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.
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.
Today is the Sunday after Pentecost which is celebrated in the Roman Catholic tradition as Trinity Sunday. It is also the name day of a close family member, so it holds additional significance for me.
While I had attended mass in person a few times during Lent and Holy Week after I was fully vaccinated, I had not attended since because space was so limited and advance reservations were required. Now, though, with the new guidance from the CDC and our diocese, fully vaccinated people may attend unmasked and capacity restrictions have been eased, so I decided to attend to celebrate Trinity Sunday in person instead of via broadcast.
We still had temperature checks as we entered, but the ropes that had blocked every other pew have been removed. People still maintained some distance from each other, especially important for families with children too young to be vaccinated or teens who haven’t had time to complete their vaccination series yet. Some adults were masked because they haven’t yet been fully vaccinated or because they chose to wear masks because they are medically vulnerable or feel safer masked while indoors in close quarters. People are also masked when fulfilling certain roles in the liturgy, such as distributing communion. It was nice to see the octet able to stand unmasked in pairs singing the same voice part, rather than scattered about by household as they had to be under full pandemic protocol.
This week, we still used the pandemic protocol of distributing communion after the concluding rite, so that people were distanced as they exited immediately after receiving, avoiding large crowds in the gathering space. Next week, though, when we celebrate Corpus Christi, communion will be distributed at the normal time before the concluding rite, so we will get to have a proper closing hymn again. Our bishop has also rescinded the dispensation of the obligation to attend mass in person as of next week, although, as always, people who are too frail or medically vulnerable are exempt.
I’m not sure what will happen. Many churches, including the one I attend, cut back on the number of masses each weekend due to cleaning protocols. Will there now be too many people trying to fit into fewer masses? Will some people who have been accustomed to participating virtually continue to do so because it feels safer or easier or more convenient?
I admit that, for me, being back in person is difficult and saddening. Perhaps, it will be less so as we are able to resume talking to other congregants; it’s lonelier to me being in the midst of people with whom I can’t interact than being alone participating in mass via television. The bigger problem, though, is my discomfort with many of the clergy and bishops in the United States over the last several years. Too many of them are mired in clericalism that fails to acknowledge the decades/centuries of abuse, misogyny, racism, and injustice in which the hierarchy was either perpetrating or complicit. Too many of them are more enamored with their personal power over others than with following the servant-leadership of Christ. Somehow, for me, it feels safer with a priest on a screen than a priest in the same room, even a large room like a church.
I was just looking back at this post, which I wrote after my first Lenten mass in person. At the end of it, I write about the struggles of living through a lot of pain to remain in the church and questioning if I can go back to being confronted with that every week.
The answer may well become evident in the coming weeks.
There have been so many distressing articles about Donald Trump that you think nothing could possibly break through to elucidate something worse.
Yesterday, Jeffrey Goldberg, editor in chief of The Atlantic, one of the oldest and most venerable magazines in the United States, published this article on Trump’s disparagement of members of the military across generations. Trump has publicly and privately called people who served “losers” and “suckers”, including those who were wounded, captured, or killed in action.
Some of the people interviewed for the story think that Trump can’t understand anyone being motivated by anything other than personal gain, especially monetary gain.
This inability to understand the fundamental nature of public service would be shocking enough coming from a president of the United States who is elected to serve the country and its people, but one particular incident in the report saddened me on an even deeper level.
On Memorial Day 2017, Trump visited Arlington National Cemetery, a short drive from the White House. He was accompanied on this visit by John Kelly, who was then the secretary of homeland security, and who would, a short time later, be named the White House chief of staff. The two men were set to visit Section 60, the 14-acre area of the cemetery that is the burial ground for those killed in America’s most recent wars. Kelly’s son Robert is buried in Section 60. A first lieutenant in the Marine Corps, Robert Kelly was killed in 2010 in Afghanistan. He was 29. Trump was meant, on this visit, to join John Kelly in paying respects at his son’s grave, and to comfort the families of other fallen service members. But according to sources with knowledge of this visit, Trump, while standing by Robert Kelly’s grave, turned directly to his father and said, “I don’t get it. What was in it for them?” Kelly (who declined to comment for this story) initially believed, people close to him said, that Trump was making a ham-handed reference to the selflessness of America’s all-volunteer force. But later he came to realize that Trump simply does not understand non-transactional life choices.
from Jeffrey Goldberg’s article, Trump: Americans Who Died in War Are ‘Losers’ and ‘Suckers’, The Atlantic, Sept. 3, 2020
How could anyone, standing with a father at his son’s gravesite, not have the decency to either offer sympathy or maintain respectful silence?
Trump’s lack of compassion and humanity frighten me even more than his inability to govern and to protect the health and safety of our country. He and the press team at the White House are denying the reporting, but Goldberg’s reporting is well-sourced and has been corroborated by other reporters using their own sources. Sadly, it is also entirely believable because Trump has often publicly disparaged those who have served in the military, including the late senator and former Republican presidential nominee John McCain. For the White House to claim that Trump never said things that are archived in recordings, tweets, etc. only compounds the problem. Denying your lies is just another lie and another reason not to believe anything you say.
I have always believed that character matters and have used it as one of my top criteria in voting. I have made my plan to vote in the November third election and urge all US citizens to make sure they are registered and have a plan in place to safely and securely cast their ballot so that we can unequivocally elect Joe Biden so our country can begin the healing process and restore respect and human decency within and beyond our borders.
Today, the United States observes Memorial Day. It originated as a day to honor Union soldiers who died during the Civil War, but expanded over time to include service members who died in any armed conflict.
I am also thinking today of all the civilians who lose their lives in wars. Perhaps, this is because I just finished watching World on Fire on Masterpiece, which is about people from various countries in World War II Europe.
As the country continues its struggle with the COVID-19 pandemic, we often hear politicians and media describe it as a war. The medical personnel, first responders, and caregivers are called the front line, a term that is sometimes also applied to other essential workers, such as transit, delivery, and grocery workers. I am confused, though, by the use of the term “warrior.” Sometimes, it seems that the general public are considered warriors, serving others by staying at home to avoid spreading the virus further. Others are using the term warriors to describe those who are giving up on stay-at-home orders and going back to “normal” whether or not the public health officials say it is wise.
I am extraordinarily grateful to be living in New York State, where our governor and other leaders are methodically working to expand economic activity while safeguarding public health. National news reports have shared data that twenty-four states are re-opening their economies with the rate of infection still increasing, even though the national guideline is that at least two weeks of declining infections is required first.
While I remain unsure of who the “warriors” are, I am painfully aware of who the casualties are in this war. As I write this, there are 98,000+ confirmed COVID-19 deaths in the United States. The number will surely reach 100,000 within the next two days. Over these last few months, the United States has lost more lives to coronavirus that it has service personnel in all the wars since the end of World War II combined.
Today, I am commemorating all the service members and civilians who died in war and all the pandemic victims. May their memories strengthen us to serve others.
Since she became a public figure during the first presidential campaign of her husband, I have felt an affinity with Michelle Robinson Obama. While on the surface it would seem that an African-American woman from the South Side of Chicago couldn’t have much in common with a European-American from a tiny New England town, there are a number of similarities. We are close in age, having been born in the last few years of the Baby Boom. I have long felt that we youngest of the Boomers, who were young adults during the Reagan recession when unemployment was high and mortgage rates even higher, are fundamentally different from the elder members of our cohort. Michelle and I are both mothers of two daughters and women who have been blessed with a close and long relationship with our own mothers. We have close women friends and mentors. We are both community-minded, and also recognize the importance of educational opportunity for ourselves and others. We each have a long, loving, and intact marriage. And we are both women of our time, which means we have experienced sexism and the challenge of tending to both our private and public lives.
Becoming, Michelle Obama’s memoir published late last year, reinforces my sense of her on all these points. She writes honestly and beautifully; I was especially impressed with the way she wrote about her feelings about what was happening and not just the events themselves. She also frequently gives context of what happens either before or later with a particular place or event, such as the changes over time in her South Side neighborhood.
I particularly enjoyed reading about Michelle’s childhood, teen, and college years, as the stories from that time before she was a public figure were mostly new to me. I also appreciated knowing how she felt about many events and causes during the campaigns and her eight years in the White House, as well as her take on the current president.
What was most enlightening to me was hearing how being a black female impacted her life at every stage and added to the pressure to excel and to be an exemplary person at all times. As the first African-American first family, it seemed that every move the Obamas made was scrutinized. I admire that Michelle and her mom, who was also in residence at the White House, were able to protect First Daughters Malia and Sasha from most of the intrusiveness of the press corps so that they could grow up (mostly) out of the public eye.
Many people share my admiration for Michelle Obama and her accomplishments. Her book tour includes venues that seat thousands of people and her book has sold over three million copies, making it the bestseller of 2018.
She can definitely add best-selling author to her already impressive resume.
The Binghamton NY area lost one of its stars. Literally. Patricia Donohue, an actor and activist, who has a star on the Binghamton Walk of Fame, died in September. Pat had a long career on the stage, as a young woman with Tri-Cities Opera and then many decades as an actor in our local area and beyond.
The first time I saw Pat perform was as Emily Dickinson in The Belle of Amherst, but I will remember her most fondly playing Jeannette Picard in Solo Flight, a one-woman play about the balloonist and wife/mother who was ordained an Episcopal priest before it was officially approved.
I knew Pat because we were both members of Sarah’s Circle, a small group of (mostly) women grounded in the Catholic faith tradition who supported women’s ordination and full participation in the life of the church. A number of members felt called to ordination themselves. We met for prayer, discussion, and mutual support but sometimes did public events, such as prayer services.
For the twentieth anniversary of the ordination of Jeannette Picard and the rest of the Philadelphia Eleven, Sarah’s Circle sponsored Pat performing Solo Flight in Columbus Circle in Syracuse, in front of the Catholic cathedral. We were met by a raucous group of counter-protesters. Pat, the consummate professional, performed spectacularly, despite protesters marching within arm’s length, at times. Toward the end of the performance, we were finally able to get the police to clear the public area in the Circle for which we had a permit and the protesters did not. Instead, they shouted the Rosary from the Cathedral steps, which is a misuse of a lovely, contemplative prayer. It was a shame that they never bothered to listen to Pat recreating the remarkable life of Jeannette Picard.
Although I marveled at Pat’s abilities as an actor, it was her passion for people that shone most brightly. She was often seen, sporting one of her favorite hats and leopard print scarves, at rallies with Citizen Action for a variety of progressive causes, such as civil rights, access to affordable health care, and environmental protection. She performed with and wrote songs for the Citizen Action “Raging Grannies” – although she preferred the moniker “Swinging Seniors.” She also performed with the Mental Health Players, bringing attention and support to those with mental health issues.
She was always ready to share her time and support with others. Because both my daughters were interested in theater, Pat would attend their performances. She even let T borrow from her beloved hat collection for her role in Damn Yankees. Many of Pat’s hats were lost when the storage room of her senior apartment building flooded, but T was happy to see that the hats she had borrowed had survived and were part of a display at Pat’s memorial.
I was also touched that, draped over the end of Pat’s casket, were an Irish-themed quilt – Pat was proud of her Irish ancestry – and the stole she had worn when performing Solo Flight, which featured hot-air balloons, because Rev. Jeanette Picard had, in her younger years, been a stratospheric balloonist.
I’m sure that Pat would have approved of the memorial. The friends and family members who spoke all had wonderful stories to tell recalling her flair, passions, and wit. Our Sarah’s Circle friend Pat Raube sang a hymn that she had sung as a prelude to Pat’s performances of Solo Flight; I admit it was hard not to cry at that point. Another friend, Father Tim, was the presider for the service.
While we will all miss Pat, I am grateful that she was granted so many years among us and that she was active into all but her final days. We will each need to give a bit more of our energies to causes she cared about, although no one can truly replace her in our personal and community lives.
This week, my daughters and I sang in the choir for the funeral of our friend Nancy’s dad. Nancy is a long-time church musician and liturgist, so many current and former choir members and friends arrived to support her by participating in the liturgy. We had 43 singers and 3 instrumentalists. The music was a beautiful and meaningful part of our prayers for Joe and being surrounded by so many musician-friends helped Nancy to play the funeral mass.
I know from personal experience how difficult it is to play for a loved one’s funeral or memorial. Because you have to concentrate on doing your job musically, some of the mourning that one would typically do at a funeral is deferred. My hope is that the memory of the music we shared will be a comfort to Nancy when she reflects on the funeral in the coming days.
The reflections offered centered around Joe’s roles in the community as a father of five children, a farmer in his younger years, and then a long-time builder of homes in our area. Each of these roles has many scriptural and faith references which were woven throughout the liturgy.
It was my privilege to write the universal prayer for the funeral. I served on the liturgy committee with Nancy for many years in our former parish and learned so much from her; I was honored that she asked me to write the petitionary prayer that closes the liturgy of the word.
Nancy and I have been supporting each other through an extended period of multi-generational family caretaking. Strangely, some of our most stressful periods have coincided. Fifteen years ago, I was staying at the hospital with one of my daughters when Joe had a serious stroke following heart surgery. I missed Nancy’s mom’s funeral when my mom had a heart attack while my dad was in the hospital for surgery. Now, Joe’s final illness and death happened while my mom is in a hospice residence.
I am truly thankful for Nancy’s support, friendship, and gracious example. I pray for solace and peace for Nancy and her family. Rest in peace, Joe.
On Sunday morning, I went to breakfast early and was able to say good-bye to some of my classmates who were heading out before the official end of reunion to beat the Sunday afternoon traffic. Everyone was very appreciative of the events and very happy to have had time together. It is amazing how easily we relate to one another, even if we only see each other in person every five years, or even if we had not known each other well during our student days.
At nine o’clock, several dozen alumnae gathered at Helen Hills Hills chapel for a service of remembrance. I arrived early and had a few moments to talk to the college organist about changes over the years. His role and the life at chapel are very different than in my years at Smith. When I was a student, there were Catholic, Protestant, and Jewish chaplains and weekly services at chapel for each tradition, along with a network of faculty and community advisors for other traditions. There were three choirs who periodically provided choral music for services, plus a student led gospel choir which sang for some of the ecumenical Christian services and other student volunteers who most often led music at Catholic Mass. (As a Catholic and an organist, I played often at Mass over my four years at Smith, as well as serving for two years as accompanist for one of the choirs and playing almost every organ piece I learned as a prelude or postlude for the Protestant services.)
Now, there are no chaplains and no regularly scheduled religious services on campus. There are advisors available in different spiritual traditions. The chapel still has space for prayer and meditation, but the main body of the chapel is now a multi-use space for concerts, lectures, classes, and the occasional service, such as the one we were gathering for that morning. The chapel was built in the New England Congregational style, but the pews on the main floor have been removed and the floor was changed to wood. It is jarring to me to walk into chapel. I do understand the need to make the space more versatile, but I think it could have been done in a way that was more in keeping with the architecture had the floor been New England hardwood and the chairs less clunky and modern in design. Even more, I lament the loss of service and leadership opportunities in their faith traditions for current students on campus. It was powerful to have services that were planned and attended almost exclusively by women; this basis has been a rock on which I have relied often in the storms that have followed in subsequent decades.
Sorry. End of rant. Back to our service of remembrance…
The prelude and postlude were Bach and we sang three hymns drawn from various traditions and a fellow ’82er sang a solo. There were readings from the Bible, the Qur’an, and from Rumi. Director of Religious and Spiritual Life Matilda Rose Cantwell prepared and led the service very gently and thoughtfully. The most moving part of the service was when Rev. Cantwell invited alumnae to come forward and give a remembrance of someone close to them. People from many different reunion classes spoke about classmates, professors, and family members. Two of my classmates who were from Northampton spoke movingly about their parents’ relationship with the town and the College. My college roommate, who served as one of the deacons of the Ecumencial Christian Church, spoke about two of her fellow deacons who died, Beth, during our senior year, and Amy, who died just weeks before reunion.
Then, we continued on to our final official reunion activity, Sunday brunch. Our table did express our disappointment that our favorite sour cream coffee cake was not on the buffet.
We went back to our rooms to pack up and make sure that our headquarters was squared away before we left.
Several of us decided to stay in Northampton another night in order to process and decompress, particularly to support our two housemates who had chaired the reunion for our class. We decided to visit the Art Museum, which had a special exhibit on the villas of Oplontis near Pompeii. We then dispersed for hotel check-in and reconvened at Fitzwilly’s in downtown Northampton for dinner, joined by a housemate from the class of ’81 who lives locally. We then went back to one of the hotel rooms and proceeded to talk and talk and talk, with quite a bit of laughter mixed in!
We spent Monday morning doing what we needed to do, in my case, catching up on a bit of shopping, including buying some Massachusetts maple syrup to bring home for us and for Nana and Paco. We met for a final lunch together at Paul and Elizabeth’s, a restaurant at Thorne’s Market that was new when we were students. More eating, talking, and laughing and then a round of good-byes.
Before I left Northampton, I had one more visit to make. Another business that opened in Northampton when we were students is Steve Herrell’s Ice Cream. I always visit when I am in town. They have redecorated since my last visit, giving more area for seating. I splurged and ordered a sampler so I could have four flavors: black raspberry, malted vanilla, peppermint, and apple cider. Yum! I was happy to have the company of my in-town friend. We lingered for a long while, catching up on our lives and marveling at how Smith friends, even when they don’t see each other often, can immediately re-connect on a deep level.
Eventually, though, I had to head for home, although I could not help but feel that reunions are too short and too far apart.