Psst! Did You Hear the One About the Pope?

i’m guessing that for the part of the country that is outside of the ny, pa, dc area the fact that the pope was in the u.s. was just a headline somewhere. but in the middle of the tri-cities of his visit, there was a popenato of epic proportions.

here in philadelphia there was the typical mixture of excitement and grousing and at times the grousing out-shouted the excitement 4 to 1. now, that may have been a result of the stupid things city officials said in the run up, like “treat this as a severe storm event (which translated means to stay the hell home)” or that the secret service coordinated a lockdown situation that paralyzed a good portion of the city, or that at times there seemed to be no logical coordination between the secret service, public transportation and city officials.

whether the event lived up to expectations or broke records, it seems that the only measure worth talking about is whether pope francis can successful lead his church in a direction that brings people back. it’s no secret that participation in the roman catholic church has been dropping off – due mostly to (finally) the public airing of the horrors perpetrated by the church and their continued failure to not only acknowledge them but right them.

i was raised in the catholic church – 12 years of catholic schooling, followed by 30 years of a tenuous relationship where c and i participated in the church only to raise our children with some kind of tradition. but as the same sunday sermons from decades ago continued on as an opportunity for priests to berate the crowd for disobedience with the edits of the church—oddly enough only centered around issues of sexuality and not morality, most of which have to do with controlling women — i transitioned from not listening to drifted away. then, like most people i know, when the horrors of the sex-abuse scandal and systematic cover up hit the headlines i decided i was completely done with the roman catholic church.

in order to even stay with the church for as many decades as i had, required me to recite the mantra: “render unto ceasar what is ceasar’s and under god what is god’s”. meaning: ignore church bullshit and concentrate only on the lessons of christian tradition that matter: love one another and take care of one another.

then along comes pope francis. there has been much written about his life and how he has lived the teachings of christianity and it seems that he is carrying that into his leadership of the church. and to a large extend that’s true, certainly his words are a much more thoughtful message that has to do with love and forgiveness, mercy and inclusiveness not to mention just taking care of one another.
and then… well, then it’s just more business as usual. his inspiring words were followed by a visual of a cathedral filled with white men and the visual of seminarians and local priests, deacons and bishops – all men. men who ignore or distain women while dressed in dresses and funny hats. it all just looked so irrelevant.

sure, the pope was careful to include women in his words, but i think that’s because without them (the slave class) the church cannot function so it seemed like that was more about protecting an investment than sending a message of inclusion. and here in philadelphia there was the additional message from a hard-liner, perpetually ornery archbishop chaput who chose to use this stage to issue a ridiculous remark about the only real function of sex is to procreate, ignoring all the other more relevant messages that could and should have emanated from his moment in the spotlight.

and for all of its moralistic preaching about sexuality what is the true origin of priestly celibacy? don’t answer jesus ‘cuz that’s not it. property. and money. no married priests then no families to support and no nasty legal battles about rights of inheritance. the true reasoning is not high and mighty.

in his defense, pope francis has accomplished a lot of revolutionary things within the church, not the least of which is cleaning up the vatican bank (you want to know something about real scandal? read god’s bankers by gerald posner).

listen, i’m all for carrying on ancient traditions and rituals, in fact very much so when those traditions involve rituals where a family and a church family are able to share meaningful moments together. but when the trappings of a religion far outweigh its reason for being, i’m out.

francis may be delivering the right message, but he’s stuck delivering it in the wrong container.

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Five Years Later than 100 Days

Hard to believe but today marks five years since L’s bone marrow transplant. It seems like a world away, but it’s a world in which we still live in various ways and a world that will always be a part of L and all who love her.

The best news is that L has had a series of good health news lately, very good health news and that certainly helps to wipe away much of the tough road she has had getting here.

Besides her very good health news, L and her husband and the rest of their family and close friends have much to be proud of. She and P made their marriage endure through and beyond the toughest of times any couple could imagine and no couple ever wants to have to live through. Yet, they moved through it and continue to move forward in building their lives together.

I’m proud to say that we are still close as a family, closer maybe, because tough times amplify underlying family issues, which can be used to build or destroy. We — all of us — nuclear family and extended family, chose to build.

L, like all of us, has been able to see who her true friends are and move closer to them. We have been able to reconnect with friends who added to our lives in ways that we had forgotten. And we are the better for it.

It’s seems all so easy to say now, a result of time and distance, but we know that L had years of rough times. It’s still a moving moment to look back on but it is oh so satisfying to look around now with a proud smile and look ahead to a bright future.

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my childhood girlfriend lost her mother this past week. though we correspond periodically and share pictures of facebook, i haven’t seen m since my mother’s funeral, because we live on opposite sides of the country. but the people you reach out to when a nuclear family member dies are those who knew that nuclear family back in the day because there’s a special kind of bond that was forged.

eight years ago at my mother’s funeral, m’s mother was in the beginning stages of alzheimer’s and though she looked the same, it was clear that she was struggling with the disease. i know the disease progressed mightily over the years, and necessitated m’s family placing their mother in a facility where she would be safe and properly cared for. and the facebook pictures of her with her mother and the new grandchild hid the sadness and struggle with an unforgiving disease.

but i only saw a tiny glimpse of her mother’s change as she wondered away from m at the reception after my mother’s funeral and so i’m free to remember her mother as she was a half century ago.

m’s family emigrated here from portugal and lived just a block away from us. she is two years older than me, as were most of my close friends when i was growing up. i can’t remember exactly when we first met, but i know that we were friends when my father died and still friends when her father died just a couple of years later. we navigated our middle and high school years together with our fractured families and each walked down the aisle to get married without a father’s escort.

m’s mom was warm and inviting and i can still hear her hearty laugh. m’s grandmother also lived with them and i remember her mother and grandmother sitting at the dining room table and conversing in portuguese while m and i played with barbies in the living room. the lilting softness of the language drifted in from the next room, punctuated by laughter and just felt so comfortable.

my mother didn’t work and m’s did, so i thought she was just so interesting because she had a job. she was a seamstress in a factory in downtown los angeles, sportswear i think, and i will never forget the day m’s mom took us both to her workplace. i saw the rows of machines and racks of finished clothes, which all seemed like magic to me, but i will never forget the band saw like contraption that was used to cut three foot-thick stacks of fabric. my mom was a home seamstress and all of us girls in the family learned to sew, but to see garments being made on a huge scale was utterly fascinating. i had a flashback to that moment when our daughter took us on a tour of the sewing factory where she now works in production and design.

m’s mom also owned a corvair and we got to ride in it. to me, that car was just about as cool as a mustang, both cars being the pinnacle of auto ownership at the time, except for maybe the corvette. i loved seeing that corvair parked in the driveway as i came up to the front door of their house.

years later, after i had moved away from california and m settled in a town further north of where we grew up, i tried to stop in and say hello to her mother when i was in town (which was unfortunately far less frequently than i would have liked). when i was pregnant with our first child, m’s mom asked my mom to make sure that i stopped by and she surprised me with a beautiful eyelet lace and ribbon comforter and pillow she had made for the baby. i still have them.

i looked for m’s mother’s obituary on line and was a bit taken aback when what popped up was douglass and zook funeral home, the same funeral home in our home town of monrovia that handled my father’s funeral and maybe even her father’s funeral. it’s funny how a moment like that can trigger a long buried memory, but can also serve as some kind of continuum.

though the life arc of our families was different, there is still a bond between us and even moreso now that we both have felt the sadness of losing our mother, but the parts of our lives that we shared will always be fondly remembered.

rest in peace dear mrs. b.

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Every Moment

often in this life we need to slow down and remind ourselves that the moment we are currently in needs to be consciously attended to, savored, absorbed. easier said than done certainly, but if you make up your mind, you can find yourself in the middle of a moment that will bring you lasting joy every time you replay it in your mind.

i was able to have a second one of those moments a couple of weeks ago with one of our daughters. okay, granted it was kind of an easy moment for the taking – being with her as she chose her wedding dress – still, i think we’ve all seen and heard this experience turning disastrous.

when our oldest daughter shopped for her wedding dress, she asked her future mother-in-law and me to accompany her. she preferred to choose a dress herself and without the pressure of an attendant or an entourage and ended up buying the first dress she tried on. not to say she grabbed something and ran, but to say that she knew herself well enough to know what her choice would be. i worried about her buying the first dress she tried on and encouraged her to try on other dresses, but when she put the first one back on, it was clear that was the dress. it’s so odd to say, but if you keep your mind open as an observer, you really can know exactly when your daughter has chosen the perfect image of herself.

i was afraid at the time that my lasting memory of her choosing a dress would be overshadowed by the worry that was hanging over every bit of my thinking, which was that she was planning a wedding mere months after her diagnosis of cm leukemia. it was so tough to push away the thought that were her future outcome to be not good, this dress might become a symbol of stabbing sadness instead of overwhelming joy. it took every bit of my years of acting training to hide what i was thinking at the time.

fast forward to now. our second daughter is planning her wedding and scheduled a wedding dress shopping day. like her sister, she had a vision of a dress she wanted and a vision of how she wanted her day to go. she asked for a champagne breakfast with a couple of friends, her sister and me (daddy was nice enough to come along as designated driver in exchange for breakfast since he was verboten from seeing the dress).

at the salon, she tried on the very dress she came to that salon to see. it looked spectacular on her! i thought how funny it was that again, one of our daughters picked the first dress she tried on. but since there were still 45 minutes left on the appointment time, the attendant brought her other dresses to try. every one of them looked beautiful on her, but none rivaled the first one. then the attendant suggested something completely out of the box, which was a skirt and bodice combo that is modern but still somewhat traditional, interesting and edgy. her sister was the first to notice how e’s demeanor changed and saw right away that this would be the choice. i was unconvinced about the dress but tried to project neutrality since i firmly believe that my role was as an observer, not an influencer. the attendant encouraged e to go out into the bigger room and look at herself in the huge mirror. i was the last one into the large room and saw her just as she turned around and saw herself in the floor to ceiling mirror and was struck by the sight. trust me, out of nowhere and without a thought of becoming emotional at all, i teared up.

in that moment i didn’t see a dress, or a bride even – what i saw was our grown daughter looking like her happiest self as a young woman dressed to greet the partner she has chosen to share her life with.

i also realized that this was the last time i would ever have that moment in my life and made a mental note to just savor it.
making it all even better was the fact that i was standing next to our oldest daughter who is still happily married, cancer free and about to celebrate the five year anniversary of her bone marrow transplant.
moments that are worth savoring.

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Forget Kim Kardashian, Alice Bowman is a Name that Should be Famous

When I was a kid, I never learned very few names of women who contributed mightily to our nation and the world. Now, as an adult I am learning for the first time the names of women who were major factors in the world of science and technology and literature, art, engineering, architecture, medicine, research and every other field area. Unfortunately, our own children also learned little of the contributions of women to our world. Hopefully that will change for our grandchildren.

So, while many of us can probably rattle off the names of the astronauts and ever some of the men in mission control for the Gemini, Apollo and Space Shuttle missions, we probably think that there aren’t any women in these field areas (unless they’re fetching coffee or designing cute flight suits).

Well, here’s a name to know: Alice Bowman. If your kids and grandkids aren’t learning her name in school, you need to speak to someone in your school district. And if you don’t know her name, let me share with you. Alice Bowman is the first woman Mission Operations Manager and she led the mission that has glimpsed the edge of our solar system. And she’s not done yet.

Rather than write about her, I thought I’d post this interview with her. Hopefully you’ll read it yourself and to your kids and to your grandkids. And hopefully one day, they’ll be so many women in science and technology that they will be known for their achievements and not for their gender.


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The Couple That Hangs Together…

You know that saying that goes, “If you really want to get to know someone, travel with them?” I’ve got a new one for you: “If you really want to know the state of your relationship, wallpaper a bathroom together.”

I know, your first question is probably, “Wallpaper? Isn’t that completely out of style?” Well, actually no. Wallpaper is enjoying a moment right now and there are a lot of very cool patterns available.

Our house was built in 1950 and at that time there was such a building boom that tile manufacturers couldn’t keep up with production. Instead, they made “tiles” out of the new wonder substance called plastic (also in horrid colors but that’s another story). When we bought the house the bathroom walls were green plastic tiles halfway up and the rest painted yellow. Obviously that had to go. So, when I was pregnant with our second child, I popped off those awful tiles and scraped off thick layers of mastic as best as I could, which left the walls a bit of a mess. They either had to be wallpapered, drywalled over or have a skim coat of plaster applied. Wallpaper was the cheapest option.

I put up a beautiful striped wallpaper with a border at the top that went with the rest of the house at the time. That was 25 years ago and the wallpaper no longer goes with the rest of the house. Plus, I was sick of it.

So, thinking that I still remembered how to hang wallpaper, I found about five patterns that I liked and C and I agreed on one called solitude.

I didn’t pay any attention to the fact that the pattern on the paper was an offset pattern (meaning that you will waste a good deal of paper making the pattern match). C removed all the cabinets (which I painted) and hardware from the room and I scraped off the old wallpaper and conditioned the walls for the new paper.

We knew that when you hang wallpaper the first piece you hang should be on the wall that is the most seen and completely plumb. This we did perfectly. Then we began hanging the rest of the room and got about halfway around and realized that we probably also needed to restart on the panel next to the first one and proceed the other way so that the end of the project (where there is always a mismatch of pattern) would be over the door and hardly noticed.

If you’ve never hung wallpaper I will tell you NEVER EVER EVER EVER EVER attempt to wallpaper a bathroom for your first wallpaper job. It’s just too difficult. Besides the fact that bathrooms are generally small, they also have lots of things to maneuver around. Add to that walls that are completely out of plumb and you get THE TOUGHEST WALLPAPER JOB YOU WILL EVER ENCOUNTER. And that is why all the wallpaperers I called wanted $1,000 or more to do the job.

But I thought that since I had done this once before that I would be fine. And we mostly were, except for places where we weren’t and I’m not going to point them out because when you come to our house you’ll just look for them.

In a rush to finish, I decided to cut the last four panels for the job all at once. I thought I was meticulous at cutting them because they all matched, except I measured the length of them perfectly but didn’t measure the proper length from where the pattern matched so they were all a foot too long at the top and too short at the bottom. We had to shut down work until another roll of wallpaper arrived.

The new roll of wallpaper arrived and C cut it all because he knows how to be patient with cutting and not mess it all up. He drew the plumb line so I could keep the paper straight in spite of an inside corner that was over 1” out of wack and I hung the rest of the panels.

So the wallpapering is all done, but I still have some painting and fine fixing to do, but the bathroom is usable and the house is less of a mess.

Here’s the point: though working in a space so small we were almost on top of each other, making mistakes, having issues with hinges and hardware, shelves, medicine cabinet and the new light, not to mention the mess that extended into three other rooms of the house we did not scream or threaten, insult, scowl or threaten to divorce. In short, we just forged ahead and figured out how to make it work. Together.

To me, it is absolutely a testimony to us as a team. Clearly it would have been a lot easier to hire someone to do this work, but doing it ourselves made for a much better life experience. And now we have another $1,000 for a well-deserved vacation.

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Inspired Independence Day Words

I thought a lot about what to write in light of the recent Supreme Court ruling legalizing gay marriage and its proximity to our national Independence Day holiday and then read what Harold Jackson of the Philadelphia Inquirer wrote. I think he says it all.

Ruling shouldn’t change right to religious freedom
Were he alive today, I believe my younger brother who lived in San Francisco would have married his longtime partner, with whom he had lived for several years, long before the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling that legalized gay marriage nationally.
Being a Christian, as was my brother, I would not have recognized that union as a Bible-blessed marriage sanctioned by Scripture. But as an American who believes this nation was founded on the promises of freedom in the Constitution, I would have accepted the right of him and his partner to be a committed couple with all the legal guarantees granted to heterosexual spouses. I would welcome them in my home, invite them to my church, and love them as my kin.
I can’t say that I have always felt that way. My brother and I grew up in a different time, when most homosexuals who wanted to succeed in life kept that part of themselves hidden. I was in college before I found out that one of my favorite Sunday school teachers when I was a child was gay. Apparently, so long as he didn’t do anything that might be construed as attracting undue attention, he was accepted just like any other upstanding member of the congregation. In retrospect now, I think of how tortured his life must have been in trying to always present an image that wasn’t really true.
That was before gay men and women came out of the closet. Today, gay couples hardly get a second glance as they stroll down streets hand in hand, embrace in movie theaters, and, depending on the church, pray together in pews. Many are also getting married in churches that believe biblical references to homosexuality as sin are either misinterpreted or somehow no longer apply. God will make the ultimate ruling on that. In the meantime, churches that do not believe they should be required to marry gays are wondering if the Supreme Court decision will force them to do just that. It shouldn’t.
Religious freedom was one of the most important reasons, if not the most important reason, that so many colonists left Europe to establish a new home in America. It’s why the very First Amendment to the Constitution both forbids the establishment of a state religion and guarantees the free exercise of religious practices. That means the same Constitution that the Supreme Court cited to remove all prohibitions of gay marriage can be cited by churches, synagogues, temples, and other religious institutions that want to continue to place restrictions on whom they will marry.
I don’t know if my brother would have wanted a church wedding. He died in 1996 of AIDS, having kept his illness secret for years. To admit the disease would have required him to admit other secrets that, 20 years ago, he didn’t feel he could. I will always be sorry about that.
I’m glad that gay couples today no longer have to live secret lives. The Supreme Court says they also can marry. But it is important that the court did not invalidate religious objections to gay marriage. That keeps the constitutional separation of church and state intact, which, as I understand it, is also what the Bible prescribes. The Good Book also tells us to love everyone as we love ourselves, and to leave the final judgment of each of us up to God.
Harold Jackson is editorial page editor for The Inquirer.  

May we all celebrate Independence Day together!

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