Cluster of wheat image Grapes and vines image Cluster of wheat image
October 29th, 2017

NOTHING TO DO

When I was a child I remember sometimes complaining to my mother that I had nothing to do.  Sometimes she had suggestions.  Other times she found some task for me to perform. Usually, therefore I would find something to do myself.  This was before TV, of course.  We got our first TV with a 7 inch screen the year I was married. We did have a radio but it didn’t have the same fascination as the “window to the world” that TV presented.

As an adolescent one of the things I loved to do was read.  Every two weeks I’d walk, a considerable distance, to the library and take out as many books as were allowed.  When I wanted companionship all I had to do was go to Irene’s house and yell “Yo, Ireeene! and she would come out or I would go in.  A lovely family, the Marcinkos.  Wonder whatever happened to them after I moved away,   There was a group I walked home from school with. At that age menstruation was a big topic of discussion.  There was another group of kids for sledding down Tudor hill after a snowstorm.  Idle summer days were for exploring the fields at Hillside Home, finding new wild flowers, looking for the “ideal place” where I could just sit and enjoy nature and aloneness.  I raised rabbits in the backyard and grew flowers in my garden.  We had been given a piano and someone taught me Chopsticks. I taught myself one song from an actual music book.  I guess there wasn’t much native music talent as that pastime went nowhere.

What im getting at with all these rememberings is that we found “something to do” or someone to be with in our spare time, unplanned, spontaneous.  In those days, before TV, before smart phones and iPads, we found friends and actual things to do on our own.  They were real things to DO, and real people to do be with.  We were not entertained by TV all day.  We were not entranced by one thing after another on Facebook when TV grew tiring.  We would not spend time in a room with four other people, each on their own electronic gadget.

Today, in 2017, children are privy to a constant flow of electronic input.  INPUT!  It is fascinating, novel, intriguing, gripping. And never-ending,  There comes no time when there is “nothing to do.”  No time to just hang out with someone.  No time to just “wool gather.”  No clue as to what wool gathering might mean.  TV was turned on at awakening and went to sleep with it.  If we awoke in the middle of the night our first thought is to pick up the phone or the iPad to see what is happening out there.  No thought that something might happen “right here” if given half a chance.

“According to Victoria Prooday, Occupational Therapist & writer at YourOT.com, “There is a silent tragedy developing right now, in our homes, and it concerns our most precious jewels – our children… Researchers have been releasing alarming statistics on a sharp and steady increase in kids’ mental illness, which is now reaching epidemic proportions:

1 in 5 children has mental health problems
43% increase in ADHD
37% increase in teen depression
200% increase in suicide rate in kids 10-14 years old“
She goes on to say that “Today’s children are being deprived of the fundamentals of a healthy childhood:

Emotionally available parents
Clearly defined limits and guidance
Responsibilities
Balanced nutrition and adequate sleep
Movement and outdoors
Creative play, social interaction, opportunities for unstructured times and boredom
Instead, children are being served with:

Digitally distracted parents
Indulgent parents who let kids “Rule the world”
Sense of entitlement rather than responsibility
Inadequate sleep and unbalanced nutrition
Sedentary indoor lifestyle
Endless stimulation, technological babysitters, instant gratification, and absence of dull moments”

How true… and how sad.”

The article goes on to say that it’s not just teenagers, it’s also young kids- in elementary school. “Counselors like Ellen Chance in Palm Beach say they see evidence that technology and online bullying are affecting kids’ mental health as young as fifth grade, particularly girls.

Who would ever think that the absence of  “unstructured times” and “dull moments” would become a problem?

Years ago I was struck by a quote from philosopher Mortimer Adler who said  (paraphrased)  “We need idle time so that things can occur to us.”

It’s something to mull over, to muse about, if we can ever find the time.

Mostly, the uninterrupted, all-the-time input shuts out God.

“The world is too much with us, late and soon…”

 

 

 

October 12th, 2017

AGORAPHOBIA

I used to have a file folder on agoraphobia but recently threw it out, thinking we have Google now.  Anyone who wants information on the subject has only to type out the word to get pages and pages of relevant material.  What I intend to post is simply my own personal experience for whatever it may be worth.

The day it all began is crystal clear.  I was a young mother of several children with a husband that couldn’t seem to hold a job.  After a period of unemployment we  had reached the point where I was checking pockets, looking for loose change.  When I noted a sign in the window of a nearby herb supplier for a part-time typist I went in and was hired. When I told my husband that I started Monday he said he couldn’t watch the kids because he had an appointment.  At that point something went “snap” in my head, and in a strange hoarse voice that I didn’t recognize I said, “What are you trying to do, drive me crazy!”  A few days later in the local store I felt uncomfortable and uneasy, as if I might become unglued.  This feeling of not being at ease in places where there were other people was to be with me for 25-30 years.

Etymologically, agoraphobia means a fear of the agora, which in Greece was a forum or place where people could gather.  I’m thinking the word has morphed to mean a enclosed place containing people to include a store, church, bus, meetings, etc.  It is typical of agoraphobics to sit in an aisle seat in the back of a church, for instance, so they can make a quick exit if they can’t stand that feeling anymore.  That the problem was mental was obvious when one felt just fine once outdoors and free.  When I’d go to the supermarket shopping with the kids the very worst part was waiting for my turn at the check-out counter.  I’ve read of people who ran off leaving a shopping cart full of groceries behind!

Eventually I saw a Catholic doctor for my problem, thinking he was Christian and had to love me even if I was crazy.   I’d take the trolley to his office, envying the other people on the trolley who seemed quite comfortable while I was just holding on till my destination.  I remember the doctor prescribed phenobarbital and I knew so little about drugs at the time that I feared I might become addicted.  This was the beginning of years upon years of Librium, Valium, Xanax, etc., to take the edge of the anxiety and help me to function.

At one point I recall my Catholic doctor said that I had despaired. Reflecting on this diagnosis I feel it was accurate.  Though I was a Catholic, trust in God was minimal.  When I made a last ditch effort to fix things by getting a job and found myself frustrated something snapped.  I knew how to obey and ended up with seven kids but trusting in God when I couldn’t fix things myself never occurred to me.  Later in the course of my agoraphobia  I remember in particular a day in church when I felt I was going to just dis-integrate, to fly off in a million pieces.  I said to God, “OK, if you want me to go crazy, I’ll go.”  I guess He didn’t want me to go crazy because I instantly felt perfectly well and went up to Communion at peace, as in the olden days.  Maybe it was something in the surrender, I don’t know.  I felt better for a few days, then back to the usual.

We moved with the seven kids from Chicago to Connecticut where we ran my parents’ motel for a year.  I learned to drive and seemed to function, agoraphobia and all.  When I got  a job at a hospital as a medical secretary I couldn’t handle the full day and switched to part-time.  I saw a psychiatrist and actually started to work for him as his secretary, all the time phobic and medicated.  When there was a shortage of school teachers a friend suggested I take a 6 week teaching course for college graduates and make more money teaching.  I did it, got a job teaching fifth grade in a local school.  I have to wonder how I lasted three months, medicated, always uncomfortable, never at ease in front of all those kids, barely hanging on, finally giving up.

And life went on.  Back in the 1980’s I joined a charismatic prayer group that started in my church.  The charismatic renewal was a nationwide movement with prayer for an infilling of the Holy Spirit as occurred when Mary and the disciples were gathered in the upper room waiting for the promise of Jesus (“you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you.”)  Acts 14.  Read your Bible, see what a difference the baptism in the a Holy Spirit made in His disciples.  If you are a follower of Jesus I cannot urge you too strongly to ask for more of his Spirit!  God forces nothing on us.  ASK!

I don’t know exactly when the agoraphobia left.  There were many healing masses, many prayers by many Christians.  A phobia, after all, is a fear.  My thinking is that as I grew in trust the spirit of fear was gradually edged out.  It is now gone.  For this I thank and praise God!

As a postscript I’d just like to add a word about being judgmental about others.  You cannot know their interior self well enough to be anything but kind.  Only God really understands and He is always ready to forgive and cut some slack.  Do unto others as you would have them do to you.  A simple, and time-honored, rule of thumb.

 

 

 

 

 

September 22nd, 2017

A NURSE NAMED MARY

I have a daughter named Mary who is a nurse, but this is about another nurse who came from  ComplexCare to check me out to see if I, a 94 year-old woman, was adequately cared for.   Mary had an appointment and was very polite and professional.  After asking if she could call me Dorothy, she got out her scale and her computer and set about her assessment.  Once weighed she asked about family history and personal history,  when I last saw a doctor, what medications I took.  She listened to my heart and lungs, took my blood pressure sitting and standing, put on an oximeter and measured pulse and oxygen.  She looked in my mouth, nose, eyes and ears.  She poked me here and there to see if it hurt and asked about aches and pains.  She inquired about my breathing, my GI tract, my urinary tract, my bowels.  She asked me to walk and we talked about my balance problem, my cane and my walker. Did I clean my own house, wash my own clothes, do my own shopping?   She got out her rubber hammer and tested all my reflexes, tested strength of arms, legs, tested skin for paresthesias.  She said three words and asked me to remember them for later.  She asked me to draw a clock and show 10 minutes  after 11 on it.  Since I had no recent eye exam, she recommended one.

All in all, I thought it was an excellent assessment by a very competent and lovely woman.  When I made the appointment I was not sure I wanted anyone looking into my private life but this kind of intrusion seemed to me reasonable and well-intended.  After all, we don’t want our old folks falling helpless through the cracks.  She said she would report to my internist if she found a worrisome situation.

June 21st, 2017

TIME OUT FOR LIFE

Anything that results in all input and no thought, be it radio, computer, romance novels, Facebook, or whatever, can be mind-numbing. TV may be more seductive than most, involving less effort and more seduction.  It has been seriously suggested that the best way to conquer a nation from the inside would be to have a TV in every room and gradually lower the moral caliber of what it offers. Clearly TV has been pushing the envelope with ever-increasing obscenity, violence, and immorality. A constant diet of junk food is not good for us, whether it be on the tube or on the table.

Perhaps you can tell.  I am going through TV withdrawal and it has come to this!  I am thinking, and analyzing, and writing about my experience.  i am getting in touch more often with friends and relatives. The books I read certainly have more substance than the average TV program.  I am cleaning out the nooks and crannies of my house and of my mind.  (Strange stuff in there!)

I came across a quote from Abraham Joshua Heschel:  “The Sabbath as a day of rest, as a day of abstaining from toil, is not for the purpose of recovering one’s strength and becoming fit for the forthcoming labor.  The Sabbath is a day for the sake of life.”

Whatever you want to call it – Sabbath, Lent, retreat – consider some tome out for the sake of life.  As Aristotle said, “Man, by nature, desires to know.”  But we can’t know everything and needn’t know most things.  If we first know ourselves, we can better make our life choices.  Turn off the TV awhile.  Put away the smart phone.  See how funny it feels.  See how addicted you were.  And see what you’ve been MISSING!

 

May 23rd, 2017

WHY SUFFERING?

I came across this article going through “old stuff” to throw out, published in 1968 in Our Sunday Visitor.  (Is that still around?)  Thought I would have already put it on my blog but apparently not.  Back then you had to go to a place with a copying machine in order to make copies.  I’m glad I did.

AH, MUST THOU CHAR THE WOOD?

The fact of suffering is inescapable. We have but to look around and see the woman who can bear no children or the woman who cannot bear the children she has,  the man without a woman, the man with a woman, the victims of earthquakes or earaches, of indigestion on the one hand or starvation on the other.  Examples can be multiplied indefinitely.  If we have not personally had much to suffer we may well ponder the fact that we are not long for this world and that no one gets out of it alive.  I gives us food for thought.

But suffering does not present for the atheist the problem that it does for the Christian.  Oh, the atheist suffers all right, as intensely as anyone else.   He casts about for ways to avoid suffering, to alleviate suffering, or to endure it.  He can look for the silver lining if he wishes, opine that it’s an ill wind that blows nobody good, or philosophize that that’s the way the cookie crumbles.  But that;s about all the philosophizing he can do.  His lot is quiet desperation, quiet resignation, or not-so-quiet rebellion, depending on his mood.

It is only the person who believes there is a rational order in the universe who is entitled to ask the reason for suffering.  What purpose does it serve? It is only the person who believes that God is, and that God is good, who has to ponder why that good God permits the innocent to suffer and the evil to prosper.  The “why” of suffering has been a stumbling-block of Christians for ages.

The thalidomide baby . . . why?  The boy-soldier in Vietnam . . . why? Why do they suffer for someone else’s stupidity or cupidity?  Atheist and Christian alike can blame a drug for as the immediate cause of the thalidomide baby’s deformity.  But what about the final cause?  Where does this hapless creature fit into the Creator’s scheme of things?

“If God is good,” the cynics ask, “why does he permit suffering, especially the suffering of the innocent?  “Is that the way a loving father acts?” If we pause to think about it, we realize that, in fact, it often is.  The small child does not now understand why the attractive insect he is about to grasp is snatched away from him.  He cannot comprehend why the answer is “No!” when he pleads for something he is better off without. He does not know why he is made to do things he does not want to do and is punished for doing things he wants to do.  Someday, when he is more mature, he will understand why his parents treated him the way they did.  For the present he must accept his frustrations, pain, and denials because someone who loves him knows they are necessary for his growth and happiness.

The wisest of men is but a baby when it comes to fathoming the designs of a God who can “write straight with crooked lines”and has ordered all things to the good.  It is immediately apparent that there is no direct proportion between sin and suffering, at least in this life.  Rather, if there is any proportion at all, it seems to be inverse.

St.Teresa is reported to have chided God, telling Him it was no wonder He had so few friends, he treated those he did have so badly.  When the blind man in the Bible asked Christ who had sinned, the man or his parents, so that he was born blind, Christ gave the answer:  It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be made manifest in him.  There, in a nutshell, we have it.  Suffering is permitted so that the works of God may be made manifest.

From all eternity God has foreseen that the operation of natural laws and man’s freedom of choice would result in suffering.  The laws of nature are going to result in disaster when two cars hit head-on or the climatic conditions are right for a tornado.  Man’s freedom of choice is going to result in his occasionally behaving in such a manner as to grieve his fellow man.

There is no evil, however, no matter how great, that does not fit into God’s overall plan and from which He cannot draw good.  The suffering of others presents an opportunity for us to love and to serve.  Our own suffering should be looked upon as a test, not a punishment.  It will help if we can  believe with St. Teresa that from the viewpoint of eternity out life on earth will seem as but one night in a bad inn.

Suffering can bring about an opening of the heart, an awareness of the trials of others and a compassion for them.  It can soften and mellow.  It can disclose hidden strengths as well as weaknesses, reveal depths of courage and wells of kindness.  In the wake of seeing how poorly we suffer, how petty and demanding we can be, we learn tolerance for the complaints and imperfections of others.

Suffering reveals us to others and others to us.  It can bring us to our knees –we who stood so straight and self-sufficient find that we need others and God.  When the trial has passed the person might say, “It was necessary that I should suffer in order that I might learn this.”  Though he would not want to go through his ordeal again, now that it is over he considers it a valuable experience.

Suffering strips us of illusions, revises our standards of value, and often results in the replacement of old values with an entirely new set.  To quote Veuillot, “Certain things cannot be seen except with eyes that have wept.”

I believe it was Bishop Fulton Sheen who said that on the way to sanctity suffering is first endured, then accepted, then embraced.  Christians are enjoined to take up their cross and follow Christ.

Is suffering, then, a good and even a necessary thing–an unavoidable means to our eternal happiness?  If so, perhaps we would be doing others a favor by being the occasion of their suffering.  Instinctively we know that is not so.  There is plenty of suffering to go around without our deliberately doling out unnecessary pain.  We not only shrink from suffering ourselves but feel an urge to alleviate suffering in others when we are confronted  by it.

We have not been told to make each other suffer,  rather love one another.  We recognize suffering for what it is, an evil.  We feel it is right that we are told to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, give drink to the thirsty, visit the sick, visit prisoners, and otherwise comfort the afflicted.

It was also Bishop Sheen who made the statement that the world is full of half-crucified souls.  These are the people who start out willing enough to accept God’s will but find the going rough and end up saying, “Thy will be done, O Lord, — but not now, and not like this.”  “My cross is not the right kind, it rubs in the wrong places; it makes me irritable and humiliates me.  I could bear another cross with much more dignity and courage.”  Or, “My cross is not the right size.  Really, it is much too small.  I could do with a good big, satisfying burden, but these multitudinous splinters!  They drive me to distraction. Their very pettiness makes me impossible.  Let me do the thing once and grandly–not, O Lord, a lifetime of niggardly trials upon trials, day after day.”  Or, my cross is too big, more than I can bear, it is a crushing soul-searing weight.  It overwhelms me, it is too much for anyone to accept.”

Then we remember that Christ voluntarily gave up His life on the cross, suffering intense spiritual anguish,  (“My God, my God, why has Thou forsaken me”)  as well as physical torture.  He has shown us the way.  “Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me….”  Then, “Not my will but Thy will be done.”

We are invited to take up our crosses and follow Christ, to become other Christs, to share in His redemptive work.  Through Christ, united with Christ, the evil that is suffering has value.  This is what the saints recognized when  they desired to suffer.   To be Christ-like means to be willing to suffer for mankind.  “Greater love hath no man than to lay down his life for his friends.”  It is love that transforms the evil that is suffering into a redeeming force.  Accepted for love of God or fellow-man, suffering can become a thing of value.

It is human to shrink from suffering.  Even Christ did.  We need not go out of our way looking for a burden to bear.  It will come our way, sooner or later.  And when it does, if we look closely at our cross we will see that it is custom-made with our name on it.  It is designed to rub where it will hurt.  If it did not pain, if we could get used to it, it would cease to be across and it would not do the job.

The cross that is ours is master-minded exclusively for us to gradually wear away at our egocentricity, to abrade our pride, to make us not what we think we ought to be but what God thinks we ought to be.   We have but to submit to the process, to trust and “wait upon the Lord.”  With Mary we can say , “Be it done unto me….”  With Job, “Though He slay me, still will I trust in Him.”   And when we have surrendered  our will to God’s will, we find that God will not be outdone in generosity.  We receive more than we gave.  We have emptied ourselves only to be fulfilled.

Many years ago at retreat house near Chicago I chanced upon a few lines of poetry penned in the guest book by a previous visitor.  The lines were from Francis Thompson’s Hound of Heaven and were written above the signature of a man who made his retreat as a member of Alcoholics Anonymous. They read:

“Ah must, Designer Infinite,

Ah must, Tho char the wood ere Thou canst limn with it?”

With Thompson the writer seemed to lament the apparent truth that an instrument  that God could use for His work must first undergo fire.  In a similar metaphor another poet compared God to a sculptor and complains, “My God, Thy chisel hurts.”  The poet had put himself into God’s hands to be made into a thing of beauty but winces when His chisel chips away at the ugliness in which he is enmeshed.

For the atheist there can be no purpose in suffering.  It is simply an evil to be avoided if possible. For the Christian it is also an evil but when  this evil befalls us we can believe, and even sometimes see, that evil is only permitted by God because it cannot triumph.  God’s work WILL be done.

 

April 27th, 2017

THE QUESTIONS THEY ASK!

In 1979 I sent the following offering to Erma Bombeck, hoping she would publish it in her column.  She was kind enough to respond, telling me she was too insecure to use guest columnists.  Just found it (2017) so I guess I’ll publish it myself.

 

THE QUESTIONS THEY ASK!

There are times when I think of myself as a fairly intelligent individual–when I am talking to an adult, for example.  There are other times when I am convinced that I am a blithering idiot.  Like when I talk to my children.  This, I tell myself, is because adults generally discuss trivia whereas children concern themselves with eternal verities.

Katy, for example, is three years old and is having trouble with the concept of relativity.  One of her favorite questions is, “Mommy, is this tomorrow?”  “No, it’s today,” I used to answer automatically. “Oh,darn,”  she’d wail, stamping her foot.  “Why is it today?”

This is somewhat of a stumper, so I”d counter with, “Don’t you want it to be today?”

“No.”

“Why?”

“Other day you said tomorrow you’d take me to the dime store.”

By then I realize that truly today is yesterday’s tomorrow and that it is no longer tomorrow that we are going to the dime store but today. However I balk at putting it so lucidly to a three-year-old.   “You’re right,” I beam. “This is the day we go to the dime store.”

Now when Katy asks, “Is this tomorrow?”  I ask “Do you want it to be tomorrow?” and “Why?”  And if Katy wants it to be tomorrow, it usually is.  I have haunting doubts that I haven’t done much to put Katy wise to the metamorphosis of yesterday into today and tomorrow but I put them out of my mind, wondering if Einstein would have done better.

Terry, at 7, understands yesterday, today, and tomorrow perfectly and I have hopes that Katy will find out the same way (however that is).

Much to my dismay, Terry can read now, and there is no telling what she will ask next!  The other day she was boning up on her theology and came up with “Mommy, does God have only one eye?”  Well, right off I could tell this was going to be a doozy and tried to sidestep the issue with, “Why do you ask?”

“It says here that God has an all-seeing eye.”

“Oh,”I explain, “that just means that God can see everything that goes on all over the world.”

“Does he see with one eye or with two eyes?”

Apparently I hadn’t done a very good job of sidestepping.  I take the bull by the horns and reply, ‘As a matter of fact, God doesn’t have any eyes at all.  God is a spirit and you know a spirit has no body.”

“Can a spirit see without eyes?”   “Yes.”  “Why does it say God has an eye?”

Because people are so used to seeing with eyes that it is hard for them to understand that a spirit can see without eyes so they pretend that God sees with an eye but he really doesn’t” I lamely explain.

“Did Jesus have eyes:”

“Yes.”

“How many?”

“Two>”

“Well, Jesus is God.”

“Yes, “I sigh.  “Jesus is God the Son.  We were talking about God the Father.”  (She has learned in school that there are three persons in God, and if Sister says so, it’s so)

“Well, does God the Son have two eyes and God the Father only one?”

I had never heard the distinction between the Persons of the Trinity put quite like that and I am somewhat unnerved as my God the Father image is transformed into sort of an omniscient Cyclops.  Maybe they can do something for her at school, I hope, and comfort myself that the Trinity is, after all, a mystery.

The day came when I thought I could outsmart them.  Wendy, age 8, was musing on the nature of matter.

“Mommy,” she asked, “is air nothing?”

At last!  Here was my forte!  With complete confidence based upon a college degree in biochemistry I launched into an answer calculated to inform her, but good!

“No, air is not only something but it is a lot of things.  It is made up of gases such as nitrogen and oxygen (that’s what our bodies use when we breathe) and carbon dioxide (that’s what we breathe out) and water vapor and small amounts of other gases.   Gases are made up of invisible parts called molecules.  Molecules are composed of even smaller parts called atoms, and atoms are made up of even smaller parts called protons, electrons,neutrons, and so forth.. Think of it,”I said,” as I warmed to my subject and sought to impress upon her the wonderful tininess of these ultimate bits of matter.  “In a single thimbleful of air there are as many teeny-weeny particles as here are people in the whole world!”

“You mean,” she asked, oh, the wide-eyed innocence of her, “Do you mean that every time a baby is born, another little thing jumps into the thimble?”

Now, I ask you!

March 16th, 2017

A Day In Prison

It is almost thirty years since Operation Rescue, the largest civil rights movement in the history of our nation, was in full sway. People are alive today who were “rescued” back then when other people sat down and prayed in front of abortion mills. I remember some of the happenings in the following letter but I did not know the letter existed until now and I was going through some old papers. When Dolores and I went to King of Prussia, PA, and on to Paoli, PA, back in July of 1989 we were apparently helped by Pat and Jack. I’m glad I thought to thank them because I’m able to post at this late date what it was like for one day in West Chester County Prison way back in 1989,

October 18, 1989

Dear Pat and Jack,

Dolores and I want so much to thank both of you and Mrs. Toland for your kindness in putting us up overnight and shepherding us through the “going to jail” procedure. It is so true that when we follow the Lord he gives us many more brothers and sisters and we are blessed many times over. All told, it was a truly great experience and we would not have missed it. Actually, while we were glad to get out into the pouring rain we would have liked to have stayed longer to get to know better some of the other inmates. Because you did not know exactly what we would encounter in jail, I am going to try to get down some of it for the benefit of potential future inhabitants of that fine facility known as Chester County Prison (but I can only speak for the female side.)

First off, there were about 30 women and 800 men housed, of course, separately. When we entered we were patted down and then filled out intake papers, name, age, sex, pregnant?, on medication?, suicidal?, etc., etc. Then they loaded us down with two sheets, a scraggly but clean blanket, white T shirt, green overshirt and pants, and we went upstairs to our cell — about 7 x 9 feet with a barred door, toilet, sink, bunk beds, desk and seat, all quite firmly bolted in place, plus a window that looked out over a roof but also let in fresh air and we could see trees, fields, birds and sky. We then went down the hall where we stripped and were again searched (open your mouth, lift up your boobs, turn around, bend over and cough, show me the soles of your feet.) That done, our head hair and our pubic hair were sprayed with some smelly stuff and we were given a bar of soap to shower hair and body. (It seemed to me a rather perfunctory delousing — I doubt that procedure would have killed anything.) We were allowed to put on our own underwear, socks, and sneakers, and then the prison apparel. Then to lunch. We were late for lunch but they had saved us two hot dogs, bread, baked beans, chicken noodle soup, juice and milk. We could easily get fat on prison fare! I forgot to mention that we had not brought in combs and toothbrushes and they didn’t issue any so our hair looked pretty unkempt for the 24 hours we were in jail. We were told we could have brought these things in with us.

After a brief period locked in our cell we went to the day room (same as dining room) where the other girls were playing cards and watching TV. (Do I recall that you folks supplied the games? They had chess and checkers and cards and seemed to prefer playing cards to watching TV.) They also had MTV which Dolores thought was not a good idea as she terms it “provocative.” I plan to write a letter very soon to one of the girls I was able to talk with who won’t be getting out until next March. Some have been there two years or more. They were friendly and eventually invited us to join in a game of Rummy. One girl, Karen, came over and introduced herself, saying that she had robbed a bank last week.

Supper was chicken salad, bread, macaroni salad, iced tea, celery and carrot sticks, pickles, and a huge piece of chocolate cake. After supper were asked if we would like to go to the library, which we declined, having brought reading material in with us. Then came an interview with the nurse’s assistant with blood pressure, pulse, temperature, medical history, have you been in jail before? (they said lots of us answered “Atlanta”) and we were told they were going to take our blood to test for venereal disease. I asked if they did HIV and they said no. They never did get around to taking our blood!

Then back to the dayroom until 11 PM. (if you wish) and then lights out. You have no control over the light in your room, an overhead light that goes on at 5:30 A.M. whether you like it or not, out during the day, and then on again until 11 P,M. Some time on the first day, I forget exactly when, we went downstairs to have our pictures taken, with our prison number, and fingerprints (more than you could imagine they could possibly need). And so to sleep.

After breakfast the next day (pancakes and syrup, cereal, coffee, milk – you are allowed 20 minutes to eat a meal and only a spoon to eat it with. Then they brought the cleaning stuff around. I had thought the windows in our cell were mighty clean and now I knew why. Twice a week you wash down your door, dry mop the floor and then wet mop it, brush out and sanitize the toilet, scrub the sink and Windex the windows. Good clean place! No vermin! Next came the opportunity to go out in the yard for two hours (on bad days one goes to the gym) . Big yard, nice grass, basketball and baseball for those so inclined, or just walk or jog around. It started to rain so we came back to the dayroom where we were again patted down. A black girl cried out, “That greyhaired lady has a hacksaw! She asked me if I had found one. I told her I couldn’t but I had tried.

In between all of these things I had time to read a book. I plan to write to my fellow inmates very soon. Somehow, deep down, it was a very good experience and we are richer for it. They let us out promptly at 11 A.M. the second day. The trip home through New York traffic at rush hour was harder to take than jail.

God bless you all and your work. May you grow and multiply. What do you think of Hugo in Charleston, Jerry in Galveston, and the San Francisco earthquake while we were cussing out the New York traffic? What is this world coming to?

Love,

Dorothy Vining

P.S. They have a black chaplain whose last name is Christmas.

P.P.S. The C.O.s were decent and professional. None was obnoxious or unkind.

March 14th, 2017

I CAN’T REMEMBER

Just a sign to say I’m living, that I’m not among the dead,

Though I’m getting more forgetful, and more mixed up in my head,

For sometimes I can’t remember when I stand at the foot of the stairs

if I must go up for something, or I’ve just come down from there.

And before the “frig” so often my poor mind is filled with doubt –

Have I just put food away or have I cone to take it out?

And there are times when it is dark out, with my nightcap on my head,

i don’t know if I’m retiring, or just getting out of bed.

So if it’s my turn to write you, there’s no need of getting sore,

i may think that I have written, and don’t want to be a bore.

Please remember I do love you, and I wish that you were here,

But now it’s nearly mail time so I’ll just say “Goodbye dear.”

………

There I stood by the mailbox, with my face so very red!

Instead of mailing you my letter, I opened it up instead!

             Writer unknown found among my papers.

March 14th, 2017

OVERLOAD! TIME OUT!

(Note:  As you can tell from the first paragraph, this little piece has been hanging around for years, waiting for me to find it again!)

According to Aristotle, “Man by nature desires to know”  but some of us desire to know the oddest things!  We think we need to know what Kelly Ripa will name her third baby. whether Kelly Osbourne, really can sing, and whether Kelly Clarkson will become an American idol.

We can learn all about the habits of meerkats, the worst storms in the past century, and the biggest man-made edifices in the world.  Perhaps if we absorb enough facts we can someday win on Jeopardy or Who Wants To Be a Millionaire?  So called “reality” shows have a hook to reel us in and keep us tuning to a particular channel until  the final choice is made and the last loser leaves rejected.  Then we want to find out how each of them feels about what they experienced and how their lives are changed.

There is just so much to KNOW!  As soon as we come home from work the TV goes on, not because there is anything in particular we want to see but because there is probably something of interest to watch–to amuse us, to distract us, even once in a while to educate us.  It sometimes seems we will watch almost anything rather than to be thrown back on our own resources.  We’d much rather watch a bad sit-com than read a good book.

TV lures us, seduces us, feeds us millions of unrelated bits of information that we would never have searched out on our own.  Titillating tid-bits… entrancing escape hatches…mind-numbing commercials.  I’m told that information has increased a thousand-fold in the past century.  No matter how hard we try, we can’t begin to process it all.  We’re on information overload.

Many things are competing for our attention, pulling us this way and that.  If we don’t decide which way we want to go, who will?

March 13th, 2017

GONE ARE THE DAYS

I recently read an article that said, “Television is fast becoming anti-life….it certainly is anti-relationship.”  That’s  something to think about.  TV is anti-relationship in several ways.  It does not foster communication.  It is easier to reach for the remote than o reach out and touch somebody.  TV doesn’t show us wholesome, satisfying relationships.  They are, after all, so hum-drum.

I am old enough to remember evenings at home before TV.  Whatever did we do with all that time?  We read books and shared them = with real people.  We discussed plans for the next day or next year.  We did puzzles together or played board games and sang around the piano.  We actually did things with our hands – we whittled, knitted, painted, made clothes and toys,  knickknacks and doo-dads.  There were gardens to tend, livestock to care for,  We cooked and canned and quilted TOGETHER, a far cry from ordering a pizza to eat in front of the TV, each person absorbed in watching whatever happened to be on.

Our kids got to know us pretty well.  They knew what we thought and what we valued.  They heard stories about our younger days and we heard about their daily exploits.  In a word, we were “available” in a way that a parent engrossed in a TV program is not.  And kids were present to their parents in a way that kids in their own rooms with their own TVs and smart phones are not.

There was time for reverie, a lovely word for the aimless free-flow of ideas.   Idly watching the flickering flames of the fireplace is much more restful than trying to make sense of rapidly changing images on a TV screen.  Reminiscing, something we cannot do when entranced by the boob-tube, helps to give us perspective.

We know in our hearts that we need time apart to reflect, reconsider, reorder our priorities.  People go to the mountains or the seashore, retreats and hermitages to get in touch with their inner selves  to sort the gold from the glitter and ponder eternal verities.  At this time of the year many religions advocate a time apart from the worldly hub-bub.

What are you doing this year with your Lent?