Sunday, May 29, 2011

Memorial Day 2011: The American Widow Project

"Since 2001, nearly 6,000 U.S. service members have been killed in Iraq and Afghanistan. Around half of these service members were married, leaving an estimated 3,000 military widows across our country.

The American Widow Project is a non-profit organization dedicated to the new generation of those who have lost the heroes of yesterday, today and tomorrow, with an emphasis on healing through sharing stories, tears and laughter………Military Widow to Military Widow."

I learned about the American Widow Project on a CNN Heroes segment. The organization was founded by Taryn Davis, 23, who was living the “normal” life; She had married her soul mate, was about to graduate college,and had her future with him to look forward to. That was until May 21, 2007. Her husband had been killed by multiple roadside bombs just an hour and a half after they last spoke.

Davis traveled around the country to find other women who could understand her pain. What started as a personal journey grew into an organization that is touching many lives. The CNN video captures her work and her story very well.

I admire Taryn Davis greatly. She took a soul-crushing, life-smashing fate and fought to breath life back into her world and the world of the women who shared her fate. Many of these women are such young twentysomethings, their husbands such good looking, salt-of-the-earth guys. Politicians throw around the word sacrifice pretty loosely. It helps me to see the the specific reality of that idea. I keep praying that these deaths are truly part of a smart plan to keep this country safe, and not a foreign policy that is off course.

The American Widow Project has a good website where you can read stories from the individual women, and it has a small store. If you must have a Memorial Day shopping activity, buy a pin or a tee shirt from them!

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Mo and The Queen's Visit

I'm not a fan of Maureen Dowd, and I am unmoved by the idea of Obama's visit to Ireland.

But Dowd's writing about Queen Elizabeth's visit is poetic and insightful and a joy to read: it's very Irish. Quoted in its entirety here:

"Queen Elizabeth, who ensorcelled the former colony on a four-day visit last week, was like “the prodigal mother,” as one young Irishman said. And Obama’s the American cousin who made good.

Both the 85-year-old queen and the Irish were taken aback, moved and finally over the moon with her debut sojourn here, the first visit of a British monarch in a century.

The tale of two islands began with Liz, as The Irish Daily Star calls her, wearing an emerald green suit and the tightest security ever seen here, and ended with everyone loosening up, as ecstatic residents of Cork, the rebel home of Michael Collins, waved the Union Jack and told the press, “We love her!”

The Irish started out skeptically, not wanting to curtsy or kowtow or be treated as subjects. Queen Elizabeth started out tentatively, not knowing what to expect. When she showed no condescension, spoke a phrase in Gaelic, and told the Irish that both sides needed to be “able to bow to the past but not be bound by it,” the ice melted.

Twitter users here began affectionately calling her Betty, and her Irish guard of honor gave her a Gaelic moniker, Eilis A Do, for Elizabeth II, that the whole country has now picked up.

The Irish didn’t even mind when the queen and a remarkably gaffe-free Prince Philip didn’t sample a pint of the black stuff at the Guinness brewery, though Philip looked sorely tempted.

As the emotional week unfolded, even Gerry Adams softened his criticism that the visit was too soon. For Sinn Fein, a hundred years was not long enough.

Irish commentators on TV dissected every syllable, gesture and outfit of the queen, deciding that signs of respect included her perfect pronunciation of Gaelic, her rapt inspection of Moynihan’s buttered eggs and O’Sullivan’s poultry in a Cork food market, and the fact that she changed her clothes more than Anne Hathaway at the Oscars.

The Irish also deemed spectacularly gracious: her evening gown featuring 2,091 hand-sewn shamrocks, her Irish harp brooch made of Swarovski crystals, her Girls of Great Britain and Ireland Tiara that was a wedding gift from her grandmother, her many green outfits and hats trimmed with green feathers, and her ladies-in-waiting decked out in 40 shades of green.

QUEEN ELIZABETH’S aides said they had not seen her smile so much in a long time. She offered regret about how Britain had made Ireland suffer and stopped to talk to children in Cork, showing all the warmth that she famously could not muster when Diana died. At a gala concert on Thursday night, she was stunned to receive a five-minute standing ovation.

Winston Churchill once noted: “We’ve always found the Irish a bit odd. They refuse to be English.”

What the Irish loved about the queen’s speech was that, after 800 years of bloodshed, hatred and tortured negotiations between Ireland and England, both sides were able to accept their separate but entwined identities.

The truism that the Irish never forget and the English never remember was put to rest when the queen laid a wreath and bowed her head at the Garden of Remembrance, the sacred ground for Irish patriots who died fighting for their country, and went to Croke Park, the scene of the first Bloody Sunday in 1920, when 14 Irish civilians were killed after British forces opened fire on them.

By Friday, the queen was so at ease that she laughed when a professor at University College Cork explained why a statue of her great-great-grandmother, Queen Victoria, had been interred.

Professor John Murphy suggested that, given how loathed the Famine Queen was here, being buried by irate Republicans was the kind fate.

“People sometimes ask me, ‘Why wasn’t the statue destroyed outright?’ ” he told the queen, answering that the anti-Victoria undertakers were “nationalists, not vandals.” The statue was dug up in 1995 after the Irish Republican Army cease-fire — “little the worse for wear, given what it had been through,” as Murphy said.

If Irish history has been a nightmare from which the Irish are always trying to awaken, as James Joyce said in “Ulysses,” then they have now woken up, wherever green is worn, and seen all changed, changed utterly."

Thanks Mo.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Mother/Daughter Birthdays & End of Days

I first saw little pamphlets in Penn Station months ago with the headline May 21. 2011 JUDGMENT DAY. This caught my attention because May 21 is my mom’s birthday. The pamphlet made no sense whatsoever. I thought there would be some clear text about why judgment day was this May 21, but instead it was a string of Bible verses, New and Old Testament, which did not connect the dots to this specific day. It was published by Family Radio Assocation, Harold Camping’s outfit.

Wiki does “show the math” on how Camping arrived at May 21.

Turns out that Camping’s fuller vision is this: The Rapture is on May 21, when the believers are assumed into Heaven with no warning, in the middle of whatever they are doing (see video below for some tips about that). Then God will torture the world for 5 months, and the End of Days comes on October 21. Hmm. That’s my birthday.

I sense there’s a screenplay in here somewhere. The mother/daughter team whose entrances to Earth on these specific, Harold Camping-divined days become the portals through which the messengers of the other God who is not destroying the Earth come to try to mitigate some of the craziness. I have vague visions of Travolta’s archangel Michael and Keanu’s John Constantine being part of the action.

Speaking of films, I am a big fan of Michael Tolkin’s film The Rapture. The ending, which I won’t spoil, is one of the most haunting of all time for me. (I wonder if Tolkin knew about Duchovny's addiction when he cast him?) I do occasionally see that final image in my head . . .

Here’s a funny video, via Andrew Sullivan, with some helpful tips. See you all on Sunday.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Cead Mile Failte, QEII

I think the Queen’s visit to the Republic of Ireland for a 4-day state visit beginning May 17 is just brilliant. She welcomed the pope last year.—-from her role as head of the Church of England—and now she attends to the most symbolic gesture possible from her role as figurehead of the state of that sceptered isle.

No other living ruler is such a nexus for history, with that capital H. And she is deeply self aware of this role. I believe that’s why she’s making this trip as an 85 year old, with the 91 year old Prince Philip, while she still can.

The history of England’s obscene rule over Ireland for centuries should not be forgotten. If anyone needs a refresher on how harsh the Penal Laws were, or how people could be hanged for high treason for wearing the color green, you can read an old St. Patrick’s Day post.

And of course the 20th century saw decades and decades of the bloodiest, most soul-crushing violence between these two Christian countries as Britain became a paramilitary and military presence amongst the general public, thus feeding the fires of the IRA. But in the 21st century, it’s time to get beyond all that. And the Queen coming for a visit and sleeping 3 nights on Irish soil-—trusting her very safety to the good people of Ireland--is a significant, encouraging statement about the future.

It’s the Economy, Stupid
Ireland has a more immediate problems at the moment than the contemplation of its bloody family history with Great Britain. Their bank collapse and debt crises is terrifying everyone.

And so with the usual Irish dry wit, Eoghan Harris writes in The Observer:

"The country is so preoccupied with the financial crisis. I don't know anyone who isn't suffering," he said. "There's no passion about the Queen's visit, but there's a benign affability. She is regarded like an eccentric aunt who should have called in a long time ago but didn't because of a family row, the origins of which have been long forgotten."

I believe that the Anglo-Saxon soul and the Celtic soul are deeply different in sensibility: it’s the difference between Shakespeare and Joyce. Between Milton and Yeats. And each should retain its own, fierce identity. But the killing. That has to be over, for good.

(Photo: a pub in Dublin)

Sunday, May 15, 2011

"Coincidence is God's way of remaining anonymous": Einstein

All this she told with some confusion and Dismay, the usual consequence of dreams of the unpleasant kind, with none at hand
To expound their vain and visionary gleams.

I've known some odd ones which seemed really planned
Prophetically, or that which one deems

A "strange coincidence," to use a phrase
By which such things are settled now-a-days.

Don Juan
Lord Byron

I have a hypersensitivity to coincidence. Maybe I have more coincidences than others, or I’m more aware of them. I know that I’m more dazzled by them than most. Friends know I’m given to loudly exclaiming “WHAT ARE THE ODDS?” in a hyper sort of way whenever one of these coincidences pops up.

Here are some recent ones:

•I went to the birthday party for my BFF’s brother-in-law, whom I barely know. That connection is pretty far removed. Turns out one of his oldest friends, Brian, is the brother of my cousin’s husband. AND, Brian and I were best man & maid-of-honor at that cousin's wedding many years ago. We hadn’t seen each other since we were standing on the back of the fire truck for pictures after the ceremony.

•I was sitting on a Long Island Railroad train waiting for it to pull out of Penn Station. It wasn’t my usual line because I was going to visit someone in the hospital on the North Shore. I looked out the window and saw the name of an ex who I have a lot of history with-—Doug--in neon lights. There were so many reflections between train windows, I couldn’t even tell what I was looking at, where that name was.

But what the hell was his name doing right outside my window in lights? As the train pulled away, I saw that the neon was on a train across the track, and as the train moved down the track it was revealed that it said “Douglaston,” a town on the Port Washington line.

But what were the odds? That I would sit in that seat, that the two trains would be so perfectly aligned, that only the letters for Doug could be seen. If the trains hadn’t been so precisely in place, and I had seen the “l” and the “a,” the whole frisson of seeing his name would not have happened.

•My choir director, on the Upper West Side, last week asked if anyone wanted to sing the Faure Requiem. He had been hired to play organ for another church that was doing it. He plays lots of gigs outside of our church, but for some reason he asked if anyone wanted to come along and sing.

Turns out that this gig is on Long Island, IN MY HOMETOWN PARISH CHURCH in Massapequa. The church I made my first communion in, where we had my father’s funeral mass.

What are the odds? And that the Faure is one of my very favorite pieces. So I sang the concert as a guest. It also happened that my BFF, who also grew up in Massapequa, was already coming for a visit that weekend. And that she happened to fly into La Guardia rather than Newark (like she usually does) on Friday night. So she drove out to Massapequa, picked my mom up, and went to the concert too. Strange, unexpected reunion.

The World Science Festival Is on the Case

Then on the heels of all this, the World Science Festival, which is in its fourth year, has a session called:

The Illusion of Certainty: Risk, Probability, and Chance
Stuff happens. Your best friend from Boston met your other best friend from San Francisco. Coincidentally. What are the odds? Risk, probability, chance, coincidence—-they play a significant role in the way we make decisions about health, education, relationships, and money. But where does this data come from and what does it really mean? How does the brain find patterns and where can these patterns take us? When should we ditch the data and go with our gut? Join us in a captivating discussion that will demystify the chancy side of life.

Wow. So the scientists are thinking about it too. Needless to say I’m going.

Monday, May 2, 2011

May 1, 2011: A Date That Will Live in Our Hearts

HBO and AMC got some free market research in the outpouring of community stories about how/when they heard the momentous announcement of President Obama that U.S. Special Forces had taken out Bin Laden. Seems everyone was either watching Treme (lots of the posters over at Sepinwalls) or The Killing (David Bushman and Matt Zoller Seitz open their pieces with).

I was also watching The Killing. I am surprised that neither HBO nor AMC broke in, or ran a zipper. So I didn’t know what had happened even as Stan drove Bennett into the closing credits on AMC. Then I didn’t feel like watching the news so I shut the TV off. I was on my way to bed when I decided to look at Twitter around 12:20 and to say my jaw dropped is an understatement.

It was a stunning experience to read tweets two hours into a historic moment. I couldn’t believe what I was reading so I ran back to the TV. It’s not that I didn’t trust the information on Twitter, but I needed more details, faster, than I was getting.

The Twitter stream added that amazing dimension of personal voice, sometimes witty, sometimes just piercing. For examples,

“They should have captured Bin Laden alive & made him continually go through airport security 4 the rest of his life.”

“Leave it to America to upstage a royal wedding”

“9/11 widow on my flight. In tears. Comforted by entire cabin. Life altering event to see”

Go to the Business Insider for full citations and more great examples.

“Rot in Hell”

I am a fan of Daily News headlines. They out-Posted the Post, which had the more milktoast “Got Him!”

This is not a serious theological dictate.

No, this is old school, salt-of-the-earth New Yorker attitude. (Like when Bogart’s Rick tells the Nazi Strasser “Well there are certain sections of New York, Major, that I wouldn't advise you to try to invade.”)

I had come to think that we would never capture him. As the years passed it just seemed a piece of the mess of that is our war strategy in Afghanistan and Iraq.

It’s a great psychological victory for every American. ‘Rejoicing’ is just an outpouring of pent-up emotion, which different people do in different ways.

There’s an excellent piece in Salon from Mary Elizabeth Williams, about the NYTimes dropping the “Mr.” from bin Laden’s name in articles.

First she echoes a bit of the Daily News: “There's no formal address in hell.”

Then she deduces the NYTimes is doing its own emotional release:

"Does it matter much whether, in its future reporting, the Times refers to the recently deceased as plain old "Bin Laden"? Only in that, by dropping the "Mr.," the paper's famously restrained editors have perhaps revealed a deep degree of feeling toward this man who wounded us so deeply, so close to home. It took American forces almost 10 years to find and kill bin Laden. But it took the New York Times just a few hours to take from him the only thing it could. In his death, there is no honor. And now, at the Times, there's no honorific either."

Damn yes.

(Top photo: Michael Appleton managed to bridge a decade in a single photograph on Sunday night. (NYTimes)

(Bottom Photo: Servicemen hang off a lamp post cheering in celebration as thousands of people celebrate in the streets at Ground Zero, the site of the World Trade Centre, waving American flags and honking horns to celebrate the death of al Qaeda founder and leader Osama bin Laden on May 1, 2011 in New York City. By Spencer Platt/Getty Images.)