Category Archives: Politics

Second Helpings

Before this tumultuous year, Thanksgiving and the weeks leading up to Christmas were already emotionally-charged holidays for me and The Husband.  A lifetime ago, we got engaged during Thanksgiving week. After years of infertility, our twins were born on Thanksgiving Day in a scenario straight out of a Hallmark movie:  twins, Thanksgiving Day, the most incredible gift you could ever imagine.

And then, exactly one year ago today on Thanksgiving Day 2015, The Husband collapsed in the middle of dinner. We hadn’t even brought out the pie. I found him barely conscious in the bathroom and performed CPR right there on the floor. Dessert was replaced by a rush of paramedics, police, tears and two hospitals before 10 p.m.

Thankfully, he survived this unexpected (and somewhat still unexplained) event; it goes without saying that this year — not to mention the rest of our lives — would have been extremely different if he hadn’t.  Grateful is an understatement. In the face of some significant losses and challenges, we still have each other. That counts for something (a lot, actually).

Nonetheless, there was a push-pull effect to this particular Thanksgiving.  Stay home or spend the holiday with family in Philly?  Part of me felt like sheltering in place after the past 17 days since the election. The appeal and comfort of home far outweighed the prospect of politically-charged dinnertime conversations awaiting us on the opposite side of the state.

At the same time, I didn’t want to be home with the ghosts of last Thanksgiving sitting at the table.

We decided to do a quick trip to Philly — less than 48 hours in duration, with 12 of those spent driving. Some close relatives have had medical scares in the past month, and this would be an opportunity to spend some time with them. As if we needed any reminding, life doesn’t come with guarantees. Take nothing and no one for granted.

At a rest stop in the middle of Tr*mpland, we instructed the children that there were only two acceptable topics of conversation for this visit (and probably every other visit thereafter):  The Weather and How Is School Going?.

“What if [insert name of relative who likely voted differently than us] asks us about the election?” The Girl asked, a bit worriedly.

“You say, ‘on the advice of counsel, I decline to answer the question,'” The Husband replied, prompting a discussion of the Fifth Amendment, because that’s how we roll.

As it turned out, everyone behaved themselves as best as possible. No politics were discussed. Instead, we celebrated the kids’ birthdays (and a nephew’s) with both sets of grandparents. My sister-in-law made a delicious dinner. The cousins had a chance to hang out and laugh and reconnect with each other, reminiscent of the kind of holidays The Husband and I remember as children with our own cousins. It was the first Thanksgiving our extended family spent together in six years.

And best of all?

Everyone had more than enough pie.

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Seeing Red

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There we were, in the middle of a Pittsburgh street, when Hillary Clinton approached.

She looked stunning, confident, resplendent in her red pantsuit.  We cheered wildly, equally confident that we were meeting our next President of the United States.

We were so close.

It was the second to last rally of a unending, unprecedented campaign. Monday afternoon, November 7.  A bright and brisk day, a deep blue sky — not unlike that on 9/11, as horribly ironic as that seems now. She had just spoken and as we were leaving, a small crowd gathered in the blockaded intersection hoping just to wave as her motorcade departed.

And then suddenly, there she was. Crossing the street toward us as we erupted into a cacophony of shouts, cell phones capturing what felt like a historical moment. After all, how often do you have an opportunity to meet the next President of the United States on the eve of her election?

Less than 36 hours after I took this picture and after I proudly let my almost 15-year-old daughter push the VOTE button for the most qualified person to ever run for President, my girl and I were sobbing uncontrollably as we watched the election returns. As state after state turned red, we held each other as the realization set in that our country and our lives were now changed forever.


Like many of us in the aftermath of this election, I am a maelstrom of emotions. For three days, I’ve been a cauldron of feelings: anger, sadness, fear and despair, just for starters. Quite simply, I am devastated and shaken to my core, unable to rationalize the juxtaposition of events this week — the exhilaration of seeing Hillary Clinton in person and the pride of voting for the first female President of the United States …. to the empty jack o’lanterned feeling like my insides had been hollowed out and turned to orange pulp.

I will be honest with you, as I’ve always tried to do here on this blog and elsewhere. I have been struggling mightily since the wee hours of Wednesday morning when it became abundantly clear that this country is now bathed in a sea of red.

And yes, I’ve read enough in these past several days, thank you, to recognize that we have been living in a red country for quite some time and this is a wake-up call for some.  I get that, and I’ve seen and I understand enough about the culture wars that have been raging to know that the pot has been dangerously close to boiling over for some time.

And now, that pot has been doused with kerosene and is exploding with students being threatened in vandalized schools, women harassed by men yelling about grabbing their pussies, and a President-elect tweeting about how unfair all this is, rather than leading the nation in being a voice of reason.


Somehow, in all of this, we still need to get through our daily lives. On Wednesday morning, after less than two hours of something barely resembling sleep, I somehow got my ass out of bed and went to work.  I had to; I’m the sole breadwinner in a family of four that is on a fucking financial precipice. My husband has been out of work for 16 months. He’s a cancer survivor and is someone who spent Thanksgiving Day last year being resuscitated by me on our bathroom floor after he collapsed from a seizure, which he now has long term effects from.  Our medical bills are ridiculous and our income is 1/3 of what it was this time last year. (Not less than one third; it is one-third.)

So, yes, I absolutely, completely understand the feeling of being left behind in a world with a changing economy that shits on your 25 years of professional experience in your field where you can’t get an entry level job. I know about skyrocketing health insurance premiums and paychecks that don’t cover your basic needs and savings that have been depleted because you lost everything in the housing crisis and the Great Recession and how you can’t send your kids to college and what it is like to be angry about this.

But here’s the thing. I don’t simply understand this mentality because I’ve read about it from some think-piece in the New Yorker.  I understand this because I am living this, too.

It’s just that my story probably looks a little different from someone else’s story because I am a white female living in a middle-class suburban neighborhood.

Maybe that’s one of the takeaways here, that we’re not really all that different after all. If so, then that’s one of the things I am struggling hard to understand.

Because I simply can’t fathom how people in these circumstances could willingly vote for someone with a non-existent track record of delivering on anything that would improve our lives AND who happens to be the kind of racist, sexist, xenophobic, narcissist that the President-elect is.  And no — I do not buy for one minute that the outrageous things and the abhorrent behavior and conduct in the campaign waged by the winner was simple campaign rhetoric. I do not.  Maya Angelou was right: when someone shows you who they are, believe them. The first time and every single goddamn time after that. The reality is that our President-Elect has been showing us who he is for much longer than this campaign.


I know not everyone reading this will understand and I don’t expect everyone to. Nor do I really care. This post is just where I am right now as I try to capture and relegate my emotions and regain some sort of equilibrium in what is a very difficult, fragile, scary time. Wednesday morning felt eerily similar to 9/11, when my coworkers and I huddled together in tears, sharing news and trying to find solace in music and poetry. Just as 9/11 was a difficult day, so was its numerical fraternal twin of 11/9.

I’ll remember the tearful embraces and shaky words with my coworker and the cook in the cafeteria who makes my breakfast bowl each morning — both people of color, both people who I have developed a friendship with over time. I’ll remember needing to go back to church, just as I did on 9/11. Then, as now, I went to a service at my Unitarian Universalist church.  The Girl came with me and we listened to Carrie Newcomer’s “Sanctuary”  and the words of Terry Tempest Williams and the poetry of Ellen Bass. We shared our feelings with others and held hands and cried together.

At times, I feel a little stronger, even empowered. I’m trying to find ways to use my anger as a force for good and how I can fill this deep chasm in my heart.  I’ll be using my voice and this blog to speak louder, to call foul, to raise awareness of injustices and the issues and the people who — make no doubt about it — will truly be forgotten in this new political administration that isn’t going to do jack shit to improve anyone’s life. We have a con man as the leader of our country now and I fear that dark days are on the horizon and I am preparing for them.

In spite of that,  I’m cultivating a new circle of friends while holding closer those who share my belief that it isn’t just our own life that matters, it’s that all people have value and worth and dignity — those with disabilities, those who are members of the LGBTQ community, those who are newcomers to this country, those who are minorities, those who haven’t even been born. Those are the people I will be championing and those are the people and the causes who will get my time and my talents.

I will remember until the day I die Hillary Clinton’s bright red pantsuit as she crossed the street to greet us.  I will remember the gorgeous day we shared and the gray, rainy gloomy day in every sense of the word on 11/9/2016. I will remember the red hot anger I feel in the aftermath of this election. And in this red country, one that will see more red blood spilled on our streets in violence, I will remember the people that need championing with every beat of my heart and with a red-hot passion fueled by love.

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Sunday Salon/Currently …Welcome to The Last Week of America as We Know It

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To paraphrase Benedict Cumberbatch’s intro to last night’s episode of Saturday Night Live, welcome to the last week of America as we know it. Regardless of how this election turns out, we’ll be waking up to a different country on Wednesday morning. It will either be a country that will have made history by voting for its first woman President and someone who has spent her entire life fighting for women, girls and families while representing the nation on a global stage … or it will be a country careening down a dangerous path led by an unstable, racist, xenophobic, sexist, egotistical, uninformed hot-headed monster with complete disregard for anyone’s interests except his own.

It’s pretty clear where I stand on this election — solidly, enthusiastically, emphatically 100% and then some With Her, if you had any doubt.  I cannot wait to vote for Hillary Clinton. Yet there’s a part of me that wants to crawl into bed right now and not emerge until all the votes are counted and we (hopefully) know who won this thing. I’m not banking on that being Wednesday, so if that means I need to become Rip Van Winkle, that’s fine with me.

As appealing as that is, however, the anger and vitriol fueling this country’s deep divisiveness won’t vanish overnight. It’s not like we’re going to learn the results, immediately turn to our neighbor and start singing Kumbaya.  (At least, I’m certainly not.) Who knows what kind of America we’ll be living in this time next week? It’s scary and stressful and anxiety-producing.

Still, I feel that I should be chronicling this pivotal moment in history somehow, maybe writing more about what this feels like. I’m not sure why or for whom, exactly; I guess I have this notion of potential grandchildren asking me about this unprecedented time and me not remembering the intensity, as hard as that seems to believe.

Both of my kids are very, very engaged with this election, so maybe I feel compelled to capture this moreso for them — so they can remember how it felt and what this time was like.  I am taking The Girl with me to vote on Tuesday evening and into the voting booth itself.  We’ve taken the kids to vote often, especially when they were younger, but I want my girl to be able to tell her potential grandchildren that their great-grandmother cast a vote for Hillary Clinton way back in that crazy historic year of 2016, and that she was part of it.

I want them to remember this.

The election has been the main topic of our dinner time conversations and The Boy, in particular, is very inquisitive.  (For the record, The Boy has been invited to accompany us to vote, too; he’s declined.)  While I don’t want to quash his interest and enthusiasm, he’s like me in that when he likes something, he is ALL IN and somewhat obsessive in his consumption, taking things to extremes at times. There have been several occasions when we’ve had to tell him to dial it down or take a time out from the election talk.

I do think about the impact this election is having on Generation Z (my kids’ generation, those who were born in the mid-late 1990s or early 2000s) but who are taking note of the discourse of this race. I wonder (and worry) about their long-time views on voting, democracy and public decorum.  I think the reality-showification of this election, our politics as entertainment, would be an interesting study or book as it relates to this generation. (I’m available and willing, agents and publishers who may be reading ….)

That’s been part of the reason why, as I mentioned last week, I’ve been trying to be more intentional about limiting my media consumption of election-related news. (I know how hypocritical that sounds; I say this and then I write a whole blog post about the election, effectively contributing to the noise.) That means no political podcasts, no opinion or think-pieces, very little political engagement on social media. Everything that’s said has been said; everything has already been analyzed from every possible perspective. There’s nothing more I can learn, no new insight to be gained, nothing I can offer that you haven’t heard me say already.

Instead, I’ve been listening to music on my commutes to work, running, and reading, so since this is technically a Sunday Salon post, here’s a brief recap of all that:

Reading …

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This week I finished three books in TWO DAYS, which is unheard of for me.  My current pace is more like three books in a month, if that. With a total of 37 books read this year, my revised 2016 goal of 50 books feels more doable.

Mothering Sunday by Graham Swift will be among my favorites of 2016.  This novella is simply spectacular. Set in England, the story takes place in 1924 and centers on Jane Fairchild, a maid to the wealthy Niven family. They are friends with the Sheringhams, whose son Paul is engaged to marry Emma Hobday.  That small detail doesn’t stop Paul or Jane from having an affair. The entire story unfolds over a few hours, making this the perfect book to read over the same amount of time. In fact, I’d say that this should be required to be read in one sitting, as I did yesterday afternoon while The Girl was at the library’s Anime Club program. It’s resplendent and luxurious, sexy and suspenseful, with hints of Virginia Woolf and reminders of Mrs. Dalloway.  I loved every word and every minute I spent immersed in this. What a decadent way to spend a Saturday.

The Rain in Portugal: Poems by Billy Collins is the former Poet Laureate of the United States’ twelfth collection. It’s a perfectly fine, enjoyable grouping of poems.  Those of us who are familiar with Collins’ work will find his usual fare here as he’s not a poet who surprises in terms of style or subject matter. He’s comfortable, pleasant, an easy read.

Shut Up and Run, by Robin Arzón offers runners of every ability motivation, training plans, practical tips and advice combined with Robin’s personal philosophy of fitness and story of how she left law to become an ultramarathoner (that’s someone who participates in events exceeding the marathon distance of 26.2 miles). Robin Arzón is fierce, strong, a real badass and I really liked her perspective.

Running … 

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Since Labor Day, I’ve ran or walked a total of 26.2 miles — my own personal marathon! — by following Couch to 5K. I’ve also lost 10 lbs. But with the days getting shorter and colder weather making its presence known (not to mention easy access to an abundance of Halloween candy in the house), I felt like I needed additional motivation and accountability to maintain my running progress.  I was excited to see that Run Eat Repeat, a running blog I’ve been reading, is hosting Pile on the Miles, a fitness challenge during November which sounds like a good way to stay on track.  I set myself a goal of 15 miles this month, which may be too ambitious for me.

It’s going to be quite a week.  Go vote, my American friends. (And if you’re in Pennsylvania and need a ride to the polls? Lyft and Uber are giving you a free ride.)

See you on the other side.

 

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Sunday Salon/Currently …Halloween Eve Edition

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Friends, I’ve reached my limit with this election. Friday’s news put me over the edge — again — and I simply can’t take another week of this insanity. To make matters worse, I live in a state with a hotly contested Senate race AND I have a hateful, bigoted, racist asshole incumbent for way too many years as my State Representative. The latter has billboard-sized signs on roads I need to travel (plus on my neighbors’ lawns along with Trump/Pence signs).  I’m so done. I put myself on another election news blackout this weekend and it probably won’t be the last.

(Unfortunately, the election is one of The Boy’s favorite topics of discussion.  I mean, I love that the kid is engaged in his political future and is educating himself about the candidates and the issues, but he likes to talk about it A LOT. That’s another reason why I need to step back from the news coverage; I don’t have the energy to explain things to him if I’m already weary of the daily barrage of crap.)

Currently … Reading

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Born to Run is proving to be a good election diversion. I’m a Bruce fan and have been looking forward to this memoir. It does not disappoint. It’s written much in the casual, poetic style of Bruce’s songs (“The bride and her hero are whisked away in their long black limousine, the one that drops you off at the beginning of your life.”) and nobody writes about place the way Bruce does.

“When it rains, the moisture in the humid air blankets our town with the smell of damp coffee grounds wafting in from the Nescafé factory at the town’s eastern edge. I don’t like coffee but I like that smell. It’s comforting; it unites the town in a common sensory experience; it’s good industry, like the roaring rug mill that fills our ears, brings work and signals our town’s vitality. There is a place here—you can hear it, smell it—where people make lives, suffer pain, enjoy small pleasures, play baseball, die, make love, have kids, drink themselves drunk on spring nights and do their best to hold off the demons that seek to destroy us, our homes, our families, our town.”

All this makes Born to Run a relatively fast read, which is good because it’s due back to the library on Wednesday.  love-warrior

This week I finished Love Warrior by Glennon Doyle Melton, another memoir that I loved and which will be on my Best of 2016 list in a few short weeks. Such a honest and heartfelt memoir. You can feel Glennon’s pain and strength on every page. I’m recommending it to everyone.

Currently … Cooking:
I’m getting more strict about only making one meal. The kids will be 15 in a few weeks and are more than perfectly capable of preparing something else if they’re not pleased with the fare offered. I’ve resigned myself to being unable to accommodate everyone.  It’s one thing to make small changes for dietary preferences but it’s another thing to make a separate meal altogether and I’m just not doing it anymore. If that means people are eating cereal or sandwiches every night for dinner, that’s fine with me.

Currently … Watching:
At the moment, The Husband is switching between the Eagles-Dallas game and the World Series. Also, everyone’s talking about “This Is Us” and so far I’ve been resisting.  I’m thinking I’m going to cave soon and see what all the fuss is about.

Currently … Linking:
My friends Andrew and William have a great opportunity to make a significant investment in their current business, Allegory Gallery, which is a bead, art and jewelry store in Ligonier, PA. It’s a wonderful space where they nurture creativity and artists, and I have a special fondness for them and Allegory Gallery from when they generously hosted a reading I did. They’ve launched a crowdfunding campaign for this endeavor and I encourage you to check out Project: Next Step if you’re inclined to support their efforts.

More Links I Liked This Week …
Bookertalk shares a personal remembrance of the Aberfan disaster in South Wales, a tragedy which I’d never heard of until reading her post.

For the remaining days of this godforsaken election, Nancy of Mixtape Midlife is encouraging women to acknowledge and celebrate each other — to give a nod to the nasty, if you will.

Nine more days.

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Sunday Salon/Currently … October 16, 2016

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Like many people, the political events of this past week have left me emotionally drained. It was a difficult week, a painful one, with so many of us feeling shaky and in solidarity with the women who so publicly and bravely shared their stories of sexual assaults that happened decades ago. It’s horrifying and astounding that nearly every woman among my Facebook friends has experienced this trauma. So many of us are feeling this so very personally and if you also have been reliving difficult memories this week, I hope you know this:  I see your pain, I hear your cries and your stories, and I am right there with you.

(And if you haven’t watched Michelle Obama’s powerful and emotional speech on this issue in its entirety, you need to do so. Right now.)

On Friday, I decided to initiate a little weekend social media break from reading any election-related posts or articles. It’s a tough balance for someone like me who is very much of a news and political junkie and who is definitely afflicted with FOMO (Fear of Missing Out).  But it felt necessary.

I think it was somewhat successful. Here’s what I did:

slow-cooker-lasagna-soup1) Made a fantastic recipe (Slow Cooker Lasagna Soup) that everyone in our family liked, which is unheard of. It’s from Skinnytaste: Fast and Slow, the new cookbook from Gina Homolka (Skinnytaste). I made some modifications to this recipe, using some leftover vegetarian meatballs instead of chicken sausage. I also didn’t have any gluten free lasagna noodles, so I made it with regular noodles and just didn’t eat those.   This is going in our regular rotation.

2) Planned some dinners for this week and next, and went grocery shopping (as per usual).

3) Went shopping with The Girl at Plato’s Closet and Target. She needed some long-sleeve shirts and I wanted to get myself some proper running clothes. I found a pair of capris, a top for when the weather gets cooler, and a sports bra.

4) Wrote a freelance book review and submitted it at the eleventh hour.

american-girls5) Read. I’ve been reading American Girls: The Secret Lives of Teenagers this week. Our school district is hosting Nancy Jo Sales tomorrow night for a presentation and discussion, and I’m planning to attend. I think this is an important subject for parents, and although I consider myself to be fairly knowledgeable about the realities of teens’ lives on social media and how to monitor it (which we do), this book is definitely eye-opening and educational. I’m not going to finish it before tomorrow night, though.

6) Ran.  I finished Week 4 of Couch to 5k, but I think I’m going to repeat this week. I’ve only been able to get through the first full run and most of the second.

Hope you had a great weekend!

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Sunday Salon/Currently … October Surprises

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So much to tell you this week.  First and foremost, though, my thoughts are with all who are being affected by Hurricane Matthew and his aftermath. I know several of our friends and family had some stressful days this week and others are still dealing with the storms. And Haiti–my God, what a heartbreaking situation.

Speaking of storms, I can’t even with the political storm surrounding Donald Trump’s 2005 commentary about being able to grope any woman he pleases because he’s “a star.” Why anyone is shocked by this is beyond me, because all one needs to do is reference any of his rants on women (or anyone else, frankly) to know this is the Republican nominee’s true colors. I’d considered writing a post about such, but you probably have a pretty good idea of my thoughts on the matter. If not, they’re summed up pretty succinctly by the “You’re So Vain” video by the Patriotic Artists and Creatives PAC, which marks the first time ever that the incomparable Carly Simon allowed “You’re So Vain” to be used for political purposes. It’s perfect.

And in the poetry realm, Pittsburgh poet Jeff Oaks (who I was honored to read with at Acquired Taste) pens “The God Abandons Donald Trump: a dream”.  (“Now the smoke of sharpening scythes clings to your ties; the voices of the women you thought you’d smothered in gold are rematerializing.“) A great poem.

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YA author panel of Caleb Roehrig, Emma Mills, Anna Banks and Marissa Meyer being interviewed by Julie Hakim Azzam. October 4, 2016, Pittsburgh, PA. Photo taken by me.

We missed most of the Vice Presidential debates this week (Good God, was that just this week?) because we were at the Fall 2016 Fierce Reads Tour featuring YA authors Marissa Meyer, Anna Banks, Caleb Roehrig, and Emma Mills.  The Girl loves Marissa Meyer’s books, so she was the main attraction for us, but all of the authors were incredibly funny and entertaining. We especially enjoyed Caleb Roehrig, who we talked with after the event. His first novel Last Seen Leaving was published that same day and I started reading it while in line to get our books signed. I can already tell it is one I’m likely to enjoy.

the-literary-others-an-lgbt-reading-event-oct-2016There’s an LGBTQ storyline in Last Seen Leaving, which makes it a fitting edition to The Literary Others.  I’m participating in this LGBT Reading Event which is being hosted by Adam of Roof Beam Reader in honor of LGBT History Month. This week I read I’ll Give You Something to Cry About, a novella by Jennifer Finney Boylan about a family on a road trip trying to find their place in each other’s lives and the world. I loved this story, just as I loved her memoir I’m Looking Through You: Growing Up Haunted about living in a haunted house (on Philadelphia’s Main Line!) and her journey as a transgendered person.

I’m currently reading Just Kids by Patti Smith (we’re doing an event at work with Patti tomorrow night, and I’m really hoping to finish this in time) and in the car, I’m listening to The Gay Revolution: The Story of the Struggle by Lillian Faderman.

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Writing … 
So grateful to my friend Elizabeth Pagel-Hogan, also a Pittsburgh blogger, who mentions my very short Halloween story “Extractions” in her post “Writers in Pittsburgh Are Going to Be Busy.”  This came as quite the surprise, especially since the Google Alert I have on every version of my name didn’t pick it up. Thank you, Elizabeth!

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Another surprise was discovering that my review of Judy Blume’s In the Likely Event was blurbed (with my name!) in the paperback edition!  I can’t believe it. This was a review I’d published in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette in June 2015, and I had no idea about this until The Girl showed me last night. Crazy!

 

OK, time for a little reading before making the popcorn for tonight’s presidential debate and whatever surprises await us then.

 

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In Memoriam: Dabney Montgomery (1923-2016), Tuskegee Airman and bodyguard to Martin Luther King Jr.

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Dabney Montgomery’s name is probably unknown to most Americans. His life, one spent on the front lines of history serving as a bodyguard to Martin Luther King Jr. during the historic Selma to Montgomery March in 1965, is one that deserves to be remembered and honored.

Six years ago, my girl and I had the wonderful opportunity to meet Mr. Montgomery, a Tuskegee Airman who died on Saturday at age 93. He spoke at our church and I blogged about it afterwards because his words made such an impression on me. It was exactly what I needed to hear on that particular day when I went to church for the first time in months, shaken to the core by the news of the murder of a woman with disabilities and in need of some semblance of solace and comfort.

Dabney Montgomery’s words and his commitment to justice resonated and stayed with me. Since meeting him in 2010.  I’ve thought about him on quite a few occasions since, especially during recent racial incidents in this country, and I’ll continue to think about him while being so glad our paths crossed.

With much gratitude for his life, I extend my condolences to Dabney Montgomery’s family, friends and loved ones.

Here’s a portion of my post from February 16, 2010:


“And I stood in the corner and thought, how can I change this situation peacefully? And that thought stayed in the back of my mind for many a month and year.”

~ Dabney Montgomery, Tuskegee Airman and bodyguard of Martin Luther King Jr., 2/14/2010

Walking into church on Sunday morning, Valentine’s Day, was like taking a walk back in time.

A walk alongside Martin Luther King Jr., en route from Selma to Montgomery.

A walk along the tarmac with the Tuskegee Airmen.

And so it was that I found myself in the presence of greatness.

Dabney Montgomery, a Tuskegee Airman and former bodyguard of Martin Luther King Jr.’s, was the guest speaker on Sunday at our Unitarian Universalist congregation.

We listened, a rapt audience of nearly 200, as Dabney Montgomery told us about a time where people believed African Americans were incapable of flying a plane, that because the arteries in their brains were shorter than others, they could not be taught such skills.

We walked with him down the tarmac, as he recalled Mrs. Roosevelt (“you remember Mrs. Roosevelt, don’t you?”) demanding to be flown by an African American pilot.

He received an honorable discharge from the Army in 1945, and upon returning home to his hometown of Selma, Alabama, he only had one thing on his mind.

Registering to vote.

We walked with Dabney Montgomery as he went to register to vote, and was told to go around back and enter through the back entrance, as he was handed three separate applications to vote. The applications needed to be filled out by three separate white men who could vouch for his character.

Not only was I black, Mr. Montgomery said by way of explanation, but I “didn’t have enough money in the bank [to vote], didn’t have a house.”

“And I stood in the corner and thought, ‘how I can change this situation peacefully?’ And that thought stayed in the back of my mind for many a month and a year,” he said.

Dabney Montgomery volunteered to be one of Martin Luther King’s bodyguards on the historic Selma to Montgomery March in 1965. We felt the spit from onlookers as the marchers walked by.

meeting-dabney-montgomery“After the march, I took the soles off the shoes I wore,” Dabney Montgomery explained. “You can see them for yourself in the back, there.”

Several months after that march, The Voter Rights Act of 1965 was signed.

We walked back into the room with Dabney Montgomery as he registered to vote.

“And this time, there was a black woman behind the desk,” he laughed.

And then he turned serious again.

Whatever the situation is, “it can be changed through nonviolence, but you must stand and never give in. Don’t compromise. [We need] nonviolence not only in the schools, but in the home,” he said, referencing recent bullying attacks and the shooting by a professor in Alabama.

“Nonviolence is a must if we are to survive,” Dabney Montgomery concluded.

We’ll walk hand in hand someday …” we sang, as the closing hymn, and as we joined hands and I reached for the African-American man’s hand next to me, I couldn’t hold back the tears any longer. (I hate crying in public, but in this case, I wasn’t alone.)

Afterward, I was chatting with people I hadn’t seen in months as my girl rushed through the door.

“Look, Mommy, they have cake!” she exclaimed, pointing to the refreshments.

“We can have cake,” I said, “But first, there’s somebody who I want you to meet.”

I told my girl that I wanted her to shake this man’s hand and thank him for his service to our country. That she would understand why when she was older.

We approached the throng of people surrounding Dabney Montgomery, taking photos with him as if he was a movie star. He welcomed all of this, even basked in the attention.

What does one say to such a hero? I thought.

“Your words were so inspiring,” I said. “Thank you for your service to our country. It is a real pleasure and honor to meet you.”

“Thank you,” Mr. Montgomery replied. A former ballet student, he bent down and shook my girl’s outstretched hand. And then, we all ate cake.

I went to church on Sunday seeking a spiritual boost.

But what I got was so much more.

“Hey, so many things I never thought I’d see
Happening right in front of me
I had a friend in school
Running back on a football team
They burned a cross in his front yard
For asking out the home coming queen
I thought about him today
And everybody who’s seen what he’s seen
From a woman on a bus
To a man with a dream
Hey, wake up Martin Luther
Welcome to the future
Hey, glory, glory, hallelujah
Welcome to the future …”
“Welcome to the Future” ~ Brad Paisley

 

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