Monday, July 16, 2018

A Sunday in 2018

 A Sunday in 2018


I love read to read and be informed. I look forward to an occasionally idle Sunday when I have time to read the two substantial newspapers that appear in my mailbox. I am passionate about the world my young grandchildren will inherit someday. Often my brain feels full of information after several hours of reading, but today it was more than that. It was full of despair.  I had to stop reading, go into the bathroom, shut the door and cry. Actual weeping for our country. Nothing in the news was making America great again, just more cruel, more hateful, more discriminatory.

The Supreme Court nominee will make it harder for people to have access to voting if he has his way, as if we were in the pre-Civil Rights era. Unions, which I supported and greatly benefitted from may become decimated; poor working conditions and inequity in pay will prevail once again. A story about the WWII Japanese internment camps in America tells of families taken from their homes out of irrational fear. The author reminds us not to repeat history—but we already are. Thousands of children remain separated from their parents at the southern border.  Imagine the damage being done to their psyches—all brought on by a party that claims to be pro-family and pro-life.  I read that no hugging is allowed in these child cages. An older sister could not comfort her three year-old brother. I cried. 

A friend tells me that her Japanese-American daughter-in-law and small grandson were harassed this week and called “F***king Chinks” at a Cleveland Indians baseball game. 

In the UK our president is being protested and made fun of everywhere he goes. This is not normal. It is not normal or safe for our country for him to constantly be alienating and insulting our allies around the world. But he wonders why he’s not welcome. 

On Facebook a distant relative cannot tolerate my views and harasses me mercilessly on my own post and timeline until I delete the whole thing and him as well.  I accept that he has different views than I do, but he cannot tolerate mine.  All of this is in my consciousness within two days. Does anyone else become overwhelmed?


After my tears over an America that I don’t recognize any longer I search for something uplifting and find a review of a documentary about Fred Rogers that is doing exceptionally well in the theaters. It says that people still want to see good. Yes, if we all were like Mr. Rogers and practiced kindness, tolerance and understanding our country would be a much different place, and I wouldn’t be crying at the news

Thursday, June 28, 2018

My Dear Friend

My dear friend,  

After decades of an easy and loving friendship we find ourselves on opposite sides politically.  You recently expressed an opinion that you know I disagree with and I said very little in fear of it coming between us. I have strong opinions with cogent reasons too, but I’m not sure you want to hear them. My beliefs do not come from a radio pundit, a political news channel or any particular columnist, but from experiences that slowly changed my views without me even being aware of it. It was a natural evolution for me, based on my life and my faith, so the conundrum is that we are both Christians yet see things so differently.

My own experience of struggling financially for a time (even though I went to college and had done all the personally responsible things), and teaching poor children for 20 years in a diverse district gave me a new perspective. The adults I now tutor often had no choice about leaving high school but were forced to to care for younger siblings or to get jobs. There is so much judgment of those whose lives we know nothing about. The richest country in the world should help their own, but the current administration seems determined to take every good thing away from us: public schools, the EPA (which has greatly improved our lives and health for decades), arts funding, women’s health care, children’s lunch and after-school programs, being irresponsible stewards of God’s creation by allowing pollution to take over again to name a few. They want to reduce food assistance even though it is a minuscule part of the budget. Ohio wants to defund the Positive Education Program for emotionally disturbed youth, to say nothing of defunding Planned Parenthood whose services prevent unwanted pregnancies. I could go on and on.

I am sincerely curious about how Christians reconcile these types of efforts with the teachings of Jesus. Breaking up immigrant families, putting the arguable right to own an assault rifle over the safety of American schoolchildren, unnecessarily raising rent on the poor, are all contrary to repeated commands of Jesus who showed us how to feed and care for the poor without question, to live peacefully and turn the other cheek.  He told us not to worry about tomorrow, that all people are our neighbors which includes Muslims, immigrants and the poor. And of course, to love our enemies. The words of politicians and the Second Amendment have superseded the words of Jesus.

You say you need guns because you fear “they” are coming for you. I don’t even know what that means. “Fear not,” is the most repeated command in the Bible, supposedly 365 times, one for every day. The commandment to not kill I take literally and don’t think there are exceptions. I do not find the promotion of guns pro-life. Just the opposite. “Do not be afraid of those who can kill the body and not the soul.” Mt 10:28. 

I do not oppose a conservative viewpoint but there is one news station that has done great damage to our country. Everyone I know who watches that station seems to live in fear and believe in conspiracies that never materialize.  I saw it happen to my own parents. They went from being happy and content to constantly worrying and even obsessing about things they heard on television.  Of course, none of their fears were realized. It was sad to me to see that change in them. They had the station on most of the day so I was exposed to it.  I heard daily ranting and vicious name-calling of Democrats. Don’t tell me that doesn’t have a divisive effect on people. There may be liberal viewpoints on other stations but I have never heard the ugly vitriol that I’ve heard on that station.

The thought of abortion repulses me, but I also do not judge those who feel they need one. I do not know their circumstances and believe judgement is left to God. There is great hypocrisy in wanting babies to be born, but not cared for after birth. When we remove help for those children, defund public school resources, food programs and the like we are just pro-birth, not pro-life. I have never walked in the shoes of a gay or transgender person so I do not have the right to tell them how to live their lives or what their human needs should be. It is only when we dehumanize people that we insist on our preferences over their civil and human rights.  

One of the most divisive ideas is that this has always been a White Christian country and what we saw on 1960’s television was the “way it’s always been.” Think Mayberry. But that is a false image. That was before the civil rights movement when black people were segregated in every way in this society,  when Japanese were interned, when what we saw on TV did not reflect reality for many Americans in any way.  Life wasn’t great for everyone in decades past so there is nothing idyllic to go back to.  Even though I attempt to live my life by Christian principles I do not believe this is a Christian country. It began as a Native American country and for a long time everyone was welcome here. Building a wall to keep people out and travel bans are in direct opposition to the freedom America stands for.  I have the right to worship as I want in America, but so does everyone else. 

Liberal and liberty share the same root word. It is defined as: marked by generosity, broad-minded, open to new opinions, and believes in political change. I am not ashamed of that and no one has convinced me of any of these views except living the life that God gave me and coming to know people unlike myself. There cannot possibly one right way to live among the billions of people on this planet. If God is the Creator then He made all of us.

So maybe we should find our common ground and stick to that.  All over this country relationships are strained by the deep divisions that we are exposed to 24 hours a day. Let’s not be one of them.







Sunday, June 17, 2018

Father's Day 2018

Dad

I want to touch your hands again.
I memorized the shape of every finger;
the ones that held, fixed, carried, loved.

The hands I clutched on your last walk on this earth
after sixty years of steps
across the living room and back.

Then for two days we circled, spoke in your ear,
held those hands, wept, questioned,
and we were one—covered in your final gift.

You know the glory now, Dad,
the reward for always choosing love,
and we are bereft here 

on the surface of this incendiary planet 
to wait
and wonder.

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Depression and Suicide

Last week two prominent, widely admired, successful people committed suicide.  I heard a lot of misconceptions from people who most likely have never been there. The first thing you think is why anyone with money and fame would do such a thing, but money and fame have nothing to do with what is happening in the depressed person's mind. It's a physical imbalance. It is not rational.

Many years ago I was diagnosed with clinical depression (and two other temporary mental illnesses) that occurred for a very specific reason in my life.  I had counseling and medication. I got well and it is not a chronic problem for me.  I can't really imagine living through it again or what it would be like to battle this disease all of my life. Some people do and this is why they cannot take it any more.
  
Depression is not sadness or discouragement—it is utter hopelessness. It is not feeling anything, not caring about anything, it is like already being dead. When you are hopeless and cannot feel human feelings your life does not matter to you and you cannot imagine that it ever will.  This, of course, is not true. It is not rational thinking. 

You will hear things like - remember how many people love you, think about your children, it will get better. The problem with those thoughts is that they involve emotions and reasoning and when you are clinically depressed you cannot understand those thoughts and cannot feel hope in them. If you've never felt complete hopelessness it is almost impossible to comprehend.  

I did not seriously contemplate suicide. I do remember wanting to get away from myself, but there was no way to do that.  I hated myself. I hated being so weak, so sick, for worrying the people who loved me and I would have done almost anything to end that experience. I thought about how everyone would be better off without me, which is pretty close to life-ending thinking. In my mind I knew hope existed but I could not feel it or sense any light at the end of the tunnel. That's exactly why it's depression.

So when you wonder how someone could do such a thing to themselves or to their family remember that at the moment of their decision it didn't matter at all. 


Thursday, May 31, 2018

The Volume of Our  Incongruity 
by Diane Vogel Ferri

Poetry Chapbook  $14.99

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Diane Vogel Ferri taught children with special needs for over thirty years. Her poems can be found in many journals including Plainsongs, Rockford Review, Poet Lore and Rubbertop Review. Diane has essays published by Scene Magazine, Cleveland Christmas Memories, and by Cleveland State University among others. She is the author of a poetry chapbook, Liquid Rubies and a novel, The Desire Path. She is a founding member of Literary Cleveland and a tutor at Seeds of Literacy.

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Reviews for The Volume of Our Incongruity:
A certain irresistible sincerity marks these poems. They invite us into sacred space, where grace and unapologetic longing reside and rule, where the singular voice we hear is so quiet and prayerful we must lean in to listen. The Volume of Our Incongruity, however, is more than a collection of poems. It’s a narrative, the story of a granddaughter, now recollected as one of eight “graphite markings on [a] basement two-by-four;” a wife, whose “love is a tundra, vast and white;” a mother, a “thirsty woman drinking every last drop of the sea.”   In language that is clear and deceptively simple, Diane Ferri reaches into a life lived deeply and pulls out truth.
–Lou Suarez, author of Ask and Traveler

In The Volume of Our IncongruityDiane Ferri chronicles life-shaping moments by alternately slowing down the kind of speeding landscapes seen from a station wagon window, and zooming in to examine life’s discrepancies up close and in person. These are poems for our times, stirring a compelling swirl where the past intersects with the present, where hope for the future can spring from a single sonogram.
 –Gail Bellamy, author, poet and Cleveland Heights poet laureate, 2009 and 2010

These intimate, powerful poems about family, love, and memory settle on your skin and won’t wash off. Diane Ferri’s voice is every woman’s, grappling with being a wife, mother and individual. In this vividly rendered collection, the specific details of a life become something wondrous.

–Lee Chilcote, author of The Shape of Home

Tuesday, May 29, 2018

I Remember You

There is a cemetery nearby where many of my paternal relatives rest. Four great-grandparents, three great-aunts, and my own grandparents are in one family area. My mother and father are in another place in the same cemetery.  I was close to my grandparents because they lived five houses away on my street as I grew up. I could walk to see them any time I wanted. I would bring my grandmother flowers and we'd play board games together.  I was also close to my great-aunt Irene. She never married and lived a simple, and I thought, lonely life. My mom and dad took very good care of her in her old age and she was a part of all of our family gatherings. She was 87 when I had my first child and I gave my daughter the middle name Irene so she would be remembered. 

Cemeteries are not fun. They make you think about uncomfortable truths. Many people have nothing to do with cemeteries because they say their loved ones are not there. But, in a way I disagree. When you go to the grave of a loved one you can feel their presence. Even though you may think of them frequently you are solely focused on their memory as you gaze at their names. I like to think that when I am there they feel a surge of love wherever they are.  It's a time to talk to them, catch them up on earthly matters, and once again, tell them how much you miss them. There are always tears, but it feels important for me to do. 

When I go to the Vogel plot of my ancestors I always say "I remember you." I say this because no one else will remember them.  Why would you think of them when you don't even know where their plots are?  The rest of my cousins were not close to my grandparents and they live in far away. My grandmother and grandfather have been gone since 1970 and 1972 respectively. Who thinks of them now that my dad and his sister are gone?  I do. 

I am still overcome with sadness to think that all of my many aunts and uncles and even a few cousins are now gone from this earth.  My mother was the last of her generation in our family when she died in 2016. So now my cousins and I are the matriarchs and patriarchs. Something you never imagine. It's a completely unique part of life when all those before you are gone. Life takes on a different meaning when you see another generation coming into the family as I do with my three grandchildren and my cousin's grandchildren. 

I recently read a novel that took place in post-war Germany. The main character visited a cemetery and inquired why graves were being dug up. She was told that they are dug up and replaced every thirty years because after thirty years no one remembers them. That's not particularly true these days, but it was a shocking reminder of the brevity of life. 

I recall my parents devotedly caring for the Vogel gravesites and I will do the same as long as I am able. No one else will. Every time I visit I will say, "I remember you" to each one there who lived and breathed and made it possible for me to be alive.  

Wednesday, May 2, 2018

A Friendship Lost

Have you ever lost a friend without knowing why?  The kind of friend you have everything in common with, the kind of friend who chose you to stand next to her as she married. A friend whose children were your children’s friends and you went on vacation together, made music with, a friend you loved and admired.

Then suddenly one day there was no more communication. No return calls, no accepted invitations, no more best friend for your daughter. Life was changing for both of you, but that shouldn’t have precluded a friendship, in fact, the situations created one more thing in common. You spend years in occasional mental and emotional confusion.

Many years later you see her at a movie theater and exchange a few pleasantries . You discover she lives only minutes from you, and that is a further injury to your heart. But it is clear nothing has changed. You send a letter asking for an explanation, but there is no reply. You must eventually let it go. But the thing is, you never really do. Years pass and it doesn’t come into your consciousness, but all of a sudden something will remind you of the mystery you will never solve. Then the relentless questions begin again, but there is no one to ask. You eliminate so many possibilities, but never come up with a possibility. 

Another decade goes by and with no apparent provocation one night you awaken with her on your mind. You have been on Facebook for ages but never thought to look her up. You are sure she is not the type to be on social media, but there she is. You send a message and she accepts the request, but again, does not reply.

Why are some things so impossible to let go, to accept? You only want to know the reason. What unforgivable thing did you do? You don’t really need any more friendships, but you needed hers.


Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Being Broke



Many years ago I was in a marriage that was an emotional and financial disaster. I had done all the responsible things in life. I went to college and became a teacher. I took care of my two young children and a large run-down house in a pleasant neighborhood.  We were very active in our church and had many friends. We looked like your average suburban family. But I couldn’t support four people and a house on a teacher’s salary alone. We were deeply in debt and our house in disrepair. I was using a second mortgage to buy groceries and ironically, to pay the mortgage. The years of disappointment and stress finally ended in divorce—something I never dreamed would happen to me.  

I was raised in the middle class, but now I suddenly had a taste of what it must be like to be poor. I learned that anything that could happen could happen to me. No one is immune to one bad decision changing the course of life. I was certain I would be better off on my own and I would have been, but while going through the agony of divorce my teaching job was reduced to half time with no medical insurance. I imagined living in my parents’ basement with two kids, a dog and a canary.

As hard as I tried to hide my struggles many people from my church family offered to pay a month’s mortgage or help in other ways. I turned them all down. I felt ashamed of my situation even though I had done nothing to cause it. It felt humiliating to accept help.


One day my children and I were in the living room after school and the doorbell rang. The delivery person at the door was holding a large beautiful plant—a peace lily.  I brought it in and opened the card. There was no signature, but ten one-hundred dollar bills floated out onto the floor. A miracle and an enormous amount of money at that time.  I never found out who sent this anonymous gift, but it carried us over until I was offered a new full-time teaching job on the very last day of August.  

Monday, February 5, 2018

Change is Good—To a Point

Change  is Good—To a Point

Change is difficult. We get used to the way things are and a lot of what is in the news is about people fighting for their chosen ways of life in this country. But the fact is that we CAN choose our ways. The problem is often that we want others to make the same choices we do. This causes conflict and division.

Cleveland is in an uproar about Chief Wahoo again. I grew up with him too, but as Maya Angelou said—when you know better, you do better. Why can’t we can grow instead of clinging to meaningless sentimentality when it hurts other people? I don’t see that as political correctness, but as growth as fellow human beings.  I’m called a snowflake for that. But how is acting like your life is ending over a cartoon caricature not being an overly sensitive snowflake?

The fact that I grew up and discovered that everyone wasn’t just like me, that everyone didn’t celebrate Christmas in America, and might not say Merry Christmas to me does not effect my faith or traditions in any way. Do “Merry Christmas” enthusiasts think they will convert others to Christianity by forcing them to say a certain greeting? HAHA!  If you don’t want your traditions taken why would you expect that for other people?

But change should accomplish something. Make something better. Sometimes change doesn’t make sense:

Recently I saw a segment on TV about girls joining the Boy Scouts. I suppose this is seen as progressive, fair to girls, equality, but this makes no sense to me. Girl Scouts should have the opportunity to earn all the same badges as boys if that’s the issue.  But one little boy said it all when he said he had to be with his sister every day and going to Boy Scouts was when he didn’t have to do everything with her. Now he doesn’t even have that. He made a good point.  Not sure what this is accomplishing. 

I have been going to a Methodist church all of my life. Different churches have different worship styles and we have the freedom to choose a church that suits us best in America.  The particular church I attend has traditional and contemporary services. There are three to choose from in one church building. I am traditional all the way. I am in the choir and the music suits my voice and is most meaningful to me. It’s the kind of service where you sit and follow along with the program and listen to a message from the pastor. 

 A couple people attending my service like to say things while the pastor is speaking. Things like, Wow!, Go Pastor! Yes! Thank you Lord!  You get the idea.  There is absolutely nothing wrong with this, but I don’t like it.  It isn’t part of the traditional worship that I choose to attend. It distracts me. It makes me anticipate when they’re going to say something next instead of focusing on the message. 

It seems rude to me. Don’t they notice no one else does this? Are they trying to change us in some way? Loosen us up? Isn’t that what the other services are for?  I know for a fact that a number of long time members have left or are considering leaving because of the changes. This, I realize, always happens in churches. You can’t please everyone. But if there are already different offerings available why is one being forced to change? 

One Sunday I told my husband that I felt sorry for the people sitting directly in front of these callers. To me, it’s like sitting in front of a crying baby, you can’t pay attention, and you have no choice.  But yesterday I came home to tell him that I am now one of those people. One caller joined the choir and was sitting behind me.  His constant uttering seemed to encourage yet another new choir member to join in on the noise. What’s happening? Am I going to lose my choice of worship?

I went through a range of emotions during the service. I felt some anger and some frustration. I worried about what other people around me were experiencing. And then I felt like one of those Chief Wahoo people who can’t tolerate change and insist on being an old stick-in-the-mud.  That is something I have never considered myself to be.  Something I actually abhor. 

Having said that, I think there is a lot more at stake here than sentimental traditions. This is more serious than a logo or a greeting.  I choose traditional worship because it is what reaches me. I don’t want to be distracted from what the pastor is saying. I can’t focus when there are interruptions. So what if I don’t have that choice any longer? 

Years ago my heart was broken when the church I grew up in moved to another county and I lost every tradition and precious memory I had there. I was told not to be sentimental over a building, but I lost so much more than that. The membership divided. My children never wanted to step foot in a church again after witnessing the fight between sides. I lost life-long friends. I never saw some people again. I struggled terribly with the loss and then after much searching I found the church I am in now. If I cannot worship in this church and must leave I don’t know if I will ever look for another church. I have had to reinvent my life over again too many times already. 


Organized religion is flawed. I don’t expect pastors to be perfect human beings. I don’t need the church to fulfill my every need.  I just want to be able to choose the type of worship that is most meaningful to me. I think I am losing that choice. 

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

The Hijacking of Evangelism


To evangelize is to preach the gospel of Christ and to share your faith in a way that would convert non-believers. Christians do this because Jesus called us to make new disciples and, in my experience, because we want others to know the same joy and comfort faith can bring. 

 This is the way I spent my teenage and young adult years. I was so involved in sharing my faith through music and in other ways that that my mother once complained that I was at church too much! I participated in singing groups large and small that traveled and shared my faith with others through songs and witnessing to God’s love. After our productions there might be altar calls in which tearful teens would come forward and choose to follow Jesus. We saw lives change and whole families join the church because of our “evangelizing.” Later our church produced traveling family musicals with participants of all ages with an orchestra, choreography and music that sought to accomplish the same goal—bringing our faith to others through love, compassion and music. 

I knew nothing of prejudice, excluding or judging others during those years. Everyone who came to our church was welcomed and treated with love and friendship. Everything we did revolved around sharing our faith by the example of Jesus—and that is evangelizing.

Does that sound anything like the current understanding of the word?  Is it any wonder that I  constantly read about people trying to distance themselves from the term and trying to understand how it somehow got hijacked into meaning judgement, exclusion and even hatred? 

Even though we used music to bring others to faith, the most important lesson I was taught was to live your life by the example of Jesus and that is the most effective way to share your beliefs. To walk the walk.  To love others unconditionally. This is a very difficult thing to do as a human being, but we continue to grow through prayer.

And what was Jesus’s walk?  It was the definition of loving others. Every single story, parable and example of Jesus in the Bible is one of loving others, helping others and using what God has given you for good. Jesus never judged whether another human being deserved His help or healing. He freely gave food to those in need. He invited the outcasts to dine with him in friendship. He gave His life for those who didn’t deserve His sacrifice in any way. Then He forgave those who put Him to death. All of this to show us how to live. 

Here’s what He didn’t do: berate, criticize, judge, hate, or exclude someone for who they are. Here’s something He never expressed an opinion on: homosexuality. Yet, the conservative movement of this country is fixated on the topic instead of loving people as they are—as Jesus did—remembering that, as humans, we all fall short and are in need of healing, not just those we disapprove of. Personally, I am tired of those Christians who think it is their job to correct others. Judgement and correction are God’s job.

To me, the entirety of the Bible is a very simple message that we have greatly complicated with religion and human error:
God created us and gave us free will. Because we will regularly mess things up as human beings (Adam and Eve) we need to turn to God to help us through this earthly life. He wants our praise and gratitude. He sent Moses and the Ten Commandments to make the rules easy, but some of the Old Testament ways were confusing and even violent, so He sent Jesus to show us the way to treat each other.  Jesus brought a “new covenant” of love. He said the old ways were gone. He taught us to pray so that we can be in communion with Him whenever we want. 

It’s a miserable way to live when all you can see in life is how wrong other people are. It is a futile waste of time and no one will change because of your disapproval. You will always be angry and judgmental and that is why I can no longer call myself an evangelical. I am just a believer and I hope you are too. Life is much too short to spend it trying to force people into your version of appropriate living. Let go and let God.  And God help America out of this hateful and shameful time in our history.

If you are not familiar with the actual words of Jesus as they have been passed down to us here are some verses:
Matthew 7:1-5 and Luke 6:37-38 ask us not to judge each other.
John 8:1-8 says only someone without sin should “cast the first stone”
Matthew 25:35-40 asks “when I was a stranger did you visit me, feed me, care for me?”
Matthew 5:42 tells us to give to those who ask
Matthew 25:40 says when you do something for another person it’s as if you are doing it for Him.






Sunday, October 8, 2017

Bring Me Another Stella

Bring Me Another Stella
By Diane Vogel Ferri


Bring me another Stella;
A godly creature to walk by my side,
with a mouth of gratitude to fill.
The uncompromising attention of one
who does not think I talk too much.

Let her be rescued from oblivion
to answer the door and chase the squirrels,
to sit in the sunshine in the middle of the yard
and remind me of tranquility;
the absence of anger, perpetual forgiveness.

Until then in each moment I will see her,
hear her tapping nails, her nighttime breathing.
I will speak aloud all the words I said every day
when it was just the two of us in the house.

I will wonder where she is and grieve alone.

Friday, October 6, 2017

Stella

Losing a dog is a lot like losing a person. There is a period of disbelief. Where is she? When is she coming back?  I thought I just saw her, heard her. But when you lose a parent or a friend chances are they weren't next to you every minute of the day and night—but a dog is.  You love and care for a dog. Suddenly you are no longer a caregiver and there is empty time in your day. All of your daily routines are upended and unfamiliar. There is no one greeting you at the door when you arrive at home. You are without the unconditional love that only a pet can give, (even if it's just because you are the one to feed her.)

I chose Stella from a shelter 13 years ago and I felt her love, devotion and gratitude every day of those 13 years.  She was my walking companion. She always pulled on the leash. I knew that should have been corrected but it made me walk faster and we both stayed trim.  I estimate we took over 1300 walks together until last spring when she could no longer make it around the neighborhood.
She was a beautiful, gentle dog and I miss her terribly.

A dog often forces you take them to their final destination. You make an appointment to end their suffering and although you know it is the right thing to do it is not normal to take something you love to die. It seems wrong and guilt and doubt accompany your decision.  But I believe that a dog knows when their time has come and September 27, 2017  Stella let me know she was ready. I will miss her always.

It seems silly to think there is a heaven for dogs but I hope there is some reward for all the joy and love they give us while they are here. And just like people you hope there is relief from pain and suffering for eternity.

Monday, July 10, 2017

A Healing at Euclid Beach

Euclid Beach Park was an amusement park in Cleveland from 1895-1969

  The Collinwood area was unfamiliar to me when my daughter and I headed there to attend a concert at the Beachland Ballroom. I drove right past Waterloo Road and had to pull in somewhere to turn around. I looked up to see a very familiar sight and said, “Oh! We’re at Euclid Beach!”

   Seeing the Euclid Beach Gateway Arch prompted me to ask my dad to tell me more about his summers living in what was called Tent City at the park. I had heard so many stories about Euclid Beach throughout my life, but I never completely understood why my father, his sister and my grandparents had lived there from April to October for seven consecutive years in the 1930’s.

   “Did you really ride your bike down the Flying Turns after the park closed?” I thought maybe I had misheard this familiar story from my own childhood because it now seemed implausible.

   “No, I had a sled with wheels for that,” Dad answered, “I rode my bike down the Racing Coaster, but only once.”

   “How do you ride a bicycle down a roller coaster?”

   “On the wooden slats between the rails,” he replied as if that would be obvious to anyone.

   In 1933 when my dad was 10 years old, he contracted osteomyelitis, a inflammation of the leg bone caused by an infection. He almost died from the fever and was packed in ice while in a coma to bring the fever down.  Part of the bone was removed and he was bedridden for over a year of his boyhood.

   At that time my grandfather worked for City Ice and Fuel, located at Superior and Euclid, delivering huge blocks of ice. (Dad said that in the summer children would run after the truck picking up the chips of ice that fell off for a cold treat.)  After Dad’s hospitalization my grandmother went to work there also to help out financially, taking coal orders.

   My father’s lower lip trembled as he told me of a nurse who came to his home to take care of him while his parents worked. She was also a certified teacher, and although she was to be married soon, she delayed her wedding for five months so Dad could finish the school year at home. Years later he would graduate from Cleveland Heights High School only a half year behind his classmates because of her generosity.

   “I think I fell in love with her,” he said with tears filling his eyes.

   As Dad recovered the doctors told my grandparents that he needed as much exercise as possible. There were not many opportunities for sports on the busy side streets of Cleveland Heights in the 1930’s.  So they rented their house out to a professional golfer for the season and took up residence in a large tent on the grounds of Euclid Beach Park. The tents had electricity but no running water. There were communal water pumps, bathrooms and showers. My dad played baseball and tennis and roller-skated every day. He played kick-the-can and badminton with the other children. He swam at the pool and the beach on the shore of Lake Erie.

   When I was growing up, no matter what sport or game of skill was being played, everyone wanted to be on my dad’s team. He was good at everything, and considering these childhood years, I understand why. When he was eleven years old the man in charge of the Euclid Beach skee-ball gave Dad the job of retrieving the balls thrown out of the alleys. If he would crawl in the dirt and dust to get them he was allowed to throw for free.  When he was 15 he got the job of running the skee-ball alleys. He always claimed to be the reigning Northeast Ohio Skee-Ball champion because he won the title the last year the contest was held. It’s a long-running family joke.

   “Because of the osteomyelitis,” he said,  “I was behind in school and then I was deferred stateside in the Navy during World War II. If you had the disease they wouldn’t let you lead a battalion because they thought your leg would break. Now it would be different. They would know better now...”  My father never got over not being able to serve his country overseas during the war but we are all proud of the four years he served in the Navy.

   Of course, like so many Clevelanders, I have my own memories of Euclid Beach Park;
The custard and popcorn balls, being terrified of Laughing Sal, the old-fashioned calliope music filling the park. There were old-timers still working there that remembered my father.  My neighborhood has rented a Euclid Beach Rocket Car on the Fourth of July. As we fly down the side streets, I wonder if I’d ridden in the same car so many years ago as a child.

   My grandparents took my brother and I to our last visit to the park in 1969. By then it was run down and deserted. I remember feeling sad knowing what a special place it was to Dad.  Now I can take my grandchildren on the restored Euclid Beach Grand Carousel at the Western Reserve Historical Society—something my father didn’t live quite long enough to ride on again—passing away only weeks before it opened in November 2014 at age 91.

   I never imagined I would feel so connected to a place that no longer exists. Sadly, it lives in the memories of fewer and fewer Clevelanders as the years go by. It was a  place that brought joy to countless families. A place that helped heal my father. 



Friday, June 2, 2017

The Paris Accord and Americans

The Paris Accord and Americans

By many reports yesterday the United States ceased to be a world leader. Trump pulled out of the Paris Accord on climate change that went into effect in November of 2016 and agreed upon by 195 nations.  His reason is that it is not good for American jobs even though three million workers are employed in the clean energy sector. He has called it a hoax even though there is scientific proof that any educated or non-educated person can clearly see and understand.

The good news is that according to Article 28.1 of the agreement you can only renege by a one year advanced written notice to the UN Secretary-General and then it takes three more years to take effect. So the earliest this can happen is November 4, 2020 (an election year!) Another part of the agreement is that it cannot be negotiated as Trump says he will do.

Obviously, that doesn’t mean that our environment cannot be compromised between now and than though. And that doesn’t undo the damage to US foreign relations and our status as a civilized, intelligent society.  That, in my opinion, is completely out of control in the mere four months he has been in office. 

Here is the other good news:  I believe that, as a society and individuals, we will continue to do what is right.  Trump said in his address that we should be helping Pittsburgh, not Paris (showing that he doesn’t even understand that the Paris Accord has nothing to do with Paris). But the Mayor of Pittsburgh said yesterday, “I can assure you that we will follow the guidelines of the Paris Accord for our people, our economy and future.”

The heads of corporate giants such as Tesla’s Elon Musk, Darren Woods of Exxon Mobil, the head of Conoco-Phillips, Dow Chemical and Tim Cook of Apple, among others, have stated they will continue to honor the Paris Accord. Many of them advised Trump not to pull out. 

The rest of us little people will continue to do our part by recycling, not buying gas guzzling cars, not littering and doing what we can to protect and honor the earth that God gave us. 


PS - The notion that God will somehow save the earth is a whole other essay, but if you think so, ask yourself what God has saved or changed that we, as human beings couldn’t have done ourselves? Nothing.  He hasn’t stopped wars, saved hungry children, stopped terrorists, cured cancer…that’s our job. That’s why he gave us free will as demonstrated in the story of Adam and Eve.