Saturday, December 15, 2007

Merry Christmas

I know the politically correct thing to say at this time is Happy Holidays, lest we offend someone who doesn't celebrate Christmas, but I feel like being a rebel today. Besides that, I don't get the least bit offended when someone says Happy Hanukka or Happy Kwanzaa.

Those wishes mean something special to the folks who celebrate those holidays, the same way Merry Christmas means something special to me, and it doesn't take anything away from me for people to express their good wishes the way they want to.

If we all spent more time living up to the inherent meaning in all these holidays and expressions of good will, there could be no offense taken at how people express them. There wouldn't be a "we" and "them" mentality that makes us more protective of our rights.

So my hope for all of us is to have a season of peace and a sense of inclusion instead of exclusion.

Friday, December 07, 2007

Remembering Pearl Harbor

I recent years I have noticed that people don't seem to make such a big deal out of the bombing of Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941. It used to be practically a national holiday and news sources would be full of stories about the tragic day, stories that would lead in the news.

Today, while looking at a few online news sources, I did not see lead stories about Pearl Harbor. The tragic mall shooting in Omaha, Nebraska, still leads, and I found that disquieting. Here was a young man who killed a lot of people because he was troubled, but also because he thought it would bring him fame. And it has.

But measure the worthiness of that story as compared to the worthiness of remembering what men and women suffered on Dec. 7, 1941.

It would have been fitting for the story about Everett Hyland, who was aboard the USS Pennsylvania on December 7, 1941, to be the top story in publications today. The Pennsylvania was dry-docked that day, so it did not suffer as much damage as some other ships, but Hyland clearly remembers shipmates dying and being injured. Not for fame, but just because they were doing their duty.

He will join some 50 survivors and hundreds more family members and officials at a Pearl Harbor pier overlooking the USS Arizona Memorial to honor the attack's victims.This year, survivors and their family members are dedicating a new memorial for the USS Oklahoma, which lost 429 sailors and Marines -- the second greatest loss of life among any of the battleships in Pearl Harbor.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

The Simple Way

Living and loving in a totally committed relationship is a rare commodity in this era ruled largely by a throw-away mentality. To see two people who sustain each other in a marriage through many years of good and bad is fairly significant in itself, but to see two people who actually grow in kindness and love is awesome.

A long time ago when I needed a refuge from a turbulent adolescence, my girlfriend, Jeanette, asked if I would like to live with her family for a while. I always loved going to her house. It was so alive with laughter and had a warmth less connected to the ever-active oven than to something going on between her mom and dad. That something overflowed to the whole family.

To be a part of that was an incredible opportunity.

Mam and Sir, who are both gone now, were simple country folk of Scandinavian background and devoted to their family. Sir worked hard to provide food and shelter and Mam worked hard to provide heart. She loved to play, and I can remember dancing in the living room with her and Jeanette while Sir looked on and shook his head. "You girls," he would say. "What am I going to do with you?"

I can also remember with great clarity how kind everyone was to each other in that family, doing things without being asked and without keeping score. There was a real generosity of spirit that made it okay if dinner was late on my day to cook because I spent the day at the horse barn. It was also okay for Jeanette to skip dishes if she had a big date. And if Mam came home from work tired, she knew someone would tell her to put her feet up and rest a while. Someone else would always pick up the slack in the kitchen.

After I married and started my own family, I often pulled from those memories to form a blueprint for relationship. The Sunday afternoon 'naps' that weren't really naps at all. The complete awareness of each other that was reflected in a glance, a touch, a smile. The devotion that never wavered in the face of human weakness. And most of all, the pure joy of being together. It was so tangible I often thought I could reach out and touch it.

Over the years I stayed connected to this family, and we visited as often as possible even though we were separated by many miles and several states. During one visit I picked up on a subtle change in Mam's child-like behavior. It wasn't like she was playing anymore. I also noticed that she was asking me the same questions over and over again.

Afraid, yet needing to know, I looked at Sir.

He nodded.

That horrible reality of Alzheimer's hit me like a physical blow, yet I couldn't help but find some sweetness in the bitter moment. The response from the heart of this tough old farmer was beauty to behold. It was particularly poignant to see him reach out with a gnarled hand to let her know with a gentle touch that it was okay that she forgot again. It was a gesture so intimate and so filled with love I was almost embarrassed to have seen it.

Some years later, when Mam had progressed into a totally alien world and Sir was then facing his imminent death from cancer, I asked him to tell me the secret of their long and happy marriage. How did they stick together through so much? I didn't need the information for myself. I was pretty sure I knew the answer, but I wanted to hear it in his own words for an article I was writing about fidelity in marriage.

He pondered a bit, as all great farmer/philosophers do, then he shrugged. "It's not so special," he said. "No magic. No tricks. I guess it's like when you get in a rowboat and set out across the lake. If you want to get to the other side, you both better be pulling on the oars."

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Focus on Chaplaincy

For many years I have been involved in Hospital Ministry, first as a trained volunteer, then as a trained Hospital Chaplain. Not everyone can do this type of work. Certainly not my husband who is an ordained minister but freezes at the thought of going to visit people in the hospital.

But for some reason, I have always enjoyed this ministry and always come home feeling very blessed. One of the other chaplains I worked with in Nebraska told me she felt the same way and sometimes thought we shouldn’t even get paid for what we do. Although, she didn’t tell that to our boss or payroll.

I started doing this type of ministry over twenty-five years ago, and over the years I’ve learned a thing or two about loss and grief and the complicated human reaction to it all. That knowledge and experience was beneficial when I was writing my latest book, One Small Victory. The central character loses a son to a car accident, and her grief is an important element of the story. As is the grief of her other children.

There are as many faces to grief as there are people, and as I continue this blog I will share some of the stories that I was privileged to be a part of during my work.

One thing to keep in mind as you read my ramblings is that hospital chaplains, like military and prison chaplains, are cut from a different cloth than other holy people of God and/or ministers. We are not preachers. We don’t visit the sick and dying with the intent of “saving their soul.” Somebody already did that 2000 years ago. We are not trying to FIX anything. Boy did my CPE instructor have a time drilling that into my head.

What we do when we visit the sick and dying is give them an opportunity to talk about things that perhaps they cannot say to family members or friends. We listen to their stories, validate their feelings, and sometimes help them to accept death. Religion and prayer are only a part of the equation if religion and prayer are important to the patient.

And why am I telling you all this? Well, I thought it might be interesting to focus the blog on a topic instead of what I’ve been doing, which is write about anything that irks me at the moment. And maybe having a focus will prompt me to at least write something once a week. So starting next week, I will share stories from my experiences and hopefully we can connect on some emotional level.

Until next time….

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Spare Me The Celebrities

If I see another picture of Brittany Spears and her semi-bald head I think I’ll puke. Is this really newsworthy considering all that is happening in Mid-East and Sudan and other places in the world where people are experiencing unimaginable suffering and other people are dodging the dangers to try to help?

The other day on the Today Show – I really need to find something else to watch while I’m exercising – there were two segments devoted to Brittany and her latest escapade. One psychologist explained that by shaving her head, Brittany was saying, “Here, I want to be real. This is who I am.”

Give me a break.

Another psychologist said that Brittany simply didn’t know what to do because Anna Nicole Smith had dominated the news for over a week. “Celebrities simply can’t handle it when they are not the hottest thing in the news.”

Give me another break. And it almost did when I whapped my leg with the hand weight.

First of all, people like that are only celebrities because the media has made them celebrities. Would the world have come to a screeching halt had the story of Brittany and the clippers been relegated to a brief footnote in the Entertainment section of newspapers and only reported on Entertainment Tonight?

Sometimes I’m ashamed to admit I’m a journalist.

Secondly, they are troubled women – oops, was for Ms. Smith – who are surrounded by people who enable their addictions and dysfunction because it’s fun living in the fast lane with lots of money and party-time all the time. Nobody wants to risk losing all that by really caring about them and maybe doing something to help.

I can feel sorry for them on that level. Nobody deserves to be used and abused by people who profess to be friends. But I don’t feel sorry for them for all the bad choices they have made and their inability to admit they have a problem.

We can all make excuses and rationalize our behaviors, but the bottom line is that we know when we are screwing up. We can lie to our family, our friends, the media, the general public, but we cannot lie to ourselves. I mean, we can try. We can say the words, but they don’t ring true when we are looking at our reflection in the mirror.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

We've Sunk to a New Low

Here I was the other morning doing my exercises with the TV on to keep me company. Usually it’s just there for background noise and I only pay attention to the weather and a story that might really be of relevance, but that morning I had to stop halfway through a sit-up in disbelief. They were featuring a story about busty mannequins. I mean really Dolly-Parton-type busty mannequins that are all the rage in Miami, New York, LA, and apparently coming to a mall near us all soon.

My first thought was how stupid to consider this a newsworthy story. Who cares about busty mannequins? Then the reporter did a “man on the street” segment. He interviewed a woman who was commenting about how unrealistic the mannequins are and questioning what kind of message that sends to women. While she spoke, a man with her ogled the mannequin in the window, so I thought, okay. Some people do care, but for all the wrong reasons.

Throughout the rest of the story the camera showed these mannequins in various store windows and they were all posed like they were ready for Playboy shots, only with clothes on. Although some barely had clothes on.

Retailers were interviewed and commented about how sales have risen since they started featuring these buxom beauties in store windows.

Throughout the whole segment, there was only one brief mention of this perhaps not being in the best interest of social mores. The rest of the story had an air of “isn’t this just too cute,” and I wanted to puke.

Where was the outrage? Was I a solitary protester as I contemplated throwing the hand-weight at the television?

I watched the papers for the next couple of days, hoping for a scathing commentary by one of the nation’s columnist. Nothing. Nada. Zilch.

So I hereby go on record with a scathing commentary.

The woman who designed this new approach to retail display ought to be drawn and quartered.

The people who think it is all just so funny should also suffer some terrible punishment.

Folks who don’t think this type of sexually explicit material is not harmful to young people need to get their heads out of whatever cloud they are in.

And women everywhere should be outraged that our bodies have been used to sell merchandise for years.

Does any one else hate Victoria’s Secret?

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Free Speech

A couple of weeks ago, Steve Blow, a columnist for the Dallas Morning News, wrote about how attitudes have changed toward war protestors since right after 9/11. In that first year after the tragedy anyone who questioned the president and the war in Iraq was considered unpatriotic, and as Steve put it, “Back then, dissent was scarce.”

He went on to write, “I think most experts were as reluctant as journalists to appear unpatriotic by challenging the president’s plans too sharply.”

When I read that, I had to stop and read it again. Then again. Since when is it unpatriotic to exercise our right to freedom of speech? That is one of the great strengths of our country. That people can say what they think without censorship. Granted, sometimes that freedom is abused. Okay, maybe it’s abused a lot. But it is still a basic right that some people don’t enjoy in their countries.

Now that the war effort is floundering and President Bush’s approval rating is sinking lower and lower, suddenly it is okay to criticize him and the war in Iraq. But why wasn’t it okay last year or the year before?

I can remember the few brave souls back then who wrote letters to the editor in the Dallas Morning News and the New York Times questioning the invasion of Iraq. They stirred a barrage of letters from reactionaries who questioned their loyalty to America and their support of the troops. Somehow questioning the war was equated with not caring about the men and women in uniform.

But recent criticism of the war has not stirred the same response, and I can’t quite figure out why not. Unless it is because of the “tide of popular opinion.”

Some people seem more willing to ride that tide than others. And that’s too bad. Because we should really think for ourselves and not become sheep following the most vocal shepherd.