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.