Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Blue Advent Service this Saturday

Let's face it: it's been a hard autumn for those of us who woke up on November 9th to find that Tangerine Man had been elected President. More recently, we've been watching him load his cabinet with the best Wall Street has to offer. North Korea is bloviating again, and now China threatens to give us trouble. Did I forget to mention Russia? It's probably just as well, since Tangerine Man and Volodya Putin seem to be best buds.

Am I worried about the state of the nation? you bet your ass I am.

Then there's the fact that not everyone becomes giddy with happiness this time of year. J's mother died on December 14th and my mother died on December 15th (not the same year, thank God!!), so this month is a downer anyway. Natural light is at its lowest for the year, a natural depressant for many people. In our parish, we have had several deaths, most recently a really tough one.

On the home front, our daughter has moved to Albany, NY. Our son is about to move to Sarasota, FL. Both these events are happy developments for them. For me ... maybe not so much. But it's the way of the world today.

For all who feel out of sorts and sad, St. John's is having a Blue Advent Service this coming Saturday evening at 6 PM, immediately following the regular Saturday night service. It will give us space to grieve whatever we're grieving, a place to admit that we're not at our finest at Christmas. And it will be a place where we can reflect on the return of the sun and the coming of the Son on the 25th.

So if you feel like a truck has run over your Christmas stocking, come on over to St. John's.

Thursday, November 10, 2016

The election is over. It's time for Trump Watch

I get it, folks, I really do. We're all pissed off that Donald Trump was elected.

But why are you protesting? Are you going to overthrow our constitutionally elected 45th president-elect? Really?

This is not some banana republic, ladies and gentleman. This is the USA. So get a grip. No junta is going to depose the Donald.

We did this, you know. We did this to ourselves. It's the simple math of the electoral college: Hillary Clinton did not win the states she needed to secure 270 votes. Women and minorities did not vote in sufficient quantities to ensure Hillary's election. We can argue about the electoral college -- personally, I don't see what purpose it serves, and I'd just as soon be rid of it -- but the math is clear.

So save your strength, because you are going to need it. Move past your anger. It's time to be watchful. Stay alert. I call this Trump Watch (a la Helsinki Watch and Human Rights Watch).

If Donald Trump attempts to do the terrible things he said he would do, that's when we take to the streets. Peacefully, but with determination.

But this election? It's over. We need to move on, ever alert.

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Tangerine Man

I've been so good.

Do admit, I've successfully avoided the 2016 election on this blog. I made a pact with myself, even though my sense of outrage, over these many months, made my little fingers itch to be on the keyboard.

But now, three weeks before the election, Donald Trump, the Tangerine Man (sorry, Bob Dylan) has finally driven me over the edge. It wasn't the recording of Trump boasting about his prowess in sexual assault, though that was an outrage. It wasn't his harping about Hillary Clinton's bad judgement, which seems to me the pot calling the kettle black.

No, it's his insistence that the election is "rigged," and will be stolen from him.

Arguably, the 2000 election was stolen from Al Gore, with the Florida recount and the Supreme Court's verdict in favor of Bush. But the whole system?

The whole system?

I guess Trump has forgotten any civics that he ever knew. He's forgotten that elections are run locally, and those who run them take them very seriously. I have friends who have been poll workers for years. These folks see the conduct of a free and fair election as their sacred mission.You wouldn't want to try pulling a fast one on them.

So Trump can spout off nonsense about a "rigged" election. He's spouted nothing but nonsense, after all. The problem is ... people believe him.

Who are these people, who believe that the Democrats can control the outcome of a nationwide election? They're the same folks who think immigrants are here to destroy our economy, Muslims want to blow us up, every household should have a gun, and the nuclear warhead is a real option in a conflict. Some of them have called for violence in the event that Hillary wins next month. That seems like sedition to me (but what do I know?).

God help us.  I try to be kind to Trump supporters, but it's getting hard.

Damned hard.

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Another veteran departs ...

There's a special place in my heart for World War II vets. My dad was in the Army, serving in the infantry with the 36th Division, when he was captured and imprisoned in Stalag VII-A, in Moosburg, Germany. That's a long and good story, which I will tell here, someday, at greater length.

Dad died in 1997, at the relatively young age of 77. Now, nearly 20 years later, the rest of our World War II vets are passing at an alarming rate.

From the website of the National WWII Museum, in New Orleans, I gleaned the following:

"According to statistics released by the Veteran’s Administration, our World War II vets are dying at a rate of approximately 492 a day. This means there are approximately only 855,070 veterans remaining of the 16 million who served our nation in World War II."

Now, I'm no math genius, but I think this means that, at this rate, all our living World War II vets will be dying within the next 5 years. It will truly be the end of an era.

Frank (not his real name) is just one example of a veteran we have lost. I met Frank in the course of my duties as a volunteer chaplain in a nursing home. At the age of 94, he had lost most of his mobility, and a stroke had taken most of his speech. Yet, with the sweetest expression, he always managed to thank me for the visit, and for the blessing I gave him at the close. He was a gentle soul, and I visited him most Mondays, whether he was on my list or not. Being in his presence somehow gave me comfort.

A couple of weeks ago, I was called to provide vigil companionship for Frank.  He had gone completely beyond communication by that point, so I simply held his hand, reassured him that he was not alone, and took intermittent looks at a book I was reading. At about 8:30, the end of my shift, Frank's breathing changed subtly, so I stayed on. His breaths came more and more slowly, then, and he departed this life at about 8:50 PM. 

I prayed and sat with Frank for another few minutes before alerting a nurse, because death is a holy moment, a holy moment all too often lost to the turning of the bureaucratic wheels. When those wheels began to turn, I went on home, glad to have been there for Frank.

Days later, I located Frank's too-brief obituary online. There he was, photographed in his Army uniform, and I recognized the same, almost innocent, smile I had come to know. I learned that Frank had participated in the D-Day invasion of Europe. I was glad to have known this sweet warrior. And I was saddened that, at the end of such a long life, he had no one but a hospice volunteer with him at the time of his leaving.

Too soon our World War II vets will no longer be with us. They are our national treasure, and we should listen to their amazing stories while there is still time.

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Sixty-seven years

Sixty-seven years is a very long time.

One of the patients I recently visited on my volunteer chaplain rounds is a fairly new arrival at the senior facility. Well into her nineties, she has some physical limitations, but her mind is sharp, and she's bright as a new penny. Speaking with her is a real pleasure, and I look forward to our visits.

Ellen (not her real name, of course) valued her independence. She had lived in her home, a large, three-story Victorian, for sixty-seven years, the last twenty or so on her own, after the death of her husband. Ellen is grieving for her house now, and trying to make the adjustment to living in her new apartment.

"In my house," she complained during my last visit, "I knew where everything was. I could reach into a cabinet without looking, and find what I needed. Now I don't know where anything is. Where's the spatula? Where's the gravy boat?"

The sad thing, of course, is that Ellen knows she will probably not be needing her spatula or her gravy boat, since all her meals are provided by the facility in a lovely dining room. It's the familiarity that she's grieving for. She's also grieving for those picnics and Christmas-tree-trimming parties that she described to me -- those parties she will no longer be hosting. The banister that will no longer have the fir garland draped upon it. The stained-glass window at the top of the staircase. The garden with her favorite flower, the peonies.

Aging is a progressive diminishment, a peeling away of the familiar, until only the immediate and necessary remain. Some people adapt to this gracefully, even, at times, gratefully, happy to give up the burden of the house and all it entails. Many don't seem to. Sixty-seven years is a very long time to live in one house.

The house finally sold last week, Ellen told me. Her children took what they wanted, and the rest went to auction. "I never imagined it, my things in an auction," she whispered.

All I can do for Ellen is hold her hand, pray with her, and reassure her that she will eventually feel at home here, in this apartment where she can't find anything. But I'm not sure she believes me.

I'm not sure I believe it myself.

Thursday, September 08, 2016

September sizzle

I've been taking an informal survey among my friends. Of those of us who grew up around here (the tri-state area of PA-NJ-DE), none of us remembers this kind of heat in September. Yet here we are, approaching the middle of the month, and my weather app informs me that it's 95 degrees.

95 degrees.

Since I've always worked in academia, the arrival of September always brings me a jolt of energy: the kids are back to school, the leaves are turning brilliant colors, the nights are crisp and cool. All the cute sweaters we've bought for fall are hanging in the closet, begging to be worn.

Yeah, OK. No jolt of energy this year. The kids are back to school and sweltering in their classrooms. The leaves are falling because they're dead. The nights are muggy, just as they were in July. And the cute fall sweaters are jammed into the back of the closet, because we're still wearing summer tops.

And the regional forecast for the fall? Warm. Much above average. No suede boots for me. Flip-flops, maybe.

I hate to complain, but I will anyway. My husband read an article last year that suggested Philly would become the new Miami, once climate change really kicks in. Well, it may be happening, ladies and gents. And we'll need a new Miami, because the old one will be underwater.

So, all you climate-change deniers, listen up. Better still, come and sit with me on my porch. We can sip iced tea while you tell me this is just a normal weather variation.

Except, as my grandma would have said, "It ain't true."

Friday, July 08, 2016

The blue hour

It's my favorite hour of the day, if the weather is fine -- that hour between 8:00 and 9:00 on a summer night. I always try to be out on my porch for what I call the "blue hour." My porch faces toward the east, so I may be missing a glorious sunset; on the other hand, the waning of the day is a lovely time, too.

As the shadows lengthen, a subtle blue cast falls on the trees and neighboring buildings -- in the photo, the light-hued home
across the street appears blue. The sky takes on that lucid blue that reminds me of the skies in illustrations by Maxfield Parrish, an early twentieth-century Philadelphia artist.

Everything begins to quiet down. Up and down the street, mothers call for their kids, who head home. The chipmunks, who like to parade back and forth along the length of the porch during the daytime, vanish silently into whatever places chipmunks go for the night. The birds, too, begin to settle, with the exception of one bird who sings raucously practically until dark. I suppose he wants the last word.

The dark can come suddenly, after this long twilight. And I'm reminded that bedtime is approaching, and that I still have a few chores before sleep. But the "blue hour" is good for my soul, so I try not to miss it.

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Olde Seminarian is ordained!

After two years of diligent study, 6 in-person intensives, and one Master's thesis, I was ordained as an Interfaith Minister by the Interfaith Temple last Friday, June 10. I also graduated and was awarded a Master of Theology degree from the New Seminary, the world's oldest interfaith seminary.

Wow! What an experience! You can see me in the picture -- I'm the short one (of course) on the right.

Despite exhilaration and a sense of accomplishment, I was so, so tired after the ceremony and the long drive home. The following day, I was exhausted, and sat more or less in a lump, staring blankly at the TV.

Now, today, I feel a bit better, more energetic. But I also feel ... new.

"New" is not a typical feeling for me, as my 63rd birthday approaches in August. But new is how I feel. I feel very tender and vulnerable, as if I have lost a gigantic scab and found pink, baby skin beneath it. This new baby skin has to mature, toughen, with exposure to air and sun.

So for the moment I'm lying low, taking a little time, waiting patiently as the threads of vocation quietly come together and I feel ready to do more.

If you want me in the next week or two, I'll be on my porch!

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

A holy death

The hospice for which I volunteer has been having lots of vigils lately. Fortunately, we have many volunteers. Still, over the course of the month I've been called on several times to sit with and comfort a dying person.

Normally the hospice sets up vigils when no family members are available to sit with the patient, or when exhausted family members need to be relieved for a bit so that they can take care of some of their own needs. So it's often just me and the patient, holding hands and  listening to quiet music. I speak words of comfort, sometimes say prayers, and just generally offer a ministry of presence.

Last week I was called to vigil with a patient I'll call "Lillian," whose daughter badly needed a break. Lillian was actively dying, and was sleeping soundly with the assistance of morphine. Her daughter was so happy to see me, because she had not gotten away to eat anything since breakfast. She told me some other family members might stop by briefly, and then she went off in search of dinner.

Well, let me tell you -- this is how I want to die.

Family members kept arriving. And arriving. And arriving. With the third wave of relatives came a couple of pizzas. At one point, we had 15 relatives in the room, comprising 4 generations: Lillian, several of her children, her adult grandchildren, and 3 or 4 of their children. Chairs were at a premium, so I gave mine up and sat on the other bed, which happened to be empty.

But the lack of chairs didn't really bother Lillian's family -- they sat on the bed with her, held her hands, talked to her, told funny stories about her youth, and generally enfolded her in love. I was especially impressed by one of the granddaughters, who sat by Lillian and spoke at length to her, thanking her for being her first friend, and for putting up with her as a teenager, and for singing at her wedding. She also encouraged Lillian not to be afraid, and to go to be with her husband when the time came.She offered her own children the chance to say goodbye to "Gigi" if they wished, and all but the littlest climbed into bed with Lillian and did so.

When my shift ended, nine family members were still there, camped out, and takeout Chinese food was on the way. I learned later that Lillian passed later that night, in the bosom of her family. May it be so for everyone.

I should have been so calm and loving with my own parents, instead of acting like a deer in the headlights. I've grown up some since then, I hope. And learned something.

Thursday, May 05, 2016

Cold rain

Sure looks like spring in our town! I think to myself every year that there's no prettier place in May than southern New Jersey (I realize that this is open to debate). All the fruit trees are in full flower, the azaleas are going wild, and the rhododendron are beginning to burst into bloom.

And it's no surprise, is it? Because it hasn't done anything but bloody rain, it seems like for weeks.

I have several friends who are pluviophiles -- they love rain in any circumstance. Now, I leave you to make your own decision -- but it seems significant to me that both these friends lived for periods in Britain. I've been there several times, and I did see the sun there. But not for long. It made a cameo appearance, let's say.

Rain isn't a bad thing, unless you're in Texas, where flooding has been out of control lately, and that's been tragic for Texans in some cases. I could cope with rain. I could sit on my porch with tea and a book, listening to the pitter-patter of raindrops.

 I could, if it weren't also cold. Not many days have been above the 50s lately. So it's not only rain, but it's cold rain, the kind that forces you to paw frantically through the (neatly put away) winter clothes every morning to find something to wear. Cold rain and a wind that whips wintrily (is that a word?) over the elevated commuter train platform in the morning. Am I having fun yet?

The nice folks at Accuweather say that we can blame our dismal weather on something called an "Omega block." This happens when the central jet stream swings way north into Canada -- so that the center of the U.S. is warm and dry -- but then swings back north along both coasts (the left and right portions of the omega), bringing low pressure and rain.

The Omega block is sitting right on my chest, like a cat waiting to be fed. And we have more days of this coming.

Is that mildew between my toes?

Thursday, April 21, 2016

He said/she said ...

Look at those sweet cartoon figures to the left,   still in love, after all these years. Haven't we all known sweet old couples who've been married so long that they can finish each other's sentences? And there are even those couples who don't even seem to have to speak. It's almost as if they have telepathic abilities.

I've been married nearly 36 years, but my spouse and I are not at this telepathic point yet. Not having to converse would be an attractive option, given some of the crystal-clear interchanges we've had recently.

HE: Where'd you put my thing for work?
SHE: What thing?
HE: The thing I use to work in the dining room.
SHE: I didn't put anything anywhere.
HE: But my thing is gone. You had to have put it away.
SHE: What THING? What is the THING?
HE: The plug thing. For the wall.
SHE: You mean the CORD? It's the CORD you want? The ELECTRIC CORD?
HE: Yes.
SHE: I never touched it.

Of course, no one is immune to communication difficulties.

HE: I couldn't get into the garage from the driveway.
SHE: That's because the hoojie is busted.
HE: The garage door opener is busted?
SHE: No, just the hoojie. It might need a new battery.
HE: The garage door opener doesn't use batteries. It's hard-wired.
SHE: Not the opener, the hoojie.
HE: What's a HOOJIE?
She: The hoojie on the wall. With buttons.
HE: You mean the TOUCHPAD? The TOUCHPAD needs a battery?
SHE: That's what I just said.

Can it get any better than this? Maybe if we learned Sign Language it would help!

Sunday, April 17, 2016

Where the poor go to die

Last week I participated in an evening vigil for a woman (let's call her Laura, not her real name) in one of our sadder local nursing homes.

I've been to this location a few times, and each time I come away from the experience really and truly depressed. Not because the patient is dying -- we all will have to do that -- but because this facility is so very different from others I've visited. This place is where the indigent and lonely go to die.

My volunteer coordinator informed me ahead of time that Laura had no family, none at all, no one to sit with her. Entering her room, I noticed how different it was from other rooms I'd sat vigil in recently: there were no flowers, no family photos; the walls were blank; the TV, which was not on, was a small portable resembling one I had in the 1970s; and there was no electric light, aside from the typical fluorescent fixture found above hospital beds. I left it off.

It was 6:30 when I arrived, so there was plenty of natural light to see by. Sitting near Laura and holding her hand,  I watched out the west-facing window as a beautiful sunset took shape, casting a lovely pink light into the room and over the bed. It was the only spot of beauty other than Laura herself, who had a gorgeous head of pure-white hair, and calm, lovely features.

But only Laura's room was calm. In the room next door, the patient spent quite a while singing what sounded like the theme song from Flipper, over and over again, in a passable bass-baritone. Out in the hallway, meanwhile, another patient, in a high, screeching voice, cried over and over that she had no idea where she was, and that she knew the bad people were after her. She was clearly confused and terrified. This continued for the better part of an hour before staff were able to calm her.

It breaks my heart that folks without resources end up in situations like this. I know the staff does its best. But I saw only one nurse that evening, who came in to re-position Laura in the bed, to check her diaper, and to administer oral morphine.

I don't know what the answer is. I know care has to be paid for, and that the poor get a minimum of care. Many facilities (and, I suspect, this one) also seem understaffed, and so  that minimum of care becomes even more perfunctory.

I wish I had an answer, but I don't. As the evening went on, the light grew dimmer, and I finally had to switch on the fluorescent light over the other bed in the room, which was empty. It cast a glaring light which made the room look even less comfortable and welcoming. Laura's breaths seemed farther apart, but then she rallied and breathed normally.

Laura did not die on my watch, and even that made me sad. I so wanted her to leave the place behind and fly away, free.

Wednesday, March 09, 2016

Canaries in the coal mine

Despite a couple of cold blasts from Canada, we've had a very mild winter here in the mid-Atlantic region. I can count the number of times I wore my down-filled parka -- few enough that it won't need cleaning for next year -- and I haven't used my fireplace at all.

Christmas Eve found us at 70 degrees here in New Jersey, a most un-Christmas-like temperature. It's hard to burn the Yule log when you have to open the windows at the same time! I have often wondered about Christmas in Florida. I suppose our neighbors to the south have created their own warmer-weather traditions for that festive time of year.

We noticed daffodils coming up at church about two or three weeks ago, and tulips will not be far behind. And today we are approaching 80 degrees!  Aside from the problem of what to wear on these unusually warm days (do I tough it out with a light sweater, or go rooting through the closet like a pig looking for truffles -- in my case, a tee shirt?).

But the real problem is a bit more existential (assuming I don't sweat to death in my light sweater, which would be existential, but only for me). Bill McKibben, one of my favorite writers on climate change, wrote an article for the Boston Globe earlier this month, in which he mentioned that the three months just past (December 2015, and January-February 2016) were the warmest on record. Ever. You can read his article here.

So despite the fact that I have already started cleaning up my porch for the spring, a task I typically leave for April), and that I hear the seed catalogs calling my name, I think this early spring is not a good thing. As I write this, our neighbors in the southern states are receiving more than 14 inches of rain. This could be devastating for them.

And all this, I suspect from what I've read, is due to global warming. I truly feel that environmentalists like Bill McKibben are the canaries in the coal mine. We really need to listen.

Really. Listen.

Monday, February 01, 2016


I normally shop for groceries on either Friday night or early Saturday morning, making every effort to avoid crowds. I hate crowds!

The absolute worst time for grocery shopping, I tell myself, is early Sunday afternoon, when all the "old dears" have exited the noon mass and are slowly trundling up and down the aisle, pushing their carts at barely perceptible speed.

"Old dears, is it?" says Reality Chick, who lives in my head and is wont to speak up at the least opportune times. "Old dears? Now, that's just a shame. I clearly heard you grunting when you had to stoop down for the shredded wheat. And both your knees popped when you stood back up."

OK, so ... my knees are a little wonky. Only when the weather is wet and warmish ....Not most of the time ...

"And have you looked in the mirror lately?" she continues. "The top of your head near the part is starting to go gray. And those jowls? You didn't have those at thirty. Or forty. Or ..."

I examine myself in the mirror, and it's true.  I am jowly, and my eyelids seem to have gained weight, too. Or they're puffy. And there is gray coming in .....just a bit. We do that late in our family.

"You know," she continues, all that stuff you write on your blog about how wonderful Cronehood is, and how lovely it is to grow old and wise? Did you forget the old part? Or does that part not apply to you?"

OK, OK I give up. I'm in my 60s, and I am trying to age gracefully. But let's not rush things. I am, most emphatically, not an "old dear." Not yet, at least.

The most I will admit to is being "oldish,"

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

The scramble for bread and milk ...

OMG, I understand we are expecting a "monster snowstorm" in the next day or two. For the DC area, it may well be a storm of historic proportions -- not so much for us here in New Jersey.

Is it time to panic? Should I join the crowd of other little old ladies beating a path to the Superfresh in search of the always-important bread and milk?

Maybe not. I have bread in the freezer, and plenty of milk. I only use milk in coffee anyway.

And how long are we ever snowed in, in our part of the country? A day or two, no more. If I had to, I could trundle on foot to the grocery store. But I wouldn't. I'd eat microwave popcorn and watch movies until the snow melts or J. got us shoveled out.

But this is a human response to a threat, right? We're circling the wagons, sandbagging the riverbank, preparing to evacuate ....

No. Not for this. When Three Mile Island had its meltdown in 1979, J. and I had an escape plan. THAT was a threat! This hardly rises to that level.

The only thing I really am concerned about is power, since this storm is a Nor'easter, with plenty of wind expected. So I checked the drawer where we keep the D batteries, and we seem to have plenty. And then .....

And then I really panicked, and ordered this little charger/power-storage gizmo from Amazon (it will arrive tomorrow, well in advance of the snow).

Because we may be eating cold baked beans out of the can, but our cell phones will be charged and ready!

It's all about priorities.

Friday, January 15, 2016

The Episcopal Church: All are welcome here!!!!

Well, I hope this graphic is large and colorful enough to make the message clear: despite being disciplined by the less enlightened portions of the Anglican Communion, we Episcopalians stand fast on the belief that all are entitled to marry. Man-woman, man-man, woman-woman -- it's all good. Any two people with good intentions and a pulse may marry in the Episcopal Church.

A lot of deliberation went into the recent change in our canons. And while it's true that you can't please all the people all the time, most of the people I know seem pleased that same-sex marriage is now approved.

As for the Anglican Communion, which a friend of mine today referred to as the last, tattered remnants of the British Empire, well, maybe it's time to move forward without them. At any rate, I plan to add the "disciplining" of the Episcopal Church to the long (very, very long) list of things that don't keep me awake at night.

Meanwhile, join us in church. You're ALL welcome.