Sunday, January 15, 2017

2017.01.15 Victor RCA

This is Victor RCA. He will always be a hero dog in our family. Victor saved the life of John Brakeman who in turn had saved Victor’s life. Victor died just before Christmas, 2016, at seventeen. 

Victor, a white Jack Russell with black patches over both eyes, a charmingly cocked-head pose, and a big barking mouth came into John’s life at the suggestion of his sister Jill the family animal lover. Victor was only a year old and living in a situation which was “plain no good.” He needed a loving home and good care.

John, just 30, was then living in a rented apartment, working as a teacher of fifth grade, and in the midst of managing a life-threatening medical situation that would end up requiring six surgeries, months of recovery, a frightening stint in the ICU, and all the grit John could muster. It was hardly the time to take on the responsibility of a pup, let alone one as noisy and needy as Victor. But the two fell in love instantly, and John took the dog into his home and named him Victor RCA.

During John’s hardest most painful times Victor was a constant companion, eagerly present to greet John when he came home and swift to cuddle up, lending his warmth and affection to John's every day and night. Victor loved to ride with John in the car often licking John’s neck and face from his perch between the front seats. And Victor would respond to John’s commands to, basically, shut up. He knew his master’s voice.

One of the “tests” of a good marriage partner for John was: could she manage to love Victor as well as John? Emily Hotchkiss Brakeman and Victor bonded quickly. The couple married and soon Victor occupied the space between them in bed. He was a dog who managed to worm and weasel his way into everything— even the love space.

Once Victor, who behaved most of the time as if he’d never been fed, managed to hop onto a counter and retrieve a box of chocolates, which he consumed with relish and then walked with his chocolate-covered paws all over a new beige sofa. Chocolate is supposedly toxic for dogs. Not so for Victor whose intestinal system was ironclad.

Victor got along with the more aloof standoffish cat and together they did food tricks. The cat cold execute the the far reaches of kitchen counters from which she would use her paws to bat food down off the counter to the eager Victor.

The family expanded to include a daughter Phoebe, now eight, and a son Dylan, two-and-a-half. Victor licked both children into the family with doggy kisses. John had been fearful that Victor might feel jealous, but not our Victor. His favorite perch soon became the infant seat.

Victor with Phoebe when she was his height.

Grampy Sim adored Victor. The attraction was mutual, including of course forbidden treats when possible.  Once on a visit we were going out and left Victor alone to guard the house. Believe me his incessant bark would scare off any break-in artist before he or she got in. We, however, had a new alarm system. It was as hypersensitive and hypervigilant  as Victor RCA. We set the new alarm and were walking to catch the red line subway for a day in Boston when the police called. Our alarm had sounded its harsh repetitive warning. John and I were puzzled, but Grampy Sim knew immediately what had happened. Victor was moving about, seeking the best bed after he’d given up hope that the door would open to reveal John, and set off the alarm which is movement-sensitive for the ground floor. Grampy sped home to rescue poor little Victor who was not only hoarse but aquiver with terror. It didn’t take long to silence the alarm but it took some time to quiet Victor. The two went for a leashed walk to the park and spent a man/dog day together.

The decision to put Victor down was heart-breaking. Compassion often is. Victor was not only quite old but had a condition that made it increasingly difficult to breath well. Veterinary care had been exhausted. John sent this text on December 21st to the whole family: “He was truly struggling. Last night we were scared for his life. I could almost tell by the way he was looking at me that he was saying, 'It’s time.' Em and I had to make the difficult decision to put him to sleep. It was the hardest thing I have even done because I love him so much. I’m hanging in there but am a wreck. Say a prayer for him. He will miss all of you.”

Victor’s death was sad and peaceful.  John held him and told me later amidst sobs: “I felt his little heart slow down and slow down and then it stopped and he was gone. He’ll never be back.”

Thank you for your life Victor RCA. In the spring we will have a proper burial with shared memories, blessings and prayers as we bury your ashes. Right now they are in a special container with your name and dates on it— and your paw print. You will never be forgotten, beloved dog.

P.S. Let no one in my presence dare say that there is no resurrection for animals—not just pets!!

Sunday, January 8, 2017

2017.01.08 Wish Upon A Star—Always

We in the northeast are in the middle of our first big snow storm. It’s no time to venture out—unless you’re a Magus in search of something more.

I stare at this beautiful and whimsically visionary image created by my sister and her late husband  many years ago.

The image is symbolic. It honors the three Magi of biblical story. They are out at night on a dangerous mission. All three together sit astride a single camel, with three humps, one for each of them.  All three wear crowns. The flirtatious camel winks. The image stands for hope in a new kind of world in which all people and their leaders are on the same page (or camel) truly committed to equality, justice, and compassion for all living things. 

It’s hard to see the three faces in this photo, but one is black, one oriental, and the third, riding high in the middle, is obviously a woman. It’s comical. It’s prophetic, and it’s a work of art that articulates a powerful biblical message of universal wholeness fueled by Hope—against hope. Here's a close-up.

These three storied Magi in the New Testament set out in the deep darkness of night on three camels to follow a star and a promise they sense is of God—the impossible possibility of a new kind of "king" for the world as symbolized by a newborn child lying in the hay in an improbable stable in Bethlehem.

As the story goes, they went at night for fear of the Judaean acting king (37-4 BCE) King Herod's  jealous rage. They returned home by a different route to deceive Herod who had uttered a sycophant-ish request about the whereabouts of this infant—that he too might go there to worship this new monarch. The Magi were political figures of some wealth. They wanted change and had followed a star that looked exceptionally bright to them. There are such stars of course, especially when your heart is expanded by hope beyond hope and things appear brighter than they are. That’s the power of mystical inspiration— sight and insight. It is what empowers us to keep on keeping on—no matter what. It’s why we keep telling the same story. It’s why we call such impulses spiritual—godly.

Hope has been the driving vision of the Obama administration (2008-2016) in the United States. President Barack Obama wrote a book called The Audacity of Hope. We have seen what many thought was an impossible hope: a black president and the hope of racial, ethnic, religious, and sexual diversity with safety and freedom he and his family represent.  (It isn’t about policy or party politics, it’s image.)

In her recent farewell speech to a group of school counselors, First Lady Michelle Obama articulated this “star”:  “The infusion of new ideas, and cultures and talents is what makes this country great. . . . Our glorious diversity is not a threat to who we are, it makes us who we are.” She invited all young people to take this star into the future, to get a good education, to think critically and creatively, to believe in the power of hope, and then work for the vision. I wept.

Will we follow? Will we be like those Magi, risking deep desert darkness and hostile powers, filled with hope, spiritual and political, bringing their wealth to invest in something new. Godde knows we all have followed the wrong star from time to time and invested in empty errant causes. But we don't lose hope or stop trusting God. Nor do we stop envisioning new possibilities—always wishing upon a star. 

Three courageous outlaws pushed on through the cold desert night. Their apparent insanity, it turned out, was remembered and recorded in the Christian gospel of Matthew as well as other Roman writers, all proclaiming a new message to the ancient first-century world darkened by oppression, inequality, and desperate fear. This is why some Christians celebrate Christmas on January 6, el Día de los Tres Reyes, Three Kings day. It is why Christians honor a whole season called Epiphany, the season of light, a season to follow stars that look bright with hope. 

The Magi were wise adults, and their pilgrimage of hope inspires us forward as powerfully as that babe in the manger. As Michael Hudson writes in his Meditation on the Journey of the Magi:

God gave the child to love the world
that noticed neither child not light;
but love grew up, a brighter star,
to guide a pilgrim through the night.

May we follow their Hope and make it our own.

Sunday, January 1, 2017

2017.01.01 Who Will Inherit the Earth?

May Sarton in her lovely poem “New Year Poem” calls us to see, to look around, to pay attention. It’s all there, she writes. I don’t make resolutions, I just suggest a few small things to my beloved spouse, like try to get the dental floss to land in the trash basket next to the sink.

Sarton’s closing line, however, this year rings of resolve the whole wide earth might make together, being more aware and profoundly conscientious about the gift we squander to our peril.

Unless the gentle inherit the earth
There will be no earth.

I resolve to inherit the earth with gentle gratitude and affection.

Sunday, December 25, 2016

2016.12.25 Love Is The Gravity Of The Soul

"Love is the gravity of the soul."

This is wisdom from St. Bonaventure, Italian medieval Franciscan friar who died in 1221. To me it is perfectly attuned theology for a God who is ever-nearer and ever-greater at the same time and always.

If love is the gravity of the soul, then hope is its wings, and faith is its practice.

David Wilcox, 58, is a contemporary American folk singer and song writer captures this spirit. These lyrics are from his song “Show The Way.”

Show The Way

It is love who mixed the mortar

And its love who stacked these stones

And its love that made the stage here

Though it looks like we’re alone.

In this scene set in shadows

Like the night is here to stay

There is evil cast around us

But it’s love that wrote the play. 

In this darkness

Love can show the way.

As the psalmist prays, so we sing:  Shiru  l’Adonai, shir chadash.  Sing to the Lord a new song. It is time to sing many new songs, fresh songs, new words and new connections.

Merry Christmas to everyone. We hallow a tiny babe in a humble manger and call this God. What could more insane? What could more true? What could be more Eternal? What more holy?
May the Love of Christmas bless and keep you now and always.

Sunday, December 18, 2016

2016.12.18 Along the Way: Christ-Spotting

I'm really quite fond of the God of Jesus. Jesus was a remarkable spiritual guru in his day, one so gifted as to be deemed as divine as he was human. Jesus's God dares to be vulnerable and glorious at once. That's my kind of divinity. 

Along the way of life I practice christ-spotting. I watch for glimmers of divinity in humanity all the time. I call it the christ option. One does not have to be a Christian to be a christ.

Of late I've been sleuthing a persistent cough, consulting many doctors, getting some answers and unearthing more questions. My cough is temporarily better, thanks to steroidal medication, yet I'm still in Nancy Drew mode, following clues—driven by hope and my own sweet refusal to settle.

Along the way of christ-spotting I have had many experiences and learned many things. On occasion I meet this Christ by accident. One such occasion was in a doctor's office where I waited, and waited and waited some more. I waited in the waiting room, and I waited in the exam room. So much waiting was odd, because the normal pace at this medical center is swift and efficient. Finally, this old doctor ambled in and asked me what was wrong. He never touched the computer, never smiled, and never used the stethoscope. He was slow, very slow—old, very old (probably about my age:) I secretly thought he had the relational skills of a newt—some kind of fill-in doctor, worse than a substitute teacher, and old-fashioned like the stereotype of the country doc who made house calls.  His manner unsettled me so I talked very fast to articulate the case for my cough. Then he left. I waited. When he returned he told me he'd read my whole record. Really? Then he smiled—a smile deep and wide as the Jordan River of song. It drew me into his sphere and I listened— rapt— while he rambled on about bacterial spectra and other esoterica before he listened to my struggling lungs.

This old doc declared that we were going to do a preemptive strike. I envisioned war and bombs. He meant pneunomia. He gave me a diagnosis of bronchitis, a prescription—and something more. He gave me hope. I had gone back in time. I had stumbled into an experience so counter-cultural it lifted my soul and gave me hope enough to stay in pursuit of whatever might lie beyond preemptive strikes.

Along the way I learned how to wait impatiently, and that to be human is to be vulnerable—not sinful, just vulnerable like the god of Jesus. I found myself wishing that God had done a preemptive strike somehow to prevent the crucifixion—of Jesus, yes, but of anyone. 

After Jesus died it took a LONG time for his followers to discern resurrection, over fifty years before they wrote it into gospel form. Along the way they spent time in the waiting room—wondering, talking among themselves, grieving mightily, asking questions, and living on glimmerings—christ-spottings full of irrational, indefensible, and potent hope.

We do the same as we follow along the way. We are never quite sure, for certain sure. Strength and hope come in small doses. Some leave us wonderstruck; some leave us bewildered. An Advent hymn by Michael Hudson, Episcopal priest and rector of Christ Church, Cullowhee, North Carolina, says it best.

We wait for Christ, our Advent Light,
a brightness like the sun;
we find a rabbi with a lamp
and ask, "Is this the one?"

We wait for Christ, the Lord of Hosts,
a thousand battles won;
we find a stubborn man of peace
and ask, "Is this the One?"

We wait for Christ, our Advocate,
for justice swiftly done;
we find a friend of the oppressed
and ask, "Is this the One?"

We wait for Christ, the King of kings,
a nations' favored son;
we find instead a servant-sage
and ask, "Is this the One?"

And so he comes, again he comes,
and faith is yet begun
as open hearts are drawn to Christ,
the Unexpected One. 

     from Songs for the Cycle. Fresh Hymn Texts. © 2004, Church Publishing

Sunday, December 11, 2016

2016.12.11 Make America Great Again, According To Whom? That Is the Question.

Not so “great” for me, thanks.

I assume that “great”means back to what we thought we had before Democrats messed it up. And I assume “great” has mostly to do with the economy and money.

Well, I did not experience America as that “great” and I do not want to regress. I don’t want to go back to a “greatness” in which…………
    -my shyness was not as natural as it was defensive— to keep me safe
    -I felt inferior or second best when compared to men
    -I felt fearful much of the time for the privacy of my “private parts”
    -I could be raped by someone else’s pain
    -I felt compelled to flirt, in order to assert my presence among men—as Mom did
    -I rarely felt respected for my voice, my authority, and my ideas, a circumstance leading me to opt for a private practice in which I felt professionally honored, safe, and in charge
    -I saw no place for me at the table, including the altar table
    -womb politics in the Church was the only way to feel accepted as a woman, because Mary, as traditionally interpreted in sermon and song, gave her womb to the desire of a large male angel and his heavenly omnipotent master, and then was proclaimed near-divine for her willing assent
    -I feared being overpowered by men and also by God, who was apparently a man
    - professional benefits which I had earned and paid for were suddenly called entitlement, a nasty word in the behavioral sciences
    -I would have to go back under the table of my childhood to discover in secret that I mattered
    -the divine Word Incarnate rejected my flesh
    -many of my friends suffered alone in “closets” not of their own making because of their sexual orientations, their skin color, their politics, or their religion
    -moneyed politics and moneyed sports were gradually taking over the nation

I was the teen and young woman, and I am now the old woman, who felt, feels, queasy just looking at the famous 1945 photo of the homecoming WWII sailor grabbing a nurse, holding her close, and sweeping her off her feet for a meltdown kiss. It’s a famous photo. It ended up going viral in Life Magazine. The image is still embraced as a symbolic expression of pure joy at the war’s being over. Yes, yet I felt uneasy and kept silent. Once in midlife I argued with a woman friend who thought me a fool. Something just did not look or feel right to me.

Everyone adulated the photo, which in fact was a darn good snapshot of a moment in time. It is called iconic. An icon is a strong visual image, often with spiritual implications. One is meant to look through it to see something greater or deeper. What do you see when you look at, and beyond, the kissing sailor photo?
The true story behind the photo, its artist and its subjects is this: The photographer was Alfred Eisenstaedt a WWI German soldier. He was prompted to take the photo on August 14, 1945, because the light was perfect, in part because of the sudden brightness reflecting off the white on the nurse’s uniform. The photo ended up on the cover of Life Magazine. Snap. Flash. Fame. The sailor, George Mendonsa, twenty-two, was inebriated and running wild at the news of the war’s end. He was celebrating with his date, a young woman named Rita whom he subsequently married. Rita was not, and is not, bothered by the famous photo. The location was Times Square in New York City on what was called V-J (Victory over Japan) day. The putative nurse was not a nurse but a dental assistant named Greta Zimmer. She was walking into the square from work to see what all the commotion was about. Zimmer was one of the last escapees from Germany. She later learned that her parents died in the camps. Greta Zimmer Friedman now lives in Maryland. She is not as nonplussed by the photo as the sailor’s wife, Rita. To read more check out The Kissing Sailor originally published in 2012,  co-authored by Lawrence Verria and George Galdorisi.

I do see exuberance and pure joy, and for good innocent reason: being free of the pain and cost of war. I also see that a man overpowered by drink can take unfair sexual advantage of a woman without her consent. This may seem prudish, and it is. It is also my unwillingness to squelch my original and ongoing discomfort—or at least ambiguity— about the photo. I grew up in the "Mad Men" era in NYC and had just turned seven when this photo came out. Even then I, the curious child, wondered about the photo, and when I turned eight this kind of overpowering happened to me, too.

This supposed “icon" is part of the “great” America to which I do not now want to return or desire to reinstate. It stands as a reminder but not an icon.

It wasn't that "great" for women back then.

Sunday, December 4, 2016

2016.12.04 What About LIttle Girls?

Children take their political and religious cues from their parents, at least in the beginning. Whatever we do as adults affects our children. It forms them for good or ill. And there is hope whenever children remember. A couple of tender stories to remember.

In a class of four and five year olds

Cathy and her friend Susie had a conversation in school about the election of Donald Trump to serve as our next president. Another friend, Mimi, joined the conversation. Mimi informed her friends that Donald Trump thinks it’s okay to touch “women’s private parts". Cathy said her feelings would be hurt if that happened to her or her friends and is glad she lives in Massachusetts, since he will live in Washington,which is far away. The teacher handled it well, reassuringly, and also reported it to the parents of these girls.

In a parish church, Episcopal, in northeast Massachusetts

The parish rector, a woman, told me this story: A new family, parents with their young daughter, attended church the Sunday after the election. The rector went over to greet the newcomers, thinking they looked a little red-necked. She welcomed them then asked them how they found the parish. To the rector’s astonishment, the woman burst into tears, through which she said: “I looked online to find an Episcopal church that had a woman minister and found you. I wanted my daughter to have a female role model.” The rector was ashamed of her own assumptions, astounded at the woman’s candor, and honored to be a role model for the little girl.

In the woods in Chappaqua, New York

Here is a widely circulated image on Facebook by Margot Gurster. The text quoted below the photo is from an article in The Guardian by Tina Brown, former editor of The New Yorker.

“The  snap on Facebook was taken on the hiking trails surrounding Chappaqua by Margot Gerster, a grieving Hillary supporter who was out walking with her little girls. Suddenly, she wrote, there was the sound of rustling. Then, appearing like a mirage in the clearing, was Hillary herself with Bill and their dogs, doing ‘exactly the same thing’ as Gerster. The former president obliged Gerster by taking the photograph after she and Hillary had exchanged “a few sweet pleasantries” and hugged.

Nothing I have seen in the last 15 months of the campaign has resonated with me as much as the image that Gerster posted. It shows Hillary wearing what looks like no make-up, her hair uncoiffed, dressed in a baggy black parka, brown leggings and boots, and holding the dog leash twisted in her hand as her poodle mix snuffles among the carpet of leaves at her feet.”

No glamor, no glitz, no campaign—simple beauty.

Little girls will notice and remember. Little boys will notice too, yet what they notice will be different in a patriarchal culture.

Thank you, Hillary Clinton, for giving little girls a memory that will shape their consciences forever. Some will take it into political service, but wherever they take it, it will shape our future as a nation.

Thank you for risking so much to give us females yourself as a role model by which to remember that we too have voices and gifts for leadership as we desire. It has seemed to me that many white women of my generation have been so beaten down by patriarchy that they simply can not envision a woman—someone like themselves— in the White House.

My husband Dick and I have what we would call the honor of being the only grandparents, save one, of our shared twelve grandchildren, including step grandparents, ex-spouses, and in-law grandparents, to have voted for Hillary Clinton. In this we joined the majority of American voters. Still, some days I feel as if Dick and I went out on a limb and fell off our own generation.

Nevertheless, this latest new generation will remember. What it will mean to them precisely, we don’t know. But this election will mean something very significant, something way beyond who won the high office, to the future of patriarchy in our nation. Despite the pain of backlash and particular governmental policies that threaten to demolish progress our nation has made towards social wholeness and the constitutional equality we proclaim, I believe, when I look at the bigger picture, that, in this election, patriarchy has suffered a blow from which its -ism-dependent system of social organization will never recover.

This gives me hope, indefensible perhaps, but hope. For this I thank God.