A ramble…
Grief is universal.
We all experience the suffocating moments that change lives. There are no bromides that actually move the process along. Cultures build the box and most times grief lives in that box.

In our home we joked about the John Wayne School of Communication, the stoicism that pushed grief down and never let it heal in the light of other humans. Prayer is a common crutch offering the illusion that something helpful is happening. Moments of gasping for breath as the sobbing overtakes are inescapable.

Keening isn’t often part of our culture. The sound is animal like. Men and women give over to being consumed, lost in the grief. Maybe keening is a hedge against depression of unresolved grief, of grief swallowed not sounded, of self medication to bearable.

Men and women lose a job, a home, a life time of expectations. They, as they knew themselves, are gone, emptied out of all they found dependable. Nothing works, no boot strap pull matters.

A person hears the partner’s declaration that the union is over, the love simply isn’t. A maze of hurt, insecure and confused, marks the lives within the ripple.

The devastation of illness is a grief played over and over, every day a family tears in the grip. Long range plans dissolve. Hope in a different future becomes one-foot-in-front-of-the other. Joy shuts down and pretend takes over.

Maybe we do keen, but not in a way that helps. Too much silence, too much John Wayne and not enough bellow against the pain. Too much stiff upper lip and not enough rage.

Last evening, a conversation about healing from cancer ended after an hour but the thoughts continued most of the night. A compassionate doctor told the patient that some of the most difficult times were the days, weeks and months when other people pronounced healing over, but it was not. Times when fear, loneliness or depression still shadowed every day, but other people felt enough was enough. Time to move on…stop dwelling on fear. Get over the grief compelling acceptance of a new life, a life of threat. Keening seems so very much in order.

Know what matters? What helps? What heals?

The touch of family/friendship, understanding of new ways that seem to mock what was once a life. The touch of family/friendship that is the knowledge that someone hears the silent keening, someone reads fake words and finds the truth, someone would respond…even when it feels impossible to ask. Someone is willing to give all the time needed. Talk about wonderful creatures!


Donnelly College Scholarship Dinner

Last week Donnelly College hosted the annual Scholarship Dinner. My volunteer duties included time at the reception table and a stint outside welcoming attendees. Actually, the time outside The Jack Reardon Center was disguised as a welcoming gesture while the main purpose was to guard the four reserved parking spots insuring that only certain folks used those spaces. Jazmin, a Block Scholar, and I were asked to identify (how?) those allowed in the front and center slots and to move others quickly on and out. A stretch limo was the no-brainer, but the other choices had embarrassing moments.

Jazmin shivered in the steady breeze, her bare arms shaking as the time dragged and the fourth VIP failed to show. She continued to smile as we welcomed each person in the wonderfully diverse crowd.

We talked of our history in Kansas City, Kansas, the changes along Minnesota Avenue, the scheduled EPA exodus to Johnson County. We talked of the immense value of Donnelly College as a beacon of not only education but a beacon of ethnic diversity and understanding. We talked about the life changing Block Scholar Program. Jazmin had her goal, Civil Engineer, that would be reached because the Block Family understands the value of protecting and nurturing young people determined to pursue a degree.

A small car whipped around the barricades taking one of the reserved spaces. That noisy engine could not belong to the tardy VIP, right?
As I prepared to give my “Sorry” speech, an order priest dressed in the long brown robe, rope belt and sandals jumped from the car, head down, and hurried towards the Center.

Not five minutes prior, The Archbishop of the diocese entered a bit breathless from his long walk. How could I ignore the blatant move by the little car, give priority to Father X when the Archbishop did not command a reserved spot? How could I do that?

In the name of equality, diversity, parity and multiplicity I did that. We were freezing and there was plenty of space if the late arriving VIP happened to show. Besides, Jazmin and I were hungry.

There is so much that could be written about the evening, about the program, about Mr. Block’s caring speech, about tremendous spirit of giving evident during the pledge drive, about the filmed interviews with Block Scholars, their lives opened to the audience, about the attentive and efficient wait staff, and about the hard work that preceded the event.

Rather than those important aspects, I believe that a glass raised to Steven and to Matthew—to their lives, their determination, their openness—is a glass raised to the purpose and order of that evening.

These young men represent the Mission of Donnelly and of the Block Scholar program. Steven and Matthew stand with pride, owning life mistakes and growing successes. They own it all. It is a privilege to know them.

Essential Beliefs

“Our names are labels plainly printed on the bottled essence of our behavior.”  Lynn Pearshall Smith

My radios are all set to 89.3, KCUR so the phrase ‘essential beliefs’ must have come from that NPR station, but I don’t remember the specific program or the context.  I do know that the phrase will not leave my thinking.

Lynn Pearshall Smith’s words are part of the standard signature on emails I receive periodically.  “Bottled essence’ is such a good use of language showing the idea that some essential beliefs are caught in our core, ‘bottled’ in our essence and motivating much of our behavior.   There are times when that essence behavior is spontaneous rather than studied.

I believe that many, if not most, of our values take root in emotion, that what we believe originally comes from what we experienced with deep emotion.   These deep roots are partially responsible for our difficulty in changing behaviors, in requiring baby steps to move away from core behaviors.

For much of our society, reason–the intellect–rules.  We raise our children in the realm of good grades, SAT scores, the best colleges, professionals–the rational and conscious.  We tend to trust what we label as reasoned and downplay what is emotional.  Of course all of these are important.  That is without question.

There is more to us, to humans that our rational selves.  And that ‘more’ is not the instant gratification touted in what passes for entertainment.  There is more than the isolation we have allowed into our lives, isolation of TV, movies, iPods, ear pieces, all that diminishes our interactions with one another.  And there is so much more than either being funny or being outrageous.

Rather than an open mind focused on learning what other real people have to offer, we take in what a small group of entertainment controllers feed us.  The constant diet of entertainment taints our ability to learn from personal interactions and thereby evaluate our bias.

As we move from baby to adult, we learn by observing patterns.  The complexity of life gets sorted as we interpret both the patterns and the reactions to our understanding of those patterns.  We create our essential beliefs.   Parked in front of TV is not parked in neutral.

Much is written about bullying behavior as if it were some new phenomenon.  It isn’t, but bullying is growing rampant.  The pattern we are nurturing is not one of sympathy or understanding.  Rather it is a pattern of Top Dog, Winner, Arm-Pumping Best, In Your Face, Look At Me.

As with many of my rants, I fail in conclusions.  I fail to find answers, to balance the emotional and the rational.  However, I believe we are more than we have allowed ourselves to become.

I believe that we are far out on the arch of the pendulum as we swing away from what we feel to be the harsh restrictions of our past.  I believe we have discarded more of our essence than we have captured in the replacements.  I believe that we have allowed the need for dollars and successes to blot the moments of  deep emotions that transcend—-that allow us to experience the joining of the emotional and the rational—-to be more fully human.

Neutralize Invisibility

A ramble, Gentle Reader, a ramble out of control…

How did it happen?

Too many of us?  Lives burdened by distractions? Skewed values creating a culture of glitz rather than a society of humans?  Giant political or philosophical  gulfs separating us, one from the other?   Anger and disdain pushing the on/off buttons?   Taking the grunt workers so for granted that we cannot separate the man from the machine? All of the above?

Here’s the deal.  None of us, not a single one of us, is invisible.  That guy wielding the shovel, digging the utility hole, is working–doing a job that makes every day function a bit better.   The kid with the weed eater clipping at the park is doing that job so the park is enjoyable.  A man in a grungy uniform stained by the waste of the world handles our mess.  Ditto the trash collector, the street department workers, the janitors–cleaning up the messes.

Convenience store clerks, some struggling with the language, are working doing a job the rest of us need so our lives can function.  There is a face, a person, a life behind every invisible human handling a job that many of us would not do.  For a time, after 911, we turned a light on our military, taking time to acknowledge their service, thank them personally whenever possible.  Now, in uniform, many men and women move in the invisible lane again.

Rethink Going Postal as a derogatory tag.  My mailman, Kurtis, is terrific.  Our Parkville clerks, Tammy and Ella, are outstanding.  Going Postal raises the bar for any service industry.

Sitting in the Kansas City Rep lobby, Molly and I did a bit of people watching.  Here the invisibility of sameness is challenged by orange hair, fur coats, tattoos of imagination, hauteur couture outfits, ragged jeans, flesh-colored tights, make-up extraordinaire, uniforms of individuality.   At one point, I asked 17-year-old Molly to be certain I never got too weird as I aged–no  blue hair and cheek roses.

“Why?  Weird is good.  I like weird.”

This from a beautiful young woman who has never owned a pair of matching socks, who relishes ‘ugly sweater’ day at school knowing that she can best the best of the ugly, has won acclaim for art work, took the SAT over because 2 points less than perfect was not good enough— a small, quiet bundle of intelligence and maturity.


Touche’ and my point, even though I did not know that the ramble would find that point of weird vs. invisible.

Neutralizing invisibility is fairly simple.  Take a moment.   Make eye contact, a nod, a thank you, a recognition, a smile to acknowledge one human to another.




Molly and Me

Kurtis, our most exceptional and much appreciated mail carrier, delivered National Geographic Magazine and Molly headed for the big chair and a marathon reading session.   How many grandmothers get to enjoy the company of a 17-year-old during the week of  spring break?   Molly is very bright, articulate and funny.  The week is passing quickly

“You know, Grandma, I love reading National Geographic but after I read it I think the world might be about to end.  We have messed up so many things.”

Our conversation took the path of possibilities, but one Mollyism often repeated was that her generation would not/could not fix things because they were self-centered to the exclusion of caring about any future that did not include immediate self needs.   Molly talked about the behaviors in the new teen favorite, Glee, and the predominate attitudes at her high school.

While I burned the dinner rice, we talked about the need for purpose with passion…of the willingness to do much more than worry about conditions and hope that a miracle saves the earth.

While the broccoli cheese sauce scorched, we talked about past generations that cared–but not enough.

While the garlic chicken smoked the house, we talked about the power of money to sway beliefs and create false needs through advertising and entertainment.

While I arranged the unscathed parts of the meal onto a really fancy plate designed to disguise, we talked about the need for Molly to have a subscription to National Geographic.  The week is passing far too quickly.


Riddle Me This. (ccr)

Recently, I reviewed a PBS program on the Inquisition in the obscene depths of that horror.   In my younger days I cried easily but not so in my seventh decade.  Last evening I wept.

It is easy to admit to being undereducated in matters of faith and morals.  I will write what I think I know.

The Pope is infallible when speaking on matters of faith and morals.  He has the wisdom and direction of the Holy Spirit.  This infallibility is an attribute of all Popes, historical and current.

Church teaching gives God the attributes of omnipotence and omniscience, all-powerful and all-knowing.  The Church also teaches that man is created in the image and likeness of God.

Now a step back to the Inquisition and Pope John Paul.  This Pope of the Inquisition wrote against and brought humiliation and harm to the Jewish people, herding them into locked ghettos at night, forcing them to wear yellow hats by day.   This happened while the Pope was overseeing the horrors of the Inquisition.  All manner of  suffering removed those who disagreed with the church.

Church defenders tell us that all such matters  can only be understood the context of time and culture.  The Inquisition gets blurred and softened  by saying that an understanding of the society of the times explains false imprisonment,  torture and murder.

Why?  How?

Had not the gentle man, Jesus, lived and taught His message of peace and justice?  Had He not walked in simple robes forgiving, restoring and gently admonishing when His chosen twelve strayed?

Where was the attribute of omnipotence and omniscience when the Inquisition cleared a disagreement with boiling oil/turpentine or with a bonfire to char the flesh of a heretic?   Remember that the same church teaches the story of Jesus using spit and dirt to restore eyesight.

God knows no time or culture.  God’s omniscience simply IS, correct?  Was the Pope not listening or was Jesus’  message not one approved by the Holy Spirit?

For the sake of understanding, let’s leave the time and culture of the Inquisition and move to modern conundrums.  The teaching is that  God created all people in His/Her image and likeness.  That still stands, right?

Two huge albatross pull Church equality into disbelief.  If God created gender inclusive ‘men’ in His/Her image and likeness am I not as much reflection of God as is any ordained person?  If my soul reflects God as does any ‘male’, why am I not a fully accepted member of the Church?

Could it be that the same infallibility that fostered the Inquisition is the  papal gift that excludes women from ordination? Riddle me this.  Help me sort.

Bags Fly Free

Passengers pay the price.

Don’t get me wrong.  Paying to have a bag stowed in the belly of an airplane is beyond annoying, but the chaos in the passenger compartment is inexcusable.  Once upon a time, airlines followed their own rule regarding the size of carry-on.  No more.  Overhead bins bulge.

A recent trip from Denver convinced me that companies paying millions to ad agencies creating  commercials  spouting reasons to fly that particular sky are companies wasting money on the wrong efforts.

My trip began in Kansas City, Missouri and reinforced my thought that MCI is one of the easiest and most pleasant airports in the country.  Park the car, board the bus, arrive at the terminal, move though security and all without any reason to complain.   Even the pat down was handled well,  though I wondered why a gray haired senior signaled the need for that extra measure.

The cabin personnel from KC to Denver smiled, laughed with passengers, gave the standard announcements with flair and generally added a bit of fun to the flight.  Even that thank you at the end bordered on genuine.

On this particular airline, a passenger pays extra to move up in the boarding line, but the move can only be done 24 hours prior to take-off, a maneuver difficult for those who have little access to a computer.  I paid and sat in the first row going to and coming from Denver.

Denver’s airport is many time the size of MCI and bigger is definitely not better.  That is a given and considering the size and number of passengers moving through the terminal, it went as smoothly as possible.

When I arrived at Terminal C, speaking to the airline employee at the podium was a sure-fire clue–this was not MCI.  Showing her my boarding pass, I asked for reassurance that I was in the right place at the right time.  S-l-o-w-l-y, she lifted her head from her reading material and pointed towards a gate.  “That says Kansas City.” End of interaction.

Soon the herding began.  My carry-on was small and I stashed it  under my seat as did the two others in that first row.  Overheads banged as luggage was stuffed and smashed into spaces unable to handle the load.

A very bored and uninvolved attendant pointed to our bags and said, “Overheads.”   The passenger next to me said, “No room.”  As I was in the aisle seat, the attendant took my bag and said, “Make room.”   She did, but only for my bag.  Absolutely no room for the other two.  Madam Robot moved on.

After take-off, M. Robot went into the toilet stall having just made the announcement of no standing in the aisle waiting to use the toilet.  A full 10 minutes later, she came out with new make-up and freshly done hair…on the job beauty treatment.  And so went the flight.

Time to deplane and my bag is not where M.R. stuffed it.  I asked for her help in finding it as it held my meds.  She looked in the bin and said, “It isn’t there.”

Wow!  I’m impressed!  Whatever happened to cabin personnel who at the very least pretended to be interested in passengers?

A woman down and across the aisle said she had seen someone move the bag.  Of course, I knew I was being annoying as I blocked  the line, determined not to move until the bag was in my hand.  And the attendant?  She was standing by the door checking her nails.

MCI never looked so good.