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Archive for Life

Feb. 10, 2017 — A significant 1-over

Today, I confronted the daily question in the Trivial Pursuit Page-A-Day calendar.

In September 2007, the U.S. Senate named a National Heritage Month after what liquor?

My response, after a few seconds, was “Bourbon.”

Our family knows a thing or two about potent potables, despite being a priest’s family living in a dry county in Mississippi. We had to import the communion wine for church — Gallo Port, if I recall correctly — from Selmer, Tenn.

And, about 20 miles west from where we would spent our summer vacation, there was the Jack Daniel’s Distillery, where they make their sour-mash whiskey the same way they did a century ago. What comes out technically fits the definition of bourbon, but the company insists on its blends being termed “whiskey.”

The thing about alcohol is that it is not just an enjoyable potable with meals or in the company of friends, but it is the subject of numerous cautionary tales. If you go out right now and you count people as you walk down the street, every 13th person on average in the U.S. has an alcohol problem.

I received training in alcoholism counseling a couple of decades ago, and the leader of the series made the correlation between higher rates of alcoholism and areas that ban alcohol. When you make drinking taboo, the person who finally gets hold of the beverage will tend to binge-drink rather than finding ways to enjoy it responsibly.

And Jack is, as my older brother would say, “a good slow sippin’ whiskey.”

So, what’s the point of today’s entry?

The calendar got the answer wrong.

In about a decade of doing this, this is the first time that’s happened.

Wonder if I should celebrate with a shot of something?

Jan. 22, 2017 — Two years later, and what have we done?

Two years ago, we wrote this.

In the past week, a second scandal within the same subculture has reared itself. The accused in this situation is a person I first met in 2001. Since then, however, he is reputed to have leveraged his status in order to obtain the attention of young women, sometimes belittling them to an uncomfortable degree, according to an essay written by the former partner of the accused.

The two years since the original scandal has seen the beginning of what is called the “safe spaces” movement. It’s kind of an extralegal policing of people within the social dance community where administrators pledge to watch out for potential and actual predatory behavior, and where participants watch out for each other.

Which is great.

But, like youth sports coaches who get found out when it comes to sexual assault of players, they can simply disappear, go to the next town, and the whole mess starts again.

One example? There is a man who has exhibited predatory behavior towards young Caucasian women for parts of three decades. He has been banned from two different types of dance promotions at a Federally-owned property in the mid-Atlantic region.

Because those bans do not apply to every single social dance event, he was allowed to dance last night at this same property

And so it goes.

Jan. 16, 2017 — The Boston period

The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King is synonymous with many Southern cities, such as Selma, Birmingham, and Memphis.

But King’s formative period occurred between 1951 and 1955, when he attended his Ph.D. in systematic theology at Boston University.

My former rector at college, The Rev. W. Murray Kenney, often told stories of Dr. King, especially when he visited the church in early 1967.

Here, in his own words, are his recollections of that day, as told to parishioner Paul Hirshson:

He came to Cambridge to make an anti-Vietnam [War] speech. I was told the day before that he could not get a place where he could have an international press conference with Dr. Benjamin Spock.

I wasn’t sure what would happen, so I had an enormous amount of anxiety when I got that phone call. They assured me this would be all bona fide press. Well, I had seen King in St. Louis, and I saw the kind of security [he had]. I figured two people most in danger of assassination would be King and Bobby [Robert F.] Kennedy.

My wardens were both out of town. I could make the decision to have him [here] but, because he was coming basically for a political reason, I could not let him speak in the church. But there was the Parish House, sitting there. It was clear [if] Harvard didn’t give him space, nobody else, for whatever reasons, would give him space.

So, with grave reservations, the basis for my decision was: Here’s a national leader; here’s a Baptist minister; here’s a leading Christian in the world. If we don’t give him space and a platform, we would set back race relationships in this place maybe fifty years, and we’d had a fairly good record as a parish. So I got personal security, and lawyers, and then King had his security. Of course, the feds had their security and the Cambridge Police.

It was a huge thing–seven or eight television cameras here–and he and Dr. Benjamin Spock on the stage gave their pitch. I never met them. I was way in the back worrying about everything.

It was a risky time in America, where there was racial tension and animosity in the days of desegregation.

And it was only a year later when King was assassinated in that Memphis motel.

While King is remembered today as a figure in the abstract, focusing mostly on the aspiration of racial harmony, it is instructive to remember that he was also a political figure. The week he was assassinated, he was in Memphis to organize the sanitation workers into a labor union.

It was part of a movement called the Poor Peoples Campaign, which sought economic equality, not just legal and social equality.

Despite the passage of nearly 50 years, as well as the election of many minorities as national leaders, the aims of the Poor People Campaign remain elusive.

So, it’s instructive to note that the establishment of a federal holiday to memorialize Dr. King is not an end unto itself. There is a lot more work to do to realize his dream.

Jan. 7, 2017 — The furball

A member of my friend’s family passed away the other day, so I agreed to keep an eye on her 12-year-old cat over the weekend.

I let myself in, but he was nowhere to be found. Until I went up the stairs to the spare bedroom. There, nearly motionless, was my duty for the weekend.

The cat has a form of lung cancer, and his usual goofiness and playfulness has been replaced by a bit of listlessness and some labored breathing. His sides puff in and out like the bellows of a vintage pipe organ.

“OK, medicine,” I said to no one in particular, going over to the spare bathroom where the medication was laid out along with the instructions.

With the medication administered, he purred and played with my hand for a while, even pawing at me to get more attention between the ears.

Animals are a reflection of who we are as people. So is how we treat them. They can inspire a smile, make children laugh, and offer unconditional affection. I’ve seen how animals can change lives through animal rescues and even through happenstance.

Our family has had any number of pets over the years: a dog, two cats, several fish, and a pair of parakeets. My nephew likes his mini-dragon, my nieces dote on their beagle/collie mix, and my brother has always liked chihuahas.

Me? I love cats, but I’m off-the-chart allergic to pet dander, and I can’t be around them too long without wheezing and having itchy eyes.

So, why pet-sit a cat with lung cancer?

Sometimes you have to.

Dec. 31, 2016 — 205 right, 110 wrong

Today, I finished my Trivial Pursuit Master’s Edition Year-In-A-Box calendar, a calendar full of questions about everything from Dutch cheese to the Pringles can to the 1919 Boston Molasses disaster.

My percentage of correct answers this year was 65.1 percent.

Yep, I keep score.

Dec. 29, 2016 –Thoughts of loss

The 2016 calendar year is going to be remembered primarily for people who we, as a culture and society, lost.

We’ve lost sportsmen and sportswomen such as Muhammad Ali, Arnold Palmer, Pat Summitt, and Jose Fernandez. We’ve also lost people who brought these people into our living rooms, such as John Saunders and Craig Sager.

We’ve lost singer-songwriters such as Leonard Cohen, Ralph Stanley, Prince Rogers Nelson, David Bowie, and Merle Haggard.

We have lost authors (Harper Lee, Elie Wiesel), and journalists (Gwen Ifill and Morley Safer. We have lost politicos (John Glenn, Janet Reno, Nancy Reagan, Fidel Castro) and those who made a living talking about them (Gwen Ifill, John McLaughlin).

We have, especially in the last few days, lost a lot of acting talent such as Debbie Reynolds, Carrie Fisher, Florence Henderson, Abe Vigoda, Alan Thicke, Zsa Zsa Gabor, Patty Duke, and Gary Shandling. And we also lost executives who brought them to the fore such as Garry Marshall and Grant Tinker.

The world of field hockey hasn’t been immune.

We lost Betsy Wilson, the long-time PIAA field hockey official and sometime athletic director of Bethlehem Moravian Academy (Pa.), after a battle with cancer. We lost Shippensburg assistant coach Amanda Strous in an act of violence. And we lost Ellen Sosnoski, coach of Catawissa Southern Columbia (Pa.), in a tragic house fire. And there was the death of Mary O’Rourke, who led the Spirit Eagles field hockey organization for a time in the 1990s.

I’ve been reading about times of great national loss, whether it was Pearl Harbor, the assassination of President Kennedy or the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, and the shared experiences of people towards a single event cut very deeply and are remembered for decades.

This single calendar year has brought on deep scars, losing people who affected our lives in big ways and the small. And I think it’s one of them, George Michael, who said it best in one of his songs:

And it’s hard to love, there’s so much to hate
Hanging on to hope when there is no hope to speak of
And the wounded skies above say it’s much too late
Well maybe we should all be praying for time.

Dec. 25, 2016 — My Christmas tradition

I’m having coffee this morning in this cup.


There is a story behind it.

Back in the 1960s, in the Mississippi town where I was born, a neighbor gave my parents a set of ceramic mugs and a matching pitcher, all of which looked like wine casks with a vine and grapes on the outside. There were five mugs, inscribed in gold leaf with the names of the five children in our family.

I wasn’t born yet.

So, as our annual tradition of Christmas breakfasts evolved — orange juice, Cream of Wheat, crescent rolls made into trees, and cocoa served in these special mugs — I never had a matching wine-cask mug with my name on it.

With the death of my parents and the sale and distribution of all their worldly goods, the mug set went to one of my sisters.

But thanks to a chance search on Etsy a few weeks ago, I now have one for my Christmas cocoa. Or today, coffee.

I hope each of you are enjoying your Christmas or Hanukkah traditions with your families this season.