Category Archives: Unitarian Universalism

bring to a boil

Worries go down better with soup.
~ Jewish proverb

Since the election, I’ve been attending our nearby UU church more regularly. (It’s helping.) The Girl also has been getting more involved with the teen youth group. For both of us, being among people who believe in the principles of acceptance, love, justice, equality, dignity and peace is providing some much needed sustenance during this tumultuous time.

On Sunday, The Girl and I helped out with a soup sale to raise money to support the youth group’s activities. That’s a picture of their efforts above: nearly a dozen slow cookers and stock pots simmering with Moroccan Chickpea Spinach soup, Potato Corn Chowder, a lentil soup and (our contribution) a gluten-free vegetarian Pasta e Fagioli.

The symbolism of many single ingredients commingled together to make this selection of delicious soups–ones based on ethnic flavors that are centuries old and that have been consumed by people throughout history and generations and under tyrants and dictators of their own–resonated with me on a weekend when the Celebrity President extinguished the lamp and slammed our country’s once-golden but now tarnished door on innocent people who had gone through the arduous legal process to come to America. Not to mention people living here legally and who happened to have the misfortune to be traveling home from visiting family or burying loved ones when they learned they were no longer welcome in the place they call home.

As I ate a nourishing bowl of vegetable soup and watched the teens serving the congregants steaming bowls of pasta, broth, chicken and beans, I thought of the analogy of the United States being a melting pot.  The teens are a composite of different life experiences and personal histories, of genders and of ethnic backgrounds. They themselves are a collective melting pot.

Barbara Mikulski, the former Senator from Maryland, once said that America isn’t a melting pot but a sizzling cauldron. She said those words in a speech about immigration in 1970. Almost half a century later, her words seem especially apt.

The funds the teens raised from their soup sale will support their participation in several activities–events for them to understand others’ stories and perspectives and to participate in social justice volunteer efforts to make our community stronger. Ingredients for a sizzling cauldron of a society at its boiling point and one where these kids are among our best hope and sustenance for the years ahead.

 

 

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Reflections on the New Year and My Best Books of 2016 (part 1)

Books Transform in Hourglass

Happy New Year, friends. The beginning of another journey around the sun, a time for reflecting on what has gone before and what the future holds. Given the state of the world, this particular year brings a heightened level of uncertainty. It probably goes without saying that I’m right there with you if you’re feeling a bit (or a lot) apprehensive and anxious about the days ahead and not wanting to embrace the usual spirit of hope and new beginnings that typically marks this day. 

I get that. I don’t tend to make resolutions anymore, preferring to embrace the practice of choosing one word (or three) as a touchstone for the year. (I’m currently vacillating between two words.) I also like the idea of using this time to release those regrets, disappointments, mistakes — and yes, unrealistic resolutions or goals — that we may have carried with us into the new year. Sunday’s service at our UU congregation was “Letting Go” where we did just that with a Burning Bowl ceremony, also known as Fire Communion. In this ritual, you write down on a piece of paper a word or a phrase that represents something you want to release and let go of for the new year. It was all very meaningful and cathartic, especially on New Year’s Day itself. I loved it.

I had much weightier concerns to let go of, but as far as book blogging goes I’m going to try and forego setting a goal for the number of books to read this year. I don’t even think I’m going to join the Goodreads reading challenge. I mean, I read 43 books in 2016 and somehow I feel like that was a lousy reading year because I didn’t meet my self-imposed, twice-revised goal. That’s not a healthy mindset when you consider that the typical American only reads four books a year. Given that, 43 books is an exceptional year and that’s how I choose to look at it. Maybe I’ll change my mind — who knows?

What I do know is that among those 43 were some excellent fiction and nonfiction. In this post, I share my picks for the Best Fiction of 2016, alphabetical by author’s last name. (I’ll do my selections for Best Nonfiction in a separate post, hopefully later this week.) I don’t limit my selections to works published in 2016, however in the case of my fiction selections all but one was released this past year.  I also don’t limit my annual list to a specified number of books (i.e., my top ten). If I loved all 43 books, I would be highlighting every one.

So, without further ado,  I recommend for your reading pleasure the five works of fiction (among them two novellas) that I consider to be the best that I read in 2016. Links take you to my full review, if I wrote one.

I’ll Give You Something to Cry About, by Jennifer Finney Boylan
In this novella, the dysfunctional Riley family is en route to Washington D.C. where their teenage son Otis, a violinist, will be performing at the legendary Ford’s Theatre. The road trip is symbolic of each family member’s individual journey. The characters — especially Alex, a transgender teen — are brilliantly rendered and with its suspenseful plot, Jennifer Finney Boylan creates a dark-humored gothic mood reminiscent of the best of Flannery O’Connor. (SheBooks, 2014, 81 pages)

Whiskey, Etc. by Sherrie Flick
Flash fiction tends to be accompanied by the assumption that it’s easy to write. Dash off a few sentences, a handful of paragraphs, and a story miraculously appears. But the brevity can be deceptively hard. In this collection of “short (short) stories”, Pittsburgh author Sherrie Flick gives her reader enough details in a sentence — or a phrase — to make a story feel complete while still eliciting curiosity about what happens next or the backstory that led up to the situation. With succinct, tight sentences, Flick tells all that’s needed to know (His divorce settlement reads like an episode of Dallas), using food as simile (Snow covered the ground like a thick milkshake) and hooking the reader with more memorable opening lines than a frat boy. My full review, here.  (Queens Ferry Press, 2016, 224 pages)

This is the Story of You by Beth Kephart
Water defines life in Haven, an island shore community off the New Jersey coast. The residents, among them teenage Mira Birul, her mother, and brother, live among the shore’s natural beauty but know that with it comes the potential danger of storms. With their emergency kits and plans, they’re prepared — until the day they’re not. During a hurricane, everything that Mira knows is questioned as circumstances are altered. Mira must figure out how to reorder everything — or, if not, to figure out how to live and understand and accept her new reality. This Is the Story of You, Beth Kephart’s twenty-first book, uses extreme weather and the topography as metaphor for the major storms of life. It’s about the resilience inside everyone, regardless of age, physical capabilities, or resources. More of my review here. (Chronicle Books, 2016, 264 pages)

Mothering Sunday by Graham Swift
Set in England, this decadent novella 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. 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 one. It’s also a tribute to the power of book bloggers because I would have never have known of this one if it wasn’t for JoAnn from Lakeside Musing’s enthusiastic review. (Knopf, 2016, 192 pages)

Reliance, Illinois by Mary Volmer
At 13, Madelyn Branch arrives in Reliance with her mother, Rebecca, who has answered an ad in the Matrimonial Times in hopes of a better life. But because Madelyn has a port-wine birthmark covering half of her face and continuing down one side of her body, Rebecca purposefully declines to mention Madelyn in her response to Mr. Lymon Dryfus, her future husband. Instead, she passes Madelyn off as her sister. Although Madelyn agreed to this deception, that doesn’t lessen her hurt and shame. Mary Volmer gives her reader more than a few characters to keep track of (but not too many that you get lost), several side stories that are connected, and a well-developed plot. Set in 1874, this historical fiction novel covers a lot of ground — women’s suffrage, reproductive rights, love and betrayal — all within the context of a fraught mother-daughter relationship. It’s a solid read that echoes the themes of a changing time. Read my full review here.  (Soho Press, 2016, 354 pages)

 

In an upcoming post, I’ll share my favorite nonfiction books of the year.

 

 

 

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

meeting-dabney-montgomery-2

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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a quiet knotted faith

Pope Mass in Philly

I’ve been glued to the TV this weekend, captivated by the coverage of Pope Francis’ historic visit in my hometown of Philadelphia. My kids are perplexed at my interest (“Why are you watching this? We’re not even Catholic,” and “I’ve never seen you so religious, Mom,” have been common refrains, as if they’re expecting me to join a nunnery).

But with the exception of the Festival of Families ceremony last night, which struck me as .. well, kind of weird … I couldn’t get enough.  Like millions of others, I love this charismatic Pope and how his words and actions challenges and inspires every one of us to become better people.

The concept of faith is something that I’ve been thinking a lot about over the past few months. Raised Lutheran, I attended a Catholic college where I met and fell in love with a guy who was raised Jewish. (We were the only two non-Catholics in the Religion in America class that was the catalyst for our becoming friends.)  We were married in the Lutheran church by a pastor who embraced a new, modern approach to Christianity that emphasized a message of hope and optimism and God’s role in making us better people. So much of who I am and what I believe is because of this pastor and his sermons that are still on my bookshelves today.

At one point during our Infertility Years, my sister-in-law invited The Husband and I to attend a local Unitarian Universalist congregation … and no one was more surprised than we were when we kept coming back. That church became a rock for us in those tough years.

But over the past two years, my attendance at a UU fellowship here in Pittsburgh has been sporadic at best to non-existent. It has nothing to do with the church itself, as I really like the people, the services, and the minister. Part of it is timing: in our house, Sunday mornings and afternoons usually find the four of us relaxing in our respective ways:  with football, baseball or hockey on TV, depending on the sport of the season; with a book and some time spent on the deck communing with the birds and weather; with writing; with a hearty soup in the crockpot. It’s a simple time, a quasi-Sabbath, a reprieve during the week. Mass offered at different times is something I’ve always thought the Catholics do right; in 2012,  82% of Unitarian Universalist congregations had 249 members or less, so there’s a ways to go there. (Then again, there isn’t that whole weekly obligation thing.)

Still, ours is a family that’s unchurched and unaffiliated. The consequence of such ranges from my kids not knowing the basic principles of religion (“What does ‘bless’ mean?” my son asked this morning, as I watched on TV the Pope embracing prisoners) to my frustration on how faith communities often fail to accommodate children with disabilities — yes, even UUs — and my guilt that maybe raising our kids with a lack of religious fundamentals demonstrates how much The Husband and I have screwed up as parents.

I’m not sure what the answer is – and to be honest, because I’m not even sure the UU faith is working for me right now, I can’t prescribe it as a balm for everyone in our family. (Although there will be a monthly Wednesday evening service this fall, so that might be something.) The Unitarian Universalist religion’s heavy emphasis on social justice and seemingly relentless focus on certain societal and political issues (important as they are) often leaves me weary because there’s only so much I can do, only so much attention I can give, especially when — as has been the case recently — my own world feels out of control and chaotic.

Where the brand of Lutheranism of my youth, the Catholicism of my college years, and the Unitarian Universalist affiliations in my adulthood have been the faiths I’ve identified with the most, my faith has become akin to a smoothie. It’s somewhat of a potpourri of the past and the present these days: reading Anne LaMott; listening to UU blogs and podcasts; meditating before bedtime; performing infrequent random acts of kindness; being observant of the skies; submitting a struggle online for a stranger to add to the Mary, Undoer of Knots Grotto.

I wonder if it is all good enough, and then, amazingly, as I watched Pope Francis celebrate Mass with hundreds of thousands in the streets of my beloved Philadelphia, the  Pope says yes, it is.

“Faith opens a “window” to the presence and working of the Spirit. It shows us that, like happiness, holiness is always tied to little gestures. “Whoever gives you a cup of water in my name will not go unrewarded”, says Jesus (cf. Mk 9:41). These little gestures are those we learn at home, in the family; they get lost amid all the other things we do, yet they do make each day different. They are the quiet things done by mothers and grandmothers, by fathers and grandfathers, by children. They are little signs of tenderness, affection and compassion. Like the warm supper we look forward to at night, the early lunch awaiting someone who gets up early to go to work. Homely gestures.

Like a blessing before we go to bed, or a hug after we return from a hard day’s work. Love is shown by little things, by attention to small daily signs which make us feel at home. Faith grows when it is lived and shaped by love. That is why our families, our homes, are true domestic churches. They are the right place for faith to become life, and life to become faith.

Jesus tells us not to hold back these little miracles. Instead, he wants us to encourage them, to spread them. He asks us to go through life, our everyday life, encouraging all these little signs of love as signs of his own living and active presence in our world.

So we might ask ourselves: How are we trying to live this way in our homes, in our societies? What kind of world do we want to leave to our children (cf. Laudato Si’, 160)? We cannot answer these questions alone, by ourselves. It is the Spirit who challenges us to respond as part of the great human family. Our common house can no longer tolerate sterile divisions. The urgent challenge of protecting our home includes the effort to bring the entire human family together in the pursuit of a sustainable and integral development, for we know that things can change (cf. ibid., 13). May our children find in us models and incentives to communion! May our children find in us men and women capable of joining others in bringing to full flower all the good seeds which the Father has sown!”  (Text of Pope Francis’ homily, 9/27/2015, Philadelphia)

May it be so. Blessed be.

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Podcast of the Week: Episode 3

Most of my podcast listening this past week happened on the beach, with the volume turned down just enough so that I could still hear the ocean. This usually resulted in putting me right to sleep for an afternoon nap – from which I would wake up in the middle of a sentence, often from a podcast several places down in my playlist. Completely disorienting, but utterly blissful.

Here’s what I’ve been listening to:

Books on the Nightstand
BOTN #334: “BookCon, Year Two (6/2/2015)
Ann recaps the second year of BookCon and recommends Judy Blume’s new book, “In the Unlikely Event.”

The Writer’s Almanac (6/9/2015)
Birthday of songwriter Cole Porter; mystery novelist Patricia Cornwell; the date the first “dime novel” was published and the 145th anniversary of Charles Dickens’ death. Poem of the day is  “Gender Studies” by Michael Blumenthal

The New Yorker Out Loud
“The Season for Reading” (6/8/2015)
Kathryn Schultz and James Wood join Amelia Lester and David Haglund to discuss the joys and challenges of summer reading.

All Souls Unitarian Church, New York City – Sunday Sermons
“Not Knowing Where” (5/31/2015)
“Whether by freedom of choice or by force of circumstances, we sometimes leave where we are, or what we’re doing, or whom we’re with. We get fed up or get fired, receive a bad diagnosis or happen upon good opportunity, decide to leave a failed relationship or commit ourselves to a new one. We do so in faith, somehow convinced of things we have not yet fully seen. We set out, not knowing where.”

NPR’s All Songs Considered
Six Musical Discoveries You Can’t Miss (5/27/2015)
Featuring music by Nao (“Inhale Exhale” from the album February 15); DeQn Sue (“Bloody Monster” from her forthcoming album “Snack); Doe Paoro (“The Wind” from an as yet untitled album that comes out this September); Wet (“Deadwater” from “Don’t You,” due out later this year); Briana Marela (“Surrender” from “All Around Us,” to be released in August)  and Anna B. Savage (“1” from the album “EP” which came out in late May). Of these six, I liked Doe Paoro’s “The Wind” and Anna B. Savage’s “1” the best, but I will likely listen to them again. Links to all of the songs can be found here.

New York Magazine’s Sex Lives 
“We Put Dr. Ruth on the Couch” (6/10/2015)
Interview with Dr. Ruth Westheimer and a discussion on “how quickly someone famous for being sexually progressive can come to seem sexually retrograde.” Also a discussion about how millennials are having less sex than other generations. 

Podcast of the Week

I liked all the podcasts I listened to this week, with the exception of the interview with Dr. Ruth by the folks from New York Magazine. (I adore and respect the hell out of Dr. Ruth – she was very educational for me, who spent many a Friday night as a teenager listening to her radio show on Trenton, NJ based 97.5 FM WPST, my favorite station at the time –  and the tone of the New York Magazine podcast came across to me as a little bit dismissive. Or maybe I’m just an old lady.)

If I have to pick one podcast for the week, I’m going with NPR’s All Songs Considered for introducing me to some new music.  The songs I liked might have to grow on me with a few listens, but sometimes that’s the case with the best ones.

Did you listen to any podcasts this week? If so, tell me which ones! 

 

 

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stages

Pittsburgh Daffodils, April 2013
Photo Credit: Melissa Firman

As every flower fades and as all youth
Departs, so life at every stage,
So every virtue, so our grasp of truth,
Blooms in its day and may not last forever.
Since life may summon us at every age
Be ready, heart, for parting, new endeavor,
Be ready bravely and without remorse
To find new light that old ties cannot give.
In all beginnings dwells a magic force
For guarding us and helping us to live.
Serenely let us move to distant places
And let no sentiments of home detain us.

“Stages” ~ Hermann Hesse

After you’ve attended a Unitarian Universalist congregation for awhile, you learn to expect the unexpected.

You don’t expect people to be so welcoming and open-minded. You don’t expect to hear words you’ve never heard spoken aloud in church before (or, at least, spoken aloud in a positive way). You don’t expect so much laughter, for church to be so damn fun. 

When talking to people unfamiliar with Unitarian Universalism, they often ask me (a UU for almost 13 years) what services are like. And I usually respond that while there are elements and rituals that are the same, each service is different. You know, just like people.

I arrived a few minutes late yesterday to the Unitarian Universalist Church of the North Hills, so I missed the first few lines of Hermann Hesse’s poem “Stages” spoken aloud as the opening prayer. With its theme of exploring endings of life, love, and friendship through poetry, I knew Sunday’s service was going to be a spiritual can of Red Bull for me, thanks to the last 15 months of unemployment hell/ freelancing/Bill’s cancer treatments, and this week’s news of accepting a new job.

I was proven more than right.  It had a sprinkling of Robert Frost, an abundance of Edna St. Vincent Millay – with meditation music provided by Art Garfunkel on CD.

All my plans have fallen through
All my plans depend on you
Depend on you to help them grow
I love you and that’s all I know
When the singer’s gone
Let the song go on
But the ending always comes at last
Endings always come too fast
They come too fast but they pass too slow
I love you and that’s all I know

We were asked to form a circle and hold hands for the closing prayer, a continuation of Herman Hesse’s “Stages.” We shuffled into place. (We don’t usually do this.)

I noticed P. then for the first time and grabbed hold of his hand. For whatever reason, I didn’t feel like I could let go. I didn’t want to.

I never met P. before that moment.

There are some people who you feel you have known forever, yet you’ve never met. Maybe they remind you of someone – or several someones. Maybe it’s something about their spirit that needs to connect with yours. Maybe it’s not for us to figure out. Regardless, I am one of those people who believes that we meet the people we meet for a reason. We may not always know it, but there is a purpose for our being here and our encounters are not as random as they may seem.

And so we stood, hand in hand, encircled, listening to the words of Herman Hesse as the closing prayer.

The Cosmic Spirit seeks not to restrain us
But lifts us stage by stage to wider spaces.
If we accept a home of our own making,
Familiar habit makes for indolence.

Visitors get a handmade nametag (if they choose), which is what P. wore yesterday.I took that as my opening cue. 

“Good morning!” I said. “Is this your first time here?”

His third, he said. He’s from out of state and here in Pittsburgh for medical treatments.

I nodded, resisting the urge to say dammit, I thought so. I mean, why can’t my instincts be this accurate about things like winning Powerball numbers? 

“You’re in a good place,” I said, meaning both Pittsburgh as a city and a medical community AND our UU congregation.

We talked about the church and our backgrounds, and P. told me a bit more about his condition. Unlike other converations I’ve had like this, suddenly I wanted to know more about this stranger I truly wanted to call my friend. I also know exactly where in my personal Checked Baggage Claim department this was coming from. I could feel the questions wanting to spill forth. Are you okay? Do you have family here? Do you need a ride to the hospital? Can I bake you a casserole? 

“If there’s anything that the church can do for you….” I said, telling him the name of our pastor, who wasn’t there yesterday.

We talked more, about endings of the most personal and final kind. About wishes and pre-arrangements and blessings. All this, in a matter of minutes.

The church started to empty. A friend came up to us to congratulate me on my new job. I wasn’t done with P. yet.

“I feel like I’ve known you forever, P.,” I smiled, giving him a hug goodbye. He smiled back. 

“Thank you, Melissa,” he replied.

“I hope to see you again soon,” I said, fully aware of the meaning of the phrase.

“And you will.”

We must prepare for parting and leave-taking
Or else remain the slave of permanence.
Even the hour of our death may send
Us speeding on to fresh and newer spaces,
And life may summon us to newer races.
So be it, heart: bid farewell without end. 

“Stages” ~ Hermann Hesse

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Welcome to the Future

I don’t pretend to know all that happened with the Supremes and The Voting Rights Act today.
This is not the go-to blog for your sound-bite legal analysis in that regard, kids. I confess, this is a little over my head.
But I hear Voting Rights and I think Dabney Montgomery.
I think of his words, the ones he shared with our Unitarian Universalist congregation in Delaware, back on February 14, 2010.
I read them again today.

So then. An encore post from February 16, 2010.

Living History (or, Spending Valentine’s Day in the Presence of Greatness)

Dabney Montgomery and Henry L. Smith,
two former Tuskegee Airmen who I met on Valentine’s Day morning


“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.

I knew that this particular service, commemorating Black History Month, was on the schedule, but I had forgotten that it was planned for Valentine’s Day.

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. Of the 5,000 Tuskegee Airmen, there are only 280 still alive.

“And you have two of them with you today,” he said, indicating himself and nodding to Henry L. Smith, seated in the audience.

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.

When people believed they could not be taught such skills, because they believed that the arteries in their brains were shorter than in other people’s brains.

We walked with Dabney Montgomery 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.

“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 Voting 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 8 year old daughter Betty 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 Betty 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 Betty’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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