It Was an Almost Pretty Good Year

2019-09-18 – I’m back. I took some time off from writing this blog to get some things done. I had two new projects that were suddenly taking a lot of time. One was planned, one was not. The planned project was my work as a new immigration lawyer. I’ll tell you more about that down below.

The other project was cardio rehab. I had some tests over the winter that led to my having a stent put into my heart in March. I was actually in pretty good shape because my bike riding, but bike riding doesn’t do anything about your genetic makeup. My parents both had cardiovascular disease, so I have it. It’s not something to fool around with, but it’s fixable. My dad had bypass surgery, my mom had stents, and now I have a stent. They both lived decades afterwards. All I can say about me is that the stent procedure was uneventful, I went to cardio rehab three times a week for three months, and I’ve biked 2,500 miles so far since the procedure. It’s going pretty well.

So those are my excuses.

I pick this time to start posting her again because of the approach of the Jewish New Year Rosh Hashanah.

If you’ve ever read my blog before, you know that I have a push-pull relationship with my religion. I grew up in a Conservative family. I kept kosher. I observed the Shabbat (to a degree) and the holidays. I even toyed with becoming a rabbi. But that ambition fell apart in a yeshiva in Jerusalem in the seventies. I didn’t have the faith.

We Jews are not big with faith-talk. But it was hard to envision a life as a rabbi without it. There was that plus my distaste for the hypocrisy of picky ritual demands versus a decided lack of pickiness about how we treat our fellow humans. So I left organized religion behind.

Nevertheless, I remain fascinated by religion and how religion shapes so many people’s lives (including my own). So I write about it from time to time. And, even though I no longer attend synagogue or keep kosher or observe the holidays in a formal way, I do take note of their passing and incorporate some of the ideas into my non-synagogual life.

One of the ways I do that is to take stock of my life each year as Rosh Hashanah approaches. Rosh Hashanah will arrive in 10 days. So, in the words of Rabbi Hillel, “if not now, when?” (This is going to be a long post.)

It was an almost pretty good year.

If I were a religious person, I’d say that I must have been inscribed in the book of life last year at this time. Because my cardio blockage was discovered BEFORE I had the heart attack. So I had no heart damage and the stent repaired the blockage and it didn’t hurt when they did it (other than a few needle sticks and worry). I stressed my heart three times a week while connected to the EKG and everything seems to be working fine. Fine enough to ride my bike thousands of miles.

I had a different kind of heart challenge during the year. This was the challenge put to all of us by our president and his attacks on the weakest among us—particularly immigrants.

Last year at this time I was finishing up the long process of getting my law license reactivated so I could help out with the resistance. (And I thank my wife Kit for pushing me on this.) I made contact with the National Immigrant Justice Center and, after waiting impatiently, I attended their next training session, which was in January.

The project is to represent undocumented immigrants, mostly women, in preparing, filing, and defending petitions for a class of visa called a U Visa. I’ve had two clients so far. It is a very intense process—meeting with clients weekly to get their stories and preparing documentation that is like a small book.

It’s been a wonderful experience.

The concept of the U Visa is kinda weird to me. It is available to individuals who were victims of certain crimes AFTER they came to the United States. It’s mostly domestic violence and sex crimes. So the process of getting the story can be emotional and you have to be sensitive to that when you talk with them.

This is made worse by the visa requirement that the immigrant must prove that they “suffered substantial physical or mental abuse” as a result of the crime. But it is what it is. The law provides a pathway to a waiver of their undocumented status. And, although the U Visa is called a “nonimmigrant” visa, once it is granted, the visa holder can eventually apply for a green card. It takes many years after the initial petition is filed.

The other challenge is that the applicants may not speak English. Part of the process of getting ramped up to do this work was finding an interpreter willing to spend all the time.

But this means that I need to do all this emotionally sensitive questioning through an interpreter! It doesn’t matter how great the interpreter is, it’s a challenge. I need to capture the client’s “voice” in order to write an effective petition. So far, it’s had its difficulties, but it’s been working.

Nevertheless, for my birthday last month, Kit got me Spanish lessons. It’s still going to be a while (if not forever) before I can do away with the interpreter, but my most recent client seemed to appreciate my effort. She’s going through the same language process herself—in reverse.

I’ve only had two clients, so far. In a couple of weeks I’ll get my third. I can’t talk about clients, of course. But I can say that Trump’s haranguing about criminals coming to the United States to victimize innocents here is exactly the opposite of what I see with my clients. The criminals were here and immigrants are easy prey because they lack protections. The U visa is one way to rectify that imbalance.

Jewish tradition talks about the eshet chayil, the woman of valor. My clients are women of valor.

While all this has been going on, I still have my novel Cain’s Mother-in-Law to work on. And it’s been fairly neglected. Over the last couple of years I took a detour from completing the novel by trying to adapt the story for musical theater. I’ve done a couple drafts of a script, including my attempts at song lyrics. But, so far, I have no composer. Over the summer I took a class in lyric writing. It feels like a really natural thing for me as a writer. But if you have no composer, you have no song.

So, for now, my plan is to shelve the musical and finish up the novel, now in its 11th draft. You can continue these projects forever. And I’ve quite well into the trap of endless revision. But this will be the last draft.

Yes, I’ve said that before. But this time I mean it! I got a lot of insight into the workings of my story from my detour into the world of musical theater. I just have to get that insight down on paper and then say goodbye to the project. I’ll either get a publisher or publish it myself. One way or another, it will be done before I write my Rosh Hashanah reflection again next year.

During this past year, Kit and I became empty-nesters. We had a brief taste of the experience when Nat and Cal were both in college at the same time. But they came back. This time they are gone and on their own, sharing apartments with their girlfriends. This time, Kit and I are on our own—for good.

I am fortunate to have Kit. We’ve been in closer-than-usual proximity anyway for the last five years since I have been working from home. I have my little corner of the basement with my personal computer and my work computer and four screens!

It’s a bit lonely. I miss the human contact I used to get from going to an office every day. On the upside, there’s no commute. And I use the commute time to ride my bike.

Last year around this time we had to put down our dog Lefty. After years of dogs, sometimes multiple dogs, we had none. Kit said she didn’t want another. But everyone knew it was just a matter of time. So in June she relented.

The new dog is what we call a Carolina dog. We got her from a rescue shelter called Felines and Canines. They said she was part lab and part cattle dog, but they didn’t know. She was rescued from some unknown feral state in Alabama. You can sorta see the cattle dog. The lab part is just boilerplate—they always say that—but you can’t see it. Kit did some research and decided that the dog is a Carolina dog, which is not any kind of pure breed (though the AKC is trying to make it one), but is rather a type of dog that lived in the swamps of the south.

We call the dog Rebe. Kit picked the name. I have no idea where it came from. She had floated the name when she was pregnant with the boys, but, in her mind, the name was a girl’s name, so we never used it. Now we’re using it.

Rebe’s a mostly well-behaved dog, except for chewing everything. As best we can tell, she will be one year old next month. We took her to training. But it seems like a life-long process. I was never the dog person, but I’ve been trying to do better with Rebe than I did with our previous dogs. I think I need some training, too! And I wouldn’t mind getting a treat when I behave well. (I’m jealous that Rebe gets all the treats!)

Of course, the extra treats wouldn’t be so healthy for me. Over the years I had added too much weight. But even before the heart thing, I had been taking it slowly off. Last year I lost 15-20 pounds. This year the same thing. I’m almost at my ideal weight. The biking helps. But I’ve been eating a lot better. We have lots of salads. I was never a salad eater before. They are not bad.

And they tell me that it’s good for the environment.

So, what have I learned from this year?

It’s that you need to listen to what your heart tells you—in more ways than one. That voice is sometimes very, very quiet. You can drift into ways of living that may not really be you.

So, I can’t really say that I regret drifting into my current career as a writer of online insurance continuing education courses. It’s reasonably interesting and it pays the bills. But it was an accidental and default path.

I had gotten away from a life of service, which I enjoy. So now I am taking steps to include service in my life again with my new work as a pro bono immigration lawyer.

And I’ve been continuing my work with Swing Left in the political world. Last year we flipped IL-6 from red to blue. This year it’s writing letters to get people registered to vote and getting ready for next year’s elections. I’ve expressed my interest in being a delegate at next year’s Democratic National Convention on behalf of Elizabeth Warren and working on her campaign. (More about that in future blogs.)

I’ve also let the creative side of me be a sideline. But at least I’m not totally neglecting it. I’ve got my novel. If got my musical. Next month I’m going to be in a poetry competition. (Kit is also competing!) And I go to a group guitar class at the Old Town School of Folk music with my friend Dave and I’ve been building up a repertoire of finger-picking songs.

So, it’s not a bad life. And there’s more to do.

What do you think? Scroll down to comment.

Does this post remind you of a song? Let me know in the comments.

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One response to “It Was an Almost Pretty Good Year

  1. Steve–Good post after a period of absence. A heartfelt update (forgive the pun). I can’t think of a song that’s really on point but I’ll go with Paul Simon’s American Tune. In troubled times it gives me solace, maybe because the tune was taken from a Bach chorale. Bach himself apparently borrowed the melody, which also was used in a hymn.
    Dave C.

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