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Saturday, December 29, 2012

How to Respond to a Death on the Street? Another Day in Paterson, NJ, December 28, 2012

I was walking to the bank in order to deposit a paycheck to cover my January rent payment. I don't like walking around after it gets dark. Paterson is a high crime area. I race against the setting sun. At winter solstice, time is not on my side. Already buildings' shadows announced evening's approach. And it was cold.

I rounded the corner of the new Rite-Aid drugstore. I saw a white man, supine, limp as a rag doll, on the sidewalk in front of the store. His face was a hideous color. White. Not "white" as in "Caucasian," but "white" as in the color of newsprint. Grey splotches, every bit as grey as the cement sidewalk on which he lay, interspersed with the white of his cheeks. His loose pants were pulled down below his buttocks. My very first thought was "I don't want to look at this. It is ugly. Watching this man die will ruin my day." Looking at the unnatural white of his limp face, I felt nauseated.

A black man was leaning over the white man. A black woman hovered near the white man's side. "Get his money," the black man instructed the woman. A wad of bills was jammed between the white man's shoe and the sidewalk. The woman grabbed the money.

The white man began to go into convulsions.

I have a slow reaction time. I felt confused. I stopped, wondering what I should do. I felt that maybe I was in someone's way, and felt I should move on. Maybe whatever was happening here was just between these three, and I was in their way.

I saw that the woman was using her cell phone to call 911. The black man was talking to the white man on the sidewalk.

"We are calling 911. You are right in front of a drugstore. Can we get you anything? Will anything help? Try to remain calm."

I stood there staring, stupidly. I realized that I was staring at the man's hideously pale face as if he were putting on some kind of a show. I tried to look away, but then realized I was trying to figure out what to do to be helpful, and that required that I look at the horribly pale man.

The men went into convulsions. His arms, hands, and legs began to shake in a weird way. It was clear he had no control over this. His head lolled against the bricks of the drugstore he was leaning against.

I could hear the woman shouting into her cell phone. I could hear the 911 operator asking all the tedious question they are instructed to ask. Where are you, asked over and over, even after the woman clearly stated where she was. What is the man doing, asked over and over, even after the woman clearly stated.

"Call the police," the convulsing man said.

I could see that 911 had already been called, but I wanted to be helpful, so I called the police. The police said that emergency vehicles were already on their way.

What to do, what to do.

I decided that I would squat down next to the convulsing man and speak to him in a soothing way as he died.

I was trying to map out my space on the sidewalk next to him when I could see some pink reappearing in his cheeks. The convulsions began to lessen. He stood up.

"You shouldn't stand up," I said. "You are still weak. You may fall. Then you will have a concussion."

"I need a cigarette," he said. "Do you have a cigarette?"

The black man approached a white man standing nearby and smoking. "Give that man your cigarette," he said. The smoker did so.

The man who had been going into convulsions took the other man's cigarette and began smoking it. More color appeared in his face. "I have low blood pressure. I need medication. My medication is in the drugstore. I need to raise my blood pressure. That's why I'm smoking." The woman who had dialed 911 mentioned the name of the medication to him. "Yes, that's it. I need my medication. I need my medication," he said, plaintively, as if we could give it to him.

I stood there, wishing I could move on. Sunset was coming and the bank would close soon. I realized I couldn't move on. I stayed out of a sense of duty. I'm glad I have that sense of duty.

I hate to say this, but somehow I didn't like the convulsing man. He seemed annoyed at all of us, as if we had caused the convulsions, as if we were denying him his medication. I was pissed off that he insisted on standing. We had become involved with him by giving our time and presence. His concussion would be our problem. He should relieve us all and sit back down. I was dumbstruck that he regarded a cigarette as a health aid. I wanted to move on! I just stood there. I would not leave till he was okay.

"I'm going to get my medication," he said.

"But the ambulance has not arrived yet!" I said.

"I'll be fine," he said. He tossed away the cigarette and went into the drug store.

The woman and I stayed outside, waiting for the ambulance. It took a while. Finally, off in the distance, the sound of a siren.

A big black guy got out. The woman and I explained that a young white male had fallen to the sidewalk and gone into convulsions, and that he had entered the Rite-Aid. We described his clothes. The ambulance driver pursed his lips as if we had made a mistake by calling him, or maybe as if the young man had made a mistake by leaving the scene. He was not happy about something, clearly. But he did his duty. He went into the store.

The black woman and I smiled at each other beatifically, with that gratifying sense of group accomplishment. "Happy New Year!" she shouted to me as she went her way.

"God bless you!" I shouted to her.

I went into the bank. When I got out, the ambulance was gone.

"Black." "White." I keep using those words in telling this story. I just want to say, a white man fell to the street in Paterson, New Jersey, and a group of black people gathered round, and did what they could to help him.

I'm not romanticizing Paterson. One of my students was mugged twice in my one day in Paterson. But this happens, too. Black people are kind, are helpful, do the right thing. Enough so that things should be different.

The work of Giovanna Cecchetti
I visited Giovanna, the Italian-American artist who lives upstairs. I had to return to her the blankets that she insisted on lending me when we were without heat or electricity for the better part of two weeks after Hurricane Sandy.

I was a bit nervous. Giovanna is an artist. What if I did not like her art? I had been in her apartment only once before, during the Sandy blackout, and I could not see her art then, because there was no light.

Also, Giovanna had told me that she has an attack cat, and I did not want to be attacked.

As soon as I entered the apartment, Giovanna's beautiful but vicious attack cat hissed at me. It's a long-haired black cat.

"Giovanna," I asked. "Why do you have such a vicious cat?"

She explained that Mike, the guy with the ponytail, had rescued Puss from the streets. He asked Giovanna to "foster" her until he found a home for her. It's been seven years.

Puss may have been abused, Giovanna said.

Mike never smiles, he moves like a bullet, and he wears leather jackets. He looks like a professional assassin. I see him putting out food for feral cats.

I wanted to offer Giovanna some thanks for lending me the blankets. I had tucked into them packages of chocolates, some of which had been sent to me by a kind Polish American woman, Anna Siemienowski Brzuza, who wanted to make sure that I'd have a nice package to open on Christmas day.

Giovanna and I chatted a bit. I need not have been nervous; I genuinely liked her artwork. I admired the view from her window. She sees what I see, only from higher up. She took out her binoculars and showed me a squirrel's nest in a tree across the street. She handed me some walnuts in the shell she purchased for the squirrels. I offered to place the walnuts under the tree as Giovanna watched, to see if the squirrels found them.


I'm touched by the love and kindness I witnessed in Paterson yesterday.

Giovanna Cecchetti's webpage is here.

More of her art can be seen here.

A terrific photo, by BC Lorio, of Paterson, NJ Mayor Jeff Jones.
BC Lorio's work can be viewed here.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Thoughts on Donating to the Newtown, Connecticut, Public Library

When I heard about the December 14 massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, I decided I didn't want to just cry and feel sad, I wanted to do something concrete, something tangible.

I did three things; maybe I'll blog about the first two later.

Today I did a third thing. I donated a copy of Save Send Delete to the Cyrenius H. Booth Library in Newtown, Connecticut.

I've known suffering. It has often seemed to me that my entire life has been one big waste. One reason I wrote Save Send Delete was to reach out to, and, I hoped, comfort, others who were suffering. In fact, I dedicated the book thus, "For those who suffer alone."

As soon as it occurred to me to donate a copy of Save Send Delete to the Newtown Library, the inner nagging voice began to needle me.

"Those people have suffered great tragedy. You have no right to attempt to comfort them.

You work is inadequate and unworthy.

You're not famous. No one in Newtown will read your book."

I didn't argue with the inner, nagging voice.

In fact, the inner, nagging voice just steeled my determination to donate Save Send Delete to Newtown. I mailed off my copy today.

Everything we do is inadequate. Because we never know what another is going through. And we have to stumble along and attempt to do the right thing, anyway. Because that is the best we can do.

I was in an accident earlier this year. Broken bone; stuck at home, unable to shop, unable even to open a can of food.

Two kind people brought me bread.

God bless them.

I don't eat bread.

And you know what? That is not the point. The point is that these people, without being asked, without waiting, not worrying whether or not they were doing the right thing, jumped in and did *something.* And that made all the difference. Even though I never ate the bread. Those two loaves of bread were talismans to me. Concrete evidence that somebody cared. Even though I almost never eat bread, I pray God for it every day. "Give us this day our daily bread."

I put the loaves in the freezer, in case I ever figured out what to do with them, and just grateful for their presence. When I lost electricity for two weeks because of Hurricane Sandy, the bread passed beyond any conceivable culinary salvation, and, regretfully, I threw it away. With gratitude.


So many times in my life people have said to me, "I saw you walking and I thought to offer you a ride but I never did."


"I wanted to apologize and I never did."


"I knew my coworker was depressed and I wanted to reach out to him and I never did. And then he killed himself."

Because I couldn't come up with an elegantly scripted apology … because I knew my little donation would not save the world … because I thought my paltry contribution would be laughed at …

One day, on a college campus, a woman I was sure I had never, ever seen walked up to me. She told me she was about to graduate, and before she left town, she wanted to thank me. I had no idea who she was. She reminded me. One day she had been confused about how to use a computer on campus and I explained it to her. "You were so kind. I'll never forget that. No one else would help me, but you did. I was having a hard time that day. Your help meant so much."

I still didn't remember her. I don't remember her now. I'm sure I didn't do anything special or out of the ordinary. To her it meant so much she remembered it for years.

We have to do something. We may never know which thing we did did any good. We can't let the nagging, needling voice win.

I still fear that my little copy of Save Send Delete sent to the Newtown Library is inadequate. I hope, if nothing else, they can feel about it the way that I felt about the bread.

Donations of inspirational books can be made to the Newtown Library's "Books heal hearts" campaign here.

Journal News Reports Names, Addresses of Gun Permit Holders

If you click on a dot on the map at the Journal News website,
you discover the name and address of the mapped gun permit holder. 

The Journal News of White Plains, New York, published an interactive map with names and addresses of pistol permit holders in Westchester and Rockland Counties. When you click on a dot on the interactive version of the map, on the newspaper's website, the name and address of the gun permit owner appears.

In "The Gun Owner Next Door," by Dwight R. Worley, The Journal News reports:

"In May, Richard V. Wilson approached a female neighbor on the street and shot her in the back of the head, a crime that stunned their quiet Katonah neighborhood.

What was equally shocking for some was the revelation that the mentally disturbed 77-year-old man had amassed a cache of weapons — including two unregistered handguns and a large amount of ammunition — without any neighbors knowing.

'I think that the access to guns in this country is ridiculous, that anybody can get one,' said a neighbor of Wilson's who requested anonymity because it's not known whether the gunman, whose unnamed victim survived, will return home or be sent to prison. 'Would I have bought this house knowing somebody (close by) had an arsenal of weapons? No, I would not have.'

In the wake of the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., and amid renewed nationwide calls for stronger gun control, some Lower Hudson Valley residents would like lawmakers to expand the amount of information the public can find out about gun owners."

Full text of the article is here.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Les Miserables: Why We Pay to Watch Others Suffer

Les Miserables is very old fashioned entertainment. It's a series of crescendo moments with no build-up, no backstory, no pause. It's like eating just the topping of the pecan pie, and not bothering with the crust or filling. We were just ten minutes into the movie when I had to look at my watch and ask, okay, how long can they keep this up? Climax after climax, plot twist after plot twist, tearjerking scene after tearjerking scene. Oceans! Mountains! Punishment! Suffering! Religion! Redemption! Will there be a break for lunch? Will we be able to catch our breath?

If you can watch this film without crying, I don't want to know you. The woman behind me was on the edge of her seat, not just because I smell good. The audience at the 10:40 a.m. matinee – the theater was packed – applauded at the end, and was very slow to leave the theater, even as the closing credits rolled.

Typical of big, fat, nineteenth-century novels, there are numerous implausible coincidences that drive the plot. These coincidences took me out of the movie, but that was a good thing. The human suffering onscreen was overwhelming: suicide, enslavement, exploitation of living humans' body parts, prostitution, disease, spite, malice, child abuse, starvation, sadism, a dying man escaping through very graphic sewerage. I did have to repeat to myself, "This is only a movie" even as tears streamed down my cheeks.

Jean Valjean is imprisoned for stealing a loaf of bread to feed his sister's starving children. He slaves for twenty years. He hauls a massive, capsized sailing ship. The scene does look like obviously fake CGI, but that doesn't make it any less gut wrenching. The workers sing, "You'll always be a slave. You are standing in your grave." They are the men we see in Sebastiao Salgado photographs of Third World laborers. They are Ilya Repin's "Barge Haulers on the Volga." Valjean's nemesis is the crazily obsessive policeman, Javert. They spar throughout the film, as Valjean's fate rises and falls and rises and falls and rises … you get the idea.

A story this big, this broad, and this implausible requires one hundred percent commitment from the performers. Hugh Jackman as Jean Valjean is superb. He believes. He emotes. He is as big as the story itself. Jackman is the heart and soul of "Les Miserables." I loved him. Anne Hathaway, Eddie Redmayne, Samantha Barks, Helena Bonham Carter, Sacha Baron Cohen – they all had me convinced. Russell Crowe was a surprising disappointment. He's a brilliant actor and I kept waiting for him to bring some fire, some ice, some power, some insight to Javert, the obsessive and punitive policeman who mercilessly hounds Jean Valjean. I wanted a memorable moment that would make me feel that Crowe's performance brought Javert to intimate life for me. That moment did not arrive.

I wondered while watching this movie whether it will be embraced by the political left or the political right. It is a deeply and unashamedly Christian film. A Catholic priest, emulating Jesus, is the catalyst. Valjean spends the rest of the film working to live up to the priest's Biblical example. "Les Miserable" is leftist in that it depicts the poor rising up, but then the poor fail their own putative saviors, and allow them to be massacred, alone. Javert, representing law and order, is a monster. The film's brief glimpse of heaven is like some limousine liberal's fantasy.

I think "Les Miserables" is as popular as it is for the same reason that Cinderella is so popular. When "Les Miserable" was a stage play, tickets were a very expensive and difficult to acquire luxury. It is ironic that a play about the wretched of the earth would be such a luxury entertainment. Why do we enjoy watching people much poorer and more desperate than we will ever be? Why do we pay for the privilege? Because we all see ourselves in Cinderella, in Jean Valjean, no matter how lucky we are. I'll certainly never stand in cold sea water with iron shackles around my wrists and neck, overseen by a cold sadist like Javert. But, along with millions of others, I saw my own struggles in Valjean, and thanked God that I didn't have it as bad as he. If Jean Valjean can go on, I can, too!

I wish the songs had been a tad better. There are a couple of good ones, "I dreamed a dream" and "Do you hear the people sing?" All the actors sing very well. Russell Crowe and Hugh Jackman sing especially well.
Cosette, "Les Miserables"
Ilya Repin "Barge Haulers on the Volga." Like "Les Miserables" opening scene. 
Sebastiao Salgado. Mine workers 

Monday, December 24, 2012

You Stupid Christians! Jesus is Really Mithra! Atheists Are So Much Smarter Than Christians!

I was attending Christmas – Sorry! – Solstice services at the Unitarian-Universalist Church of Bloomington, Indiana. An associate pastor of the church handed out a photocopy. The photocopy had a series of bullet points:

Mithra, the photocopy claimed, was an ancient Roman God. Mithra, the photocopy claimed, was the origin of the Jesus story. According to the pastor's handout:


Mithra was born of a virgin on December 25th, in a cave, attended by shepherds
Mithra had twelve disciples
Mithra performed miracles
Mithra was buried in a tomb and after three days rose again
Mithra was celebrated each year at the time of His resurrection (later to become Easter)
Mithra was called "the Good Shepherd"
Mithra was considered to be the "Way, the Truth and the Light," and the "Logos," "Redeemer," "Savior" and "Messiah."
Mithra celebrated a Eucharist or "Lord's Supper"


After the congregants read the pastor's handout, she gave us all a look that made me a bit queasy. Her look was triumphant, superior, and pitying. "See?" she said. "Those poor Christians. They are so deluded. They don't realize that their 'messiah' is really just a rehash of the Roman god Mithra."


In Save Send Delete I tell the true story of my yearlong debate, and love affair, with a prominent atheist. He also insisted to me that Jesus had never existed, and that the story found in the New Testament is all a mixed-up version of the Mithra myth. Interestingly, at an earlier point in his life, he had been a Christian.


"Atheists are smarter than Christians" is a very big selling point for atheism.

Are Christians just plain stupid?

Are Atheists just plain smarter?

Is Jesus based on the Roman god Mithra?

Mithra was originally not a Roman god. He was Zoroastrian, from Persia, today's Iran. Romans adopted Mithra, dubbing him Mithras.

It's interesting that many atheists, Pagans, and New Agers make the claim that Jesus is Mithra or Mithras and that knowing that makes them smarter and Christians stupid, and that saying that makes atheists, Pagans, and New Agers honest and Christians liars. It's interesting because the claim itself is false, and it is based on ignorance and misinformation.

In fact, the bullet points about Jesus equaling Mithra, listed above, have been proven to be false.


The Jesus-equals-Mithra claim insists that Jesus never existed.

The historical consensus is that Jesus did exist. Both religious and secular historians agree that Jesus was a flesh-and-blood man who lived and died in ancient Israel approximately during the years 0-33 A.D., give or take seven years. Historians agree that the New Testament documents are not myths, but are attempts to record the Jesus biography, and the history of the early church, accurately and factually. Historians agree that the earliest books of the New Testament were written between twenty and forty years of Jesus' death, by people who knew Jesus or knew people who knew him, and were part of a coherent and tight-knit community.

Very important to scholars, but less understood by lay people, is the question of genre. Folklore scholars like Bronislaw Malinowski emphasize that traditional people know the difference between myth and non-fiction account. The difference between genres was so strong that a tribesman could be punished for telling a folktale at the wrong time. The New Testament was not myth, was never meant to be myth, and only someone who knows nothing about traditional people and their worldview would assess the New Testament as myth.

Myths are meant to be symbolically true. The New Testament was meant to be reportage: this is what I saw. This is what reliable people saw. This is what was reported.

Why do historians, both religious ones and secular ones, agree that Jesus, the flesh-and-blood man, existed?

Several reasons.

One is texts.

Quick question – who is the best attested figure from the Ancient World? About whom do we have the most, and the most reliable, textual documentation?

Alexander the Great?


Julius Cesar?

No. Jesus.

Jesus – a Jewish peasant and laborer, a man who never traveled more than two hundred miles from his birthplace, who didn't publish anything, who never held public office, who had no significant wealth, who died a horrific slave's death – Jesus is the best attested figure from the Ancient World. We have better, and more reliable, textual documentation of Jesus' existence than we have of Alexander the Great's, or Julius Cesar's, or Cleopatra's.

Please do check this for yourself – do a Google search on attestation. It may well surprise you – how few documents we have attesting to some Ancient World figures, and how distant those documents are in time from the figures and events they cover. And then there is Jesus. Simply much better attested.

Another reason historians agree that Jesus existed: extra-Biblical mention. Jewish and Pagan authors mention Jesus.

Another very important reason historians agree that Jesus lived: behavior change. *Something* big happened in Ancient Israel around 33 A.D. A tiny group of impoverished nobodies overcame the Roman Empire.

Rabbi Shaye J. D. Cohen, the Littauer Professor of Hebrew Literature and Philosophy in the Department of Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations of Harvard University, said,

"The triumph of Christianity is actually a very remarkable historical phenomenon. ... We begin with a small group from the backwaters of the Roman Empire and after two, three centuries go by, lo and behold that same group and its descendants have somehow taken over the Roman Empire and have become the official religion, in fact the only tolerated religion, of the Roman Empire by the end of the 4th century.

That is a truly remarkable development, and a monumental historical problem, trying to understand how this happened. Of course, pious Christians have no doubt about how or why it happened: 'This is the hand of God working in history.' And the Christians of antiquity already made this very point; the fact that Christianity triumphed is proof of its truth.

For historians, that answer, while maybe correct on one level, on another level it is not entirely satisfactory. We historians would like to find other explanations for the triumph of Christianity and indeed, ever since Gibbon wrote his famous history, historians have been trying to understand what it was exactly that pushed Christianity to the top. I can't fully answer that question myself."

Okay. So, the Pagans, New Agers, and Atheists who say that Jesus never existed are simply wrong. The consensus of qualified historians is that Jesus existed.

What about all those parallels with Mithra?

Some are made up. That's right. Just invented. Mithra wasn't born of a virgin, for example. He was born of a rock. Roman Mithra religion does not predate Christianity, it postdates it. If there are similarities to be found in Mithraism to Christianity, and if any copying took place, Roman Pagan followers of Mithraism copied from Christianity, not vice versa.

One source used to support the claim that Jesus was copied from Mithraism is the scholarship of Lord Raglan, a folklorist not much respected today. In fact, his theories have been made fun of by other folklorists. Folklorist Francis Lee Utley made fun of Lord Raglan in his article, "Lincoln Wasn't There, Or Lord Raglan's Hero" that uses Lord Raglan's theories to prove that Abraham Lincoln never existed. Dorothea Wender wrote an hysterically funny article, "The Myth of Washington," proving that George Washington never existed.

The Jesus=Mithra claim is not the only New Age or Pagan attempt out there to discredit the historical Jesus. There are many. They are all over the internet.

An example. I recently saw the poster, above, on facebook.

This poster takes words from Jesus and attributes them to an Egyptian god, maybe Horus  – the god with the falcon head – or Anubis – the god with the jackal's head.

This attribution of Jesus' words to a jackal or a falcon could not be more inaccurate.

Ancient Egyptian religion was utterly hierarchical. It existed for one purpose – to guarantee heaven to the pharaoh. Heaven was a highly materialistic place where the pharaoh would engage in the typical activities of a rich Egyptian: hunting, boating, wearing gold and precious gems and applying heavy eye make-up. Yes, pharaohs brought their eye makeup with them to heaven, or so they thought.

Too, the pharaoh's retinue was, in some cases, murdered upon his death, so that he could enjoy his wives, concubines, and personal slaves in heaven. He dies, they all die, immediately, and are buried with him. The tens of thousands of slaves who built the pyramids were not mummified, and were denied heaven. The pharaoh's pets were mummified, and were allowed into heaven.

Christianity had an utterly different message: In God there is no Jew nor Greek, no male nor female, no slave nor free man. God so loved the world – every last person in the world – that he gave his only begotten son, so that whoever believes in him should not die, but should have everlasting life. This message would have been anathema to a pharaoh. Celsus, an early Pagan critic, condemned Christianity as a religion of "women and slaves," that is, the most despised of society.

I wrote to Betsy M. Bryan, the Alexander Badawy Professor of Egyptian Art and Archaeology at Johns Hopkins University, and asked her if there is any truth to the New Age claim that "The kingdom of God is within you" is written on a temple at Karnak, as some New Agers claim. She wrote back. No, it is not, she told me.

Again, a now discredited scholar is behind this falsehood. Gerald Massey was a nineteenth-century autodidact who insisted that Christianity was a copy of ancient Egyptian religion. Massey is not supported by Egyptian scholars. Massey came up with nine claims, rooting Christianity in ancient Egypt. Professional Egyptologists reject every one of Massey's claims.

Why put Jesus' words in the mouth of a jackal-headed God who never said them?

To discredit Christianity. By any means necessary.

It's funny that some New Agers claim that Christianity was copied from ancient Egyptian paganism, and others say it was copied from ancient Roman Pagan beliefs. Christianity couldn't have been copied from both!

I could say much more about the intellectual and ethical bankruptcy of the Jesus-equals-Mithra claim, or the Jesus=Horus claim, but I'll stop here.

And ask why.

Why do some Pagans, New Agers, and atheists make the already discredited claim that Jesus is a copy of Mithra?

I think it's because some want to reject what they think of as Jesus, but they don't know how. So they reject a made-up version of Jesus, like the Jesus=Mithra construct. Rather than attempt to deny Jesus' real truth, they make up a fake version of Jesus, and deny that.

As I record in "Save Send Delete," I'm a Christian not for one reason, but for many reasons. I traveled. I lived other faiths. I lived Paganism, Hinduism, Buddhism, Islam. I read. I studied.

Nothing I have ever experienced is at all comparable to the Jesus I encountered in the New Testament.

If you haven't yet read that document, I hope you will.

Merry Christmas.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Cardinal Dolan: Anne Marie Murphy Was Like Jesus. Tell Me Again Why Women Can't Be Priests?

Anne Marie Murphy: Like Jesus 
Dylan Hockley, age 6. Anne Marie Murphy shielded him as they died. 

Anne Marie McGowan Murphy was 52 years old and a mother of four. During the Sandy Hook Elementary School Shootings, she shielded her student, six year old Dylan Hockley, and other students, with own her body.

The Hockley family released a statement. "We take great comfort in knowing that Dylan was not alone when he died but was wrapped in the arms of his amazing aide, Anne Marie Murphy."

Cardinal Timothy Dolan eulogized Anne Marie Murphy:

"Because I know Jesus, I feel as if I know Ann Marie McGowan Murphy quite well! Like Jesus, Annie was an excellent teacher; Like Him, she had a favored place in her big, tender heart for children, especially those with struggles; Like Jesus, Annie laid down her life for her friends; Like Him, she has brought together a community, a nation, a world, now awed by her own life and death; Like Jesus, Annie’s life and death brings light, truth, goodness, and love, to a world often shrouded in darkness, evil, selfishness, and death."

It was only after an hour of tearful thought and prayer that I realized. I am a Catholic woman. The church tells me that I, and other women like me, can't be priests because we women are too unlike Jesus to be priests.

Cardinal Dolan's eulogy demonstrated why that reasoning is incorrect.

Cardinal Dolan's eulogy is online here 

Gun Advocates: Stop Exploiting the Holocaust

Gun advocates have been posting Holocaust photos on Facebook implying that if there had been no gun control, six million Jews, and the Nazis' millions of other victims, would not have been murdered.

This is not true.

Much of the Holocaust took place in Poland. As per the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact, Poland was invaded by both Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union in September, 1939. Both of these superpowers conducted genocidal warfare in Poland. Nazi Germany bombed Poland from the air. Civilian targets, including hospitals, were bombed. In the end, Nazi Germany used flamethrowers in house-to-house searches. The Soviets rounded up and murdered armed military officers in the Katyn forest and elsewhere. Some Poles had guns, but even if Poles had had the money such that every citizen in Poland owned a handgun, it is questionable that civilian handguns would have made much difference in the face of that kind of a coordinated invasion by two immense, genocidal superpowers.

In any case, the Nazis were experts at divide and conquer. Under Nazi domination, a significant number of Ukrainians used their guns to murder, not invading Nazis, but their own Polish neighbors. In the unlikely event that the US ever faced an equally overwhelming invasion as that which Poland faced – and such a possibility simply does not exist right now – the invading power could easily use Nazi-style divide-et-impera tactics to turn armed American whites against armed American blacks, for example.

As for the even more bizarre gun advocate argument that had there been no gun control in Germany, Hitler never would have risen to power, The Straight Dope reveals that gun advocates have been circulating falsified material on that question. You can read that Straight Dope column here.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Joe Palinsky Responds to The Christmas Suicide of a College Professor


Joe Palinsky read The Christmas Suicide of a College Professor and offered the response, below. Joe was my student and was there the day that Rachel Wetzsteon observed my class.


I remember when she came in and observed the class. I have a weird story to add to this. I left school the semester after your class, and returned in the fall of 2009 for two more semesters.

During the spring semester, sometime after winter break, I was walking around the Atrium near the offices of English professors. I was waiting to talk to my advisor, who was busy with other students.

I stumbled upon a box that said FREE on it. It was full of poetry books, text books, all kinds of fun surprises. I grabbed a few collections of poetry and of literature and went about my way.

Later I mentioned to friends on campus about the box, knowing they would be interested. After we returned to see what was left, one of my friends mentioned how sad it was. I was obviously perplexed.

"Why is it sad?" I asked of her.

"These books belonged to the professor that committed suicide."

It hit me in a weird way.

I never made the connection between Rachel Wetzsteon, the woman who observed our class that day in 2007, and the box of free books I found in the hall.

I also have an unconscious habit of collecting things from those who have committed suicide. I have articles of clothing, books... and I don't know how this collection started. Slowly, unknowingly, I would acquire things that later people would tell me the story behind. A jacket from a boy who died sad and alone on another coast, far from his friends and apartment... a t-shirt from a man who couldn't keep above anymore and who left no note... books from a professor... it is jarring, but... I also feel that I pay respect to them by holding on to what they left behind.

Even though I didn't know all of these individuals, their sadness, their longing, permeates the space between the living and the objects the dead have left for us to discover.

Psychic Medium and Attorney Mark Anthony on Evil and Hell

Psychic Medium and Attorney Mark Anthony

Mark Anthony is a lawyer as well as a psychic medium. Anthony speaks several times in his book, "Never Letting Go," about encountering individuals who are exploitative and destructive. One is a (living) gigolo who siphons funds from a naïve widow. Another is a (dead) child rapist and murderer.

The gigolo, Anthony reports, is cold, calculating, and artificial. As soon as the widow leaves the room, he adopts a different personality in a one-on-one conversation with Anthony. "I never felt any emotion from him. He felt like an empty shell." This resonates with one definition of evil: the absence of God. "I don't do guilt," this "icy, malevolent, predatory sociopath" tells Anthony. Guilt is normal in normal people when we do bad things. The absence of guilt is not a New Age blessing. It's the diagnostic mark of a sociopath. Is being an evil person a question of choice, the result of free will, or is it the inevitable result of chemical imbalance? Anthony doesn't address that question, but he does report that sociopaths "immerse themselves in pools of negative energy."

The child killer's soul, Anthony reports, is not in the light. "I feel despicable," Anthony writes, when attempting to convey how the child killer's soul made him feel. "The spirit feels hollow" –again – evil as the absence of God. Channeling the child killer's spirit, Anthony wrote, made him feel a desire "to remove slime" from his body. "He's on the other side, but he's not in the light…I see an image of an empty but filthy garbage can. That's how he sees himself…this spirit fills me with revulsion…he is reflecting on everything he put you and your family through…he is in a hollow and distant place, devoid of the Light, in order to reflect on the horrors he inflicted on so many people…perhaps he will ascend … only God has the power to make that decision" Anthony reports. I would conclude that the child killer is in hell, a place many choose to deny.

There is a bright side to the evil Anthony encounters. People like Vicki Rios-Martinez, the mother of the murdered child, Junny Rios-Martinez. In her work to protect children, Vicki is, Anthony reports, a living saint.

I've focused on the two dark passages in the book only because most other psychics don't tend to focus on the dark side in their books. Most of Anthony's book is upbeat and heartwarming. It's well written and chock full of evidence of the continuance of the spirit after physical death.

Gay Students at Christian College Announce Their Existence; College President Denies Their Existence and Sues Them

NOT students at Patrick Henry College

Gay students from the Christian school, Patrick Henry College, recently began a blog describing their experience of being gay and Christian. The college's president, Michael Farris, denied that the students exist. There are no gay students at Patrick Henry College, Farris insisted, and there never have been. He threatened to sue the bloggers for using the name "Patrick Henry" in association with homosexuality.

As I say in "Save Send Delete," I am one of millions of Christians who understands the Bible and Christ's example as teaching me to love all, including homosexuals, and as teaching me that God loves all, including homosexuals. I support that position in this essay, Homosexuality and the Bible.

A news story on Michael Farris v. gay Patrick Henry alum bloggers is here.

The students' blog is entitled "Queer at Patrick Henry" and it is here

Friday, December 21, 2012

Jesus Counsels Parents of a Murdered Son

I hadn't planned on blogging about murder so close to Christmas...

Having said that, I just stumbled across a video on youtube that I wish I could share with aggrieved parents of murdered children. Psychic medium Mark Anthony connects with a young man who was tortured and then murdered. Anthony conveys to the parents of this son that the son wants them to hear this line from the Bible, "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do."

You can see this moving video here

Poet Christina Pacosz on Cousin Lilian, Who Shot Herself at Age 43


Christmas is a challenging time for the poor, for those who are alone, for the unemployed. I recently posted "The Christmas Suicide of a College Professor." In response, poet Christina Pacosz offered the poem, below, about her cousin.

Lillian, Who Shoots Herself at 43, Speaks

Listen, when I pulled the trigger
I wasn't thinking about him. It
wasn't like what she says at all. What does she
know? My mother with her toothy laugh
gathering me up with the others
for our flights through the dark
streets to the dimly lit church
where we'd huddle around her
as she knelt and prayed the drunk back home
to sleep and some sort
of calm. The eye of the hurricane
was more like it.

When I put the gun to my head
I was remembering who I had been then
lost all those years. A child,
a foundling dumped on the doorstep, though
I had a mother and a father.
With him I was home somehow, don't ask
me to explain. But not before or since
have I felt such welcome, such greeting:
Come in, come in.

Whoever she was, I liked her. Finding her
was the thing I loved best about him,
but he ditched me. I was low class, poor –
you know the story – and he was moving on up.
I would be a drag, a weight, the millstone
around his neck. He married
someone else.

I had one boyfriend after another
and a daughter I hated, but never
that girl again who was at home
in her bones. Never
that girl again, loving
her home, these bones.

Christina wrote: "My cousin Lillian Pacosz killed herself. I don't know the exact date, but she would now be older than me, and I am 66.

I wish I still had some photos of her but we lost almost all of the family photos in that awful fire that killed my father. People have sent me photos they had but none of Lillian. Her mother, my aunt, took all the kids to the nearby parish church – her sanctuary during the days when churches were still open all night and women had nowhere else to go to avoid the violence usually still waiting for them at home."

Christina Pacosz's latest poetry book, "How to Measure the Darkness," is available at Seven Kitchens Press

Is Adam Lanza in Hell? Is Nancy Lanza Guilty? Is Nancy Lanza an Innocent Victim? How Does God Decide?

Adam Lanza. Would you send him to Hell? 
Matthew 25:32: "All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats."

Is Adam Lanza in Hell?

Is Nancy Lanza in Hell?

Was Nancy Lanza the first innocent victim of the December 14th shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School?

Was Nancy Lanza a guilty perpetrator?

I googled "blaming Nancy Lanza" and "Nancy Lanza guilty" and found many debating the question.

One answer: those who assess Nancy Lanza as guilty give the December 14th death toll as twenty-six. Those who assess Nancy Lanza as a victim give the December 14th death toll as twenty-seven. President Obama gave the death toll as twenty-six.

Nancy Lanza gave her son guns and allowed him to play the ultra-violent video game "Call of Duty." Maybe she is guilty.

Is there any reason to give the death toll as twenty-eight? As including Adam Lanza?

Is Adam Lanza in Hell?

I asked on facebook. A devout Christian, a Jehovah's Witness, an atheist, and a New Ager each provided answers. Each answer was well thought out and well supported.

Atheists, of course, say that the question doesn't matter.

It does, though.

Do we, as a society, assess Adam Lanza as an innocent victim of mental illness? Or as an active agent who freely and consciously choose his horrific and cruel path?

One atheist on facebook insisted that "Adam Lanza was probably that way from birth."

I doubt it. American gun culture, the ultra-violent video game "Call of Duty," also beloved by other shooters, and Nancy Lanza all had an impact on Adam Lanza, impacts that contributed to his choices.

Atheists, in recent years, have been arguing hard for their being no such thing as choice, no such thing as free will. Adam Lanza, like the rest of us, was just a wind-up toy, a machine responding to physical stimuli.

In "Save Send Delete" I describe my debate / love affair with a prominent atheist. He would advance such ideas in our discussions. No such thing as free will. No such thing as a soul.

As a Christian, I believe in free will. I believe in a God who separates the sheep from the goats, as Jesus said in the book of Matthew. What separates us? The choices we make.

But I also believe in Universal Salvation, or Universal Reconciliation, an ancient Christian belief.

What I wonder about is choice. I wonder about the road Lanza took to his own personal Hell. Guess I'll never know.

Is Nancy Lanza guilty? Is she to be blamed? I do feel sorry for her. I also don't think giving guns to an obviously socially handicapped young man is a wise choice. Leviticus, 19:14, tells us not to put a stumbling block before the blind, nor to curse the deaf. You don't add to someone's handicap.

So I guess I'm one of those who give the toll of the innocent dead we mourn as twenty-six.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

The Christmas Suicide of a College Professor


"I am sorry to have to tell you that you were not chosen to go forward to the next stage of the selection process. There were a large number of superb candidates that we were unable to include on the interview list. Many factors that had nothing to do with the intellectual quality of your dossier contributed to our decisions. Those of us who do have fulltime college teaching positions are acutely aware of the difficulties faced by adjunct professors who do not, and of the cruel realities of the very competitive academic job market..."

"You were not selected…"

"We wish you the best of luck…"

"Another candidate was chosen…"

Day after day

Week after week

Envelope after envelope

Email after email

Year after year.

Don't talk to me about dreams deferred. I could school Langston Hughes.

Next year I will be able to buy a car, and go places, and meet people, and make friends…

Next year I will be able to afford to go to the dentist…

Next year, I'll be able to afford health insurance, and I can finally get this lump checked out…

Next year…

That never comes.

In "Save Send Delete," the story of my email debate / love affair with a prominent atheist, he and I debate the ethics of suicide.

I asked this world-famous atheist why I should not kill myself.

I told him the same story I've told everyone who asks why I have no life.

Got a PhD.

Published in the best peer-reviewed journals.

Won prizes.

Received excellent reviews from superiors and students.

And, after five hundred applications, I







My hopes, my future, my body, die, by pieces.

My atheist could not come up with a God-free reason for people to go on living when their lives suck. In fact, he said to me that my "spirit" was reason enough. And then he apologized, as an atheist, for resorting to the word "spirit."

The inherent value of human life, no matter the circumstances, is a Judeo-Christian concept. And so we have atheists like Peter Singer arguing that parents should be allowed to kill their own children.

Singer DOES hold a fulltime college teaching job, by the way. Not only that, but he occupies an endowed chair, the height of academic success. At Princeton, an Ivy League university. He teaches ethics. You can't make this stuff up.


I spend all fall applying for jobs, and the week before Christmas and Solstice, Andy Williams' "Most Wonderful Time of the Year," the shortest day of the year, the rejections come in. There are professors out there, the chairs of search committees, who spend Christmas Eve – yes, really – sending out rejection emails. No doubt these Professors Scrooge drive Priuses and vote Obama and are the models of Political Correctness.

Others' Christmas festivities twist the knife in the heart.

I think about suicide.


For every one of the five hundred jobs I've applied for, I've included laudatory letters of recommendation from established, even famous scholars.

A few years back, my class was observed by prominent poet Rachel Wetzsteon. Rachel was unstinting in her praise:

"Dr. Goska has created an atmosphere where students feel completely comfortable with each other to a degree I have seldom witnessed in my many years of teaching, and I take this fact as testimony to her own rich skills as a teacher.

Danusha balanced rigor with humor, supportive kindness with bracing toughness. The students are lucky to have a teacher so committed, intelligent and gifted, and this school is deeply fortunate to have her here."

Every fall, before the job search began, I would go to Rachel's office, and give her envelopes with stamps on them, and beg her to address them and fill them with letters of rec for me and mail them out.

I would come in to her office feeling like the Little Match Girl begging the revelers for crumbs from their feast, and Rachel would compliment me and my writing and my teaching and make me feel as if I were every bit as worthy as she.

She would smile her vast, warm smile and I would wonder at her abundant hair.

In fall of 2009, Rachel enjoyed that mystical plum enjoyed only by fulltime college teachers: a sabbatical. She got to take the semester off, and she would still have a job to return to!

I contacted Rachel at home. And I begged. "I know this is your sabbatical, and I am so ashamed to ask …"

"Sure," she said. "I'll gladly serve as a reference for you."

"How are you, Rachel?" I asked, hesitantly. Who was I to ask an academic queen, a poetry star, how she was? But I asked. "How are you?"

"I'm going through a rough patch."

Rachel had been so kind to me. I wanted to be kind to her. I felt like the mouse in Aesop's fable. Can a mouse offer a lion … anything?

"What is it, Rachel? You can tell me."

A bad break-up, she told me.

"Rachel!" I insisted. And I did not say – please take this seriously even though I am naught but a lowly adjunct professor who has published in small publications! – "Rachel!" I said. "You have been kind to me. Let me be kind to you. I can take the bus into the city and you can cry on my shoulder." I can travel from Paterson, the city where adjunct professors live, to Manhattan, where fulltime professors live, and comfort you. I can. "I can read your cards!"

"Maybe," she said. "But not today." And she again said she'd be sure to get the letters of recommendation out.


2009 was an especially bad year. Applied for so many jobs I would have been perfect for. Was rejected for so many jobs I would have been perfect for. Ready to go. I designated two men: an editor who had published my work, and a former grad student friend who, as he had ridden from academic success to success, had become distant. They would clean out my apartment and, in exchange, inherit my bank account.

The days got shorter and darker as I dully trod toward the ultimate darkness.

And then I got an email. My book, "Bieganski," had been accepted for publication.

Well, no way I'd kill myself then.

And so I didn't.

On December 22, 2009, the day after the winter solstice, the day the hours of daylight begin to increase, I signed the contract with the publisher.


On January 21, 2010, I attended a meeting on campus for adjunct professors. I was handed an agenda. Three quarters of the way down the colorful page – the paper was goldenrod colored – "The memorial service for Rachel Wetzsteon…"

And my conscious awareness immediately began to play hide-and-seek with the meaning of the words.

"Memorial service": when do people hold memorial services? For what reason? Well, when someone dies. Okay, but at what other times? Can't think of any. Maybe Rachel won another award for her poetry? No, that would be an "awards ceremony." What might "memorial service" mean in this context? It can't mean anything else but what it means.

She hadn't been sick. She was aggressively alive. Her springy-haired, vast-smiled aura wrestled the air in the room to the ground and she became the name in lights, the main character of any space she occupied.

It could have been an accident.

It wasn't an accident.

Rachel Wetzsteon ended her own life on either Christmas Eve or Christmas Day, 2009. I was told that she used gas. I do not know if that is true.


I volunteered to speak at the memorial. My offer was declined. Fulltime professors spoke.

I remember one comment especially. "This is such a tragedy, such a waste. The tenure committee voted unanimously to grant her tenure."

After all the fulltime professors were done, and people were beginning to rustle their programs and to look at the clock and to wring squeaks from chairs by repositioning their butt cheeks , Rachel's students were allowed to speak.

"You thought you were finished," one said. "I disagree."

Another, "I wanted to be like you when I grow up. Now I can't."

The students' frank pain; their unavoidable exuberance, even at a wake; their embrace and their celebration of the campus as a place where they could color outside lines and reimagine life and meet others doing the same: they made the memorial service.

The professors' obsession with status and cold emphasis on CV bullet points as that which makes a life worth living made me squirm. The love I felt for the students, and the alienation I felt from the professors, says much about why I can't get a fulltime college teaching job, and why I keep trying.


I resolve to pray the rosary daily. I pray the Sorrowful Mysteries on Tuesdays and Fridays. The fifth sorrowful mystery commemorates Mary witnessing the dead body of her son, Jesus, on the cross. We Catholics pray for "The Great Gift of Final Perseverance" – magnum usque in finem perseverantiae donum – when we pray this mystery. I pray for Rachel.


You know what I'm saying here. Maybe you have said it, too. "She had everything to live for." And she didn't.

A reviewer, Adam Kirsch, said of Rachel's poetry, that it manages "to turn Morningside Heights – a quiet, bourgeois neighborhood near Columbia University – into a theater of romance, an intellectual haven, a flaneur's paradise. Her poems evoke the kind of life that generations of young people have come to New York to live – earnest, glamorous, and passionate, full of sex and articulate suffering."

I mean, yeah.

And I live in a slum and trod, alone, over garbage every day, and sleep alone every night, and have no hope.

And I'm alive.

I don't get it. I really don't.

I mean, I'm Catholic. And we fear hell. Suicide is a mortal sin.

Enough with the questions.


It's another Christmas coming up, and the rejection letters are coming in daily.

I have nothing to live for.

I will think of suicide again this year.

And I will not. 

Rachel Wetzsteon

Rachel Wetzsteon's much lauded book "Sakura Park" is available at Amazon here.
Robin Kavanagh, a former student of Rachel Weztsteon, blogs about her movingly here

Monday, December 17, 2012

Happy Halloween! At Christmastime!

I don't own a car and walk a lot. I see a lot. Whenever I'm given a ride, I am amazed at how much less I see from the window of a moving car than while walking.

I commute to work on foot.

I pass a house, an exquisite Victorian. It's in a borderline neighborhood between real slum and decent but undistinguished New York area commuter suburb. Cape Cod houses, small lawns, minimal beauty. At one end of this block, a small red brick factory exudes noxious fumes. One man's yard smells of dog poo. This Victorian house, vast and stunning, stands out.

And then, in October, it goes totally crazy.

For years I've been telling my students, someone, please, study this house. How and why the occupants do what they do for Halloween.

Finally, this year, Alexandra Milteer, the very best student possible, bravely went to the house and filmed it, and interviewed its occupants. Her excellent film is linked below.

Now, finally, someone can see one of the things I see when I walk.

See Alexandra Milteer's amazing film of an amazing house HERE

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Do You Believe in Evil? Do You Believe in Satan? Do You Believe in Prayer? Sandy Hook Elementary School Shooting

Children wait outside Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, after the shooting.
Reuters. Michelle McLoughlin. December 14, 2012

After I left my working class, Catholic, immigrant hometown and began mingling with ethnically and socioeconomically superior people, I rapidly realized that these better people were not better in every way.

For example, many of them would say some version of the following: "I don't believe in evil" or "I have eliminated the word 'evil' from my vocabulary."

Yes, they would actually stop conversations in which the word "evil" was used. "No. We can't have this conversation. You just used the word 'evil.' There is no such thing as 'evil.' Some people are hurt, are misunderstood. We can't judge them. Judgment is primitive and backward. I don't want to have any part of that judgmental mindset."


I believe in evil. I believe in Satan. In my book, "Save Send Delete," I retell the story of my yearlong debate, and love affair, with a prominent atheist I first saw on television. At one point in our debate, I tell him who Satan is to me. An excerpt:

"Satan is not a mustachioed trickster with horns and tail in a tight, red, vinyl jumpsuit. My best conception of Satan is this: in a human being, a religious certainty of one's own personal importance, combined with a cultivated conviction of one's own unjust victimization, and a refusal to see God, and good, in one's fellow human beings. That recipe left to percolate in the human soul has been the justification for an infinite amount of pain.

I live a small potatoes life. My Satanic acts will never earn me a slew of tribute webpages like those fans dedicate to serial killers. But that I push on public transportation, or speak subtle, clever putdowns to my students, or snap impatiently at cashiers who have strived to smile at me while handing me my change, or blind myself to the good in the world, tells me that my rejection of God creates a vacuum, a vacuum that Satan is happy to fill."


"Faith and Doubt at Ground Zero" is a riveting PBS documentary about the impact of the 9-11 terrorist attack on the spiritual lives of survivors and spiritual thinkers. I was deeply grateful for, and moved by, the program's overtly religious content. I value religion and I recognize its power. "Religion" has become almost a dirty word in our New Age. So often we can't talk about it except with the kind of nervous prohibitions that used to be reserved for pornography; Political Correctness vitiates our words and renders them insipid: Christmas trees become "holiday trees;" Islam becomes "the religion of peace."

Psychiatry and religion scholar Ann Ulanov said things about evil in "Faith and Doubt" that give me goose bumps. An excerpt:

"You can go to the place you've been hurt or threatened to be destroyed, or pieces of you have been destroyed, mangled, treated as if they are of no value. You can get to your outrage, your absolute determination to retaliate for vengeance, and you can understand how you feel that because of something done to you.

But deeper than that, it's like an undertow of the ocean. It's like an undertow current. There's something that you contact that's much bigger than what you did to me or what I'm going to do to you. And you get caught in that; you're in something that's outside yourself. The personal explanation is not enough. In the larger, psychological explanation -- archetypal pattern of energy, unconscious instincts of hate and cannibalism -- even that isn't enough. That's involved, too. It's as if one has a spell cast on one. But you feel you're caught in what the New Testament calls 'principalities and powers.' It's a power that catches you, and you are not enough by yourself to defeat it."

My friend Arno had been horribly abused, almost murdered, by his own father. His father was a survivor of Plaszow, the Nazi concentration camp depicted in the film "Schindler's List."

I had also been an abused kid.

Arno asked me how I survived the abuse.

I told him that Mary was a great help to me. When I was a kid, I could go into any Catholic church, preferably an empty one, and kneel before the statue of Mary. She was my loving, maternal presence.

Arno told me that he envied me Mary. He had grown up Jewish, in a tradition that did not include images of loving mothers or saints. 

My brother, Phil Goska, is at the far left of this picture. 
My brother, Phil Goska, was killed on my birthday. My sister told me a story recently of how out of it I was at Phil's funeral. She described a tear-streaked sleepwalker. I don't remember that. I remember busily making sandwiches for all the relatives who came to the funeral. This much is true: nothing anyone said reached me.

What did finally reach me, and I this was such a moving experience that I remember it to this day, was opening a condolence card and finding, inside, a picture of Mary cradling her dead son, Jesus.

And the thing is, even at the time, I remember thinking, Wow, this is an over-the-top, graphic, heavy-handed and even corny depiction of Mary cradling crucified Jesus. It is an aesthetically unworthy painting!

That's what made it work for me. The over-the-top-ness, the graphic depiction of a crucified corpse, the maudlin sentimentality of an obviously mourning woman.

That bloody, corny, heavy-handed painting of Mary and Jesus was the very first thing that reached me in my grief after my brother was killed.

Hail Holy Queen
Hail, holy Queen, Mother of mercy, our life, our sweetness and our hope!
To thee do we cry, poor banished children of Eve!
To thee do we send up our sighs, mourning and weeping in this valley of tears!
Turn then, most gracious advocate, thine eyes of mercy toward us, and after this our exile, show unto us the blessed fruit of thy womb, Jesus!
O clement, o loving, o sweet Virgin Mary!
Pray for us that we may be made worthy of the promises of Christ!

Willaim-Adolphe Bouguereau "Pieta" 

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

"Green Vase" About Love, Servitude, Spite, Lust, and Cleaning Supplies


Lunch Ticket, a literary journal published by Antioch University, is running my non-fiction piece, "Green Vase."

You can read "Green Vase" here.