Friday, July 22, 2016

Four years later

Facebook pops up with these "memories" of things I posted "on this day," however many years ago. Today, it popped up a memory from this blog; really, one of the last public blog posts I made since entering "official" ministry.

Given the things that have been happening in the world the last couple of months, it seemed apropos that this memory should appear. As a matter of fact, I was just talking to my now 9-year-old daughter about 9/11, and about the current news around Black Lives Matter, police killing and being killed, terrorism, and ISIS.

I'm not as eloquent as many of my colleagues. I seem to have acquired writer's block around the time I graduated from seminary. There might be a connection. But I have been wrestling with the heartache and pain that I see around me, and that I feel deep in my heart.

I have so many things that I want to say, and so many things I am trying to hold at the same time. As a community minister, I have the privilege and the pain of witnessing spiritual distress in just about everyone. Brown, black, blue, white; gay, straight, bi, transgender, queer. The people who respond, and the people who get responded to.

I work with people who have been the target of racism, classism, hate, discrimination - for their poverty, their illness, their addiction, their gender, their sexuality, their skin color. I work with people who serve as police who are afraid to go to work every day, and who listen to people decide who will be the first to throw something at them. I work with good people and not-so-good-people.

But this divisiveness, this hate, this tearing down and building walls, this killing, this hurting. It has to stop. Through all of the ways I witness distress and stand with folks in their hour of need, the thread that runs through it all is "what kind of world am I leaving to my children?" I worry about them having a lemonade stand on our street and getting mugged. I worry about them walking to the park and getting beaten up by a gang. I worry about them being targeted for their faith, or their sexual orientation, or about being in the wrong place at the wrong time.

"I can't live without a mother," my little girl says to me, scared at the news of bombings and shootings and violence, no matter how I try to protect her from it. How can I tell her that so many babies live without their mother? How can I promise her that she won't have to? How can I offer her words of comfort?

I can't.

I tell her that we have to be good people. That we have to do the best we can. That we can't and won't live in fear, because then evil wins. I tell her that no matter what happens, we have to be able to say that we were a force for good. For understanding. For love. That love has to triumph over hate. Over evil. It's small fucking comfort to a 9 year old girl. But it's what I have. For her. For everyone.

I don't know how to hold the pain of the ones that are black and blue and white and brown and gay and straight and bi and trans. He and she and they. I don't know how to hold it in my hands and make sense of systems of hate and 'isms.' " I don't know how to heal it. I can't. All I can do is build bridges where I can. I can stop hate when I can. I can support anger when it's righteous and justice-seeking. I can love my kids and my neighbors and do more than tolerate others who are different than me.

I don't know how to do this work without it changing me, tearing me up, giving me stories to tell that hurt those that hear them. It's transformative work. It transforms me in ways I like and don't like. It tears the pretty veneer off of just about everything and makes lots of things seem petty and escapist. It makes me scream and it makes me silent, because sometimes there are no fucking words.

These systems and systemic problems are so complicated that I can't see all of the issues or hold them or understand them. But I'm not going to give up. I have to keep the faith, and be a witness, because all children need a mom.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Frightful Weather

Well, not really. The rain is tap-tapping on my bedroom window, where I have retreated after coming home from work sick again. I thought I was well, but I guess I really wasn't, considering I came home and fell asleep in 2.6 seconds and slept for 2-1/2 hours straight.

I have this weird strep A skin infection in/on my nose, and it hurts, and it's brought home to me that I can be ridiculously vain at times. I mean, at least this time of year I can pretend I'm dressing up like Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer or something but now it's peeling, so I look like I went on a secret ski trip and sunburned the end of my nose. How stupid.

In other news, I hate being away from work and not seeing patients and missing my co-workers and I hate feeling like I am dragging my butt around all day long because I'm So Tired, but I guess my body is saying - look, you have this nasty strep infection, so freaking lay down and rest already, OK? Which I'm not good at.

And I have been doing all my shopping online and I hope it all arrives in time for Christmas, but Lucy had 'the best birthday ever' for her 6th birthday, which was something, considering she wanted $6 Wegman's take-out meals for her birthday dinner, out of all the things she could have chosen, and it really was lovely and homey and fun (especially because I was sick and didn't want to go out!).

And well, the world is ending tomorrow and all, so maybe I'll miss out on my 40th birthday after all, since it's not till Sunday! But I wish it would hold off till Saturday so I can celebrate my 9th wedding anniversary with my amazing husband, who I would marry all over again in a heartbeat. This is a man who brought authentic Italian bread to my Italian-American heart patients just because he wanted to, and who I watched stop and help an elderly woman get settled into a wheelchair before he would go find our car today when we left the hospital, which by the way, he was at because I didn't bring food for the potluck and he brought some for me so I didn't look like a loser, and then he came back and drove to my car so I didn't have to take the shuttle so I could go home and sleep. Yes, I recognize that that was a long run-on sentence, but he deserves it. This is a man who modeled respect and love for his mother so tangibly, that my daughter won't date a guy that doesn't treat his mother with respect. Seriously, I love this guy.

And yes, since you asked, I am absolutely heartbroken about the killings in CT. I am with dying people every day of my job, and having almost lost my own daughter last year, I can only just barely imagine the tip of the iceberg of pain and rage and devastation and grief that these parents and families are feeling for their murdered children and family members. It is a huge tragedy. I am always grateful for my children and I can't imagine losing one to violence or any other intervening thing.

It's been a hard road to Christmas this year. I just got laid off today from my part-time job doing online community management, and my husband (and all of us) are missing his mom - this is our first Christmas without her since she died. But I feel a little thrill of hope and cheer when I see the tree - it was hard fought to get a tree in our house this year, but we did it and it's beautiful, and my gorgeous teenage daughters put it up while I took photos. I'm so grateful.

Oh, and I'm not sending out Christmas cards. Again. I know I suck, but you know I love you all anyway.

I'm preaching on Sunday - on my 40th birthday. Where else would I rather be than ministering to the church that has lifted me up, watched my back, and nurtured our spiritual lives, than preaching on such a milestone day? Nowhere, let me tell you.

So if I don't get back to the blog this week, Happy Solstice, Merry Christmas, Happy Kwanzaa, etc. I am blessed by all of those whose lives intersect with mine, either through ministry, friendship, family ties, or random chance.


Wednesday, November 21, 2012

A year of gratitude

I'm at work today, in my job as a hospital chaplain, where a year ago at Thanksgiving, I was in the same hospital with my oldest daughter, who attempted suicide. At our morning devotion today, I reminded my colleagues that the work we do is important. Having the chaplains stop in to the hospital room, or to see them in the hall and receive an encouraging hug was critical in my ability to cope last Thanksgiving.

What a difference a year makes. When I look at Emma and see the vibrant, healthy, humorous and beautiful young woman she is, it is hard to believe that we almost lost her a year ago. I wsa just reading through the CaringBridge notes we got back then, and the supportive and loving emails from our friends and family. I can't even come up with words for the gratitude I have that she is still alive, and here in my life. I love her so much that it makes my heart hurt. I love our little one on one chats, I love her sense of humor, I love her style - and I love that even though we don't always see eye to eye, we love each other anyway.

I am grateful for the last six months of being in our own home again; my husband's childhood home. I am grateful that my other three kids have come out the other side of a chaotic time of family loss, a house fire, chaos, and illness. I am grateful to be doing ministry that makes my heart full every single day, and to be working with the most amazing resident group in the world. I'm grateful to work for a hospital that values our spiritual healing as much as our physical and mental wellbeing.

I'm grateful for my husband. He has been a rock, through some of the worst times I could have imagined. I hope that I am half as good a wife to him as he is a husband to me. I am grateful for my family, and my Meadville Lombard colleagues, who are always just a text or a phone call away, and who check in on me when I don't keep in touch.

I'm grateful for music and laughter and love and my dog, Jake. I'm grateful to climb into my awesome bed every night.

But mostly I'm grateful to be part of a faith community that lives its values. It is the strength of my call to ministry, of my relationships with amazing colleagues and congregants, and the power of spiritual practice that has gotten me through and given me the gifts that I have in my life today.

Blessings on all of those who have touched, and continue to touch our lives in so many wonderful ways. Namaste.

Friday, October 26, 2012

The veil is thin

This time of year is always profound for me. I find that this intersection of the seasons, the time of mid-autumn, is one in which I experience a strong sense of how thin the veil is between life and death. There is something about the sacred time of Samhain, All Saints Day and All Souls Day that calls me to silence and a heightened awareness of how limited our senses are.

Working as a hospital chaplain is a daily reminder of how little we know beyond our five senses, the intellectual constructs of our brains and how we make sense of the world, and how fragile these human bodies are. This is also a time of year when I have experienced a number of personal losses over my lifespan, deaths and otherwise.

Everything around me seems enhanced - music, the weather, the wind, the smell of leaves, my attunement to the emotions of those close to me. I am drawn to be outside, to experience these sensations away from confining walls and fluorescent lights. It's a time when I feel a deep connection to the divine and the natural and super-natural connections that surround all life throughout the universe.

I am deeply grateful for this time of year and for the transparency of the line between life and death, physical and spiritual, sense and sensed.

Blessed be.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Anxiety Part 2

I received a lot of feedback to my post on anxiety, which reminds me that we live in anxious times.

I'm not sure that they're more anxious than other times, but the pace of life, and the expectations of western culture, are anxiety producing in and of themselves. Since the days of the Baby Boomers, we have been told to do more, produce more, cram in more work, overschedule our kids to the point where it is stressful just to get through a "normal" day. (I am in receipt of the knowledge that normal is just a setting on the dryer).

I keep trying to find ways (aside from medication), in which I can simplify my life and reduce things that I know cause me anxiety. If anyone wants to adopt my annoying pug dog that wakes me up every morning, crying to be let out, then barking incessantly to be fed, let me know. Every single day, the first whimper out of her mouth starts my stomach roiling, my heart speeds up, and I can feel my anxiety level rise as I begin to think about what the next 10 minutes will entail. I will race all three dogs down the stairs, fight my way through the pack to the back door, try to keep my balance and not fall into the back yard as they bum rush me and each other for the chance to be Alpha that morning. Then they will pee as fast as possible and crowd back at the door, whining and scratching piteously as I prepare their bowls of food, as if perhaps they have not been fed in weeks and weeks. I try. I try to make them sit quietly, so that I'm not being bullied by my own dogs, who are supposed to bring me joy and calm (and who do, much of the time). But often, my anxiety just tells me to rush through the process so they will Shut T.F. Up and eat already.

Then, as I begin to find the parts to the coffee maker, buried in the dishwasher (why does the lid to the coffeepot always seem to be missing?), the cat is yowling, demanding that I turn on the faucet so she can drink out of my (my!) sink. Where did she get the idea that this was an acceptable manner of behavior, when she has a perfectly good bowl of water both upstairs and downstairs (which she often tips over in protest, because, dammit, she deserves running water fresh out of the tap, you idiot humans). I then wrestle the cat off the sink. Several times. Forcibly. I get the coffee started, and if I'm lucky (which I rarely am), the small people that reside with me are still asleep and I can get a decent amount of caffeine into my system before they begin clamoring for breakfast (much like the dogs, actually).

It's not even 8am yet people.

But my point is that these children, furry and human, are joys in my life too. It is not always simple to simplify. The very things that we love and desire also mean work and growth and collaboration and cooperation. Some things are easier - I can get rid of "stuff" so that my house is less cluttered, which makes my brain less cluttered. But even that is not simple. There are five other people who might resent me if I get rid of their stuff. So it has to be negotiated, or done carefully, under cover of night, with clandestine trips to Goodwill.

Even the up and coming workers of today - NextGen, are demanding that there be more balance between work and personal life. But will they get it? With the economy in the toilet, on a global scale, my guess is no.

Anxiety is present in our daily commute, our neighbor's yappy dog (or our own), our faltering grip on getting and keeping a job, or what happens when you don't. It's present in being in a relationship, or parenting, or caring for aging parents, or worrying about your neighbor. It's the challenge involved in getting your oil changed, or making a doctor's appointment during work hours, or dealing with the DMV, or applying for health care benefits.

As I have slowed my life down to a crawl this summer, and actually enjoyed hanging my laundry out a a leisurely pace, eating cereal for dinner (just once, actually), and playing board games and watching Breaking Bad (anxiety producing in and of itself), I find myself thinking a lot about my upcoming year of chaplaincy.

There are certain places that are more stressful than a hospital for sure, but there is a constant tension at a trauma center. There needs to be quiet for healing, there is frantic activity, there is life-saving going on, there is dying happening. There are unanswered questions, or answers we don't like. There is the question of insurance and paying for treatment. There is always the awkward family stuff that crops up when someone is sick or dying. It is a veritable hotbed of seething anxiety there.

I once wrote a sermon about clinical pastoral education, and the crux of it is what I learned from my co-chaplain, Joy.

1. Make lots of room.
2. Be curious.
3. Our own emotion is a barometer for what is going on in the room.
4. Stay in the moment.

These are the tools I use every day in managing my newfound anxiety, and trying to put it back where it belongs - as a survival tool that keeps me focused and reasonably safe in an uncertain world.

I mean the reality is that if I did these four things when I wake up, I'd start out my day with compassion instead of anxiety (if I were perfect, which I'm not).

I'd allow lots of room for realizing the dog has to pee and is hungry and feels anxious about that, which is why I feel anxious.

And if I stay in the moment, and am not swept away in a tide of furry need, I can manage the next 20 minutes with patience and joy in their happiness with food, in exploring the weather I see outside my window, in being curious about the hiding coffeepot lid.

Saturday, August 18, 2012


I have been wrestling with anxiety this year. Not just the run of the mill, kind of low-level anxiety that is normal around parenting, or money. But clinical, overwhelming, nasty anxiety disorder of the kind that sinks its teeth into your insides and then churns around in there. It has become a physical manifestation by virtue of feeling like I have something caught in my throat much of the time, or tightness and pain in my chest. It expresses itself as irritability, and makes me feel like any sort of decision or clutter or activity that I have to complete is completely unreasonable and out of reach.

The reason I'm writing about it now is that my husband heard about this book, "Monkey Mind," on NPR. It's by  Daniel Smith, and I cannot put it down. Smith is able to discuss the horror of anxiety that is only offset by his brilliant sense of humor. I downloaded the book yesterday and am more than halfway through it. I feel like I am no longer adrift in a sea of people who don't understand what this sensation is like. I certainly don't feel like my therapist understands it. I'm not sure my spiritual director gets it. My kids certainly just want me to stop being irritable and irrational about weird things. My husband is patient but mostly I am just so, so tired of this level of free floating anxiety that cripples my ability to enjoy the things I used to love so very much. Going shopping, planning meals, organizing my home, gardening, arts festivals, exercising - all of the normal things that I need to do had become completely untenable.

While I was in seminary and working and homeschooling, I was entirely too busy to give in to this attack on my psyche. I pushed it down and aside, and took medication and watched bad TV and drank wine. But this summer, I had nothing to do, except be. Be at home, be with my family, hang out with friends, unpack from our move. I became completely unmoored. It wasn't until I came home from two weeks of vacation and started crying every day that my therapist suggested the meds weren't working, the exercise wasn't working, the talking wasn't working. My brain was biologically changed from trauma after trauma after trauma. Real trauma, real struggles, and way too many of them. My brain had taken what was probably a low-level anxiety that I was able to channel in mostly positive directions for many years, and sucked all the enjoyment out of my life.

Smith describes exactly how I felt last week, after meeting with my spiritual director, who had helpful advice, and then meeting with my therapist, who suggested different medications (which are miraculously working after a week of feeling like I was at death's door). I felt pissed. Smith says that I'd "reached the point that comes in the life of most anxiety sufferers when, fed up by the constant waking torture, dejected and buckled but not yet crushed, they at last turn to their anxiety, to themselves, and say, "Listen her: Fuck you. Fuck you! I am sick and fucking tired of this bullshit. I refuse to let you win. I am not going to take it anymore. You are ruining my fucking life and you MUST FUCKING DIE!"And this anger is good.

As Davis says, "the first time that you experience anxiety that has no obvious connection to a logical threat, in a situation in which the vast bulk of humanity would fail to respond with anxiety, you know it. It feels wrong. It feels off. it feels crazy. This is good. It means you still have a chance."And I've known it since it manifested itself and have fought back like crazy. But boy is it exhausting. And most people don't even realize how large a struggle each day can be during these times. It's like suicide, or feces, or Mitt Romney. People just don't want to talk about that crap in the course of their day.

Sing it brother. I mean I know that I am not going to rid myself of anxiety. I need to learn to re-channel it and accept it and love it into a new form, and manage it when it's out of control. But what I've learned this summer is that I have *always* had anxiety. It is often an ironic gift in ministry, when we must be the non-anxious presence in the room. My own anxiety allows me to be highly attuned to others' anxiety and stress, and to react to that in a loving and compassionate way. Now if I could only learn to do that for myself (which is actually what my spiritual director wisely suggested).

Davis talks about anxiety (on it's good days) as something that "doesn't dull the senses; it sharpens them. It telescopes the vision sot hat you can concentrate on whatever the emergency demands, or on getting out of the way whatever tasks and obligations you have to get out of the way so that you can get back to the emergency. It's like Ritalin. It's like magic."

Anxiety in its best, most focused moments is like that for me, and it's what makes me a strong leader and a focused listener, and oddly enough, a non-anxious presence. It also leads people to describe me as "edgy" and "type-A" and "highly driven." It's a two-edged sword, especially if it gets the upper hand.

I woke up in the middle of the night last night with insomnia, and began thinking about this book, Monkey Mind and the genesis of my anxiety. Not just the trauma-induced anxiety of 18 months of the life of Job, where I was still able to find little pieces of joy to keep me going (counter-anxiety, apparently), but the place where it all began. I could get all Freudian, I suppose, but I realized that I grew up in a house with an ill father and a mother who was trying to keep it together. It was an environment filled with anxiety. I mean, this sounds like a no-brainer, right, but for me, this middle of the night epiphany was profound. I can look back and remember feeling profound anxiety as an adolescent, which I won't go into here, but then I remember a time in my 20s when I had young children, my first husband and I were happy, we bought a house I adored, I loved my work and my mothering.

Those are the moments - that decade - that I can point to and say that anxiety was not a leading force in my life. Then my marriage fell apart, and I have spent the last decade wrestling with all of the normal things that life throws your way, and I realize that I have spent that last decade wrestling with anxiety to some extent that whole time. Until it finally rose up and smacked me down, and I finally reached that point that Davis talks about where I got pissed. That was just last week.

Later in the book, Davis talks about Kierkegaard's writings (The Concept of Anxiety) on anxiety (oddly enough, my 13 yo is named Soren, after Kierkegaard). He talked about freedom. How the freedom to choose causes anxiety. Davis says he "compared it to the dizziness that afflicts a person when he peers down into an abyss - there is always something specific behind the feeling. That something specific is the popping up of an option - a crossroads."

Davis says that because we are human and we have to choose, we want both things but can't have both "deciding always means being altered; and because alteration, however desirable, is always violent. Anxiety is the state a person has to pass through on his way to creating himself." My God! Isn't that what doing ministry is all about? Creating anxiety, holding the space, growing, choosing...

When I first started spiritual direction, years ago, I said to the woman, "I am so tired. I see how much more I have to change, to grow. When is it enough? I have been through years of therapy, school, growth. And yet there is so much more to do!"

Now I mostly relish in that growth and opportunity, but when my anxiety reaches its peak and it sees the freedom I have to choose and grow, it acts as a stifling force. It turns into a kind of imposed depression. But Kierkegaard also says that there are two types of peple - those who push through the anxiety and those who are beaten back by it. Davis says that "men look. They own up to ambiguity and conflict. They own up to reality." Again, learning to be a minister is about embracing ambiguity. About getting comfortable with it. I am beginning to feel that my husband was divinely led to suggest this book to me. (or maybe my ego is just out of control ). 

Davis talks about there being two kinds of sufferers of anxiety. Stiflers and chaotics. And he says that "chaotics are merely stiflers with weak grips." Ha! I would love to be a stifler, but I think on my best days I have a kind of controlled chaos. But on my worst, the chaos IN the world is too much for me, and sends me retreating. It is interesting to note that when I've been working, actively engaged in ministry, my ability to compartmentalize actually helps me to process and organize my anxiety into high functioning and a generally positive attribute. But this summer off - wow. Chaos would be a good word for it. I'm ready to go back to work. David experienced a high state of anxiety during his summers off from college as well. He thought it was the idleness, which does seem to exacerbate anxiety, but it was being home. And I think that's true for me as well. I have less control and more choices to make here in my home than in any other place in the world. The responsibility is never-ending and sometimes oppressive.

Another interesting thing is what Davis says about religion. He was brought up in a Jewish family, went to a Jewish college, but they were mostly non-practicing. What he said about his brother's response to anxiety stemming from their religion was something I could identify with as a Unitarian Universalist.

"We're surrounded by people who came into this world with these portable little bundles of certainty, these neat foundational texts. They don't have to go rooting around for comforting words. They were handed to them at birth - pre-edited, pre-legitimized, pre-authorized. There are almost seven billion people on the planet and ninety percent have scriptures. And what do we have? What did we get? Nothing. We're at sea. We've always been at sea."

So I'm rowing back to shore. And it's good.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Insurance, Discrimination,and Privilege

Now I am the first to admit that I am no scholar of Obamacare, or what other countries offer for state/national insurance. However, I do know that what we have is a culture in which those who rely on state-issued insurance (in NY, it's Family Health Plus, Child Health Plus, and/or Blue Choice Option depending on one's income level) are looked at as less than, and do not have access to equal and humane health care.

I am not a scholar of insurance, and I get bogged down in the SCOTUS arguments, but I do know that I have been using Medicaid and state insurance on and off since I was an adolescent and I want to relate my own experience of a parent who has had to watch her children get substandard care, or be refused medical care because we are not middle-class enough to afford private insurance.

There are a few things about this:
1. Many doctors refuse to take Medicaid patients at all, or have those less experienced in their practice or hospital care for those patients.

2. Private insurance companies AND Medicaid are able to negotiate fees with medical providers, whereas it is almost impossible for an uninsured patient to enter into those same negotiations, thereby having to pay much more for services than the provider would get paid through insurance.

3. Medicaid is a pain in the you know what to work with for doctors, so I kind of understand that they don't want to deal with the hassle of fighting to get paid for their services, so the state insurance system itself is partially at fault for all of this - but who suffers for it?

4. Private insurance is ridiculously expensive. The last time I had the opportunity to purchase it through my employer, it would have cost over $500/month to insure my family. And I was making just enough too much money to qualify for Family Health Plus. So we had to go without insurance.  This is not an isolated case.

5. The hoops you have to jump through to qualify for state insurance are confusing.  I have been told confidentially that they are purposely difficult. If you are self-employed, you can pretty much forget it for at least the first year. Paperwork gets "lost," phone calls are not returned, caseworkers are abusive.

6. My family has been refused treatment by a number of doctors, "misdiagnosed," and treated poorly by more office staff than I care to remember, by virtue of having Family Health Plus, rather than private insurance. Does that sound paranoid? I assure you, it's not. I have spoken with a number of trusted medical professionals who assure me that this is the norm, and I personally know many families who have had this same experience, both in Pennsylvania where I lived for 30 years, and here in NY state.

The last time I lived in Monroe County, my caseworker was so abusive and mismanaged our application and renewals so badly, that I tried to work with her supervisor. He never returned any of my phone calls, the caseworker's voicemail was always full, which bounced me into a neverending loop of "press 0 to talk to an operator," which went to another menu, which returned to original menu, which eventually hung up on me. I eventually ended up having my case managed through the County Commissioner's Office, because even the ombuds(wo)man was unable to untangle the knots of evasion and abuse that were happening in the Assistance Office.

Now, I'm white, college educated and pretty savvy. I can't imagine what it's like for the many city residents who are black or hispanic, uneducated, cannot advocate for themselves, and don't know how to bark up the food chain for fair treatment based on their income. I mean, I only knew to call the Commissioner's Office because my mom is a retired nurse and knew what the next step was. It's certainly not published anywhere easily accessible that this is an option.

This is only going to (and I'm sure has) become worse, as unemployment rates hover around 10%, businesses stop offering insurance benefits, and private insurance options have not caught up to Obama's vision of affordable health care. The system is surely flooded and overwhelmed, and is filled with untrained folks who have grown up in a culture of racism and prejudice against the "poor."

Since my husband is self-employed, and I've worked a variety of part-time jobs while finishing my BA and M.Div, we have been using state insurance in all its varieties (paying some, paying nothing, going uninsured) for almost 10 years now.  The latest frustration was that my daughter had a defect in her tooth, and getting it taken care of in a timely fashion, with competent medical professionals was a long, arduous, humiliating, and frustrating experience. I could not be more grateful to be getting health insurance through my chaplaincy residency in September. But wait! Even that won't cover the dental care two of my children need without bankrupting us with thousands of dollars in co-pays! So, I still have to go back in and apply for supplemental state insurance to assist with that.

There are very few dentists, and almost NO pediatric dentists that take state insurance in Monroe County, where we now live.  There are exactly ZERO dentists in Wayne County where we lived for 4 years, so those folks must travel to another county to get dental care. For a number of years, adult state insurance didn't cover dental care at all. A year ago was the first time I was able to go to the dentist for a regular check up in seven years.

We are lucky to have found a wonderful pediatric dentist who takes a conservative approach to dental care, and is kind and patient with my kids. However, my daughter's tooth required a root canal, and there are NO pediatric or other endodontists that take state insurance that she could refer us to. We could go to the dental clinic, but it's first come, first serve (requiring hours of waiting) and our dentist assured me that the head endodentist, while excellent, does not see Medicaid patients and that we would have to see a resident, first-come first-serve, which means that though they are supervised, they may have very little experience with the kind of care a person might need. I don't have anything against residents myself (being one), but I do have a problem with a supervising doctor creating an atmosphere of discrimination against Medicaid patients with their staff and residents.

I also know that one can get great care at the dental clinic - and one can get abysmal, dangerous "care" there, and that the supervising attending is not always present.

Eventually, after an all-night ER experience, where I had to fight for pain management for my child, educate the on-call ER dentist (who had very little pediatric experience) that whatever it was that he might choose for his child didn't apply to me because he had awesome private insurance and I don't - and by the way, he's now working in a city hospital with an economically diverse set of patients, so he might want to eliminate the phrase, "If it were my child," from his vocab until he goes into private practice - and eventually have an adult molar removed, because the damage was so advanced, we are now looking at the necessity of orthodontic intervention (again, with huge co-pays) to avoid other damage to her teeth because she couldn't get timely care because we have state insurance. (I apologize for that astonishing run-on sentence).

The point? My story is not an anomaly. As a matter of fact, my story is probably better than a lot of people that live in this city and state and country, because I'm a pain in the ass and can politely demand what I know is reasonable, humane, and ethical for my children's care without getting thrown out for my skin color, accent, or other identifying features. My point is that my story, while better than many others, still sucks. Health care in this country is a hot mess.

My other point is that it's not just "poor, white trash," or "blacks" or "hispanics," who are "lazy and milking the system" who are using state insurance. It's many, many people, of all races and means who have been effected by the global economic collapse, whose employers find ways around offering benefits, who fall between the cracks because they work part-time in the food service but still make too much money to qualify for assistance. It's time to stop making assumptions about "the system" and those who use it. It's time to start treating all people with respect and dignity - because we really don't know the whole story 99% of the time. And after all, we are the 99%.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Surrounded by light and dark

Thats what we deal with, each and every day. Moments of the divine; of joy, of light, of clarity of vision. Moments of despair; at the state of the world, at our own failings, at the little details that can overwhelm our ability to see the big picture. Home again, with a pile of dogs at my feet, waiting for breakfast; listening to Lucy sing quietly as she plays with dinosaurs and writes in her journal; these moments of homegrown bliss are held up next to a front page of news that brings tears to my eyes. Syria, shootings in Aurora, the global economy, just for a start. Last night my 16 year old was talking to me about how she couldn't really relate to a Bloom County book we had laying around. The Cold War is a piece of ancient history to her. I told her, how as a young girl, I used to lay in bed terrified that a nuclear war would start. I asked her what she is afraid of, wondering how it is to come of age post 9/11. She told me that most of her nighttime fears come from the effects of global warming. Will the ice caps melt? Will out of control weather patterns destroy our earth? My spiritual director warned me that this summer would be a tender time. She was right. There are so many tender spots in my heart that can now be examined. Prayers for all of those grieving from violence, discrimination, war; and prayers for all who love them. May we all find light and joy in the midst of difficult times and the fears we hold in our deepest selves.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Diving deep and getting tossed

10 days of what for me, is immeasurable sloth. I've done dishes and laundry, and even cooked, but it's a mimalist existence here with a few books, sand, saltwater, and typical boardwalk fare. The food is rich and happy-making.

I am sloughing off four years of academic rigor and study, stress of fellowship proceedings (to be reengaged with in the fall), loss and grief and joy and success. I'm purposely thinking of little, reading fiction that pleases me, watching trite TV, and enjoying teaching my kids the deep love of the ocean that I hold. The heat, the rhythm of the tides, the art of swimming, and how to lose one's dignity with laughter when you get knocked around by an unexpected wave or you time the crest wrong, or it was bigger than you thought. Digging in the sand to hold sand crabs and feel them ticle your fingers, or finding beds of uoung clams and laughing tomsee them swim in their fashion. The sustenance of blue crab and oysters and crab legs and shrimp and stuffed salmon that is fresher than anything they are likely to taste any distance away from the shore.

The seashore has a life and tide of its own and it takes years of vacations to learn it, but I now fall into it seamlessly. Washing endless towels, and rinsing feet, and waffles and ice cream. It's a break I look forward to every year and I don't think I would ever tire of this life, even if it were a permanent thing, not just vacation.

There is much to be learned from the ocean - she is a great and fierce mother and teacher. I will take the feel of sand with me, the sound of the waves endless, the memory of dolphins playing past the edge of the surf. The heat of the sun I have soaked up into my bones, day after day, to,sustain me in the coming cold of upstate NY , though that seems faroff amidst record temps and no rain).

The peace and renewal I gain here will warm my soul as I hold hands and pray and grow as a hospital chaplain next year. It will sustain me as a mOther and wife, through joys and trials. I am so very blessed to have had this time to just BE with My family and with myself. To give myself permission to rest and read and write. To fill myself up and return to the service I love so much.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Finding the divine

This month has been the best of both worlds. A week in WV with JPD,SLD and OM youth working on a house that needed repairs also had the added benefit of taking me back to the Appalachian Mountains I grew up in. I get so homesick for the Allegheny mountains of PA and the ranges become even more stunning to the south. Now I am in my other favorite place- the Eastern Shore. my mom grew up in MD and my dad in southeastern PA, and I spent at least a week every summer in Ocean City, MD. As a college student I spent a lot of time there with a fellow student and friend, and as a young woman and beyond, I have explored the shores, eventually falling in love with the residential and slower pace of DE. We found a great apartment last year and re-rented it this year, for two whole weeks. I may never be able to afford such a luxury again, so I plan to enjoy every second. Rochester does nothing for me in terms of climate or geography, though i love the people, so this is a special treat Today has been amazing. Friends from my hometown who moved to the DC area last year happened to be in town and spent the day with us. We saw dolphins and pelicans and swam and sunned and ate well. Now there's a thunderstorm rolling in - and I love stormy weather. It'll blow over by morning, and we'll enjoy another gorgeous day. As a lover of the outdoors who is nourished by the earth and it's offerings, and an adherent of process theology, I am ecstatic to have this time in places that I feel are so filled with the divine. I have had people comment on my ability to move through recent life's challenges with grace, and I have come to realize that grace is available to all of us - it is unearned and unexpected. And for me, I have never felt alone. The sense I have of God is always with me. it is strong here. Coming to the sea is a ritual of renewal for me that started before I ever carried children in the ocean of my own uterus. I love being in the womb of the ocean, of being healed by the briny waves, of being carried by the swells and warmed by the hot sun. It is a place that demands respect because the ocean can kill, it's denizens bite,a nd the sun is fierce, but it's also a place of birth, of the moon, of tides, of the rhythm of life. The rain is coming down, the thunder rolls, and I am complete.

Friday, July 6, 2012

We are going on vacation. I haven't gone on a 2 week vacation ever, so I am excited at the prospect of two weeks of beach time, with plenty of time for sand, sun and sea; and plenty of time for child-friendly pursuits like Assateague Island, Frontier Town, miniature golf, water slides, and lots and lots of fresh seafood.

Since internship ended, and graduation I have seesawed between maniacally cleaning everything in sight, and sitting on the couch obsessively watching Netflix and catching up on old Dexter and Burn Notice episodes. My spiritual director observed that this summer of rest may be a tender time - it is the first time I can sit down long enough to process all of the life events that had to be put on hold until seminary was over. My father and brothers' deaths, as well as my mother-in-law; the house fire, Soren's surgeries, Emma's depression and hospitalization, my mother's deteriorating health...and I miss my internship congregation too. It has been tender. I've embraced the chance to find joy in the many wonders of each day. it is a gift to spend this summer with my children and prepare for their next school year ahead of time. Emma started taking community college classes in 9th grade, but Soren isn't quite ready to delve into that yet, so I'm wracking my brains to come up with a right-brained approach to her education that lifts up her artistic and musical side.

The older girls and I went on a service trip with CERG and worked on a home in West Virginia with 19 other youth and 3 other adults. It was a great experience, and challenging. We got caught in that nasty storm on the last evening.

So I've been quietly journaling and reading many books on theology and prayer and also some mind candy fiction - I've been rereading the Game of Thrones series for one, and am taking Shawn Colvin's memoir with me to the shore. I've been mentally preparing for my upcoming hospital residency, which will start in September and run for a year. 3/5 of us will be UUs and I'm excited to work with two local UU candidates that I know fairly well.

When I get back from vacation, I'll re-engage with Connect & Breathe, and I have stayed involved with my congregation's Pastoral Care Team, which I'll continue on with. I'll also be facilitating a Wellspring group again this coming year, with my dear friend Libby. And of course, cramming UU History and Polity and reviewing bible history.

All in all, I'm amazed at how much I just need to SIT and do pretty much nothing. So that's what I'm doing.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012


I’m playing with redirecting my Blogger account to Tumblr, just for fun. I can’t import all of my old posts, but got most of them I think. 
Today’s session at Wellspring was on Death and Dying. For a sometimes dark subject, there was a lot of laughter (not uncomfortable laughter) andreal, down-to-earth discussion about denial, birth/death themes, fear, and planning.
When I got home and had a chance to read the news, I found many photos of Joe Paterno’s funeral procession. I grew up in State College, and JoePa was an eternal figure. He and my dad were the same age, and it’s hard to believe they are both gone. When I was reflecting on death today, it was a realization that I don’t think much about it, except as something far off. And my partner was surprised to find out that if I had a year to live, I’d slow way down - living moment to moment, enjoying the relationships that sustain me. 
I wasn’t surprised. I am so busy finishing up school, and a year of major life events, that the idea of having a reason to slow down and just live life moment to moment, instead of as a headlong rush, was an imagined relief. Not that I hope for a death sentence anytime soon, but it was a reminder to stay in the moment as much as possible.
I’ve been hearing that message a lot lately, from different readings and encounters. It’s something I believe and try to practice as much as a busy mom of four can, but it’s a constant struggle. My daughter’s therapist said this week that thinking about the future causes anxiety, and that really resonates with me. I’m much more centered when I can be in the moment and not just trying to rush through it to the next one. 

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Theology on the Brain

After a 3 day convocation on economics, I entered into the world of Multifaith Theology for my first week of intensive classes. It's pretty awesome, but I'm a complete theology geek. I love thinking about theology and all of the big questions of life - and how starting from one point rather than another - whether it's doctrine, social location, dialogue within a tradition or between then - changes the questions and focus of the theology. Just defining religion is a daunting task in and of itself.

I often think that all of life is about theology, whether people recognize it or not. How we approach the big questions of life - why are we here, what happens when we die, why are we here? These all have ethical implications that can be addressed in some ethical, moral, anthropological, theological, ultimately religious way. (at least etymologically).

So that's what I'm up to. My oldest, who accompanied me to Chicago, is with my sister for the week and I'm missing her, though I'm so busy keeping up with reading, writing and assignments (as well as getting caught up on a class from last semester), that I don't think she'd enjoy being around me that much right now. My two littles at home are sick, which I feel terrible about. My husband isn't getting any sleep. My other teen is heading off for her first time skiing (in Vermont no less) and I'm nervous about her newly healed broken shoulder. I'm sure it will be a blast though.

Right now, my head is full, so I'm off to watch the first episode of Shameless. Shameless, I know ;)

Monday, January 2, 2012

Ready (?) for the Windy City

So, today is my last day at home until January 21st. There was a grocery run. There will be a haircut. There will be a meeting in Syracuse with my Lay Internship Committee tonight. There is lots of anxiety.

I really, really love Chicago. I love Meadville. I love my classmates and the faculty. I love my sister, who lives near there. I love my husband's niece and her family who are stationed at Great Lakes. I love Trader Joe's. I love Whole Foods. I love morning prayer with my roomies.

I *hate* waking up without my five-year-old to snuggle with. I will miss my dog. I will desperately miss my husband. I will miss my other two kids and their humor and hugs and snuggles and arguments. I will miss my huge bed and having Wegman's a mile away.

This is my last long trip for seminary. Some people think I'm pretty crazy for going, after the last six months we've had. I think I'd be crazy not to. Writing and friends and walking and theology are my anti-depressants. I will have 2.5 intense, crazy weeks of all of those things. And Emma's coming with me, and will get to see all the things I love about school. And she'll get to visit my sister, who is awesome and already survived raising four teenagers.

My last J-term. It seems impossible! Convocation, RE for a Changing World, and Multifaith Theologies. A mock MFC interview. Worship services galore. And we're in the Loop now - a brand new territory to explore, though I'll miss U of C and Hyde Park, and the Starbucks I walked by almost every day the last two Januarys.

And of course, there's a snow storm hitting Rochester today/tomorrow. I'm hoping that by the time I get through Erie and head toward Cleveland, it will be behind me.

So there's excitement and anxiety. But my reading is mostly done, my class prep is most done, the car is mostly packed, and I'm ready to get my last kidlet snuggles. Thank heavens for Skype.

Friday, December 30, 2011

Writer's Block, Suicide, and Grace

I would guess that I haven't journaled in my personal journal, or here in my blog for close to six weeks, which might be a record. There was a point of no return in the amount of stress any one person can tolerate, and I hit the wall, hard.

As I've tried to write, everything seems trite, and doesn't seem to do justice to the reality of everyday life - the good, the bad, and the ugly. I write a sentence, and delete it. I write a paragraph, and delete it. Writing is my way of processing the world and of making sense of experience. I have been a writer pretty much my whole life. I am a visual learner, but a verbal processor. The inability to write has been suffocating in ways. I can't write sermons, or papers. I can't write emails or journal. I can barely read the texts I need to read for upcoming classes, and put one whole class on hold.

When I am able to get my head above the water of writer's block for short periods and pound out a few sentences, or make a theological connection in my reading, I start to feel more like myself. I've discovered that the act of trying is as important as doing, even when it's frustrating.

My family has been through a lot this year, but November trumped everything that has come before. I have had my ability to be compassionate and kind and patient be stretched to the absolutely maximum - and at the same time, have been shown those qualities in spades by my beloved community - church, homeschoolers, friends, colleagues.

I thought that losing our home last summer was bad. I thought that the things came after piled on traumas that were hard - although there were gifts of learning and grace that came with each hard time. But right before Thanksgiving, we almost lost our oldest daughter to a suicide attempt. Now that, my friends is bad. Definitely the worst thing that I can imagine. Hard for us, but undeniably harder for her, to be in that space of despair and pain. To watch my child go through the suffering of depression and the medical intervention necessary for her recovery just about broke my heart. It left us all fragile, and even more appreciative of the gifts that we each have.

Why do I speak of such things? Because I must. Because families lose children and teens to suicide at an alarming rate, and it is frightening to speak of it. If you say it out loud, it must be true - and that's terrifying. I am now that mom - the mom whose daughter tried to take her life, and almost succeeded. I am now the mom who is grieving the loss of who she thought her daughter was, and celebrating her courage in fighting to come back from this. And I speak of it, because I've been through suicide attempts before, by my ex-husband, and it's a lonely time - one that frightens other people, and that society lays a film of shame over. This time, I wasn't alone, and I am not ashamed.

My daughter has nothing to be ashamed of. Nobody does. Depression is insidious, and awful and sometimes deadly. It's hard to treat, and not something your friends want to talk about, and it sucks the life out of you and everyone around you when it's deep. She now knows, and has the notes and cards and emails to prove it, that she is valued and loved and celebrated - things that depression made her forget, or wouldn't let her hear in the moment. She has a wall of affirmation above her bed. It makes me smile.

I have also learned that a life of service may be draining at times, but more importantly, it can also be sustaining. It is those moments when I watch a small ministry group have a profound theological experience, or feel the power of words flowing through me in the pulpit, or sitting and listening to a friend or congregant in need of love, not words...those are the moments of grace that fill me up so that I can work on being my best self in difficult situations.

I am a do-er. And I have not been do-ing much the last month - not that you would notice. But I have been. I've been quietly filling myself back up with meals dropped off, with hugs, with small gifts, with listening ears, with vegging out to Netflix, to reading mind candy fiction, to sleeping late and going to bed early. I've been snuggling with my kids, sitting by the fireplace, keeping the house peaceful and clean. I've been watching my kids grow in explosive and exciting and shocking ways, as they become more and more themselves with each day that passes. I've been locking eyes with my husband, feeling a love that sustains both of us and knowing that we're not alone, ever.

So thank you. Thank you to my classmates who are practicing serious radical hospitality this January in Chicago, in so many ways. Thank you to my friends who send me snail mail and email notes of love and encouragement. Thank you to the Lilac Children's Garden and RAHA communities who have brought us meals and provided child care for days on end. Thank you to the family who has surrounded us with their presence and love. Thank you to May Memorial, for trusting me and teaching me how to become a minister. Thank you to First Unitarian of Rochester, whose pastoral care team sat with us for hours, who drove me home to shower, who brought me food and Christmas ornaments. Thank you to the doctors and nurses and techs and aides and chaplaincy staff at Strong Hospital. There is so much gratitude that I hold, and it's this being in community that allows me the space to care for myself and my family. Thank you to all those friends and parents and teachers who love my daughter and have called her and offered support and coffee and friendship. You help to sustain us all.

Yes, it's hard to be transparent about the hard things in life. But it's harder to go around pretending that these things don't happen in life. To me, to you, to the grocer, to great minds and singers and writers and cab drivers. If we hide the painful things, we cannot begin to heal. I know this - I've known it my whole life. But if someone out there is  just learning it, I hope they know that there is a world of love and support just outside their door.

So, I know that I could just delete this again. That it doesn't express the depth of pain and love and grace in life. But writing is what I've got. My voice is what I've got. All my gifts and imperfections are what I've got. So here I am, back at it. And it feels like healing.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Thanksgiving Approacheth

Thanksgiving is upon us! I am thankful for a lighter schedule this week, so I can catch up on some assignments and reading that I have fallen behind on. I am super thankful for my husband, who seems to be everywhere all at once, supporting me, our kids, our home. He's working, he's cooking, he's parenting, he's driving...I don't know how I would manage without him. I love him more every day and it makes me wake up happy every morning to wake up next to him.

I'm grateful for my four children. This is the season of birthdays and reflecting on growth each year. Soren just turned 13. Jude was 7, Lucy and I have birthdays the week of Christmas, and my husband at the end of January.

I'm grateful that this is the first year in my life that I'll have to make a resolution to exercise. My age is finally catch up with me and I can't just float along on the heels of my active younger days!

I'm thankful that we didn't lose any humans or pets in the fire. Everyday, I am struck that life could be so much more tragic than it was last summer. We are really very lucky.

I'm thankful for my church, for my calling, for my teaching congregation. I'm grateful for Wellspring and all my small ministry groups. I'm thankful for thoughtful and amazing colleagues and classmates. I'm grateful for friends who drag me out of my house and make me eat Indian food with them, and spend hours laughing and catching up.

I'm thankful for debit cards and electricity and hot water and furnaces and warm boots and sleds and big hills and ice skates and ponds. I'm thankful for swimming pools and Corona with lime and the hot, hot sun. I'm thankful for my Golden Retriever and flannel sheets and Nine West shoes. I'm grateful for morning snuggles with Lucy and allergy medicine and Advil.

That's just the beginning, but it's a start. It's a chilly day here in NY, but my family is around me, I've got a cheerful fire in the fireplace, snuggling dogs on my feet, and schoolwork plugging along. I've got a wedding to perform this evening and a lovely turkey dinner to look forward to on Thursday.

Thanks to everyone who has been a part of the creation of me.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

A week of "firsts"

Saturday the 19th is the first anniversary of my father's death. I miss him. My children miss him. It is hard to believe it has been a year. I still haven't gone through his belongings, except for his wallet and papers.

Sunday the 20th is my daughter's 13th birthday. Not my first teenager, but Soren's first year as one. She's changing so quickly - emotionally, physically, spiritually, intellectually. It feels like she will be an adult in the blink of an eye. She was my "baby" for six years. And now she's this beautiful young woman, who is going to be taller than her older sister (much to Emma's dismay), in a short time.

Time is short. It goes so quickly. Even in the midst of anxiety, stress, busy-ness with schoolwork (theirs and mine) and the approaching holidays, I find time every day just to reflect on each person in my family and feel gratitude for having them in my life.

The News

When I read the news this morning, it depressed me. The New York Times is full of things that are negative, as is the Rochester D&C and the Syracuse Post. The Centre Daily Times is a horror show of depressing and aggravating news.

The Penn State scandal is all over the national news, and it seems as if it will continue to worsen. I have been struggling with the firing of Joe Paterno, not because I don't support accountability for his actions, but because of my own grief. He is the same age as my father, and came of age in a time when sexual abuse scandals were often disavowed or swept under the rug, or handled outside of the legal arena. Certainly, Paterno is a part of a wide web of cronyism and deceit. However, the world is not black and white. It actually is relativistic in ways, and the reality of Paterno's affect on the sports world, Penn State, and the State College community, has a wide range of good and bad.

There is no question that he should have done more - he should have - and he is recognizing that now in his statements to the press. It's too little, too late. His complicity does not however, negate the good he has done for the community. And that's where I feel grief for the community and university, whose people have conflicted feelings. Those feelings don't mean that Paterno shouldn't be held accountable - they are just normal feelings of loss and betrayal.

 I think about how my own father might have reacted in a similar situation, and my guess is, he would have done what Paterno did - for a lot of reasons, and not because he supported sexual abuse of anyone. Their generation had a different approach to abuse than we do today. Again, I am not in any way excusing Paterno's, or anyone else involved for their moral culpability, but this is one of those "both...and" situations, where a person had made a horrible decision not to act against evil, and they have done a lot of good in their life. At the sunset of his life, Paterno has lost everything - deservedly so.

The victims of these crimes have lost much, much more, and will suffer for many more years. There is nothing, no legal redress, that will eliminate the damage that has been done to them, and for that I grieve as well, much more than for Paterno's losses, which he brought on himself. These victims were innocent children, already at risk, who weren't protected by adults who were supposed to be upholding personal and ethical standards of conduct for themselves, the university, and The Second Mile.

What I think is that there is most often a right way to act, but that our feelings just are. And that's hard ground to cross when people are feeling outrage, betrayal, anger and disgust - as well as loss, grief, and horror. It's like arguments between fundamentalist religious groups - it's almost impossible to reach across that chasm of feeling that your feelings/beliefs are the right ones. But in the case of all those involved in this terrible tragedy, the feelings span a wide range of emotion and experience. The comments in the news articles often reflect these entrenched feelings. I am a pragmatist - I know that people are not always able to validate others' feelings, especially when their own feelings are intense, but the idealist in me always hopes that people will try to see outside of their own experience and walk in another's shoes.

Mostly, I would hope that people would keep the victims in the forefront of their prayers and not be distracted by the machinations of the institutions to keep sweeping that issue out of the way.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

I should really be reading and writing and preparing some stuff for school and work, but I have been in a media blackout due to being so busy, and I'm trying to catch up on organizing my files and bookmarks today. They have gotten wildly out of control in 2.5 years of graduate school. Tomorrow I'll have to tackle my reading and writing.

I have obviously been immersed in the story about Penn State's coverup of alleged sexual abuse by former assistant football coach, Jerry Sandusky. It has me thinking about oppression, about the 99%, about disenfranchised and already-vulnerable children who are taken advantage of by the people who are supposed to be helping them. The story has gone national quickly, and it's spawned some great reminders about abuse-proofing (to some extent) our kids. My oldest daughter and I have been discussing the case - the court documents are graphic and disturbing. The victims' stories are eerily similar.

One has to wonder how so many people, who had to have known or seen the alleged abuse by the perpetrator, could have allowed it to go on. Obviously, that's a rhetorical question, since I know the answer - it has to do with power, and fear.  It's the same reason there was such a huge clergy scandal - power differential, fear of retribution or loss of status, and shame.

Talk to your kids, remind them what to look for, and that they can talk to you about anything. If you see something yourself, confront it. Report it.

In other things that I'm concerned about, go Occupy something. Obama told us when we elected him that he wanted us to TELL him how to do his job. Well, go do it.

Penn State and Happy Valley

I grew up in State College, aka Happy Valley, home to Pennsylvania State University. Most of my life has been spent there, in that beautiful, mountainous region, living a life of Town and Gown, student and Townie, learning how to navigate the chaos of football weekends, when Penn State fans come roaring into town.

I grew up in the heyday of Penn State football -when Joe Paterno and Jerry Sandusky brought the football team to two National Championships in the 1980s. I lived my life in the shadow of these awesome figures. I rode the school bus and attended school with the children of these men - Paterno, Sandusky, Curley. I remember the controversies around hiring Spanier in the mid-90s.

My entire life has been formed in some measure by Penn State, and by football. My high school team was the Little Lions, of course. The boys were expected to dress in dress pants, shirt and tie for away games. We always knew we'd be seeing some team off on the bus when we saw the boys show up, spiffy and clean. We lived in the shadow of the expectation of Joe Paterno.

I remember the days when JoePa would not tolerate any kind of misbehavior (at least any that made the Centre Daily Times) from his football players. They also wore dress slacks and ties, and at least in public, put on a show of high standards of conduct. My generation grew up exceedingly proud to be Penn State, to know the football royal families. I lived up the street from the high school football coach - and I bet his life was even more affected by the omnipresent Penn State. In those days, we packed the high school football stadium. Maybe they still do.

As an adult, I learned to grocery shop on Saturdays during the football game, and didn't miss a play, as it was broadcast in Weis Market, and then Wegman's when they came to town. I learned to drive, knowing that University Park and Park Ave. became one way streams on football Saturdays, and it was best to avoid the area altogether. I enjoyed the raucous energy of Saturdays after a win - the packed bars - Zeno's, the Phyrst, the Shandygaff - filled with young people painted blue and white. Because God must be a Penn State fan, right? Else why would the sky be blue and white?

Even after eight years away from home, I still read the Centre Daily Times every day, and check the football scores. After all, I worked there too, first as an obit writer, and then as an editor of the Weekender. The sports guys were untouchable - they had so much to do, so much to cover. Penn State football covered the front page - even during off-season, to the exclusion of much I thought might be more important. But I didn't push too hard. Football made the world go around in my life there. It brought in the fans, the money, the traffic, the grants for better roads. It brought in students and families and kept the bars hopping.

I remember the roar of the stadium crowds when Paterno beat Bear Bryant's win record I could hear it from 3 miles way in my Lemont driveway. The ground was actually vibrating with the noise and the hundred thousand feet stomping on the bleacher treads. I actually wept that day, in my driveway, on a warm, fall day, much like today.

So you might have an inkling as to how, even though I know that these men charged are innocent until proven guilty, reading the alleged cover-ups, the sickening abuse that Sandusky is accused of, the pointing fingers of Spanier and the administration toward Joe Paterno to take the heat off their own culpability (not that Paterno doesn't have his own in this mess), I feel physically sick.

I am horrified that these idols of my youth, who represented moral conduct, ethics, and good sportsmanship that informed my entire public school and college experience at State High and Penn State, could have such obvious clay feet. I can't imagine how Paterno, as a father of his boys, could know anything and not report it to the police. I can't imagine how Curley and Schultz can live with themselves. and Spanier, well, he should be ashamed for whole-heartedly supporting Curley and Schultz, and for canceling Paterno's press conference today. He should not be allowed to resign, as Curley did - he should be fired, for his own role in covering this up, and for trying to divert attention from himself onto Paterno, an 84 year old man, born the same year as my dad, who probably wonders how his whole world got turned up side down after a lifetime of being the King of Football.

My heart goes out to my former classmates, and I grieve for the loss of their innocence, if they still retained it. It is awful that their lives should be overshadowed by the sins of their fathers. It is heartbreaking that my peers and I have our youthful hopes and memories of great sportsmanship and high standards of conduct, be betrayed in this way.

I will always love Penn State, but it will require a good housecleaning before I begin to trust it again. I send prayers out to the families of the victims, and of those families victimized by their husbands and fathers by lies and sexual abuse. May you find solace in your faith, your heart, your spirt, however you may.