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.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Half an Acre

I am holding half an acre
Torn from the map of Michigan
And folded in this scrap of paper
Is a land I grew in
Think of every town you've lived in
Every room, you lay your head
And what is it that you remember?
Do you carry every sadness with you
Every hour your heart was broken
Every night the fear and darkness
Lay down with you
A man is walking on the highway
A woman stares out at the sea
And light is only now just breaking
So we carry every sadness with us
Every hour our heart were broken
Every night the fear and darkness
Lay down with us
But I am holding half an acre
Torn from the map of Michigan
I am carrying this scrap of paper
That can crack the darkest sky wide open
Every burden taken from me
Every night my heart unfolding
My home
I first heard the song Half an Acre on a Liberty Mutual ad several years ago, and found it on iTunes and purchased it. It’s a haunting song, and still one of my favorites to listen to when the mood strikes.
I have an inconvenient kind of mind, however. I can’t listen to words like “I am holding half an acre, torn from a map of Michigan” without thinking, “That must be one big-assed map.” I used to live in a house on a half acre lot. It seemed large enough when I was mowing the grass, even with a riding mower, but I if I look at a state map of Louisiana and try to pinpoint where that half-acre is, well, pinpoint is the operative term.
So today for some reason I decided to figure out just how big-assed a map we are talking about. Google and I had a little sit down and I discovered that one half acre is 21, 780 square feet. Michigan covers an area of 96, 716 square miles. In case you are wondering, one square mile is the equivalent of 27, 878, 400 square feet. So half an acre is very roughly one one-thousandth of a square mile, and Michigan is roughly 96,000 square miles. If met calculations are correct, half an acre is roughly one 96-millionth the size of Michigan.
A pinpoint is looking a little large.
And speaking of points, of course, the feasibility of holding a half-acre scrap torn from a map of Michigan is not the point of the song. I get that. The song is about fear, regret and disappointment, and how each of us needs a home place we can go to, even if only in our minds, when those threaten to overwhelm us. The scrap of paper is a metaphor for the half-acre more or less that we carry in our minds.
The mind that in my case, can’t help asking, “But just how big is that scrap of paper?” Because asking such questions and tinkering and figuring out, that’s my home.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Meta Mavis and Meta Tabitha Have a Chat about Their Authors

“Why do I smirk so much?” Mavis asked. “I’m not a particularly smug or supercilious person. Why can’t I have a shy smile, or a fond smile, or an occasional grin? Or a moue? A moue in the sense of a flirtatious pout would be awesome, although a few grimaces of distaste for Mikhail and his roaming hands during the judges’ comments would have been okay, too. Why can’t I have a moue?” 

“I don’t know. I’ve been pretty much banished from existence until my recent engagement.” Tabitha flashed her ring in the light from the window of Mavis’s condo. “I’m not in a position to understand current authorial conventions in fanfiction.”

“That’s true. I’m glad you’re back, actually. I was getting tired of all the drama with Karl.”

“Drama? With Karl? My Karl? How do you have drama with Karl?”

“I’m supposed to be secretly in love with him.”

Tabitha trilled merry peals of laughter. “Oh God. Why am I trilling merry peals of laughter instead of laughing like a normal human?”

“I don’t know. Maybe our author has been reading attemps at Regency fiction. Or getting into the Denim Vodka.”

“The Denim Vodka doesn’t sound like a bad idea,” Tabitha smirked. “Wait a minute. Now I’m doing it, too. Why am I smirking?”

“Our author got tired of writing ‘said’, I think.”

“Now I really need the vodka. You?”

“I can’t. I’m pregnant.”

“Again? Isn’t that like the third time this month? Maybe you should sue the people who make your NuvaRing. Is Mikhail with you this time, or did you throw him out thinking you weren’t worldly enough for him?”

“It’s not Mikhail.”

“Karl? My Karl?”

Mavis hung her head in shame. “It wasn’t my idea. It wasn’t even Karl’s idea. One minute I was giving him an affectionate peck on the cheek to congratulate him on your engagement, the next minute my lips were on his and before I knew it, I was doing something called ‘deepening the kiss’.”

“Better than smiling/groaning/moaning into his mouth, I guess. But you didn’t get pregnant from kissing.”

“No, next thing I know I was on the kitchen counter and we were deepening something else.”

“On the counter?”

“Yes, and I had left a corkscrew on it, too. Ouch.”

“I can’t wait until some of our authors get older, gain a little experience, and see the advantage of mattresses,” Tabitha sighed. “We have a new one.”

“Sleep Number or Tempur-pedic?”

“Sleep Number with a memory foam top. So what are we going to do about the baby?

“You’re going to run me out of town. Wait, is that ‘you’re’ or ‘your’? You are going to run me out of town, I’m going to convince Mikhail that the child is his, and for about a decade I will tolerate a loveless marriage in which we have two more children.”

“Mikhail can’t count to nine?” Tabitha said off-handedly while trying to fit “Mikhail”, “Mavis” and “loveless marriage” into one coherent sentence. She gave up.

“It’s the accent. Accents automatically remove 15 IQ points. Unless they’re French.”

“How about if you tell Karl about the baby, I bow out gracefully, and Mikhail and I go through a few bottles of Denim Vodka and have drunken sex?”

“Suit yourself. Just so you won’t be too disappointed, let me warn you. He wasn’t joking about the hat.”

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Girl at the End of the World

For I don’t know how long I have been seeing this picture on Patheos when reading the several blogs I follow there. It looked interesting, but I wasn’t particularly moved to read the book. 

Then one of the bloggers I follow on twitter retweeted something that sounded interesting from someone called Elizabeth Esther, and I began following Elizabeth Esther, too. I shortly discovered that Elizabeth Esther is the author of Girl at the End of the World, so I decided that if I could find it at the library, I’d read it. A trip to our library’s website revealed that yes, they had the book (2 copies), I could put a hold on one and have it sent to the library closest to me, and a few days later, there it was. Forty some odd years ago when I got my first (barcodeless, cardboard) EBR Parish Library card, I did not envision such efficiency. Now I’m looking forward to the day when a drone drops the book off at my door.

The book is a memoir of the author’s upbringing in an Apocalyptic church, one started and run by her own family. 

I was raised in a homegrown, fundamentalist Christian group—which is just a shorthand way of saying I’m classically trained in apocalyptic stockpiling, street preaching, and the King James Version of the Bible. I know hundreds of obscure nineteenth-century hymns by heart and have such razor sharp “modesty vision” that I can spot a miniskirt a mile away.Verily, verily I say unto thee, none of these highly specialized skills ever got me a job, but at least I’m all set for the end of the world. Selah.
This excerpt from the back cover sums up both the book’s content and the author’s breezy style, a style that covers a world of heartbreak. In one sense the book is an easy read: it’s written simply, there are no mind boggling statistics or difficult academic concepts to absorb, and it’s broken into short chapters. In another sense, the book is a difficult read, as books about abuse and suffering always are, especially if any of it happens to resonate with some of the reader’s own experiences. Rachel Held Evans described the book as, “the sort of book you plan to read in a week but finish in a day.” My experience was the opposite: I planned to read it in a day but had to keep putting it down because it got to be too much, so it took me closer to three.
Part of what made the book so difficult for me was that the author does not belabor her experiences. Her matter of fact style in describing what she went through (multiple daily spankings, being made to quit an after school activity she loved and needed to get into a private college because it interfered with her numerous chores at home, having a teacher question her science project because when she measured her resting heart rate it was over 100) more than anything she actually says conveys how the bizarre can seem normal when you are raised with it.
In the end, Elizabeth Esther was able to make her way out of the cult she was brought up in, find a new way of living with her husband and children, and even make peace of a sort with her parents. I find it interesting that for her, finding her way to the Catholic Church was part of her healing path. My relationship with my stepmother was a stormy one, but the one thing I am immensely grateful for is that she sent me to a Methodist church and not the Catholic one I had been baptized into. Well, that, and the whole saving my life thing, but it’s pretty much a toss-up in my eyes.

Fortunately, neither Elizabeth Esther nor I are tasked with selecting each other’s spiritual path, and her reasons for becoming attracted to Catholicism make perfect sense to me, even if it’s a path I wouldn’t have chosen. In the end, that’s what makes the book so heartening, the message that we can overcome childhood brainwashing (the author’s own term, from the Prologue) and look at the world through our own eyes. I do recommend reading the book, whether in a day or three or even a week. 

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

My Own Abbreviations

Things I write out the long way frequently online, and wish other people knew my abbreviations for:

ICBWAT - I could be wrong about that, mostly written when I’m sure I’m not.

IWBIWFU - It’s weird, but it works for us, needed since my husband and I are strange.

ETA: I suppose you could also use IWBIWFM - It’s weird, but it works for me.

YWNGTC - You would not get the chance, my (usually unspoken) response to IWHI, for I would hit it posts on TD. (Yeah, I don’t post much there anymore.)

WMYTYGTC - What makes you think you’d get the chance? See above.

So does anyone else have their own unique abbreviations? Feel free to add them in the comments.

It Rained on My Birthday

At least, it rained all morning long. Having just turned 67, I can be philosophical about rain on my birthday, but we had a lot of errand running to do, and the heavy rain made it inconvenient. We were going to go pick up my birthday cake and a few odds and ends at Whole Foods, and then go see Maleficent, at my request.

John thought there was an early showing of Maleficent, but it turned out that that was for Saturday only, as I found out after he dropped me as closely as he could to the theater before going to park the car.

He always does that. When it’s raining, he drops me off as close as he can to wherever we are going, parks the car, then braves the rain on his own. When we are done, he goes to get the car while I wait until again, he gets as close as he can to pick me up. He has done that for as long as we’ve been together.

So we decided to go see if the cake is ready early. As I waited inside the door for John to finish parking the car, I saw the fresh flower display. I picked out a combination to make myself a bouquet with, and when my husband found me there, I announced that we were buying me flowers. He didn’t argue over that, or the bag of mix and match cookies that I added to the cake, milk, and rosewater that we went there for originally.

The reason I am dwelling on the cookies, the flowers, and the rain is because ever since DWTS ended, I have had romance on my mind. Well, not so much on my mind, but it’s been on the minds of the young fangirls I hang out with on Tumblr, as they review every look, gesture, hug, and sentence that occurred between “Mavis” and “Mikhael” throughout the season. I frequently see things like, “I want someone who holds me like that” or “I want someone to tell me, ‘I don’t need you to be better. I need you to be you and I’ll do better.’ ” Sometimes it’s, “I won’t settle for anyone who doesn’t look at me like that.”

I appear to be the only one who gets an entirely different lesson from these last several weeks, the lesson that goes, “It has never occured to me to tell my husband ‘I don’t need you to be better. I need you to be you[rself] and I’ll do better.’ I bet he’d love to hear that.”

I’m not sure about the lovestruck gaze. I think if he caught me gazing at him like that, he’d assume I was having a neurological event and rush me to the emergency ward. But he might like it if I could at least refrain from rolling my eyes when he launches into another story about his latest day of dam inspections.

Of course, I have been on the other side of this situation: accepting crumbs and trying to convince myself that they were true love. I understand the younger ladies of my internet acquaintance who are shaping their views of what it is possible and reasonable to expect in a relationship. I’m glad they are determined not to sell themselves short just to have a man* in their lives.

I hope though, that life will broaden their views of what constitutes not selling themselves short. I may have to pick out my own birthday flowers at the grocery store, but I don’t have to wade through a rainy parking lot to get the car. My husband may not send moony-eyed looks in my direction, but he will do battle with my problems with only a plastic teaspoon, if need be.

So maybe I don’t need him to be better. Maybe I just need him to be himself, and I’ll be better. 

Or maybe we could both just be ourselves, because we seem to like each other that way.

*or woman, but I associate the kind of “you need one, so do what it takes to get one” thinking with advice pressed on heterosexual women. I could be wrong about that.

Monday, June 2, 2014


The ironclad rule of Southern Ladyhood Hospitality, or so I have gleaned from polling everyone that I knew would agree with me, is that if you really want to invite someone, whether to an event or just to hang out, is you do it yourself. You don’t necessarily have to send a handwritten note: a card, a phone call, even a text message is fine. Secondhand invitations, we all agreed, are out, even if they come via a close family member, like, just to use an example pulled out of thin air, a son.

Okay, in other, totally unrelated news: we had a visit from my son, his GF, and my steppish (to use my son’s term) grandson over Memorial Day weekend. They were actually in town for Neal’s stepmom’s family get-together, but they stayed with us because his stepmom ran out of room. They also extended their stay a few extra days to have time to spend with us. Yay! Having a four year old underfoot is more exhausting than I remembered from my days when I worked with them for half an hour at a time and then handed them back to their moms, but it was fun, too, and way too quiet when he left. I am just now getting to the point where I don’t hear the little one’s voice around the house and remember his shampoo and toothpaste smell.  We took him to the aquarium in New Orleans and to the local park, which has a Splash Pad, read a lot of books, and patronized a few local restaurants. We also had "quiet time" (a euphemism for nap time) at home, which Nonna needed, whether Ace did or not.

Four year olds are fun, if wearing. Like his coevals, Ace asks a lot of why questions. He also talks right over the answers, usually with another why question. My attempts to answer his questions were frequently punctuated by low-voiced utterances of “Mom” by my son, when he deemed my answers too complex, too abrupt, too God-knows-what, leading me to finally complain to my husband, “If that little brat doesn’t quit his whining, I’m going to smack him one. Thank goodness that at least the four-year-old knows how to behave.” 

One of the “why” questions I did not have a satisfactory answer for is why I didn’t go with them to Neal’s dad’s house to go swimming. When they first arrived, Neal told me that his stepsister had told him that I was welcome to come to her house to swim with them so I could spend more time with Ace. He understood why I didn’t feel comfortable with that. I told him I like his stepmother and stepsister, and to say I appreciated the offer, but that John and I also needed some alone time anyway, since John had just come in from an out of town trip and was preparing for another one.

Ace, however, did not understand why I didn’t just come along with them every time they went. I could hardly tell a four year old the real reason that I don’t want to be around my son’s dad, and it was hard to say no to meltingly brown eyes, so this rapidly became a small problem in an otherwise enjoyable visit.

My son finally admitted on their last day that Ace had been overhearing his stepmother keep telling Neal that he was welcome to bring us along with him to play in the pool, and that Ace had overheard. In addition to being eternal askers of “why”, four year olds are the original pitchers that have big ears. Don’t say anything in front of them that you don’t want repeated, and repeated, and repeated elsewhere.

Which reminds me: I did, despite my son’s lack of faith in my ability to understand four year olds, get to babysit for Ace while my son and his intended went out to dinner. I’m not sure of all of what I said to the little one before he finally fell asleep, but I bet it made for some merry conversation on the four hour drive back to Houston.

But at least I wasn’t there to hear, “Mom!”

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Real Fiction

A long-time reader, lsn, left a comment on my recent post, The Hour That the Ship Comes In that reminded me of a recent conversation on Tumblr. 

First, lsn’s comment:

OK... there's fan fic about reality TV?!?

Oh Lord.
I honestly had no idea... I kind of get the reasoning behind fanfic about fictional characters, but writing it about actual human beings who are not in fact fictional characters no matter how much the editing does kind of is a bit... well, icky to me.

Now the Tumblr conversation. The first commenter has extensive interests (and over 1,000 followers) including WWE (World Wrestling Entertainment, an admittedly scripted form of wrestling in which the wrestlers, while real athletes, play characters. Grandma D would have been a huge fan.) I’m not familiar with the second person, but she seems to be another wrestling fan.

Person A:….are wrestlers fictional characters?

Person B:i’d say yes, generally. though it’s a question i find very interesting.the distinction is easier to make with some wrestlers than others. the undertaker, bray wyatt, and other similar characters are obviously fictional. at the other…

Person A:It always trips me up. Like, calling an Actor their characters is kinda rude and just plain weird. But then if you call a wrestler their birth name, that’s disrespectful.It’s kinda like you read my mind and put my thoughts in a post. Lol.

My response, which I suspect neither of them noticed, was as follows:

I don’t think real-fictional is a binary; I think that there is a continuum from real to fiction and that we all position ourselves at different points along it depending on who we interact with. So an actor playing a role is further along the continuum toward fiction than the wrestler is, but even the actor is calling on some of his/her real self in playing the part. (Shoot, some actors play themselves over and over.) I was present at a reading that Attica Locke (fantastic author, BTW) gave and she began by saying, “I’m going to be real”, and I thought “no, you’re not”, not because I thought she was lying, but because simply using the phrase reflects an awareness that we present ourselves in different ways in different situations, so she had to pull up “real” from the pool of potential personas, and how real is that, when you think about it? 

We all have ways of presenting ourselves that involve some to a lot of artifice, and we all recognize that other people have ways of presenting themselves that involve some to a lot of artifice.

So let’s take that idea further in dealing with lsn’s point, the ickiness of writing about “actual human beings who are not fictional characters.”  Actual human beings have been known to Google their own names and can easily find said fanfic, and might be a bit nonplussed to discover that their significant others have been vanished down a rabbit hole, their sexual orientations have undergone wholesale revisions, or that they are now either pregnant or about to be fathers.

We present ourselves with various degrees of reality/unreality, but we also see other people the same way.  To me, being able to see other people as being as real as ourselves, as the stars of their own lives and not bit players in our own, is the biggest task of growing up. I think we have all had the experience of working or going to school with or living next to someone that we see purely as a PITA, and then one day get that one glimpse or one bit of information that makes their behavior make sense from their point of view. I remember one summer working with two other therapists in a social skills group for teens. One particular young lady was causing me a lot of frustration with her constant talking and inability to stay on topic. Finally one of the other therapists told me that the young lady had recently been diagnosed with anxiety disorder and placed on medication, and was only now starting to talk in social situations at all. Oh! So the training wheels had just come off the bike and she was naturally still a little wobbly. I could deal with that. After all,  that was my role in the group in the first place, teaching conversational rules.

Sometimes our only way of knowing particular people is through them being presented to us as entertainment. We see them on television in reality shows that are carefully contrived and we read about them in magazines that are designed to entertain. So what we get is fiction, not complete fiction, but somewhere along that continuum between fiction and reality. The distinction between the person I call Mikhail and Jane Austin's Mr. Darcy is blurrier than the distinction between Mr. Darcy and the young man in the next seat in English class, or the teacher presenting the lesson. It’s one small step from fanfiction about Mr. Darcy to fanfiction about Mikhail.

And unless teen girls have changed even more than I think between my days in high school and now, one more small step from fanfiction about Mikhail to fiction probably not published on the internet about the young man in the next seat in English class, or maybe even about the teacher presenting the lesson. A girl can dream after all.

A girl can dream, and then write about it.

Monday, May 19, 2014


In my reading recently I came across this post, Patriarchy in Homeschool Culture by Samantha Fields, in which I found a quote from the book Beautiful Girlhood. Beautiful Girlhood was originally written by Mabel Hale and published in 1922, and has been more recently revised by Karen Andreola and republished.

The section that Samantha quoted went as follows:

One day a handsome young gentleman alighted from a train … As he paced the platform, he soon attracted the attention of a young girl. She watched him flirtatiously out of the corner of her eye, coughed a little, and laughed merrily and a bit loudly with a group of her acquaintances; but at first he paid no attention …
At last he noticed, turned, and came directly to her, while her foolish little heart was all in a flutter at her success …
“My dear girl, he said, tipping his hat, “have you a mother at home?”
“Why, yes,” the girl stammered.
“Then go to her and tell you to keep you with her until you learn how you ought to behave in a public place,” and saying this he turned and left her in confusion and shame. It was a hard rebuke; but this man had told her only what every pure-minded man and woman was thinking. Girls can hardly afford to call down upon themselves such severe criticism. (130-31)

This is where a wide reading of true mid-nineteenth century literature comes in handy for a girl. Let me tell you the rest of the story, without the flowery prose (okay, maybe a little flowery prose).

The young girl immediately got the attention of the conductor and pointed to the offender saying, “Excuse me, sir, but that person, while unacquainted with me, presumed to come up to me and address me with words that insulted both my mother and myself. I trust I can rely on your protection from any further advances on his part.”

I mean, seriously? Let's look at the sequence of events as presented, shorn of any editorial content designed to influence our views of who is at fault here. A young man alights from the train, sees a bevy of attractive young ladies, and begins to pace around the platform. Why is he pacing? Whether he is waiting for another train, or a cab, or his valet to come and get him, the wait won't be made any shorter by him walking up and down. He sees a group of acquaintances, including one particular young lady, and attracts her attention.  Is this the purpose of his pacing? It would seem so to an observer not inclined to blame the woman in any interaction between a woman and a man.

But then, what does the young lady do? She laughs merrily at something that one of her acquaintances says. Obviously she's a strumpet, or wait, here's another thought. Maybe the group has noticed the young man's efforts to get her attention and one of them has said something amusing about him. And now she's laughing at him! So he does what he can to preserve his pride: make it seem like she's the one trying to attract his attention, and insult her for it.

I mean, otherwise we'd have to believe that this paragon of male virtue presumed to approach and address a young lady without a proper introduction just to correct her manners. He’d be lucky not to be horsewhipped. Young Victorian ladies suffered from a lot of disadvantages, true, but a lack of ways to deal with insults from young popinjays was not one of them.

As the authors would have known if they had bothered to read good literature instead of writing the bad kind.

Saturday, May 17, 2014


Going into the final on Dancing With the Stars, there are two Olympic athletes left among the four finalists, ice dancer Meryl Davis and Paralympic Team snowboarder Amy Purdy. Amy is a double amputee, having had to have both legs amputated below the knee due to a bacterial infection she acquired at age 19. Her accomplishments to date as an athlete, actress, and activist for people with disablities would be impressive for anyone, amputee or not.

Something that bothers me about people’s reactions to Amy, though,  is that I keep hearing variants of “If she can do it, anybody can,” for instance, in the way that guest judge Abby Lee Miller used Purdy as a model for her students:

Amy Purdy and Derek Hough performed a breathtaking, creative, precise Argentine tango using a bar stool as a prop. The judges struggled to put into words how impressed they were with both the execution and the effort. Miller said to her girls in the audience, “I better never hear ‘I’m too tired, I’m hungry, I have homework.” Judge Bruno Tonioli said it had power, control, precision, and immersion into the character. It also had a perfect score of 40.

No matter how well Purdy danced, people (including Purdy, who has been showing a good bit of stress in some of her video rehearsal packages) get hungry, they get tired, and if they are in school, they get homework. I don’t like it when people who don’t belong to a particular group pick a person who is an outlier in that group and then hold that person up as a model. First of all, it is unrealistic, and second of all, it detracts from that particular person’s accomplishments. Not every amputee can become an Olympic snowboarder, any more than every person can become an Olympian. And amputees who struggle more than Purdy does deserve empathy and help, not to have one person’s experience held up to them as the norm. What Amy Purdy has accomplished represents not only a great deal of work and determination, but also a great deal of talent, talent that did not disappear when her legs did. So while I admire her tremendously, and understand why people are inspired by her, I am not about to point her out as an example of how anybody can succeed by putting their mind to it. She is not just anybody. That’s the point of having competitions.

Then there is the whole problem of  using Amy as inspiration. The word in its many forms comes up over and over again in the judges comments on her dancing: you’re so inspiring. You are such an inspiration. I’m sure people are inspired by her, but I see a difference between “I’m inspired by you” and “You’re such an inspiration” in that to me, the latter objectifies Amy. It’s one thing to derive life lessons from watching how other people cope with hardship. But Amy Purdy is a unique person. She’s the star of her own life, not a bit player in someone else’s. To reduce her from the woman who has been honest about her fears and struggles as well as her pride in her performance to an object lesson for others is to reduce her to just that: an object. 

Of course, I am writing this as a person who is not an amputee and doesn’t have other orthopedic disabilities. Sure, I’m getting older and have Meniere’s disease and arthritis, but if you were going to draw a line between “able-bodied” (to use an older term) and not, I’d fall on the “able-bodied” side of the line. So it is quite possible that my take on this is far, far from what I would think if I were an amputee, or had Cerebral Palsy or MS or Parkinson’s Disease. Maybe if I did, I’d be happy to be an inspiration to somebody, although my hunch is, if it were me, my conduct would be far from inspiring. If anyone who does have experience with these conditions is reading this and has a completely different take on it, feel free to chime in in the comments. You won’t hurt my feelings, unless maybe you begin a comment with “Listen, you idiot.” (OTOH, I’ve heard worse.)

Until then, my take on it is going to be that Amy Purdy is an athlete who can do a lot of things the majority of us cannot do. I admire her, but I’m not going to run right out and take up snowboarding because of her example, and not just because I live where it doesn’t snow.

And when it comes to dancing? I’m sorry, but Meryl Davis can dance rings around her, and I don’t think it’s just because of the legs. So while I admire Amy Purdy, I am pulling (and voting) for Davis. Sometimes, despite drive and hard work and determination, it does come down to a matter of talent.

ETA, on June 14, 2014: I found out today, via a Facebook link from a friend, that Stella Young, a comedian and disability activist, doesn't like to be referred to as an inspiration, as her use of the term inspiration porn makes clear in this video. She makes the same point about objectification as I do, only a lot clearer and better.

Monday, April 28, 2014

The Hour That The Ship Comes In

So while we are on the subject of my recent and inappropriate enthusiasm for a certain reality show, I have more to say about the subject of its surrounding fanfiction. What I should be doing at the moment is straightening up the house, getting my car inspected, and making the animated computer version of Old MacDonald Had a Farm that I promised my grandson. Yes, I know there are many animated versions I can buy him, but I want to personalize it by inserting pictures of him into the animations. That’s a lot of painstaking work, however, and this is easier.

Before I launch into my comments on the subject at hand, however, I am going to give the cast of characters a whole new set of names, because I feel uncomfortable using the names of the real people whom I don’t even know to discuss the fictional representations of them out there in cyberspace. So we have Carl and Mavis, recent gold medal winners in the sport of ice dancing, and Tabitha, Carl’s long suffering love interest, who has until recently been shoved so far into the background that her clothing was starting to match the decor. More recently we have Mikhail, Mavis’ foreign born dance instructor, with his burly good looks and total lack of concept of personal space. Supposedly he has been nicknamed “sex on a stick”, but to me that sounds downright uncomfortable. Then we have Mikhail’s brother Vadim, and Carl’s dance instructor, Shirley, who may or may not make an appearance, depending on how far I get before the siren song of filing medical papers gets to me.

If we go back far enough, much of the fiction involves romantic relationships between Carl and Mavis, despite the fact that they have been pretty clear about their lack of interest in one another. The Problem of Tabitha is dealt with in several ways. The most popular one seems to be just disappearing her off the face of the earth. As far as I can figure, she was the victim of an accident involving the Large Hadron Collider, details of which are still highly classified. With no Tabitha around, dramatic tension must come from the tried and true trope of having both characters fall in love with each other, but be afraid to speak out because each thinks the other is not interested. In real life, this rarely happens, but in novels, it happens all the time. In my view, if two people are in love but can’t tell each other, it is just as well, because they really have no business breeding together. I find these plots the least interesting of all.

Then there are the ones where  we still have Carl and Mavis in love with each other, but Tabitha is Carl’s girlfriend. Yes, I know, you ask why he doesn’t break up with Tabitha and announce his love for Mavis if that is the case. Cake, snack, gone anyone? Or Tabitha is a lovely girl, and it would be a shame to hurt her (only in some of these stories, she and Carl get married, have a kid or two, and then get divorced, and wouldn’t it have been less hurtful to have dropped her like a hot rock before all that happened?) I wonder if the authors (who in many cases are good writers, in the technical sense) are aware of how much of a loser Mavis looks like in these stories. In real life, “Carl” has been with “Tabitha” for five years, more than enough time for Mavis to grieve a broken heart if she does have one, and then move on.

I wonder why none of our budding authors has come up with the obvious solution for the Tabitha problem - have Mikhail seduce her. He’s supposed to be good at that kind of thing. Then Mavis and Carl can bond over their mutual broken hearts. (No, I’m not writing it.)

There is also the little detail that Mavis had a boyfriend prior to and around the time of the Olympics. Then, around late February, even the briefest of references to him disappeared from her conversation and she and Mikhail are acting as though she is free as a bird. Maybe the BF, who does not have a name so lets call him Feliks, was the one who got disappeared in the Large Hadron Collider.

Or, there is the possible solution that I dreamed up for the first of my fanfic forays, the one in which Mikhail and Mavis get introduced online well before the Olympics, and he is the BF she refers to, until it becomes more politic to pretend that their first IRL meeting in the dance studio is their first meeting ever. It explains a lot: their immediate comfort level with each other, the boyfriend that was and then wasn’t, Mikhail’s proposal. Okay, it’s unlikely, but not as unlikely as two people who have known each other for a decade and a half falling in love but never bothering to mention it to each other, because plot.

And speaking of plots, I need to get back to Old MacDonald. That one, I understand.

(The title of this piece comes from this song, which has been stuck in my head for a while, but has nothing to do with the kind of ships that show up in fanfic.)


A few weeks ago, I turned the channel to ABC to watch Castle, and since I was a minute or two early, caught the very end of Dancing With the Stars. I had never before watched an episode of Dancing With the Stars, or of The Voice, America’s Got Talent, or American Idol. The reality TV shows I watch involve interior design, hoarders, or an occasional episode of Design Star when my husband happens to be watching. I did watch a whole season of The Bachelorette years ago with one of my AFS daughters, but couldn’t last through one episode of Survivor.

I did see enough of the Dancing With The Stars episode to find out that America’s favorite ice dancing couple, Meryl Davis and Charlie White were contestants, so I started looking for videos of their dances on YouTube, while using the first few Monday nights to follow the NCAA Women’s Basketball Championship, and of course the NCAA Men’s Basketball Final, or at least as much of it as I could stand before it became sadly evident that Kentucky was going down to UConn. 

That meant that it was not until two weeks ago, Disney night, that I actually sat through an entire episode of DWTS. However, I was up to speed on the prior weeks’ actions, gossip, scores, and innuendo through a network of fangirls posting on Tumblr, and the links they posted with regularity.

In addition to the actions, gossip, scores, and innuendo, I also found my way to a whole lot of fanfiction. I actually found my way to the fanfiction by googling “Meryl and Maks fanfiction”, much as it pains me to admit it. I mean, I am really too old for this stuff. I am especially too old to write the two examples of it that I did, and submitted to one of the fangirls I follow, who posts her own and others’ submissions on her blog. No, I won’t say where.

I can understand the allure of shipping for the young ladies whose Tumblr blogs I follow. Most of them are in their teens to twenties (hence, young enough to be my granddaughters), and for them, learning the nuances of personal interaction is a developmental task. That look that Maks gave Meryl? Is that the lingering gaze of love or just Maks being Maks? When Charlie smiles upon hearing praise for Meryl’s  chemistry with Maks, is that a real smile, or does it not make it all the way to his eyes? (Or is it Charlie thinking for the 35th time, “I wish they’d stop cutting to me every damn time Meryl dances”?) What does it mean if Meryl posts a picture of her and Charlie skating on Instagram? What does it mean if members of The Fam post “like” to pictures of Meryl and Charlie skating on Instagram?

I read these posts and think what they are really asking is “What does it mean when that guy in Chem class looks at me while the teacher is lecturing?” “Is that guy I friend zoned really just joking about us going to the prom together or is he hurt that I won’t date him?”
(Yes, I know that is not all that they are doing. The functions of fiction are too many and too complex to be summed up in one blog post, especially one of my blog posts, but this is the one that jumped out at me.)

And what does it mean that Coleslaw is pondering and writing about this stuff when she has ironing to finish and a house to clean before her brother shows up for his annual visit one week from today? (Thereby causing her to miss next week’s episode of DWTS, since we are taking him on an overnight to Natchez.)

I wrote once before about the strategies that people use both to conceal information that might be hurtful and to tease that exact information out of  the carefully phrased statements that other people make to hide it. There is an arms race going on between our need to fit harmoniously into a group and our need for information. The folk wisdom of “what you don’t know won’t hurt you” always clashes with “forewarned is forearmed”. So we study other people’s body posture, facial expressions, eye gaze, and gestures; parse their sentences for hidden meanings, and at the same time strive to keep our own faces neutral and our words tempered. As important as it is to do so in everyday interactions, or job interviews, or if, heaven forbid, ever dealing with the police, it is even more important to be able to do so in matters of the heart. There is a saying, “wearing one’s heart on one’s sleeve” for a reason, and that heart is not safe out there. 

So I would like to say that my reasons for obsessively looking for updates on the sites I am following are purely high minded, that I am exploring my fascination with the ways in which people communicate. I would like to say that, but who am I kidding? 

I don’t even know what my reasons are for following DWTS, except one. I’m a fangirl.

Friday, April 18, 2014

That's One Mystery Cleared Up

I’m feeling sad, queasy and perplexed. 

Last summer I came home from vacation to find a message from the Judicial Process Department of the sheriff’s office on my door. A long account can be found here, but the short version is that I was supposed to be served with a subpoena for a Dr. Coleslaw in a murder case, and after they had made three tries to deliver it, it was sent back to the originator per protocol. I’m not Dr. Anybody, I knew nothing about a murder, so the process server and I concluded it was all a mistake.

It occurred to me a few days later that while I honestly didn’t know anything specific about a murder, I had known someone who became a murder (and child abuse) victim, a child client of the place where I used to work. I wasn’t the child’s regular therapist, but a nagging voice in the back of my head reminded me that I may have done the child’s intake evaluation. I honestly couldn’t see how that would shed any light on the death itself, though, so I let it go.

Then the day before yesterday I heard the doorbell ring. And ring, and ring, and ring, because it was my husband ringing it, and he wanted to get back to cutting the grass before the light failed, and his leaning on the doorbell would of course make me able to exceed the speed of sound while getting to the door. I was not in a good mood when I flung it open, but cut off what I was about to say when my husband pointed to a gentleman next to him and said, “This man wants to talk to you,” before going back to the lawnmower.

I have finally trained hubby to protect me from sales calls, on the phone or in person, so I figured that wasn’t it. No, the gentleman, let’s call him Gabe*, was an investigator needing to talk to me about a murder case, specifically the case of the child I had been thinking about.

I can’t really go into any details because it involves confidential information. Let’s just say that Gabe works for the defense attorney, and his questions led me to suspect what defense strategy may be employed and why my assessment of the child’s language abilities may be pertinent to it.


I get that everyone is entitled to a defense in court. I wouldn’t want to live in a country where this was not true. I get that in a case where it is clear who committed the crime, the defense can only take the form of extenuating circumstances, and that may involve blaming the victim in some way. (That, or the “I didn’t know the gun was loaded” defense, which doesn’t work too well if you punched someone.)

But I still just want to cry, and then take a shower with steel wool, and then cry some more.

The mystery was intriguing and kind of fun.

The reality is, a child is dead.

*Gabe de Gator was the safety mascot of a company that my ex worked for years ago, so Gabe seems like a good name for an investigator. Hey, whimsey is a good coping mechanism right now.

Monday, April 14, 2014

You've Got a Friend

Saturday the St. Anonymous UMW went to Oak Alley for a tour and lunch. My good friend D was able to come with me. As I mentioned the one other time it was relevant to whatever story I was telling, D is African American, whereas I am of European (mostly Italian, with a little Yugoslavian thrown in) descent.

We had a good time touring the old mansion. The tour guide was very well-versed in the home’s history and had an infectious personality. (At the end of the tour, she told us she had quit teaching to take on the job, because she enjoyed talking to people who actually listen.) The original owner of the home had selected the property, which had belonged to his sister, for the alley of oak trees leading to the river. The house was oriented to the trees to take advantage of the breezes coming off the river. Mr. Roman had built the home in order to entice his wife, a city girl from New Orleans, to live out in the country, but she rarely stayed there because she had family members she needed to take care of back in New Orleans. It wasn’t until her husband’s death from tuberculosis that she moved to Oak Alley for good to run the plantation.

After the tour, we had a buffet lunch in one of the restaurants. Then we had more time available for walking around until our car pool driver needed to leave. D wanted to see the reconstructed slave quarters and exhibit, and I wanted to see the gift shop. We did a quick turn around the gift shop and went off the the cabins, which were quite close. 

The first cabin had a list of first names of all the slaves that had worked on the plantation, plus one unknown. One of the slaves had figured out a way to grow pecans with shells thin enough to crack easily, an innovation initially credited to his owner. There were displays showing the clothing slaves wore, restraints used to capture runaway slaves, and other aspects of slave life you wouldn’t pick up watching Gone With the Wind. 

As we left and got ready to look for our ride, D turned to me and said, “Aren’t you glad we didn’t live back then?” Well, yeah, I have often said I am glad I didn’t live back in the good old days. But for me, the worst that could happen was that I would have grown up an illiterate Italian peasant, a life that could have had its good side. For D, the difference two hundred years would have made would be huge. She may, with her ancestory, have been a free woman of color, but more likely she would have been a slave, working back breaking labor, having the chance of her children being sold away from her, maybe being beaten. So yeah, I’m sure she was glad that she didn’t live -

“Because then we couldn’t even have been friends,” D went on.

It took a minute for this to sink in, and then I stopped in my tracks and reached to give her a hug. In the process I managed to bump into her and snag her sweater on my engagment ring. My spontaneous gestures have their downside.

“What,” she started, as I said, “Of all the awful things that could have happened if you had lived back then, the first one that comes to your mind is that we couldn’t have been friends? That means so much to me.”

We said a few other mushy things and then went to find B to get our ride back to church.

I know I have said before how privileged I am. I was born with an extra helping of smarts, I was born in the US because my ancestors were brave enough to come here, I was born at the right time to get practically a free ride to college and graduate school, and graduated at the beginning of the second wave of feminism, which benefitted women of my generation tremendously. As I have frequently told my husband, my life has been like an automatic door: it opens up in front of me and closes behind me and I hardly have to worry about it.

Now I see I have one more piece of privilege that I have never considered. I have a friend.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

I've Been Here Before

What with Monday, March 17th  being St. Patrick’s Day, Saturday the 15th was the day of our city’s St. Patrick’s Day parade. The weather looked a little iffy, with dark clouds covering the sky, but my weather app assured us we were safe from actual rain until 1 PM at least, so John and I took our parade chairs and our chances and went to the parade. We left early, to find parking, which meant we were on the street for over an hour before the floats and bands got to where we were.

And as I have written before, the large crowds of people with little to do draw the people who hand out tracts. The first such gentleman I had seen before at the Spanish Town Mardi Gras parade. He was wearing camouflage cargo pants and a matching shirt, and carrying a bullhorn. Last time I saw him, he was preaching through the bullhorn, too, but whatever he was saying was drowned out by the traffic helicopter buzzing overhead. I’m sure that in keeping with the spirit of the day, it was “eat, drink, and be merry”. 

As he passed by, I told my husband I’m surprised that he wasn’t carrying a gun to go with the camo outfit. John pointed out that the man had a backpack and who knows what he had in there. Best we didn’t argue with him. John and I politely turned down all offers of “something to read while you’re waiting” from him and the other proselytizers passing by. 

One man that came by alone was a little harder to deflect. He had been chatting with the people next to us, seeming honestly interested in what they had to say. Then he finished up his conversation and turned to us. Predictably enough, he asked if we wanted one of the tracts he held in his hand, to have something to read while we waited for the parade. I told him that I had already read that one, having been given one the year before. He seemed a little taken aback, but asked what I thought of it.

“Here’s the thing,” I said. He wanted a conversation, I would give him a conversation. “The St. Patrick’s Day parade is mostly a Catholic celebration. The theology in those pamphlets is, as near as I can tell, Baptist. So to me, this is just a matter of tribal infighting, and I find it off-putting, to tell you the truth.” His face fell, but I could tell he wasn’t surprised by my response, and actually seemed to be giving it some thought. 

“I’m not a Baptist, “ he replied. He belonged to a non-denominational church.

“Well, I’m a Methodist,” I said.

Somehow we got from there into a discussion of Lent. I told him that rather than give up something for Lent, I decided to act in the spirit of Isaiah 58:6,
 Is not this the fast that I choose:
to loose the bonds of injustice,
to undo the thongs of the yoke,
to let the oppressed go free,
and to break every yoke?

and donate money every Wednesday in Lent to organizations that do just that. My upcoming donation was to go to the Rolling Jubilee, and I explained to him what that was and how it related to the idea of the Jubilee year in the Bible.

It suddenly occurred to me I was doing a pretty passable job of sounding like a street preacher myself. This was not how I had intended to spend the day. I told him that I didn’t want to keep him any longer and said it had been nice talking to him. He went on down the street no doubt believing that I was bound for hell.

It turns out that donations for the Rolling Jubilee are now closed, so I gave the money to Amnesty International instead. I made seven donations in all:

1) Trafficking Hope, a local organization that helps victims of human trafficking
2) The rehab center where I used to work, which helps loose the bonds of children who are limited by physical and mental disabilities
3) Amnesty International
4) World Vision, when they announced they were broadening their spousal benefits to include same sex spouses. They then reverted to their original policy, but I figured the money I gave will still help someone.
5) A fund to help a woman who needs money to fight a defamation lawsuit from a man who sexually harrassed her
6) A fund to help a family who lost three children in a car wreck pay for funerals (that one strictly speaking didn’t fit the theme, but they were friends of a friend and needed the money).
7) Emily’s List (I’m sure that one would have gone over well with my tract bearing friend)

So that’s $700 in all. I wish I could say that I learned some valuable spiritual lesson from this, but I am actually feeling pretty grumpy by now. Giving up sodas or chocolate would have saved me money, I reflect. Still, I have to acknowledge how privileged I am. Giving up that money did not mean going without groceries, or heat, or medicine. I enjoy the power to be able to aid those who are doing work that I think needs doing. 

Still, like my chocolate and soda pop deprived friends, I think Easter can’t come soon enough. The end of Lent is taking just a little longer than the end of my career as a street preacher.