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Hello all. Thank you for coming out on this chilly, gray morning. It’s not the most ideal weather for a gathering, so I especially appreciate your making the effort to come here today and pay tribute to our veterans. For my part of this ceremony, I’d like to tell you a story:

Once upon a time, I stood at the side of the road on Guy Park Avenue and watched the Amsterdam Veterans honor their comrades by walking a length of the city road to their WWI memorial. The day was brisk but beautiful. Clusters of my neighbors stood reverently, clasping their coats against a light wind with gloved hands, smiling and greeting folks they’d known their whole lives. Much like today, they were a mix of hats, scarves, and wool in the colors of autumn… gold, plumb, brown and rust… most were older folks and a few families brought together several generations of the same height, weight and hair pattern. They talked quietly with each other, noting the falling leaves, fleeting clouds, and onset of winter in the coming weeks.

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I held the hand of my little boy, Ian, who at the time had to have been about four or five years old. We were excited and happy to be at our first official parade in our partnership as mother and son. He was so young and perfect; a sprite with an immediate smile and mischievous glint in his eye. He could not imagine how deep my love for him was because, for a child, it is a given. He was born into the brilliant embers of my attention. He did not know of my long wait for him or my doubt that I’d ever be lucky enough to have a child. I gripped his mittened hand tightly as the procession started.

We watched as the veterans from wars long gone began to pass our station. A scattering of very elderly men that had survived the “War to End All Wars” and eight decades were driven in cars, still proudly wearing their dress caps, insignias, awards, badges and accoutrements. These men sat in stoic silence, weathered as the dried leaves, bearing witness to the time that had passed and memories that would soon be remembered only in books, instead of recounted person-to-person. They seemed to not notice the gathering around them. Their clouded eyes looked ahead in anticipation of their destination.

Men and a few women of WWII, who at the time were then in their late sixties and early seventies followed these vets. This was a larger group of soldiers than the first, still vital and dignified, survivors of a war of unthinkable brutality and loss. They wore, and still wear, their experiences with such pride. They had lived through a time of unsullied patriotism and vigorous optimism, when you could count on God, and County and your neighbor. The charm of that period lives on in the music of the 40’s… still lively with syncopated jazz riffs and sadly sweet, romantic ballads. Though their marching step was somewhat unpolished, they walked with a unity that can only come from the knowledge of their sure achievement in saving the world from tyranny.

Next came the men of the Korean War, men in their late-forties and early-fifties. This war is sadly referred to as the “Forgotten War.” These men walked with a solid gait, having persevered without the public accolades and attention of those that had served in the decade before or those that would come after. These soldiers walked with some ease and casually waved to the bystanders. As I watched, I understood that, had my father lived a longer life, he would have marched with this group. I squeezed my son’s hand and pointed out the beat of their feet on the pavement, and noted that my heart beat with that time.

The next wave of soldiers started to pass us. The Vietnam War Veterans were not much older than I, and I thought about my friends that had fought in that war. The times were so tumultuous and the decision to enter the military was more controversial than at any time that had preceded it in all of history. As well, the mechanisms of war were much more horrific and deadly. I thought of Kevin, a happy-go-lucky kid in our neighborhood that had come back from the sweltering humidity of Vietnam changed… more serious with an uncharacteristic edge in his demeanor. To my knowledge, he never spoke of his time there… not to his family and certainly not to us, his hometown friends. That he and others had returned to a nation that questioned the actions of these young men and women still haunts our days. These young soldiers made the commitment to serve our government without public reverence for their decision. That is a wound that must never be delivered again.

Contemporary men and women in service, marching crisply in unison, followed the Vets of the 60’s and 70’s. Some had already served in the Gulf and some could expect to be shipped to areas of conflict around the world at any time. They looked formidable in their desert combat uniforms, all tautly following command. I looked across the road at a mother anxiously scanning the unit for the unforgettable face of her child, and watched for the moment of recognition as she located the object of her love. Brimming with pride, she yelled out a name with joy and pointed rapidly so that her friends would not miss out on the gift of this moment. The realization of the sacrifice that she and her family had made was beginning to reach me like a scent carried lightly on a breeze.

The ROTC students from Amsterdam High School followed in step, their beautiful, unlined faces intent on their task. They lead younger children informally walking together from the boy scouts, girl scouts and, tying it all up at the end, the youngest Webelos and Brownies that may begin this march at age seven. Suddenly, the breath was pulled from my chest and the full impact of this parade of souls came to me. I stared incredulously down at the little boy at the end of my arm and could see the whole of this impossible offering.

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The oldest veteran to the youngest, silly sprout walks a path that tears our loved ones from the warmth of our hearth and sends them to the edge of the earth for the ideals our government is built on.

Regardless of politics, public furor, danger or exhaustion, our soldiers serve willingly, selflessly and courageously that we may continue to live in peace and prosperity. They enter into situations of loneliness, peril, boredom and chaos that others may have hope. Those that have marched in parades have returned to us. Remember also that others have not, or that they have returned to us broken and in need of our full support as a nation, as a community, as friends and as family.

THIS is what this day, Veterans Day, is all about.

Having grasped this concept, as desperately as I had held the hand of my son so long ago, let us all acknowledge that there can be no greater calling than that of a soldier and extend our deepest gratitude for the gifts that they have given so freely to us.

Thank you to the Veterans Commission for continuing this tradition and thank you with all of our hearts to each and every veteran gathered here today. God bless you and keep you, forever and always.

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Good Morning. I’d like to thank the Veteran’s Commission for once again allowing me the honor to speak on behalf of our city; to once again memorialize how much we appreciate the men and women that have given so freely of their lives to serve this country we all love.

For the many years I have been afforded this opportunity, I have always been struck by the very intimate nature of this sacrifice. Young men and women leave kitchen tables and warm beds, jobs, boyfriends, wives, mothers and children to enter the military. It is an unimaginably poignant choice to make, and I have always understood this decision with sympathy from the perspective of a civilian.

But I cannot begin to understand the depth of this decision, as I have not the experience or knowledge of a veteran.

I cannot ever know what a soldier knows.

I cannot know the weight and force of the resolution to serve – to leave family and community for a higher purpose. A soldier sacrifices comfort, safety and autonomy for the comfort, safety and freedom of those they love and those in need.

A soldier must, with faith and willingness, turn one’s life completely over to others. One must commit, must train, and must learn to march in unison with precision, each thundering step a testament to tenacity.

A soldier may be deployed in times of peace or times of war to any corner of the world and must bear up under merciless conditions, which are sometimes as routine as loneliness or boredom, but sometimes so unbearably painful they leave permanent mental or physical scarring.

Soldiers know heat, humidity, cold, separation, stress and fear. More than that, they know faith and courage. They know the close relationship that humility has with pride.

A soldier must be able to take orders and give one’s undivided effort to see that they are executed, as an essential member of a squad, platoon, company, battalion, regiment, brigade, division and corps. Our soldiers make up the greatest military in the world and know, in the fullest sense, dignity and camaraderie.

Soldiers know complete and selfless devotion. They will shelter, support, or fall for the soldier standing next to them, in front of them, or behind.

Becoming a soldier, being a soldier, being a veteran is not merely a decision; it is a calling. It is the response of a special few that have answered in the affirmative – that they would become the caretakers of this nation’s defense and ensure the continued quality of life we enjoy on these quiet streets of manicured lawns, simple gardens, and homes of wood and brick. These special few know the ultimate cost of their gift of love and commitment to our community.

The men and women that stand among us today as veterans have proudly given years of their lives for our way of life and the beautiful flag that marks our destiny.

The words of General Douglas MacArthur are particularly fitting in this regard:

“The soldier, above all other men, is required to practice the greatest act of religious training – sacrifice. In battle and in the face of danger and death, he discloses those divine attributes, which his Maker gave when he created man in his own image… However horrible the incidents of war may be, the soldier who is called upon to offer and to give his life for country is the noblest development of mankind.”

The truth of these words is evidenced as communities across the nation commemorate the selfless generosity of our men and women in uniform.

Today, on Veteran’s Day, we celebrate the extraordinary offering you have given to each of us. We mark your time and efforts with words, spectacle and memorials, but can never thank you enough for knowingly surrendering the innocence of your youth that we may pass our days protected from aggression and treachery.

To each veteran that stands here today, under the heavy sky and waving flag, our words are not enough.

Know, as only a soldier can know, that you have our deepest respect, gratitude and love.

God bless.

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I’d like to thank the Veteran’s Commission for once again allowing me the honor of speaking at this Annual Memorial Day Ceremony. I can honestly say that this is one of the greatest privileges afforded my office. Devoting these moments to the tremendous loss our nation has suffered is an appropriate way to share our feelings of faith and gratitude born of heavy grief.

As is the case in years past, I am mindful of how syncopated the elements are with the occurrences of this day and how they echo with the gravity of our common experience. Clouds have slowly worked their way through the night across a waxing moon – warm and unsettled – laden with moisture that may bring showers today. The air around us is heavy with expectancy – the enormity of the moving gray-blue sky above us stretches as far as our imagination and our memory. The breeze carries our heartbreak lightly amongst us. The flag stirs with our hearts.

Our hearts. We hold our loved ones in our hearts.

Perhaps you have noticed the many red hearts that are strewn today on the hillside beside the monument. There are precisely 3,727 hearts that represent every child enrolled in the Greater Amsterdam School District. It took me three days to cut these hearts out of construction paper, which is plenty of time to recognize the incredible gift that each child is, imbued with naiveté, laughter, mischief, talent and promise. It is cliché, but true, that these children are our future. They are the reason we work difficult jobs and strive to make our community and world a better place.

These hearts represent 3,727 living, breathing, inspiring reasons to be free and to live well.

And as we are considering the very large number of children that populate our elementary schools, middle school and high school, know this: that well over 3,727 children have perished as soldiers around the world since September 11, 2001… in fact, precisely 1,984 soldiers have perished in Afghanistan and 4,486 have given their lives in Iraq. 6,470 bright-eyed, dedicated and hopeful lives have been snuffed out. Add to that other military fatalities around the world in that time and you approach a number that is almost double the number of hearts you see around you. More than twice the number of children we send innocently off to school every day.

6,740 is a startling number, but it is nothing. In our two hundred years of proud US history, military losses to the violence of war have totaled 1,306,000 beating hearts. The Civil War alone claimed an unimaginable 625,000 lives. World War I took 117,000 lives; World War II took 405,000 lives; the Korean War took 37,000 lives; and the Vietnam War extinguished the lives of 58,000 men and women, though ask some of the men here and you will know that most were only boys… their best friends and family members. I imagine that 1,306,000 hearts would cover all of Veterans Field and then some.

Look out at the hearts. Know the value of each life they represent. We lost more than these anonymous hearts, or names on a monument, or numbers that are easily tallied. We’ve lost our young ones and loved ones and unique souls that will never know another kiss of daylight.

And we continue to pay in lives today around the world. Two more lives were added to this number in Afghanistan over night.

Our hearts break from this knowledge and we share this realization in the truest sense of community. Our communal heart, that is the family of Amsterdam, shares this pain for all Americans.

We must never forget that these brave young warriors gave everything so that we would live our lives to the fullest. We must never forget that these individuals, with lives to realize and loves that were timeless, died as soldiers fighting for the principles that make our country great… liberty, honor, valor, commitment, and selfless service to others.

Our city and country have lost more than we can know.

And yet, we must know gratitude. For God has granted us not only those that have given their lives for our peace and prosperity, but a community that honors our dead, and veterans that continue to dutifully care for the memories of our fallen heroes.

Amsterdam’s veterans are the living embodiment of our city’s service to our nation, representatives who served in all the wars of living memory. They stand here, not just in their own right, but also for all those who cannot.

Today, we will again be honoring several individuals that had served so proudly by awarding them the Amsterdam Veteran Service Medal. To these valiant individuals, we owe our continued thanks and support.

And to those that proudly wear our uniform and honor our flag around the world today, we owe our praise and deepest appreciation. We all pray, come back to us safely in God’s hands.

Before you leave today, please take a heart from the ground, in stillness and with respect, and keep it – that you may be reminded of the calling that lead our children away, never to return. Recall all that we have lost and all that we hold dear, and draw closer as a community because of what we so sadly, but so necessarily, know in our hearts.

Amen.

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prayer of the
farm workers’ struggle

Show me the suffering of the most miserable;
So I will know my people’s plight.

Free me to pray for others;
For you are present in every person.

Help me take responsibility for my own life;
So that I can be free at last.

Grant me courage to serve others;
For in service there is true life.

Give me honesty and patience;
So that the Spirit will be alive among us.

Let the Spirit flourish and grow;
So that we will never tire of the struggle.

Let us remember those who have died for justice;
For they have given us life.

Help us love even those who hate us;
So we can change the world.

Amen.

– César E. Chávez

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bruce

This one ages better than wine.

Thunder Road

The screen door slams, Mary’s dress waves
Like a vision she dances across the porch as the radio plays
Roy Orbison singing for the lonely
Hey that’s me and I want you only
Don’t turn me home again
I just can’t face myself alone again
Don’t run back inside, darling you know just what I’m here for
So you’re scared and you’re thinking that maybe we ain’t that young anymore
Show a little faith, there’s magic in the night
You ain’t a beauty, but hey you’re alright
Oh and that’s alright with me

You can hide ‘neath your covers and study your pain
Make crosses from your lovers, throw roses in the rain
Waste your summer praying in vain for a saviour to rise from these streets
Well now I’m no hero, that’s understood
All the redemption I can offer, girl, is beneath this dirty hood
With a chance to make it good somehow
Hey what else can we do now
Except roll down the window and let the wind blow back your hair
Well the night’s bustin’ open, these two lanes will take us anywhere
We got one last chance to make it real
To trade in these wings on some wheels
Climb in back, heaven’s waiting down on the tracks

Oh oh come take my hand
Riding out tonight to case the promised land
Oh oh oh oh Thunder Road, oh Thunder Road, oh Thunder Road
Lying out there like a killer in the sun
Hey I know it’s late, we can make it if we run
Oh oh oh oh Thunder Road, sit tight, take hold, Thunder Road

Well I got this guitar and I learned how to make it talk
And my car’s out back if you’re ready to take that long walk
From your front porch to my front seat
The door’s open but the ride it ain’t free
And I know you’re lonely for words that I ain’t spoken
Tonight we’ll be free, all the promises will be broken
There were ghosts in the eyes of all the boys you sent away
They haunt this dusty beach road in the skeleton frames of burned-out Chevrolets
They scream your name at night in the street
Your graduation gown lies in rags at their feet
And in the lonely cool before dawn
You hear their engines roaring on
But when you get to the porch they’re gone on the wind, so Mary climb in
It’s a town full of losers, I’m pulling out of here to win

– Bruce Springsteen, 1975

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Do you think I am going to help anybody? No! Oh, no, no, no, no, no! Don’t expect me to be of help to anyone. Nor do I expect to damage anyone. If you are damaged, you did it; and if you are helped, you did it. You really did! You think people help you? They don’t. You think people support you? They don’t.


There was a woman in a therapy group I was conducting once. She was a religious sister. She said to me, “I don’t feel supported by my superior.” So I said, “What do you mean by that?” And she said, “Well, my superior, the provincial superior, never shows up at the novitiate where I am in charge, never. She never says a word of appreciation.” I said to her, “All right let’s do a little role playing. Pretend I know your provincial superior. In fact, pretend I know exactly what she thinks about you. So I say to you (acting the part of the provincial superior), ‘You know, Mary, the reason I don’t come to that place you’re in is because it is the one place in the province that is trouble-free, no problems. I know you’re in charge, so all is well.’ How do you feel now?” She said, “I feel great.” Then I said to her, “All right, would you mind leaving the room for a minute or two? This is part of the exercise.” So she did. While she was away, I said to the others in the therapy group, “I am still the provincial superior, O.K.? Mary out there is the worst novice director I have ever had in the whole history of the province. In fact, the reason I don’t go to the novitiate is because I can’t bear to see what she is up to. It’s simply awful. But if I tell her the truth, it’s only going to make those novices suffer all the more. We are getting somebody to take her place in a year or two; we are training someone. In the meantime I thought I would say those nice things to her to keep her going. What do you think of that?” They answered, “Well, it was really the only thing you could do under the circumstances.” Then I brought Mary back into the group and asked her if she still felt great. “Oh yes,” she said. Poor Mary! She thought she was being supported when she wasn’t. The point is that most of what we feel and think we conjure up for ourselves in our heads, including this business of being helped by people.

Do you think you help people because you are in love with them? Well, I’ve got news for you. You are never in love with anyone. You’re only in love with your prejudiced and hopeful idea of that person. Take a minute to think about that: You are never in love with anyone, you’re in love with your prejudiced idea of that person. Isn’t that how you fall out of love? Your idea changes, doesn’t it? “How could you let me down when I trusted you so much?” you say to someone. Did you really trust them? You never trusted anyone. Come off it! That’s part of society’s brainwashing. You never trust anyone. You only trust your judgment about that person. So what are you complaining about? The fact is that you don’t like to say, “My judgment was lousy.” That’s not very flattering to you, is it? So you prefer to say, “How could you have let me down?”

So there it is: People don’t really want to grow up, people don’t really want to change, people don’t really want to be happy. As someone so wisely said to me, “Don’t try to make them happy, you’ll only get in trouble. Don’t try to teach a pig to sing; it wastes your time and it irritates the pig.” Like the businessman who goes into a bar, sits down, and sees this fellow with a banana in his ear – a banana in his ear! And he thinks, “I wonder if I should mention that to him. No, it’s none of my business.” But the thought nags at him. So after having a drink or two, he says to the fellow, “Excuse me, ah, you’ve got a banana in your ear.” The fellow says, “What?” The businessman repeats, “You’ve got a banana in your ear. ” Again the fellow says, “What was that?” “You’ve got a banana in your ear!” the businessman shouts. “Talk louder,” the fellow says, “I’ve got a banana in my ear!”

So it’s useless. “Give up, give up, give up,” I say to myself. Say your thing and get out of here. And if they profit, that’s fine, and if they don’t, too bad!

– Anthony De Mello, SJ, 1931-1987

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“I am always with you,
even when you are not able to feel me in your heart.
I love you always,
I surround you with my protecting love,
even when you occasionally forget me.
I listen to your problems,
if you are sincere and receptive, I give you solutions.
I hear your prayers and answer those which are in the best interest
of everyone in your life including, but not limited to, you.

I am the light and the thoughts in your mind,
I am the sight in your eyes,
I am the life in your body,
I am the feelings you feel in your heart.
I am always at work in your life for your greater good,
although you may not always believe this;
hopefully, your faith in me will grow constant.
You must realize:
“my will is whatever is happening in the present moment”.
Within this moment you must think and act
with integrity, humility and courage,
you must trust in me,
and surrender your will to mine through acceptance.
If you continue to demonstrate acceptance,
integrity, humility, courage and trust,
you will discover the secret of opening your heart to my love.
The greater your faith in me
the more I am able fill your heart with my love.

It is I, who grants you the serenity to accept
the things you cannot change,
the courage to change the things you can
and the wisdom to know the difference.
Eventually you will realize the samplings of love
I bestow on you through others
are purposefully designed to draw you closer to me.
It is only I, who loves you unconditionally,
I am an ever-flowing fountain of love, peace and joy,
I will never disappoint you; I will always be with you.
I mete out to you the exact amount of pain you cause others,
because I want you to be compassionate.
I want you to be able to give love and equally as important,
I want you to be able to receive love.
How else will you learn to love me?
How will you learn to accept my love?
The moment you realize the error of your ways,
the moment you sincerely regret the pain you cause others,
I forgive you; I nourish you with my tender mercies.
remember, I never stop loving you for you are my precious child.”

god’s love – paul mastromarino

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Hero number umpteen.

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letter to ex-wife

“I have lots of things to teach you now,
in case we ever meet,
concerning the message that was transmitted to me
under a pine tree in North Carolina
on a cold winter moonlit night.

It said that Nothing Ever Happened, so don’t worry.
It’s all like a dream.
Everything is ecstasy, inside.
We just don’t know it because of our thinking-minds.
But in our true blissful essence of mind is known
that everything is alright forever and forever and forever.
Close your eyes,
let your hands and nerve-ends drop,
stop breathing for 3 seconds,
listen to the silence inside the illusion of the world,
and you will remember the lesson you forgot,
which was taught in immense milky ways
of cloudy innumerable worlds
long ago and not even at all.
It is all one vast awakened thing.
I call it the golden eternity.
It is perfect.
We were never really born,
we will never really die.
It has nothing to do with the imaginary idea
of a personal self,
other selves,
many selves everywhere,
or one universal self.
Self is only an idea, a mortal idea.
That which passes through everything, is one thing.
It’s a dream already ended.
There’s nothing from staring at mountains months on end.
They never show any expression,
they are like empty space.
Do you think the emptiness of space will ever crumble away.
Mountains will crumble, but the emptiness of space,
which is the one universal essence of mind,
the one vast awakenerhood,
empty and awake,
will never crumble away because it was never born.

The world you see is just a movie in your mind.”

– jack kerouac

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I’d like to thank Elks Lodge 101 for the opportunity to speak today as we gather to celebrate our flag – Old Glory – the proud banner that has flown for over two centuries as proof of our independence, commitment and honor.

This constellation of stars on stripes offers us a concrete hold to anchor the abstract concepts our nation had been founded on: liberty, religious freedom, democracy and unflinching sacrifice for the good of people everywhere.

flag hanging

For all of us, it represents so many young Americans that have given their hearts, souls and lives for our nation and in service to others. These are not anonymous faces; they are the boys and girls we sat next to in home room; they are the mothers and fathers that stood long hours in assembly lines manufacturing machinery, tools, clothing and cars; they are the sons and daughters we sat up with late into the night to ward off terrible fevers and kissed lightly before they drifted off to sleep. They are our closest friends and our greatest asset, and they have died for us. They have died for this flag.

Throughout history, this flag has been tested, tried and has survived battles against tyranny, both on our own soil and in battlefields across time and around the world.

It represents 6,000 patriots that gave their lives in the Revolutionary War, covered the bodies of 360,000 bodies in the Civil War, 116,000 in WWI, 405,000 in WWII, 54,000 in the Korean War, and 58,000 in Vietnam. All told, we have suffered well over 1.1 million lost in these conflicts and sadly, we still greet red, white and blue draped caskets every week at Dover Air Force Base as our sons, daughters, brothers, fathers, and closest friends return to final peace here at home.

The flag represents our deeply personal feelings of gratitude and love we all have for these brave individuals and their families.

And just as it is understood by each and every one of us that the flag is a graphic symbol of innocent blood shed for our protection, it also stands for the prosperity and pleasures we all enjoy – the summer picnics, volleyball, hot dogs, and ice cream. It stands for Halloween and happy children safely canvassing neighborhoods for candy in colorful costumes. It stands for a table at Thanksgiving laden with food, warm conversation and close family ties, as well as a twinkling Christmas tree spilling over with carefully preserved memories we call “ornaments” and gifts that are more about love than material content.

Our flag stands atop, or in front of, every courthouse, city hall, school and library in our nation and represents the “American Dream” we all aspire to – justice, education and free commerce. It is recognized globally as a source of assistance, inspiration, opportunity and leadership. We should be very proud today to stand in its presence.

In closing, I’d like to leave you with some words by Beth Chapmin who spoke movingly of our flag in 2005:

flag salute

“Our flag is more than three colors of cloth and millions of pieces of thread sown by hand. It is more than Betsy Ross and Francis Scott Key. It represents a message of hope and freedom that is carried in the hearts and souls of the people of a nation for generations.

I pray today that God will continue to bless this country and that we may never divorce ourselves to the preservation of that freedom for which our men and women have died and our flag still boldly stands.”

Now let us stand and with great pride, honor, humility and resolve – with great enthusiasm, fervor, patriotism, passion and respect to say our pledge of allegiance together as we have never said it before.”

With that, thank you again to the Elks Lodge 101 and the residents of the City of Amsterdam. I hope the next time we recite the pledge together, we keep the ardor of her words close to our hearts.

Photos by Mark Perfetti

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I’ve had the oddest convergence of circumstances lately – reconnecting with friends from high school on facebook, the loss of my aunt this week, the bullying incidents reported recently on several local blogs, and involvement in a suicide prevention initiative at GASD…

it’s kicked up some “stuff“.

I write a lot about faith and survival.
I write a lot about what I know.

When I was seventeen, I lived in a large, fairly upper-class house in a well-tended suburban neighborhood. We lived across from a spacious park with wooded areas, green fields and a picturesque stream. There were 27 children between my Catholic home and the three that surrounded it (made for great kick-ball games.) My parents were vibrant, attractive professionals of the Camelot generation. Mom was the beautiful, intelligent homecoming queen in college and my father was decidedly handsome, funny and very smart. They went from Nat King Cole, to Supremes, to Neil Diamond, to Sargent Pepper Beatles and beyond. It was a heady time. They both worked very hard to provide for their five children, entertained regularly and spared no kindness to their friends.

I had an amply happy childhood.

That said, every fairytale has its tragedy and this one hit us all quite unexpectedly in November of 1974. That was the year my 42-year old father gave into the demons of this story, hereditary alcoholism and depression, and took his life.

Really, the demons took him.

Anyway, shattered only glancingly touches on what this does to a family. My mother, suddenly left with five mouths to feed, a mortgage, a business, employees, and crushing grief, tried to prepare for the holidays. Both Thanksgiving and Christmas were horrid that year. One of the few memories I have of that time is of sitting in the darkened living room, no light but what emanated weakly from the tree… no light, barely breath, and so much quiet weeping. Thankfully, we cannot remember what is too painful to retain. I have only snippets of black, falling leaves, stone, and dreadful remorse.

The family was splintered into shards. I, reeling and naive, embraced teenage rebellion and dove into anesthetizing myself. The older of my brothers left home at sixteen and found work on a fishing boat in Maryland. My middle sister became independent and somewhat remote, retreating to spend time with her closest friends. My youngest brother and sister were too young to fully understand the magnitude of their loss then, but both have discovered the extent of that empty place over the years. We all struggled for many, many years…

but time is a healer too.

Time began to fill each of us with gifts. I learned that I am a survivor. I came to this understanding as surely and soundly as the earth we all stand on. We all came to know how much we had loved our father, and now looked upon each other with new eyes. Several of us overcame a common Northern-European fear of openly admitting that we actually love each other. We have gone on to marriage, children, careers and homes of our own. My mother is successful, active in business and philanthropy, and is still beautiful. We are all of us happy to a great degree, though some of us have been threatened by the various “family maladies”.

We are well.

Ann 1114

The greatest gift of this experience has been our discovery of faith, and not through the tradition of the generations that had preceded us. My brother and I are Quaker, my youngest sister is Unitarian, and my middle sister devoutly believes in a higher power of her understanding. My youngest brother is still searching, and I know that he will find that which he actively seeks. Each one of us has undergone tremendous difficulties since our common loss and have weathered it all with some grace and, blessedly, extraordinary humor. In fact, I will always appreciate how much every member of my family loves to laugh. I feel sorry for those that haven’t had the pleasure of this particular treasure in their own lives.

So, when I harp on here about survival, revitalization, rebirth and faith, it’s because of my certainty in these things.

I have my father to thank for this.

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Thank you so much to the Veteran’s Commission for organizing this event this year and asking me to attend. We are all grateful for the work you do on behalf of the Veterans of our community year round – from the careful tending of monuments to continuous advocacy on behalf of those that have served our country so well.

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We are all called today to pay tribute to the many men and women that have died as soldiers fighting for the principles that make our country great… liberty, democracy, honor, valor, discipline, and selfless service to others. Frequently we cite the words “fallen comrades” and “ultimate sacrifice”. These are words we speak easily as we gather together to give an hour of our lives to this ceremony. For some of us, our minds may skip lightly over these words and concepts. They roll off our tongues and in listening, our minds may wander to the weather, the decorum, our families, or our busy lives.

We must stop our reverie.

Because what we have come here to do is terribly important. We must remember. We must remember that what we honor are not faceless names. These were young souls with stories to tell and more to live for. These were the faithful husbands, sisters, nephews, fathers, sons, neighbors and friends, most barely out of school, barley kissed, that had gone off from so many different circumstances to meet a common end, all in service to us.

The enormity of our loss is too important to blithely pass by. Our city and country have lost more than we can know. These family members deserve our full attention and obligation. The music of their lives is forever gone from us and we must be deeply and completely moved by grief and loss. What we have lost can never be regained… the glances, the gentle touches, smiles, children, comedy, commerce, creativity, ingenuity, determination and love.

Love, most of all.

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We must understand this loss with the constricted heart of someone receiving first word that their loved one will never return… the agony of a mother that will never hold her child again, a father that will not pass on the keys to the business or walk someone down the isle, a child that will not remember a parent’s laugh by the time they are ten. We must be breathless in our knowing. We must know the full weight of silence.

And yet, we must know gratitude. For God has granted us not only those that have given their lives for our peace and prosperity, but a community that honors these passings, and individuals that continue to dutifully care for the memories of our fallen heros. To these veteran men and women, we owe our continued thanks and support. And to those that proudly wear our uniform and honor our flag around the world today, we owe our praise and deepest appreciation. To those many fine soldiers, we all pray, come back to us safely in God’s hands.

Amen.

Top photo by Mark Perfetti, Bottom photo by Sarah Thane

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I took a walk at lunchtime today, as it’s been far too long since I’d been out and about on my own two feet between the hours 8am and 6pm. There were so many projects, concerns, costs, politics and complaints, the office air was dense with them.

I headed up Church Street with purpose, lost in thought. My eyes followed the cement walk I traveled, hit my toes and bounced to the couple of paces ahead… the sidewalk, the road, my cares and the cars speeding by, sucking dust around my feet.

As I walked, I began to observe the green to my right. The insistent grasses, coiling grape vines, and peppering of small white flowers drew more and more of my attention. Very shortly, I was looking up into the honeysuckle and choke cherries, and further into the leaning canopy of trees.

The office was a lifetime away.

It’s amazing how unabashedly persistent and certain life is. I was forced to remember this thanks to a twenty minute walk up the hill. And what really struck me, yet again, was that this City will re-emerge after its long decline, because it lives. No matter the past, the economy, the pouting or the doubt. It will come back. I realized that I believe this with every fiber of my being.

I was able to return to the office quite refreshed.

I think I’ll be taking a walk every day.

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photo by Sarah Thane

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Ethics of Adaptive Reuse
by Vani Bahl

Today’s renewed interest in “green” architecture should heighten attention to the ethic of preservation, as a cornerstone of sustainability. Now that the idea of recycling waste has permeated our culture, I believe we should adopt the slogan, “recycle wasted architecture.”

The case for adaptive reuse is not just nostalgic but economic. Construction costs are growing, we can’t afford to rebuild the environment every generation. By every accepted economic index, including increased tax revenues and increased business activity, recycling in architecture proves its viability.

For preservation to succeed, we have to shed our old habits of tearing down old buildings and starting over. Instead, we should see architectural residue from the past as a repository of vast physical, human, and cultural energy.

In Rajasthan, India, I have found numerous examples of 15th century structures that have been restored and reinhabited. The Neemrana Fort Palace, once a ruin, is now a heritage hotel. Other structures, reduced to near rubble, are crying out for new life. Though damaged, wall and ceiling surfaces can be restored, providing ready-made rich interiors. We can benefit from the several-century-old craftsmanship, preserving that human energy.

Preservation, restoration, and rehabilitation in architecture cause much less destruction to our natural resources than new construction. To appreciate this, architects must be sensitive to the energy used in the production and assembly of materials needed for new buildings, from then – origin to their end of life and subsequent reuse.

Statistics reveal that building construction consumes 40 percent of the raw materials entering the global economy every year. Interestingly, about 85 percent of the total embodied energy in materials is used in their production and transportation. Even before they reach the construction site, building materials have consumed large quantities of fossil fuels.

If all the hidden costs were spelled out in the balance sheet, the recycling of architecture would be perceived as the only rational strategy for the management of material resources. Then we could appreciate huge areas of abandoned and semi-abandoned built tissue as resources, not obstacles for future growth.

Modern construction methods are incredibly wasteful of resources. Up to 25 percent of the total waste generated in the United States, India, and other countries is directly attributed to building, construction, and demolition activities. These — often hidden — waste products can be environmentally hazardous and polluting, both as solids and in the atmosphere.

Demolition of existing buildings wastes the embodied energy as well as the energy consumed in tearing the building down, which can be considerable, given the quality and strength of older structures. Add to this the cost of incinerating demolition debris, and the wasteful use of land in fill sites.

Designers sensitive to sustainable practices can establish a recycling program to reduce the amount of solid waste resulting from construction and choose materials which are themselves either recyclable or reusable.

By contrast, adaptive reuse is much more labor-intensive than new construction, because it involves the reconditioning the existing structures to adapt to modern day requirements. This dependence on human resources encourages the local community to participate and potentially revives a vernacular rhythm in architecture. This activity can remind us that vernacular architecture is one cornerstone of our identity.

Conserving Cultural Energy
The evolution of our societies is reflected in our building types and styles. This relationship gives older buildings a character we value and identify with. However, the corporate mentality does not seem to appreciate the long-term economic value of buildings nor their cultural spirit. Such devaluation is part of so-called “globalization.”

The famous quote by Louis Sullivan, “form follows function,” seems to have become an outdated philosophy, as has “form follows culture,” by Indian artist Satish Gujral. Today’s corporate approach to architecture often would suggest that these sentiments could be reworded as “form follows fashion.” Many modern buildings do not reflect the richness and complexities of cultural evolution. Few contemporary designers seem to value the emotional spirit of architecture.

When a building of historic merit is preserved or restored for adaptive reuse, its cultural energy is also “recycled.” History brought back to active duty, and the elements of the built fabric — walls, floors, windows, doors, and roof — once again envelop a space to connect inside with outside to keep out the weather.

Very likely, the old structure was strategically placed to get the best views and optimum orientation to the sun and wind and climate. It might have been built to ensure security of the occupants and to strike a balance between the built mass and the open spaces.

Old buildings preserve the local culture and identity and create a sense of belonging. In a way, we recycle embodied human resource energy along with material energy. We bring alive the past to be a part of the future, creating important connections through time.

Do we wish to erase the link by dumping the stone that has witnessed passing phases of humanity into some land-fill site? Or, is it truly “green” to avoid the landfill and grind up community memory into bulk aggregate? When do we start to value real architecture above a consumptive fascination with mere newness and fashion?

Vani Bah!, Associate AIA, has worked on design and research projects in her native India and in the United States. Her work includes hotel design and planning, campus planning, housing projects, vernacular architecture, and historic preservation.

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“Live adventurously.
When choices arise, do you take the way that offers the fullest opportunity for the use of your gifts in the service of God and the community?
Let your life speak.”

Statement issued by Aotearaoa/New Zealand Yearly Meeting, 1987;
quoted in Quaker Faith and Practice, 24:10

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So, don’t even tell me there’s nothing to do in Amsterdam!

My daughter and I were abandoned by the guys tonight and decided to go on an adventure DOWNTOWN! First, I wanted to be sure the streetlights were working (there’d been a conduit crushed in late Fall that lead to a rather darkened period over the winter months until the ground thawed.) Much to my delight, most of our decorative lighting was spilling light along the street and we easily found a parking space by Riverside Pizzeria.

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The building’s facade was one of the first along Main Street to have been rehabbed (I remember at the time that this gave me my first glimmer of hope for this small section of the City) and the owner, Justin Richards, has been making wonderful improvements to the interior, including golden, wood-paneled walls and gorgeous stonework around his oven.

We decided to stop in and order my young companion a small cheese pie and then took a stroll up the street to Main Street Billiards. That’s where our really happy adventure began. We were greeted by the charming Robert Parillo with a warm welcome and permission to scope out the digs. What can I say. I was transported 35 years back in time to the comfort only a brightly colored resin finish and felt can provide.

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“Aqualung” was playing, the room was humming with billiard enthusiasts, the surroundings were gorgeous, and we just had to play. WHAT A BLAST. We laughed for a solid hour, until we realized that we had forgotten about the pizza and it was time to go (all too soon!)

Here’s the bottom line. My photos don’t do either place any justice. The billiard tables are a rich cerulean blue, the interior is much brighter than it appears here and the experience is not to be missed. It’s a great place to go with your family, especially those like mine. We all work too hard. I have two teenagers tethered to homework, extracurricular sports, band, debate club, and student council. I’ve got my own Council to play with, as well as plenty of extracurricular amusement, and my husband manages a highly stressful job in the private sector. We’re running ourselves ragged, need a break and have discovered a venue we are sure to patronize often in the future. I invite you (and hopefully have coerced you) to do the same. It’s a solid good time.

By the way, Riverside’s sauce is outstanding. See you downtown.

Riverside Pizzeria: 842-0033

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courage

“Courage is the price that life exacts for granting peace.”
– Amelia Earhart

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cowardice

I’ve noticed how very ugly folks can get under the guise of anonymity. I’ve noted it on other blogs and have had some really mean-spirited stuff sent my way by snail mail, email, and sent gracelessly here as comment to my very own blog. Out of some sort of odd feeling of online duty, I’ve posted comments I didn’t care for.

It hit me tonight that unless someone is brave enough to include their name with their ramblings, I have no interest in posting malicious comments. I think it’s silly to. There are plenty of venues for cowardice out in cyberspace. Let the yellow-bellied seek their own level.

I enjoy this blog immensely. I post regularly about my thoughts, feelings, and dealings. I write extensively about my job – plans, actions and accomplishments. For those of you that don’t want to know the truth of what I do or say, please spend your time elsewhere.

May we all be granted peace.

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breathing

As humans, we breath. We sip the ethers in and out all day and night, mindlessly, day after day. We recognize the warmth of the sun, the crumb under bare foot in the morning, a Spring breeze unsettling our hair when stepping out onto the porch, the far-off smell of dirt finally thawing… countless notations over a lifetime.

Seldom do we note our breath, until we notice our mortality.

I’ve been making good friends with the local hospital. It’s bright and clean and, as of late, a frequent destination for my family and me. My mother-in-law’s been a client twice in two months and my immediate loved ones have discovered the ease of the inexpensive cafeteria. The entrance to the building is marked by a Madonna on the rocks, eyes humbly cast down, arms spread with supplicant grace and quiet welcome.

It’s Wednesday. I pull into a slice of parking space and looked toward the entryway uneasily. Breath. Look at the steering wheel. Let go. Breath. “Wear your big girl panties”, Joey says. I think he means breath. I unlatch my belt and walk to the door, alone. I pull my black, wool coat to me. Down the hallway, I wait at the elevator. I notice the heels of my shoes and the textured pattern in the carpet. I am aware that I am pushing forward in time, one moment at a time. I inhale and exhale slowly.

The hospital staff is warm and efficient. Some recognize me and tender smiles, compliments, support. Today, they are all women of my age. I pass time in the waiting room, noting that every article and advertisement seems to sport a small pink ribbon doubled back on itself. Breath.

Pre-op prep takes place. I’m covered by a curtain, one thin blanket and a papery gown. I’m not used to being still. It’s hard. I breath in, experiencing the back of my throat and my expanding lungs. I look up at the orderly panels of the ceiling. I wait.

My nurse is Colleen. How ironic. I had just rediscovered my best friend from early childhood, Colleen, on Facebook the night before. A five-year old Colleen had taught me how to ride a bike, to love the woods, and just maybe how to really treasure friendship.

Colleen brings me more warmed blankets and hides my jewelry under my gurney. After an hour of listening to murmuring souls passing along the corridor, I am wheeled into another waiting area. A statue of St. Patrick keeps watch in this room, Tyrone Power in a beard, miter and flowing green robes. I watch the clock. I cannot forget to breath. A nurse named Meagan carefully marks the left side of my neck with indelible pen, a tattoo to lead the surgeon. Breath. The elderly woman in the curtained area adjacent to mine is confused. She doesn’t know what side of her body they will be cutting into.

Finally, I am wheeled into the metallic brightness of the operating room. It’s silvered lights and odd geometry are striking. We humans are soft in its angles. I skirt from the gurney to the table and lay my arms straight out at my sides to be strapped down, as open and helpless as the crucified. I breath, focus on the light, the calm voices of the experienced staff, the cutting antiseptic smells that permeate the room. I will myself to breath instead of holding onto my breath. The pharmaceutical drip begins and I forget what is going on.

They think I am here. I am not, though I continue to converse, even laugh. I will live through watching the surgery in a mirrored surface, a small piece of flesh pulled from my side. Later, I will see that the entirely surreal experience that took seven minutes will last well beyond the confines of time.

Back under Colleen’s care, I insist that I am good to go, ready to start off again, good as new, but she wheels me into a shadowed bay. I drift into sleep. Medicated breathing comes easy. I am helpless and it’s okay.

I am roused after an hour and gently pushed to assume my former self. I sit at the side of my cradle and pull the bedding to my chest, aware of my exposed back and the needle still protruding from the back of my hand. Colleen ministers to my needs. She then helps me to my feet, finds my belongings and pulls the curtain closed so that I may rediscover my dignity by myself. Breath for clarity. Breath for assurance. Breath because there is no other way. I shakily put on my heels and pretend to face the demon that is the afternoon.

Over the next few 24-hours, I wait, sometimes at the desk, sometimes behind the wheel of the car, on the cell phone or lying in bed. How automatic each contraction of the muscles in my chest is. Fate is air. It surrounds and sustains us. It is ever present and doled out in small puffs. I think of all of the breathing I have done, in short fits and swallows.

And somewhat surprisingly, because I thought myself so whole, I discover how desirous I am of continuing on… each breath the kiss of life, one at a time. So that’s it! I want to live. I want it very badly, beyond the involuntary movement of the shell I inhabit. I breath this moment in. I breath out. I move on and let go.

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