My 40th reunion at Smith

Last week, I attended my fortieth reunion at Smith College in Northampton, Massachusetts. For those who may not be familiar, Smith is a women’s liberal arts college, chartered in 1871, one of the traditional Seven Sisters, five of whom remain as women’s colleges.

I came into town a day early in order to meet up with an alumna friend who lives in Northampton and graduated a year before me. Her sister was a member of my class and passed away in fall 2020. I was honored to be able to commemorate her at the Service of Remembrance during our reunion. My ’81 friend and I enjoyed hours of conversation on her front porch, followed by dinner on the porch at Mulino’s, an Italian restaurant that did not exist back in my student days.

I stayed at the historic Hotel Northampton, which has fun features like a mail slot near the elevators on each floor that connects to a large brass mailbox on the main floor for pick-up by the postal service every morning. I also got to do a bit of shopping at Thorne’s Marketplace, a collection of local shops and restaurants housed in a grand historic building. Thorne’s was a fairly new undertaking back in my undergrad days and I’m glad to see that it continues to thrive. I bought some cards and gifts and books and made two trips to Herrell’s ice cream shop. I got a sampler each time, so I got to enjoy eight – count ’em, eight! – of their delicious homemade flavors. This will surprise no one that knows me. I also got to have lunch at Fitzwilly’s, a restaurant/bar that was also relatively new during my student days. I had mac ‘n cheese that featured fresh asparagus from a farm in nearby Hadley. I love asparagus, which is one of the glories of spring in New England; it reminds me of going with my parents to harvest a patch near my father’s hydro station, a remnant of a garden from an old company-owned house that had been torn down.

On Thursday afternoon, I went up to campus for the duration of reunion. Because of the pandemic, everyone had to have proof of vaccination and boosting to register and many of the meals and events were held outdoors. Indoor events were masked, except while eating and drinking. I immediately met up with some of my ’82 friends and the celebration began!

One of the things about Smith reunions – and Smith alums in general – is that we somehow manage to have meaningful conversations with each other at the drop of a hat. Perhaps because of our shared liberal arts background, we are engaged with a broad range of topics across current affairs, public policy, arts and culture, and on and on. Of course, the deepest conversations happen with our close friends but there is a lot of sharing of ideas with acquaintances, too. In retrospect, I wish I had prepared a succinct answer to the question “What do you do?” Lacking a shorthand reply, like “I’m a lawyer, working for this government agency” or “I teach at such-and-such school”, I found myself stumbling to explain forty years of my life in any brief, comprehensible way.

Unlike the vast majority of my classmates, I’ve done little paid work in my life. I’ve devoted many years to being a caregiver of both elder and younger generations, with more than our share of medical issues. I’ve volunteered in church music and liturgical ministry and facilitated a spiritual book study group. During my daughters’ years in public school I served on curriculum committees and shared decision making teams and helped design the honors program at the high school. I joined NETWORK, a national Catholic social justice lobby, in 2000 to advocate for social justice. I was part of the anti-fracking movement in New York which finally achieved an administrative and later legislative ban in our state; this led to ongoing involvement in the fight for climate and environmental justice. There is my writing life, as a blogger and poet.

This does not condense into an easy answer to “What do you do?” but it does constitute the bulk of my adult life, which would not have been as rich and varied were it not for my Smith education. The ideal of a liberal arts education is that you “learn how to learn.” By studying across the spectrum of academic disciplines, one absorbs different approaches to real-life issues, enabling critically sound and creative solutions that promote well-being for ourselves and others and for our environment.

Maybe I should have replied, “Just forty years of being liberal-artsy.”

The other thing that I hadn’t quite prepared myself for was the flood of family memories. Because it was only an hour-ish drive to campus, my parents visited often for concerts and events. They were there for my recitals in Helen Hills Hills Chapel and John M. Greene Hall. They visited at Haven House where I lived all four of my years on campus. There were there, of course, at B and my wedding, a few weeks after commencement with the reception at the Alumnae House. This reunion was the first time since their deaths that I was back on campus and missing them added another layer to the strange mix of familiarity and difference that the passage of forty years brings. For example, I thought about my parents when we were attending the remembrance service, sitting in rows of chairs where the pews had once stood. The pews were removed years ago to allow for more flexible use of the space but their absence felt strangely current when I remembered B and my parents there in the front pews on either side for our wedding.

I also found myself missing my mother in particular among the spring flowers. We were blessed with unusually warm weather for mid-May and the flowers and trees were blooming simultaneously and profusely in response. The scent of the lilacs between the President’s House and the Quad, where we were staying, was so overwhelming I nearly choked. There were lily-of-the valley in bloom, which are Nana’s birth flower. What would have been her 90th birthday was the day after reunion and the third anniversary of her death is a few days from now.

I’m grateful to have been among friends who could support me with this grief aspect. Many of us have lost our parents now, with some still in the phase of dealing with their final years and indeterminate endpoint. As classmates, we were also dealing with the deaths of more of our ’82ers, adding to the list that, sadly, began during our senior year when we lost one classmate in a plane accident and a second to cancer. That’s why I and some friends always make a point to attend the service of remembrance during reunion. We want to honor our departed ones and their importance in our lives, even if they left us long ago. After the service, we visited the memorial tree planted beside the chapel in honor of our classmate Beth. We took a photo which we will send to her mother, who I know finds comfort that we remember her all these decades after her death.

While the central activity in reunion is visiting friends, there are plenty of other things to keep us busy. Some are long-standing traditions, such as Ivy Day when the alums, wearing white, parade between rows of the graduating seniors, also wearing white and carrying red roses, welcoming them into the community of alumnae. The night before commencement, the central campus is illuminated with Japanese lanterns. People stroll among them with live music in several locations.

There are also a number of lectures, receptions, and concerts. The President gave an update on the state of the college. Everyone is very excited that grants are replacing loans in financial aid packages at Smith, making an education possible without graduating in debt. Smith also highlights its accessibility for students who are the first generation in their family to attend college. That was my situation forty years ago but it was not recognized in the way it is today. I also attended two lectures of interest. One was how the Botanic Gardens are being re-imagined in keeping with the UN Sustainable Development Goals and best practices for preserving species in the face of climate change, all with an eye toward education and social/environmental justice. The other was about the transition of campus to ground-source heating and cooling, which will be a major contributor to Smith being carbon-neutral by 2030 without making extensive use of purchased off-sets. I was particularly interested in this because of the projects we have done at our home to reduce our carbon footprint and because my church is in the process of drawing up a strategic plan to reduce or eliminate our use of fossil fuels.

Besides college activities, we had a few opportunities just for our class. I alluded to one in this post – an open mic event to read something from our college years. I chose a passage from my adult psychology course journal about my experience coming from a tiny town to Smith. A few of us had brought something with us but we had time to do additional sharing which was fun. Our class theme for Reunion was “Writing Our Next Chapter” and I appreciated that our futures also came into that discussion.

We were also honored to have a preview screening of Where I Became, a documentary about South African students who came to Smith during apartheid. Our classmate Jane Dawson Shang is co-producer and shared some of her experiences making the film. When it becomes publicly available, I will surely share that information here at Top of JC’s Mind so everyone can see the remarkable story of these women.

Reunions at Smith are always exhilarating but exhausting. I had originally planned to attend commencement on Sunday morning but opted for quiet conversation with friends. Walking 17-20,ooo steps a day for three days straight in hot. humid weather proved to be a bit much for my feet and ankles, which swelled rather impressively.

It also meant that my reunion experience ended with what is always most important, sharing with friends in a place that was instrumental to our lives. I hope to see some of them and return to campus before our next reunion.

Five years seems too long to wait.

a fraught and complicated topic

Anyone in the US can probably guess from the title that this post is about abortion, which is all over the news right now, due to the publication of a first draft of an opinion by Justice Samuel Alito which would overturn the Supreme Court rulings in Roe v. Wade and Planned Parenthood v. Casey, ending the right to obtain a pre-viability abortion throughout the US after 49 years. If the final ruling follows this draft, each state would be free to adopt its own laws regarding abortion. While some states have already codified abortion laws in line with the Roe framework, other states have laws that would greatly restrict or totally ban abortion if Roe is struck down.

It’s been a political earthquake. It’s also being cast as yet another liberal versus conservative, blue versus red, pro-choice versus pro-life issue, but it is much more complicated than that.

Years ago, I started to draft a post called “shades of gray in a black-and-white world” that would have dealt with abortion as an example. I don’t tend to be an either/or person; everything to me is a complex web of concerns with many different aspects and perspectives to take into account. (You can blame my INFJ-ness or just Joanne being Joanne.) I’ll try to make myself as clear as I can in this post but my greater goal is to explore the varied factors that come into play.

At its root, I don’t think any branch of government should be dictating what a person who is pregnant does before the baby can survive on its own. I think that is a private medical and moral decision that belongs to the mother, her partner if they are available in a supportive way, her medical practitioner, and any advisors who can help.

I am Catholic and know that the Church currently teaches that life begins at conception but I think that is a problematic definition. Most fertilized eggs don’t implant in the uterus and it seems foolish to define all those as miscarriages. It’s tragic when an embryo implants elsewhere; if you have defined life as beginning at conception and prohibit all abortion, then an ectopic pregnancy couldn’t be treated until the embryo has died, by which point there will probably be life-threatening internal bleeding in the mother’s abdomen. Defining fertilized eggs as persons also gets problematic with frozen embryos used for assisted fertility treatment. I would certainly not be considered alive if I were placed in liquid nitrogen! (The Catholic Church opposes most fertility treatments, including in vitro fertilization, but it is germane because, of course, frozen embryos exist.) Other faiths believe personhood begins at different junctures, with many Muslims believing in ensoulment at 120 days after conception and many Jews marking birth as the beginning of full personhood. Because there is no consensus on when life begins among people, the government is overstepping its bounds to impose one.

The vast majority, about 92%, of abortions in the US are performed within the first 13 weeks gestation, or 15 weeks of pregnancy because weeks of pregnancy are, for some stupid reason, still counted from the date of the late menstrual period meaning you are considered two weeks pregnant at the time of conception. One of the very confusing things with laws in various states is referring to abortion bans at six weeks or fifteen weeks. It’s often referring to weeks of pregnancy, so we need to bear in mind that the gestational age is two weeks younger. 44% of abortion in 2019 were medical, using pills to cause a miscarriage early in the pregnancy, rather than surgical. Medical abortion can be used up to the tenth week of gestation.

Only 4% occur after 16 weeks gestation. These are most often done because of grave medical problems with either the mother or fetus. Sometimes, second trimester abortions are performed because of barriers of distance and/or cost to reach a provider. Rural women and people with low income/wealth often have this barrier, as do people without medical insurance or who have Medicaid because federal funds cannot be used for abortions.

The largest factor in choosing to have an abortion appears to be economic. 49% of people seeking abortion are living below the poverty level, with an additional 26% up to twice the poverty level. 60% already have at least one child. Unlike most modern democracies, the United States is not very supportive of families and children. I wonder how many would choose to raise the child rather than have an abortion if the US offered free or low-cost medical care, paid parental leave, guarantees of a living wage and/or subsidies for food, housing, day care/preschool, etc. that people in much of Europe have available to them.

Even the favorite alternative of those who oppose abortion, carrying the child to term and placing it for adoption, is expensive. If the mother is struggling financially and has other children to care for, she is literally faced with a choice between impending medical bills for delivering the new baby and feeding, clothing, and housing her present family. Abortion may be her most practical route to keeping her family afloat.

This brings me to one of the most troubling aspects of prohibiting abortion – forced childbearing. Carrying a child against one’s will is, to my mind, a form of involuntary servitude. I know from my own experiences with pregnancy that bearing a child is work which is physically, emotionally, and spiritually taxing. With my first pregnancy, which was planned and hoped for, I still experienced a lot of emotional upheaval, especially in the first trimester. I can only imagine what it would have been like if I had been without a partner, uninsured, living in poverty, unhealthy, in an abusive relationship, or a victim of sexual violence. Yet, some of the state laws restricting abortion carry no exceptions for rape and incest. Forcing a woman to bear a child that results from sexual violence or coercion magnifies the trauma. It’s especially dangerous if a tween or teen is involved.

Despite some progress, mothers in the United States bear a disproportionate amount of the labor and consequences of raising children. This is especially true if they are single parents. The poverty rate for single mothers is high. Often, the father doesn’t contribute substantially to the household finances. Many women who are unexpectedly pregnant face the loss of schooling, employment, and family support. It’s not just whether or not to have a baby or an abortion; it’s looking at 18+ years of raising a child without adequate support from the father, family, and community. While the stigma of single parenthood has lessened somewhat in my lifetime, it is still there, especially within certain religious communities. There is also still significant employment discrimination against women, in particular during pregnancy. Rolling back reproductive rights will likely worsen this.

While the leaked draft tries to say that the overturning of Roe v. Wade does not have legal implications beyond abortion, it’s unlikely that other private matters won’t be affected. The most obvious is access to contraception. It wasn’t until 1965 that the Supreme Court ruled that married couples must be allowed access to contraceptives and 1972 that any person could access them. I feel the right to use contraceptives is under particular threat because of the way the Catholic Church teaches about them and the fact that six of the current justices are Catholic, with an additional one who was raised Catholic. Only one of those seven is not in the conservative camp.

As a Catholic woman, I have been told that taking birth control pills is like having an abortion every month, ditto for morning after pills and IUDs. The fact that this is total garbage from a medical standpoint is apparently irrelevant to the Church. The Church also opposes surgical sterilization for males and females and privileges the life of the unborn over the mother. I, like millions of other Catholics, reject this teaching and follow my own conscience on these matters personally. I am fortunate that I never had to face a personal decision on abortion during my child-bearing years, but I do know that if I had had an ectopic pregnancy, I would not have hesitated to have surgery to save my life. I also probably would have had an abortion if we discovered that I was carrying a child who had problems that were “incompatible with life” as it is euphemistically termed. I don’t think I could have chosen to put myself and my child through the pain and trauma of birth, knowing that they would die soon after.

Other people might make other choices but that is the whole point. Each individual chooses what is right for them, within the realm of medical science and individual conscience. The government is not the entity doing the choosing.

Besides birth control, there are other issues that are considered privacy issues. Many people are concerned about the impact on marriage. The 2015 Obergefell case that established marriage equality throughout the US could be in danger. Some worry that even the 1967 Loving case that prohibited states from racial discrimination in granting marriage licenses could be at risk. Another ruling that could be in jeopardy is 2003 Lawrence v. Texas, which struck down the remaining state laws that prohibited same-sex relations.

By chance, I had had an opportunity to discuss a possible overturn of Roe v. Wade not too long before the leaked opinion draft. I sometimes do online surveys and had been invited by one of these polling organizations to participate in an online focus group about abortion. I admit that I was a bit of leery about it beforehand, but it was very interesting. Most of the group thought that Roe v. Wade was likely to be overturned soon, while I and a few others thought it would be a longer process. I had thought that the present case would uphold Mississippi’s 15-week ban, changing the timeframe of Roe without going so far as to say it was wrongly decided. I suppose this is still possible if Alito’s draft opinion didn’t draw the support of four other justices, though I feel that is unlikely at this point. In the focus group, we did view some short promotional videos that a client organization might use in the event of tightened abortion restrictions. I expect to see some of them debut after the Court formally announces its decision in June or early July.

There are already lots of marches and demonstrations going on and I expect more. There might be repercussions for the midterm elections in November but with the level of gerrymandering and voter suppression in the country already, it’s difficult to predict the outcome.

I also don’t know what reforms are possible. One of the reasons this ruling is possible is that the Republicans have interfered with the seating of federal judges and justices. Two of the justices likely voting in favor of this overturning of Roe were appointed by Donald Trump but those seats would have been made by Democratic presidents if the Senate confirmation process had not been co-opted by Senator Mitch McConnell. A few weeks before the 2020 election, I wrote a post about one possible approach to addressing this. And all of this is complicated by the structure of the US government that gives disproportionate power to less populous states through the Senate and the electoral college.

Thank you to any of you who have made it this far in a longer-than-usual post. I do not know what the coming weeks will bring with this latest addition to political tensions in the US. It’s hard to keep my fears in check.

Please, stay safe.

Covid red again

Like many places around the world, COVID cases are rising here in Broome County, New York (USA), so much so that we are once again in the highest risk category from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Technically, the high risk category is now orange, not red, but I used red in the title of this post because it seems to be yet another “code red” to me.

Broome County is in one of the red zones with the Covid Act Now site that I use regularly. Our current rating is “very high,” the fourth of five levels. Our seven day average is 50.2 daily cases per 100,000 residents. This figure is likely an undercount, as not all people who test positive with a home test are contacting the health department or a medical professional to report the case or seek advice and treatment. UPDATE 4/19/22: The Covid Act Now site is now using the (much less useful) CDC rating system. Fortunately, the more granular data by neighborhood is still available, as are statistics like percentage of population with booster shots.

There are a number of factors involved in the current rise in cases. Our vaccinated and boosted rate is only 35.5% so we have many vulnerable people. (While it’s true that boosted people are still vulnerable to infection, they are much less likely to fall seriously ill with COVID.) It is also likely that we have cases of two new omicron subvariants that have recently emerged in central New York. While information is still being gathered, these may be even more wildly contagious than the previous versions of omicron.

You would think that our government officials would be re-instituting indoor mask mandates, but they have yet to do so. This is what I feared would happen. When the mandates were lifted, politicians and public health experts said they were doing it to give people a break while cases were relatively low so that they could bring mandates back if we had another surge, but only a few jurisdictions, like the city of Philadelphia, are actually following through.

Instead, government officials are relying on individuals to make their own decisions. The problem is that the majority of people in the US are not seeking out credible information about the risks in their localities. As a participant in the Pfizer/BioNTech COVID vaccine trial, I have been following the science closely. Discussions with my personal medical team have reinforced the wisdom of trying to avoid or, at least, continue to postpone infection. Nearly all the public health goals at this point are aimed at reducing serious infection, hospitalization, and mortality, but I also want to avoid illness, infecting others, experiencing long-COVID, and developing complications. I had continued to wear a KF94 mask in public and avoid crowds as much as possible, including singing masked for this performance and this video. With our current infection levels, we will most likely return to take-out dining only.

I did attend Easter Vigil last night, as I knew that it would not be very crowded, unlike the services today. I was masked but the majority of attendees were not. I admit that I cringed when I heard some very loud coughing jags near the back of the church. I was sitting near the front, so I was very far away from them, but I realize that many people are infected without knowingly being in close contact.

The ease of the spread of COVID was brought home to us over the last couple of weeks. B had gone into the office for the first time in over two years because they were having a new product launch. There was only a fraction of the workforce there, all of whom were vaxxed and boosted. Despite that, B got a message three days later that a co-worker with whom he had been conversing had developed symptoms and tested positive. B immediately masked at home and kept his distance from T and I. He did not go out in public and did self-testing. I am happy to report that we are now over ten days from his exposure with no symptoms or positive test, so he is in the clear, but the story illustrates how easily one can be exposed and risk unwittingly infecting others.

I’m not sure what additional actions I may need to take for my and my family’s protection. If the numbers stay this high, I may forgo attending mass in person and return to televised or recorded services until the numbers are better. I will probably try to speak to the local researchers in charge of the Pfizer vaccine trial to see if they are planning to offer a fourth shot to those fifty and older. The CDC has opened the option for our age group to receive a fourth dose but we need to follow the study protocols to remain enrolled in the study which is still ongoing with weekly symptom checks and periodic blood draws to check antibody levels, etc. B and daughter T received their third dose last July, while I received mine in October. We are all well beyond the four-month interval to be eligible for a fourth shot, although T is not old enough to qualify. At this point, we probably have decent protection against hospitalization but not not much against infection. It’s hard to say for sure, though, because B and T are part of the data set on which such findings are based. (I’m a bit behind them because I was part of the placebo group in the initial phase of the study, so I was vaccinated and boosted later than they were.)

I am hoping that this wave in the Northeast will pass quickly. I always hope for surges to pass quickly to reduce suffering but I have an additional personal reason this time. I am scheduled to attend my 40th reunion at Smith College beginning on May 12th. It’s the first time since 2019 the event will be held in person. It’s planned in a cautious way, with all participants required to be vaxxed and boosted, many events being held outdoors, and indoor masking requirements in place except while eating or drinking. Even with a surge, we should be okay to go ahead but it will be less stressful if the surge has passed by then.

So, once again, fingers crossed. I’m doing what I can to keep myself, my family, and my community safe. I urge all of you to stay informed from credible sources in your area and take whatever steps you can with vaccination, masks, testing, medications, etc. to get the virus levels down and protect public health and your own.

We know what can happen if we don’t pay attention and act. The United States is closing in on a million known COVID-19 deaths. It’s already a stunning level of tragedy here and around the world. Please do all you can.

“A Ukrainian Prayer”

Celebrated British composer John Rutter, moved by the plight of the Ukrainian people, set a prayer in Ukrainian and made it available free of charge to choirs around the world, so that they can learn, record, and share it as widely as possible.

I was honored to join in this effort as a member of the Madrigal Choir of Binghamton. (You can find my post about my first concert with them here.) You can view our recording under the direction of Bruce Borton here: https://fb.watch/co_j5FwNUm/. Although the recording is hosted on the Facebook platform, it is available publicly; you do not need to have a Facebook account to access and share the recording.

At this point, there are a number of recordings of this moving piece available online. If you listen to several, you may notice that the rhythm differs. On March 28th, Rutter released a modified version of the score to better align with the Ukrainian language. The Madrigal Choir sang this modified version. Rutter also has provided a singing translation in English. I’ve yet to hear a recording using the English text, but you may run across one at some point. The Ukrainian text is brief and a translation appears at the beginning of our recording.

Whether or not one follows a personal spiritual tradition, this music is a powerful sign of support for the Ukrainian people. I also urge people to send financial support, if they are able. There are many organizations helping in relief efforts. One of my favorites is World Central Kitchen, which is on the ground in crisis situations around the world, including in Ukraine and surrounding countries that are welcoming refugees.

Rutter’s intent for this piece is that it will spread around the world to show solidarity with the Ukrainian people. If you are so moved, share this post, the link to the Madrigal Choir rendition, and/or another recording you may encounter. If you sing in a choir and would like to participate in this effort, you can find details and procedures for downloading the score here: https://johnrutter.com/news-features/prayer-for-ukraine.

Lord, protect Ukraine. Give us strength, faith, and hope, our Father. Amen.

One-Liner Wednesday: hope in community

Until we find the communal meaning and significance of the suffering of all life, we will continue to retreat into our individual, small worlds in our misguided quest for personal safety and sanity.

Richard Rohr

Join us for Linda’s One-Liner Wednesdays! Find out more here: https://lindaghill.com/2022/04/13/one-liner-wednesday-creepy-enough/

Forsaken of Man

Yesterday, for the first time since the Smith College Alumnae Chorus concerts in Slovenia in July 2019, I sang in a choral concert. This ends the longest drought in choral performances since I was a teenager. While the pandemic was a major factor in this break, the other complication was that the Binghamton University Chorus, which I joined in fall of 1982 after moving to the area, may have been permanently disbanded, something that I suspected at our last concert in May, 2019.

Last fall, I attended the first in-person concert since the onset of the pandemic by The Madrigal Choir of Binghamton. I have long had friends who sang with Madrigal Choir, but always assumed that I would not be the most qualified person they could find to fill a rare opening in the soprano section. At the concert, they announced, though, that they were looking for new members in all voice parts. Bolstered by the fact that Bruce Borton, professor emeritus from Binghamton University under whose direction I sang with University Chorus throughout his tenure, is now the director of Madrigal Choir, I inquired about joining and was accepted. Due to our family trip to London for the holidays and the omicron spike, the concert yesterday was my first opportunity to perform as a member of Madrigal Choir.

We joined with the choir of Trinity Memorial Episcopal Church to present Leo Sowerby’s Lenten cantata, Forsaken of Man, under the direction of Trinity’s music director Timothy Smith. While I had been familiar with some of Sowerby’s work, I had not previously heard this powerful and dramatic piece. With passages from the gospels, including some of Jesus’s hopeful teachings, and additional text by Edward Borgers, Forsaken of Man concentrates on the betrayal and abandonment of Jesus in his final days.

As often happens in Passion settings, the story is proclaimed by The Evangelist, for us tenor Kevin Bryant. Brian Mummert portrayed Jesus and bass John Shelhart chillingly sang the roles of Caiaphas, Judas, and Peter. They were all magnificent as were the other soloists with smaller parts, including Dr. Borton as Pilate.

What I appreciate as a member of the chorus is the role that Sowerby chose for us. Sometimes, we were participants in the narrative, becoming the disciples, or the crowd calling for crucifixion, or the soldiers mocking Jesus. At other times, we set the scene or offer commentary, as in the choral prologue and epilogue.

Unlike many Passion settings, the soloists and chorus unfold the story in a series of four parts, rather than a succession of short solo arias and choral movements. This is part of the drama of the piece, as there are many sudden shifts in mood, voicing, and tempo.

Another major driver of the dramatic expression of the story is the incredibly demanding organ part, played masterfully by the William K. Trafka on Trinity’s Casavant organ, which was expanded in 2018. Sowerby was himself an organist, as is evident from the complexity and expressive nuance of the score. It was a thrill for me to be singing in the chancel at Trinity. I had served there as an assistant back in the mid-’80s and this concert brought back many memories of that time, including some choir members who are still serving.

The sad news is that this is the last public performance of the season for the Madrigal Choir but I am looking forward to the announcement of the next season. I’m grateful to have a new choral home! Stay tuned for more about Madrigal Choir in the fall when we resume – or perhaps before…

One-Liner Wednesday: fear

It is almost always fear that justifies our knee-jerk rebellion or our need to dominate—a fear that is hardly ever recognized as such because we are acting out and trying to control the situation.  

Richard Rohr

Join us for Linda’s One-Liner Wednesday! You can find out more and check out her sweet post for this week here: https://lindaghill.com/2022/03/30/one-liner-wednesday-congratulations/

memorial

Daughter T and I have been preparing memorials to honor Nana and Paco (my parents) and brought them to the building in the memorial park where their cremains are inurned a couple of days ago.

The memorial for Nana is one of her favorite bud vases filled with lily-of-the-valley, which was her birth flower. She always loved them and we would pick bouquets of them every year to bring to her for Mother’s Day and her birthday. Shortly after we bought our home in the late ’80s, we dug some pips from spouse B’s and my childhood yards and transplanted them. As lily-of-the-valley spread aggressively, we now have a large patch in our backyard and they always bloom in mid-May. The flowers in Nana’s vase now have to be artificial as fresh flowers aren’t allowed but it means there will always be a reminder of May near her grave.

Paco’s memorial was created by granddaughter T. She took an empty Irish whiskey bottle and filled it with a rainbow of origami birds. Paco was not a big drinker but he was Irish and Nana used to always make him a Blarney cake which featured Irish whiskey around St. Patrick’s Day and his birthday in March. T meticulously folded 320 tiny origami birds to fill the bottle with the colors of the rainbow. It reminds me of this photo of Paco’s trip of a lifetime to Ireland, inserted into the brief window after Nana’s death but before the pandemic descended.

Paco and an Irish rainbow

It was also the first time for Trinity to visit since the placement of a service medallion for Paco, a bronze replica of a triangularly folded US flag with the inscription “Veteran U.S. Navy”. Paco had served as a Navy SeaBee (Construction Battalion) in both the Second World War and the Korean Conflict. He didn’t talk about his service that much when we were young, but in retirement he often wore a SeaBees cap when he was out and about. It was touching that folks would thank him for his service all those decades later.

Yesterday would have been Paco’s 97th birthday. With spring arriving, the bulk of the estate work done, and our memorials placed, I’m beginning to feel a bit more settled and at peace than I have for a long time. Nana and Paco are eternally reunited and remembered with love, flowers, and a rainbow.

a just peace

Last weekend, after I published this post, I attended mass at St. Francis of Assisi, where we offered prayers for those suffering from the war in Ukraine and heard about the situation in the homily. There was also a lovely tribute to the people of Ukraine in the form of a framed artwork with sunflowers on a blue and gold draped table. We are also preparing to take up a special collection to assist the Ukrainians.

I have been continuing to reflect on the meaning of the “just peace” for which we hope and pray and what elements would be part of that. This post is a reflection of those hopes. I realize that it is not at all likely to be a practical course of action but I wanted to share what is in my heart and mind.

The obvious first step is the immediate cessation of all violence. This will enable desperately needed aid to flow to places that have been besieged or occupied, as well as making safe evacuation possible for the sick, injured, vulnerable, and those whose homes and communities have been destroyed.

All prisoners of war must be released so they can return home.

The Russians must withdraw from the entirety of Ukraine, taking the bodies of their dead with them. This includes Crimea which Russia invaded in 2014 when the current war began. Russia should not control any part of a sovereign nation that it took by force. Any residents of Ukraine who prefer to live under Russian control should be welcomed by Russia into its own territory. Any residents of Ukraine who were voluntarily or involuntarily evacuated into Russia or Belarus and wish to return to Ukraine should be repatriated immediately.

There is widespread devastation, suffering, and death in Ukraine for which there is no just remedy as they cannot be undone. The international community will certainly rush in with humanitarian aid but the responsibility for paying for rebuilding should fall primarily on Russia. Because so much of Russia’s wealth is held by Putin, his family, corrupt government officials, and Putin’s select circle of oligarchs, those are the funds that should be tapped to rebuild Ukraine. Some of those assets are already frozen under international sanctions, some of which should stay in place while the rebuilding process continues. I would hope, though, that the sanctions that make life difficult for the average Russian could be eased so that they don’t continue to suffer because Putin chose to break international law by invading a sovereign neighbor and extensively targeting civilians.

I believe that there will continue to be an investigation and an eventual trial for war crimes in The Hague. I also think that Russia should lose its seat on the UN Security Council or, at least, that the UN should change its policy so that a nation brought before the Security Council must abstain from voting on that issue.

There also needs to be redress for the environmental/climate justice issues highlighted by the war. Russia has long used its fossil fuels as a weapon. The best way to address this problem is to move away from fossil fuels as quickly as possible, blunting Russia’s power and moving the planet in the right direction in terms of the climate crisis. I wrote about some ideas for doing so in this post.

The Russian invasion of Ukraine also highlighted the security and environmental risks of relying on nuclear power, with Russia threatening the already contaminated site of Chernobyl as well as the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant, which is the largest nuclear facility in Europe. While nuclear power does not emit carbon, the mining of uranium, the lack of secure long-term nuclear waste disposal options, and the vulnerability of the plants to natural and human-caused disaster is too great. As more and more renewable power becomes available and as efficiency gains reduce energy demands, nuclear power plants should be phased out.

The free flow of truthful information has also taken a hit in this war, especially in Russia. Putin has shut down all independent media in print, over the airwaves, and online and many journalists have fled the country. Protesters have been arrested. Apparently, some of the Russian soldiers were not even told what their mission was as they invaded. As part of a just peace, Putin must restore independent media and allow the free flow of information as well as free all prisoners, both Russians and foreign nationals who have been jailed for dissent or trumped-up charges. The Russian people should also have an independent judiciary and the rescinding of unjust laws, such as the recently passed one that can bring up to fifteen years in prison for calling the war in Ukraine a war or invasion instead of a “special military operation.”

The democratic government of Ukraine must have the freedom to choose its own path going forward. It should be able to apply for membership in the European Union, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, or any other entity it sees fit. Because the United Nations General Assembly voted overwhelmingly to condemn Russia and support Ukraine’s sovereignty, United Nations peacekeepers should be assigned after the Russian withdrawal to help give security and support as Ukraine rebuilds.

As I said at the outset, this is my own thoughts on some elements of a just peace for Ukraine. I know the reality is that Putin hasn’t really been willing to negotiate, although a swap of ten prisoners on each side is a very small beginning. My fear is that Russia will eventually force Ukraine to accept Russian control of the Donbas region of Eastern Ukraine connecting through Mariupol to Crimea in exchange for not bombing all the major cities of Ukraine into dust. If that happens, I think that all the international sanctions should remain in place. The world must let Putin and Russia know that it will not recognize or tolerate countries taking the territory of sovereign nations by force.

still masked

Last Friday, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) changed their methods of assessing COVID risk to include the strain on the health care system, resulting in about 70% of the population now being classified as being in low or medium risk areas, meaning that indoor masking in public places and distancing measures can be rolled back.

However, Broome County, New York, where I live, is still in the high risk category. In the even more granular Covid Act Now tracker, our risk level is rated as very high, the fourth of five levels, with 26 daily new cases per 100,000 residents as of today, February 27.

The problem is that, when New York State rescinded its mask mandate, our local government also rescinded theirs. Our local conditions don’t warrant that, but, without a rule in place, the vast majority of people will not be masking in public, which will likely delay further progress in getting our case numbers down. Another thing that would help would be increasing our vaccine booster rate, which has crept up to 34% but is still low for our state, as is the 63% full vaccinated rate.

Earlier this month when New York dropped its mask mandate, I posted that I would continue to wear an N95 in public and to avoid crowds in an effort to stay COVID free. As a participant in the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine trial, I am supposed to be following CDC protocols. With our county still being at high risk according to the current CDC map, I am still in compliance with my obligations to the trial.

The next decision point for me will be when Broome County finally gets into a lower risk category. In discussions with my personal physicians, they have advised attempting to avoid infection entirely for as long as possible. I share in this viewpoint. Many public health commentators have gone to the less stringent goal of trying to keep out of the hospital or dying from COVID and to prevent strain on the health care system. I, however, want to protect myself, my family and friends, and my community from being infected at all, so they won’t have to deal with the threat of severe illness, long COVID, and long-term cardiovascular, pulmonary, or neurological damage that can follow infection, even in those who didn’t have serious enough symptoms to warrant hospitalization.

The CDC does say in their guidance that “People may choose to mask at any time.” That will probably be me for quite some time yet, unless our county improves dramatically soon.

Lent is about to start. I’m trying to be hopeful that our situation will improve enough that I can safely drop my crowd avoidance in time to participate in some of the Lenten and Holy Week liturgies. We’ll see.

%d bloggers like this: