IMG.jpeg                                                       Yours truly in the third grade

Born into a family of unusual names, or so I proudly felt in my early years, none of us ever had to concern ourselves with others possessing the same fore or last names.  My parents, Sol and Jacqueline Urdang, named us Stephanie, Melanie, Nathan, and Gretchen, in that order.

In the third grade, a few weeks after the beginning of school, without understanding her impact on my vanity, a friend at lunch said, “There’s a new girl and her name is Stephanie.”

“No, there’s not,” I said, naively confident since I’d never before met another.

“Oh, yes there is, and she has long black hair all the way down to her waist.”

“I don’t believe you,” I said, staring at the floor of the cafeteria.

“Whether you believe me or not, it’s true.  She’s from California and her hair is beautiful.”

“What’s her last name?” I had a bad haircut but I knew for sure she was not an Urdang.

“Shush, here she comes.”  I saw the blanket of glistening hair swinging in the wake of the new girl, and so did everyone else.  At eight years old, she was a force of nature.  My friend turned in the direction of my ear and whispered. “Stephanie Cassandra.”  I left the cafeteria furious at I didn’t know what.

The third grade was many decades ago and since then, I’m relieved to say I have met a few Stephanie’s without one ego collapse.  The latest was in October of this year.  I was at a doctor’s office and when I heard my name being called, as I followed a Latino girl in her thirties to her desk, she looked over her shoulder and said,  “My name is Stephanie too.”

“Oh,” I said, “what a nice coincidence.”

We sat at her desk as she was filling out papers to prepare me for my time with the doctor.  Without asking if I even had any siblings, she said, “What’s your sister’s name?”

“Melanie,”  I said, purposely avoiding mentioning Gretchen because she died twelve years ago of smoke inhalation.  Memories and words on the subject don’t come easily, especially to a stranger.  Stephanie didn’t respond so I said, “What’s your sister’s name?”

“Gretchen,”  she answered.

#36: Endings and Beginnings


When all was said and done and my mother got ready to depart from a gathering, with every inch of her six foot skeleton, she’d stand and announce, “Well, it’s been real.”

After 36 weeks of collaborating with Marissa Bridge on the Silent Journey, the naked stem signifies the moment to say goodbye and thank you so much for following us.    It has indeed been real, and the weekly publishing practice has been a tangible blessing.  We have a new idea for the future, yet like dormant orchids gathering elements in order to whip up new buds, our next project is still simmering.

Meanwhile, I’m starting another weekly commitment titled  The First Time for Everything, on the vast subject of memorable milestones, as in the first kiss, the first death of a loved one.  My goal in all these writings, but espeically in this divisive time, is to tell stories that remind us of what we all have in common: our humanity.

#35: Degas’ Orchid


In writing #35 of 36 posts for this series, the logical approach would have been to  compare the fallen orchid flower to resignation, to endings.  However, in all honesty, I was humming along with plans of tying the election victory of our first woman president with the image, which  looks like a Degas ballerina bowing before its appreciative audience. I thought I had it nailed.  But alas, Tuesday night’s results have taken me down to my knees.  Hatred’s mounting the nation’s helm.  And I am challenged to meet the beauty in Marissa’s image.

I’ve experienced low points in American history, but the scope of this feels worse than others.  Yet if politics are part of natural cycles, similar to the way dormancy produces more blooms, and personal depths of darkness create growth in the spirit, this crises is an opportunity.

While the dust is still unsettled and the path to decency unclear, my orchids are all quite busy producing bloomstalks.  In utter chaos, once again, I turn to them.

#34 The Orchid Effect


Like a butterfly in reverse, the blossom folds into its cocoon.

I once visited a small pine forest in Mexico where Monarchs gather and suspend their lives for the winter.  It was early morning, before all the tour buses arrived.  John Gibson and I hired a guide who walked up a mountain path beside the horses we rode.  Closer to the hooves than our lofty positions, he coughed from the dusty trail.

Even though the guide spoke no English and our little Spanish did not include insect breeding, he conveyed the difference between the genders: the dot on the lower wings of the males.  About a dozen tall straight pine trees stood bright orange from millions of Monarchs lining the trunks and branches.  Not only was the sight more brilliant than any Fall I’ve seen, all around us, we heard the soft flap from their flying wings, and felt the air move on our cheeks as they flitted by: our own private Butterfly Effect.  Sublime.