Friday, September 28, 2007


Yes I do have fictional friends. Since retirement, I have had more time to read – unfortunately when the book is intense, I find myself staying up to 3 a.m. to see what happens next. I enjoy books about friends, especially the kind of groups in Lorna Landvik’s Angry Housewives Eating Bon Bons or Susan Kidd Monk’s The Secret Life of Bees. Check out The Friday Night Knitting Club by Kate Jacobs, a poignant tale about a woman’s club based on Manhattan’s upper West side, a club that does more gnoshing than knitting and whose members grow to support each other through many crises. A wonderful film The Station Agent is about the struggle to make friendships and allow friends into your life, to see your pain, to help you out.

These fictional friends have touched me deeply and reminded me how important friends have been throughout my life. In one difficult transition time after another, a friend – Jo, Arleen, Ann, Sr. Pat and so many others – showed up to walk with me through the pain.

I think of all these loving people as my own personal cheering squad. When the game is going my way, they celebrate with me. When the score is against me, they cheer me on, encouraging me not to lose heart. And vice versa.

Just like in the books and movies.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007


One of the blessings of retirement is the time to refresh friendships, reconnect with old friends and make new ones. And today, there are so many ways to “be with” friends.

This past year or so, I’ve noticed that my “in person” getogethers with my long time pal Pat have been happening more often. We share two of my favorite pastimes – eating out and “window shopping” at the Mall.

Then there is the group of ex-Catholic Charities colleagues that meet once a month to do museums or cultural sites. We’ve done Met tours, Botanical Gardens events, trips to the Zoo, the Nassau County Museum of Art and the Talbot’s outlet (how’d that get in there?). To tell the truth our monthly gatherings are 90% café and conversation and 10% culture. Last month we even ran into another “friend from work” at the Met, so there were six of us.

There have also been many friends from the past that I can spend more time with via e-mail; this blog has brought messages from many. And some visits are planned for next month with friends I haven’t seen for years.

For my internet challenged pals, who live far away, I’ve logged in more phone time, especially with A. who lives on a farm in the mid-West. A. and I go way back – to our college days at St. John’s University.

During the Transition Retreat I made last June (see July 5th blog) one of the retreatants reminded me of a dear friend Mary, a lively 90+ year old who lives in California. I was prompted to make a long overdue phone call and found that she had been seriously ill. How glad I was to speak with her!

My dream of making new friends in retirement is taking a bit longer but I trust that my pursuit of volunteer service and a spiritual direction group starting in a few weeks may bring new people to grace my life.

Friday, September 21, 2007

A New Season

I love the Fall. It was, maybe still is, my favorite season. Now I revel in all the seasons of the year, which mirror the seasons of my life. In December 2001 I decided that if I ever wanted to publish my poetry, I would have to "do it myself"! I called the first volume of poems Secrets of the Seasons.

And now it's time for an Autumn poem, inspired by the Bronx Botanical Gardens.

A Rosy Reception

The roses of October are
arousing. They cry out:
Come join in the revelry!

Have a whiff of our aroma
at its peak,
as glorious as incense
rising up at Benediction.
You need not bend
to savor the scents.

Behold our Joseph coats of
many colors,
a Fall feast for multi-tasked eyes.
You need not blink
to savor the sights.

Be immersed in the sunshine
of our presence.
Be restored in our embrace.
Rejoice in awesome autumn
and be glad.
Copyright E. Ramos 10/3/2004

Friday, September 14, 2007

Remembering 9/11/2001: Looking back

A few last thoughts about that day six years ago. I dug up my old 2001 journal to do a memory check. Did my 2001 account of the events match the memories I've been posting this past week? For the most part they did, remarkably so. What my memory forgot was the pain and anger that I, and many of my colleagues, felt in the long months following the attack, when our work and agency was changed forever. We were also in grief and it was not being acknowledged, given the overwhelming grief of the victims and families directly affected. I believe all New Yorkers, Americans and the world suffered a great loss on that day. What do you think?

I was surprised to find that I had begun writing that day, September 11, 2001, while we waited for my niece to walk uptown. I share it with you now. You will see the misinformation that we had in this account.

9/11/01 It feels unreal. There is a sadness in my gut, my head aches, my whole body is buzzing. Is this shock? At 8:45 this morning, a plane crashed into the World Trade Center. Minutes later, another plane crashed into the other tower. Within the hour, both buildings imploded. I have no idea how many died. It is incomprehensible. Manhattan is closed off. Bridges, transit, tunnels. We hope they are letting traffic out. Dottie and I are waiting for Damarys to walk up from Houston.

It was a deliberate terrorist act. At least 7 planes were hijacked and were flown into the Twin Towers, Pentagon, other spots in D.C. Other planes were shot down. Hundreds of passengers killed. Fighter jets patrolling the NYC skies. All airports in the whole country closed. It is so unreal. A terrible movie. So much hate. I cannot hate back. I just can't. And that feels right.

L., A., T., A., J., J., J., K., PMc, L. (family and friends) all trying to call, all concerned about me. All worried about me. That feels hopeful. Hundreds of people all lined up to give blood, people coordinating rides for other people. The evil brings out the goodness. And LIGHT and LOVE always triumph.

A wake up call for America. Wake up! You are vulnerable. All your weapons and money and control and possessions and security measures will not protect you. Wake up and SHARE, CARE, let the best in your people shine forth. The only hope. God help us all.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Remembering 9/11/2001: The Poems

I share with you today three poems I wrote about this day in the months that followed.

Advent 2001

Autumn lingers in dryness this year,
no gusty tears to wrench her last leaves free.

Trees stand like stalwart sentinels
in brilliant defiance
of the terror wracked thoughts
that stalk writhing spirits
since fall began,
and towers fell
one sad September morn
not long ago.

In oneness we await
Winter’s wise and wondrous advent.
Will she fill drought stricken hearts
with her snowy waters?
Will she fill aching black holes
With her holy hope?

Copyright E. Ramos 11/23/01


Death rains all around me
like ancient fire arrows
from out the friendly blue

When will the one that bears
my name find its mark
and pierce my trembling

A thousand yesterdays ago –
I think it was last month
I basked in freedom’s

I strolled in never-ever land
while cauldrons roiled

Life reigns all about me
like a regal glow
that heals the aching hole
in my heart.

Each sunrise warns of sweet risk
a chance to walk again
to breathe in the sacred

To greet each alien face
with new faith
to meet the mirrored me
with a smile.

Copyright E. Ramos 10/01; 6/02


for Lisa & Me

There are shadows in the rainbow
Did you notice?
You can hear the heavy silence.
It whispers to you
of what was.

Come rain, wash away
the guilty tears
of summer with
drenching drippling.

September has returned
Fair daughter of Virgo
Who dares to rip out her radiance
from your grieving heart?

Her softest breath caresses
wounded memories
that wrinkle
the still surface
of your soul.

Her bountiful blue
and sultry perfume
shout to you
of what is.

Copyright E. Ramos 9/7/2002

Sunday, September 9, 2007

Rembering 9/11/2001: The Hope

On September 12th, 2001, my 60th birthday, I did not go to work. At Mass that morning, I was struck by the readings for that day: all about forgiveness and not seeking revenge. As a former spiritual director of mine would say, there are no coincidences. And the thought did occur to me very soon after the attack. Please don’t let this result in retaliation. The Sharks and Jets song from West Side Story kept playing in my head. “Well they began it, they began it … and we’re the ones to end it once and for all!” For a short time, I lived in hope.

Later that day, to get away from the TV and the horrific replays of collapsing towers and falling bodies, I went to walk in the Botanical Gardens. As I sat outside the Café, on another bright blue day, something seemed strange. It was so quiet. The sky was so alone. Of course, there were no planes, no visions of spear like jets bent on mass murder; for a long time after September 11th, whenever I saw a sleek jet, fear would grip my heart.

But right there at the Café, the stories of goodness began to unfold. A woman coming back to thank a Café worker for helping her the day before, when she was desperately trying to find out if her daughter was safe; her daughter was with her now. It gave me hope: human kindness and compassion were not destroyed after all.

Still later, our family gathered at an upstate restaurant to celebrate my birthday. And my daughter’s gift was a surprise announcement that she was pregnant. I remember thinking that this child should be named Hope. And today, five year old Sierra is a constant reminder that hope for the future is alive and well.

I finally got back to Manhattan; the freedom to walk where I wanted was already disappearing, for security reasons. Sad. Since I worked for a social service agency based in NYC, we were immediately mobilized to respond to the tragedy. First, we were organized into a 24 hour telephone response team to answer calls coming in. We thought most calls would be from victims or their families needing help. But all the calls I took were from people from all over the country wanting to help. HOPE. Goodness seemed to be making a comeback big time.

On the day I returned to work, my daughter called me, urging me to get out of Manhattan; she was scared. I felt so depressed after work I began to walk up First Avenue. A candle light vigil was scheduled and I saw people beginning to line up along the street. But I had no candle. There was a church nearby and I went inside feeling distraught, drained, and left out. I began crying; it was all too much. When I came out of the church onto the avenue, a woman gave me a candle. And I stood, with countless others, of all different ages, colors, faiths, nationalities. We stood shoulder to shoulder along First Avenue singing “God Bless America”. Hope.

A week later, the Annual Westchester Mass for Older Adults was about the only event that hadn’t been canceled. The usual festive occasion was quickly toned down in keeping with the somber times. During the Mass, a young man came into the church. He still had his firefighters uniform on – it was covered with soot. He was a rescue worker, just returned from Ground Zero, and had stopped into church only to come across a hundred or so senior citizens. At once they embraced him, invited him to the luncheon after Mass, where he was the guest of honor and spoke to us about his experiences and the sacrifices so many heroes were making in their efforts to find survivors. Nothing turned out as it had been “planned” for that day but I am sure no one forgot the 2001 Westchester Mass for Older Adults. And the special gift I received from those days, when so many were at their best and gave so unselfishly was Hope.

Friday, September 7, 2007

Rembering 9/11/2001: The Horror

It’s been six years. My next few blogs will be sharing my memories, thoughts and poems of that day that changed our lives forever.

On September 11, 2001, I was working in midtown Manhattan. As usual, I walked through Central Park early that morning, noticing how exceptionally blue and gorgeous and peaceful the sky looked. When I exited the elevator for my office shortly before 9 a.m., I met Annie from the mail room. Annie always had news first and she told me that a plane had crashed into the World Trade Center tower. Soon everyone on our floor was gathered around the TV. Given that many of us were around on the day of the first World Trade Center attack some years before, I can’t believe we thought it was an accident at first, a small plane horribly off course. Then we witnessed the second plane flying straight into the other tower – and we knew. This was no accident.

People were frantically trying to call their loved ones who worked in the WTC. When the unthinkable happened – the collapse of each tower – a woman, the sister of a man whose remains were never found, began crying and screaming. Surrounded by social workers in shock, trying to comfort her.
In my suite of offices alone, there were three people whose relatives died that day.

And the rumors began. No one knew how many planes were out there, how many cities had been attacked, whether we were still in danger. But we all had the same goal: to get home, to reach our loved ones. In the weeks and months to come, as I worked with victims of the attack, this theme came up again and again – the desire to get home. And it was difficult getting calls through, reaching anyone by phone or cell. Were the roads open? Were the subways running? I guess they weren’t because it seemed like everyone was walking, walking home.

At that time, my niece from Puerto Rico was living with us and teaching at a school downtown. We could not reach her but my daughter Lisa, who lives in California, was able to contact her from there and relay messages to me in midtown Manhattan. Lisa’s birthday, by the way, is September 11th. Mine is September 12th and Lisa was my very best birthday present. September has always been my favorite month. For a long time, I resented the infamy attached to 9/11 and refused to refer to the attack by that date: I called it the WTC attack.

Back at my office, everyone was leaving, going home whatever way they could. We were scared and confused but as often happens, the worst times bring out the best in people. My friend and co-worker, Dottie M. had her car and waited with me until my niece walked uptown to our office from her school, some 60 blocks – in heels. Then Dottie drove us and others home and by that time there was no traffic on the eerily empty roads. As we crossed the bridge into the Bronx, we saw the smoke billowing where the World Trade Center used to stand, proud and shiny in the skyline. We were in shock. But we were going home.

There was a foul stench in the air that day and the next all the way up in the Bronx, miles away. I remember thinking that I was breathing in what was left of victims. It was so horrific that I felt numb. And then a crazy thought began to invade my brain. I was determined to go down to Manhattan. I guess I just wanted some kind of “return to normal”, to go back to work, to help in whatever way I could.

Saturday, September 1, 2007


I am proud of all six of my gorgeous, precious grandchildren. But this blog entry is dedicated to the oldest, Marina age 14. Marina just completed a three week internship at the Bronx Zoo. Half of that time, she spent with us since we live so close to the Zoo. It was a pleasure having a teenager in the house again. It's been kind of quiet since the nest emptied years ago.

Of course Marina is not what I think of as the stereotypical teen, blasting Hip-Hop music, chatting endlessly on cell, U-tube (?) or text messaging. She doesn't even own an I-pod or a cell phone. So it was very easy to be with her, sharing her fresh juicy ideas, hearing her enthusiastic description of her intern experiences, even listening to her doubts and frustrations about working on a group project.

And it was a real joy to see how she grew in those three short weeks. Taking responsibility for rising early (M. is not a morning person!) by preparing her lunch and clothes the night before. Learning the ins and outs, ups and downs of a Zoo career - from mucking out the enclosures in the Children's Zoo and walking the retired miniature horses to taking notes, complete with illustrations, during class. Perhaps her greatest accomplishment was adapting to the "team" approach, not easy for any age.

I was so proud to see her finished project last Friday. All the young people did a marvelous job designing exhibits and building scale models for various animals of Asia, Africa, and North America. Marina's group did the Bengal tiger and her artistic strengths and creativity shone brightly in the lush greenery and neatly painted and sculpted landscape of their exhibit. I believe she learned a valuable lesson - you don't have to be an expert at everything when you work as a team. Just learn to be patient, listen, and utilize each team member's gifts and talents. Skills to last a lifetime.

You know, I think I grew through this experience too. After observing Marina's home school friends this summer and seeing what the young Zoo interns accomplished, I believe that typical teens are more like my granddaughter after all. And that feels much, much better!

For more about Marina's Zoo adventures - and pictures even! - see "my daughter's blog" (sidebar).