Singing the Birthday Blues… and no, it’s not my birthday

I have a fantasy that one day I will work among adults who do not celebrate their birthdays.

It’s not that I deny I’m getting older (still alive at 55). It’s just that I’m an adult now and frankly, it seems a little silly. Living one more year isn’t that big of an accomplishment. Most people manage it.

But more than that, there’s something else about birthdays that I really hate. Like, really really really hate. And people who know me are aware and act accordingly.

Last year for my birthday, Daughter drew a picture for me that highlights my feelings exactly. I will share it with you now when it is not my birthday because… Hello? Have you been listening?

Birthday blues (1)
That’s me in the Groucho Marx glasses.

I hate the attention. Can’t stand it. During any party my primary thought is, “if I leave, will anyone notice?” So when I’m the guest of honor, the answer is usually “No.”

Not always, but usually.

I’m aware that my dislike of parties can be an issue for my friends and family. Most of whom are very generous and loving and effusive with their emotions. Which is annoying as hell.

Honestly. I need to find new friends.

But work? Work should be free of birthday celebrations because, you know, it’s work. Yet at every place I’ve been, birthdays are all the rage.

At my last job, I had to tell my boss to please stop giving me flowers. She usually did it at the beginning and end of the school year, on Admin Assistant Day, my birthday, and all major holidays. I think she once did it on National Eat a Pickle Day. Not sure.

The thing is, Husband knows not to send me flowers at work and it never occurred to me to tell anyone else. If I’m in the hospital? Sure. Bring it on. If I’m home? Better yet. But at work? Nuh-uh. No way, no how.

Reason being:

“Oh how pretty – what’s the occasion?!”
“Is it your birthday? Oh my gosh! HAPPY BIRTHDAY!!!”
“Ooooh, how beautiful! Lucky you!”
“Are those from your husband or do you have a secret admirer? Haha!”

People who normally never talk to me — and honestly, it’s my favorite thing about them — are suddenly talking to me!

My God!!!

As I mentioned before, I now work at a convent. I have also stated that I am enjoying this job very much. It seems to have all the criteria for happy employment: meaningful work, pleasant coworkers, peaceful environment. I feel quite lucky.

Sadly, it has a downside. I became aware of it just two short days into the job, during lunchtime. I was in the dining hall enjoying a lovely bowl of tomato basil soup with croutons on top.

Have you ever put croutons in your soup? It’s quite good. You should try it.

Suddenly someone starts singing that damned birthday song. I look around and there by the dessert tray stands the poor slob to whom the entire dining hall is now singing.

But wait, it’s not just one verse! Because they’re Franciscan Sisters, they have to give it their own special flair.

Here’s the verse they add: “God’s blessings on you, God’s blessings on you,” etc. With their hands stretched out for the blessing.

Beings how it was only my second day, and beings how I didn’t know the person to whom they were singing, I figured it was a fluke. Sadly, it was not.

When it was repeated a couple weeks later, I knew it was their custom. An insane, diabolical custom in an otherwise sane environment.

At the time I was sitting next to Mr. and Mrs. Boss. Once the song was over, I turned to them and said, “By the way, I’ll be taking my birthday off this year.”

“Oh really? Do you have something fun planned?”

“No. I just won’t be here.”

Fast forward a few months and… well, two things are at play here. For one, I tend to forget things. Birthdays among them, including my own.

I would have missed last year’s completely had it not been for Husband. No kidding.

The other thing? The particular department I work for has a custom of taking the birthday person out for lunch, usually the week after. The birthday person chooses the location and everyone else chips in. In other words, it’s a free lunch of your choosing.

Yeah.

Mr. Boss asked if I’d like to do the celebration on my actual birthday, rather than the week after. I thought, hey, I’ll miss the dining hall sing-a-long!  “Um… sure!”

I chose a local joint called Sanchez Burritos. It’s a little like Chipotle – you go through the line and choose your toppings for a burrito, taco salad, rice bowl, quesadilla, etc. Only in this case, the place is run by three cousins from Honduras and all their sauces and meats are prepared on site.

You should get a whiff of this place. *swoon*

As can be expected, eating with four Sisters and a man who attended seminary (though chose marriage over priesthood), they all prayed as soon as they sat down. I waited patiently.

Then Mr. Boss pulls a surprise. He has us all hold hands while he says a blessing – for Me! Giving thanks I was born, moved to Minnesota, took this job, yada-yada.

Never had THAT happen before!

My face

Anyway. We wound up having a discussion regarding birthdays. It shouldn’t have surprised me – Mr. Boss remembered what I said at that lunch several months ago and planned accordingly.

This is what happens when people live their lives focused outward. They not only remember someone’s preferences, they act on them. Amazing.

Two of the Sisters admitted they avoid the dining hall on their birthdays for the same reason I did. “I eat in my room” one told me. The other said, “I just deal with it.”

Sister LaVonne said, “I think the celebration should reflect the person being celebrated. If they don’t like attention, you should respect that.”

I had a similar conversation once with Daughter, who is as much an introvert as I am. Her feeling was that if people care about you so much as to say, “Hey, glad you’re still alive bucko,” then you should be thankful there are such people in the world and just suck it up. Besides, you might get cake.

My thinking more closely aligned with Sister LaVonne: “Please go away.”

You know, I’d really like to hear your opinions on this subject and since I’ve never done a poll before, it’s time we start. We’ll make it multiple choice and we’ll even include a write-in option for you creative types.

Next week I’ll be out of town and in all likelihood not posting – unless I pull one out of the vaults. Haven’t decided yet.

In any case, I’ll give you the results of our birthday poll the week after that.
Please choose wisely. The fate of adult birthday parties is in your hands.

Not really, but let’s pretend.

All hail Lord Cockroach! (It’s only a matter of time.)

At my old job, if a cockroach was spotted in the front office or hallway, I was the one who dealt with it. It wasn’t in my job description but beings how I didn’t run off screaming at the sight of them, it fell to me.

I will now pause to discuss the two types of cockroaches of which I am most familiar. My plan was to add pictures of real live cockroaches, but I feared some of you might run off screaming. Therefore, I shall try my hand at drawing them.

The cockroaches of my youth, the little ones who regularly visited my childhood home, were these guys:

cockroach german

They are commonly called German roaches, though as a rule, cockroaches care little for ethnic labels.

They are about an inch long, have a dusty brown coloring and can be found most anywhere, such as in your kitchen right now.

They are looking for a snack and really wish you hadn’t tossed that rotting fruit as it’s one of their favorites. That was very wasteful of you.

They’d also prefer it if you’d stop cleaning so much. You’re wiping away all the good bits. And not to make too fine a point of it, but you’re cramping their social life. How do you expect them to find their friends if you keep wiping up their poop trails?

Honestly!

The other roach of my childhood was not as frequent a visitor, though he made quite an impression with my family nonetheless. My mom referred to him as a sewer roach, but he’s more commonly called (at least in the U.S.) the American cockroach.cockroach germanYou’ll note I used the same picture, just made it bigger. It’s not just that I’m lazy… okay, yeah, I was being lazy. But really, their bodies aren’t that different. It’s all about size and coloring.

He’s much bigger than his German counterpart and more of a shiny, reddish-brown.

Oh, and here’s an interesting fact: the American cockroach didn’t originate in America. He came from Africa. Wanna guess how he got here?

That’s right! It’s commonly believed they arrived on slave ships. So the next time you see one of these buggers, meditate on that.

The reason my mom called them sewer roaches (many in Phoenix do) is that they often come up through the drains. Plus, they’ve got that shiny thing going on, giving them a lovely sewer aesthetic.

Ah, the memories these fellas conjure up for me. I can still see Brother running out of the bathroom screaming, streaking down the hall because a roach came up the drain as he showered. Or my parents practically tearing apart our T.V. room because they spotted a particularly large one scurrying across the tile. “It’s as big as my foot!” my mom sputtered, somewhat known for exaggeration but in this case, she wasn’t far off.

Good times, good times…

It was the American cockroach I dealt with at my old job, back when I worked at a high school in Scottsdale, Arizona. Sometimes we’d find them in the hallways, but more often they hung out where we did, in the offices and our break room. One of the offices was very close to both the break room and janitor’s closet. Meaning it saw a lot of cockroach action. Sadly, the secretary who used this office really really really hated cockroaches.

She and I, we became friends. All she had to do was come to my desk and give me that look.Bonnie

I’d ask her where it was; she’d give me its last known whereabouts. I’d open my cabinet and withdraw my tools: a plastic cup and a stiff piece of paper. After locating the little fella – who was rarely little – I’d slip the cup over him and slide the paper underneath.

cockroach method

Live capture, folks. I only do live capture.

Once he was safely ensconced within his plastic dome, I’d take a walk outside. He and I, we’d make our way across the staff parking lot and over the rocky landscape, out to the tall chain-link fence that held us prisoner. There I would set him free.

cockroach leaving

You see, I wanted to give the guy some options. He could take his chance crossing the street to enter one of the nice Scottsdale homes on the other side, where they probably served premium cuts of meat and world-class wines. Or he could return to our break room for a stale donut and old coffee.

My method had its detractors.

It is amazing, is it not, how many people are in favor of capital punishment? “There’s a roach in the kitchen! Kill it!”

I never argued with them. Instead I would say, “I don’t like to hear the crunch.” Because, you know, there’s always a crunch.

And besides, I liked getting outside. Dawdling by the mesquite tree, breathing in the city air… ah, the smell of exhaust fumes on a hot afternoon. There’s nothing quite like it.

“They’re just gonna come back!” my detractors would say in a terribly condescending tone. (My detractors were always men.)

I’d say, “probably,” and return to my desk.

The truth is, I kind of knew they were returning. I figured that was why they became so easy to catch. I think they recognized me.cockroach waving

“Oh, it’s the blonde – no need to worry. Field trip!”

What I didn’t realize was that they were returning for a reason and that reason was not stale donuts.

It happened during my last summer at the school. Our bookstore manager was trying to track down a package and was concerned it had gotten mixed in with some other boxes headed to storage. “I really don’t want to go in that room,” she told me, “but I think I have to.”

“What’s the problem?” I asked.

“It’s the Roach Room.”

Gasp!

I’d heard tales of this room but I’d never actually been there. Now was my chance! I quickly offered my assistance. She said yes!

We made our way down the empty hallway. The room was at the end of the Social Studies department, where students learn history, political science, and how we got into this mess.

The bookstore manager got out her keys, unlocked the door and shivered a little. “Are you sure you want to do this?” she asked me.

“Yeahyeahyeah,” I said.

She opened the door and flipped on the light. I expected to hear scurrying… there was none. We stepped in. No roaches. None!

I was indignant. “I thought you said—“

She turned to face me and her eyes got wide. She pointed behind me. I turned toward the wall…

Holy hell!cockroach wall

It was just like the Indiana Jones ride at Disneyland where all those bugs are crawling up the cave wall!

It. Was. So. Cool.

She did not share my enthusiasm.

Anyway, here’s the thing: there were no drains in this room! No sink, nothing containing water or food. Nothing! Just boxes and boxes of books and old files. That’s it.

So what were the roaches doing there?

It’s obvious, isn’t it? They’re educating themselves. Reading up, studying our history. No doubt making notes of our failures and weaknesses.

Make no mistake about it, my friends. They will one day rule us all. They were here long before us and they will remain long after. We have to come to terms with this. There’s little sense in fighting it.

And when they finally rise to power, who do you think they spare but the one who showed mercy?

So the next time you smush one under your shoe and hear that crunch, remember there’s another one nearby. They’re always nearby.

They’re watching you.

They know what you’ve done.Cockroach mad

Springtime is for the birds

Spring has officially arrived to our Minnesota home:crabapple

Yeah, I know according to the calendar Spring has been here awhile, but it’s only really felt like Spring for the past week or so. And it’s not that a flowering crabapple is an official start, but it sounds good to me.

Speaking of trees, we had to remove a maple that was too close to the house. The tree man did the deed last week. Underneath the maple were a whole lotta hostas.

hostas

With the maple gone, so was the shade for the hostas. I transplanted them to our far more shady backyard.

Wanna know how many I transplanted? Sixty-five! Crazy, right?

But they sure look nice in my pretty little woodland corner, so it was worth it.backyard hostas As I worked, the neighborhood birds entertained me. (You knew birds had to come into the conversation eventually, right?)

The chickadees were being their typical adorable selves, ‘natch, and our downy woodpecker is ever the charmer.

 

By the way, all the bird photos you’ll be seeing here have been shamelessly pilfered from the site WhatBird.com.

Please don’t tell.

Have you ever been to that site? Their search feature is pretty cool. By giving them beak size, approximate body size, primary & secondary colors, or any other features you might notice, they will give you a pretty good guess as to what the bird is. Or at least a list of birds that you can narrow down yourself.

That’s how I found out who our newest visitor to the bird feeder is: a Rose-breasted Grosbeak.

Rose breasted grosbeak

And the bird that was with him was his mate, though I never would have guessed it.

Rose breasted grosbeak female

Another site I use is allaboutbirds.org. It’s a great spot for learning cool facts, such as while the Grosbeak won’t be winning any awards for their nest-building – “so flimsy you can sometimes see the eggs from underneath” – their song has been described as “a Robin who’s had opera training.”

I haven’t seen a lot of this couple. (Too busy with their voice lessons, I assume.) Mostly it’s Chickadees and my Downy Woodpecker. Oh — and the Goldfinches! Let’s not forget them.gold finchHe might be tiny, but I sure wouldn’t want to be alone in a room with him. Just look into those eyes! He means business.

Speaking of little birds – I witnessed a bunch of sparrows taking on a crow!

 

Here’s how it happened: Our neighbor has this platform feeder where he puts fruit, nuts, cracked corn, etc. So here I am plugging another hosta in the ground — think it was number 54 — when I hear a crow making an awful racket. Cawing away something awful. I look over to see what’s pissing him off.

There he is in a tree near the feeder, flapping his wings and bobbing his head in a threatening manner. I follow his gaze and there they were, a group of sparrows.

Sparrows!

Every time that crow tried to wing on over to the feeder, the sparrows dive bombed him! They swooped down all together, right at that old crow.

Whoosh!

How do you suppose sparrows work together like that? Do they draw up a battle plan ahead of time?

Gosh, I wonder if they have a squad leader?  “Sparrow One to Sparrow Two, come in from the right… Sparrow Four, wait for my call… steady… steady….move, move, move!”

Sparrows got moxie.

Oh, and here’s the best part: As I’m watching this battle raging, along comes a blue jay who just flew in and took whatever was on the feeder.

Which just goes to show: there’s no sense in fighting. The Blue Jay will win, every time.blue jay

I know a lot of people don’t like Blue Jays, but you gotta admit, with that sassy crest and stylish coloring? They cut a fine figure.

Some positive characteristics I’ve learned about jays: They mate for life, are very good parents, are highly intelligent and can make mincemeat of wasp nests in no time flat.

Oh, and here’s an interesting tidbit from the site:

The Blue Jay’s coloration is not derived by pigments, but is the result of light refraction due to the internal structure of the feathers; if a Blue Jay feather is crushed, the blue disappears as the structure is destroyed.

This is indeed true. I once found a pretty Blue Jay feather while walking Dog and brought it inside where she promptly decided to eat it. When she spit it out, it was no longer blue.

It was also covered in dog spit so I didn’t take a picture. Sorry.

And that wraps up our bird discussion for today. In review, please remember: even the most ordinary birds can be interesting if you just give them a chance.

Also, don’t mess with sparrows.

No chickadees this week. Instead, let’s talk more about racism

Ah, man, I like chickadees!

Yeah, sorry about that. Listen, we really wanted to talk about chickadees – and tell you about other visitors to the bird feeder! – but a certain angel chick on our shoulder was having none of it. She claimed we needed to do a follow up from last week’s post, because to write on a topic like racism and then do a fluff piece seemed a little… well, as she put it:angel on my shoulder

Fine. Get on with it then.

Okay. First some stats: Last week’s post saw a little traffic. It surpassed our record number of reblogs for a single post (more than one), broke our record for shares on Facebook (more than two), and actually brought in readers from Twitter (We’ve no idea what’s happening there; we haven’t tweeted in over three years and can’t remember the password).

It also garnered a number of comments. More comments than “likes”, which we’re told is good but seems weird. And while the comments didn’t break any records in number, they certainly did in length.
All this made us realize that what this blog needs is to cover more serious topics. Like, super serious topics. The more contentious the better!
We could cover climate change!
Abortion!
Whether or not leggings should be worn as pants!

leggings

Please don’t.

We didn’t say we wore them. We just said… eh, never mind.
We had a number of very thoughtful comments, several bringing up things we either didn’t cover or didn’t elaborate on very well.
For instance, both here and elsewhere, people pointed out that prejudice is not limited to white people. It’s a universal problem.

Oh, yeah. I meant to comment on that.

You too?
Listen, we probably didn’t introduce the subject well enough and that’s why people got a wee bit defensive.
No offense.

None taken.

Good.
In hindsight, an explanation for why the Convent was meeting on racism would have helped. You see, a few years ago the Leadership Conference of Women Religious made a pledge:

In the presence of constant and painful reminders of the deep roots of racism in our country, (we) pledge to go deeper into the critical work of creating communion, examining the root causes of injustice and our own complicity, and purging ourselves, our communities, and our country of the sin of racism and its destructive effects.

The Sisters have been at it since before we started working at the convent, though this was the first time they were going to devote a full week to it with the entire community gathered together.
Make sense?

Um… yeah… Sorry, I got distracted. There’s a national conference for nuns?

Right?! We were surprised by that too.

Anyway, it’s not that the Sisters don’t understand the issues of tribalism and the wide spread nature of prejudice, but that they were making a distinction between racial prejudices and racism.
Or maybe we should say “big-R” Racism. Meaning the collective actions of the dominant race. For America, that’s white people of European ancestry. It shows up in our laws, our institutions, our media, and embeds itself into our psyche whether we like it or not.
For a better understanding of it, here’s an excellent article on the subject and it’s not too long. It’ll take maybe five minutes, tops.

I’ll read it later.

Please do. Anyway, that’s why the timeline we created was focused in that direction.
And no, we’re not going to upload all those pictures again. If you missed last week’s post, click the damn link already.

Harsh.

Sorry.
Where was I?

You were singing that song from Avenue Q, “Everyone’s a Little Bit Racist”

No I wasn’t.
Oh, I remember. So yeah, it’s true that all people are biased. Even the most self-aware of us don’t realize our own biases until we’re confronted by them.
Though rather than just shrug our shoulders and say, “oh well, everyone does it,” we push ourselves to learn and grow and improve.
Right?

Right.

Cool.
You know, we fear we may have confused matters by bringing in our personal reflections and failings. It was not our intent to wallow in “white guilt.” We hate white guilt. In truth, we hate guilt.

Guilt is an useless emotion unless it is followed by real change. That was what we were trying to get across. We used to act one way, now we see the error and will act another way.

Sounds good. I still don’t understand why nuns are talking about it.

We’ve said this before but it bears repeating: where we work is not a cloistered convent. The majority of these Sisters do not live at the Motherhouse.

Motherhouse?

Seriously. That’s what it’s called.
Several of the Sisters live within Minnesota, others are in Wisconsin, Illinois, Mississippi, California, and Texas (in McAllen). There used to be a few in other countries, but now their only international missions are in San Rafael and Juarez, Mexico.
So if your concern was that their work would begin and end within the convent walls, you may rest easy. That’s not how they operate.

Coolcoolcool… So now what?

Well, as we told one commenter, the purpose of the Sisters’ meetings was to 1) make us aware of the need for social & political change and 2) discuss ways of getting there. Their last day was pretty intense, discussion wise, and they decided to continue exploring more ideas and ministries.

So what you’re saying is, even nuns can’t solve racism?

Um… they’re nuns. They don’t have superpowers.

Damn.

Yeah. But at least they’re not giving up. You have to give them that.

Fine. But what can I do? I need steps!

Hey, come on – we gave you steps!

You did?

Yeah. Only they were kind of hidden and random and probably made no sense.

Ha.

Shut up. For one thing, we hinted that voting is important. You understand that, yeah?

Oh… right.

Here at Feeding on Folly, we will not tell you who to vote for. However, we will suggest one thing: When casting your vote, stop thinking only about yourself. Consider the common good. The good of many over the good for you.
That is all we’ll say on the matter.

Our more step – though again, no worries if you missed it – we were advocating an end to modern day segregation.

You want me to sell my house and move?

No, we’re not saying sell your house. Unless you want to, in which case you should consult an agent and start packing.

Got it.

Here’s an idea: how about every other time you catch a movie or eat at a restaurant, you try one in a completely different neighborhood?
Also, broaden your outlook with the books you read, websites you visit, blogs you follow, and movies you see.
Even if you feel properly progressive and have an extra-crunchy liberal core, if all the media you consume is white-based, then you’re not getting enough seasoning.
The point is, get out of your comfort zone.

Honestly, that doesn’t sound like much.

Maybe not, but it’s an excellent way of broadening your perspective. Especially if where you live limits how much you can interact with people of color. In any case,  it certainly can’t hurt.

I suppose not. But I’m just one person and the problem is so vast!

Hey, listen up: You are not one person! There are loads of other people who think the same way you do (or very nearly) and are doing their part too. Don’t lose hope! Never lose hope!
You are not alone.
Okay?

Okay. Thanks.

You’re welcome.
Tune in next week when we’ll probably be talking about chickadees. Unless something comes up to divert us and then who knows?

In the meantime: Be good, be brave, and always choose love.

Word.

MLK quote

On racism, white saviors, and being honest with ourselves

About a month ago – for reasons too vast to explain in a 1,000 word blog post – I found myself creating a timeline of “Racism and Immigration” in the United States for the convent’s biannual community gathering.

And because I can never do anything half-way, I wound up filling 21 large bulletin boards for the Sisters.

The only reason I stopped at 21 is because I ran out of bulletin boards.

Seriously. There was no shortage of information.

I’m considering creating a wallet-sized version of my work so the next time I hear someone claim this nation was founded on Christian principles, I’ll just whip this puppy out and say, “OH YEAH?!”

The magnitude of the information I found was overwhelming. There were times I had to get away from my computer. Take a walk. Breathe in some fresh air.

The weird thing is that I knew this stuff. I was a history major. My studies focused primarily on American history. I even took a course on Civil Rights.

Still. When you see everything together, all at once… it’s maddening…

And once again, it was plain to see how much my family benefited from America’s racism.

Sure, they were poor immigrant farmers who worked hard to make a life for themselves in Dakota territory. But the only reason they were allowed to make a life for themselves in the Dakotas is because they were white and the people who were forced off the land weren’t.

Indian_Land_for_Sale_Poster

So there you go.

Did my family understand what was happening? Did they care? I have no answer for that.

My guess is they had some kind of awareness, but they looked the other way. After all, it’s what most of us do. We see things we don’t like, but it doesn’t affect us — or it somehow benefits us — so we look the other way.

Except my work on this timeline meant I couldn’t look the other way. It stayed with me long after I left work.

It’s with me still.

One of the photos I spent a lot of time with was a familiar one. I’m sure you recognize it:

Little rock

We usually see it every February during Black History month.

The year is 1957 and the girl in the white dress is Elizabeth Eckford, one of the “Little Rock Nine” — the nine African-American students who desegregated an all-white high school in Little Rock, Arkansas.

I got to thinking about the woman behind Elizabeth. The one baring her teeth. A look of sheer hatred on her face. I wondered what she thought of the photo. I mean, if I’m seeing it every February, she must see it too.

How do you live with something like that? How do you explain it to your kids?

Or is it something she’s proud of? “Yes, that’s me and I’d do it again!”

Little rock (2)

But that’s freezing her in time. Not allowing her to grow as a human being.

A little bit of snooping gave me the story: her name is Hazel Bryan and she was 15-years old when the photo was taken.

Fifteen years oldLet that sink in a bit.

How many stupid things did you do when you were fifteen? How many expressions of hate crossed your face?

Yeah. Me too. Only in our case, there was probably no camera around to catch it.

As it turns out, Hazel was ashamed of that photo. It pained her every time she saw it. Years later she apologized to Elizabeth and it looked like they might become friends, but that’s a Hollywood version of the story. Real life rarely plays out so sweetly. (You can read the more complicated story here.)

Speaking of Hollywood, one thing I thought about as I looked at the picture: who would I be in the story? Had I lived in Little Rock during that period, would I be one of the people walking behind with a smirk on my face? Or if I was friends with Hazel — would I be sneering too?

I know who I’d like to be. I’d like to be the girl who broke from the pack. The one who stood next to Elizabeth and became her friend. The one who made her feel welcome and included.

You know. The one who never existed.

But if I’m being completely honest with myself, I’d probably be the other girl in the photo. The one who looked away just as the picture was taken.

looking the other way

Because that’s the way I’ve always been. I’ve never taken part in a protest, marched, or did any other daring activity. Heck, even when I saw friends and family showing their insensitive whiteness on Facebook regarding the Kaepernick/national anthem controversy —  did I leave a thoughtful comment, lovingly correcting them? Or even a snarky comment?

I did not. Instead, I just avoided Facebook until the controversy died down.

I looked the other way.

But there’s no looking the other way anymore. We can’t wish this gone or pretend we’re colorblind. We’d just be fooling ourselves and that doesn’t help anyone.

As the speaker told the Sisters during one of their meetings (they let me sit in for one of the days), “Racism is more than racial prejudice. It is more than individual attitudes and actions. Racism is the collective actions of a dominant racial group.”

Meaning whether I’m a nice person or not has very little to do with it. If we ain’t gonna change the system, it’s just gonna keep happening…

Timeline 19

I could easily have continued the timeline to the present, but I decided to end it with the “Unite the Right” rally in 2017 and a challenge by Martin Luther King Jr. — a paraphrase from the book of Amos, 5:24:

“Let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream.”

I figured the Sisters would appreciate it.

If you’ve been keeping track, you’ll notice I’ve only shown you 19 bulletin boards when I claimed I did 21. The fact is, I didn’t take a picture of the other two. One was an “Additional Information” board, where I left copies of speeches, in-depth articles, and other items I couldn’t fit on the timeline. For the last one, I put up a blank poster board and asked the Sisters to add their thoughts and memories. My hunch was they’d have some interesting ones.

It was one of my better ideas.

Remember how in a previous post I told you these Sisters were a bit radical? Back in the day, several of them were involved in protests, some took part in civil rights marches, and a few spent time in jail. In other words, they never looked the other way.

I’ve so much to learn.

Listen, I realize this was a heavier post than I usually write, but it’s been occupying my thoughts for some time and I needed to let it out. Fortunately, I came across something funny that is related to the subject at hand. (No, really!)

Imagining myself in the “Little Rock Nine” story led to think about White Savior movies. You know the ones I mean, right?

Wikipedia has an interesting entry on the genre. I particularly appreciated this bit:

(…) continued cultural hypersegregation led to the common misbelief, by many American white people, that the nation had reached a post-racial state of social relations. (…) That reappearance of the white-savior narrative occurred because the majority of white people in the United States had little substantive social interaction with people of different races and ethnic groups.

Seems pretty clear, right? The less social interaction we have with each other, the less aware we are and the more insensitive we become. Meaning the less willing we are to support real social and political change, and then… my God… we get movies like this:

All kidding aside, I don’t have an easy answer to any of this, probably because no easy answer exists. But interacting with people different than us, following a wider circle on social media, reading books and novels written by people of color (I recommend Jessmyn Ward and Paul Beatty), dismissing the white savior flicks and watching “BlacKkKlansman” instead (or hey, have any of you seen “Sorry to Bother You” yet? That’s a trip!) — all of these seem like a good first step.

And if you know of any second, third, fourth… tenth step? Let’s get this conversation started…

My little chickadee friends

What with one thing and another, mostly another, I find that the post I had planned for this week is not quite up to snuff.

Meaning I haven’t started writing it yet.

Instead, I’m going to show you one of the little chickadees who’s been visiting my bird feeder:

chickadee 2

Yeah, I know, it’s a lousy photo. But hey, considering it was with my phone and he was on the other side of my window — which could do with a cleaning — it’ll have to do. At the very least, you can see what dapper little birdies they are and will now understand why I’m so smitten with them.

I’m told they can get quite tame around humans. A woman from church told me that every morning as she fills her bird feeder, several come along and sit on a fence just a few feet away from her, waiting. Which I find rather charming, don’t you?

Also, here’s a YouTube video of my backyard bird sounds (gosh I hope this works):

Did it work?

If it did, you should be able to hear a two-note call over and over again (along with some geese and robins and I think at one point some ducks). That call is from the chickadees’ repertoire. Birders call it “fee-bee” and I’m told it roughly translates to “hey, sweetie.” Or as I like to think of it, “how you doin’?”

It’s a call you hear primarily in Springtime, as they’re looking for a mate to settle down and have kids together.

Admittedly, when I first heard these two notes over and over and over again, it was driving me nuts. But then I found out it was just a little chickadee looking for love and my heart went out to them. I hope they find it.

Before I go, I want to show you something I found in my quest for chickadee info. This came from a site run by a Dr. Laurie Bloomfield, who studies songbirds:

Chickadees use both songs and calls to communicate with conspecifics, and possibly heterospecifics. Songs are typically regarded as more complex signals than calls, however with only one song type (fee bee), several calls produced by chickadees may in fact be considered more complex. The vocalization made for which the birds are named is the chick-a-dee call. This call contains four notes types (in black-capped chickadees): termed A, B, C and D notes. Although the note types are almost always found in order from A through D, the number of notes in a call may vary and individual calls may not contain all note types.  For example, a call may be as followed: AAACDDD. The chick-a-dee call shows that chickadees may have an extremely complex communication system. For this reason, research continues in an attempt to identify the information that the chick-a-dee call is able to convey to conspecifics (and possibly heterospecifics). Another type of call produced by most chickadee species is the gargle call, which is used during antagonistic encounters with conspecifics.  Chickadees are well studied compared to many other species of birds; however there is still a lot that can be learned about their complex communication system. Each call variant by the birds needs to be analyzed further to elucidate the potential “message” attempting to be conveyed.

I don’t know about you, but I find the fact there are people in this world studying songbirds and analyzing their calls very reassuring. Whatever crap might be going on in the world, whatever garbage you hear in the news, somewhere else in the world there is a person looking up a tree with a mighty fine pair of binoculars, jotting down notes and probably wearing cargo pants.

I mean, just the idea that someone would write a paragraph about chickadees that includes the words “conspecifics” and “heterospecifics” fills me with joy. I must pursue this further.

Which is why I signed up for a birding class this summer in Storm Lake, Iowa. It’s part of a week-long “synod school” Husband and I are attending in late July. They have both fun and serious classes, and since he couldn’t do the ballroom dance class with me, I opted for the one called “Robins, Raptors and Ducks: The Basics of Bird Watching.”

According to the course description, two class periods will be spent at different “Northwest Iowa Watchable Wildlife areas.” Also, it says I’m to bring a good pair of binoculars, so if you have any suggestions for me, I’d appreciate it.

five birders with equipment
I will soon look like one of these people. (Gah, I need to get a hat!)

Thoughts on ghosting, heart attacks, and the art of a finely made mojito

Okay. So.

Here I am beginning a blog post with both Okay and So. The sure sign a blogger is in a slump and feeling desperate.

Not only have I not been posting for the last, oh, two weeks or so, I haven’t been writing or reading or facebook-ing or any other social media-ing. I might have looked at my email once or twice, but that’s about it.

I’d like say the reason was because I’ve been on a far-away island with endless ceviche and mojitos served by a cabana boy named Liam, an NYU grad who couldn’t make it in the cutthroat world of teaching high school ceramics, so used his latte money to purchase a plane ticket to a far-away island where he’s now a cabana boy serving me damn-fine mojitos and ceviche.

I’d like to say that, but I can’t.

Fact is, my absence was due to a hospital stay. Not by me, but by another member of this household and that, my friends, is why this blog post begins with an Okay and a So. I assure you, had I been the one in the hospital bed, there would have been no occasion for either Okay or So.

But Husband? No. He’s not supposed to be the one in the hospital bed. That was our agreement and I really don’t understand how he missed the memo on that subject, but somehow he did.

Okay. So.

A few weeks ago, on a Saturday morning to be precise, I awake early and begin doing my morning routine, i.e. making tea and talking to myself. Then Husband walks in and says he’s having some heartburn, only he’s also sweaty and clammy and for some reason his left elbow hurts.

“Do you want to go to the hospital?”

“Maybe… I don’t know… It’s probably nothing.”

“Well, I’m going to get dressed just in case.”

Two minutes later...

“Um… yeah, I think we should go.”

“On it!”

Thankfully we live within a very short distance to a hospital and, thankfully, that hospital moved him to another hospital which, thankfully, has a top-notch cardiac unit. An angioplasty and three stents later, he’s doing well and I’m now cooking without salt and minimal fat and beginning blog posts with Okay and So.

All this is to say, when it came to writing and reading blogs, my head just wasn’t in the game. But things are going better now and I’ve got tons of things I could tell you about.

Like, I could tell you about the little chickadees visiting the bird feeder in our backyard, who I’m beginning to suspect are chirping naughty things to each other.

chickadee

Or I could tell you about the nun who visited my office the other day who I swear was in every respect the female version of Tim Conway’s old man.

old man

Or maybe I’ll tell you about the Easter vigil we attended at the convent where Husband, one week from a heart attack mind you, played trumpet and I stood at the ambo (seriously never heard that word before, have you?) and read aloud the “intercessions” and gave a reasonably half-assed impression I knew what I was doing.

Ambo
Presbyterians call them lecterns, Catholics call them ambos. Oh, the things I’m learning.

Instead, what I’ll say is this: I’m sorry for ghosting on you. Now that I’m back, you’ll be hearing from me. I just checked my email and I see several of my blogger buddies have posted… well shit, they posted a lot. I better get reading.

Hey, before I go, if by chance you should meet a cabana boy named Liam, tell him I’m shooting for next April, okay? And tell him if he muddles the mint particularly well, there’ll be a nice tip in it for him. Thanks.

When Reception isn’t very perceptive

*ring* … *ring* …

Franciscan Life and Associate’s Office, this is Christi. May I help you?

I’m trying to get a hold of Sister Angie.

Oh… uh… Let me transfer you to the reception desk… one moment… (finally locates transfer button, dials 0)

*ring* … *ring* …

Hello, Franciscan Sisters of —

Hi Renee, this is Christi.

Hi, Christi! How are you?

Fine. I have someone on the line who wants Sister Angie but I’m not sure how to transfer the call to you. If I just hang up will you have them?

Who are they trying to reach?

Sister Angie.

She doesn’t live here.

Yeah, I know.

She’s in Mexico.

Yeah. So I hit transfer and then your number, do I have to hit transfer again or do I just hang up?

I wonder what they’re calling about?

I don’t know. Let me give you the call and you can ask them.

I suppose I can give you her cell phone number.

I’m just transferring the call, I don’t need her—

I’ll look it up.

But —

She puts me on hold; I’m now listening to Sister Carol’s invitation to last month’s soup supper… only $6 each… chicken noodle, wild rice, cream of potato…

Okay, I found her cell phone number.

All right, so how do I—

Are you ready? It’s 555—

What?

Did you get that?

No.  I don’t know how to transfer calls. I wouldn’t know how to give her the call even if I had her number.

Okay, well, what you do is hit transfer.

Yeah, I know that part.

So first hit transfer, and then dial eight and then her number.

I think they hung up.

You have to dial 8 first because she’s off campus.

Yeah but…

Wait until you hear it ringing, then hang up.

I don’t hit transfer again?

No, you just hang up.

Okay, but they hung up.

Oh they did? Oh dear. Hopefully they’ll call back.

Yeah.

Do you need anything else?

No.

It was nice talking to you. Have a great day!

Sigh.

A birthday party for a 100-year-old Nun — and some God talk

A couple of weeks ago I attended a birthday party for one of the sisters at the convent. She’s 100 years old.

100 year

There were balloons, flowers, two sheet cakes and plenty of ice cream.

Lots of people came. All the sisters, of course, as well as others who knew her and even a few – like me – who never met her before.

I’m sure she didn’t care.

It’s unlikely she has any memory of the event and given her blank stare, it was unlikely she had any awareness of what was happening. But she enjoyed her cake and ice cream. That’s the main thing.

I sat at a table with three other employees. One of them has been working at the convent for 40 years(!) and she was the only one among us who really knew Sister Theodora. She told us a few stories.

Sister Theodora was a very kind person who loved talking to people. She was trained as a nurse, spent her early years caring for children but found her true calling when she was moved to elderly care.

Several times this employee would look over at Sister Theodora and say, “It’s so sad… it’s just so sad…” and the others nodded in agreement.

I’m probably alone in this, but I didn’t see what was so sad.

She lived a rewarding life, enjoyed her work, she made it to 100 and now she’s eating cake and ice cream. Okay, so maybe she doesn’t have memories of her past or knowledge of who she was as a person, but does she need them?

What is better? To keep your mind and be aware of everything you lost—your health, your family, close friends—or to lose your mind and not count the loss? In other words, she doesn’t know what she doesn’t know. Why is that sad?

We are the ones who make it sad. We are the ones who look at people with dementia and think, “Oh, I hope I never get like that.”

As if our lives have worth only when we are of sound mind and body. As if that is what makes us who we truly are.

All right, I’m going to drift off into a bit of God talk right now, so if you aren’t into that sort of thing, just scroll down to the next heading.

Look, I’ll even give you a warning:

Warning: Contains God Talk

As I said before, one of my job requirements at the convent was to “be knowledgeable of Franciscan spirituality or willing to learn.”

I’ve been learning. One thing I learned is that Franciscans are real big on Humility and Contemplation.

(Notice the capital letters? That means they’re big on them.)

The key requirement for each is a self-emptying. Letting go of all those things you think make you who you are — your ego, your ambition, your work, your desires — and opening yourself up to fully experience God. They call this giving up your False Self in order to find your True Self.

(Again. Capitals.)

Another thing they’re big on is that this is a continual process. They call it Continual Conversion.

(Not only do they like capitals, they’re fond of alliteration.)

It’s ongoing. We can never fully achieve it during our lifetime, but there is joy in the trying so we keep at it.

I want you to know these aren’t wholly new concepts for me. Protestants also speak of emptying ones self, but we tend to breeze over it because it makes us uncomfortable. It smacks of obedience and frankly, we’re not real big on obedience.

Even so, I’ve been giving it a go and so far my progress has been… um… maybe “progress” isn’t the right word. Let’s go with “inching forward at a snail’s pace.” Yeah. That sounds about right.

Emptying myself by inching forward at a snail’s pace is going fabulous. Absolutely fabulous.

Okay, let’s breeze over that for the time being. What I really wanted to say was that the morning after Sister Theodora’s birthday party, this popped up on the app I’m using for centering prayer. It’s by St. Ignatius – the founder of the Order of Jesuits. That guy.

Take, Lord, and receive all my liberty,
my memory, my understanding,
and my entire will,
All I have and call my own.

You have given all to me.
To you, Lord, I return it.

Everything is yours; do with it what you will.
Give me only your love and your grace,
that is enough for me.

Take note of that second line: “my memory.” Even that. Are we willing to give up that?

Fact is, we may not have a choice. We can (and should) take care of our bodies, eat well, exercise, yada-yada. But even then, our genes or our environment or whatever will have the last say. We entered this world not knowing anything, we may very well exit it not knowing anything either. One way or the other, we are emptied.

But to empty oneself willingly, that’s what old man Ignatius was talking about. Remember the chief goal: we are emptied in order to be filled.

The more I think about it, the more I believe we should consider this phase Sister Theodora has entered not as sad, but as sacred. She will soon achieve her True Self and return to God. She has entered a time of Holy Returning.

(Caps all mine.)

Does this sound foolish? If so, I’ll gladly play the fool.

FeedingonFolly

End God Talk

Sister Theodora didn’t stay long at the party. They say she’s not fond of big crowds so once she ate her cake and ice cream, her nurse took her back to the second floor — the Memory Care Unit, where her and five other sisters live.

They receive excellent care there, as do all the sisters who need medical attention. One time at lunch, a sister who recently moved back to the convent admitted she felt a little guilty by how nice she had it. “So many people don’t have what they need, and here I am living in comfort.”

Sitting at the table was one of my bosses — I have two and they’re a married couple, so we’ll call him Mr. Boss.

Anyway, Mr. Boss said to her, “The way I think of ‘privilege,’ it’s not that we should take away the things that bring us comfort, but that we should make sure everyone else is raised up so they receive them too.”

I rather like how he put that, don’t you? And you know, from what I learned about Sister Theodora, I’m pretty sure she’d like that too.