OK, It Was Just a Few Hours

In the early hours of Saturday morning, April 28th, Aunt Aldea slipped away. I’ve spent several hours today talking with various airlines making plans to fly to Gardner, Massachusetts for the funeral on May 2nd. As I remember her my mind is filled with slides, but mostly I’m getting my mind around the fact that I’ve known her all my life, but only the last 46 years of hers. My earliest memories consist of when she and Uncle Bill still ran Bill’s Market on Cross St. in South Ashburnham. They closed it in the late 1960s when his health began to fail. They converted it into a garage (since it was next door to their house) and game room. Shortly after he died in 1981 I was going through stuff there and found a revolver. It was the first (and only) time I held a handgun and couldn’t believe it was there. When I asked Aunt Aldea about it she matter of fact told me that they kept it around when they had the store. Fortunately I was able to convince her to get rid of it.

I know this happens whenever we lose somebody of a previous generation but I don’t remember when she wasn’t there; neither does my mother. I think a great deal about the The Greatest Generation but Aunt Aldea was from the generation before the Greatest Generation. These were the folk that remember World War I and the first time they saw an airplane. When we lost her yesterday morning we lost countless stories and memories. I will miss her.

Aunt Aldea

A few weeks ago I wrote a post about my Aunt Aldea and how she is beginning to slip into the last stages of her life. I just heard from my parents that it may be within the next few days. She’s in the nursing home and is essentially nonresponsive. This process could take just a few hours, or it could stretch into a week or longer. This has always been the most mysterious part of the dying process for me. I believe the person is beginning the transformation from this life to the next but none of us really knows what it is like. We always assume that the person can hear (that’s why it’s bad taste to start dividing up the stuff in their room while they are present) but don’t even know that for certain. I’ve seen people have conversations with people who died years before and I suspect they may be talking with them. The good news is that the pain medication seems to be working and she isn’t in any real discomfort. She will be missed.

Does This Put Limbo in Limbo?

This is probably only amusing to us Catholic who remember the Baltimore Catechism but the Vatican has updated its teaching on limbo. The Church used to teach that a person had to be baptized to go to Heaven. This led to the obvious question of what happens to babies who die before they are baptized; clearly they did nothing wrong and nobody wanted to think they spent the rest of eternity in Hell alongside people who missed mass or used birth control. Out of this concern came the belief among some (though never an official teaching of the Church) that these babies went to a place called limbo. It wasn’t Heaven (and in Dante’s Inferno it was the outermost circle of Hell) but it was a place of contentment.

This was never much consolation to new parents, who didn’t have enough to worry about already, and many rushed to the church to baptize their children. Now the Vatican has caught up to many of us in believing that God isn’t interested in most of our rules and that these babies were created by the same all loving God as the rest of us. On April 20th the International Theological Commission found that “there are good reasons to hope that babies who die without being baptized go to heaven.” About time.

If you want a good laugh check out the blog of Sr. Martha Mary.

Five Days Later, What Have We Learned?

It’s been 5 days since the massacre at Virginia Tech and we’ve learned a great deal since then. We know now the name of the shooter and because of the material he sent to NBC we have heard and read his delusional thoughts. We’ve seen the pictures and heard about the lives of those who were killed and wounded that day.

We’ve also been debating some of the events of this past week. Most concerning for me was the packet Cho Seung-Hui sent to NBC. They rightly forwarded it along to the FBI but not before the copied it and broadcasted it (which was, of course, picked up and broadcasted by nearly everyone else). The executives at NBC say they struggled before showing clips of the tape but I have a hard time sympathizing with them for their struggle. Had
they forwarded it to the FBI without keeping a copy we never would have heard of it and I don’t think we would be the poorer for it. Though they don’t say so I have to believe part of their decision was based on the fear that Cho had also sent packets to other media outlets.

We’ve also been talking about mental illness and how to deal with adult sufferers. We hear that Mr. Cho came to the attention of the police and mental health professionals because he was stalking young women. Unfortunately until April 16th he did not pose a danger to himself or others and there appears there was nothing anyone could do. I wish there would have been a way to predict this level of violence but we are not there yet. In generations past we could have institutionalized someone like this but we also institutionalized many people who did not belong in custody. This is perhaps a call to continue to learn about mental illness.

I also believe this is a call to re-examine laws about who may purchase and possess a gun. There is some debate over whether or not Mr. Cho bought his guns legally given his history, but even if he was there was no way to check on his mental health background. I guess the Commonwealth of Virginia depends on mentally ill people being honest and up front.

Still grieving for Blacksburg

The stories have been coming in for a few days and we have more information but I’m not sure we have any answers. We know the shooter’s name and the names of the victims. Today NBC received a tape, several pictures, and a videotape and now we know the words of the shooter.

But how do we make sense of something that is in the end….senseless? There’s nothing we can discover that will make this sensible or acceptable. But we also need to understand that there’s nothing we can discover that will make this preventable. The little news I’ve seen about this appears to center on either remembrances or security issues. Yesterday on the Today Show I watched Clint Van Zant talk about how to keep yourself safe and what the police should have done. Problem is ol’ Clint runs Van Zant Associates, an organization that assesses threats. Hard to image he’d say “These things are random and there’s no point in worrying about it.”

Let us continue to pray for all those who died.

The Streets of Heaven Are Too Crowded Tonight

News came today of the shooting at Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, Virginia. As I write this at 7:30 pm my time (10:30 pm on the East Coast) there is much we don’t know; we do know that 33 people have died in two separate shootings. We think there was one shooter and he committed suicide. Names are being held until family is notified.

The strangest part of this is that two people were killed in a dorm (West Ambler Johnson); two hours later 31 more died at Norris Hall. If one shooter was responsible for both shootings, what was he doing (let alone thinking) for those two hours?

My nephew Nate is a sophomore at Old Dominion University; it’s in a different part of the state but I needed to talk with him today. He has several friends at Tech but has heard from most everyone. I have to believe there are parents all over Virginia and beyond who are praying they don’t hear the doorbell tonight. My prayers are with them.

A Good Day for Baseball, and more…

Today is the 60th anniversary of the 1st game Jackie Robinson played for the Brooklyn Dodgers. I can’t imagine there’s anyone who doesn’t know this but he was the first black player in the modern era. Taking nothing away from the heroism of Mr. Robinson, credit must also be given to the Dodger’s owner Branch Rickey. The seeds of this action were sewn in 1904 when Mr. Rickey was coaching baseball at Ohio Wesleyan University: the catcher, Charles Thomas, was black and was denied a room in the hotel where the team was staying. When he had to tell the player he couldn’t stay at the hotel the player was rubbing his skin and said “If only I could make it white.” It took 43 years to make this right but he never forgot. God bless both Jackie and Branch

Thoughts on “Nappy Headed Hos”

It’s been in the news all week and it’s hardly a surprise but America can no longer listen to Don Imus refer to the Rutgers womens’ basketball team as “nappy headed hos.” I’ve only listened to quick snatches of his show as I can’t listen to him for long and I for one will not miss him.

But he raises an interesting issue on the state of racism in this country. First, let’s put to bed forever the “I am not a racist” plea. If he weren’t a racist at some level it never would have occurred to him to use that phrase. This dismissive characterization of the women on the team really does show that Imus thinks of all black women that way. But on a deeper and more disturbing level, Imus has been popular because he’s been a voice for the racism in the country. Like Trent Lott and countless others before him, Imus has been able to get away with statements like this because nobody else was listening. If his words had been directed at a more general audience he’d still have his show. By personalizing this in narrowing his attack to the Rutgers womens’ basketball team Imus crossed a line. Suddenly the “nappy headed hos” weren’t all black women, it was Coach Stringer and her players: Katie Adams, Matee Ajavon, Essence Carson, Dee Dee Jernigan, Rashidat Junaid, Myia McCurdy, Epiphanny Prince, Judith Brittany Ray, Kia Vaughn, and Heather Zurich.

The true mark of progress in this country won’t be when people like Don Imus are fired because of the outcry, it will be when people like Don Imus aren’t on the air because nobody is listening to him.

Remembering Kurt

We received word today about the death of author Kurt Vonnegut. Most people my age (ie, late boomers) know the name and many of us actually read his work. When I was in high school I read Slaughterhouse Five (or the Children’s Crusade) and later Cat’s Cradle. Kurt had a fairly dark view of the world that fit with me back in high school. He was a German POW and witnessed the carpetbombing of Dresden in 1945. I’d say that gives him street cred to be dark. I may go back and re-read Slaughterhouse Five. A few years ago through hospice I met someone who went to high school with Kurt; I’m sorry Kurt and I never met. Listen: Billy Pilgrim has come unstuck in time…

A Happy Homecoming

On my post for March 2nd I wrote about Rob, the husband of my coworker Lili. He is in the Navy and was in Afghanistan in late February when he came down with some kind of massive infection. He was pretty critical for a while and we weren’t sure there would be a happy ending. The combination of hard work, the dedication of many people, and the prayers of many more, Rob is now home. Yesterday Rob dropped by our team meeting; there are no words to describe how good it was to see him. Lili also gave me a magnet and a bumper sticker she picked up at Union Station in Washington DC that said this:

  • Tank of Gas: $100
  • Prescription Refill: $500
  • Cost of the War in Iraq: $300,000,000,000
  • New President in 2009: PRICELESS

Welcome home Rob. We’re still praying for you.