“Just touch the cable.”

I collect angels, and believe in them. Not the winged ones with blond curly locks—the wings are  symbolic, as is blonde hair, one assumes. The word “angel” means “messenger” or one sent from the throne of God. I’ve never seen one or felt one near. But I believe in them because sometimes when I need a reminder that I’m remembered, one will speak to me or leave a gift at my door.

On a day last week when the only cheerful option was a quick trip to the local thrift store, I found a bit of odd art. There is a head with a jester’s cap, wings made of flags or ties, disconnected torso and legs, and a hand holding a string with things attached. Hard to describe. This is very similar at Story People (available for $25 and $35); mine is weirder and not so clearly an angel. But for $2.00, it’s thrilling.

The text beside my new angel says this: “In my dream, the angel shrugged and said, ‘If we fail this time it will be a failure of imagination.’ And then she placed the world gently in the palm of my hand.” My artist (MW ’05) has added a line not in Story People’s version: “We must decorate our own souls.” It didn’t make much sense. Another surprise when I looked on the back—an entire poem in which that line appears and does make sense.

Here’s the problem, though. The poem is interesting and uplifting, but when googled, it yields a mystery. The one pasted on my little particle board backing is called “After A While” by Veronica Shoffstal. You can read it here. There are other similar poems with the same name, but I lost count when four different poets were named, plus Anonymous. The most compelling argument, however, was that the real poet was the famous Argentinian writer, Jorge Luis Borges. This site contains Shoffstal’s claim, the Borges in English, an explanation of the Spanish version, and the second half which elaborates the theme of the first half. The “celebrity life coach” whose site it is reads the poem, but I don’t recommend that experience. Overall, this research became a bit overwhelming.

But on I went. A beautiful photo of Half Dome with a buck in the foreground appeared on Facebook. Asking for permission to use it led to two outcomes. First, the picture makes Half Dome glow, as if at dawn which would have nicely fit the “Comes the Dawn” title of the poem. But no: The phenomenon can only occur at sunset, I was told. I countered with what I believed to be true—in a photograph it’s not possible to tell dawn from sunset, unless you do know the location specifically. Of course, I was wrong. It’s a myth that you can’t tell because you can with training. This site gives a brief exploration; this one, a much longer, in-depth explanation with stunning photos.

Second, I learned that there is a set of cables to help you climb Half Dome. (I say “you” because it won’t ever be “me.”) I was reminded that my two younger sons had some years ago had made the ascent and that these days you can only make the climb with an almost-impossible-to-get permit. (These days we also hear of people dying when taking selfies in such places, so don’t do that and frighten your mothers, please.) The point of the cables is assistance. In today’s photo, you can barely see them going up the middle of the mountain, but they are there. I then learned the story of a father who gave us today’s title. He wanted to take his 12-year-old daughter on the Half Dome hike. She was afraid. He didn’t go into long explanations of why it was doable or safe or easy or important to conquer fear. He simply said, “Just touch the cable.”

So on one hand we have the poem below that has all sorts of things to remember. It’s written as if these are the things we also already know. I am glad to know the poem, even with its mysteries. But what is particularly interesting is the title “Comes the Dawn.” It reminds me of a verse from Psalm 30: “Weeping may endure for a night, but joy cometh in the morning.” David struggled a good bit, and this psalm reminds us of the struggle and his thanks-giving.

On the other hand, we have a simple admonition that the only action we need is to try, that the action of touching becomes trusting.

Back to the angels. Last week had its struggles for me. Without saying why, I can share that the picture and the poem were great reminders that I was remembered. That angel was unseen, unknown. I just happened to be at the right place at the right time. The other angel was a woman in the outside fabric section of JoAnn’s. I was struggling (literally) with a bolt of fabric–60 inches wide and heavy canvas– when she asked me if I needed help. Of course, I said, “Oh no, thank you, I’ve got it.” She was a wise angel, came over anyway, and said, “Sometimes we all need another pair of hands.” I did thank her, but didn’t think to tell her she was an angel. Maybe she already knew.


Comes the Dawn

After a while
you learn the subtle difference
between holding a hand
and chaining a soul.

And you learn
that love doesn’t mean leaning,
and company doesn’t mean security.

And you begin to learn that
kisses aren’t contracts
and presents aren’t promises.

And you begin to accept defeats
with your head up and your eyes open
with the grace of a woman, not the grief of a child.

And you learn to build all your roads on today
because tomorrow’s ground is too uncertain for plans
and futures have a way of falling down in mid-flight.

After a while you learn
that even sunshine burns if you get too much.

So you plant your own garden and decorate your own soul,
instead of waiting for someone to bring you flowers.

And you learn that you really can endure…
that you really are strong,
and you really do have worth.

And you learn and learn…
with every goodbye you learn.




Dear Jeff

An Open Letter to Jeff Bezos (retired)

At 11 a.m. on Monday, April 12, 2004, I was in a taxi in New York City. Riding by one of those exclusive high-rise residences, I saw a middle-aged woman standing over to my right. She was well dressed and meticulously groomed. What I’ll never forget was her face: smooth, polished, burnished, perfect. I thought, “Wow. That’s what real money can do.” But she looked sad. That’s why I’ll never forget that moment (time of day approximate), and that’s when I stopped envying the rich.

Jeffrey Preston Jørgensen had much in common with the rest of us. His mother had him when she was 17, divorced after a year with his father, married a Cuban immigrant when Jeff was 4; the step-father soon adopted the child and changed his last name to Bezos. The family moved around a bit: Albuquerque, Houston, Miami. Jeff worked at a McDonald’s. He was the high school valedictorian (no, I wasn’t either, but I’ve known some). When he got to Princeton, he decided his choice of major (physics) was too hard and changed to something else (electrical engineering and computer science). Even if he is a genius, he has limitations. He is a long-time fan of Star Trek. He married, had children, divorced. He named his new company Cadabra at first (as in abracadabra), but it sounded like “cadaver” on the phone. He chose Amazon because it started with an A, because of the river, and because it sounded exciting and exotic. Just as any of us would have done.

On the other hand, there are many things about Bezos that are remarkable. When he was a toddler in his crib, he used a screwdriver to modify it and designed an alarm system to know what his siblings were doing. He was so focused in kindergarten that his teachers would have to pick up his chair with him in it to move him to the next activity. He memorized all the defensive football plays and was put in charge of that side of the team. (An interesting article here.) His maternal grandfather was a regional director for the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission; his stepfather, an engineer for Exxon. Yes, he and his wife of 25 years divorced, but the Saudis outed his affair and National Enquirer did an exposé. There may be a link between that incident and the murder of Jamal Khashoggi, a Bezos-owned Washington Post journalist. He just donated $200 million to the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum, the largest gift since James Smithson’s founding donation in 1846. If my math is correct, that is about .001% of his fortune, which is like someone with $50,000 giving $50.

While building a business from scratch in your garage sounds average, no retail enterprise on earth comes close to Amazon. Yes, he likes Star Trek. Who doesn’t? But he got to play an alien in Star Trek Beyond, thereby checking that off his bucket list. Chris Pine said this: “I was there for the bit with his, like, nine bodyguards and three limos. It was really intense. … I had no idea who he was. Not a clue. But he was obviously very important.” Important? Incredibly wealthy at least. Finally, he gets to go into space briefly on July 20. On the rocket his money built. Which may change space travel as we know it. Other than that, he’s just a regular guy that Chris Pine didn’t recognize.

At 4 a.m. one day (time of day accurate), I ordered three cable management kits from Amazon. They were on my porch by 7 a.m. How is that even possible? Amazon makes shopping—and shipping— a totally different experience than only a few years ago. I even remember when only books were sold, a boon to my college freshmen. Now, I rarely buy anything without checking Amazon first. I know only one person who doesn’t shop there purposefully; this site and this give valid reasons. Wikipedia has an entire entry (with 237 reference links) titled “Criticism of Amazon.” A few days ago, President Biden signed an executive order regarding mergers and monopolies which will ultimately affect Amazon. And 159,598 people (when last checked) have signed a petition asking that Bezos not be allowed to come back from space. Apparently, lots of people still envy and/or hate the rich.

The upshot of all this is the feeling that I am probably not the one to write Jeff Bezos. I have because I said I would. I hope he and the others make it home safely. Maybe one of you has something more to say to him than I could manage. If you don’t know who Wally Funk is, you need to. She’s our neighbor over in Roanoke. After tomorrow, everyone will know her. The last words below, by the way, are Bezos’s mottoes, the second in Latin—Gradatim ferociter. Maybe instead of all those billions we’re not going to get, we just need to get ourselves a Latin motto. Maybe Excelsior! New York has it, Stan Lee used it, but ever upward is the place to be.


Dear Mr. Bezos,

Congratulations on so many things: retirement of a sort, a realized dream of a trip into space, and the service your company gave during the pandemic. Best wishes to you going forward.

Thank you for inviting Mary Wallace “Wally” Funk along on your flight. No one would have said anything if you hadn’t, but so many of us are thrilled that you did.

Recently at a party, someone stretched our perception skills to visualize a trillion dollars. It’s staggering. The prediction, predictably, was that you would be the world’s first trillionaire. What came next, predictably, was the suggestion that no one should have that much money. I defended you, suggesting that it is none of our business how much your business is worth. Some see the economy as a pie, with a limited amount of wealth that must be divided. Mark Hennessey used a different metaphor. He described the economy as a garden that must be tended in order to prosper. The result is not a piece of something limited but a stake in something that can provide for all.

That said, it is also important to share what other people are saying. Some who are bothered by the money (you really did work hard for it) suggest that the money does not give you the authority to set priorities for the rest of us. At times, offering an opinion on the lives of others offends. The phrase “Keep on your side of the street” applies. What you’ve done, you’ve done extremely well. We see; we admire. Anything else is not needed.

Amazon offers excellent pay and benefits. With 1.3 million (and counting) employees, this will always be important. No one can plan for the bad optics of an occasional anecdote. However, when too many people say “I heard Amazon doesn’t give bathroom breaks,” that’s what people remember. Encourage a business culture that reflects caring for the individual beyond pay and benefits.

It is incredibly presumptuous to offer you advice—so many sentences with an unspoken “do it this way.” You’ve changed the world. When you see the Earth this week—the world you’ve changed—you will see in those few minutes a beauty the most of us cannot imagine. By report, those who have find the experience humbling. It’s more than an item off a bucket list. It’s a real accomplishment. As you minimize regrets and tread step by step, ferociously, I and millions of others will be thinking of you.


Best regards,

Mary Ann Taylor

The Shirt

The Shirt: n. 1. a person who represents authority and/or special knowledge and/or training/employment and by putting on the signifier of that authority etc. becomes, symbolically, the source of that authority. The actual “shirt” can also be a nametag, hat, uniform, grooming (haircut/facial hair/tattoos, etc.) or any other recognizable identifier. Usually capitalized. Often derogatory. Compare “The Suit.” Origin: Combined form, first attested mid-21st century, southern California. “The Shirt said it couldn’t be repaired and would have to be replaced.”

Not to single out women as victims, of course, but most of us don’t know anything about our cars. Yes, I do know one woman who can change her oil AND install brake pads. I myself have been trained in changing a tire (1990, Relief Society Homemaking Meeting, church parking lot). Still, women are more likely not to know anything about mechanical problems, for example, making us perhaps more vulnerable to whatever The Shirt may tell us.

The Shirt, therefore, implies authority, whether deserved or not. In season 2, episode 13 of Roseanne (“Chicken Hearts,” 1990), we see her working at one of her serial, menial jobs. The boss, Brian (Peter Smith) is a kid, really, just finishing high school. Roseanne has reminded him that she can’t work weekends because she has a family.  As “The Shirt,” he can say the following: “You are paid to follow my orders!” She can put him in his place (her shirt is a yellow and red affair with a stuck-on chicken logo) not just because of their history but because of her one-liner, “You got a big booger hanging outta your nose.” (This clip is bad and ends with Brian’s comment.) He runs off to strong laughter, and Roseanne earns the respect of her workmates. Of course, he gets the last word when he fires her later, citing her bad attitude. He is an example of a bad shirt.

Few of us, however, can think that quickly. Most, when confronted by authority, acquiesce. Last year was different. During the pandemic, stories arose of what might be mandatory-mask attacks on employees. This article from last year includes a Texas story. A customer in our nearby Cedar Hill angrily pushed a young woman employee down when she pointed him to the door when he refused to put on a mask. Sadly, incredibly, people have been killed in arguments about masking.

More common, I expect, were the newly-empowered employees “reminding” customers to mask up. Irritating, but endurable. At the end, I was only pretending to put on hand sanitizer at entrances when “invited” to do so. Power corrupts, etc.

Usually, the guy/gal in the shirt (or with the nametag or in a company lab coat) commands our respect. We assume a certain level of training and expertise. For plumbers and electricians, we know of state-mandated licensing. But we are surrounded by much more daily opportunities. These days, our cars are smarter than we are, our phones have access to the entire world, and articles have to explain why our appliances aren’t designed to spy on us, but hackers can hack them to listen to us. My car had to have a software upgrade for its transmission, my phone knows where I’ve taken it for years (though it sometimes goes missing), and there is such a thing as a smart toaster (on sale at Williams-Sonoma for $299!) Obviously, we don’t know how to rewire or replumb a house or fix most things. Of course, we need The Shirts!

What about the people without the shirt? Lawyers dress appropriately for court, but even in the office, they wear suits and ties or pantsuits and dresses. The series Suits (2011-2019) works from the premise of a man without a law degree posing as a lawyer for years; all he had to do was put on The Suit. Doctors often wear white lab coats. Their stated reasons are to be recognizable to colleagues and to have pockets. Reason 4 is telling: “emphasizing doctor status.” Other winners are “symbol of cleanliness” and “psychological separation.” Some people suffer from “white coat anxiety,” a syndrome in which blood pressure elevates when “the coat” enters the room.

An important side note: Psychiatrists typically don’t wear white coats in order to “maximize rapport” with patients. Pediatricians too. Those of a certain age and sinister memory will recognize another reason. “White coats” were the orderlies in psychiatric facilities, getting an important line in “They’re Coming to Take Me Away” (Napoleon XIV, 1966). This version is just lyrics and music (if that’s what you’d call it). Others, more troubling visually, are available.

How to avoid confusion and and over-dependence? Know some of the jargon. You can learn the basics of fuel injection without knowing how to repair the system.  If you can’t be savvy, at least be leary. Don’t be intimidated. Don’t defer blindly. Be ready to question. And finally, if you’re The Shirt, stay sharp; stay humble; stay honest. In the long run, we want you to be right. We respect your expertise and thank you for it. We can probably go too far the other way with self-diagnosis (new term: cyberchondria), but we’re usually wrong. The Shirt shouldn’t mask; let it inspire.