Weekend Coffee Share: Where do You Find the Holy?

IMG_1976 (2)We were walking out of Central Barbecue in Memphis, Tennessee, when Paul said, “Let’s walk around the front of the motel and see what it is.”

We’d driven past the sign on the way to the barbecue place, knew we should know the name but came up bupkis. Was is some old rocker’s momma’s name? None we could think of. Bo Diddly’s guitar was Lucille, so that wasn’t it.

It was dusk, and still. We walked around the front, and chagrined knowledge brought with it an abrupt intake of air. Oh, it’s the Lorraine Motel.

 

 We were on holy ground.

Before April 4, 1968, it was just a motel which accepted “colored” people as guests. I’m torn on the concept of the blood sacrifice but, in this case, I think something real and definitely holy happened when the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s blood spilled on that balcony and his spirit flew away home to the Lord. No assassin’s bullet could stop what he had set into motion; he was doing the Lord’s work.

Standing in the hush of the courtyard, offering a prayer of thanksgiving for his life, no car disturbed us. Such a modest building, such a still, holy feeling on a late summer night.

I’ve certainly felt the holiness receiving Communion at Westminster Abbey, keenly aware of the thousand preceding years during which Christians worshiped there. The passage of time, a millennia, was no more evident to me than in the ancient glass panes of the windows in St. Peter ad Vincula within the Tower of London. I learned there that glass is a living thing, not as solid as we think, and the gravitational pull over a thousand years on ancient glass creates panes fatter at the bottom than top. What holiness has that glass absorbed over the millennia? How many prayers vibrate through each of those fat-bottomed panes?

I’ve also found holiness standing on the rim of the Grand Canyon, in a Redwood forest, beside the Pacific ocean, the hush of a Civil War battlefield, and in the motherly communion exchanged purely through eye-contact with an Italian woman while I was chasing my daughter across a foot bridge on the Tiber.

We’ve joined an Episcopal church plant, now officially a Mission, in Plano. While we grow and until we secure our own building we meet in an elementary school gym. There are student athletes painted on each of the four corners of the gym, and shapes painted in primary colors on the floor. Because we’re Episcopalians and choose our seats the first time we enter a particular parish and never change seats again, I have a yellow square at my feet and every week I think it’s a dropped Post-it and fight the impulse to scrabble at the tiles trying to pick it up. When we receive Eucharist from Mother Leslie, she comes down from the stage area on which our traveling altar is set up, and stands with the Bread on one side of a bright red line, we on the other. It pleases my OCD tendencies, I know right where to go, although about fifty percent of the time I’m also stifling a giggle thinking we will transport this decorative element to the physical church we build. Incorporate it right into the tile. The Holy Red Line of Eucharist. Does it make it less holy that I giggle? Well, I don’t do it out loud, so I don’t think so. I still feel the sense of communion with the saints, those gone before, those present, those to come.

gorilla la times_LIWhen Paul was a teenager and his family moved briefly to Maryland, his Catholic parish met temporarily in a school gym as well, but instead of student athletes painted around the walls like Resurrection has, glowering from behind the altar, keeping watchful eyes over the priests and congregation was the school mascot: the noble Gorilla. A twenty-foot-tall Gorilla.  Holy Evolution, Batman!

Because we’re a church plant and mobile, there is a resolute group of faithful who load a truck and roll in carts of holy apparatus into the gym every Sunday. They reminded me of establishing the Intent of a contract when things got litigious, because seeing my brethren pushing in the Hospitality cart every single Sunday, I realize afresh that it’s not places but people who bring the Holy. It’s the Intent.

Some years ago I made this connection: the people are the church, the church is the people. Paul and I went to Convention in Fort Worth once and were lucky to hear Katharine Jefferts Schori speak, but also heard moving testimony from members in the Fort Worth diocese who had been put out of their parishes, their land, their church homes, when the former Bishop left the Episcopal Church USA, taking church property with him/them. They spoke of how demoralizing it was, at first. Several told of something else, something completely unexpected that also happened: shed of their property and holy “things”, they found they had a new flexibility. Missions previously considered untenable gained new traction. What seemed at first displacement became instead agility, and they found it worked to their advantage in rendering aid to those in need of it. What they thought lost had never been so, because the Holy hadn’t been contained exclusively within the buildings, any more than the ancient Israelites had contained it within an Ark. It isn’t something that can be contained in a building, or lost when the tenants are evicted.

It had been in them, all along.

 

All Women Have Weinstein Memories

The Harvey Weinstein revelations this week have been a particularly loathsome example of the hurdles women still face professionally but for me, it hit rather surprisingly close to home. It brought up a memory I guess I’d have to say I repressed, as it was days in before I realized, standing in my kitchen and listening to one of the accounts, that my visceral reaction was more than just my increasingly ardent feminism being offended. An incident I hadn’t necessarily forgotten, but had minimized in the way women do to these things, returned in glorious technicolor.

The memory returned, whole, connected, and with all the original revulsion, rather than the pale fragments I had allowed at the surface consciousness level for the intervening years. That I would only ken the wrongness, the vileness of an event thirty-odd years later speaks, I believe, to how endemic misogyny still is in our society and why women are 100% over being told to “Smile”.

I was 18 – literally, I had turned 18 years old the proceeding week – when I was asked to meet with the head of the modeling agency I’d signed with. He was the owner of the agency and at least forty years my senior.

He told me how pretty I was, though not pretty enough for high-end, cosmetics company work. “The girls who get those jobs are perfect,” he said and while pretty, I was not “perfect”. At 5′ 7″ I was too short for cat-walk, but ideal for catalog or calendar work. They didn’t mind “curvy” girls, he said, though losing a few pounds would only help me. Thanks to existing on one salad a day, I weighed 115 pounds at the time.

Carole at the Beach1 (2)
This is what Not Pretty or Thin Enough looked like circa 1980

The bottom line was he had the power to give me a career. He found me attractive enough that, despite my obvious deficits of imperfection and 115 pounds distributed over a 5′ 7″ frame, he’d happily further my career if I’d sleep with him. He could provide cocaine, if that sweetened the deal.

I would like to say I didn’t think about it at all, that my morals were such I turned on my heel and left in high dudgeon, but I’d be lying.

What I did think, for a maybe a nanosecond was, It would make everything so much easier. How bad could it be?

But then, completely unbidden by me and surely born by the voices of what President Abraham Lincoln referred to as “our better angels” came a solitary thought: but then I’ll never know. I made some lame excuse about not thinking of him in that way, but more like my Uncle Harry, and (of course smiling!) uh, thanks for the offer… and I beat feet out of the office. I never went back. Thus ended my modeling career.

There are concepts it is difficult for even an intelligent teenager to fully comprehend. On one hand, I could sleep with an old, ugly, and clearly immoral man and have a lucrative career. On the other, I’d never know if the career was earned or given as payment. With the black and white thinking of most teenagers, I thought accepting his offer would confer upon me a particular label: Prostitute. It never occurred to me to label him: Predator. I did know I had little power in this exchange, that my attractiveness to him was currency with a definitive expiration date, the date the next barely-legal girl he wanted to sleep with arrived.

Like most women I took the guilt upon myself, thinking that to sleep with this troll would make me a whore, rather than the truth, which was that offering young women cocaine and a career to sleep with him, made him an exploitative libertine, a predator, and morally reprehensible. It was his moral character on trial, not mine. And lest anyone take the mistaken notion that I condemn the women who made different decisions, let me refute that right here and now. It is always the predator who is in the wrong.

It is so endemic in our society that I had almost forgotten the entire, slimy episode. Oh, through the years people have occasionally asked why I hadn’t pursued the career, and I tell the more or less true story that my parents moved out of state and I chose to stay in California, and waiting tables was more immediately lucrative than hoping for a career in modeling to catch fire. Even through the many years since, I told few people about the meeting with the agency owner because then as now, who would believe me?

My life has not been glamorous or wealthy, but it has been rich. I have not known fame or fortune, but I have known love, friendship, loss, joy, motherhood, so many things, good and bad, that make an excellent life.

But, in the wake of yet another scandal involving a powerful man using women by threatening their careers, hearing people say, “Why didn’t she come forward sooner? Why did she smile in those photos?” makes my blood boil. These are questions men never face, because the power differential still tilts heavily towards the masculine. Women have smiled long enough for our place at the table.

For every Rose McGowan or Gwyneth Paltrow, I expect there are at least 100 other women, standing in their suburban kitchens recalling similar circumstances that left them remembering either a choice to walk away and the loss, personal and/or financial of that decision, or remembering an event that left her feeling dirty and used, and questioning her own talent and ability. This extends far beyond Hollywood. I had subsequent, uncomfortable episodes with male employers in Corporate America, just nothing so egregious as the modeling agency. I know I am far from alone. I have legions of sister-company.

To my sisters I say: it isn’t us who are dirty, we are not responsible for the immorality and predatory behavior of others. Let us support each other, vocally, and remove the conspiracy of silence once and for all. Let us embrace our sisters as they come forward, let us form a protective circle around them, let us assure our daughters they will be believed and we are their advocates. Finally, let us shout a collective, ENOUGH!

An (Extra)Ordinary Man

We were serving hot dogs to homeless people in Columbia, South Carolina, when I overheard a scrap of conversation. I had observed that Arthur knew almost all of the homeless we served that day, but chalked it up to frequent participation in this particular ministry. But it was more than that, it was one of many reasons the death of this particular, (extra)ordinary man will be felt throughout Columbia and beyond.

On the surface, one might be forgiven thinking the only thing extraordinary about Arthur was that he was a Black man married to a White woman, and part of a largely White Episcopal congregation. One would be forgiven for being very, very wrong.

His and his wife’s, Jennifer’s, smiling faces were probably the first two Paul and I saw when we walked through the door of St. Simon and St. Jude Episcopal Church in Irmo, South Carolina. We quickly realized if there was anything going on at SSSJ, Arthur was sure to be involved. He and Jennifer greeted one and all, making newcomers like us feel welcome, and passed out the service bulletins; Arthur passed the collection plate, ushered, and I was lucky enough to teach Sunday School with him a few times. He served our Vestry and the community tirelessly.

Above all, he doted on his girls: Jennifer, his wife, for whom he was a calm, gentle rock through cancer, their three daughters, and the baby grandson for whom he would have been the perfect model of what it means to be a man.

At every event, Arthur was there long after it ended, never leaving until the last chair was stacked, the last bag of garbage toted out. On the Vestry he headed the Outreach Committee, and feeding the homeless of Columbia was something we were privileged to do once a month or so. It was a particularly special ministry for my heart; I’ve written about it here. While I was serving, I overheard that little bit of illuminating conversation about the homeless, and it shone light for me of who Arthur really was as a human being.

Because he worked for the City of Columbia, with the Forestry Dept., Arthur was out and about Columbia every day, and my eavesdropping clarified that the reason he knew all the homeless we fed that day was because he saw them far more often than the once a month I showed up. He was helping them all the time. He knew their troubles and histories, their worries, and who was missing – he’d ask after them by name, like a tall, gentle shepherd, noting the sheep who strayed from the fold.

He was the very best kind of man: faithful to his wife and God, devoted to his daughters and grandson, a good friend, ever willing to lend a hand, hard working and honest. It wasn’t a flashy life, not (on the surface) an extraordinary one but, for me, it was an inspirational life, and cut too damn short.

When I woke this morning I rested my head on Paul’s shoulder, thinking of Jennifer who will have to adjust to the empty space beside her, and I gave thanks for my own, (extra)ordinary man. They are gifts, these good people who walk into our lives and love us, despite ourselves.

I will never understand why bad men flourish while good men, answering work’s call in the midst of a very real storm (Hurricane Irma), die. For now, I am clinging to my faith that all the ripples Arthur sent out, through all the lives he touched with his particularly graceful brand of kindness and compassion, will send his memory on, out into the Universe through their own acts of kindness, bravery, and above all, Love.

Arthur HS 1
Arthur Strudwick – an (Extra)Ordinary Saint

Rest in peace, Arthur. I am glad I knew you, if only briefly, and I will pray for your beloved girls. May light perpetual shine upon you.

#WeekendCoffeeShare: Contemplating the Power of Prayer, and a Road Trip

IMG_0388 (2)
Gratuitous sunflower because I love them.

 

If we were having coffee, we would be out on the patio enjoying the morning, as our temperatures in North Central Texas have dropped and the mornings have been spectacular.

Over the first cup, I might ask if you’ve spent any time in prayer this week, however you pray, given all the various storms of every kind rocking our poor, tired old world; I would tell you that I prayed a lot this week.

 

python whacking monksFunnily enough, just this morning our Vicar sent out a test of our Spiritual Gifts and one question asked how comfortable I’d be “in constant prayer”. In my head, I saw myself dressed in sackcloth and ashes a la Monty Python. Then I thought about how one really can be in constant prayer, in terms of noticing the need and the beauty in Life, both with thanks and supplications, as the need arises. In fact, it’s easier than saving them all up for one big, massive discourse at the end or beginning of the day, at least for this Christian. Eat the elephant one bite at a time…. and it helps shake me out of the doldrums, acknowledging the beauty and blessings liberally scattered throughout my life. I might wonder if you, also, got yourself so tangled in the hurts and annoyances of Life that you occasionally need reminding how fortunate you are? Because I surely do.

If we were having coffee, I’d confess that I actually admitted I needed some prayers this week, like, for me. I had myself worked into an obsessive mess about some Adulting I needed to do involving standing up for myself, something hard for me, which most people might find surprising. Anyway, I am luckier than most because I belong to a huge circle of ordained and praying women and so I finally surrendered, reached out and asked them for prayers. Prayers just for me and my (comparatively) insignificant problem. And you know what? All those RevGals got to praying, sending it flowing my way and immediately I could feel it, the weight on my heart lifted, and what once seemed unmanageable became, if not cured, at least tolerable. And that’s all I really needed at the moment, respite, so I could put it into perspective.

IMG_0085 (2)

But, on to the second cup and more cheerful topics: Paul and I are planning a road trip. Yes, yes, I know, neither Paul nor I really like road trips, we are airplane people really, but this trip is to Chicago to see my daughter and deliver my old wedding china.

Truth be told, we’ve moved four times in two years which has left zero time for fun trips, so driving the china to Chicago might be a wee bit of an excuse to have some fun. We’re breaking up the drive, allowing us stops in St. Louis on the way up and Memphis on the return. We’ll be sampling the barbecue of both places, even if we know they’ll never measure up to Texas barbecue. And I’ve already started organizing the camera gear, thinking of all the photographic opportunities awaiting me.

If we were having coffee, I’d be grateful for our safety. There is incongruity, or at least cognitive dissonance, in planning a trip of pleasure while knowing millions are in danger of losing all they have, so if we were having coffee, I’d ask you to say, in whatever way you pray, a little prayer me and Paul, for ease of mind and traveling mercies, and ask you to also offer up a big one for all those in harm’s way.

The Percival Moment

percivale
Fancy Percival

Last night, Paul and I were dropping off a Home Depot bucket full of cleaning products at our priest’s house, and Mother Leslie was thanking us for contributing. A couple of other parishioners are driving a truck, stuffed with cleaning supplies, de-humidifiers, and fans, down to Houston today.  I told her no worries, we always hope someone will be here for us if we need them. It’s a privilege to be in a position to help, if only in a small way.  I mean that, even if it took me an awful long time to learn it, and it reminded me of my Percival* Moment many years ago.

 

I was basically an un-churched child. Baptized at Our Lady of Las Vegas (Seriously! It’s a real place) and raised nominally Roman Catholic by my divorced, and thus excommunicated, mother. After she married my wonderful, Jewish step-father, we just didn’t go to church a lot.

For me, church was a beautiful, candle-lit place, with patient-looking Madonnas and stained glass, where I got to wear my best, white, Mary Jane shoes, and a white lace doily on my head, dreaming of the day I was old enough to wear the long lace mantillas like my mother did. For me, churches were something eternal, always there, and it never occurred to me they were built, operated, and funded by actual humans. Because=God & Miracles.

Years pass, I became a mother and felt the tug at my heart, calling me to be something more than “spiritual”. I also wanted give my daughter all the things I hadn’t had and that included a proper religious education. But where to get one? As an American, I did the logical thing:  went shopping.

Over a few months, I attended services at the local parish of every mainline branch of Christianity, looking for a spiritual home for Charlotte and me.  I really liked the energy of the large, local Methodist parish, right until the young pastor began encouraging us to pray for our homosexual brothers and sisters to be healed. According to him we could, apparently, pray away their gay.  That wasn’t the parish for me.

It happened to be Easter Sunday when I visited the local Episcopal Church, where I saw a woman celebrate the Eucharist for the first time in my life.  Here was the place to raise a daughter as a first class citizen. I was home.

We attended faithfully and I dropped my check in the collection plate every week, saw  Charlotte to the door of her Sunday school class, then beat feet for Starbuck’s on Main Street, and a mercifully quiet cup of coffee, confident I was doing my bit by tossing in that check each week.

(Wo)man plans, God laughs. One day, just as I was making my escape, the Junior Warden caught me, asking where I was going. Oh, just grabbing a cup of coffee while the kiddo learns about Jesus. 

“We have coffee in the Parish Hall! Let me buy you a cup!” He was holding the door open, and bearing a wide grin. It was a trap, I knew it was a trap, but my momma didn’t raise me to be rude, and so I walked right in to the Ministry Faire. (I always add the ‘e’ to make it seem more like a Renaissance Faire, and less like we’re asking people to you know, work. I prefer conjuring images of turkey legs rather than empty wallets or blisters.)

Oh God there was a whole Parish Hall full of smiling people beckoning me come join them in their noble pursuits. I had no idea what they were talking about; apparently, besides the check each week there was some expectation that I, personally, like myself, Do Things. Having no idea what to do with this, but with cultural politeness literally beaten into me as a child, I found the one thing (I thought) which would consume the least amount of my time: Lay Reader. I liked to read, was there anyway, it would cost me nothing. Ha! I showed them.

And God laughed and laughed.

Reading the lesson required standing up in front of People, and even though I am a good reader the Bible is full of weird people and place names.  St. Paul especially writes in circles, so I found it far less personally embarrassing if I prepared during the week prior to my assigned readings.  It also required me to be there a wee bit early, to check in with the Verger, and here I made remarkable discoveries: there was an entire room behind the wall on one side of the Altar, into which I had seen people disappear each week. Within the room were Vestments, and people who tend them; votive candles and their glasses, and Miss Pauline who could give you a thorough education on their proper cleaning; a Vestry person and an Usher, sealing up collection envelopes; Acolytes shedding their hot albs and storing their candles; and much, much more. Who knew?

Then I learned they took the show on the road, painting maps on playgrounds, literally feeding the hungry – they dished food on a plate and handed it to hungry people at a Homeless shelter! Delivered water, cleaning supplies and fans in the wake of hurricane Katrina, Vacation Bible School to the Navajos, and cooked meals for one another when someone was ill or had a new baby. Clearly, I had a lot to learn about the way of Christians.

One day, perhaps a year or two later because I can be a slow learner when it’s made too obvious, I had the Percival Moment: the Church is the People/the People are the Church.

Keanu Whoa

So…. it isn’t God doing things, of course it is, but not in a woo-woo, parting-of-the-clouds way, it is through us – kind of like an Agency Agreement, which is something I do understand. God grants us agency to do the nuts and bolts of The Work for Him (Her). Having bigger fish to fry, when cookies need baking for a bake sale, God delegates the baking of cookies to me, or teaching a Sunday school class, or filling a Home Depot bucket with cleaning supplies.  He relies on others to swing hammers, cut grass, and right now, drive those cleaning supplies to Houston.

Which isn’t to say there aren’t times when I am confronted with some task, or person, clearly set before me by God – God waiving that Agency Agreement between The Supreme Diety and this Christian – and I think, Really? I can’t get a pass this time? Sometimes I shirk, maybe less often now than once but surely not as less often as I should. But I know now that the church, churches, do not spring forth whole and entire, like Aphrodite from the head of Zeus; the Church is the People/the People are the Church, to the glory of God. And maybe one day, if I need a bucket of cleaning supplies, God will invoke His Agency Agreement with another Christian, or maybe a Muslim, a Jew, someone, and she will have a Percival Moment of her own, and fill a bucket for me.

*Spoiler Alert! Percival, in Arthurian legend, is the Knight who discovers it’s not only the Holy Grail he needs to cure King Arthur of his deadly malaise, but also the knowledge which comes with it: the King and the Land are one, neither can thrive while the other ails..

A Wedding Dress

 

Shimmering fabric, delicate stitching, sparkling sequins, and warm, tiny seed pearls.

All of it swathed in yellowing plastic and stuffed in a dilapidated box, a veteran of four moves in two years.

Not my wedding dress, but my predecessor’s.

When one marries for the second time, particularly when one marries a widow(er), one encounters the unexpected fairly often in the name of Love.

There are surprises and complications one cannot predict, the second time around. Here are a few, certainly not all, things I learned:

  1.  One always compares favorably to a Crazy Ex.
  2. Apparently, all “ex”es are certifiably crazy. Be sure the one you’re dating isn’t it.
  3. The second time around, instead of or maybe as well as worrying if your parents or siblings will like your Newly Beloved, now you also get to worry if the respective children will like you.
  4. If the Newly Beloved is a widow(er) never, ever compare oneself to Late Spouse. See: Kobayashi Maru

I got lesson #4 about three seconds after Paul proposed. It was the first time I attended, with Paul, the annual Christmas party thrown by his adult daughter. Warmly introduced to the slightly tipsy best friend of Adult Daughter as Paul’s fiance, I shook her hand, sat down and watched, paralyzed, as she poured out a long line of Patron shooters, raised her glass and gave a long, emotional, tear-spattered toast to the late Jackie, “the heart and soul of these parties”, to cheers and tears all around.

So there is that.  (Refers self to #4, above, for 86,507th time.)

There is also a beautiful little girl with her grandmother’s name. It is up to her grandfather, father, uncles, and aunt to fill in the details of who the first Jackie was, but I can ensure this sweet artifact of her survives. One day, a young woman can hold and maybe wear something her grandmother chose for the most significant day of her life.

I want to think that if it were me, someone would do this for my daughter or granddaughter. Is that a weirdly old-fashioned notion? Maybe it speaks to my own rootless history, but I set about rescuing the dress.

The local cleaners hand-washed it, twice, to remove several stains along the skirt; it appears all of Jackie’s wedding guests baptized her at some point.

According to the Interwebnets, the best way of preserving it for a future generation is to gently, without creasing, fold it in unbuffered, acid-free tissue, wadding up sheets to fill out the sleeves and delicately embroidered bodice sewn with sequins and tiny seed pearls. Tucking in sachets of lavender discourages insects. Finally, it is wrapped it in yards of unbleached muslin and placed gently into an archival box specially made to keep fabrics safe from Father Time (or Father Dust & Bugs, anyway).

bridal collage

Tucked into an envelope will be a couple photos from Paul & Jackie’s wedding. Whether she wears the dress or not, our little Jackie can see her grandmother as she was on her wedding day: young, radiant, and just a little bit pregnant with Jackie’s father. In a sense, they are all there in the eyes of a radiant bride.

Bridal Jackie 1988

 

Who Are You?

From my mother, I grew up with very specific ideas about who I am genetically. We were Irish, “Descended from Jonathan Kelly, who stowed away aboard the Mayflower to get here and practice his Catholic faith in freedom from the English swine who stole our language and religion.” My mother had opinions on the English.

The stowaway part was a bit o’blarney according to my mother, what my Grandma Helen referred to as a “whopper,” and an outrageous lie in truth. There was an actual Jonathan Kelly, Irish Catholic, who came to America in the early 1700’s through the Virginia Colony, and one can follow the bloodline down to my mother’s generation and now, mine. He was not indentured. Jonathan Kelly came of his own free will for a chance at a better life.

caroles dnaMy daughter took the Ancestry DNA test first, then Paul and I, all with a little surprise in the results.

Paul, my very tall, very fair, second-generation Irish American hubby was predictably Irish. Not a big surprise since his family came so recently. What was a surprise was the trace amount of Indian Subcontinent. How fascinating is that? How on earth did his poor, bog-Irish ancestors meet and mingle with someone from the Indian Subcontinent? We will probably never know but it sure makes for interesting conversation and speculation.

For me it was, what I had been told about my genetic code, along with so much else of my childhood, was not necessarily true. All the Irish heritage I was fed as a child ignored the far larger percentage of my genetic markers from Great Britian and hey, how ’bout them Spaniards and Jews! Like Paul’s Indian Subcontinent, hours of contemplation can flow from those Spaniards and Jews.

In a time when DNA testing didn’t exist, her Irish heritage was what my mother believed in. My paternal genetic heritage she dismissed as, “Scottish I think. Maybe some Welsh.” Sometimes I wonder if when my mother, removed from Ireland by multiple generations, an ocean, and most of another continent, railed against the English, was she really railing at my biological father? Were “the English” code for “the guy who left me”?Her Irish genes and superstitions were what she had to give me, and as with many things, maybe felt like she had more to give than she did.
What’s really got me curious is: who were those Eastern European Jews, Spaniards, Basques, and/or Portuguese lurking in that gene pool? Sailors from Phillip’s ill-fated Armada, washed up on Ireland’s shore? Or do they go further back, were they Celts who went north? I might never know. But I think there are fascinating stories there, waiting to be told.

It solidifies a suspicion I have harbored for some time: Americans are all mutts, mongrels, and we are stronger for it. Instead of standing shouting at each other, looking at one another as “Other” we should be mixing up the gene pool and ferreting out heritable diseases. Consider, the person you’re shouting at could be your cousin. If you’re not a Native American, at some point your people left someplace else, or were brought here against their will from someplace else and here we are now, together.

We’re going to live or die, together.

Last week, a 3rd cousin  contacted me via Ancestry.com; she’s a beautiful mixed-race woman in Michigan. We haven’t figured out the common ancestor yet but there it is, courtesy of Science: two women of the same generation, raised thousands of miles apart, one recognizably African-American and one recognizably Astoundingly White, are  genetically linked. We share blood family. We are blood family. How could I stand across a protest line and shout at my family? How could I wish less-than for my family? How can I not cry out for justice for my family?

I wasn’t who I thought I was genetically, but I am still me and as an American, I choose who that is. That is the grace of freedom, and freewill. I am a mutt and a mongrel, an American Girl.

It’s kind of liberating.

Who are you?

Then One Day, I Knew the Headline

It was and is a rough school, where I once worked.

The surrounding area and schools feeding into the 5A High School were tough, with a student population of whom more than 50% were Economically Disadvantaged, and there were a lot of the troubles that seem to come with living in a poor neighborhood.

There were drugs, gambling, and near-constant fights. Our kids often didn’t have great examples of problem-solving in their homes. Many had only one parent in the home, or two over-worked parents just trying to keep everyone fed and clothed.

There were about 50 or so students who were “Frequent Fliers”, always in trouble, and thus, always in and out of my office, waiting for their Assistant Principals, who meted out Discipline. Matthew was one of these boys, the ones I knew by name, who their siblings were, and their class schedules. Some were rude to me, even once we knew each other well. Matthew never was.

When shootings of particularly African American boys started making the news with alarming regularity, I would look at my Frequent Fliers and fear for them, so many of them being Black or Hispanic. They weren’t any more trouble than the White kids, it was purely the demographics of our neighborhood. But to me they were no longer Black or White, or Whatever; to me, a whole lot of them were just “my” kids, and I feared the day I might hear one of their names on the news, victim of being in the wrong place at the wrong time with the wrong skin color. Sometimes a kid I loved would come through my door and I’d think, Trayvohn Martin, and I almost couldn’t stand it, the tears and the fear would be so close.

Matthew wasn’t rude to me, or surly. Maybe a bit frustrated on occasion when called into my office again. He didn’t get up to too much mischief, despite the sometimes questionable company he kept; he just didn’t go to class.

But in the year after I left, supported by family, his Teachers and Principal, he did start going to class. He graduated in 2016. He had his whole life ahead of him. Armed with a High School diploma, his future was his to make.

Matthew was shot to death last weekend. He was maybe in the wrong place at the wrong time. The police are still looking for his killer, who was most likely targeting his friend Edgar. Both young men were left to die in the street. Matthew and Edgar became more statistics in our love affair with guns.

Matthew’s mother, who loved him and wanted only the best for him, will bury him this weekend. Matthew was more than a statistic to her.

Matthew was more than a statistic to me.

Matthew was a life just beginning.

God grant to you peace everlasting, Matthew, and may light perpetual shine upon you.

Reason #863 Why I Hate Shopping

I won’t be surprised if, on my way to the loo, one of the animals doesn’t try to interest me in buying some slightly used plastic chew toys.

Everywhere one goes to conduct some sort of business, there is an invitation to buy something, buy more. Some random samplings from my life:

As I walked into the local bank branch, a nice young man opened the door for me, greeted me, then asked if he could interest me in an IRA or Investment Planning? Not today, I just want a crisp bill to put in a birthday card. “Well let us know when you’re ready!” Sure. Sure, I will do that. Absolutely.

Grocery shopping tests both my healthy eating resolve and my patience; when I’m not running demolition derby through the aisles of the local Kroger, dodging both “Click-It” shoppers with their unwieldy carts full of other’s shopping or, worse, the shelf stockers, since no one pays employees to work graveyard and stock shelves overnight, it’s the sample people crying out from the end of every aisle, and even when I’m hungry I can’t take the samples and then not buy the product, right? Isn’t that like using the loo at McDonald’s and not buying at least a soda?

Speaking of McDonald’s, after running errands all morning hunger strikes and I drive through for a quarter pounder, because their adds say it’s fresh beef cooked to order lately. I order it and nothing else, since apparently two orders of fries per week will kill us and I’m already over-limit.  I don’t drink sodas and hate sweet tea so no, I tell the speaker, I do not wish to make it a combo. Yes, I answer the unbelieving voice, I want only the sandwich. “Ok; $4.69 at the first window.” I can almost hear the shake of his head.

Yesterday, I’m at the car dealership to get routine service on Paul’s car. “Wow, that’s some hail damage you have there!” This is said as if to draw my attention to the dozens of golf-ball-like dents covering the top and hood of the car, like I didn’t know they were there. Resisting the temptation to feign surprise, as though I and everyone else in North Central Texas didn’t wake from a dead sleep six weeks ago to ice bouncing off rooves, cars, patio furniture and fences, and am shocked – shocked! to find hail damage on my car, because all I want to do is check the beast in, take my place in the Customer Lounge and disappear behind my fresh New Yorker, I instead go for politeness infused with finality: “Yes, I know. My husband is looking into it,” I tell him, with a longing glance toward the Customer Lounge.

It’s as though I haven’t spoken. “Let me give you the card for the guy who does all our work – he did my car. That’s all he does – body work, and particularly hail damage….” he goes on at some length about the quality of the work done by this apparent god of auto body work. I glance again at the Customer Lounge – so near, and yet so far, but the lure of a spiff and an obvious lack of talent for reading visual cues propels him on until I give him my cell phone number so he can text me the information. At last I make my escape and, finding the seat furthest from the TV and human contact, I sink behind my magazine.

Paul tells me perhaps the finality I’m infusing my voice with, isn’t final enough or nearly as final as I think it is. Having been told (quite literally) my entire life to “Watch your tone young lady!” and, “Well, maybe you didn’t intend it to sound mean but it really kinda did….” and, “Your voice is just such that you are always going to have to watch your tone with customers…” and, “You sound sarcastic even when you don’t intend to” I find it hard to believe that, when I actually do intend to verbally drive another human away, they don’t get it.

But I guess they don’t, or the need to make a sales supersedes even an obvious display of customer disinterest. The most recent, maddening example was when we were looking for bedroom furniture. We walked into a nice furniture store TO LOOK. We were not planning to buy, merely to get ideas about what we liked and didn’t like. The only certainty was the need for a king-sized bed, as the queen is just not enough for man, woman, dog, and cat.

As the soles of our shoes made contact with the tile of the store floor, hidden sensors detected us and deployed a sales woman, who manifested before us cheerfully asking,  “What can I help you with today?!”

“We’re just looking, Thank You.” This is me, believing I am troweling on Finality. I am hungry. Truth be told, I am hangry, and I just want to walk through this place, get a gander, then go to lunch. We’re not buying. For the love of God and all things holy, please just let us walk through unmolested. My silent prayer goes unanswered.

Paul tells me weeks later, “I don’t think you sound quite as final as you think you do…”  and the sales woman, because she’s been trained to never take no for an answer says, “If you’ll tell me what you’re interested in, I can take you to the right place! Maybe save you time!”

Ooohhh, she’s good. She has offered an argument I can only defeat with absolute, pointed rudeness and, while I am unknowingly rude and thoughtless all of the time, I was raised to never, on pain of eternal damnation, be meaningfully rude to another human being, even if he or she truly deserves and desperately needs it. So because we know we like Mission style furniture, I say, “We like Mission and Arts & Crafts styles. Do you have any Arts & Crafts or Mission headboards?”

“Well…” and she begins leading us, winding through the furniture and finally to a couple of bedroom sets that might once have winked at a true Mission style headboard, “…. these are similar in style…” and now she has pissed me off because she’s made the colossal mistake of looking at my thrown-together attire, wild hair, and lack of make-up and assessed me as not knowing what a Mission style headboard actually looks like. She’s probably only wasting her time with us because Paul looks like an 800 credit score.

“None of this is Mission,” I tell her, turning on my heel. But she’s not a new salesperson, oh no, so she tries one last gambit, “We do make one but don’t have one in stock here right now.” She’s walking while she talks, leading us to a giant computer monitor. “Let me just bring it up…” she begins tapping away and I am done. Done, fini, finito, final, donedonedone. Confident I had bucket-loads of finality in my voice I said, “I am not buying something from a computer image,” the biggest lie I’ve ever told, when rarely a week goes by I don’t buy something online, from cosmetics to hot bean paste and everything in between.

The look on her face tells me I’ve made contact and she relents. She stammers out something about not having everything they make displayed at every store but I’m already walking off in high dudgeon, hating myself a little more with every step, but grateful that every step was bringing me closer to lunch…

… Where I was asked, “Would you like to combo that for only $1.39? You get fries and a drink when you up-size to a combo…”

Sure. Make it a combo-double-heart-attack. Bring it on. I surrender.