“Shelter From The Storm” the Storm Door



My mom believed her daughters were safe

in a house filled with friends

An unlocked side door became an opening

to the cellar stairs 

where the neighborhood kids just walked in.


The basement was a club house

filled with homemade ice tea and cookies,

a record player of Motown tunes, then mostly Dylan hits,

board games like Monopoly and Risk,

Chess for the captain players who thought a lot,

a dance floor for the girls.


Painted pink and gray 

this place reserved its future space

in all our minds until this very day,

our sanctuary of sorts, 

like a most fitting Dylan song-

‘Shelter From The Storm’


On this one day in April everyone came in

as the rain pounded the streets.

The alleyway turned into a flood zone.

The handle to the side door broke,

so we took turns to open it.


Thunder startled us,

so loud we jumped out of our shoes

laughing at ourselves, hiding

our teenage cowardice 

inside uncontrolled giggles 

as we held each other close.


The lightning pierced through us,

surrounding all the windows at once.

Lighting up the pink walls, 

as it traveled around the house,

leaving a ghostly spotlight in our eyes.


I was the first to challenge it.

To dare it’s menace on our home,

with foolish adolescent bravery 

I ran up the stairs to the door, 

standing behind the glass window 

looking eye to eye at the storm.


There were at least four of us 

at that aluminum door,

mesmerized by the furious beauty

of wind, rain, thunder, lightning, powerful



When the bolt hit the window’s frame

we jumped the entire flight of stairs. 

Closest I ever came to being zapped

out of existence, fried forever in one second

by a force in nature not to be denied.


We recovered in the comfort of friends

who helped us catch our breaths,

giving us some fresh brewed, cold ice tea, 

never mentioning our stupidity or tears.


A definite memory of the club house years.

The Great Wall

You can see a great distance from the Great Wall of China at Mutianyu.  The view is quite spectacular as it winds along the crests of the mountains, rolling up and down with the terrain; the wide path at the top of the wall turns into irregular stairsteps to accommodate the undulations and is punctuated by stone guard towers. It was built centuries ago in an ultimately unsuccessful effort to defend against the dangers sweeping into the country.

I hadn’t realized that you have to make a pretty decent climb even to get up to the base of the wall, or that there would be so many souvenir stands and crowds of tourists heading to the upward path.  We happily opted to take the gondola instead.

Clambering atop the wall, the crowds were less intense, and the odd beer vendor was actually welcome on a hot day.  We headed away from the throng and felt a welcome rush of wind, surely related to the darkening clouds over the mountains visible far to the west.  It seemed distant, but I fretted that maybe the top of the wall wasn’t the best place to be now.  I finally convinced Sally that the weather was serious.  The crowds had thinned and the light was dimming as we rushed back to the gondola.

Bad news—the gondola had shut down for safety due to the oncoming storm.  That meant we had to find the path back down, and fast.  A light drizzle had already begun, and we joined a gaggle of other tourists in the same predicament and all scurrying to find the way down.  The route led back up onto the wall and then headed a few towers onward to where the path intersected.

As we rushed off, we were overtaken by heavy, wind-whipped rain which forced us into the nearest guard tower for shelter.  We huddled in our improvised rain gear, now getting chilly as the water blew in through the window openings and puddled on the stone floor.  We made small talk with our fellow stranded tourists and, given that this was 2008 and the Beijing Olympics were underway, the crowd was very international.  We made quick friends with a couple of upbeat and burly Canadians as we waited for a pause in the downpour.

Suddenly a massive thunderclap broke over our tower shelter simultaneously with a brilliant flash of lightning, striking us momentarily dumb.  That was CLOSE.  We nervously waited in quiet–and then waited and waited a bit more for some abatement.

At last, the rain became less torrential, turning to a heavy steady drizzle.  Sally and I had a hired driver still waiting below in the parking lot–we hoped–and were the first to head out from the tower into the wet to start the trek down.  The storm had cleared out the previously crowded wall completely, and we pressed on alone to the neighboring tower which stood between us and our exit path.

We ducked into that next tower, where a similar cluster of tourists had also taken shelter and seemed to be rather casually sitting around waiting for a letup.  Their tower seemed in worse repair, as I saw some stone rubble on the floor.  Then Sally noticed that one of the people seemed to be injured and called me over to take a look—he was lying down in some confusion and pain and had some blood on his face, with worried friends or relatives hovering over him.  As I drew near a young woman ran up from behind me and breathlessly asked was I the doctor?  Why, a bit surprised, actually yes, I was a doctor—and then her story tumbled out.

She was a fifth year medical student and gave me a focused and efficient presentation as if I were an attending physician:  Lightning had struck their tower—it must have been the near miss we had experienced almost half an hour before.  She had tried to assess everyone already and the guard present in the tower had called for help (we were the first to arrive at their tower and she thought I was that help).  People had felt what seemed like an explosion and everyone was thrown to the ground, some striking their heads, and three or four people began seizing.  Many were dazed, some felt transiently blind or deaf, and others felt their arms or legs become numb.  At least one person recalled his hair standing on end.  The guard had required that everyone turn off their cell phones (smart phones were barely introduced then) on the theory that they might somehow attract more lightning.

The student’s name was Clara Chong.  She was fluent in Mandarin and English, and she was attending medical school in London but was now home visiting friends due to the Olympics.  She was the perfect heroine.

We hadn’t forseen that the journey down from the wall would become a triage scene, but here we were.  Although I was trained in family practice, I was more skilled in gynecology or chronic disease than emergency medicine or mass disasters.  I stretched to remember any relevant expertise and, together with Clara, we made another quick survey of the 22 injured people in the tower.   Fortunately all were still alive in the short time following the strike and most were able to give some history, though many were stunned and scared, and some had minor cuts and bruises. Lightning can cause internal damage that is not immediately visible and it was impossible to assess in our situation.   The rubble I had seen was blasted from the window opening where the lightning had entered, blackening the surface of the stone.  The two people nearest that window were most affected—the fellow with the blood on his face, and another one who turned out to be an NBC photographer.  He had no memory of the event itself, but had charred material on his T-shirt, burn marks from where his now-frozen camera had touched his leg and where a metal necklace lay over his chest. People hailed from China, the US and Scotland, including the family of a canoeist in the Games.   I tried to write down contact information and relevant symptoms.  There was little to do but keep people calm, somewhat warm with our donated jackets, and to document, reassess and wait.

After what seemed like far too long, official help finally arrived in the rain’s wake.  It turned out to consist of a few uniformed people of uncertain training who had no equipment except a few stretchers and umbrellas and they seemed surprised to see so many people expecting assistance.  They argued a bit with the guard and then started ordering everyone out.  After watching them load up the Chinese fellow Sally had initially spotted with facial bleeding, and then bump him down the stairs on one of the stretchers, most people figured out a way to walk down the path instead.  By now, our strong Canadian friends from the first tower had come by and were able to assist some of the weaker people down, half carrying them. Sally and I also did our best to shoulder others and slowly hobbled down the long path, trailing the evacuees. By the time we reached the bottom, most people had scattered with a few still being loaded into some waiting ambulances as Clara watched over them.  The event that had shaken us deeply and briefly bonded us together then dissipated with no conclusion.

Clara Chong, medical student

Our driver was indeed still waiting for us however, and no, we didn’t want to go the Ming tombs, we just wanted to go back to the hotel.  We searched as best we could on TV or in other news for mention of the lightning strike on the Great Wall but nothing.  Our plane left the next day.

Even if you can sense danger coming, you can’t always stop or avoid it; when it arrives, it can strike swiftly and the aftermath can linger.  We still don’t know what the consequences were to most of the people on the wall that day, but months later, we got a surprise phone call from the Dr. Phil show. The NBC photographer had had a long ordeal in hospital, had an epiphany and married his sweetheart.  He was going to be a guest on the show and had our names on a slip of paper that we had given him in case he needed it.  He still had no memory of the event itself and we not only had the story, but a few pictures.  Sally “sold” them to Dr. Phil in exchange for him giving thanks to all medical personnel who step in to help out in an emergency–and he did it.  I would add that everyone who steps in makes a difference.




Black Ice

After two warm days, January 18, 2001 was cold and sunny, prompting everything that had previously melted to freeze again. I had a morning meeting at the Rose Art Museum in Waltham, followed by lunch with an old friend who had moved to San Diego long ago, so I dressed nicely, even wearing my mink coat. I brought along a tote bag with David’s bar mitzvah album to share with my friend over lunch.

From my house I have two ways to get to the Brandeis campus: driving up Rt 30 (Commonwealth Ave), which has lots of traffic lights, though by that time of the morning there is little traffic, or drive the seven minutes to I 90, the Mass Pike to the Weston Exit, and take South Street into Waltham to Brandeis. I was never certain which way was better, but that day I chose to take the Mass Pike. I never took it again.

I was about half-way to my exit when I lost control of my car. I was driving about 67 miles per hour (a little fast) in my BMW 540i stick shift. I was in the middle of three lanes and suddenly spun out, crossing the left lane quickly, bouncing off the left guard rail, which propelled me across the entire highway. I hit the right front fender against the right guard rail, spun 180 degrees, hit the back of my car and came to rest, facing in the wrong direction on a high speed highway. Though buckled in, my head snapped forward and hit the steering wheel. I was wearing prescription sunglasses, which smooshed against the bridge of nose. I was stunned, in shock. I was extremely fortunate that I did not encounter another car as I ricocheted across all the lanes of the highway. This all could have been so much worse than it was, perhaps fatal.

Left, rear fender

Front of BMW

The first state trooper to arrive had been behind me and actually saw the accident. He was not the officer in charge but merely on his way west to the crime lab in Sudbury and stopped to check on me. He told me I’d hit a patch of black ice. I was unaware. I was alert and, except for wounds visible to him (at that moment, I didn’t know I was injured), I thought I was OK. He called for an ambulance and waited for the responding officer to show up. The two of them chatted for a moment (that’s how I know where the first officer was headed). I got out of my car to check on the damage, which was extensive. I really did think I was OK. I got back in my car to stay clear of cars whizzing by at high speed.

The other state trooper came to my car, opened up my passenger door. At this point, I realized something was dripping down from my forehead, so I touched it, then licked my finger to get off the liquid. He observed this. He instructed me to NOT touch my purse to get out my driver’s license or get my registration from the glove compartment. If I touched anything, he’d have to put on latex gloves (which he didn’t want to do – still fearful of AIDS in 2001). I was in shock, not thinking clearly, and just automatically reached for my wallet. I had PISSED him off. Now he HAD to put on those damn gloves. What a nuisance I was, this rich lady driving a fancy car, wearing a mink coat! He had no compassion for someone who was clearly injured and not thinking clearly.

I grabbed my phone, an old Motorola flip phone. I didn’t know how to program numbers in it. I had a sticker with the numbers of my kids’s schools. I knew the Rose number by heart, called that to tell them I wouldn’t make the meeting. By that point, another state trooper, who seemed to be a supervisor, showed up. He took my phone away, told me to stop calling. I told him I had to call my lunch appointment to tell him I would not make it. He said he would call. I gave him the number, which was on a yellow sticky note. He looked at my license and said that “Elizabeth- ‘mispronounced the last name’ wouldn’t show up”. My friend got some scrambled message (probably didn’t even know my name is Elizabeth; when I spoke with him later in the day, he had waited some time for me to show up for lunch, was very upset about the whole thing, then wondered why I didn’t call him. Yeah, right).

By this time, the ambulance had arrived. I was placed on a stretcher, my neck immobilized. My mink coat was thrown across the hood of my car. I made sure it made it onto the gurney, along with my tote bag with David’s album. As everything was loaded on, I saw the state trooper write me a ticket and place it in the tote bag. “You’re not giving me a ticket are you?” He replied, “Well someone has to pay for the guard rails.” I was beyond astonished. I was furious. I later learned that if I was at fault, my insurance paid for the guard rail repair. If I was not at fault, the state paid. I told him the first state trooper told me I’d hit black ice. He said HE didn’t see any (an hour later).

I was taken to Newton-Wellesley Hospital. I asked if the car could be towed to Foreign Motors West on Rt 27 in Natick, where we had bought the car. They complied with my wishes. We later went out to their body shop, not in Natick, but that was fine.

My forehead was stitched up, I had no other complications. (The scar healed completely.) I called a taxi to get home before my children arrived home. Dan was out of town on business. I gingerly called him. He was kind, he said, “That’s why we have accident insurance”. I healed, the car was declared a total loss and we replaced it with an exact duplicate. (That was the car that I “lost” a few years later.)

I went before a magistrate to protest the ticket. He and some “expert” listened closely to all the details. He asked me questions about the initial skid and the trajectory of the spin. Then he declared against me. I couldn’t believe it. I burst into tears (of course I did). If I wanted to fight further, my assigned court date was in May, the day we were set to leave for Martha’s Vineyard for the season…oh fun!

I confess, I got advice from a lawyer, who told me how the proceedings would go down, how to prepare. This time, the state trooper would be there. We would each have an opportunity to state our position before a judge, offer evidence (I brought my photos) and I could question the trooper. She said she should NOT be there. I would not garner sympathy if it was known that I had gotten legal advice.

Newton District Court was being renovated, so we convened in Cambridge. Mine was the second case on the docket. I paid close attention to the first case. I saw that I could say just about anything to the trooper, as long as I said it in the form of the question (like in Jeopardy). He stated his “facts”, I stated mine and showed the judge my photos, who asked when I’d taken them (before the days of iPhones) – when we visited the car at the body shop a few days after the accident to remove my belongings. They, of course, backed up my version of the accident. My final question to the trooper was, “Do you remember saying to me, ‘Someone has to pay for the guard rails?'” He claimed he did not remember. But I got that into the record. I won the case, did not have to pay the ticket and best of all, did not have a moving violation on my insurance for years in the future.

And we made our afternoon ferry. Vacation had begun.

They Aren’t All Stoppard

I was taught early on that there is no theater like NYC theater.  And also that there is no glitz like NYC glitz, no corned beef like NYC corned beef (or bagels, or pickles, or rye bread), and no swagger and sass like they can do in NYC. I have always been a rube in Gotham. 
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The Sisters Remember

(Yes, I have tricks in my pocket, I have things up my sleeve. 

But I am the opposite of a stage magician. 

He gives you illusion that has the appearance of truth. 

I give you truth in the pleasant disguise of illusion”) 

― Tennessee Williams, The Glass Menagerie


The Sisters Remember


My sister’s dream began on a hillside.

Having no idea where she was

she stumbled through a black forest,

caught her lace nightgown on a dead branch,

came to an open field of weeds.


Barefoot and alone

she walked forever under cloudy skies,

jumping over mud holes and daubers,

scanning the distance for anyone alive.

Suddenly visible stood a barren stage.


She hesitated at the strangeness

but had nowhere else to go.

As she approached the wooden scaffold

she noticed several rows of velvet chairs

unoccupied, but waiting.

She sat first row, front-center.


On the stage were also chairs

An array of golden benches

seemingly strung together by rope,

empty and alert.

All at once out of the curtained wings 

the actors came forward.


Each one bowed before sitting,

saluting my sister. 

Each one was someone she knew.

Each actor a departed luminary

who bought their light to the stage,

who acted out the play book

of timeline characters

and tragic goodbyes.


There are no goodbyes.

The troupe on stage was whole

and accounted for,

soul-beings of her glorious past.

The director’s light entered the arena

just as my sister stood up to leap forward

the curtain fell