Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Tristan and Ashley get support from the Ensemble.

Intergenerational support of the very best kind!

George Tajerian performs his story.

Betty and her lovely "daughters."

"Unless you have walked in our shoes, you cannot know ..."

James Cross introduces a poem while Stacy Sims, residency director with True Body Project, looks on.

The Performance!

Maureen Kellen-Taylor of EngAGE introduces Walk in our Shoes and talks about the mentoring program with Burbank seniors and Burbank Community Day School students.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

I used to play basketball.

Unless you’ve walked in my shoes you cannot know what I’ve been through. When I was 11 years old I used to play Basketball.

I loved basketball and I wanted to join the JV Basketball team, so I tried out for the Sun Valley Middle School team. I got in. The shoes I used were some black Jordan’s and those were the shoes I used.

You cannot know what it feels like to lose someone close to you.

Unless you have walked in my shoes, you cannot know what it feels like to lose someone close to you. It’s very hurtful, watching someone you love go through pain.

When I was 2 years old, I lost a 4 year old brother, due to a brain tumor.

He was always in my heart and with my family everywhere we go. Till this day, I still see the pain in my parents’ eyes and how hard it was to lose a son. I always wished my brother was alive and wondered what it would be like to have an older brother.

About 2 years ago, my grandmother on my father’s side was diagnosed with breast cancer. She had chemotherapy for one year and is a survivor. We were so happy, until about 8 month’s ago we found out about my mom’s mother. She was diagnosed with Stage 4 Spine cancer, which is malignant. She has been fighting this horrible disease for the past many months, and sadly the doctors have been telling us she might not make it to the end of the year.

I’ve experienced some very depressing experiences, but they only made me stronger.

The most important thing was for my brother and me to be safe and happy.

During my childhood, there were things I hated and things I appreciated. I had friends that lived in my apartment complex; we have games like cops and robbers. Then it all changed when my parents got divorced, when my brother and I were 6&7.
I was moving to another place that I did not want to go, my little brother and I living with my grandmother.

We moved around a lot, even living in Arizona for seven months. I went back to live with my mom, I started a new school in Burbank. I was a little confused kid that did not know much. I started to realize I had people who cared and I trusted. So I have learned that you do not need others to tell you what to do or make decisions for yourself. So living with my dad taught me to never back down from a fight, to fight strong until you fall. I thought it was going to be hard living with my mom and step dad, but sometimes you have to take risks.

So taking a risk that can affect my life was a changing experience. I knew it was going too hard, so I tried a little bit harder, to have a good time living with my other parents. No one knew it would be so hard staying with different people in a different state. In life you make choices that affect you future, and the most important thing was for my brother and me to be safe and happy.

My family is my one and all.

Unless you’ve walked in my shoes you can not know how hard it was when my parents got divorced. You can not know how hard it was when both my parents are fighting with each other. I was about 5 years old when it happened.

To me my family is my one and all, and I love them with all my heart. Seeing first hand my family crumble in front of my eyes was the hardest part. I still have the memory of the last fight they had that eventually ended with my mom leaving the house.

I guess the one good thing that came out of the divorce was how it affected me. Forced as a five year old to understand that the once perfect family I thought to have had was falling apart. That in turn made me mature a lot faster than all the six or seven year olds I knew. Now 11 years have passed and it will always be a milestone in my life.

I have found solace, comfort and peace.

Unless you have walked in my shoes you cannot know what it is like to be the child of alcoholics. You cannot know what it is like to feel abandoned; to have your mother abandon you in alcohol after promising repeatedly not to. To feel shame; to be afraid to have your friends over to your house, because you don’t know what to expect from one day to the other.

You cannot know what it is like to live most of your life feeling inadequate; to have no self worth, to have to please everyone in order to get them to like you.

You cannot know what it is like to feel unloved and therefore unloveable, to scream into your head:

"Mommy, why don't you love me?"

You cannot know what it is like to have to control your body, your voice, and sometimes even your breathing to survive. To stuff your feelings down to the point where you don’t even know what they are anymore, to never allow yourself to cry. You cannot know what it is like to revert to imaginary friends to keep you safe. To love by “Don’t see, don’t tell” rules. You don’t know what is like to hate your mother and feel guilty at the same time.

Fortunately, I have found a group that has walked in my shoes: Adult Children of Alcoholics. In this group, I have found solace, comfort and peace and the ability to work through my issues at the age of 77.

You will not know the tragic task of watching your husband die.

Unless you have walked in my shoes you will not know the tragic task of watching - over 8 months - your 50 year old husband die of stomach cancer, leaving you with three young daughters to raise alone.

Or the daunting challenge of trying to carve out a career as a musician and learning that being a woman was a definite disadvantage, as the music industry was then, and still is to some extent, dominated by men.

But my happy ending is that those three young girls grew into beautiful, loving women who are taking wonderful care of their mother in her senior years. How lucky I am!

You cannot know what it is like to have two older sisters.

Unless you have walked in my shoes you cannot know what it is like to have two older sisters. I am 8 years younger than my oldest sister and 6 years younger than my other one. I have no brothers. It has been kind of boring for me because I have no one to hang out with in my house.

When I was younger, my sisters would love to play with me and help my parents take care of me. They when they became teenagers, they didn’t as much because they started doing things with their friends.

I always wanted to hang out with them and their friends but they would not let me. It got worse as they got older. They were doing things and watching things on TV that I shouldn’t have been watching because I was much younger.

I wanted to watch the things they did so I would bother them. When they had friends come over I would but them because I was so bored.

The hard thing about having no siblings around your same age is having no one to do things with. My sisters always have each other to hang out with. Sometimes they take me to the movies or to eat but most of the time I am alone.

My mom and dad are always with me though.

I play with my dog and I just got a new baby rat. My dog loves to play with me so I guess he is like my brother. If I have kids I think I will have two or four or make sure they are closer in age so one of them doesn’t feel left out.

I have a giant hole in my heart.

Unless you’ve walked in my shoes you can not know….what it felt like for your mom to tell you pack your shit we are moving to California. To a new place you don’t know anybody. Not knowing what’s normal or how to act or talk to people. What it was like to be told by your uncle his twin Josh, whom I loved so much, committed suicide due to an overdose on crystal meth and alcohol. The feelings of having a part of me die when the man I loved so much... dies is unbearable a giant hole in my heart.
Also the constant fear of abandonment brings back the pain I felt by my father of him abandoning me and it constantly kept me wondering “what did I do wrong???” The pain I felt when he left has scarred me for the last 15 years and has kept me from getting attached so I never felt the pain again if the next one I grew to love left. But those scars helped me turn into the woman I am today so I guess I have to thank him for that right??

It can only get better from here, right?

Unless you’ve walked in my shoes you cannot know how hard life is for a gay teenager. It started in 7th grade my coming out year, insults flew at my left and right. Being gay is not something I chose. It’s something that just happened, why would I choose to be teased and laughed at everyday? Eight grade it was really bad I got into a sexual harassment issue. So I ran from my problems and went to a different high school than everyone else. But when I came back it only got worse. Now I go to C.D.S it can only get better from here right?

In an ocean of feelings, I am a non-swimmer.


I realized as I was writing that I was avoiding something about me. It was that I grew up in a home where my father was an alcoholic. We were not allowed to talk at the table and no one could invite anyone into our home. I did not learn the social graces. As a result of being raised in an alcoholic home, I am very much out of touch with my feelings.

In an ocean of feelings, I am a non-swimmer.

I am a Mexican-American
A retired Seventh-Day Adventist Minister
A Bi-lingual person.
A married/divorced man
A religious/no longer religious man
I am not an Agnostic, not an Atheist
These terms carry too much baggage.
Therefore, I word myself as a non-theist.
A borrowed self-designation that is in a contant state of
I grew up in a Chicago barrio,
Right next to a Jewish ghetto
I grew up wanting to be Jewish
As a boy, I was a Sabbath-goi
Doing the required chores in the synagogue that
orthodox Jew could not.
I became a lover of Jewish tradition and customs.
An advantage of being a hyphenatged man is that
you can choose to live on either side of the hyphen.
At times, I am very American; at others I feel feel
`very Mexican.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Remembering the shoes was the token remembrance.

When I was six or seven, World War II was being fought with almost the entire world involved. Everyone contributed and we as children had to do our part. Victory gardens, chickens in the yard, recycling everything from metal to grease, collecting milkweed for life jackets, doing without. Items that were made were of inferior quality as machines were converted to make tanks, jeeps and weapons. Women at the time did now work outside the house. Their only jobs were nurses and teachers. Men went to war and women went to factories to make do to quickly learn to serve.

Anything that was shipped we did not get and I never saw bananas, chocolate, gum, butter, cakes except for birthdays. Most items were rationed meat, sugar, gas, butter which we never had and even electricity and shoes were rationed. We had ration books with a stamp on each of them and these were carefully guarded and very limited. Even though I lived on 66 acres in Connecticut we had to remember the black out curtains on all of the window each night.

I was a real tomboy, climbing trees, jumping off the dock of our barn, longing for a new bike which I knew would not come until after the war as their were no cars being built either.

I remember one pair of my brown lace up shoes which were constantly being scuffed, worn, and eventually so tattered. Finally the single pair I had simply split down the entire side. I remember my mother using her shoe coupon to buy new shoes for me to wear not only to school but also outside. At the time I had no idea and did not realize the sacrifices my parents were making for the war effort but later I finally understood all of their hard work, dedication and unselfishness.

Remembering the shoes was the token remembrance.

You cannot know what it is like to fight for the use of your whole body again.

Unless you’ve walked in my shoes, you cannot know what it is like to be three fourth’s paralyzed and unable to walk. You cannot know what it is like to have lost your life’s savings to hospitals and doctors. And because of that less, to hope you can find a rehabilitation facility to help you.

You cannot know what it is like to fight for the use of your whole body again. To have a harness wrapped around your whole body and lowered to a four step stool in the hopes that your legs and feet will remember what steps are and what it feels like to go down them.

Or what it feels like to be taught how to clean a bath tub from a wheel chair and how to shimmy from your wheelchair to a blank so you can bathe.

You cannot know what it is like to not only be the only white person but also the only female in a support group. How in a short space, you all are dropping or smiling at preconceived ideas. You cannot know what it is like to receive support from the gangs of L.A. and some of the innocent victims of the wars. To have a Crip or a Blood respond to you after saying you were afraid you would not get enough affection when you left, “Don’t worry, everything is going to be all right.”

I thought I had little in common with this new family except the common denominator is that none of us can walk.

In a short time, I saw that the best of the human takes over and all of us supported each other with hope and kindness.

When you realize that living in South Africa is no longer a viable proposition.

Unless you have walked in my shoes you cannot know the overwhelming fear and anxiety when you finally realize that living in South Africa is no longer a viable proposition.

For so many years, in fact from the beginning, you have felt safe and secure in this beautiful country, the place of your birth, but now you have to pack up 72 years of both valuable and useless accumulated possessions and move.

Since all my children are citizens of America this becomes the country of my choice, specifically California. I have to leave behind all I know, life-long friends and family, a familiar culture, and a unique climate, to a place on the other side of the world, where I virtually know no-one.

All the questions churn in my mind and prevent me from sleeping. What should I take? What should I leave behind? Who will buy what I want to sell since my car, my school, and some of my art work is too large and heavy to transport. Can I afford the cost of a container and shipment and the cost to live in America, where South African money, the Rand, is 10 to a dollar!

Will I make friends or be lonely and isolated? Will I be able to live without working, something I have done all my life? At last I reach a deadline and can no longer procrastinate. To my surprise, it all falls into place and everything gets done.

Here I am having made the best decision I could ever have made. I am challenged and involved in so many activities, finding hidden talents, but most importantly, making special friends who have become my new, valued and dear family.

Cancer has taught me to be appreciative of so many things.

Oh, I’ve talked about it. I’ve lived it. I feared it. I remember it. But I’ve never written about it. I have had lung cancer. Twice. The first time in my right lung was in 1987. I felt as if I was walking in someone else’s shoes. I do know that you would not want to have walked in mine.

I have not had an easy life but I’ve been able to rise above it all. I still have love and compassion.

I lucked out because the cancer had not spread. So, I did not need further treatment at the time. However, six weeks later, my husband was diagnosed with inoperable lung cancer. Yes, we smoked, but I do believe we had been exposed to something else too. Too much of a coincidence that we were both diagnosed within weeks. We were both 48. He was buried the following year. Unfortunately, the diagnosis of my cancer came one week after returning from one of my brother’s burial in Texas. He was 51 and died of a brain aneurysm. This was one month after my oldest brother died of lung cancer. He was 53. I remember thinking that I knew “into every life a little rain would fall,” however, all I could think was I was in a hurricane. I lived cancer-free for the next twenty something years and raised my children who all went on to post-graduate degrees.

After my retirement in 2005, I moved almost immediately to Burbank to be near my youngest. Within one year I was in surgery again here in Burbank for a suspected cancerous lesion on my left lung. Pathology said it was benign. However, in the next year, I was diagnosed and scheduled for surgery for a cancerous lesion at the same site that was supposedly benign the previous year. When I was taken from the ICU to a private room, one of the doctors told me I had about six months to live because the surgeon couldn’t get all of the tumor. Needless to say, I put all my affairs in order and went on to further treatment. The treatment consisted of six months chemotherapy and radiation therapy. How did I feel emotionally? I will be truthful, sure I had some fear but by the Grace of God, I was totally accepting and truly lived each day at a time.

It’s now nearing the end of 2010, and I am still cancer-free. For how long, I don’t know and I don’t worry about it. I did learn that having hair is very important to me and your head gets cold without having hair! I try to do things that I love and be with people who add to my life. I’ve also learned that because life is so short, I don’t have time to give in to bad friendships or things that take all my energy. I am more aware of the good in people but I can not tolerate unkindness. I sometimes lose patience with others. I get angry when I think something is not right. This is something I am still working on. But cancer has taught me to be appreciative of so many things that I feel I have been truly, truly blessed.

I was once a bit of a troublemaker.

You may not know it by looking at me but I was once a bit of a troublemaker. When I was 14 or 15 I lived with my Mother and six sisters and four brothers in the Dorchester section of Boston. The school I attended was the typical middle school of the time. I didn't hate school but I was not a good student. I was a hell raiser and played hooky a lot. I would travel around town by jumping on the back of trolly cars. I don't remember the exact reason I was placed in an alternative day school but I am sure it was a combination of bad behaviors that ticked off the principal.

I loved the alternative school. It was housed in an old mansion. The teachers were kind but took no nonsense. We learned to type and studied history and other subjects. I spent one school year there before going back to my original school.

I settled in and became, if not a good student, at least an attentive one. I loved my history class, having been inspired by my history teacher at the alternative school. My history teacher, Mister Sullivan, was very kind. He said to me, "Walter, you seem to be a mild mannered person, I don't know why you are here." While I thought he was wrong about me, I loved him for saying it. This is the only teacher I remember.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

When I am no longer in pain, then you can walk in my shoes.

Walk in my shoes … I think not. Wait until you hear my story. I am awaiting authorization to have knee replacement surgery. I am a very optimistic person, and I look forward to the day when I place my foot down, I won’t be in such terrible pain. However, there is another chapter to my story.

It was Mother’s Day, and my daughter and her husband took me out to lunch. They presented me with a present of a pair of Keds shoes which both my daughter and I enjoy wearing. Upon returning home, I tried the shoes on and noticed a little blue tag that read that these shoes are recommended by doctors for people who have problems such as I have. My daughter hadn’t noticed the tag, but purchased the shoes because they were the kind we both liked. I do find less pain when I wear them.

Unfortunately, one day when I was assisting someone to get to the club room from the theater, the gadget that keeps the door open slipped down and made a hole in my right shoe. I now have a triangle made out of duct tape to cover the hole in my right shoe and will have to place another triangle on the left one so they look alike.

Because I am optimistic, I look forward to having the operation and be able to once again walk without all the pain. THEN you can walk in my shoes.

You cannot know how much I love the sport of football.

Unless you have walked in my shoes you cannot know how much I love the sport of football. Football has changed my life in a good way. The way my week goes is based on whether or not the Colts win on Sunday. If the colts are losing, my friends know not to call me and if they lose, I'll be in a bad mood and I won't want to go out.

But when they won the Super Bowl, I spent about $100 treating my friends to dinner.

This has made me stronger and made my relationships with others stronger too.

If you were in my shoes, you would have experienced sexual abuse by multiple family members, as a child, for years.

If you had walked in my shoes you would be going to court against your abusers to help prevent this from happening to more people. If you were in my shoes half of your family would like you and the other half would not. If you were in my shoes, you would be giving people advice about what to do if they were also abused. If it happened to you, I would advise you to tell someone you trust and feel comfortable with. This will be a hard process for you as it has been for me.

Luckily, my parents and friends have been a great support for me. They have helped me through a lot that I couldn't deal with by myself. So I would advise you to find yourself a good support team who can help you.

One of the hardest things for me was to first admit it all to myself. If you decide to press charges you will be going to court so keep in mind that court is a long process. I've been going to court for over a year. When you are ready the first people you should tell are your parents if they are not the abuser or abusers. Some people in my family don't believe me so don't be surprised if people don't believe you. Just keep telling the truth.

I've found that through this process my counselor has been very helpful. So whether you are going to court or not I suggest you get yourself a counselor. It's okay to feel emotion. Don't let people tell you not to cry. You need to cry to let things out. My matter how hard or painful it is, crying is part of the healing process. Since you have the right to feel others also have the right to feel the way they feel.

As you admit about the abuse, I've found that it hurts less and less to talk about it. Until it either isn't painful anymore or just feels like a pinch. As I talked about the abuse, I felt free. So I began telling everyone about the abuse. Don't make the same mistake I have. Just tell who you trust or need to tell. When I began to tell everyone, people looked at me so differently, as a victim, and not for who I am. People also began to talk about me behind my back. Some people treated me like the abuse was my fault, like I had wanted it and was a nasty person. People can be very cruel. There have been times when telling the truth felt like torture, but it has all turned out to be worthwhile.

In the end, it has made me stronger and has made my relationships with other stronger too. I suggest you face everything head on. I suggest you keep a positive attitude throughout your process not matter how difficult it is to be positive sometimes. It's also okay not to remember everything about the abuse. Just say what you can remember.


The victim who became the gateway for others to heal.

I hunger for a world that is permanently at peace.

Unless you have walked in my shoes, or others like me, that hunger for a world that is permanently at peace, you will never know the anguish in my Soul.

I am 80 years old and I have never known our world to be at peace. Born in the “Great Depression”, our world was worthless! In 1933, Germany elected a Chancellor named Adolph Hitler, who surrounded himself with people that were loyal to him, not their country. Unchallenged, Hitler set Europe aflame in 1939, with the invasion of Poland, starting World WarII,
that ended in 1945.

Strife began again in 1949 and in1950, the Korean War began and that ended in 1953.

1962 marked the beginning of the Vietnamese War, when the French, who had occupied this country for about 10 years, after brutal treatment of Vietnamese citizens, requested that the U.S. take charge. We lasted about 10 years with 50,000 dead young people, not much older than you.

The late 60‘s and 70’s brought more fires that had to be extinguished all over the world; from Cuba and The Soviet Union’s crises, that was followed by the Arab oil crises, (one of many),with threats of armed conflict, the India / Pakistan nuclear proliferation conflict and finally, today’s problems of terrorism.

North Korea, Afghanistan, Iran, Sudan, Israel / Palestinian conflicts and the rest of the Mideast, caught up in a potential holocaust along with Indonesia and the Chinese / Taiwan verbal conflict in the Pacific.

The cost of this, in lives and in funding these activities, has put this country in debt that my great, great, grandchildren will still be paying.

Is it any wonder that my thoughts and fears, starting with my children’s generation, is feeling much as I do and their children’s generation -- your generation -- is angry and you never know why?

Meet the Burbank "Walk in our Shoes" Team!

Burbank Senior Artists Colony Senior Mentors and the students they mentor from Burbank Community Day School line up for a portrait by Gene Schklair. Stay tuned for their stories!