The Broad is Back!

September 30, 2017

Heading for a Fall of Massive Proportions

In 1858, Abraham Lincoln quoted the synoptic Gospels when he stated, “A house divided against itself will fall”. At the time, the Abolitioist Movement was growing, Dred Scott had been implemented, and the nation faced a decision: would slavery be outlawed everywhere or nowhere? It had to be one or the other.

His contemporaries were not happy with the speech or him. It was too radical, not good politics. It lost him the election to the US Senate, too.

In hindsight we see the speech as political prophecy. Three years later, America was in the midst of a bitter, violent civil war, the repercussions of which are still being felt today. We like to pretend it’s all over, done, settled, but one look at America today, and I think we can see it’s not.

So here we are, 152 years after the end of that war, 151 years after the Civil Rights Act of 1866 and the 14th Amendment to the Constitution, and pretty much we’re still seeing a house divided.

I have never seen the US this polarized in my entire life. Granted, I’m not ancient, but I remember my Republican grandfather swearing that Kennedy stole the election. I remember the Civil Rights Movement, Watergate, assorted Clintongates, the GWB election, the start of the Iraqi War. Those were pretty rough times in the US.

Although I very much remember the anger and the hatred spewed by the non-Left members of my family and our neighbors, I don’t remember severed friendships, threats of violence. I heard about violence, but not around us.

Perhaps we were just as polarized, but the Internet and the 24/7 news cycle has changed the world. We hear about everything moments after it happens. It’s not that we’re more polarized; it’s just that we know how bad it is.

Forty years of poor education in large parts of the US has also lead to a nation that is unable to critically think. That’s not me being elitist (though when did elite become a bad word?). That’s from a career college professor. Much of my teaching has been in urban community or four year colleges. Currently, I’m teaching the exact same demographic I started teaching in 1988.

My students today are as bright, as talented, as lovely as the students I had then. Not all are wonderful to be around, but on the whole, I teach good people. But the students today are far less prepared to be in college. Their math, reading and writing skills are hovering somewhere between 8th grade and 10th grade. I’m a writing teacher, but if you need to figure out your grade, you need to know math.

They are ill prepared for college and ill prepared for life. And they know it after about the first three weeks of college. The plaintive cry of “why didn’t I learn this in high school” is heard almost every week. I tell them they might have just forgotten, but anyone in education can tell you just how poorly American secondary schools doing.

I don’t want to make this about education–it’s about polarization and our house being divided–but I also see daily proof that education is a major part of our problem. People can’t think. People won’t think.

They also have lost the ability to listen, to reason, and to have civil debates. This is also a topic I’ve written about in the past. Slap my face and call me Cassandra. No one listens to me.

The current president is not popular, especially here in New York City where I live. But it wasn’t too long ago that I was living in Tennessee, surrounded by his supporters. There are many who do not think his actions are racist or bad for America. We can say “that’s because they are racist” but that’s not the whole story.

He’s also called an illegitimate president because he lost the popular vote. He’s not the first, and until the Constitution is changed, he probably won’t be the last. To those who argue that he lost, I say, by three million votes. The final popular vote for the top two candidates was 62,980,160 to 65,845,063. But that translated into 304 electoral college votes to 227. We all know the numbers.

Three million sounds like a lot of votes, but according to the US Census Bureau, the US population in 2016 was 323.1 million, so that’s a less than 1% margin of the population. Of total votes cast it was about a 2.1% difference.

That’s almost half a nation’s voters supporting him. Sure, we can say sexism or Russian influence (and they are valid, Russia seeming more valid by the day), but we also have to address the fact that we are a nation ruled by fear mongering, hatred, and hysteria.

So right now, two sides of the country are at each other’s throat. I know young people who won’t even discuss politics anymore because it’s become dogmatic, intolerant, and personal.

Every day my twitter feed and even the news sources are full of ad hominem attacks against anyone who makes a point or an opinion known. If one of my freshmen tried that, I’d send the paper back with  “take this out–poor logic” in red letters. Actually, many of my freshmen do try this, because it’s what they see around them daily.

Many of the people I know are only able to do the same. I’m not claiming I’m better, but I do think I try harder to listen to people. When they spew hate, I’m more apt to ask why they think that then to spew back.

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s teachings are so deeply ingrained in me that I find it repulsive when I respond with hate. I’m human. I think bad things. I’ve said bad things. But at least I know what I’ve done.

Most people on earth are not horrible, soul less, evil, inhumane. In fact, they are very human. We’re not a very nice species. Racism is evil, but if they knew better, they’d do better. So let’s teach instead of firing back hate and insults. Education doesn’t always change minds, but hate doesn’t ever change a mind. Love can change minds. Love can open doors. Oh, I’ll just say it: love can move mountains.

I am, by nature, a Pollyanna, a Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm, a person who is going to believe the best will happen. But I’m also a student of human nature and of history.

We are on a collision course in this country, and we’re pretty much split down the middle. There are nuances, of course, but the polarization is stretched pretty far and pretty tight. It is read to snap.

I do not want to see civil war, violent revolution, or an armed civil rights battle.

But I see it coming.

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September 26, 2017

It’s Official–I’m Woke

I’m a writing teacher, so in our classes, we tend to talk about current events and “issues.” Now that I’m back in New York City, the majority of my students are people of color. I tell them I have a color, too. It’s pink. Sometimes red if I get in too much sun. They laugh at the silly lady. But as you can imagine, the subject of race comes up a lot when we talk about current events.

Today, in a class that happens to be all students of color, a student told me I was “woke.” I told him, “honey, I’ve been woke since before you were born!”

A second student added, “we can tell. You’re never gonna not be woke.” That’s up there with one of my favorite student compliments ever. No lie.

I truly don’t understand how people can live in the US and not see the systemic racism and classism in our country. I mean, okay, I teach, so I see the effects up close. I take a deep, personal interest in the lives of my students, so I hear so much–learn so much. But seriously, how can people miss it?

My mom was “woke” back in her youth. Hell, my grandmother was having none of that inequality stuff, either. This is how I grew up–knowing, without a doubt, that we are all brothers and sisters and there is one race: the human race.

Because a student asked how I got “this way,” I explained about Mom and Nana. His response: “you’re lucky.”

And I am. Very lucky. My elders taught me by example that the only way to judge a person’s worth is by their actions. If they are rotten to people, that makes them less. Not worth less than me, but less developed, less enlightened; people to be pitied, not hated. Hate only hurts the hater.

Because some of my students hadn’t done their homework for today, I turned being “woke” back at them (because I am not above poking my students for their own good).

Thinking critically and learning are revolutionary acts, I told them. Vive la révolution.

Learning to analyze things and think about subtext means they gain more power over their own lives. It’s harder to manipulate people who think. Teaching, especially college, is all about empowerment.

The skills we learn in my class are not “school things.” They are “real world” skills that hopefully they will use their entire life.

May they never stop learning and thinking, that’s my prayer for them.

Yes, this is me in my “preacher mode,” but as a preacher, I believe teaching is a vocation with a very high purpose–the betterment of humanity. There’s the idealist in me again, but I’m also very pragmatic. I know most of my students don’t see their educations the way I do. But that’s not going to stop me spreading the word.

And frankly, I wrote this tonight because I was tickled pinker to be called woke by a student. They get me. They get I care. They respect it, too. And that just felt good.

 

 

 

January 28, 2017

Carnival of Love 2017, We Love You, Skid Row

In one of the crazier things I’ve ever done, chalk this: I flew from Tennessee to Los Angeles to participate in the 2017 We Love You Skid Row Carnival of Love.

The day was full of smiles and tears and children’s laughter as they got to play games, draw, eat ice cream and get toys. It was full of music and dancing and hugging.

There were a number of guests who seemed overwhelmed. Quite a few were obviously mentally ill, withdrawn and abrupt. But that’s ok. I was there to serve.

I came with my son. He was a guide, who brought guests through the myriad of services—clothes, shoes, hygiene products, blankets, a full barbecue dinner, ice cream, legal services, therapy services, DMV services to get IDs, barbering, hairdressing, medical screenings, pet grooming, animal services, glasses, hearing checks, massage, foot washing and hot showers. Every bit of this was donated or sponsored. Many of those giving out services were students from nursing programs or hairdressing programs, but there were fully fledged professionals giving up their Saturday to help people in need.

A touching fact—the foot washing volunteer positions were the first to fill up. That’s the kind of people this event attracted.

I was a listener and a hugger. I would listen to people who had to talk. Not many wanted to, and most just asked questions, but I gave out a lot of hugs.

Many thanked me for giving them a wonderful day. I didn’t. They gave me a wonderful day. One young man said, “Thank you so much. You know, you guys thought of everything. I’m a vegetarian, and you have vegetarian meals. Just because I’m homeless, I don’t want to eat meat.” He wanted a big hug. He got one. I told him he’s not forgotten in his ear, and I got a good squeeze. And we can’t forget him.

Two guy guides were flummoxed by a crying baby while her mamma was getting medical checks, so I stepped in and got to hold a beautiful 23 month old little girl. I guessed she was Latina, so I used Spanish. She didn’t answer, but she calmed down and let me show her the dancers and street performers. We bopped to the music and watched the TV reporters with their camera folks. Her mamma told me yes, she understands Spanish and her name is Melissa. She’s too thin and homeless right now. But she was beautiful and I snuck in some kisses on her temple. She’s a baby like any other.

The reason for the cameras was Justin Baldoni, who’s project of love this really is. He’s one of the great ensemble cast of the CW’s Jane the Virgin, a Peabody award winning, tongue-in-cheek telenovela dramedy with true heart. I am not a television watcher except for BBC stuff and now a full roster of CW shows of which Jane the Virgin is my absolute favorite. I started following most of the cast on twitter because they are some of the most positive, loving and role-modely folks I follow (I needed to make that a parallel sentence. Deal with it). I saw almost all of the ensemble at today’s event, not being “TV stars” but in there working like the rest of the volunteers. Watching the show, I sense the love and respect they have for one another, and seeing that love in action was wonderful.

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Justin thanking us for making the day possible. But he did the heavy lifting. Thank you, Little Brother.

 

I’m not one to hold actors in awe, seeing as my brother has acted, my son is an actor and I spend a lot of time with them what with occasionally directing and being on the board of a NYC theater. I know better than most that actors are people with a cool (and very hard) job, but there are the ones who are a little too invested in ego. Today I saw technically beautiful people, yes, but their goodness made them more beautiful. There were some other CW stars there, as well, supporting and just being people.

They were gracious and did pose for selfies because they realize that it’s their names that draw people, but they were also working hard. I didn’t ask for any selfies. While I love these people, for their hearts and talents, today was not for that for me. I think my age helps. If I were 20 and still had those youthful good looks, it might be a different story.

Justin’s wife, Emily, also an actor, is his true partner and was there working hard, but smiling and gracious even as she flew about the place. She’s Swedish, so my son and I chatted with her a few minutes in Swedish early in the day before the guests arrived. I make judgements about people quickly based on many things. She’s genuine in her love and her love of service. She thanked us and gave us real hugs. She’s good people.

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It was hard to get a good picture of Emily during the speeches. This isn’t very good, but she’s a typical Swedish beauty.

The Baldonis are Baha’i and they live their faith openly by showing faith in action. That is what I try very hard to do in my life, and while not a Baha’i, I also believe that all are my brothers and sisters. Little Brother and Little Sister are a joy to watch. But this was not a religious event. A Christian mission lent its parking lot for the “restaurant,” a church overlooked us physically, some volunteers wore overtly Christian shirts to identify why they were there, I saw a number of Muslim women judging by the hijabs, so I assume Muslim men, as well, and some folks there are just good people without a faith motivation.

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While I no longer identify as Christian (I’m a Believer), I found this symbolic.

CBS Cares and CW Cares sent a number of folks, and Justin’s own production company, Wayfarer, formed a foundation to support charitable events. This was huge and as someone who has “done” events, this represented hours and hours of hard grunt work.

While I loved interacting with the guests (sort of an extension of my day job), probably the proudest moment for me was as a mom, seeing my son interact with the folks he was escorting. He didn’t know I was watching and to see him smiling, polite, and waiting on the men he was helping brought tears to my eyes. I tried to raise a good person, and I did. He was born that way, but I encouraged it. Parenting is hard, so please excuse my moment of motherly pride.

Justin explained that he wanted a carnival because it’s fun. Seeing people who live in a tent city or sleep on cardboard boxes dropping their cares for four hours, playing some games, dancing, laughing, enjoying a street fair where they are welcomed, not hurried off by security, filled my heart to bursting. I needed this day as much as they needed it, I think.

Walking toward the site around 8 that morning, my son and I passed many people sleeping on the street. Then we saw the tent city and my heart broke. How can I live in one of the richest countries in the world, be in one of the richest cities in the country, and see this level of poverty?

I actually asked, out loud, “What kind of country am I living in?”

I know much of the answer, of course. Many mental health facilities were closed in the 80s, so mentally ill folks were often left unmedicated and unhelped. Soon they were on the streets. That trend hasn’t stopped. We have a safety net in this country, but there are folks who thought they were okay, but lost so much in the financial crash of ’07 that they are forced out. Some have temporary setbacks like domestic violence or job loss. Others were thrown away by their families because of teen pregnancy, being gay, being transgendered or some other perceived trespass.

Many have addictions and aren’t ready to stop them yet. When drugs or alcohol take over your life, homelessness can often follow. We know scientifically that addiction is an illness, but many still moralize about it and think addicts “deserve” what they get. I am the last to romanticize addiction, having seen it up close and personal, hating every moment of it. Addicts can be really terrible people who do horrible things. But they are still humans who deserve our help if at all possible.

I did have sort of an ulterior motive for going. I would like to bring this idea back to my community. If all the thrift stores in town and their organizations pull together, bring in the Lions, the Rotary, the local hospital center and so on, we could so do this. Justin said he wants to see this idea spread. We need this in America, so while I post this not to show off about how “good” I am (I am so not good) or how wonderful the Baldonis are (they are), I do post it to encourage folks to help.

A carnival is a huge undertaking. Most of us don’t live in communities that have famous names to draw attention. But we can organize clothing drives, offer a hot meal once a week or once a month, be kind to folk. Smile at a homeless person instead of rushing past. I’ve seen folks drop a dollar in a cup without even acknowledging the person asking. Smile. Say hello. Yes, some are mentally ill. But most will respond, many with gratitude for being seen. We strip the homeless of their humanity in this country. We strip the poor, as well. But they truly are our brothers and sisters.

Here are some images–there aren’t many because I was busy doing not photographing, but some street performers, a little boy dancing at the Dance Par-tay, a little boy sitting on Justin’s shoulders during a live musical performance by Justin’s friend, Andy Grammer, finally, Tyrone and Justin. Tyrone is a resident who has danced up a storm for the past three years. I saw him dancing from 12 noon till it ended at 4. The man is a dance machine!

Thank you, Justin and Emily and Wayfarer for this wonderful opportunity to serve.

July 13, 2016

Eternal Rest Grant to Her, Oh Lord

In September of 1983, I started graduate school at the College of St. Rose in Albany, NY. I was clueless as to what that meant; clueless as to what I wanted to be, other than “a writer;” and I was basically playing it by ear.

My second semester there, I had a class with Dr. April Selley. To my 22-year-old self, she was an elder, very strict, kinda scary, and frankly, sometimes odd. She was the best professor I have ever had and have ever known. She went on to be one of my dearest friends. Today she died. Demon cancer.

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My beautiful friend. I barely have any pictures of her.

While April and I became close friends–she once said I was probably one of the few people on earth she could live with–to me, she was also always “my professor”. To me, teaching is a sacred bond between two people. When we’re very lucky, that bond extends beyond the classroom, but the pupil always owes the excellent teacher respect for the knowledge given. I respect and love many of my former professors, and I try hard to be the professor who honors the sacred bond with my students. I learned that from April. She complimented me on my passion and love for my students once. She cried when I said, “but that’s what you taught me. I am only trying to be like you.”

I can’t even explain to you her brilliance. She earned a PhD in literature from Brown, so that should tell you something. Her scholarly focus was on Cooper, Poe and the Transcendentalists, but her passion was Star Trek. She’s a contributor to the Star Trek Encyclopedia and has done much work on the topic. She’s lectured on it, written on it, and frankly, fangirled about it, though I doubt she ever used that term.

She was an award winning poet. Her poetry was often deeply imbued with her Catholic faith as well as her feminism. “The Three Middle Aged Women in Speed” is about the three women who die because middle aged women are expendable. She wrote about Princess Diana and Marilyn Monroe talking in Heaven about the pressure of being icons,  and the murder of a great-aunt by a rival in Portugal. A poem I’ve been thinking about today is her “Cleaning Out the Refrigerators of the Dead.” That is the last service we do for our friends, and it always tells a story.

I am not there to do that for my friend. This is the down side of living in America–it’s so big. She died in Rotterdam, NY, where she lived. She taught at Union College. But she’s going home to Bristol, RI to be waked and buried. There’s no way I can be there and back next week. I have responsibilities here. April will be the first to totally understand.

After I earned my MA, I went on to a PhD program. April would write to me and give me advice.  This was before email. She’d actually handwrite a letter in her beautiful handwriting. She helped me more than any other professor I’d had. My other professors were thrilled that I was going on, but she took the time to write and encourage. That meant so much to me–the first college graduate in my family–the first to go to graduate school–the first to earn a PhD. I was a working class kid. What did I know?

A year after I moved to Taiwan, she got a Fulbright grant to teach in Japan. One of her poems about that time can be found here. Since I was so close, she came to visit me and Taiwan. We did a few things together, but I was busy with my son–it was the Chinese New Year holiday and my mom had gone to the US. But we sat up late one night singing along to the Dogstar CD I’d bought. We both loved the band–me for the music, her more because it featured Keanu Reeve, and I think she was his biggest fan.

She actually wrote an analysis of every film he ever did, rating his performance. She loved his acting and thought the man erudite and charming. She once drove hours over a mountain into Vermont during a snowstorm to hear him do a talkback after a film during a festival. She found him modest, polite and nothing like his public image. She also thought he is the most beautiful man on earth, but honestly, it wasn’t a crush. She admired him. She got me to, as well.

After the Dogstar we started rocking out to The Monkees and The Jackson 5, dancing around the room until my 5 year old came in to check on the crazy adults.

That’s when I realized April wasn’t old. I was 35, she was 41. Not a big spread.

And she was so funny. We could laugh together for hours.

So brilliant and funny and kind, but she was good. A good, good person.

When the secretary of her department had to retire due to dementia, April was the one who took over her care. Thora had no family, so April got home health care, did her shopping, made sure things were maintained. Thora has now outlived April, and I hope someone steps in in April’s name. April got nothing from Thora’s estate nor did she expect anything. That’s April.

When I had to move back to the US in 2007, April found me at least a summer job for the AOP program at her college, Union. She let me stay in her house rent free. She took me out to dinner. She let me stay the next two summers as well, so I would have summer income as I couldn’t find a full time job. That’s April.

She lit a candle for me in church every Sunday for ten years, before I even returned, so I could get a job. She said I was the hardest case she ever had, but that was April. She refused to give up. And she had total faith in God. That didn’t mean she wouldn’t nag him.

She fought leukemia a while back, but lived to tell the tale. But this time, a rarer, more virulent form of cancer attacked. She fought so hard. The last time I heard from her she told me she couldn’t die. She’d paid too much for the damn computer she’d just bought. She had to live long enough to make it worth it.

I’m not sad today. Sad isn’t my style.

I’m angry.

I’m angry that I’ll never get to read more than the first two chapters of the novel she was writing. She’d asked me to be a reader, and I loved it. Funny, poignant. Now I will never find out what happens.

I’m angry that she didn’t earn more fame for her writing. She was honestly brilliant at it.Her voice should have been heard by millions, not thousands.

I’m angry that I’ll never see that beautiful handwriting on a birthday card or the annual Christmas letter in July because she never actually had time to write them in December thanks to teaching.

I’m angry that she never got to read my paper on Louisa May Alcott that was so rudely rejected by a literary journal last winter. I was supposed to mail it to her in March, but I didn’t have time. Hers was the opinion I valued most on the topic. And she seemed interested, too.

I’m angry that she’s been so ill lately that she couldn’t talk to her friends on the phone.

I’m angry that she’ll never get to see my kid on film. She was such a booster.

I’m angriest that the last letter I sent telling her I knew I’d never see her again on this plane, but that I will love her forever, my sister of the heart, would have arrived in today’s mail. She died in the morning.

No, what I’m angriest about is that we won’t get to be crazy old women together. She was determined, stubborn, goal-oriented, brilliant. She’d have been a hoot of an old gal. She was 61. That’s not old enough, not by a long shot.

Everybody says good things about the dead, but April Rose Selley was one of the best people I’ve ever known in my life. The world has lost more than it realizes.

I know that you will be resting in peace, my darling April. If anyone deserves Heaven, it’s you. Well, for all I know, you’ll be nagging God face to face because you really are that stubborn.

 

July 6, 2016

Do Not Go Gentle Into that Good Night

Today I am broken-hearted. I was upset about the state of humanity this morning, but this afternoon is when the blow came. I lost a former student.

I hate that euphemism. He died. Ethan Taranto-Kent, a young man I taught in 2007-08. Thanks to the internet, we stayed connected and got to know each other as people. He was a fine one.

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He was also a young story teller, author, director and lead of the web series Mad Nation, which you can watch on his YouTube channel, Pernicious Paradise.  A post-apocalyptic action/adventure/rumination on humanity, he had hopes of growing the show. Now that will never happen.

Ethan and I would talk a lot, chat online more, about all sorts of things: humans, responsibility, politics, art, the Constitution, guns, knives, dogs, LA, acting, people. I really enjoyed out chats because Ethan was a thinker. He was serious and he cared. He never let me give the blithe answer–the joke. He pressed me to be serious, not something people commonly do these days. At his heart, he was serious and talented and deep.

He was also sweet and loving. I’ve digitally met his fiance Nikki. My heart grieves for her, too. Just a few months ago, Ethan was griping about something and said it was what he lived for. I said, no, Nikki and Pawla are who you live for, and if he and Nikki broke up, I would cry. Today I cried for her. Pawla is their rescue dog. If you want the essence of Ethan and Nikki, watch their beautiful video about Pawla’s adoption.

ethan and nikki

Ethan’s not the first student I’ve lost, but that doesn’t make it any easier. There have been cancers, accidents, suicides, the usual suspects that take young lives. I don’t even know how Ethan died, only that it was sudden and totally unexpected.

But if we love people, we’re probably going to lose some of them, and that’s the price we pay for loving. As with most people, it was totally worth the price of loving this young man.

Ethan, I will miss you. Thank you for being my friend, for pushing me when I didn’t want to be pushed, for living your dream, for loving Nikki and Pawla, for letting me into your world and sharing your loves with us, for being a Light in the world. That Light is gone, but the art you leave behind you and the memories you leave those of us still here will keep you evergreen.

ethan peeingethan and pawlaethan in costume

June 12, 2016

Broken Country, Broken Heart

When did it become ok to kill people we disagree with? Whose choices we disapprove of?

Oh, never?

People aren’t getting the message.

We’ve been beating and killing folks in the LGBT community for eons, and even here in America, where people are free to choose, where freedom is an enduring ideal, we don’t allow people to be free to be who they were born to be.

Most religions are hetero-normative. Fine. If your religion tells you that being gay is a sin, you deal with it. I hope you weren’t born gay, though.

Because people are. They just are. It’s not a learned trait. No one can “turn” someone gay just as no one can “turn” someone hetero (I dislike the term straight because it implies something else is crooked or off).

Someone can learn to unpeel the socialization that makes us behave in a certain way, that makes us hide who we really are. Then when someone comes out, some may think “they were ‘turned'”.

Today our country suffered the worst mass shooting in our history. The first reports didn’t even mention that it was at a gay bar.

But 50 people were killed because of who they were and because someone thought gay people are evil. A kiss disturbed him is the going rumor.

Some are saying “oh, he’s Muslim, that’s why”. No, that’s not why. He was a selfish, mentally unstable person with a gross sense of entitlement.I know many Muslims. None of them are killers. They might think gayness is a sin, but they don’t kill people for it. Nor do they condone Islamic countries that do. They consider it barbaric.

My heart is broken for all those lives lost, for the fears that my LGBT brothers and sisters are facing. All people are my brothers and sisters, and I am called to love them. I don’t  hate the shooter. I pity him his twisted mind that drove him to kill and be killed. I hate what he did.

In the coming days, let’s see what we can do to help the survivors heal, the mourning be comforted. It’s time to reach out in love, not anger or hatred.

 

 

November 28, 2013

I’m Thinking Maybe He Should Reread the Gospels

Many of my friends are abuzz with Pope Francis’s most recent pronouncements.  In his first apostolic exhortation. “Evangelii Gaudium” “Joy of the Gospel” he basically blasted unchecked capitalism and consumerism as “selfish”. I’m beginning to like this guy.  He said a lot of other things, and admittedly, I haven’t read the entire thing (it’s over 50.,000 words long), but unsurprisingly, this topic is what made headlines.

My cousin Dolores (faithful readers have read her ideas here) sent me an email this morning ending with:

Rush Limbaugh called the Pope a Marxist for preaching the gospel of Jesus…astounding!!!

I really think Mr. Limbaugh needs to read the Bible.  Actually, I think a lot of American “Christians” who shout and holler about how “socialist” America is becoming really need to reread the Bible.

Let me direct them to the Gospel of Luke, chapter three, verses 7-14

John said to the crowds coming out to be baptized by him, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? Produce fruit in keeping with repentance. And do not begin to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ For I tell you that out of these stones God can raise up children for Abraham. The ax is already at the root of the trees, and every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire.”

10 “What should we do then?” the crowd asked.

11 John answered, “Anyone who has two shirts should share with the one who has none, and anyone who has food should do the same.”

12 Even tax collectors came to be baptized. “Teacher,” they asked, “what should we do?”

13 “Don’t collect any more than you are required to,” he told them.

14 Then some soldiers asked him, “And what should we do?”

He replied, “Don’t extort money and don’t accuse people falsely—be content with your pay.” (NIV) (emphasis mine)

Granted, this is John the Baptist speaking, not Jesus, but Luke left it in, and really, Jesus gave John His seal of approval, so I think we should take this as, well, as Gospel.

Admittedly, as I tell my students, it’s tough to use the Bible to support an argument, because it’s so contradictory, but we’re talking about basic tenants of Christianity here. I do realize Jesus himself said, “The poor you will always have with you,” but the end of the sentence was “but you will not always have me” (Matt 26:11 NIV).  He was responding to a very specific incident.  Here’s the context for those who like to see it:

While Jesus was in Bethany in the home of Simon the Leper, a woman came to him with an alabaster jar of very expensive perfume, which she poured on his head as he was reclining at the table.

When the disciples saw this, they were indignant. “Why this waste?” they asked. “This perfume could have been sold at a high price and the money given to the poor.”

10 Aware of this, Jesus said to them, “Why are you bothering this woman? She has done a beautiful thing to me. 11 The poor you will always have with you, but you will not always have me. 12 When she poured this perfume on my body, she did it to prepare me for burial. 13 Truly I tell you, wherever this gospel is preached throughout the world, what she has done will also be told, in memory of her.” (Matt 26:6-13, NIV)

In his comments about the poor, Jesus was echoing the Old Testament in his speech to his followers:

“There will always be poor people in the land. Therefore I command you to be openhanded toward your fellow Israelites who are poor and needy in your land.” (Deut 15:11, NIV)

A lot Bible quotes, perhaps, but a national commentator just called the head of the Roman Catholic Church a Marxist.  I’m thinking someone doesn’t understand Christianity. Still, when I was in grad school, at a Catholic college, one of my favorite professors, Sister Francine Dempsey, CSJ, mentioned in class that someone once said that the only place Marxism would ever work was in a monastery.

Think about it.

What Marx says about wealth, while political and overtly anti-religious, is basically the same as the message of John the Baptist and his cousin, Jesus.  But they are speaking from a place of Love.  We share because we’re all brothers and sisters, and we love our brothers and sisters.

So I can see why Mr. Limbaugh was confused. Marxism/Christianity. Rather close. (can you hear my heavy sigh?)

And Pope Francis isn’t the first pope to condemn unchecked capitalism. In his 1987 encyclical Sollicitudo Rei Socialis (Church’s Social Teaching), Pope John Paul II (you know, that Nazi-fighting, freedom fighting guy?) wrote:

The tension between East and West is not in itself an opposition between two different levels of development but rather between two concepts of the development of individuals and peoples both concepts being imperfect and in need of radical correction.

(you can read the entire encyclical here)

This wasn’t the first time Pope John Paul went after unchecked capitalism. In 1984, in a speech to fishermen in Canada, he said

The fishing industry has also been concentrated more and more in the hands of fewer and fewer people. Around the globe more and more small or family fishing concerns lose their financial independence to the larger and capital intensive enterprises. Large industrial fishing companies run the risk of losing contact with the fishermen and their personal and family needs. They are exposed to the temptation of responding only to the forces of the marketplace, thus lacking at times sufficient financial incentive to maintain production. Such a development would put the security and distribution of the world’s food supply into ever greater jeopardy, if food production becomes controlled by the profit motive of a few rather than by the needs of the many.

It’s actually a pretty kickin’ speech, and you can find the the entire text at the Vatican website.

And Pope John Paul II was pretty consistent in his economic message throughout his papacy.

Can you imagine Mr. Limbaugh trying to get away with calling Pope John Paul II a Marxist?

So just what did Pope Francis say that has put everyone’s knickers in a twist?

Here are some key passages I found on the website Aleteia:

In this context, some people continue to defend trickle-down theories which assume that economic growth, encouraged by a free market, will inevitably succeed in bringing about greater justice and inclusiveness in the world. This opinion, which has never been confirmed by the facts, expresses a crude and naïve trust in the goodness of those wielding economic power and in the sacralized workings of the prevailing economic system. Meanwhile, the excluded are still waiting. To sustain a lifestyle which excludes others, or to sustain enthusiasm for that selfish ideal, a globalization of indifference has developed. Almost without being aware of it, we end up being incapable of feeling compassion at the outcry of the poor, weeping for other people’s pain, and feeling a need to help them, as though all this were someone else’s responsibility and not our own. The culture of prosperity deadens us; we are thrilled if the market offers us something new to purchase; and in the meantime all those lives stunted for lack of opportunity seem a mere spectacle; they fail to move us. (54)

Oh my! That’s the same song I’ve been singing for years.  I’m really starting to like this guy.  And then there’s this:

While the earnings of a minority are growing exponentially, so too is the gap separating the majority from the prosperity enjoyed by those happy few. This imbalance is the result of ideologies which defend the absolute autonomy of the marketplace and financial speculation. Consequently, they reject the right of states, charged with vigilance for the common good, to exercise any form of control. A new tyranny is thus born, invisible and often virtual, which unilaterally and relentlessly imposes its own laws and rules. Debt and the accumulation of interest also make it difficult for countries to realize the potential of their own economies and keep citizens from enjoying their real purchasing power. To all this we can add widespread corruption and self-serving tax evasion, which have taken on worldwide dimensions. The thirst for power and possessions knows no limits. In this system, which tends to devour everything which stands in the way of increased profits, whatever is fragile, like the environment, is defenseless before the interests of a deified market, which become the only rule. (56)

Some might call hypocrisy here, as the Church doesn’t pay taxes and is incredibly wealthy. But he also called for reform:

“Since I am called to put into practice what I ask of others, I too must think about a conversion of the papacy. It is my duty, as the Bishop of Rome, to be open to suggestions which can help make the exercise of my ministry more faithful to the meaning which Jesus Christ wished to give it and to the present needs of evangelization. Pope John Paul II asked for help in finding “a way of exercising the primacy which, while in no way renouncing what is essential to its mission, is nonetheless open to a new situation”. We have made little progress in this regard. The papacy and the central structures of the universal Church also need to hear the call to pastoral conversion. The Second Vatican Council stated that, like the ancient patriarchal Churches, episcopal conferences are in a position “to contribute in many and fruitful ways to the concrete realization of the collegial spirit”. Yet this desire has not been fully realized, since a juridical status of episcopal conferences which would see them as subjects of specific attributions, including genuine doctrinal authority, has not yet been sufficiently elaborated. Excessive centralization, rather than proving helpful, complicates the Church’s life and her missionary outreach.” (32)

So, a start.

I despair of America sometimes, where we’re going, what we’re becoming, and I think the reason Rush Limbaugh’s comment goaded me into writing was that it exemplified the ignorance of so many Americans I meet.  As a professor, a teacher, I spend my professional life removing ignorance. But willful ignorance? That’s my nemesis. And since I’ve returned to America the level of willful ignorance I’ve encountered is dumbfounding.

I do have so much to say, and hopefully at least over the Thanksgiving   break I will be able to carve out some time to write.

It’s Thanksgiving in America, the time we set aside to be grateful for our bounty.  To those who celebrate, I wish you a wonderful day full of beautiful memories.

September 11, 2013

Remembering Once Again

The title of my blog, The Broad is Back, comes from the fact that once upon a time, when I lived overseas, I wrote a weekly essay called A Broad Abroad.  A large part of the impetus for that blog was the 9/11 attacks. I’d been living abroad for six years at that point, and no other thing in that time made me feel more alien or more homesick than the attack on New York (and Washington and the plane that went down in Pennsylvania, but I’m a New Yorker. My dad was a construction worker on the Twin Towers. I’m partial, I must say,)  The first Broad essay went out on September 11, 2002.

So because of this, I really wanted to post today.  Last night the president addressed the nation about the situation in Syria. As one tweeter mentioned, he was addressing a “war weary nation.” so he’s garnering less support than he’d like for a military option.  I’ve written about my ideas on Syria earlier in the month.

Last night, in response to a tweet of mine about how bombing wasn’t going to help the situation, a friend whose opinions and mind I respect, asked “but are we supposed to ignore it?”

My facebook wall answer was “We ignore plenty that goes on in the Middle East. Atrocities happen all the time. Saddam Hussein gassed the Kurds living in Iraq in 1989 and we ignored it just fine because he was our ally then. We cherry pick what we (as a nation) react to instead of giving a concerted unified reaction of “this is not acceptable behavior”. Up to last summer Assad was being treated as a friendly ally by the West, even invited to Buckingham Palace to celebrate the Queen’s Golden. Some people complained, but most people ignored it. And I do believe if we’re gonna have a UN, we need to let the UN work. The problem is, the UN has no authority, so it’s basically failing its mission. Great IDEAL, lousy reality. The Syrian people, who are the ones being attacked by Assad, don’t want an American military strike. I do think what they want should count if we’re ostensibly helping them.”

To another friend I responded, “Not saying they aren’t worth the uproar. It [the gassing] is wrong. But why start publicizing dead children NOW? They have been being killed for a while. And why is it America’s problem? Why not defer to the UN? Oh, yeah, because the UN has no authority, legal or moral. Why all of a sudden is this a US security problem?  Every Syrian I speak to, who all have or had families on the ground in Damascus, does not want military intervention in terms of bombing. They are terrified that it will make things worse. And since they are on the front lines, in their own country, don’t they get a say? Or is the US so paternalistic that we know what’s best for everyone? Assad feels confident because he’s gotten away with it for so long.”

So basically, that’s my take on the situation. I find I’m much less censored on facebook than I am here. But I’m feeling tired and disgusted with the government’s hypocrisy. It ignores bad things until it is expedient to address them. Realpolitik, but wrong.

But how does this all tie in with 9/11? Well, it’s all inextricably linked, of course.  The idea of a military strike right now is abhorrent to me. But I’m one person, but I’m one person with a pen, metaphorically speaking, and I’m gaining the confidence I need to share ideas.

But what I really want to talk about today is not the future, but healing the past. In fact, what follows is mostly what I wrote on my “crunchy granola” blog. I try to keep that apolitical, but I am who I am. Opinionated and trying to pay attention.  BUt for me, the healing is more important.

“It’s when we start working together that the real healing takes place… it’s when we start spilling our sweat, and not our blood.” ~David Hume

From the building I teach in, I can see the construction of the new Freedom Tower in New York City. I walk through a construction zone in the bottom of the old World Trade Center to reach my train.

Sweat is spilled every day. Downtown New York is being rebuilt from the ground up, even more shiny and bold than before. This is what’s bringing healing to many. Not the talk, not the debates. The reconstruction.

People like me can not not remember. Even though I lived abroad 12 years ago, I am still a New Yorker. It was all too close to home.

I had a friend, someone I baby sat when he was a boy, who worked in the Pentagon. At the American Church in Geneva, which I attended. our priest’s brother was missing.  All too close to home.

I had students from America and some from Saudi Arabia in the same class. They were all terrified. The memories of the next day are actually more poignant to me than the first day. First we had shock, but then we had aftermath, even in Geneva. Students far from families needed mothering more than teaching.

What I remember best are the hugs. There were so many hugs. Barriers were broken because hugs were needed. Faculty hugged students, co-workers hugged one another, friends clung a little tighter.  I remember the shock and fear, but I remember the love best of all.  For me, that was the overwhelming reaction.

Oh, there were a few ugly incidents, but they were overshadowed by the positive.  Love started the healing process, and it continues.  There is still a nasty, nasty scar, but the healing is in process.

Someday people will forget. Impossible, people tell me. But I teach. I ask my students every December 7th, “what’s today”? Most have no idea.  I mention Pearl Harbor and they say, “oh, yeah, I learned that in school.” So they remember, eventually, but the healing is pretty much complete.  The youngest of those who were alive and old enough to remember are close to 80 now. Within two decades, there will be no living memory of the attack on Pearl Harbor.

Because I teach so close to Ground Zero, on the day itself I used to have students write a narrative of their memories.  At first students loved this. They were a little edgy being there, and many said they found it cathartic.  But  I stopped two years ago because the essays I got were mostly variations of, “I don’t remember much, but I was in my second grade class.”  For my current students, it’s just something the grownups talked about.

So today in America we remember. But we are healing, which is the most hopeful thing of all.

July 23, 2013

Babies are Signs of Love I Thought

Yesterday, a baby was born. A little boy who seems destined to take a role in the world, one he didn’t ask for, but that’s the point of destiny.  His birth became an event, and it was celebrated around the world.  He is not the savior of the world, but people need something happy to latch on to, so they latched on to his arrival.

Like all babies, he’s a sign of love and hope, but you wouldn’t always know that reading press reports.

The press has been waiting outside the hospital where he arrived for the past two weeks, just waiting for his mother to go into labor. When she arrived early Monday morning, a feeding frenzy started. I was amused. A first baby? Nothing is going to happen for a while.  The parents, knowing that this child of theirs would also belong to the world on many levels, waited four hours to announce his birth. They had four precious hours when their boy was theirs and theirs alone.

Yesterday somewhere around 370,000 other babies were also born. Each one’s life just as precious as the one born in St. Mary’s Hospital, Paddington.  But these little ones are not carrying the baggage of a 1000 year old monarchy on their little heads.

Too many of yesterday’s babies will die in the first years. Others will live a life of grinding poverty, be exiled from their homelands, be terrorized by war. Still others will grow up happy and comfortable, educated, pampered and secure.  Most are loved, though some are unwanted.

But each of these babies is a blessing–a sign that the world is still going to continue and should still continue.

I am happy to share in the birth of a baby–any baby, really. Parents sharing their joy with us makes the world a better place. Some of those parents are people I know, yet others are in a public position.

Unless there is a radical change to the structure of British government, that one baby boy in London will someday become king. As an American, I don’t really “get” monarchy, but as a scholar of English literature, I surely do “get” how important his ancestors have been. And he may very well take his place in a long line. His job will be ceremonial, but for many people he’s a symbol of something they love and hold dear.

But for many other people, he’s a symbol of all that’s wrong with the world. Once again, at what is a happy event, I see vitriol being poured out, aimed at a little tiny baby too young to have done much of anything yet but eat, sleep, cry and poop.  And again, I don’t really understand vitriol.

I’m amazed at how many people waste precious energy hating, hating with a passion.  Yes, we all do actually know that there are babies being born every day who will live lives of unutterable misery. Yes, we need to remember that and work to change to world every day.

Many of my fellow Americans are mad for British royalty, but most of the people I know don’t seem to care all that much. That’s fine. Ignore, but hate? I don’t get it. Anger? Why be angry at other people’s joy?  Some people just confuse me.

Personally, I’d like to welcome him to earth, him and all the little ones who joined us yesterday. They are all made of stardust, and deserve love and magic.

I wish the new little one health, happiness and love. Many blessings on the new little prince and on his parents. New parenthood is tough, and I do not envy their visibility.

And I wish the same to all of yesterday’s children. Many blessings on all the babies born.

And may we all be blessed with the wisdom to find ways to make all babies’ lives better

April 29, 2011

Best Wishes, but I am so glad it’s over!

Usually, after the last toast has been made and the last piece of cake played with (I mean, really, who ever eats wedding cake?), the bride and groom’s families are heartily relieved the thing is over and done with. Anyone who has ever had a family wedding knows this–from the smallest backyard do to the grandest ballroom extravaganza, weddings are taxing. It seems that everything revolves around that one day for months and months beforehand. And once it ends, people kick off their shoes, heave a sigh of relief and start speculating about babies.

Well, for William and Catherine’s wedding, I think the whole world is heaving that sigh. It’s over. We can stop talking about it all the time.

Because it seems the whole world went crazy. I don’t really understand why. One blog I read (can’t remember where), attributed it to the “Diana factor”–that people are interested in William because of his mother. Maybe.  That might have been part of why I watched, but then I’m an 18th century British literature scholar by training. I think I’m contractually obligated to be interested in British pomp and circumstances.

But back in 1981, Diana fascinated me because we were the same age. I was far too young to be serious about a guy at that age, and there she was, marrying a prince. Cool. Odd, but cool. Then came William.  I was working as a reporter for a news service at the time, and my boss was covering the Saratoga horse sales, a big annual event. She always sold a lot of stories about it, so she invested some good money to stay there for the week and get lots of details.  She came back from that trip so mad she was sputtering. “All that investment, and that damn baby had to come and blow the horse sales news out of the water.” Papers were full of the new royal heir with no room for horse stories. I wonder if she’s forgiven him yet.

When Diana died, I was actually dating a man who had worked at Highgrove, Charles’s country estate. He had known her and was devastated at her death. Totally gutted, actually. He had told me stories of young William that made the prince seem more like a person to me. But more than that, I lost my dad  at 11, so I knew what it was like for the two young boys to lose a parent so suddenly and so young. Frankly, it is horrible. Yet, I was also a mom, so my heart went out to them from the adult perspective, as well.

But the boys grew up fine, more or less, and frankly, I don’t really care about them either way. I wish them no ill, but I don’t pay much attention, either. But as I wrote last week, a wedding is a wedding. So yes, I was up at 5AM watching the arrivals and then the ceremony. Just as the bride and groom arrived back at the palace, I had to dash out to work.

Frankly, I can understand dishing about it now that it’s over. That’s the fun part, the rehashing and the looking at the pretty pictures. But why did the world go so mad? Are we so overwhelmed by all the bad that’s happening that we have to get caught up in other people’s lives? Have we become such a celebrity-driven culture that a Windsor wedding, at the top of the celebrity heap, so to speak, draws all focus? Is it the Diana factor? Probably a mixture of all. 

I can understand the British going mad, but why did the American media whip up such a frenzy? I remember the first time I “experienced” a royal wedding.  It was Princess Anne to Mark Philips in November of 1973.  There was enough mention that a 12-year-old girl in America knew about it, but  back then I was also a huge Tudor geek.  I was obsessed with the Tudor family for some reason, so royalty interested me. Oh, and I saw a picture of the bride-to-be’s younger brother, Andrew, who was just about my age and, in to my 12-year-old mind, cute. So I got interested. I got up early and watched the wedding (and to my everlasting delight, Anne’s dress was an Elizabethan design–cue the Tudor fan-girl swoon).  But what’s the big deal to Americans? Why the unrelenting press coverage?

Princess Victoria of Sweden’s wedding barely made a splash over here. And she’s just as pretty as Catherine. And she’s next in line to the throne, not third like William. Why do Americans worship the Windsors? We certainly don’t understand the least thing about royalty. I was looking at People Magazine’s coverage of the wedding (pictures!), and was struck at how many nuances of royalty the reporters seem to miss. OK, and I was struck at how much I actually know.  But why the madness? 

Is it jealousy? Do we want royalty? I don’t think so at all. Based on talks I have with people and what I hear, most Americans have no idea of what it really means to be a subject, not a citizen. A hereditary head of state goes against everything we believe in as a nation. And really, this obsession is a relatively new phenomenon. Maybe it is the “Diana factor”.

All I know is I’m glad it’s over. Back to the every day. Back to the bad news–there’s a natural disaster than needs attention in America’s southland; there’s a space shuttle launch this very afternoon. So time to get back to real life.

But before I go, here’s the dish: loved her dress. Classic style beautifully done. The hats! Really, Beatrice, what were you thinking? The sermon was lovely–full of my favorite words–love, future, hope. And Prince Andrrew is sooooo not cute anymore.

Best wishes to the happy couple. a long and happy life together.

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