September 11th. Do you remember where you were on this day twelve years ago? September 11th. It’s a day that punctured our national illusion, and, perhaps, led us to the plain of understanding as regards our corporate identify..
A month ago I spent some time in New York City with two of my granddaughters. The sixteen-year-old was there to participate in a dance workshop. (I’d tell you what dance company she was working with but you’d then accuse me of bragging.) Her younger sister was there to hang out with me. That younger one was only seven months old on that fateful day in September. For her the event is only read in her school history books. It is not something experience, a defining moment. She’s two generations behind me. I wonder how September 11th will impact her.
She has no visual to recall. For her the flames bursting from the towers, the bodies falling, the horrific fall of those buildings upon the firemen, policemen, and civilians within is not personal. As we passed up the Hudson River on our trip around Manhattan, I pointed out a docked fireboat. I told her how the boat, FDNY Boat 342, was give that number in memory of the firemen who died on September 11th. I explained that the boat was made from the steel salvaged from the wreckage. “I’ve read about September, 11th,” she said.
Later that day, on that same boat ride, we looked toward the New York City skyline. The new tower stood there. Beside it was something unusual for New York. Beside it was open space. That open space is, itself, a memorial. How does someone, like my granddaughter with no visual memory of those grand pre-9/11 towers, relate to the silent testimony of that open space?
It seems a bit surreal she’s so removed from that day. It seems surreal because much of the aftermath of that event has defined her life. Because of that day, when she travels with me she has to, even at her age, carry a picture ID. Because of those planes that brought so much horror, death, and tragedy, she’s subjected to being searched when entering a public .building or traveling on an airplane. Every day of her life, even before the day she took her first step, her country has been at war.
So much of the life of my generation and that of my children’s has been impacted by 9/11. So much of the interaction of nations has been complicated by that day. Since that terror attack the world has become more divided, more sectarian, more intransigent in so many ways.
What then will be the lesson I leave my grandchild as I tell her about this event. As I try and explain the reasons the planes came, as I try to relate the reasoning for the response of our nation in invading two countries, it seems to me it is imperative I find some eternal truth the generations who experienced that day can leave to those who come behind us.
I think I’ll tell her how the terrorist wanted to destroy the ideals of our nation, ideals we find difficult to live up to. I’ll try and explain how and why the terrorist hate us. And then I’ll tell her that both we and they have learned a lesson. That lesson, I’ll tell her, is: you cannot kill an idea with a bullet.
I love women. Okay, there it is, right out in the open. I love women. Who can say when this love affair started? I honestly don't know.
Maybe it was Francis. Francis was that drop dead gorgeous babysitter my parents hired for my brother. Somehow they didn't think I was capable of taking care of my brother when I was twelve. He was five then. So, they hired Francis to babysit my brother. And I would watch Francis babysit my brother. And after she put my brother to bed I would watch Francis watching television. Did I mention Francis was drop dead gorgeous?
We moved from the town where Francis babysat my brother. When we moved I'd grown beyond my childish ways. Maybe the reason I love women has something to do with Kay. Kay lived up the street from me in the new town to which we moved. Kay was something else. Kay taught me the joys of swapping spit.
I'm going to detour from this history of my progression through the various stages of learning to appreciate women now. This blog carries a PG-13 rating. I'll just give you a quick snapshot. That snapshot acknowledges the obvious fact that the men and women of my generation are much better lovers than the generations that followed us. We were more practiced, more attentive, never in a hurry. We certainly should be. We spent ten years in foreplay.
It was the Women In the World Summit 2012, just recently ended, that prompted my journey back in time remembering, as Willie, said, “all the girls I've loved before.” Things have really changed since those days when Kay and I were coming of age. Women have truly come a long way.
I was fortunate to grow up in the family I did. In an age when women were perceived as mere appendages of their husbands, the women in my family actually ran the show. I don't think I realized that until I was in my thirties. I'm sure my late realization was a direct result of those women's unique ability to let the men in the family think they were in charge.
Mama, my grandmother, had a fourth grade education. When my grandfather died she carried on for thirty plus years, teaching us lessons we never learned in the universities we attended. My great aunt, Mama's sister, when her husband died kept the auto garage he owned, the largest in Atlanta, running with even more success than he enjoyed. Looking back on it I can't help but wonder how many city blocks of downtown Atlanta my aunt owned.
And then there was my mother. Mother's birthday was last week. I have to admit I didn't realize what day it was until I read the acknowledgment on my brother's Facebook page. (But, then again, Mother always did love him best.) [:-), brother]
My mother was a child of the 1920s, and I have no doubt that she and my Aunt Virginia danced until the dawn at the dance clubs of Atlanta. She was a beauty. She was confident. And she had this view of life, far ahead of her day, that gender should be no impediment to whatever one wanted to accomplish. Mother should have had daughters to offset the troubles my brother and I caused. Mother was to be respected. No, let me rephrase that: Mother demanded respect. My mother had no hesitation of engaging in a wrestling match, a real wrestling match, with any adolescent male ignorant enough to think she wouldn't whip his ass in front of his onlooking peers.
The Women in the World Summit, as I said, got me thinking about those genteel Southern ladies who shaped me. The women who are their children have excelled, one was in the first class of ordained women in the Church of England, and one a successful businesswoman. As for my brother and me, we were feminist long before someone trotted out the word.
It was a joy to see that parade of twenty-first century women speaking and being interviewed at the summit. It gives hope for the world. I can attest from personal experience that we're all better when we're nurtured and inspired by strong, liberated women.
I got a hint that the strong woman will continue in the next generation of our family the other day. I asked my granddaughter if her boyfriend was going to be at a family function. “That won't happen,” she told me. I asked her why. “Look,” she said, “I'm a fourteen year-old woman; harmones are raging in my body; I have enough dealing with my moods. I don't have the energy to deal with some male's moodiness.”
So here's the end of this rambling remembrance of strong women and my affirmation that we'll be better still as humans when women are finally treated as equals in every aspect of life.
Thanks Mother; thanks Mama; thanks Aunt Virginia. And watch out world, my granddaughters are headed your way!
parson sat on the sofa in the corner nook of the coffee shoppe. He took
a moment to arrange the pillows behind his aged back to accommodate his
five foot six frame on the furniture designed for five foot seventeen.
Having adjusted to the maximum he took a sip of the rich java, and
enjoyed the full body and rich flavor which belied its decaf makeup. Two
seminary students sat across from him, one working on his Master of
Divinity the other working on her Ph.D. in a yet to be narrowed down
field of American religious history. Both were drinking a mixture whose
name the parson might once have recognized when he was learning ancient
trio shared news of various acquaintances. The students asked the
parson if certain rumors about certain better-know pastors were true,
and asked for the parson’s evaluation of the new bishop. The parson, in
turn, asked them what they’d heard about the better-known pastor. Their
revelations he added to his otherwise empty store house of gossip. As
for the new bishop the parson pleaded ignorance, as the bishop’s as yet
never extended invitation to dinner at his residence deprived the parson
of adequate knowledge to make a determination.
the M.Div. student, fired up his notebook to share with the parson an
article the new bishop had written. The parson promised to read it later
in order to become better informed.
“So, are you’re finishing seminary this year?” he asked James.
“I am, Parson. Finally.”
“Have you started the process with the Board of Ministry?”
closed his notebook, glanced over at Monique, the doctoral candidate,
then back at the parson. He cleared his throat and said in a quiet
voice. “Actually, Parson, I haven’t,” he said. “I don’t think I’m going
to take the path toward ordination.”
not!” the parson stammered, forcing himself forward on the sofa. The
statement had caught him completely by surprises. He’d known James for a
decade and his whole life journey had been leading toward ordination.
James smiled at the parson a moment, then he asked, “You don’t know?”
what?” The parson looked over at Monique whom he’d know just as long as
he’d know James. She was smiling, obviously at the parson’s
“Parson,” said James, “I’m gay.”
room seemed to shrink. The parson was completely surprised. He’d never
considered this. He’d never had occasion to consider this. The parson
sank back into the sofa. A thousand emotions surged through his body. He
stared at young man he’d thought so long to be a rising star of the
church. He did not know what to say. Sorrow wracked his being. The
consequences raised their head and impaled his spirit.
It seemed a short eternity before the silence was broken.
“Parson, are you okay?” asked Monique.
“I guess so,” said the parson. “This is why you’re not going before the board?” he said to James.
“It is,” said James. “I’m not going to lie.”
“Are you going to another denomination?” asked the parson.
“No, Parson, I’m not going to do that. I’m sticking around and I intend to make a nuisance of myself.”
The parson smiled. James was a delegate to the Annual Conference. He might start attending more frequently.
“What about you, Monique,” the parson asked.
“I’m not going to be ordained either, Parson.”
“I know you’re not gay, Monique.”
Parson. But the more I’ve thought about it the more I’m uncomfortable
with the thought of being ordained. I think it would be more than
two-faced. I can’t reconcile the enormous amounts of money the church
spends on itself while the world is hungry. I’m fed up with the
hypocrisy. I could go on and on, Parson.”
parson said nothing for a couple of minutes. James excused himself to
get another cup of the concoction he and Monique were drinking. Monique
leaned forward, “Aren’t you going to show off any grandkids pictures?”
The parson smiled at her winsome way. He pulled out his iPhone. Monique
moved to sit beside him on the sofa as the parson began to flip through
the pictures. James returned and sat on the arm of the sofa to view the
while later James moved back to his seat. Monique remained on the sofa.
James said, “Are you okay with what I told you, Parson?”
James, I’m not. And I’m not okay with what Monique tells me. I’m
disturbed that folks like you can’t find a home in the church. I’m just
conversation continued for another hour. At that point it moved to the
restaurant two blocks down the street, and from there it continued at an
Irish pub another block down.
was almost midnight when the parson left for home, exhilarated from
having been with two young people who’d skipped through is parish almost
two decades ago and sad, so sad.
The parson was shopping at the outlet mall, picking up some
appropriate summer clothes for a young boy who was headed for summer camp on a
church scholarship. Wilbur Robinson had run into him at one of the stores and
now they were headed to the parson’s car to store the bags. Their plan was to
head to the mall’s coffee shop and share some stories.
While the purchases were being placed in the trunk, a man
approached. He appeared to be in his mid-thirties, and, while his clothes were obviously
not new, he was dressed neatly in clean and creased pants and shirt.
“Excuse me, gentlemen,” he said. “I’m embarrassed to ask
this, but I need some help.”
“What kind of help?” asked the parson.
“I need some gas to get to Birmingham. My mother has been
taken to intensive care. My sister called and said I needed to be there soon.”
The parson studied the man’s features as he talked, trying
to reconcile his appearance with the story.
“I know this sounds strange, but I had my credit card out
last night, before my sister called, making an online purchase. I think I
forgot to put it back in my wallet. And then this morning I gave my daughter
the debit card to get some cash. So here I am halfway to my Mom’s and I’m
stuck. No cash, no credit card, no debit card.”
The parson asked him where his car was. He pointed to a
Honda Civic parked in front of the Carter’s Outlet Store.
“Tell you what,” said the parson, “follow my to the Shell
station up at the corner and I’ll fill your tank for you.”
“Thank you, sir,” said the man. “I’ll pay you back, I
promise. Give me your card or write down your address and I’ll send it to you
as soon as I get where I’m going.”
“We’ll talk about it later,” said the parson. “Follow us.”
The parson invited Wilbur to ride with him. They pulled out
of the parking lot and headed toward the Shell station. Once there the man
pulled in behind the parson, and was directed to an empty pump. The parson put
his card into the pump and pulled it back.
“Fill it up,” said the parson.
The man inserted the nozzle and the gas began to flow. As it
did, the man continued.
“I know this is crazy and you probably think you’re being
ripped off. You’re not. I will pay you back. As soon as I get to my Mom’s place
I’ll send you some money.”
“Tell you what,” said the parson. “Instead of paying me back
find a little church next Sunday that looks as if it could use some help,
attend the service and put what you owe me in the plate.”
The man stared a moment. The he simply said, “Thank you.”
“No problem,” said the parson. He motioned toward the car
and Wilbur and he got in.
On the way to the mall’s coffee shop, Wilbur said, “I bet
you get ripped off like that every week by people just like him.”
“You know,” said the parson, “someone just like him does
approach me at least once a week.
“Why don’t you just tell them ‘no’?” asked Wilbur.
“Well, Wilbur, while I run into the same kind of people over
and over, the stories are always a little bit different. And it’s the
difference that makes the story worth the price of admission.”
Sunday morning with a half hour to go before the members began to arrive, the parson was sitting in the sanctuary reading over his sermon. Sarah Meecham, a fourteen-year-old whose family had joined the church a few months back came busting through a side door.
“Oh, hello, Parson,” she said as she half-skipped, half-jogged up the center aisle toward the vestibule. In a minute she retraced her path with the same happy gait. “Mom, wanted me to get some bulletins. It’s her turn to get the things to the homebound people.”
“Tell your Mom how much I appreciate it,” said the parson.
Sarah came over to the parson, stood in front of him and said, “Can I talk with you a minute?”
“Sure,” said the parson. “Have a seat.” He put the sermon aside and turned sideways on the pew to face her. “What’s up.”
“I have to write a paper for a class. I’m going to write it on the Health Care thing in Congress.”
“Are you going to be for it or against it?” the parson asked.
“That’s the thing, Parson. I’ve been thinking about this a lot and I think it’s a really stupid thing that they are even arguing about this law.”
“You don’t think we should provide health care for everyone?”
“Oh, yes! I do! That’s my point. My friend Molly says Mr. Peterson, my teacher, is not going to like my ideas, but I’m going to write the paper anyway. Look, you know that thing in the Bible where some man says to God ‘I thank you I’m not like that other person”? What I think is that when somebody has health insurance and another person does not then there’s no way the person with health insurance is not saying ‘I’m glad I’m not like that person without health insurance’ unless the person with health insurance is trying to get the other person some insurance.” Sarah folded her arms over her chest wrinkled her forehead and asked, “Am I making sense?”
“You’re making a lot of sense to me,” said the parson. “That’s a unique way to look at it.”
“Well, thank you, Parson. “See, I’ve thought about this a lot, and I’ve decided there is no way this country can be a nation under God until no one sees themselves better than anybody else. ‘Cause ‘under God’ means everybody is equal. Right?”
“Right,” said the parson.
“So you agree with me that it’s stupid everybody is arguing about this?”
“I agree with you,” the parson said.
“Cool. Thanks for your advice, Parson.”
“You’re welcome,” said the parson as he watched her disappear out the door she’d entered. When she was gone the parson looked toward the altar and whispered. “You might want to whisper a calling in her ear.”
The parson was sitting on a picnic table bench that was, itself, sitting in front of the chain link fence bordering the children’s playground behind the church fellowship hall. A car trailing blue smoke pulled into the parking lot. The same car appeared at about the same time each Monday when the church opened it’s free soup supper.
A second car, this one a new Honda Accord, pulled in behind.
Two kids, a boy of ten and a girl nine, bounded from the first car. The boy raced across the parking lot toward the fellowship hall at a full sprint. The girl jogged along behind.
The man who’d exited the trailing car walked at a leisurely pace behind the youthful rush.
The mother of the two sprinters now exited her car whose exhaust system let forth with a loud burp as she did. She followed even more leisurely behind the man.
“Hi, Parson,” greeted the boy as he pulled the door open and dashed inside before the parson could reply.
The girl decreased her pace steadily as she approached. She did not reach for the door. She jumped into the parson’s lap and hugged his neck. “Hi, Parson, guess what.”
“What?” asked the parson pulling his head back to stare at her hair that had not been combed or brushed in at least a week. Her dress was one size too big, a hand-me-down or Goodwill special he assumed.
“We have a new calf. She’s not even as big as Charlie Brown. She got stuck and I had to help her out, but I think she’s going to be okay. I named her Peppermint.”
“Well, good for you,” said the parson as the man walked pulled the door to the Fellowship Hall open and nodded to the parson as he did. “When was she born?”
“I guess you’re going to be busy a while,” the parson observed. The girl’s mother now entered the Fellowship Hall but she did not speak or acknowledge the presence of the parson or even her daughter.
She sat on the bench talking with the parson about calves and chickens a big bull and one really mean teacher at school. The parson listened quietly. It was her private time with the one she considered her pastor even if she could not articulate that. The parson learned of the week’s activities, of her dad’s residing in a different city; of an aunt who was going to have a baby and an “A” on a math test.
“Aren’t you hungry?”
She smiled, “You know I am.”
The parson took her hand and together they walked in. Charlie Brown, the parson’s faithful canine companion rose from beside the bench where he’d been sleeping and followed.
“Go wash your hands,” said the parson.
“Okay.” She skipped off down the hallway toward the restroom. The parson headed toward the Men’s Room to wash his hands.
Task completed they met at the serving table. It was beef vegetable night. They both got a bowl. The parson, from experience, got two extra bowls. A plate was stacked with four pieces of cornbread. They headed to the table where her brother sat. Her mother was off at another table carrying on an animated conversation with Florence, the parson’s favorite professional beggar.
The parson looked at her brother. “Did you say a blessing.”
The parson said nothing. He just looked.
“Okay, okay.” Heads were nodded and the boy said, “Thanks God for this soup; it sure is good. Amen.”
“Thank you for that,” the parson said. And then the girl and the parson in a seemingly choreographed movement crumbled a slice of cornbread into their bowls. Now it was chow down time.
When the devouring time was over, the parson pushed the two extra bowls across the table.
“We’re not supposed to go back for seconds,” she said.
“You didn’t,” said the parson. “These bowls were already here.”
Both of them smiled and began to slurp down their largess.
Later that night, the parson sat on the sofa watching television. His phone rang. It was the man who’d exited the Honda Accord.
“How could you do that?”
“How can you sit there with that girl and hug her the way you do all the while knowing she probably hasn’t had a bath in two weeks. Did you smell her?”
“I did. And she hasn’t had a bath in two weeks. The weather is too cold. It’s supposed to get into the seventies later this week; she’ll probably bathe two or three times a week then. They don’t have running water right now.”
“Look, Parson, don’t you realize that child probably has lice?”
“It’s not probably. She does.”
“And you still hugged her?”
“I did. That’s the advantage of my hair loss. And, unlike her, I take a shower every day. That gives the me the luxury of being able to hug her before I check for lice.”
“Yes,” said the parson, not recognizing the voice. “Who is this?”
“You don’t know me, Parson,” the voice said, “but I wanted to call you to thank you for the wonderful ministry you folks have on Monday night.”
“Are you talking about our Soup Supper?”
“I am, Parson. What a wonderful thing that is. I can’t tell you how thrilled my husband and I were to have you bring us supper last Monday. Oh, my that soup was good. And whoever made that cornbread must have taken lessons from my grandmother.”
“I’m glad you enjoyed it. Who did you say this is?”
“I’m Evelyn Simmons.”
“Have we met, Evelyn?”
“No, sir, we have not. But I’ve heard about your church. That’s why I was so startled to find some young people at our door with our supper last Monday night.”
“Some of our youth brought you supper?”
“And you’ve never had any contact with our church before?”
“Do you mind me asking where you live?”
“Not at all. Not at all. We’re at 4541 Tower of Ongoing Maturity.”
“I see,” said the Parson. “I’m really glad you enjoyed the meal. Your husband was there, also?”
“Yes, he was. And you know, Parson, those young people who brought the soup and the other stuff were not in a hurry. They just sat down in the kitchen with us and talked with us about so many things. We don’t get people their age coming by to talk very often. It was wonderful, and I just wanted to thank you for it.”
“Thank you so much for calling, Evelyn. I can’t tell you what a blessing it is for you to take the time to thank us.”
The parson and Evelyn talked a few more minutes. Then they ended the conversation. On Sunday morning, the parson questioned the two youth who’d delivered to Ongoing Maturity.
“Do you guys remember taking a meal to two people, a husband and wife, at Ongoing Maturity, who you’d never seen before?
“Yes sir,” said the older of the two. “Actually we knocked on the door and when they invited us in it was obvious they needed a meal. So we gave them the two we had. We did go back to the church to pick up another two meals to deliver the the right place.”
“Well, make sure you take another meal to them this coming Monday, if you will.”
“We will,” they promised.
The parson walked to a quiet corner of the church to read over his sermon, realizing he had no words to portray the presence of Christ in the congregation that came close to the witness of two confused adolescents last Monday.
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