Kids, Cameras, & Captures

One of the things I love about photography is it gives me a handy place to hide and watch people.

This is a big difference between me and Paul: though both introverts I find people fascinating, while his personal jury is out (I’m being kind).  It’s a difference that binds rather than dividing us, as both find the other’s perspective amusing, in the way one finds a crazy relative endearing. Auntie Martha may be mad as a hatter, but damn is she ever funny.

Kids are awesome to watch and photograph until they become conscious of the camera and start posing for every shot. The instant gratification of smartphone cameras has made this worse, I fear. It’s hard to get a good, candid picture of our seven year old granddaughter, who now vogues for every shot. Capturing her when she’s just being seven and fully engaged in life is the best, because it’s when her sweet, curious, dare-devil heart shines the brightest.

Jackie Summons 16 x 9
Jackie summons the Gulls

Not long after we met our now daughter-in-law, Sarah, I got this shot of her and Sean, Paul’s youngest son.

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I have no idea what he was saying but man is she ever listening to him. The lens captured what Paul and I had happily noted: she really likes him! They were so gooey-newly-in-love, each inquiring if the other was enjoying the meal. It would have been revolting if it hadn’t pleased us so, and we drove away saying to each other, “She gets him! She loves him anyway! And she’s nice, and smart, and pretty!” because really, what else is there for parents to want when meeting an adult child’s intended? Scrape away the need for income and being practical and tidy and not an ax murderer, and I believe we all just want our grown children to love some worthy person who also loves them back. Will have his or her six when needed. Gets them, in the fundamental, important ways the rest of the world may (and often does) miss. We already know all the wonderful quirks about our children that make them lovable but the wider world is a hard, impatient place, and folks are far more likely to see our babies’ flaws than finer qualities. It’s a gift to parents when you see a sensible and pleasant person clearly besotted with your offspring.

look of love, b & w

Flash forward a couple years and Sean and Sarah have a little one all their own. When lucky (and on high speed continuous shooting), I get a shot where one or the other of them are in their own little world with their little man, and it makes my heart happy and also makes me wish all children had parents who love them as much as these two love him.

SJ & Sarah pattycake 5 x 7

Paul’s namesake has a new girlfriend. She’s been a while in coming but clearly worth the wait. She’s smart, sweet, practical and makes him happy. Here he is feeding her a line of BS a mile wide and twice as deep, as a good Irishman does:

Alice & PD3 5 x 7 color

See it? She gets him, and loves him anyway. Plus dimples.

It’s frustrating when I don’t get the technical stuff right, or think I and my equipment are faster or better than we are but, hiding behind my camera I sometimes see things others maybe don’t and when the Force is with me, I can capture it.

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Blather on, lucky man. She loves you anyway.

Gotcha!  She gets him.

 

Radical Hospitality

I’ve been hearing the term Radical Hospitality in Christian circles for some years now. It seems to vaguely mean Inclusion, Tolerance, and Support for the individual on his or her faith journey, as well as a method of bringing newcomers to the faith. It has meant different things to the various different people and congregations I’ve known who espouse it, or at least espouse the concept of it. I’ve heard it used as a reason to host a local ecumenical event, include Gay people in all aspects of congregational life, and as something the Welcoming Committee needs to take Very Seriously. It’s meaning for me has changed many times, but as ever: recent experience + old memory = lesson learned. One of the rewards of living long enough is that even ancient artifacts of memory can have lessons, given the right ignition.

My ex-husband’s late father left my late mother-in-law for another woman. It was as cliche as could be: she was his secretary. All his adult children and we spouses disapproved, vocally so, and then sat back in our disapproval and waited for the affair to end.

But the affair didn’t end, and a couple years later it occurred to all of us that if his children and grandchildren wanted a relationship with him, we were gonna have to get over our disapproval and hurt and bring them both back into the fold. As the family Golden Child, it fell to my ex-husband, and by extension me, to make that happen.

We invited them to dinner and, because my father-in-law didn’t like me and I knew it, I went about my pre-party cleaning with a double dose of OCD; my neighbor, finding me sponge-mopping the ceiling, gently told me I might be taking things just a tad far. They were likely happy to be invited and wouldn’t be judging my housekeeping too harshly.

They arrived fifteen minutes early and found me, mop in hand, finishing the powder room. Wanting to kill them, I smiled through gritted teeth. We all ate. Both Agnes and I drank way too much. After they left, concluding that “the other woman” had neither horns nor claws and that my father-in-law was not being held against his will, we counted the evening a success.

My ex and I felt quite proud of ourselves. What grown-ups we’d been! We’d nobly cracked the door open a little bit, so they could get back in. Over time, I think all of the kids eventually found their way to forgiving him enough to include them in their lives somewhat, and maybe they’d have done that without my dinner party but, weren’t we Good? Weren’t we hospitable to the woman who had broken up their family? We congratulated ourselves that we’d given more than they deserved, and were the bigger people for it.

Never once did it occur to me how much courage it took for Agnes, whatever her sins, to walk through my front door.

Never once did I think how nervous she must have been.

Never once did I even try to imagine what she must be feeling.

Never once in all the years that followed did I open my heart to her, to who she was, what she felt or thought. I don’t recall ever asking her a question about herself, her life, her interests. But I was always polite.

They eventually married and remained so until her shocking, sudden death some years later. She lay down for a nap and never woke up. There were no second chances at offering Radical Hospitality to Agnes.

According to Dictionary.com:

Radical:  Adjective 1. of or going to the root or origin; fundamental: a radical difference; 2. thoroughgoing or extreme, especially as regards change from accepted or traditional forms: a radical change in the policy of a company. 3. favoring drastic political, economic, or social reforms: radical ideas; radical and anarchistic ideologues.

Hospitality:  noun  1. the friendly reception and treatment of guests or strangers. 2. the quality or disposition of receiving and treating guests and strangers in a warm, friendly, generous way.

Just reading the definitions calls up Jesus for me, dining with tax collectors and prostitutes. It points out my giant failings were Agnes was concerned: I took the standard societal attitude about a woman who has an affair with a married man – that she was a heartless homewrecker and not worthy. If I’d been more radical, I might have accepted her as a fellow human being, full of errors and mistakes, just like me. And if I’d been truly hospitable and received her in a generous fashion, I might have saw in her whatever it was my father-in-law saw and loved. I might have offered radical hospitality as well as food and drink.

It is difficult to step away from our convenient labels for people, especially those we consider “other”, be they other woman/other man, or other color, other creed, other point-of-origin, but the loss is greatest to ourselves when we won’t. I say won’t, rather than don’t or can’t, because the latter two might denote a lack of choice, and our freedom to choose how we think is the best, and potentially perilous, gift of freewill.

In a dangerously angry world we need not walls but truly radical hospitality. From being radical enough to suppose the lady with 47 items in the express lane ahead of you at the grocery store didn’t do it to piss you off, to being generous and hospitable enough to listen to fact-based ideas and concerns from the opposing political party.

I think our lives depend upon it.

Feminists & Goats

Over dinner one evening, Paul wondered aloud about something he’d watched while eating lunch. Unless he tunes it to English Premier League Football, the TV in his office’s break room is generally showing HGTV or the like, so he’s come to know all about Tarek and Christina el Moussa, house flippers once married to one another, but alas, No Longer.

With the end of their marriage and show, Tarek and Christina are now busily working on independent ventures. A recent show featured Christina doing a photoshoot. In a bikini. And here is reason #852 why I love Paul: watching the attractive Christina promoting her new venture by showing as much of herself as is allowable on daytime TV, Paul wondered if he’d soon see an ad wherein Tarek was doing a photoshoot, clad only in swim trunks or, if we’re to have true parity, a speedo? Would he have Revenge Abs? Realizing that men don’t have to promote their work with revealing photoshoots, Paul wondered aloud that night at dinner, Why are women still putting up with this?

In the wake of a celebrity breakup there always follows an article on the woman showing the ex what he’s missing with her Revenge Body. As I was googling Tarek and Christina I found this article about her Revenge Body.

When we moved to South Carolina I faced the debacle of getting a new Driver’s License, for which I was required to produce: my birth certificate, my first marriage certificate and/or something proving I had a right to my first married name, then my divorce decree, followed by my new marriage license and subsequent government-issued ID in that name. Upon our return to Texas a year later, I dragged it all back to the Texas DPS to get my old, still-current Texas license reissued. All of which had Paul wondering aloud why women are still changing their names upon marriage? Given the giant pain in the a$$ it is to change one’s name in a day when we are no longer exchanged for a certain number of goats and thus, traded from father to husband as property, why do women still take their husband’s names?

The old argument was women retained their married names upon divorce because their children bore that name, and I would concede that point if we were still living in the 1950’s, but we aren’t. Having worked in Education and dismissed from campus literally hundreds if not thousands of students, I can assure you what their mother’s names are makes no difference to us whatsoever. It all comes down to a) who is listed by the enrolling parent/guardian as authorized to take a student from campus, and b) if they have ID to prove they are who they say they are. Period. That’s it. If you’ve listed Mr. Peanutbutterandjelly as an authorized contact and granted him permission to take your student off campus, and he has government-issued, picture-bearing identification proving he is, indeed, Mr. Peanutbutterandjelly, your student can leave campus with him.

Paul’s and my marriage is quite traditional, but our blessing is we choose that, rather than society imposing traditional roles upon us. I might do more cleaning and he may do more handyman things, but it’s based on inclination and skill, rather than traditional gender roles.

As we neared the end of binge-watching The White Queen and subsequently gobbling up the actual history of the time, Paul remarked of Margaret Beaufort and Queen Elizabeth Woodville that for all their lack of autonomy they, like so many intelligent, capable women before and after them throughout history, still found ways to exert influence and shift the course of events. How much might such women have accomplished if they had rights? Birth control? Equality?

Fast-forward to the 20th century and the epic battle between Bette Davis and Joan Crawford, as deliciously told in Feud on cable channel FX.  Fueled largely by a male studio head who felt convincing performances could only be gleaned if they kept the two leads perpetually at each other’s throats.  What followed was the kind of emotional guerrilla warfare only old foes can make, strike-counter-strike, hitting with unerring accuracy the ancient, never-healed wounds in each other. What took my breath away was the lack of respect for them as Academy Award-winning, acting professionals. Would Jack Warner have suggested such a thing if the stars had been, oh, let’s say John Wayne and Jimmy Stewart? I sincerely think not.

Here we are in 2017 and in Texas we have SB 25 looking set to pass the legislature, a bill allowing doctors to lie to or withhold information from a woman they believe will abort if informed of birth defects/issues with the child she’s carrying. Think about that: a doctor can LIE to a woman by omission, and is immune from prosecution for doing so, thus removing her autonomy to make her own healthcare decisions, and possibly affecting her for her entire life. Doctors will be legally permitted to treat adult, rational female human beings as children, incapable of making sound choices over their own lives.  Left unanswered is who will pay the staggering costs of raising all those profoundly disabled children?

It seems we are not so far removed from trading our young women for goats after all.

 

Babbling Bucket of Bad Interview

This Lent I got a much-needed (I am sure) lesson in Humility. It’s just the most recent in a lifetime of them; they keep coming since clearly I Don’t Get It.

There was a job posting for which I was eminently qualified. The first interview, with a panel of three professional women I would be supporting if I were the successful candidate, went swimmingly. While the lead of the group was hard-ish to read, the other two were warm and welcoming and in about three minutes I made them all laugh. They were on my side. I knew I’d get the second interview, with The Boss, and about a week later, I did.

That is where it all fell apart.

After an awkward handshake (setting off my inner alarm bells), she led me back to a pleasant but impersonal office which told me absolutely nothing about her. I’d have to work with what she gave me verbally to establish a connection. Foolishly, I wasn’t worried yet because I like people, generally, and can usually find common ground with almost anyone.

As had the three before her, she worked from an HR-provided sheet of questions. I answered honestly while still hoping to imbue each with a little sparkle, a little something that said, “I understand your industry and the pressures of it; let me make your work life better”. There was eye-contact. She was cordial, intelligent, polite, and absolutely impossible to read.

As an introverted child who moved a lot, I learned at an early age to make people laugh, but I couldn’t make this woman laugh. I wasn’t quite sure she was even smiling at me so much as with sympathy for me, because when I can’t find a connection with someone, one of two things happens: I shut down entirely (this is very rare – I am GREAT in an emergency) or, more common and what happened on this particular day with this particular woman, The Babbling. When The Babbling happens, words come out of my mouth in response to the conversation, a great many words, but I have no real idea if they are relative to the other party’s words. They just come, dozens at a time. It’s like a shotgun, really, and sometimes I get lucky and one of those words hits the target, say, if “efficient” or “detail-oriented” happens to elbow past all the other words and accidentally fly out of my face.

Job Interview

I was a Lector (reader of lessons) in an Episcopal church, and told I was a good one. This came as a huge relief because no matter how prepared I was, every time I stood at the lectern in front of literally God and everyone, I was certain that not Scripture but rather an endless stream of profanity was exiting my mouth, and my Episcopalian brethren were simply too polite to tell me. About half way through the interview, I found myself wondering if she was Episcopalian, and exactly how many incarnations of the “F” word I’d dropped.

This is why Pride always, always goeth before the Fall: I saw a job for which I was qualified and assumed that once they got a load of my wonderful resume, not to mention razzling, dazzling Moi, the only question would be: how soon could I start? I never considered that I’d blow it, or that maybe they’d just like someone else better than me.

When she walked me out she thanked me for my time, which told me all I needed to know. She’d made her decision, at least regarding me, and I cannot fault her. With only a brief time to make an important decision about the team around her, a team which will largely determine her success or failure, she can’t afford to gamble. Presented with a good resume offered by a babbling idiot, she made the only possible decision.

 

It’s certainly not the first interview I’ve had that hasn’t gone well; it is surprising how much it stings, but I imagine that is flavored with other recent, more personal rejections.

Have you ever completely blown an interview or presentation you should have aced? What throws you off your game? What helps you dust yourself off and carry on?

Weekend Coffee Share: It’s Time

If we were having coffee, I might ask if you follow any sort of Lenten practice? I do, and generally find it a helpful, healthy time of year to clean up, clean out, recenter.

In years past, I’ve given up chocolate, red meat, etc., or taken up some reading, some form of self-improvement. Last year, we chose Star Words on Epiphany and I worked on that, though I never really did understand what Authority was trying to tell me.

Never have I been foolish enough to give up coffee, and a grateful world rejoices. Settle in for another cup; I have a confession.

This year I’ve given up nothing. I’m trying to eat better, get more exercise. Tackle a couple things around the house I’ve been avoiding. But I couldn’t settle my mind on a serious Lenten discipline until a sermon on the first week of Lent on Sin. Fr. Greg did a great job of bringing the concept of Sin out of the Big Hairy Sin area, and down into the little, niggling, just-as-dangerous personal level. The kinds of sin that eats away, slowly but surely, at people. The kind of sin that destroys from inside, and it has me thinking about the things left undone in my life (in the Episcopal confessional, we atone for both the sins we commit in action, as well as our sins of omission). It’s just one thing, an ending, and it is fair to say I have allowed it a lot of space in my head to the detriment of better, nobler pursuits.

I neither desired nor initiated this ending, and it’s only me that hasn’t acknowledged it, but if there is a time for rigorous self-honesty, Lent is it.

There have been letters written and wisely left unsent; a good, long talk with Paul during which he let me ramble on until I finished with, I don’t really know what I expect to get out of it, or even what I want. Maybe that’s not it – maybe I just want to force the issue, hear the words ‘I’ve decided you are not necessary to my life anymore, please go away.’ And ultimately, what’s the point? When I find myself questioning if I care enough to want that, truth be told. 

For a smart person, I can be a bit slow on the uptake, particularly with regards to rejection, but I do eventually get there.

A good Lent provides clarity but also time, time to sit with the clarity, time to accept it. Acceptance: the final stage of grief. Admitting to myself that what I have been doing, not terribly well, is grieving, and that the grief is consuming energy better deployed elsewhere.

Earlier this week I saw a video clip of Prince Harry reading Ecclesiastes 3. What a beautiful timedeep voice he has, and as a two-tour veteran of Afghanistan, I imagine he understands the wisdom of this passage better than most of us. All that being said, I think there was something more kept it circling my head this week. There was a message in it for me: It is time. Time to stop looking for answers or reasons to this particularly unanswerable question. Time to consign it to the Mysteries of the Universe, and People. Time to Accept. Time to put away the grief, confusion, and sadness. Time to acknowledge the season that was, and passed time to let it go.

Time to face forward, walk through the hurt and heal. Time to evict this particular squatter from my head. Time to move on.

If we were having coffee, I would wonder aloud if you have ever clung stubbornly to people or situations beyond what was healthy? Do you struggle with accepting an ending because it hurts? Who or what helps you? How do you evict the squatters in your head?

 

 

Three Things Thursday: my Library Card

I would like to tell you I haunt the local library and am vastly well-read, but that would be a big fat lie but, while months or even years may pass between visits, I always have a library card, because a library card is so much more than books. As if books weren’t enough.

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So, for Three Things Thursday (An Exercise in Gratitude), here are three totally random things I am grateful about having a library card:

Today I learned that if I were a very clever person and designed something, I could take the specifications, or design, or whatever it is one takes to my local library and they will print me a 3-D version of the thingy. I could literally imagine something, and the nice man at the library will make it real for me. Now, I often imagine cake, and I can (and far too often, do) make cake real, but I also imagine the Star Trek Replicator, but I can’t make a Star Trek Replicator. But if I could design a replicator, they could print me the pieces. That is definitely one of the coolest things about my library card.

Here’s another: once I went on a trip to New Jersey for a five-day, work-related class, in mid-February and concurrent with a large ice storm settling over the eastern seaboard and which hung out for most of my trip. Trapped in the hotel where the class was held, Friday dawned clear and bright and Newark International opened for the first time in 36 hours. I had a flight out Friday morning and nothing was stopping me being on it.

Except for maybe the ice sarcophagus encasing my rental car. The hotel was a Hilton Garden or something like, with no covered parking. In New Jersey! And all those days outside resulted in what looked like an economy-car-shaped ice sculpture.

With a key, I chiseled through the ice to the lock, then pried open the door. Once the engine was on and the defrost blasting front and back, I waited for a bead of moisture to appear between the windshield and the ice. Sliding my trusty library card under edge of the sheet of ice, I managed to lift it neatly up and off the windshield in a few large chunks. Repeat on the rear window and I was off, creeping down the road to a long nervous wait at the airport, where I shared a table and commiserated with a fellow traveler. Boarding hours past the original flight time and waiting, once boarded, over an hour while the plane was de-iced twice, a mercifully uneventful flight bestowed upon me the miracle of stepping into a bright, 70 degree Texas evening.

And lastly: consider the possibility that a woman from Southern California (that’s me) only understood how to get into her ice-cave rental car because of stuff she read in books checked out in various libraries throughout her life. I submit that it is not just possible, but probable.

Your library card: don’t leave home without it!

A Gift in Hidden Figures

hidden-figuresIf you haven’t seen the film Hidden Figures, go do so immediately. Also, if you don’t want any spoilers read no further but go see the film and then come back. Therefore be warned: SPOILERS AHEAD.

There, I’ve done my spoilery duty.

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It’s Valentine’s Day and I am grateful my valentine loves going to the movies as much as I do. We have a system worked out that grants me any kind of gooey, sentimental chick-flick or weird art house film in exchange for tolerating any of his peculiarities in the form of, oh let’s say, the Resident Evil franchise.

Hidden Figures is a remarkable film in every way I can think of: great (and long overdue) story, fantastic performances, excellent direction and storytelling, and for me, the gift of a revelation. It came in the form of that damn coffee pot.

Bear with me while I take a little detour. It’s weeks later, just this past Sunday and Paul and I got up, sipped our coffee and read the morning news. As the news lately has a tendency to do, it engendered lively discussion until I just couldn’t anymore and said I can’t talk about politics anymore. It wasn’t like we were disagreeing – we weren’t but I just couldn’t.

Before we headed out to church I apologized and explained that since the depression of the election lifted slightly, what I feel a terrible lot of the time since the inauguration is anxious, sincerely scared, and on the verge of tears. While I’m trying to keep my head out of the sand and stay informed and active where it is helpful, sometimes I have to call calf-rope on it and give myself a rest. For the first time in my life, I am truly afraid for both my country and personal freedom.

Later, while driving to church I wondered out loud to Paul, Do you think this weird anxious feeling I have so often now is what Black people feel like, oh, every time someone follows them through Walmart? Or pulls them over? Like, all the time. This is their reality, a low-level, sort of baseline anxiety? A need to always have one’s guard up, almost everywhere, lest one get slapped in the face with it again?  Paul agreed this was entirely possible; I’m thinking my Black friends will let me know if I am right or wrong, or somewhere in between.

You see, I was thinking about that damn coffee pot, as I have repeatedly since seeing Hidden Figures. While we were watching the film I knew the bathroom issue would be a plot device and it was. But the bathrooms and drinking fountains were big, ugly, institutionalized racism; the coffee pot…. that coffee pot was small, petty, and deeply personal. There was Katherine, her mathematical genius’ brain feasting on complex calculations towards a first ever goal, shoulder to shoulder and day after day and hour after hour with everyone in that room. One day, she needs a cup of coffee to fuel her efforts and all eyes are upon her, silently saying, oh no you don’t.

(At this point in the film, I involuntarily scolded them with an audible, Really?)

The next day she comes in to find a crappy old peculator one of them probably pulled out of a junk box and labeled, “colored” and they all turned again and smugly stared at her, to see her reaction as they showed her her place. Here, I literally flinched and Paul squeezed my hand and whispered, “Why are you surprised?” and I wasn’t surprised, per se, I was disgusted more than anything at how pathetic and small a thing it was to do. What did a cup of coffee cost them? Was it that she touched it? They didn’t eat at diners where black hands cooked their food? And Katherine, who I envisioned had maybe let her guard down just a little, if only because they were all working so hard on such ambitious, never-before-done stuff…. only to be reminded in the most classless way possible, if there is even a classy way to do such, that she was not and never would be quite accepted by them. She was tolerated, so long as she didn’t step outside their conception of her “place”.

When I worked at a High School with a large African American population, there would occasionally be a kid in trouble who’s parent took the tack it was solely because the student was Black, and was deaf to all evidence of behavioral issues in the classroom, even when the teacher who’d written them up was themselves, Black. It’s hard to work with them, because they arrive with a preconceived set of notions and expectations, and I imagine that it is hard to do otherwise when one’s own life has been one of repeated racist experiences. As the SRO on one campus explained, “I never look for racism, it’s more I’m just not surprised when it happens”.

How hard would your heart be if over your life you were subject to an avalanche of coffee pot situations?  It’s death by a million tiny cuts.

The gift I got from that damn coffee pot is the gift of making it personal. Invested as I was in Katherine, the filmmakers gave me the gift of seeing through her eyes and heart, as clear as if she’d broken the fourth wall and said directly to me, “This is what racism looks like, up close and personal. This is the tiny, niggling detail of racism rather than the flash and size of a burning cross, or a “Colored” bathroom. This is the day-to-day, soul-killing stuff.”

My gift to you on this Valentine’s Day is to suggest we’re in a time when attentive listening, careful watching, and unreserved loving is necessary. Listen to hear rather than to answer, watch for the truth especially in unexpected places, love unconditionally, and pray without ceasing. We’ve never needed it so much.

 

 

 

 

Hallelujah! It’s a mirepoix! A (post) Weekend Coffee Share

If we were having coffee, I’d tell you I was worried last night – I seriously thought I’d jinxed the Superbowl for my beloved by waiting to buy a lobster tail. Lesson learned: if you want lobstah rolls for dinner (to compliment a Patriots victory), you need to secure one prior to the day it’s wanted. Unless you want a whole lobster.

If you’re disappointed in the results I am sorry, but Paul is an unapologetic fan of his Patriots and I am an unapologetic fan of Paul’s, and since I understand next to nothing about football beyond the intent being for each team to run the ball to the opposite set of goalposts, my support comes in culinary form. Every year I devise a menu to support Paul and whatever he is supporting.

Paul is South Boston born and bred so his teams are naturally the Celtics, Bruins, Red Sox, Notre Dame for college football, and the New England Patriots for professional. Considering what we’d eaten in Boston and Rhode Island, mostly seafood, with me ordering clam chowder everywhere I went and only once in a restaurant since then which was every bit as disappointing as I suspected it would be. So I thought, how ’bout some lobstah rolls and clam chowdah to cheer our Patriots to victory?

We went with crab cakes for starters, since we couldn’t get a lobster tail. I made a spicy horseradish remoulade to top them and they were not at all a disappointing substitution but, after the abysmal first half of the game I worried I’d ventured too far south with my cooking, gotten too close to the culinary Georgia border.

We had our chowdah topped with some spicy Cajun oyster crackers I made, and watched Lady Gaga turn in a beautiful, high energy performance, her only politics being a gorgeous medley of American anthems before literally diving into Born This Way. We had a plump slice each of the Boston Cream Pie I had planned as a celebratory dessert, now used to stun our sorrow into submission with sugar and transfats.

We switched over to PBS’s Victoria and felt a bit sorry for the poor young queen as she learned most of the men she’s loved in her life were all too human, just like Tom Brady, apparently.

But then, a last switching over to see how bad it is and what is this miracle? A victory snatched from the jaws of defeat! Paul’s nephew in New England screaming at the haters in all caps on Facebook! An excuse to eat another slice of Boston Cream Pie! (Which we didn’t, because we are Adults, and therefore Sensible, most of the time.)

If we were having coffee I’d pour you another cup if you were feeling a bit poorly after your Superbowl Sunday, whether that was caused by over indulgence or disappointment, and send you on your way with a slice of Boston Cream Pie for later.

Six Degrees of Immigration

The year I don’t know, but in the early days of the 20th Century a young man from a small village outside Kiev boarded a ship in Frankfort, Germany, crossed the Atlantic and, passing through Ellis Island, an anonymous agent recorded him under the Anglicized name, Bernard Gross. He married a fellow immigrant, a girl from the old country named Rachel. They became American citizens, owned and operated a laundry, and raised four children: Betty, Mildred, Harry, and finally, surprise! the baby upon whom everyone doted, Jack, “Jacky” to the family.

Jack played High school football and after WWII he followed his older brother west, tending bar and managing restaurants, eventually settling down with a pretty cocktail waitress, a single mother with a little girl. He didn’t live an extraordinary life, but worked hard for his living, bought houses, paid taxes, and raised another man’s child through fevers, stitches, accolades, accidents, and late-night ER visits, adopting her as his own and teaching her what is meant by unconditional love. His own father, Bernard, adopted her, too, with the less formal but equally binding ties of grandfatherly love.

That little girl was me. Only one degree of separation, a straight line linking a little girl growing up with a loving father and America opening it’s arms to a Russian Jew fleeing the pogroms of Eastern Europe.

There is no way to estimate what my closest associations with immigrants have meant to my life. Surely, I wouldn’t be me if I hadn’t sat in a doting Papa’s lap during holidays and family gatherings.

My country was built by immigrants, but as a country we have a habit of being pretty ugly to the most recent wave of them. Recent events conjure shameful memories from High School in Southern California, when Vietnamese refugees were settled in our area. Then, I witnessed a subtler, nonetheless savage, form of welcome by my fellow students in the form of whispers and snickers in the hallways and a pointed distancing. When the locker rooms became infested with scabies, the blame was laid firmly at the feet of the Vietnamese students, and the rampant but previously quiet racism of the school’s corridors turned vocally and disgustingly scurrilous towards them. It all sounds so petty and small, but it was relentless. I was never savage, oh no, I was worse:  I saw it all and remained silent. Which is why I can’t this time, I can’t be silent and honor those immigrants who, in six degrees of separation or less, have shaped, loved, guided, educated, delighted, and enriched my life beyond measure.

Children Waving to Statue of LibertyIt bears remembering that most people don’t want to leave their home countries, their relatives, their places of worship, their familiar foods and surroundings. When one’s choice is leave or die, it’s an easy choice to make, and there in New York harbor stands a statue inviting “the poor, the tired, the huddled masses” to our shores. America has long been the beacon of safety, of hope, the promise of God’s grace for whoever named God and even those who don’t.  How do I wrap my head around even the consideration of not living into that promise? If we aspire to being the “shining city upon a hill”, deserving that honorific demands no less than offering shelter and succor to all people seeking refuge, the least, the last, and the lost.

We cannot be both Christian and Isolationist. God’s grace flows first not to particular borders but rather, into the human heart open and ready to receive it. Then we hold it but a little while, passing it on to the next in need while being ourselves replenished in the giving. In this way we are constantly renewed while repaying the debt owed to our immigrant ancestors, who paved the way for us.

In this way we live into the promise of being the “shining city upon the hill”.

Weekend Coffee Share: Women’s March Edition, 2017

 

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Home of the University of North Texas, Denton has a lovely old square conveniently surrounded with good restaurants and quirky shops. There is a stately old courthouse around which protests and events happen all year round, and here is where an estimated 2,500 of us gathered in solidarity with the Women’s March on Washington, and hundreds of thousands of others the whole world round.

There were signs from about every group the Trump campaign maligned, threatened, or insulted over the last year.

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Held by mother and daughter, this sign is a replica of the one the mother’s grandmother carried as a Suffragette. So here we are again.

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There was abundant patriotism on display.

There were priests, pastors, and holy people, including a small contingent of opposition which set up on the corner across the street. They prayed and sang and chanted, just like we did. I was sad that breakaway group from the Square surrounded them and it devolved into a cross-the-intersection chanting at each other. Still, it was peaceful. It’s important to remember that in America, all voices get heard. Even those with whom we disagree.

Beautiful, fierce Latinas leading us in both Spanish and English versions of chants, Yes We Can! ¡Si podemos!

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There were veterans, families with kids, straight couples and gay couples, men in support of their wives, daughters, sisters or just, you know, humankind.

I was impressed with the turnout by older people, and by that I mean people I assume are older than me, who clings tenaciously to an increasingly elusive “middle-age”.

Black Lives Matter joined us.

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Those for whom Black Lives Matter, and also donuts.

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This lady, with perhaps the best advice of all.

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Someone braver than I ever thought of being.

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The Fire Department cruised by and blew their horns hello; there were abundant police milling throughout the crowd, friendly, though they did tail a man with a long rifle closely for a while. This Sheriff in particular I think has a wonderful face, and he seemed happy to be there with us. Note the mourning strip across his badge; my town is grieving a fallen officer.

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It was very loosely structured and there didn’t seem to be a solid plan for moving forward. There was a great deal of “stronger together” overheard, and disparate folks engaged in conversation. All good. Great even. Anything that brings differing people together for good  common cause is awesome.

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But as wonderful a feeling as this gathering left with me, I worry that the momentum will lose steam as everyone gets back to their day-to-day lives. Now is when the work starts, and we can’t afford to become (again) complacent. We need to get out and vote. Know who our local, state, and federal representatives are, and their voting records. Get noisy and remain vigilant. Fact check everything we read and hear, especially anything we ourselves pass forward, lest we contribute to the confusion and division.

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Somehow, we need to keep this feeling of purpose and unity with us every day.

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It was a good day, ending in Chinese food with friends.

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Oh, Mr. Chopsticks how I adore you.

Now, the real work begins. Stay vigilant, my friends. For our daughters, our neighbors, our friends yet unmet, those who have no voice, the disenfranchised, those who turn to us – to U.S., for hope.

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