Saturday, March 28, 2015

The Party

This being the wedding day, I am posting the last of the three true love stories that I originally wrote for my friend on Tumblr.  If someone that I know reads my blog and is a character in the story wants to quibble over details, just let me remind that person that I got the story second and third hand because he tends to tell these things to other family members and then assumes he has also told them to mama. No matter, the details aren't what's important, anyway. 

This is a true story. It happened to two people I know.

She wasn’t supposed to be at the party. 

She was from Venezuela. She and her husband met in high school, attended college in the United States, married and had a baby. She thought she knew everything about him, but it turned out she didn’t. Now she was living in London and he was living in Scotland, and their divorce was almost final. She brought her little boy up to visit him and then they were going to spend three days seeing Loch Ness.

But there was a mix-up with his driver's license, so she went back to London. After all, there was that party.

He wasn’t supposed to be at the party.

He was from the United States. In 2008, he had taken a job with a start up company. The owners’ plan was to build the business up enough to be tempting enough for a larger company to buy, but then the recession of 2009 hit, so the owners had to run the company themselves. There was enough European business for the company to send him and his boss to live in London as their European branch. 

His cousin was getting married back home that weekend, and he was supposed to be there, but he couldn’t get the time off.

But there was that party. That was how they met.

A year later, she got a promotion and a transfer, back to Houston. Around the same time, his company told him that having him based in Europe was too expensive, and that when his visa ran out, they wanted him home, back in Austin. Since he mostly worked either from home or onsite, he asked if really needed to live in Austin. Could he maybe live in Houston, and just go to Austin the few times a year he was needed there?

So now they both live together in Houston. They are building a house and making wedding plans.

He says he wasn’t supposed to be at the party. She says she wasn’t supposed to be at the party.

I say they were.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

The Flowers

This is the second of the true love stories I wrote for my Tumblr friend. By the way, that's "true love stories" as in love stories that are true, but I certainly hope they also depict True Love. All of the stories were written last summer.

The picture showed up in my Facebook feed, a dozen roses and a card with pictures of the two of them from over the years. The caption was of course in Hungarian, “Szerelem, boldogság 10 év után is” followed by a heart, which Google Translate renders as “Love, happiness, even after 10 years”.

Ten years? Ten years ago in May? Ten years ago this coming August she arrived in the US from Hungary, our third foreign exchange student, sixteen about to turn seventeen. I sat with her while she unpacked and watched her pin a picture of her and a young man to the oversized bulletin board we kept for just such mementoes. “Who is that?” I asked.

“My boyfriend.” He looked a little old for a high school student, but I remembered high school well enough to know how differently the young men in it had matured. Still, I had to ask, “How old is he?”

“Twenty-six.” Anna laughed at the expression on my face. “My parents were worried when I first met him, but once they got to know him, they said it was okay for us to date.”

“And then they sent her to the U.S. for a year,”  my husband  pointed out to me later that night. Not quite a year, but still. The handsome young man in the picture would have no trouble meeting interested women closer to home, and closer to his age.

Anna quickly talked my husband into buying a microphone and some software for his aging computer and used it to talk with J, the boyfriend, every afternoon. She also talked to her parents, her brothers, and several friends. American Field Service guidelines suggested discouraging much contact with home, maybe a letter a week and one phone call a month, but Anna had bonded to us like Superglue within days of meeting us, and easily made friends at school. She found young men to escort her to the Winter Formal and the Junior-Senior Prom, and even held a party at our house to entertain her friends at the end of the school year. It would have been petty of us to interfere with her communication to those back home.

The year after she left, we visited her in Hungary, and met J. We could see why her parents were impressed. He wasn’t immature, he treated her with affection and respect, and they just seemed right for each other. I was amused by one story Anna told us. She and J had gone to Croatia for vacation the summer before, after she returned from the US, and while there she got a henna tattoo. When she returned home, she convinced her parents it was a permanent tattoo, and they were furious with her.

“So let me see if I get this,” I told my husband later. “Her parents don’t mind her spending her vacation alone with an older man, but they have a hissy fit over her getting a tattoo.” I reminded myself again that I’m not her real mom.

Anna moved to another city to go to college and J got a job there and moved with her. They lived together in an apartment. We visited Anna again a few years ago while spending a long visit with my son in Paris, and then two years ago they came to spend time with us while we were on another visit with my son, this time in London. By this time Anna had graduated and was working. I asked if there were any wedding plans and she said that J was worried about getting married because he had friends who broke up soon after marrying, but that he knew it was important to her and was saving up for a ring. Last fall they announced their engagement. They bought a house this year, they are coming to visit us for a few weeks this fall, and the wedding is next year*.

Ten years. Ten years between them. Ten years together. Ten years since she last was here with us.

Ten years.

*This August, and we're going.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

How I Met My Husband

While looking for some medical information that I hoped I had scanned into my computer, I found a folder called "True Love Stories", written to give to someone on Tumblr who was collecting stories of unconventional meetings and couplings. Since I have been too preoccupied with my son's upcoming wedding to write lately (not too busy, mind you, just too preoccupied), I decided I can post these, at least. This is the first one.

Some background to the story: when I was in graduate school, I met my first husband. He was an Eagle Scout and enjoyed camping, so he volunteered as an assistant scoutmaster with a scout troop near the university we attended. Our first real date was to a covered dish dinner award ceremony (Court of Honor) for scouts achieving merit badges. I don’t remember any of the scouts I met that night, but keep in mind, there were a lot of them there.

Next background bit: ten years later, my husband and I were invited to a party for the troop’s 50 year anniversary. By then we had a two and a half year old son. Our marriage was getting a little rocky, given that he had a hair trigger temper, but I was in it until death do us part, and not looking for anything more than a few minutes conversation with the cute young man with curly brown hair standing next to me at the refreshment table. In fact, by a day or so later I had forgotten him.

By four years later, it had become apparent that the death that was going to part my husband and me was likely to be untimely, likely to be violent, and likely to be mine. I tossed him out of the house and filed for divorce. Eventually I joined a singles group that, among other activities, held a weekly volleyball game. One night, I looked across the volleyball net and saw a cute younger man with slightly splayed feet, a feature that for some reason I found totally adorable. I also thought he looked ten years younger than me, and figured he wouldn’t be interested.

It turned out he was interested, and only six years younger than me. After a few weeks of volleyball, he asked me out for dinner. We talked the usual getting acquainted chit-chat people do on first dates, and I learned he was a) from New Orleans and b) an Eagle Scout.  “Where in New Orleans?” I asked, suspecting I knew. “Uptown.” “What troop were you in?” I wasn’t surprised to hear the answer. “Did you know (ex’s name)?” “Yes, he was one of our assistant scoutmasters.” “He’s also my ex-husband.”

By this time I decided if I had spent my first date with my ex-husband watching this kid get his Eagle Scout award, there wasn’t going to be a second date for the two of us. In his zeal to prove to me it wasn’t so, the next week the cute young man showed me the dated certificate that came with his Eagle, and along with it he had a program from the 50 year anniversary party.

Oh, my gosh! The curly haired young man  (now less curly haired, and starting to gray) from the party!

Eight weeks later we were engaged, and slightly less than a year from our meeting at the volleyball game (the meeting I refer to as “the one that took”), we were married. Twenty-seven years later, we are still married. I fondly imagine Fate pushing us together two or three times, saying, “Will you idiots just get it, already? I have other business to attend to.”

And it took 2 or 3 tries, but we finally got it.

Monday, December 15, 2014

I'll Ride with You, But Do I Have to Bring Jesus with Me?

I woke up in the middle of the night to see a tweet from dancer Sharna Burgess, that said “Thinking of you” with the hashtag, “prayersforsydney”. [Thanks, lsn, for the correction. The error was all mine, not that of the lovely Sharna Burgess, and I made it twice.] Knowing that she is Australian, I figured she meant the city, and a little further reading showed that there was a hostage situation going on in a cafe there.

By morning I woke up again, this time to the hashtag “illridewithyou”. Since the hostage taker is Muslim, Muslims around the city are concerned about reactions to them, and their fellow Australians have begun offering to accompany them on public transportation to prevent harassment, or worse. “Illridewithyou” is trending worldwide as I write, with both concrete offers of help along specific routes and supportive comments.

And as it happens, the offers of help fit in well with the subject of yesterday’s sermon at St. Anonymous.

I showed up at church after a long absence. Not so long, when you consider that I was there three weeks ago for the bake sale, but that was Layperson Sunday, so Pastor J was not there. Yesterday she greeted me like the prodigal kid, minus the ring and the fatted calf. I wonder if she would be so happy to see me there if she knew about my habit of discussing her sermons on my blog, not usually in a favorable light. I really need to make more of a point of writing about the ones I like and appreciate, not to mention about the things I like and appreciate about St. Anonymous in general, but the whole point of my blog is to give my grump side a place to play.

Yesterday’s sermon, however, was not one of my favorites. It was based on the story of the shepherds in Luke:
The Shepherds and the AngelsAnd in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with great fear. 10 And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. 11 For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. 12 And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.” 13 And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying,14 “Glory to God in the highest,    and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!”[a]15 When the angels went away from them into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go over to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has made known to us.” 16 And they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in a manger. 17 And when they saw it, they made known the saying that had been told them concerning this child. 18 And all who heard it wondered at what the shepherds told them. 19 But Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart. 20 And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.Luke 2:8-20English Standard Version (ESV)
The story itself, I love, not the least because it is, of course, the story that Linus recites in A Charlie Brown Christmas, when Charlie Brown despairs of ever finding the true meaning of Christmas. Dr. J, however, really, really, loves it, and said she could preach any number of sermons on it. This time she chose to focus on the latter half of verse nine “they were filled with great fear” and verses seventeen and twenty. The shepherds, despite being filled with great fear, spread the word about what they had seen and heard.
Dr. J went on to use this story as scriptural proof that we need to be out there talking to people about Jesus, even though it is scary. She hears from so many members of the church that their way of witnessing is to do good things for others, not talking about Jesus, and she used the shepherd story to show that this attitude is “not scriptural”. The shepherds were afraid, but they went and spread their story anyway.

She went on to deal with the argument that “I don’t know a lot about Jesus”. She urged us to review the events of each day and look for places where Jesus could have been acting - the smile a stranger gave us, our not speaking up in a meeting when it wouldn’t have been advisable, finding our lost car keys.

Okay, that last one was mine. But by this time it had occurred to me that people with a story to tell, tell that story without urging. The shepherds saw a light from Heaven and heard an angelic voice, followed by an angelic choir. Do you think they needed prompting to tell that story? A few generations down the road their grandkids were probably saying “Not this again” at holiday dinners. The “Jesus helped me find my car keys” stories I see on Facebook don’t come close. 

Pastor J went on to say that if all we did was to do good for others, we would build an awesome life for people, but how would they ever hear about Jesus?

Not seeing the problem here.

"It’s like we are saying to God, 'God, I’ll help you build your Kingdom, but I’m not willing to talk about you' . . . It’s easier to do good things for others than to talk about Jesus.”

Okay, seriously? Has she not noticed that there are a lot of people in public life talking about Jesus, and that we still don’t have this paradise on earth she’s envisioning if we all substituted doing for talking, or for talking about what we are supposedly doing? Meantime, my cousin Garett is still in Liberia, as far as I know, and so are a lot of health workers who are risking their lives in a place where thousands of people have died of an incurable disease and she seriously wants me to think that that is easier than telling people about Jesus?

But I started off talking about #illridewithyou, so let me get back there. Suppose I were in Sydney and free to offer what escort service I could provide to someone in a headscarf. What would it sound like to that person for me to say, “I’m doing this because Jesus wants me to” or “I’m doing this to be Jesus to you today”. I know that Muslims revere Jesus as a prophet, but would they take those statements as a sign that we have some beliefs in common or as a sign that I’m part of what they are afraid of? How much sensitivity to their fears would I be showing, and wouldn’t showing sensitivity to their fears be something Jesus might want me to do?

I think if I were going to bring religion into it at all, it would be by listening. “I know a little about your religion, but probably only enough to get a lot of it wrong. What does the Quran say is the obligation of believers in a situation like this?” Maybe that would get us around to a discussion of our shared and disparate views of Jesus, maybe not. I’m having a hard time seeing how strangers offering friendship to other strangers in jeopardy is going to give Jesus a sad.

I imagine, though, if I were there ride sharing with people in jeopardy, eventually I would wind up with a story to tell: a story that one of them told me, a story about what it felt like, sharing non-privileged status with a stranger, a story of other strangers offering support.

And as I said, people with a story to tell, tell that story without urging. Maybe that would have been a better message, to get out there in the world and do something, do more than you are doing now, do more than you think you can do. Sooner or later, you will have a story, and you will tell it.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Family Values

My cousin Garrett is in Liberia, helping people cope with the Ebola epidemic. Here he is being interviewed via Skype by a reporter at New York’s WPIX:

If that doesn't work, here is the URL:

By Miss Manners’ reckoning, Garett is my first cousin once removed; by my family’s traditions, he is my second cousin, and by the calling customs of my nieces and nephews, he’s my baby cousin, being the son of one of my first cousins and the grandson of my dad’s younger sister. I’m not entirely sure I ever met Garrett, unless it was at a barbecue his uncle held while I was in NY visiting my sister this past July. He and I are Facebook friends, but he doesn’t post much. I knew about this interview because his uncle and aunt posted the link to this interview on Facebook. We are all quite proud of him.

AmeriCares, so their website tells me “is a non-profit emergency response and global health organization. In times of epic disaster or daily struggle, we deliver medical and humanitarian aid to people in need worldwide.” Garett is Vice President of Emergency Response, hence his trip to Liberia. His organization has been providing supplies that medical workers need in order to provide the care that they can without risking their own lives or infecting other patients.

AmeriCares has scaled up its response by providing eight emergency shipments of essential medicines and personal protective wear to both Liberia and Sierra Leone to help treat Ebola patients and to provide protective gear for health workers facing great risks in trying to control the outbreak. 
The shipments contained over 90,000 pairs of gloves, 88,000 face masks, and over 28,000 units of protective clothing including scrubs and disposable coveralls and gowns. Shipments of intravenous fluids to rehydrate Ebola patients have also been sent to Liberia and Sierra Leone.
Now they are working on large shipments of bleach to be used in infection control. People find Ebola scary, and rightly so, but it isn’t an airborne virus. Catching it requires coming in contact with blood or other bodily fluids from an infected person, all too easy to do if the proper protective wear and disinfectants are not available, but preventable if they are. Ebola is also not necessarily a death sentence. If patients get symptomatic care (such as rehydration) to keep them alive until their immune systems kick in, it is possible to survive Ebola. It’s not the same as getting over the common cold, but there is no reason to shrug and say, “Oh, well, what can we do?” either. 

So what can you do? Donate, obviously, if you possibly can. You can donate to AmeriCare here, but if any readers know of other reputable organizations working on Ebola relief efforts, go ahead and post about them in the comments.

If you are the sort to pray, or send good thoughts, or use other blessing rituals to signify your solidarity with people going through bad times, yes, please do! Garrett is not involved in direct patient care and does not anticipate being in any danger, but there are the many medical workers, the patients themselves, their family members, and anyone with the potential to be infected  to whom you can direct your efforts as well.

And go ahead and remember Garrett while you are at it, just in case. Because even if neither of us could pick the other one out of a police lineup, he’s family. Apparently, he’s one of the people who sees the rest of the world as family, too.

Update: More from Garrett here:

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Happy Birthday, Elyse

Today was Elyse’s birthday. I say “was” because Elyse is with us no more. She died on an April night at the age of 16 when a congenital aneurysm that no one knew she had ruptured. I knew her parents because I worked with her mother, and when I heard of Elyse’s death, I went to their house, where a large crowd had gathered to be of what comfort we could. Elyse was brain dead but being kept alive on life support so her organs could be donated. That was important to her parents, who were overcome when they learned Elyse’s heart was too damaged to be donated.

“She had a good heart,” I reminded her mom, one of those stupid, useless things you say when you want to be comforting but there are no words that can do that.

My friend told stories.  Elyse was a quiet elf of a child with an engaging grin. She had asthma, but like most teens, she wanted to fit in with her peers. So for months she did not tell her gym teacher about her condition. My friend told about how she learned that when the class had to run sprints, Elyse bravely puffed along, well behind everyone but willing to try. I could see her in my mind. It sounded like an Elyse thing to do.

I had to leave the next day for a planned visit to family, but my husband went to the funeral. He said it was crowded, and he was on a long line to see the family and pay his respects when another coworker saw him and took him on a shortcut through a side door. “The Bishop was there,” my friend told me when she returned to work weeks later. Seeing that Elyse’s father was the principal of one of the city’s Catholic schools, I didn’t find the Bishop’s attendance excessive, but I was glad that my friend had that comfort.

Five months later, on Elyse’s birthday, two airplanes slammed into the twin towers in New York City. Today everyone is remembering, and mourning, the people who died in that attack. It is appropriate that they do so.

But I woke up this morning remembering a little blonde elf of a girl who will never be older than 16, and whose death was no less tragic.

Happy birthday, Elyse.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Like a Girl

I swear I used to be able to write poetry once. Maybe not very good poetry, but actual poetry. This one, inspired by the Always (Proctor and Gamble) "Like a Girl" ad campaign, is more like a really bad essay broken up into verses, but it's what I've got.

Her name was Jeanne.
She was a peasant. She loved her country, 
She loved her church.
She led an army, and won a victory
And then another, 
Like a girl.

When she was murdered,
For so called witchcraft, 
her fame outlived her.
Now she’s a saint
Just like a girl.

Her name was Sacagawea.
She was a teen.
She was a mother.
She helped an expedition, 
Across the waters,
Across the mountains,
She guided the men,
Just like a girl.

Her name was Harriet.
She was a slave,
Who found her way free.
And she led others along a railroad,
Like a girl.

They followed markers
They followed the North Star
They followed quilts displayed on clotheslines
Made with stitches and patches
By many girls.

Her name was Florence.
She traveled with armies,
To nurse the soldiers,
Injured in battles planned by old men.
She nursed the wounded,
She heard their screams
She was unflinching 
When she came to tend them, 
Just like a girl.

Her name was Amelia.
She was a pilot,
She owned the sky.
It wasn’t men’s then,
It belonged to anyone.
So she explored it, 
And tried to conquer it
Just like a girl.

Her name was Rosa.
She rode a bus.
One day she planned it, 
She kept her seat
When someone else demanded it.
She did not waiver.
She sparked a movement,

Like a girl.