Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Matriot

When our President announces, garrulously, that  "North Korea best not make any more threats to the United States. They will be met with fire and fury like the world has never seen," he threatens all of our well-being and safety while simultaneously showing his ignorance of the horrors of war. I've dragged out this old essay--written almost 15 years ago--because the words and actions of this inadequate, self-serving, fear-mongering poser compel me to take a stand. Once again. 


Matriot

I am not a patriot.  That’s what I hear on the news anyway, or read in the paper from any number of people who insist that, to be a patriot, I must support a war. I don’t support the war.  I don’t support any war.  It was bad enough to see on the news every night that my principles were being maligned as unpatriotic, but then co-workers began to look at me suspiciously as I joined in conversations at work.  Me – unpatriotic? That had never been called into question in my life, except once after a trip to France in my junior year of high school when I announced I was moving back to Montpelier as soon as possible because I liked it better there and Madame Samuelson almost failed me on the spot for being unpatriotic as well as kind of impetuous.  As it was being called into question by anonymous countrymen and women as well as people who actually know me, I decided it was time to take a look at that which I long thought was intrinsically mine – as an American.  And I found, both to my dismay and surprise that I am, in fact, not a patriot at all.  I am a matriot. 

Don’t look it up – it’s not there.  Patriot is, of course.  The Oxford-English Dictionary defines “patriot” as “one who self-sacrificingly exerts himself to promote the well being of his country; one whose ruling passion is the love of his country; one who maintains and defends his country’s freedom or rights”.  And in fact “matriotism” is in the OED as well.  “Love of one’s mother-land, alma mater” it said.  If patriot is love of fatherland, then I am a matriot - of the mother land.  I represent those softer, nurturing qualities that only a mother can get away with and, in addition, I will defend my country’s freedom and rights. I just won’t do it with a gun. What I will do is mourn every single name on the news each night that tallies another life lost.  I will turn the TV off when I can’t watch the “tank-cam” any longer or one more inch of footage of an actual firefight.  All I want to do is figure out how to bring home the brand new orphans.  My arms literally ache when I see another stretcher bearing wounded.  Because I am anti-war, it does not mean I am not supporting our troops over in Iraq – or wherever they may be sent.  I want them home – all of them. Safe, sound and mowing lawns, preparing tax returns and taking care of their own children.  But since they are there, I will pray for them and I will pray for those who stand in their way as they try and achieve their goals – invasion, destruction, death.  War for me is not a means to an end, an “operation”, a strategic plan with acceptable loss.  It is broken down into hundreds of thousands of individuals, many of them children, who will block bullets with their bodies as heads of state check daily updates from CentCom.  It is a tragic event, no matter how I look at it and I can’t help but be sad, as if every single one of those people were my own child.  There was no definition in the OED for one who cannot send off those to whom she has given birth, literally or metaphorically, to kill or be killed in a war calculated by men who will never set foot in the place.  So I made one up. Matriot – (NOT an antonym to patriot); one who self sacrificingly exerts herself to promote the well-being of her fellow countrypeople; one whose ruling passion is love. 

We live in a bounteous nation with such a wide array of natural resources available to us it is almost shameful.  There is such beauty in our endless landscapes, unbroken coastlines and glorious mountains that it seems impossible that it all exists between two shores and beholding it is literally breathtaking.  The creativity and ingenuity that is nurtured and allowed free reign in this country rockets past conventional boundaries; and our country’s great minds outdo each other in feats of genius and discovery.  No, I love my country.  I am grateful to be in America. I don’t think many of us even get that the freedoms we enjoy as a nation don’t even exist in many countries. I would protect that, definitely.  But I don’t just want to stand up and wave the flag without some substance behind it. And the best substance I can think of is to take care of those who are my responsibility. 

If I could go to Iraq right now and help by comforting, holding or soothing, I would, because I sure couldn’t help anyone by bringing a gun with me. It doesn’t have to be an American soldier – it could be a British soldier or even an Iraqi civilian.  I don’t want to feel that my loyalty to country is called into question because I don’t condone killing.  I simply feel, as a mother, that before – or even at the same time – that Congress approves nearly 80 million dollars for the war in Iraq and its aftermath, that we should make sure that our own house is in order.  That our children are fed. And that they are clothed and adequately educated.  Could it be a priority that our countrymen and women don’t freeze in the streets because they have no homes or that other countrymen and women are denied anything because of race or gender?  If 80 billion dollars is available through this government to execute a plan to wage war in another country and then rebuild that country, then couldn’t even half of that unimaginable sum of money be available for children right here in the United States? I only pose these questions because I am a mother. I have borne children of my own and I have taught hundreds of others in elementary school.  If there is one thing I believe for sure it is that children need to be looked after. And so do some others who can’t take care of themselves. I believe it is our country’s duty to take care of our own.  I believe that killing is wrong and that, as Dr. King said, “peace is not merely a distant goal we seek, but that it is a means by which we arrive at that goal”.  And I am pretty sure I believe all of this without hesitancy because I am a matriot. 

Cynthia Eastman

April 12, 2003

Friday, May 26, 2017

What She Thought


My mother died four months ago. In the ensuing months, after the funeral, we went through her things, bequeathing them to family, friends and her favorite homeless shelter. It’s not easy, going through someone’s things. Almost every sweater, every blouse held a memory. How could I give them away? I wanted to hear from her. I tried to listen: “You should give that gauzy teal scarf to Gerry. She’ll wear it.” I channeled her wishes the best I could and probably got some wrong. But you can’t live your whole life with someone without knowing a little about what she might think.

Then we had to help my dad. I don’t know how we did in helping him deal with his loss, because the more immediate decision was where he would live. He couldn’t stay alone in Florida, nor were there any real adequate solutions available--in our opinion. We packed up as much of the apartment as would fit into my house and garage and moved him over a thousand miles away from the home he shared with my mom to Connecticut.

Four months. It seems impossible that we were able to accomplish so much in such a relatively short amount of time. Now that all the big decisions have been made; remodeling, moving, donating, we’ve come to the job of living with our loss. Did we care for her the best way we could? It’s hard not to have regrets, but were there any really big ones for her? It’s just so hard to know, especially when a loved one--your parent--is taken so suddenly.

There are boxes and boxes of belongings stacked in my garage, but when I packed up my parents’ things in Florida, I bought a plastic crate for “papers.” There were tons of papers having to do with life and death: doctor’s bills, prescription statements, rehab agreements, hospice booklets. I dragged that box upstairs to my office, leaving the others for “later,” in an effort to tackle any real, burning issues first. My eyes glazed over from trying to interpret one form after another, until, in between another hospital bill and insurance statement, I saw my mother’s distinct handwriting on a folded sheet of paper. I pushed the pile aside and unfolded the paper. A full page of handwriting in pencil on the back of one of the New York Times crossword puzzles she liked to print out and solve in between reading her books. It was dated 6/22/16 and it appeared to be entitled “My Outrage. ” After those titular words, it launched into a rant about my dad’s most recent medical issue--a fall which put him in the hospital. It goes like this:

My Outrage
is with the Hospital and its [June] 7th emergency room assessment of my husband--
Here is all:
            85 year old man -
            Diabetic
            Legally blind w/
            A pacemaker
Brought into Emergency with--
            A broken shoulder bone
            and
            A shattered? burst?
            broken patella (knee cap)
            (both on the left side!)
They
Knowing
            He will need 4-6 weeks of Rehab. And they send him to Rehab care knowing all this and with no consideration of his insurance [coverage]--

I feel like an anonymous number in an anonymous system and I feel helpless

BUT

I can’t afford to expend my energy in a negative way. I need me to be upbeat, positive and creative and mostly loving, caring and kind. It’s getting hard, but that has to be my focus.

It is what it is, but it will be what you make it!

Hopefully, others will take up the cause!

I remember this time in their lives, when my dad fell and was taken to the hospital. He stayed more than three days and he was recommended to skilled care, fortunately available in their retirement community apartment building. What wasn’t fortunate was that, because he was never officially admitted to the hospital, his rehab wasn’t covered by Medicare and they had to pay out of pocket for the six weeks of rehab. Their savings account wasn’t meant for this, but they were lucky to be able to cover it. This isn’t the only time it happened. He fell again, in November, in the midst of my mom’s escalating physical decline and cancer diagnosis. They--the hospital, the doctors, the case managers--did it again: kept him for more than three days, discharged him to skilled care and left it all on my parents’ shoulders because he wasn’t officially admitted. He was there under “observation.” And observation isn’t covered. It’s a break down in the system of care that many people aren’t aware of. But the hospitals are. So are the rehab centers.

I don’t have to guess about what she thinks this time--I read it with my own eyes. I want to share her thoughts here, not for some redress or malice, but because her voice deserves to be heard. My mom's outrage doesn't have to remain hidden in a file folder among unsympathetic statements. If sharing it does nothing but help one person be aware of this glaring neglect of care in the system, then great. But even more importantly, I want to share that part of her that experienced this maltreatment and pushed it aside so she could focus on the task at hand. Anybody can point out unfairness, but it takes real strength to move forward despite it. That’s her cause. One I take up gladly by sharing this now. 
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Monday, March 20, 2017

Why We Read

I'm sharing my latest post from my monthly She Writes blog here for two reasons: The first one is because it's one of my favorites. Not because it's especially profound or well-written, but because I finally wrote about reading. The second reason is that I think this post might resonate with readers who aren't writers. Most writers are avid readers, but not all avid readers are writers. (Although, convincing people that, "yes, you can write!" is one of my pet projects. Go ahead. Ask me to help you.)

So, anyway...without further ado... My Book.



My book. We all use that phrase: I’ll get to the (laundry, dishes, litter box, job search) just as soon as I finish my book.


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My book. It doesn’t matter whose actual book it is--Patricia Cornwell, Dan Brown, Mark Twain, Jane Austen--once we pick it up, peek inside at a random page and inhale deeply as we clutch it in our hands, it becomes ours. Our next “Once upon a time…” (1) New bestsellers, old favorites…it doesn’t matter. Browsing through the bookstore is exhilarating; exploring the stacks at the library, reassuring. We make our choice and hug our book to our breast in a proprietary way, almost protective. It doesn’t matter that there are another hundred thousand books out in the world just like this one.  This one is ours.

It’s not just the thrill of having a new book to read, it’s not just reading. Once you open the cover and read the first sentence, you’ve entered into a relationship with your book. “Once upon a time, there was a woman who discovered she had turned into the wrong person.” (2) I mean really. How can anyone put that book down?

The relationship continues and demands your attention. We actually put things off to read our book, don’t we? Maybe even neglect some things? Like children?  I remember one time when my son was young, maybe about two years old. He had been sick with a cold and was a little less energetic than usual. He was playing contentedly on the family room floor with his blocks and I took the opportunity to read my book. "Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again." (3) Suddenly, I realized he had gone quiet—he had fallen asleep right there in a pile of Duplos. Did I scoop him up gently and transfer him to his crib? Nope. I left him right there and greedily finished another couple of chapters of my book. In my defense, I did remove the blocks from under his cheek and cover him with a blanket.

Being in the middle of a book is like heeding a siren’s call. Glancing at it on your nightstand as you change into your PJs both excites and calms you because you know you will soon be propped up with a couple of pillows, tucked happily under the quilt and cracking open your book to the page you left behind this morning, sneaking in just a few more pages before having to go off and make a living. Stupid jobs...they get in the way of everything.

“Life changes fast. Life changes in an instant.” (4) But when you have a book with you, it’s like an anchor for your soul. We know life changes in an instant; it’s reading what others write about it that connects us to a greater understanding about our life experience. Our book gives us a tangible hand to hold, a constant friend at our side. Our books, their authors and their characters stay in our heads and guide us. I want to be cool like Kay Scarpetta, funny like Erma Bombeck, smart like Joan Didion. Even as my reading habits ebb and flow depending on how busy my life is, books occupy a place in my life that is not like any other object in the world. A book is both inanimate and animate at the same time. I loved all the books I’ve read and all the books I will read. As William Goldman writes, “This is my favorite book in all the world, though I have never read it.” (5) 

1. Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm, Grimm’s Fairy Tales
2. Anne Tyler, Back When We Were Grownups
3. Joan Didion, The Year Of Magical Thinking
4. Daphne du Maurier, Rebecca
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5. William Goldman, The Princess Bride

Originally posted on She Writes February 2, 2017 

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Birthdays Aren't for Sissies

Richard with his two favorite nephews. 
When I was getting ready to return to my second year of college, my brother Richard was preparing to attend his freshman year at Wesleyan, our Dad’s alma mater. We had both worked all summer; I was a Fotomate--that’s what they called those of us who worked in those claustrophobic Fotomat booths--and Richard worked as a pizza delivery guy for Domino’s, driving his blue VW minibus all over Louisville. Knowing those pizza delivery guys didn’t make much money--and as the older sister—I footed the bills for our mutual outings that summer. When we went to the bank together at the end of the summer to cash out our savings for the coming school year, I walked out with a couple of hundred bucks and Richard pocketed his over seven hundred dollars. This was 1977--that was a lot of money. It occurred to me then that my brother was a shrewd planner. I made it easy for him that summer by being the overprotective sister--picking up the tab when we went for pizza or midnight madness at The Vogue movie theater.  I don’t remember feeling anything but shocked and amazed; not annoyed or taken advantage of. It was the beginning of seeing him as the person he was to become.

The intervening years have continued to prove his planning prowess. It seemed that he always had a plan, always knew what he was going to do next. Meanwhile, my life was like the little steel ball in a pinball machine, reacting to whatever obstacle or hurdle I was thrown up against.  He once drove out to San Francisco to rescue a friend from the Moonies. He and another friend drove back to California a few years later to live in San Diego. He always had a sense of purpose, a well-defined course of action. Although I still felt protective of him, he rarely seemed like he needed my “protection” and more often than not, it was I who looked to him for guidance or support during times of difficulty or confusion. He has always been the smartest person I know, and I’m not the only person in the world who has said that. His weighing in on matters of current events or ways of human behavior are about as spot on as anyone’s. 

During the time when I was single parenting, he was a male role model for my son. He took Christopher on hikes, to the movies and just hung out with him. Once he even took him to Florida to visit my parents. He was always there if I needed a little extra cash for groceries or school supplies. Years later, when my daughter decided she wanted to move across the country and live in California, the only reason that I said, “Sure, that’s a great idea, honey!” was because Richard would be there to look out for her. Which he did in spades, practically supporting her for the first few months after her arrival. He had moved out to California years before to become a screenwriter, a gift and a skill he has continued to hone and stay true to. For a while, he worked in a law firm to support himself while he put his work out there, but then, after several years of 9to5, he decided if he was going to do this screenwriting thing, he needed to do it full time. So he quit his job. This is where that shrewd saving part comes in. He was able to quit his full-time, benefits-supplying job and stay home and write. He had that much socked away. It surprised everyone but me.

And that is what is so impressive to me now. His commitment to his work. Although I’m not nosy enough to ask (and I can be pretty nosy), I am pretty sure his savings must have nearly run out by now. Yet he’s still writing every day, making phone calls and sending emails, working towards the day when he gets one of his scripts up there on the silver screen. He recorded his experiences on a blog. You should read them; he’s a great writer. While he’s doing all this staying-true-to-his-goal stuff he also found the resources to come East for Annie’s wedding and stayed to help drive my parents back to their home in Florida from Maine. His commitment to his work is surpassed only by his commitment to his family and I’m not sure I always let him know that I know that.


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So this is me doing that. He is about to reach a certain milestone, which to him, makes him feel that he hasn’t accomplished all that he has set out to do. I know about this particular milestone…it can be a tough one. But, by my reckoning, he has accomplished everything he has set out to do: He is a man with integrity and conscience. He puts love and family first and has remained true to himself when conventional wisdom and societal pressure dictates otherwise. He might not think he is where he wants to be, but he is always there when you need him and that’s a success that not many people can claim.  You may not be ready to celebrate, Richard, but I am celebrating you. Happy Birthday.

*Sister's note: I wrote this a couple of years ago, but the sentiment and wishes remain current. 

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Necessity: La Mamma of Invention

Since we’ve been in Italy, both Angelo and I have learned many things. Things too diverse and deep to discuss here in 750 words or less. I think I’ll write a book about it…yes, that’s what I’ll do. So stay tuned for that.

But what I can share with you is how inventive we’ve become during our stay. We rented a small casetta and, at the outset, it seemed that it would fit our needs. And it has, for the most part. In our tiny, tiny bedroom this morning Angelo had to reposition the clip-on light we use as a reading lamp. It is attached to the floor-to-ceiling radiator bars against the wall because we don’t have room for a table. Or an actual lamp. See, the bed is just about the size of the room and since my knees are giving me trouble (wink, wink) Angelo took the side that requires him to slither against the wall to get into bed. I suggested we just forget about the light since it won’t stay secure. He said, “No, I like more light in this room. Actually, I’d like more room in this room.” It’s true. More room would be welcome. But here we are, so creative problem solving was vital.

We knew the house was tiny, with hardly any “stuff” in it. At first it was fine because it was temporary and we’re hardy travelers. As time went on, we realized we were going to need some of that "stuff" that makes living in a house a little more comfortable. Like an oven rack. Or more than one chair in the living room. Or a living room. So, we headed down to Muro Lucano’s version of Target to accessorize a little. Muro’s Target is a little store tucked in below the Piazza San Marco owned by a man named Giuseppe, but known as Pinuch’. (From Pino as in Giuseppino. His wife is named Giuseppina...called Pina. This town is way too cute.)  His shop is packed with 12-foot gray metal shelves in two small rooms, stocked with nearly everything from fuses to canning jars and if Penuch’ doesn’t have it, it can’t be had. One of the cousins got her flatscreen TV there. We picked up a new coffee pot, some bath towels, sugar and a bottle of Tequila. We were set.

If you have a bottle of Tequila, though, you’re going to need some ice. We neglected to get an ice cube tray, so our first innovation went a little something like this: 


Who knew egg cartons would make such perfect ice cube trays? (It helps if they're plastic.) 

I have already mentioned our lamp problem. The cousin we borrowed the clip-on reading lamp from also loaned us a small ceramic lamp for our imaginary living room so we were left with the kitchen to take care of. The lighting solution for each room was basically a bare bulb hanging from the middle of each room’s ceiling. Without meaning to, that style gave the whole place a slightly eerie cast to it at night.  The kitchen, our largest room, looked like a scene from a movie where you’re continually screaming, “Look out! Behind the door!” One night, Angelo climbed up on a chair and taped this to the dangling bulb:

Instant atmosphere. The light is still a little too LED for us, but it helps diminish the feeling that we should be running for our lives and we can enjoy our meals. (Unless we’re sitting out under our yellow umbrella overlooking the mountains. But I don’t want to make anyone too jealous.)

The next issue was also in the kitchen. There is one large casement window and the front door. Each of them allow sun and air to come in…and bugs. There are very few screens here in Italy. When I open my kitchen windows however, they often blow all the way open giving my neighbors a front row seat to all my Americanism. I wanted to be able to open the window enough to let in some air and light and keep out most of the bugs and eyes.  Fortunately, we’re drinking a lot of wine here:



Voila! I simply cut one of our used wine bottle corks in half and it keeps the window at just the right angle. And in case I need another one, I just keep a couple of bottles of wine on hand. You just never know when ingenuity will strike. 


Speaking of the kitchen window, it’s not a one-way view. I can see the neighbors, too. And recently, I discovered how industrious the Italians are at reusing their items. Now I know how to take care of all the plastic bags we get: 

It's safe to say that being in Italy has definitely made us more resourceful. 

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

If you give an Italian a suit, he's going to want a pair of shoes

We have only been here a week and it’s happening. That thing when you visit a place for a while and you start behaving as if you’ve lived there all your life. Or in other words, “When in Rome, do as the Romans do.” Angelo comes by it honestly, of course—he was born in Italy. That’s why we’re here in  Muro Lucano--his hometown--for our sabbatical. We want to see what it’s like to be here for an extended period of time so that maybe we can incorporate it into our lives down the road. Being in Muro is good for me because it’s literally far enough away from all of my obligations—real and imagined—so that I can devote some time to writing.

But back to Angelo. One of the reasons we planned to be here in early September was the family wedding we are going to. It’s going to be a big wedding, a fancy wedding and as far back as April, Angelo began talking about getting a suit for it in Italy. A suit bought in Italy could very well mean jewelry for me, so I kept track of these musings carefully. As time got closer, Angelo identified a location: Naples. He wanted to buy a suit in Naples a day or two before the actual ceremony. It wasn’t looking good for me and my new gold locket, since we are without a car.  I wasn’t sure how we were going to get to Naples from Muro and then to Paestum for the event.

But leave it to the Italians to figure out how to get someone a suit. It turns out, one of the uncles knows a guy. Actually, most of the uncles and cousins know this same guy. By the time Angelo’s brother Vittorio arrived from the States, there was a plan. One day, after lunch, off they went to Potenza to go to THE place in the area to buy a suit. It’s called “Redford” so everyone here explains it is just like the actor, “Ro-bert Red-ford” with the obligatory Italian accent. (You have to roll the Rs.) I stayed home, for many reasons, not the least of which is that there would have been four of us in the back seat. No thanks. I’m here to write (and nap, since lunch here is like a four course dinner back home).

After a couple of hours, I received a text with a picture:



Angelo had found a suit. I noticed that the shoes he was wearing were not the shoes he had worn out the door that morning. They were shiny. And black. I could almost see the longing in his eyes. And his smile says, "You know what we're talking about when I get home, right?"

But he didn't want to talk about it when he got home...in the morning, he suggested. More time to develop a solid rationale, I suspected.  The cost I imagined in my head increased another $200; my new locket and gold bangles might have to wait. But I would remember.

In the morning, he finally spit it out: $400. “But it’s an $800 suit!” he assured me. Yeah, sure. They saw him coming a mile away. Then he said,  “The shoes I tried on would look a lot better with that suit than the ones I brought…”

Uh-huh. I waited. It only took another minute…


“I might need a shirt.” 

Friday, July 29, 2016

The Anti-Coulter

I always miss Throwback Thursday, so let's consider this a Flashback Friday post. It's another one from the vaults...almost 10 years old. Which makes the topic that much more disturbing. Ann Coulter has been spewing hate for that long (and longer I suspect). And she's at it again (still) with her vicious tweets in response to a grieving father's plea to embrace all people in our country; the very tenets of our Constitution. Here's the link--read it yourself. (I won't repeat it.)

There are two things wrong with her brand of "commentary":
1. It's mean and spiteful.
2. Our children are watching.


When children see the kind of language adults use, they emulate it. The adults children see in their homes and on television are the role models for how children navigate their own lives, form their own relationships, solve their own problems. Who in the world thinks it is okay to be this nasty to a fellow human being, a fellow countryperson?

As Kareem Abdul-Jabbar said in his speech at the Democratic Convention,  "At its core, discrimination is the result of fear." People like Ann Coulter who viciously attack others for no apparent reason are typically masking their own fear. People who live their lives in fear deserve compassion and help, if they accept it. They usually don't. Personally, I am going to avoid the hate and vitriol coming from these so-called commentators who are gleefully following the lead of the Republican nominee for President and spreading hate and fear as happily as a flower girl spreads petals at a wedding. That kind of behavior has no place in a presidential election or a country built on accepting others.

I felt the same way 10 years ago . . .

First published June 2006
Children Learn

For as long as I can remember, a copy of this poem was taped to the inside of a cabinet door in our kitchen:
Children Learn What They Live
          If children live with criticism,
               They learn to condemn.
          If children live with hostility,
               They learn to fight.
          If children live with ridicule,
               They learn to be shy.
          If children live with shame,
               They learn to feel guilty.
          If children live with encouragement,
               They learn confidence.
          If children live with tolerance,
               They learn to be patient.
          If children live with praise,
               They learn to appreciate.
          If children live with acceptance,
               They learn to love.
          If children live with approval,
               They learn to like themselves.
          If children live with honesty,
               They learn truthfulness.
          If children live with security,
               They learn to have faith in themselves and others.
          If children live with friendliness,
               They learn the world is a nice place in which to live.
          Copyright © 1972/1975 by Dorothy Law Nolte


It was the spice/downstairs medicine chest/odds and ends cabinet all the way at the end of the kitchen across from the pantry next to the stove. I didn’t have many occasions to open this cabinet as my mom was the Chief Cook and Medicine Dispenser, but being a naturally nosy child, I could be counted upon to get into places into which I had not been invited. So this poem, over the years and through clandestine invasions, became unconsciously, indelibly imprinted on my brain.

When it was time to raise my kids, and with the absence of manual on how to do it right, bits and pieces of this poem would come to me on occasion.  I really had no choice in the matter since it was the way I was raised. Just when you think you are going to everything differently with your kids, there you are telling them to stand still while you clip their fingernails outside on Sunday morning before church just like your dad did when you were little.

Now that my kids are grown and my opportunity to raise them is through, I hadn’t had much opportunity to think about that poem. Recently, however, I did think about it. It was when I heard about a woman who was saying nasty things about other women. This wasn’t just a local PTA scrap – it was a nationally known author saying nasty things about women whose husbands had been killed in the tragedies of 9/11. She said something like, not only had they made tons of money on the tragedy, but were actually enjoying their husbands’ deaths because of the celebrity it brought them. I thought to myself, “well, that’s just mean.”

I didn’t know much about this woman; I had heard of her of course, but didn’t know anything about her philosophy, writings, opinion, etc. So I looked her up. I guess she is something of a provocateur and is credited with saying other, equally inflammatory things about other people. I saw a picture of her online – on her very own website in fact – and saw that she is quite an attractive blonde who clearly goes to some trouble to maintain her looks. I thought I’d find out what she had to say. Turns out, there wasn’t anything that I read that I found in the least bit provocative, interesting or intelligent. It was just mean.

Then I read a short interview in the Borders Monthly magazine that was promoting her book. She said, in response to the question, “What were your family dinners like growing up?”, “They were macabre nightly rituals featuring me, my two brothers and our two loving differently gendered parents. We discussed politics and current events in civilized tones and said something called “grace” before eating meals, which sometimes contained meat and after which none of us threw up. Totally weird”.  And, to me, her response sounded kind of sarcastic. But not weird, because that’s how family dinners were like in my family growing up. Sometimes, though, we invited missionaries who were visiting our church, or had friends over. I remember one time we had a kid from the orphanage to Sunday dinner. I don’t know who was more uncomfortable, him or us three kids, who weren’t sure whether he would like playing our games. But that’s my parents for you – demonstrating community and goodwill right there at the dinner table. 

I can be in charge of my home and practice what I preach and try to raise my kids with approval, confidence and friendliness, but what about the world in which they live? What kind of climate exists in this world where someone can write such horribly nasty things about people dealing with a very personal tragedy? What do their children think – anyone’s children for that matter, when they see that sort of behavior not only accepted, but rewarded? Why pounce on the misfortune of others and make inflammatory statements simply to insure that people will buy her latest book?


I’m not sure where that old worn copy of our poem disappeared to, but it doesn’t matter. It stayed with me; it is instilled in my kids and in many others in my family and in my community. It doesn’t worry me that there are people who thrive on the misfortunes of others because there will always be people like that. But, hopefully, one of these days, it will be more important to be loving and tolerant in our world and those people who make a living thinking and writing about intolerance can just go pound sand.