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Archive for July, 2009

Death in the Afternoon…

Yesterday, at about 1:30 p.m., a woman named Deana Reynolds slipped free of “the surly bonds” of earth and breathed her last breath. Less than a year ago, she was diagnosed with a rare form of cancer called Burkitt’s Lymphoma. Yesterday, the disease killed her.

Deana fought very very hard against an invidious invader. The pain she described since her diagnosis seemed unimaginable. Yet she held on, signing up for aggressive treatment at a hospital far from home. Her goal, always, was to live for her family. Even as the cancer got bolder, she never gave up hope that she would rise above it in the end.

Deana left behind a husband and two small boys. Two boys who are too young really to have memories of their mother. And she left behind her parents who never expected to bury their child.

Cancer is a terrible foe. A most terrible foe. It steals too much from us. I’m glad I participated in a fundraiser for cancer last week. The task – the open water swim – was difficult, but I had been inspired by Deana’s fight – her strength – her courage. She reminded me that giving up is never an option.

Deana also set a powerful example of what it is like to face a terrible challenge with extraordinary grace and strength. And I’ll never forget the sage advice from Deana’s husband, Jack: hug your family today. Deana’s death reminds me that we won’t always have the option.

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Last weekend, I swam a mile in Lake Michigan as part of the Swim Across America program. I didn’t sleep much the night before – woke up at 1:30 in the morning, and because I knew I had to wake up at 5:30 am for the event, just couldn’t fall back to sleep.

Strange how the mind works.

As I drove into the city, my spirits were lifted by the beauty of the early morning. It was on the chilly side – not quite 70 degrees outside when I left my house. (The lake was even colder – 66 degrees, making the wet suit rental the very best $5 I’ve spent ever!)

Swim Across America raises money for cancer research. The Chicago event raised money for Loyola Hospital’s Cardinal Bernadin Cancer Center. Cardinal Bernadin was himself a victim of cancer – he wrote very movingly about his struggle with the disease in his book, The Gift of Peace. If you haven’t read it, I recommend it.

Since I’d never done an open water swim before, I was nervous – but felt confident. Then it was time to head into the chilly lake and swim for a mile.

My confidence vanished. I’m so used to swimming in a pool that the choppy waves caught me off-guard. It was hard to breathe without swallowing tons of water. Even when I turned over to backstroke, a wave broke over my head and I swallowed more water.

The goal – an orange triangle floating in the lake just east of Oak Street – seemed very far away. That was the half-mile mark – we were to swim out there, turn around and come back.

But I did it. I caught my rhythm, figured out how to breathe around the swells and I swam my mile. And in swimming north along Lake Shore Drive, I swam past the hospital where my father died of cancer…

Made me remember that time. Made me remember how much I hate cancer.

Made me very glad I could participate in a very small way to eradicate this terrible disease.

The day was glorious. Swimming across America (one mile in Lake Michigan) was a fabulous way to spend it.

Thanks to all who supported my endeavor – and thanks to my hubby for taking care of the kids so I could vanish for the morning….

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lamp2

The house lights go down; a spotlight shines on a golden lamp, the visual reminder of the dreams that gleam brightly in all of us. Then the stage lights go up, the lamp vanishes as a troupe of very talented actors appears – and we embark on a magical journey that takes us through the story of Aladdin.

(Disney’s Aladdin – just to make it clear. The master marketer of the mouse has apparently linked its name permanently to the musical version of the ancient story once told as part of Scheherazade’s 1001 nights.)

Disney’s Aladdin is being performed this summer at the Chicago Shakespeare Theater, which is located at the closest thing we have to a Disney theme park in Chicago – Navy Pier.

Most people are familiar with the story of Aladdin thanks to Disney’s animated film version released in 1992. Of course, seeing the story performed live on stage is a completely different experience than a film.

The play’s director, Devanand Janki, infuses the stage with energy and color to create the lively and energetic world of Agrabah. Using simple props, drapes and color, we can easily imagine the different locations for the story – the palace, the cave, the market.

With Robin Williams creating such a strong and memorable Genie in the film, I wondered how a stage Genie could remotely compare to the iconic figure Williams created. Bill Larkin does a great job making the role his own. He’s smart and funny – and the minute he appears, you forget all about Robin Williams’ manic performance.

The cast of 11 is uniformly terrific – with great performances by everyone.

For the parents, there are engaging references to a Paul Simon song (“Call me Al”) and the “snuggy” – that mass-marketed blanket with sleeves.

The Chicago Shakespeare Theater (CST) also incorporates a sly nod to a couple of Shakespeare plays – Princess Jasmine stands in a balcony yearning for her lover… “Aladdin, Aladdin, where for art thou, Aladdin.” And in the midst of plotting his overthrow of the Sultan, Jafar speaks malevolently of “the summer of our discontent…”

With the Shakespeare quotes, it’s like the CST is inserting an “Alfred Hitchcock” appearance into the performance (Hitchcock, the master of suspense, was famous for appearing in one shot in each movie he made.) If CST does not do this with each non-Shakespeare performance, I recommend that they try it… it’s a lot of fun.

My three children thoroughly enjoyed the show. My 9-year-old son particularly loved the chase scenes (well done on such a small stage!) And my five-year-old twin daughters were entranced by the love story. What’s not to like in a story that offers magic, music and mayhem – and ends with a kiss between newlyweds perched high above Agrabah on a magic carpet?

Aladdin_carpet

If you want a touch of Disney in Chicago, head over to Navy Pier to see Disney’s Aladdin…. it’s a magical experience.

The play is 75 minutes with no intermission and runs through August 30, 2009.

For our family, just getting there was half the fun…)

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Our magical journey began on the Metra. For older travelers, perhaps not so magical a beginning. But for my girls, a glimpse of heaven…

Lindsey watches the scenery flash by…
The journey begins... Lindsey heads into the city

Nora, on the top floor of the Metra…
Nora on the Metra

Aidan, perhaps a little jaded by all the other train rides he’s taken….
Aidan, perhaps a little jaded by the train

Next, a ride on a water taxi….
Using the Chicago River to propel us closer to our destination

My failed attempt to get all four of us into the shot!
A failed attempt to get all four of us into the shot....

On our way, we encounter art and fountains…
An artful bench, using mosaic to illustrate the Chicago story...

My water babies, doing what they do naturally, gravitate toward water…
My water babies, gravitating toward the water....

We arrive, finally, at the closest thing we have to a Disney theme park in Chicago – Navy Pier. And of course, no visit to the Pier is complete without a ride on…

The Ferris Wheel…
The Ferris Wheel...

But must we wrestle in a gondola so high above the ground?
Must we wrestle in a gondola so high above the ground?

Technology can be fascinating…
Technology can be magical...

And the view is fantastic…
The Ferris Wheel offers a spectacular view....

Aidan can’t pass up the opportunity to feel the wind on the swings…
That's him, in the red shorts - having a blast on something I could never ride... the swings

They swing around so very fast, those swings on the Pier…
They swing 'round very fast....

Too short for the swings, the girls instead enjoyed the Lighthouse Drop…
The girls enjoyed the Lighthouse Drop....

And then it was time for the play… Disney’s Aladdin….

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Ticket sales were awesome. (And scalpers made a fortune.)

The venue was packed.

The show was filled with high-profile talent, including Mariah, Usher and Brooke Shields.

The audience was appreciative.

The gold coffin, front and center, cost $25,000.

Yes, I’m talking about Michael Jackson’s funeral/memorial/well-rehearsed “farewell to the superstar” performance at the Staples venue in LA. And all right, I admit it. I’m utterly mystified by the relentless coverage of the Michael Jackson death – and I’m equally bewildered by the outpouring of grief millions of people seem to be feeling for this performer.

Whatever you want to call it, the mourning for MJ is big, bold and a rather bizarre spectacle. He was a man graced with exceptional talent, a huge bankbook and the love of family, friends and fans. But a look at the mutilation he inflicted on his face is powerful evidence of a strange misery he endured, despite fame, fortune and a whole lotta love, if we’re to believe the people who spoke at yesterday’s memorial.

And I find it all rather sad that a man whose family thrust him too early into the spotlight decided to say farewell to him also in the spotlight. I don’t really understand taking one’s grief and making it public like this. I also don’t understand the visceral reaction millions of people, strangers to Michael, had at the news of his death.

Perhaps I’ve lost too many loved ones of my own to get wrapped up in grief for someone I’ve never met.

In the end, what really matters is that three small children are now orphans. Orphans that have a voracious public eager for a glimpse of them. I hope they can grow a few more years without the glare of attention focused so hotly on them. Because having lost my mother at a young age, I know how devastating the loss of a parent can be for a child. No one should have to recover from grief with a powerful media focus shining on their every move.

In the end, when you strip away the sparkly gloves, the spangled uniforms, the skin peels, the surgeries, the rumors, the slumber parties, the hype, the hysteria, what you’re left with is a father who left his children far too early. Michael’s beautiful daughter Paris pulled the curtain away from all the wizardry. Her heartfelt tribute revealed the man behind the mirror to be a beloved daddy, who will by missed by his children.

My sympathies go out to the superstar’s three children.

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The 4th of July is just two days away… a day I strongly associate with fireworks, barbecue… and Thomas Jefferson.

Yes, the 4th of July is when I think of Thomas Jefferson, the man who wrote the seminal document those brave Founding Fathers signed on July 4th, 1776, setting into motion the creation of the country we celebrate today.

And in a way that seems to prove the power of serendipity in our lives, Jefferson also died on the Fourth of July, a half century after he signed the Declaration of Independence (and just hours after his friend, foe and peer, John Adams, died.)

Here’s a fabulous story about Jefferson that appeared in the Wall Street Journal. I strongly recommend that you check it out.

It’s a story about how a Jeffersonian cipher was recently cracked by a 21st century mathematician.

Seems that Jefferson had a friend named Robert Patterson, and as part of their friendship, they would send each other ciphers to decode. Patterson sent Jefferson this particular coded message in 1801, when Jefferson was a new president in a new nation still working out the details of its operations.

It appears that Jefferson was never able to figure out this particular code. But Lawren Smithline, a professional cryptologist, cracked it recently – it was difficult, he acknowledged, but using complex organization and incomprehensible mathematical formulas, he cracked the cipher that Jefferson could not.

“The key to the code consisted of a series of two-digit pairs. The first digit indicated the line number within a section, while the second was the number of letters added to the beginning of that row. For instance, if the key was 58, 71, 33, that meant that Mr. Patterson moved row five to the first line of a section and added eight random letters; then moved row seven to the second line and added one letter, and then moved row three to the third line and added three random letters. Mr. Patterson estimated that the potential combinations to solve the puzzle was “upwards of ninety millions of millions.””

See what I mean? A great deal of brain power – and the time to ponder – is needed to figure out a code of such complexity.

I read this story and started thinking of Thomas Jefferson, who set aside blocks of time each day for reading – and blocks of time for writing in his journals – and blocks of time to enjoy the work of solving a great cipher, even if he could not indeed solve it himself.

Then I think about how he had all that time to do all this great work because he had all those many slaves doing the other stuff for him.

The cooking. The cleaning. The child care. The farming.

All of it was done by other people.

Slaves. People who were owned as property by the man who defined the liberties that come with being an American.

Jefferson had time for his books and his important writing and his ciphers because he had slaves to take care of every last detail of his domestic life.

I don’t wish for slaves to do my work for me. But wouldn’t it be nice to have all that time we devote to the basic tasks of living instead be used for developing highly influential political philosophies? Or creating enduring ciphers? Or for doing whatever it is we love to do in the time when we’re not washing floors or cooking dinner?

Jefferson was a brilliant man – a brilliant man who had the luxury of time to develop his brilliance. I wonder how his brilliance would have been expressed had he been diverted by the mundane tasks that absorb so much time when there are no slaves to pick up the slack….

For an absolutely fascinating look at Jefferson, please don’t miss this piece in the NY Times….

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