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Archive for April, 2009

I haven’t published much on this blog the past week, although I’ve been writing quite a bit offline to publish here at a future date  when appropriate (not now).  Suffice it to say, I went through a personal “crisis” a week ago (which is what I’m writing about offline) and have been wallowing in the grief such a crisis can bring on. No, it wasn’t an illness or a death (all  my loved ones are fine), but a huge change – the kind the self-help books group with life’s  many “transitions” that can throw you off-course totally. I’ve been e-mailing and talking with friends, reading self-help books, generally worrying and stressing out.

Because this whole blog is for one person – my beloved son – I hope somehow my words this morning will someday be of value to him. Louis, I don’t wallow very long. Ever. When I’m “down” about anything, I go through a period of feeling very, very low, including anxiety and my own peculiar set of physical symptoms that accompany that anxiety, searching and seeking, planning (prematurely because “planning” in a state of anxiety isn’t real “planning” at all – it’s worrying). However, in my life, I’ve been fortunate to never stay down very long. I also sense that you, Louis, have inherited this resilience (from both your Dad and me – he’s great at this) because I think you are one brave and resilient soul. Thank God for that! I so admire you, as a youth, for  having such resilience. You are one positive and resilient person, and I’m so proud of you for that!

At the outset of  my crisis, I ruled out one remedy:  Pills. I don’t take pills, ever. Dear friends recommended sleep aids, tranquilizers, all that. None of that for me. I don’t even “do caffeine” or any other kind of mind-altering thing. So I knew I had to deal on my own. I had to take control of my bodily reactions to change. Mindfulness is the big remedy for me – it doesn’t always work when I wake up in the morning worrying – but I just have to make it work. I have to make those negative thoughts go away. My mantra is this: “I’m OK NOW.  And NOW is all I have. Don’t worry about what hasn’t happened yet.” I hope this helps you someday, Louis – but I take such comfort in knowing you already have this quality in-born. I’ve seen it in you many times, and I so admire you for already having, in your youth, an attitude it has taken me years to achieve, to learn.

Something happened yesterday (Friday, April 24) that pulled me out of the wallowing.  I reached the summit of my wallowing. Can’t do it any more. I don’t like wallowing and self-pity and all that histrionic stuff. Don’t like that “victim” stuff. Never been a victim, never wanted to be one.

Even the word, “wallowing,” makes me feel low, guttery low. It’s one of those “W” words – weasly, weak, wimpy, woeful, worried….wallowing. I don’t like myself when I’m a wallowing, weasly, weak, wimpy, woeful, worried person. It makes me feel yucky….I need to get out of this….what’s wrong with me?….pull yourself together…this isn’t YOU….get up, dust off, wake up, stop it, silly…….

One thing that contributed to the end of my wallowing was mowing my grass for the first time this year. It all of a sudden got spring-y, it’s getting summer-y this weekend – and my grass was ready for its first “haircut.” As I donned my ugly denim “capris” and ugliest white t-shirt (both chosen summers ago for their sheer ugliness and practicality), my beloved Muck-Boot yard-work-dog-walking shoes, insecticide to fight off the Lyme ticks,  old green socks, my hairband – my grass-mowing “uniform” – and then the mower actually started up (a huge suspense every year when I pull that wretched cord multiple times with all my might, throwing my body into the shock of that violent effort) – and then I cut the grass (which really takes only about 45 minutes although I obsess in advance)…..I too often pray, as I push and lug that despised machine over the very hilly, uneven, rocky, difficult yard that must be mowed (have about 2 acres of woods and weeds that never get mowed) “Please, God, I don’t want to die mowing the grass” because it does take a lot of effort for my physical strength and because I really would be embarrassed to die while mowing my grass…….anyway, I got it done.

But the point is that working outside in the yard or anywhere else outside, or just walking in woods, brings out the “pioneer” in me. Just as donning an old plaid flannel shirt and jeans and hiking shoes and walking around Westtown Lake or in French Creek State Park brings out my Walter-Mitty-I’m-an-adventurer-at-heart fantasy, mowing the grass brings out the pioneer in me. And makes me HAPPY. I use the word, “pioneer,” because about 14 years ago, when all of a sudden I was “in charge” and responsible for these two acres and house (“40 acres and a mule,” it felt like), all by myself (only adult), at about age 48, I realized that I had to have a “pioneer” attitude. I had to become a “pioneer,”  and I loved it. I was all those women out on the prairie facing the winds and rains and storms and heat and all that….I was my grandmother in West Virginia when her coal-miner husband went off to work in the coalfields, leaving her at home with 11 kids in a log house “up on the creek” for months on end (she once told me ruefully that every time he came home, she got pregnant again)…..I was Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman….little house on the prairie…Kristin Lavransdatter…Scarlet herself…..I was in charge and had to do it, in spite of all my misgivings and insecurities and anxieties about “can I really do this?”  And I did it. Yes, I did. And yes, I can – now.

I got that grass mowed with a sense of defiance yesterday, then raked leaves, then just kept on…..it was the most therapeutic thing I could do. I had gone to the family doctor that afternoon for consultation on dealing with stress, and she emphasized exercise and meditation and tea and good books and good thoughts (a non-pill-believer herself, thank goodness)…not playing “the victim” and also not thinking that fighting the situation (which rarely brings justice) would do the trick. “Don’t fight it thinking you’ll win because you may not, and then you’ll feel worse.” I needed to hear what she had to say, and I needed to mow the grass.

I left the wallowing in misery and became, once again, the pioneer.

A very dear friend (who will probably read this) had sent me two books – Paulo Coelho’s The Alchemist and Squire Rushnell’s (When God Winks on)New Beginnings. She had also wisely reminded me of a book I’d read a few years ago when I was facing the realization that I was “getting old,” William Bridges’ Transitions, which www.amazon.com had delivered to me a few days ago. After mowing my grass, I sat there and wondered, which of these books will I read first?  I picked up New Beginnings simply because I’d never heard of it, and it’s such a pretty book. So that’s the one I’m reading.

That book emphasizes “Godwinks” that come to us when we least expect them. It also emphasizes prayer. As a result of choosing that book to read first, instead of waking up worrying this morning, I woke up praying. And with Patti LaBelle’s help, I’ve got a “new attitude.”

And I’m a pioneer today – and for the rest of my life. I’m sure I’ll wallow again when the next crisis attacks, but never for long. It’s just not my nature. Wallowing is a temporary and necessary bridge, I think, between denial and acceptance of one’s reality. Yesterday I managed to cross over to the “acceptance” side  of that bridge.

And I’m a pioneer again.

And a few minutes ago I made an appointment to get my hair cut short this morning – real  short. Pioneer women need short hair (or hair long enough to tie back, which mine isn’t and wouldn’t be any time soon). And I’m paying more than I can afford for this cut – because I’m a pioneer.

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Funny how it seems that each age becomes more and more focused on school – I don’t even remember summers with any specificity at about this age and on. They are just blurs for the most part.

Age 10 and fifth grade were spent with another memorable teacher, Mrs. Edith Hofer.

I can see her now. She was tall. She had a large shock of frizzy white hair. Wire-rimmed glasses. Modest print dresses with long sleeves and high necks with white Peter-Pan collars, no floral full skirts like Miss Beamer’s.  Mrs. Hofer was a widow. And she had one arm – one arm. That stands out the most. One arm that was cut off just below the elbow. When she paddled us for misbehavior, she’d hold us steady with the “partial arm” and paddle us with the complete arm. At first, it was probably a little bit scary, given her overall kind of witchy appearance and strict approach to teaching – but we got used to it. She came off as stern, strict, not so friendly. But I think Mrs. Hofer was, underneath that threatening exterior, probably one of the sweetest people you’d ever know. I learned this because of one event – I told her something sad that happened in my family, something I was too young to fully comprehend. I must have been confused because Mrs. Hofer was not a person I’d usually confide in – but I remember her taking me aside and being so very, very sweet talking with me about this problem. That day, I saw who she truly was – a wonderful, sweet person whose “story” I wish I knew. I never knew anything about how she was widowed or how she lost her arm. I don’t think she had children, but I’m not sure. And I figure she wasn’t really as old as she seemed to us then.

I have to say that West Virginia schools have always been much maligned as backward, underfunded, inferior, not even having kindergarten. But you couldn’t prove it by me because I have always believed I had the best education anyone could have in those schools. We had wonderful teachers, I  learned all the “basics” that you could learn  without glitzy resources, and I loved and appreciate my schools so much. I’m sure other places had “better” schools in many ways,  but I never felt deprived of anything in our schools. Maybe it was the times, too. Schools weren’t faced with the same socioeconomic problems we have today. And I wasn’t in urban schools, nor in rural schools, but in small-town schools divorced from the extremes of urban and rural poverty. We were working-class, but we had moderately funded schools with dedicated teachers. And Mrs.  Hofer was wonderful.

We 4th, 5th, and 6th graders were still in the white frame portables, however; and I think it was in fifth grade (or maybe  fourth) that a girl named Emma was burned horribly one morning before my bus got to school. We heard about it when we got there, and it happened in our room. We had open-flame gas heaters in those portables, and poor Emma’s dress caught fire as she stood too near the heater before school. Eventually, she was OK, and her scars weren’t disfiguring or apparent (as far as we could see), but I won’t forget how sad we all felt for Emma.

I became mouthy in fifth grade – noisy. I had the confidence I had gained from my competitive successes in fourth grade by then, so I was chatty and  noisy, always with my hand up answering or asking questions, always talking out-of-turn with the other kids, rarely quiet. That was the year that the number of “paddlings” one got became kind of a badge of honor. I’d go home and brag about “I got paddled again today for talking in class!” until Mom told me, “Next time I hear that, you’ll get a worse spankin’ at home!” So I just never told her again – and kept on earning my paddlings like  merit badges. (They did hurt, though, I must interject. Mrs. Hofer hit hard with that long wooden paddle with holes in it to make it hurt more.)

The paddlings didn’t make me a “bad girl” because I was still a good student – I was still making straight A’s and 100%’s on most papers, so the teacher was good-natured as she told me to line up with other miscreants every day for the paddlings. I redeemed myself by being “smart,” a “teacher’s pet” who also happened to get paddled almost every day for talking too much.

That year, too, I had a real “boyfriend.” For a few days. A boy named “Earl” brought in a chocolate cupcake – only for me – one day. It was love. I can’t visualize him at all because he was there only a few days (or maybe weeks) and I never saw him again, but I remember his name.  When one day Earl all of a sudden wasn’t there, never to return, Mrs. Hofer showed me her sweetness again:  She told me sympathetically that Earl was a “migrant,” that his family had to move from place to place to work on farms, and she indicated that that was a sad thing. I afterward had a soft place and empathy in my heart for migrant workers – every time I hear about migrants, I think of Earl – and I’ll always wonder what happened to him and his family.

I don’t know exactly when this occurred, but I did spend a lot of time as a child with my maternal grandparents. They lived in a little rented yellow block house “on Davis Creek” outside South Charleston. Last time I was there, about seven years ago, that little house was still there by the creek, but empty. But their real home was the “old home place” upon the creek, up on Middle Fork. You had to drive up a dirt road, then through creeks that meandered over the road in spots, to deep woods and vertical hills. The old log, two-storey house my great-grandfather built is still there. My grandmother, born in 1885, and my mother (youngest of 11 kids), born in 1925, both grew up there. I’ll probably write more about that separately.  For now, though, I’ll just say that some of the happiest days of my life were spent on weekends and in summers  in that old house with my grandparents – or in that little yellow block house.

Staying with my Mommaw and Poppaw was full of church and walks to the little store up the road and prayers and religious radio programs and Bible reading – and ice cream and  attention only for me. I must have loved all that attention and have never quite known why it was lavished on me. My only theory was that I was the first child of their youngest child….something like that. I mention all this here because sometime, around age 10 (or 8, 9, or 11), I read John Foxe’s Christian Martyrs of the World at Mommaw’s and Poppaw’s house. It’s the only book I recall in their house except the Bible, but I spent hours reading that book. I guess it held a kind of a prurient fascination for me because all it was (as I recall) was tales of horrible torture and death inflicted upon Protestants by Roman Catholics (of whom I knew none till about age 17, so Catholics were a somewhat “romantic” group to me, mysterious, intriguing).  Anyway, back to the book: The wrack. The stake. Burning. Beheading. Beating.  Pulling people’s limbs off. All manner of horrible stuff. And my Poppaw told me that the Pope was the devil himself (something I really never believed but never challenged to his face). What Foxe’s book did for me, though, was show me how cruel people could be to other people. I didn’t know then that Protestants did some equally cruel things – but I still, for whatever reason, did not develop any anti-Catholic bias, thankfully. I was just fascinated by how cruel people could be  – so I read this book over and over. Perhaps that helps explain why I am so appalled today about torture and my own country’s descent into that horrid practice during the Bush years. It became an issue of increasing, passionate concern for me these past eight years.

At age 10, I developed physically and rapidly in every way,  even needing my first bra that year. Plus, I got very tall. Either the summer before or after fifth grade, another “female” development came. I was at 4-H camp for a week, and the thing I loved most about 4-H camp was swimming, something we rarely got to do. There were no public pools in St. Albans, and we got to go to either Holiday Park in Hurricane or Rock Lake Park in South Charleston pretty rarely in the summer, so I loved 4-H camp because not only could I be in the pool, but I also learned to swim there by taking lessons. One day, however, I had a spot of blood on my underwear. I immediately went to the camp nurse – “Is this….? Could this be….? Is this what I think it is?” Yes, she told me, I had my first period. And I hated it because I had to stay out of the pool the rest of the week.  For the next 35 years I hated periods with a passion – they were messy and crampy and made me feel yucky and bloated and miserable. One quarter of a girl’s (and woman’s) life is spent having periods, and I never got over my resentment about that. I was so happy when I had a hysterectomy at age 45 – no more periods!!!! Yessssssssss!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Even periods, though, didn’t keep me from still loving running, biking, playing tag and cowboys-and-Indians, all the usual kid stuff. Even though I was becoming more and more “bookish,” and even though I was officially in “puberty,” I was still a pretty normal kid. The next year, age 11, I think I grew up a lot……

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I posted this essay on the “This I Believe” website that now has about 65,000 essays from people all over the world, some of which have been featured on National Public Radio – most very moving, very memorable. Here’s mine (written sometime in the past year or so):

Contributor: Karen Porter

Location: West Chester, PA

Country: United States of America

Series: Contemporary

 

When I was a teenager in the 1960s, one of the most profound influences on my developing Cold War world view was stories about how the “evil communists” tortured people – a practice, which in our Cold War time, was the very definition of evil. Notably, I read books by Dr. Tom Dooley about the horrible torture tactics of the communists in Southeast Asia – in Laos and Vietnam – as the Vietnam war was starting, then escalating through my youth. I also read the shocking recounts of the torture-and-death machine of the Nazi Holocaust, coming to public awareness via the Adolf Eichmann trials at that time. As a fundamentalist Appalachian-mountain Christian, I took my religion very seriously – and these torture practices offended every moral precept I had garnered from my upbringing. For the rest of my life, I have defined other countries’ morality by how those countries treat their people – and I believe that torture is the ultimate evil a country can perpetrate.

 

Today, I believe that torture is still the defining moral mark of any culture or country. I believe that a culture or country that practices torture practices the utmost evil. “Torture” is a word people do not wish to discuss, to acknowledge, to even think about – but it exists. Torture is transformative – it transforms people from good to evil. Torture hurts and kills it victims and its perpetrators. If defines a culture.

 

For many years, I have wondered “Where were the good Germans?” I knew they were there – but where were they during the Holocaust? How could they stand by and let it happen? When I see a country torturing people today, I know that that country has its good people. I know they are there. Yet they stand by. Any country can be a Germany. We are all “good Germans” if we stand by and allow torture to happen.

 

In addition to torture killing both its victims and its perpetrators, it brings back to an otherwise moral people the perpetrators – their torture practices just might not stop when they return to their normal surroundings. They will live in neighborhoods, have spouses and children, live in communities. But their torture practices do not die. They are forever twisted by their experiences – and we will have them living amongst us.

 

Torture changes society, and it is changing our own society in this country. The torturers live amongst us. If we do not stop torture, we are the torturers.

 

This I believe. 

 

http://www.thisibelieve.org/dsp_ShowEssay.php?uid=14377&lastname=Porter&firstname=Karen%20&yval=0&start=0 

 

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At age 9, I started defining my life by school. At that point, summers become blurred and relatively irrelevant for the duration of my life, and school became my defining time for that, and the ensuing, years. My life began in September and was put on “pause” for  the summer from then on (even today).

I was in Tackett Creek Elementary’s fourth grade class then, with my teacher being Miss Beamer. Miss Beamer was the first teacher I remember ever having who was young and attractive – somehow the adjective “pretty” doesn’t come to mind, but “attractive.” She had dark hair (sort of auburn as I recall), dressed very young (flowery, youthful dresses with big, full skirts), was agile in her moves, and had an “attractive” face, freckled a bit as I recall. The boys started flocking to this teacher unlike any other I’d had before.

Speaking of boys, I also had my first stirrings of “love” at age 9. I recall being in love with three boys, all named “Steve,” all at once. “Steve” must have been a popular name in the late 1940s when I was born because there were so many of them. There were several “Karens,” too; and I recall being in a classroom with three of us named “Karen” at some point.

I was also starting to grow tall and awkward, starting to be taller than many of the other kids and than most girls. I was, from then on, a “tall girl” (a fate worse than death in the ’50s for a girl) – even worse, a “tall girl” with glasses (horrors). However, I was so competitive and so interested in new discoveries at age 9 that I was not distressed then about my physical development – I think that distress didn’t start until age 10 or so.

We 4th, 5th, and 6th graders were from then on put in “portables,” which I didn’t like. Only the 1st-3rd graders remained in the lovely ancient brick building – the older  kids had to be in portables through 6th grade.

My most important awakening at age 9 was that I finally discovered that I had a brain. And, when I made that discovery, it became the only competitive partof my personality for the duration of my life. Girls had no real athletic opportunities at all, so academic competition was my only competitive outlet. I realized I could do my multiplication tables and long division fast so as to win drills; had an innate knack for spelling, rarely missing a beat; memorize easily and simply remember everything- and we engaged in constant “races” in academics, so I had proof of all  this! I could look at a page of material for  a few minutes and remember it word-for-word (a skill I lost over the years!) – what the teacher dubbed a “photographic memory,” which I later read was more common among children this age than I realized. It made me feel special all of a sudden, though I later found out I was not really special – just focused and pretty normal in terms of developmental stages.  Additionally, I was still at an age when I could run pretty well, too – so at recess I could still hold my own in playground races.

One random memory I have that I think happened that year (or maybe at age 8, unclear) was my “feed-sack dress.” It was common then for us to have clothing made out of colorful feed sacks – no big deal. My mother made me one that I loved in particular out of bright red (my favorite color) print feed sack, with green rick-rack trim.  One of the greatest mysteries of my life is this: How on earth did someone else have the very same dress on the very same day I first proudly wore mine to school?  How did someone else’s mother use the same print with the same pattern to make the same dress?  I recall  being totally flummoxed by this…or did I dream it? I’ll never know. But it was one of the great, unexplained coincidences of my life!

I also remember being disappointed that I couldn’t join the Brownie/Girl Scouts (it was either in 2nd, 3rd, or 4th grade, not sure) because we couldn’t afford the uniform (no big deal, just a fact, but a disppointment I do remember). That’s the first time I recall being limited by money – but it wasn’t unusual. Most of us were in the same boat, I’d think. Instead, I ended up joining the 4-H Club because we didn’t need a uniform for that. And, in 4-H, I learned to cook (potato salad and cookies) and sew (a pin cushion and maybe an apron or something), so it was a good thing. I also got to go to sleepover camp (more on that for age 10).

I became a “safety patrol,” my one “uniformed” role in life, my one  “paramilitary” experience (in child-like memory). I got to wear a white over-the-breast, diagonal “belt” with a red lieutenant’s, then blue “captain’s” (promoted) badge and to boss kids around on the playground and in the halls. This bossiness fit well with my newfound competitiveness and  sense of self – plus, it fit with being the oldest child of three and my penchant for “taking over” as a pretend parent. I probably would have done quite well in the military or police force! In sum, being a patrol, particularly an “officer,” gave me a tremendous sense of importance. I could “protect” kids in the swings and on the slide by enforcing safety rules, while also feeling important enforcing school rules in the halls and on the school bus. My first true “petit official” experience!

I also made one the most important discoveries of my life that year – or I think it was that year. Memory may be unclear here. It was the public library. I don’t remember a public school library for elementary school – but I do remember that at some point my father (I believe he was the one) took me  to a new library that opened in St. Albans in town across the street from the super market. That first library was in a little gray, kind of ramshackle house – and it became my favorite place in the whole wide world (aside from my grandparents’ old “log house” up on Middle Fork…more on that later). We also had a “bookmobile” come near our house – I couldn’t wait for those visits and going into that cramped vehicle to find my treasures.

I remember Robert Louis Stevenson’s Kidnapped being the first book I checked out – and my world all of a sudden expanded exponentially,  never to be limited to St. Albans or even West Virginia again. Kidnapped took me to worlds I’d never known, to people I dreamed about, to adventures, to…..everything I could never have imagined before. We had gotten a TV when I was five, but TV never quite took me to other worlds in the same way books did. The rest of my life became puncuated by whatever library was closeby – today the library is still my heaven, my solace. I also remember at some point a new library being built in St. Albans (it still stands) and the First Lady, Lady Bird Johnson, coming to town to dedicate it. That would have been a few years later.

Kidnapped, though, was the first of hundreds of books I was to read as the years went on – very much “the classics,” which I also read in “classical comic books” at the grocery store when my parents were shopping. In fact, I enjoyed reading the comic book versions, summaries of the real books, then following up with the complete books. I also started seeing movies on TV that I liked, then checking out the books they were based on and reading them. The movies enabled me to visualize the book characters as the actors who portrayed them, making them even more real to me.

One 4th grade project also stands out: Being assigned to go out one weekend and find leaves from different trees, pressing them in waxed paper, and labeling them. To this day, I say that, if I’d been channeled more toward science (as girls weren’t – more on that in high school years), I probaby would have chosen botany. I still love identification of plants (including trees) and love all plant life – a lifelong love that seemed to start with that project.

As usual, I’m sure I’ll think of things later that will update this part of my biographical blog…but, for now…..on to age 10!

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Briefly, I saw two great films yesterday – from Sweden, “Everlasting Memories,” which was lovely, engaging, etc. 

However, even better – from Russia, “12,” a remake of the classic 1957 American film, “12 Angry Men;” but I think this Russian version is even better. “12” was written/directed/acted by the great film-maker, Nikita Mikhalkov,  who also made ” Burnt by the Sun,” another amazing film and favorite of mine. Fantastic film, tour-de-force performances, very moving. Highly recommended!

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I’ve written before on this blog about why I don’t like Easter – in summary:

  • So many “strangers” (the “C&E” – Christmas and Easter – people in “my” church), who never appear any other time and who vanish into thin air until the next Easter (or maybe Christmas – they never seem to be the same people to me). I know, I know….it’s probably good that they come at all, but I still find it invasive.

From childhood (in the ’50s):

  • Scratchy (always new) crinoline slips
  • “Spring coats” and airy dresses (always new) that felt cold on inevitably too-chilly Easter Sundays – I remember most always feeling cold all day.**
  • Pinchy (always new) patent leather shoes with little thin (and not warm) pastel or white “anklet” socks
  • Silly, frilly (always new) “Easter bonnets” that made me feel utterly ridiculous (and that, thankfully, vanished, with their flowers and berries and leaves and gauze, as soon as I got home after the morning service, never to be worn again).

So the memories of those Easters still make me simply not like Easter. But today I thought of more than that.

Someone the other day posed the question, rather rhetorically, “Why on earth do they call it ‘Good Friday’ when there’s nothing good about it?” Then the same person also asked, “Why do they call it ‘Holy Week’ when there’s nothing ‘holy’ about that?” I’d never asked, but I’d always instinctively and silently felt the same questions, but not in so many words, in my head.

Now, I’m the biggest Christmas person on earth – I live for fall and the onset of Advent and the entire Christmas season. I’m the only one on my block who leaves up the clear, white, twinkling, tiny Christmas lights on the bushes and trees in front of my house – all year – because I simply can’t let go of Christmas! I can’t argue the hypocrisy of bunnies and chicks and Easter eggs and all that vast commercialization when I applaud all things Santa Claus and Christmas tree and lights and sappy TV dramas and songs….on and on. Yes, I’m a huge and vociferous critic of hypocrisy and can root it out in others quickly – but I also can discern and judge it in myself just as brutally. I’m a huge hypocrite when it comes to disliking Easter’s trappings but obsessively loving all-things-Christmas.

This morning, however, after hearing those questions posed by a friend, I thought more about Easter and “why I won’t go to church today.”***** I think a lot of my rationale centers around torture.

Christ was not the first torture victim, but a torture victim he was. That’s why the names “Holy Week” and “Good Friday” always ring hollow for me – those times are neither “holy” nor “good” to me. I see blood and sweat and tears on Easter as the backdrop – and as the backdrop for the entire season. (Advent and Christmas, on the other hand, are a joyous time of birth to me.)

Yet the same “C&E” people can come out and, at least  superficially, ignore the violence of the  time, just as so many ignore the violence of wars, of torture, of guns-in-America.

A few years ago, a film called “The Passion of the Christ” apparently shocked people with its violence, and Christians were all  rushing to pay for their tickets and enrich the film makers (and Mel Gibson) – it became kind of “un-Christian” not to see it. I found it hard to answer “Did you see it?” with “No, I haven’t – and I don’t plan to.” I felt like a “Christian outcaste.” So….I finally went to see it just to find out what all the hysteria was about. My reaction: How could anyone be surprised or shocked by this? Wasn’t this what it was all about? What was new? The film reflected what I’d always perceived Easter to be all about – and I didn’t need what, to me,  was a kind of profit-inspired “violence pornography” to know about what Easter was. In fact, I regretted enriching the film makers by purchasing a ticket for what I felt was rank  exploitation of the otherwise well-meaning faithful.

Now, yes, I know, I know: Easter is the day celebrating Resurrection, or renewed hope, of promise – all that. But, somehow, the sheer violence of this season overshadows all  that in my own psyche. I envision Christ on the cross suffering – as all human beings do every day. I also envision Him carrying that cross through the streets in great agony. I often say that I never understood fully the precious words, “God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son….” until I had my own son. When I realized the import of that sacrifice, as a parent, I wept hot and painful tears of understanding, an epiphany if you will. So I do understand all that “good stuff” about Easter. yes, I do “get it,” to apply today’s vernacular.

But, still….we (myself included) celebrate a holiday but too often fail to put together the torture, the suffering of Christ with the ongoing torture and the suffering of human beings today.

Now, call me spiritually bankrupt on this issue, but that’s my “take” on it after 61 Easters.  So I’m not going to church today – for all the above.

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***In the 50s, we girls could never wear “pants” of any kind to school or to church but had to suffer in coldness. When we wore “leggings” only on the coldest of winter days, we had to wear them under our dresses and take them off in our school cloakrooms before entering class – in public school, no less! And, because we were too young for panythose (those dreaded torture devices hadn’t been invented yet), and “tights” (another torture device, but warmer and a little more durable than pantyhose) hadn’t yet been marketed to young girls, we were essentially cold from the tops of our anklets (or knee socks, only available later) to our underwear – that’s a lot of cold, cold leg we had to endure! This was all dictated by fundamentalist Christianity (and culture) and the fact that girls would (so I heard) burn in hell for wearing pants of any kind. The Taliban must have taken a few cues from ’50s America! Just one more reason I find the Christian right so very scary – I’ve lived in the world they want to take us back to.

*****In fact, two good films (one Russian, one Scandinavian) are playing at two different  Ritz theaters in Philadelphia today, and I’ve carefully calculated how I can “run” from one to the other quickly because the timing will probably allow just enough time for that, plus my mandatory popcorn purchase. And I’ll be very happy not to be at any church today.

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The Chester County Peace Movement (CCPM) has held a weekly peace vigil every Saturday for 6-1/2 years – rain, snow, hot sun, whatever, every single Saturday except one, the Saturday after the November 2008 election. We have never failed to be at the corner of High and Market at the Courthouse from 11-12 every Saturday, come what may.

Since the election of President Barack Obama, peace groups nationally have discussed how to proceed – now that the lawless, senseless, violent, super-warlike past eight years have ended. Some stopped their vigils. We chose  not to.

However, this week we came as close as we have ever come to ending these vigils – with my full complicity. 

I returned from London with some fresh insights about a lot of things that made me question the wisdom of continuing our vigils. One experience was looking down on the thousands of G-20 protestors in London from the top of a red double-decker London bus and not feeling like I really wanted to join in. Had I burned out? Was I feeling apathetic? Or what? I thought, “What’s the point here?” I was simply thrilled that we had an intelligent leader in Europe – that we had come out of a horrid wilderness – so the G-20 demonstrations were, to me, trying to burst my bubble. I was almost annoyed with them for raining on America’s beautiful parade.

When I returned to the states last week,  several things prompted me to propose that we end our vigils – and I almost announced that we would do so.

Until I went to this morning’s vigil. In the cold and consistent pouring rain, a small band of us “regulars” stood in a circle and discussed ending the vigils for an hour and fifteen minutes, non-stop. Apparently, I really shocked some of them by even suggesting such a thing as ending the vigils. The conversation it mostly involved impassioned pleas by several of our group that, in sum, “war continues, people are still dying, we must be here because we haven’t finished yet.”  It didn’t take long to convince me – I’d been at that level of commitment all along but had not fully realized the total commitment of others, which impressed and moved me deeply. This little band of loyalists is prepared to stand on that corner every Saturday indefinitely – and I am, too. They brought me back to my senses, and I thank them for that.

As we sang our usual “We Shall Overcome” (sans instruments, too wet for our usual musical accompaniment), observed our moment of silence, and made the usual announcements,  two things happened that assured me that it’s the right decision to stay there:  A young woman drove up in her car and flashed a big smile and a peace sign at us, then pulled off; and another passer-by yelled out, “Thank you!” a thanks we have heard so many times over these years from so many people.  And I told the group about a young college  student who wrote to me the other day asking if she could do an internship working with us this summer – a young woman who came to our peace vigils while in high school studies. And I thought of all the other young people who have joined us, who have been with us at so many times over these years. And we discussed how these vigils bring us all together in one place every week, come what may, even if we don’t come together otherwise. We are family.

So how could we stop?

We can’t.

And we won’t.

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