talk about inclusion in classrooms, but what about inclusion in the real world? The so-called “neurodiversity” trend has thus far only embraced a tiny minority of adults on the autistic spectrum.  Those with Asperger’s at the high end who are gifted writers, speakers, and computer programmers can forge a path in the neurotypical world. So too can lower functioning individuals given simple vocational training, who are willing to take the minimum wage jobs many neurotypical applicants find boring and unsatisfying.

     Where does that leave Sarah and all the others who have managed to graduate from college, but still lack the communication and life skills necessary to find and keep an entry level job?  Answer: worse than nowhere.  After years of being told she could succeed if only she worked her hardest, Sarah is now finding out that she still hasn’t come far enough for the world to accept her—a crushing blow for my daughter, who worked so hard to succeed in school and develop a  healthy, strong ego—and heartbreaking for me. How does any parent face the idea that their adult child’s best efforts might not be good enough to survive independently in the world the way American society is currently structured?

   Enough about tragic world events and my children, right?  This week’s challenge was to find someone or something uplifting that might give me and my readers a smile. So far I’ve failed miserably, I know. But, wait, John Lennon was born this week. To commemorate what would have been his 75th birthday, Yoko Ono invited thousands to Central Park to create the largest-ever human peace sign.  ABC reported that 2,000 people gathered in the East Meadow—far short of the number needed to break the current record of 5,824 set in 2009 by the Ithaca festival.  But Ono thinks Lennon would have been happy anyway.  All different kinds of people, old and young, former hippies and politicians joined together to celebrate John Lennon’s birthday and legacy of peace. 

     Ono tweeted her invitation to the event in September, shortly after her one-woman art exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art: “You don’t have to do much.  Power works in mysterious ways. Visualize the domino effect and just start thinking PEACE.” 

     Seeing the pictures of all those people united in a peace sign made me smile and remember my youth and the idealism of Lennon’s lyrics.  I can still hear his voice singing over and over: “All we are saying is give peace a chance.”  Maybe it’s time more people listened for a change.