short excerpts...other writings...upon occasion or as prompted...
The tiger in the water? A representation of my life -- spirit and environment!


Sunday, December 27, 2009

Working within the Framework of the Other's Values

People make decisions about us all the time. Are we good or bad? Do they like us? They use their own value systems, not ours, to make these decisions. During the Cold War, most official documents required by Americans in the Soviet Union were difficult to obtain, so it was no surprise that three weeks after I had arrived as an exchange scholar at the University of Moscow, the American Embassy was no closer to getting the paperwork to enroll my daughter, Lizzie, in school than they had been when we arrived.

"Don't worry," I told the embassy officer. "Soviet officials are used to working with embassy personnel, but I doubt that they've seen a mad American mother."

I home and asked a friend who had moved from Krasnodar to Moscow what she had done to enroll her child, and I followed the same procedure. I dressed Lizzie in a pretty pink dress since she did not yet have a school uniform and tied Russian-style ribbons in her hair, which I braided in Russian fashion. Then, off we went to meet the director of the school that I wanted Lizzie to attend.

The director of the school was very taken with Lizzie and with the fact that after only two weeks in Moscow, she was answering questions fully, accurately, and in literate Russian (something, as a foreign language teacher, I made sure of before going to the school). She was also impressed with Lizzie's level of education. (Of course, it helped that Lizzie had skipped two grades at home.) She accepted Lizzie and told me to get the napravlenie (enrollment permission) for her school at the Main School Directorate, located on a small alley off the Old Arbat.

Off I went, Lizzie in her pink dress and pink ribbons in tow. Lizzie quickly garnered the sympathy of the elderly lady in charge of transfers. Unusually gentle for a bureaucrat, she sympathized, "It's wrong to hold a child out of school for two weeks."

I concurred and mentioned that Lizzie cried at night because she could not attend school. Well, that comment, made to someone from a culture that puts children first and foremost, immediately brought forth a document. We were in fine shape until the bureaucrat had to fill in the name of the transfer city: Washington. She had thought we were transferring from another city in the Soviet Union and had no choice but to send us away to the International Division. However, she did send along a partially filled-in document, which made it easier for the International Division bureaucrat to make the decision to enroll Lizzie.

Technically, no one had to enroll her because she had not yet received permission for enrollment from the Ministry of Education. In those days, the ministry could dally forever so the mad American mother had to come up with a plan. I did. That plan was to use Russian values (love for children and appreciation for education) to get what Lizzie needed. Before leaving earlier in the day for the Main School Directorate, I had given myself 24 hours to get her enrolled, but I managed to do it in even less.

The International Division bureaucrat wavered. On the one hand, she had the paperwork from the International Division, but on the other hand, she had nothing from the ministry. I jumped in and pleasantly explained that I realized I might seem impatient but that was because of an American upbringing that I could not walk away from, even in a foreign land. "In America," I said, "we value education, and we love children."

"So do we," insisted the International Division bureaucrat. With that, she sat down and signed the napravlenie.

As she handed the document to me, she muttered, mostly to herself, "I wonder if we will ever get the permission slip for the files from the ministry." To this day, I have no idea if she ever did. However, Lizzie spent delightful months in school in Moscow, thanks to a bureaucrat who was willing to bend the rules during the height of the Cold War. I don't know if that kind lady ever felt any kind of reward for her remarkable deed, but I do know that, thanks to her, Lizzie, her friends, and school did as the one American child and the many Russian children learned a lot about each other and each other's countries from each other in a way that no political system can foster -- or undermine.


Excerpted and adapted from a story I published in a collection of vignettes, copyright 2003.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Assume That Your Problem Will Be Resolved

Often problems become greater, rather than disappear, because subconsciously we anticipate trouble. By remaining calm and focused on the task, not on the complications surrounding the task, we can often resolve the problem rather than simply coping with it. Imagining the problem as already resolved will in many cases lead to its resolution.

Several years ago I flew from Novosibirsk (Siberia) to Tashkent (Uzbekistan) on Siberian Airlines. Yes, there really is a Siberian Airlines!

When I arrived, the Uzbek border guard paged through my passport several times, looking at me occasionally. I knew instantly what was going on in his head. First, I had no visa for Uzbekistan. Second, since the aircraft was Russian and the flight was coming in from Siberia, only Russian- and Uzbek-speaking border guards were manning the posts. No one expected an American to be flying that particular route. So, what the guard likely was thinking was, "What? No visa! And how on earth am I going to talk about this with her?"

He tentatively asked, "Vy sluchaino ne govorite po-russki?" (Do you, by chance, speak Russian?)

I conceded, "Da, sluchaino, govoryu." (Yes, I, by chance, do.)

He smiled and said, "Chudesno; mozhno obshchats'ya." (Wonderful; we can communicate.)

Then he went on to explain that he could not find my Uzbek visa. I assured him that he was, indeed, correct in his ascertainment that there was no Uzbek visa in my passport. I then went on to explain that I had heard that it was possible to use a Russian visa, which I had, for up to 72 hours during which time one could obtain an Uzbek visa in-country. He told me that this possibility did not exist. Only if one were to stay less than 72 hours could one use the Russian visa.

Well, this was certainly a dilemma. However, I assumed that the problem would be resolved, that I would not spend the rest of my life beside the border guard station in Tashkent. So, I said to the guard, "Nu, kazhetsya, chto u nas problema. Kak my reshim ee?" (Well, we seem to have a problem. What are we going to do about it?)

He laughed and said that we could not do anything at all about it but he could once the whole planeload of people had passed through. True to his word, he got me a an uncommon multi-entry yearlong visa and obviously felt very pleased with himself. When I asked what I owed, he said, "Nothing. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs will collect the fee from your sponsoring organization."

While in Uzbekistan, I provided consultation that pleased the Ministry of Education, which asked me to return in 6-9 months for extensive consultation. When I asked for an extension of my visa from the Uzbekistan Embassy in the USA, I received it very quickly, possibly because of having been granted that uncommon type of visa (multi-entry, year-long) in Tashkent, and was surprised to find that my new visa was for five years, a rarity.

The next time I came to Tashkent, then, was quite a different experience although not initially. The border guard looked at my passport and the visa, which he easily found, then at me and then back at the visa. Apparently, the five-year visa is indeed quite rare. "Est' problema?" (Is there a problem?), I asked him.

He smiled broadly. "O, net," he responded warmly. "Vy nasha." (A rough translation: Not at all, you are ours, i.e. one of us.)

It is so inconceivable to me that today that wonderful country is closed to Americans. I will always remember the feeling of being "nasha."


Excerpted and adapted from a story I published in a collection of vignettes, copyright 2003.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Raindrops Keep Falling on Her Head

Once upon a time Mommy worked at NASA in Houston, Texas for a year. She liked her work, but she did not like the Houston climate. It rained a lot. In fact, it rained off and on nearly every day in the spring.

Being from California, Mommy was not used to that much rain. She figured out how to cope, however. She bough a small umbrella that folded up to fit inside her backpack. That way, if it rained, she could quickly pull out the umbrella, and if it did not rain, the umbrella would be out of the way in her backpack. This was especially helpful because Mommy walked back and forth from work .She liked walking, but she often got caught in surprise rainstorms.

One day, it was not raining when Mommy left her house. In fact, it was pretty hot.
Mommy had a long walk. She lived more than two miles from NASA. When she walked, she thought a lot. She thought about work, about her family, about lots of things. So, she did not pay a lot of attention to what was going on around her. (That is probably why a lot of detail-oblivious people get called absent-minded.)

Mommy got pretty used to doing things automatically, without thinking, while she walked, so that she could think about the things that she wanted to. When the cars stopped moving, she sensed a red light and crossed the street, and when her skin felt wet, she sensed the rain and put up her umbrella. It all worked out pretty well.

On this day that I am talking about, though, she was already at NASA, and there had been no rain. Somewhere in her subconscious she was thinking about how great it was to have a morning without rain. Then, suddenly her skin felt wet, and her automatic reaction took over: Out came the umbrella and on Mommy walked.

Mommy felt pretty good about her quick reaction to the sudden rain, until she noticed that people had stopped walking around the buildings and were looking at her. That was when she realized that she was walking through a sprinkler with her umbrella up.

Conclusion: Make sure it is raining before you put up your umbrella.

This story is excerpted from a collection of vignettes that I helped Doah, my severely mentally challenged youngest son, to write and publish several years ago (copyright 2003). It was my attempt to help him understand literacy and the purpose of writing and reading.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

The Car That Would Not Start

Once Mommy returned to the parking lot after work to find that she did not have the keys to the car. Before going back to the office, she looked inside the car. Sure enough, there were the keys, right in the ignition. At least with this car, she knew how to break in and get the keys. In a little while, she was inside, but the car would not start. It was now pretty late, and there were not very many people around. Mommy went to the garage attendant and asked if he knew someone who could give her a jump.

"Are you driving that brown van on the top level?" he asked.

"Yeah!" Mommy was surprised that he knew which car she drove.

"Well, you're out of gas," he said.

"How's that?" she asked. How could he know she was out of gas? Besides, the car had not been on empty when she parked it.

He did know. He explained, "Because you left the keys in the ignition with the car running and the door locked. We tried to get in but could not. The car finally ran out of gas in the middle of the afternoon."

Oops! He probably thought that Mommy was crazy. Maybe he was right.

Conclusion: If you want to go somewhere, you have to be able to start the car.

This story is excerpted from a collection of vignettes that I helped Doah, my severely mentally challenged youngest son, to write and publish several years ago (copyright 2003). It was my attempt to help him understand literacy and the purpose of writing and reading.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

The Rewards of Revealing Your Incompetence

My children, secretaries, and friends have always been very protective of me. This, I think, is because they consider me incompetent in some areas of life (and therefore vulnerable). They are seemingly correct.

At least in terms of cooking, I would not lay claim to any awards. I have to admit that much. That started as a child, when I proudly presented my first cake to my father, who took one bite and proclaimed the cake "not fit for the pigs." (And, indeed, when we threw it into the pigpen, the pigs refused to eat it, kicking it around for a couple of weeks until it finally biodegraded.)

My kids would often beg other people to make their party meals not because I would not but because they were afraid that I would. At one point, my secretary asked me to buy one of my sons a birthday cake on the way home. When I asked why, she said that he had called and asked her to bake him a cake and upon learning that she could not because she was not going to be home, he had sobbed, "If you don't, Mom will."

I'm not much better when it comes to painting. I can usually get a room started, but someone else ends up finishing it. It's not a Tom Sawyer act or an act at all. It's good old-fashioned incompetence. For example, recently I wanted to pain a room before a tenant moved into it. I covered the floor with plastic and started busily to cover the walls with paint. Before I could finish covering them all, however, I managed to step into the paint bucket (painting my foot), trip over the plastic covering (exposing the carpet), and tip over the paint bucket (painting the bucket). The room with the painted carpet was fully painted, thanks to a tenant taking over. That's pretty much par for the course for me when it comes to household chores.

People not only seem to accept that kind of incompetence, but they quickly step in to help me. When my father-in-law first met me, I was cooking bacon for his breakfast. He immediately took over, without waiting to be introduced. He apparently thought that breakfast would be in some kind of danger if left in my hands. And so it has gone always.

Are there any rewards to be found in revealing one's incompetence? Certainly! All my children, regardless of gender, became good cooks. (They, of course, claim that learning to cook was self-defense.) My rooms get painted. Other people offer to help with anything that is based on handicraft. So, I get pampered. All by being just a tad honest about a few deficiencies.

I have a feeling that all those folks who step in to help gather some sense of reward as a result of their helping. Why else would they help?


Excerpted and adapted from a story I published in a collection of vignettes, copyright 2003.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Stand up! Speak up!

When help is needed, many people will often look the other way, hoping that someone else will step up. That was clear on one flight from Los Angeles to Frankfurt that went only as far as the beginning of the runway, then turned around, and came back. The pilot announced that the instruments showed nothing wrong with the plane but that he flew it regularly, did not like the way it felt, and was unwilling to pilot it. As we waited to disembark and be rescheduled on other flights, a nun stood up and asked in Italian if anyone spoke Italian. On that large plane headed to Europe, there must have been a number of speakers of Italian, but no one admitted to knowing the language. I stepped up and told her in broken Italian that I did not speak Italian but understood it to some extent and could speak some Spanish. She could understand (but not speak) Spanish, so we could communicate in an Italian-Spanish lingo.

She had a complicated route, with a final destination of Budapest, and it took nearly 30 minutes to reschedule her. By that time, the line for rescheduling was nearly gone. One group of about 15 people stood to the side, watching me interpret for the nun. As she walked away, new ticket in hand, one of the people in the group approached me and asked in Polish, "Do you happen to speak Polish or Russian?" I told him in Russian that I could understand a little Polish but that if he spoke Russian, we could easily communicate. Thus, I ended up interpreting for 15 more people.

As the ticket agents started to shut down the customer service counter, I objected, "What about my ticket?" I had the most complicated route of all the people on the plane: Los Angeles - Frankfurt - Moscow - Samara (on the Volga River).

"Oh," the senior agent replied. "We thought you worked for us."

My complicated ticket required nearly a half-hour conversation between the senior ticket agent and the international desk. When done, the ticket agent gave me my ticket, noting that it was for first class, courtesy of Delta Airlines, as a thank you for all the interpretation I had done.


Excerpted and adapted from a story I published in a collection of vignettes, copyright 2003.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Fly Away, Flu!

I may not be blogging for a couple of days. The flu, or what seems to be the flu, has moved in with us and has taken over my agenda -- well, almost. I am working from home. Let's see, that would really be: dozing, doing, dozing, doing...zzz...
I did manage to drag myself to the mission kitchen yesterday to clean the pots and pans from the town's Thanksgiving dinner. Donnie and I ate in a corner to avoid coming into contact with anyone else although he was not then ill, and no one but I wanted to scrub the pots and pans, so I was pretty much alone. (Fortunately, I was not feeling quite as bad yesterday as I am today.)
So, I have decided to take a long sleep break until the flu flies away! See you post-hibernation!

Friday, November 20, 2009

The Power of a Kind Bribe

I once desperately needed to have a document processed immediately by a bureaucrat in the organization where I worked. George (not his real name; he would probably not mind my sharing his name and this story, but he unfortunately died a few years ago) was particularly well known for his procrastination. However, if he were to procrastinate with my paperwork, I would lose several hundred dollars. Unfortunately, the lateness of the paperwork was my fault, not his. So, I really did need a favor from George, whom I did not know well and who was reputed to be slow.

After doing some quick thinking, I dashed to a flower shop, then approached George with a pretty purple, yellow, orange, and white bouquet, one that seemed suitable in color for the male of our species. I told him what I needed and why, explained how not getting a same-day turnaround on the papers would affect me, and asked if I could beg him for help with words or bribe him with flowers. He laughed and said that the flowers were an excellent bribe and that the paperwork would be ready in a couple of hours. It was.

The exchange of flowers for paperwork led to more than I had expected. When people saw the flowers on the desk of this introverted, even sometimes dour man, they were surprised and asked where they came from. That gave him something pleasant to talk about, and he seemed to enjoy the rare attention.

A few days later, I was working late and heard a knock on my door. It was George. He walked around the work premises early each evening as his daily constitutional. He had seen my light on and had decided to stop in -- after going to his nearby home to pick a rose from his garden and bring it with him to give to me. Thereafter, every Wednesday evening right before I got ready to leave, I would find him at my door with a rose, and I always stayed a few minutes longer to talk to him.

There was no personal relationship as such between us, just the Wednesday rose and talk -- and a goodnight hug. The bouquet that I had given him came back to me again and again for the remaining three years that I worked at that organization, and a bureaucrat whom I would otherwise have barely known became an ally.


Excerpted and adapted from a story I published in a collection of vignettes, copyright 2003.

Friday, November 13, 2009


I know that Mommy would not make a very good secretary because I have seen her typing. Actually, her typing is pretty good, but she makes mistakes sometimes that are very funny. Well, I think they are funny, but the people she types them for do not.

One of the words she has trouble with is public. She keeps forgetting to type the letter "l" into the word. For example, one time her book publisher called her at the last minute. The publisher was laughing, but she wanted Mommy to make a change real fast. Instead of "public events," Mommy had typed "pubic events."

Daddy knows what that mistake is like. Once Mommy typed his resume, and he distributed it all over Pittsburgh. He stopped sending it out, however, when he got a call from one potential employer. Mommy had typed that Daddy had "extensive experience in pubic relations." Daddy types his own resumes now.

One time Mommy applied for a grant to go to Siberia. She wanted Daddy and us to go with her. She typed that in the application.

When she was interviewed for the grant, one of the interviewers asked her, if she thought that Daddy should go to Russia with her, given his problem and the nature of Russian society. Mommy did not understand. The interviewer did not want to spell things out.

"Well, you know, the problem you mention in the application," he said.

Mommy still did not understand.

"Well, you know that in Russia people drink a lot more than in the United States," the interviewer explained. "So do you really think it is wise to take your husband, with his problem, with you?"

"What problem?" Mommy demanded to know. She was really confused.

"This one," the interviewer responded, He handed her application to her and pointed out what she had typed: "Souse and children will accompany me."

Daddy won't let Mommy type anything anymore. I think he made the right decision.

Conclusion: I know what to get Mommy for Christmas: typing lessons.

I thought it was about time for another of Doah's stories. This story is excerpted from a collection of vignettes that I helped Doah, my severely mentally challenged youngest son, to write and publish several years ago (copyright 2003). It was my attempt to help him understand literacy and the purpose of writing and reading.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Cyberspace Roulette

My cybermom sometimes relies too much on e-mail. Well, actually, it is not that she relies on it too much. It is that she trusts it. At least, she used to trust it. I think she has learned not to trust it anymore. Her trust was definitely broken in Moldova.

There she was teaching a seminar and keeping in touch with people back home, as usual, via e-mail. One day she had several letters to answer, and she did that very quickly, too quickly for the slow Internet in Chisinau to handle. Addresses got reshuffled and attached to the wrong notes, as Mommy splashed mail fast and furious into the Internet. As a result, the mail went to all the wrong people. Mommy found this out when people sent her very puzzled responses; they did not know that the mail had gone to the wrong addresses because Mommy does not often use names in salutations. Here are some examples:

She sent a note to my sister, Lizzie, who was moving to Illinois to go to school and needed some financial help. Mommy wrote a very simple, quick answer, with no name, saying "I will give you $1000 to move to Illinois." The note went instead to a friend of Mommy's. The friend said that she would be willing to take the money, but she wanted to know why Mommy wanted her to move to Illinois.

Mommy sent a note to my other sister, Noelle, who was living with Lizzie and not behaving very well. Mommy was very succinct, again with no name at the top of the note: "Either get your act together or move in with me!" That note, by accident, went to a colleague Mommy had just met at the State Department. That colleague was quite surprised by it and wondered what she had done wrong and why on earth Mommy would ever want her to come live with her!

Daddy got a note that was supposed to go to a college professor. He was very confused. He did not understand what it was that Mommy wanted him to do. (Daddy is a photographer, forester, and computer graphist, not a professor.)

Mommy sent a lovey-dovey note to Daddy, whose name is Donnie. She did use the salutation then, calling Daddy "My dearest and darlingest Donnie." Oh, oh! The note went to a US Air Force general with whom Mommy was supposed to meet when she got back to the United States, and the general's first name is Donald!

Oh, oh, oh, oh! Poor Mommy! She had a lot of messes to clean up that were left behind by her cyber mailman! (Better watch out for him; he is a haphazard mail carrier!)

A post over at Judith Mercado's blog (Pilgrim Soul) in which she thanks readers for being willing to accept mail from her cyber postal carrier prompted me to post this excerpt from Doah's book (copyright 2003).

Saturday, November 7, 2009

When All Disappears

There once was a family that lived in a small village. The family owned a goat, a rooster, and a dog. One day the family awoke to find that the goat had died.

"How will we drink milk now?" the husband asked his wife.

The wife had a firm faith in God and so she answered, "We will drink milk when we are supposed to drink milk."

The next day, the family awoke to find that the rooster had died.

"How will we wake up early for prayer?" asked the husband.

The wife answered: "We will wake up when we are supposed to wake up."

The day after that, the family woke up to find that their dog had died.

"Who will alarm us when strangers approach our home?" asked the husband.

The wife answered, "We will be alarmed when we are supposed to be alarmed."

The husband was completely unconvinced, but he loved his wife too much to respond.

When the family awoke the next day, there was a big shock awaiting them. A gang of violent thieves had attacked the village during the night. All the men were killed and the women and children were taken prisoners. Their home was the only one that was left unharmed.

The husband sat next to his wife unable to understand why the thieves chose not to attack them. The wife held his hand and said, "The thieves didn’t choose not to attack us. They simply were not aware of our existence. You see, we didn’t have a dog to bark, a rooster to crow or a goat to bleat – all of the sounds that directed the thieves to homes in the midst of the night. As we were losing our precious animals, we were, in fact, being prepared for an event that we were not aware of. Have faith my dear husband!"

The above story is excerpted from a book, Metaphors of Islamic Humanism, by my friend, Dr. Omar Imady, copyright 2005. Two other stories from this book have appeared on my main blog, Blest Atheist.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Pyotr Volkovich

I met Pyotr Volkovich, the vice-president of the Peace Committee of the former Soviet Republic of Belarus in Minsk, in 1989. He was clearly a man with a mission: to improve his community, that community being the greater part of Belarus, which had suffered severely from the Chernobyl nuclear reactor accident in nearby Ukraine.

While I was there, he gave me a description and history of the problem in the area and a list of medical supplies and equipment needed to care for the ill children, nearly 25% of whom had died from cancer after the reactor accident, many more of whom are now ill, and all of whom remain at risk from the irradiated soil and the food grown in it. I published that article in an international journal I edited, hoping that perhaps something would come of it. However, I did not follow up.

I met Peter again a year later when he was the keynote speaker at an International Rotary Convention in Portland, Oregon. Although I was only there by incidental invitation related to establishing a school exchange program, Pyotr said that from the moment he reached American soil at Kennedy Airport, even though he did not see me anywhere along the way, including upon arrival in Portland, he nonetheless knew that I would be there. I am convinced that this kind of confidence alone was enough to influence the events in his life.

I probably paid more attention to his speech than I otherwise might have because when he was introduced to the audience, instead of turning to his official interpreter, he asked me to do the interpretation from Russian into English for him. He gave one of the most brilliant speeches about the need for peace that I have ever heard. At what appeared to be the end of the speech, he presented the Rotary Foundation with the serial plate (framed in plastic) of the last surface-to-surface missile disassembled under the SALT Treaty. After hefty applause had died down, instead of leaving the stage, he continued with a very disconcerting phrase, "vokrug mira est' kolyakola..." (all around the world are bells). Bells was the only meaning I knew for the world, kolyakola, but I was hesitant to interpret it that way since the concept of bells made no sense in the given context, but I had no choice. Pyotr then continued, and everything made beautiful sense and left me and others with a lasting emotional response to his words: "They are big bells, warning of pending nuclear disaster. I did not, however, bring you a big bell. I brought you a small bell. [Here he took a tiny bell from his pocket and jingled it.] To hear this bell, you need the silence of peace."

The beginning of Pyotr's speech had focused on the serious medical needs of the Belarusan children, so our second meeting resulted in my sending information about the situation to medical circles in various places. Again, bad Samaritan that I was, I did not follow up but simply hoped that there would be interested parties who would contact Pyotr, and apparently some did.

Three years later when I again met Pyotr in Minsk, he had managed to arrange for the children from Gomel and other affected regions in Belarus to go to Germany for the summer, away from the radiation that daily accumulated to ever higher concentrations in their bodies. Although I was there for very different reasons (as a consultant to the Academy of Science textbook writers on the development of new K-12 and university textbooks in a variety of disciplines), he greeted me as if I were a long-time friend and fellow activist and excitedly told me about the medical equipment that the Peace Committee had received in the last 3-4 years from many different countries, saying "We consider this a result of your actions."

I was one of the few outsiders at that time to whom Pyotr had had access. However, I had never followed up on anything, so I could not honestly take credit for anything. Nonetheless, Pyotr pressed his gratitude on me.

That time I did help a little more actively. I gave the Peace Committee a monetary donation from my institutions, a rather hefty one, in fact, that we should not have been able to afford, but miraculously we ended up with a sum of money from our Russian operations that we had to somehow leave in Russia/Belarus. What better recipient could we have had than the Belarus Peace Committee?!

Like one person alone, one donation alone was not enough to make much difference. However, Pyotr knew that monetary contributions grow geometrically when they are combined, just as the combined results of people's efforts is greater than the sum of the parts. He put our contribution together with a contribution from an organization in Germany, and that allowed the Peace Committee to move 52 families from a highly irradiated area around Gomel to a newly built and relatively safe village not far from Minsk.

Pyotr knew all about getting anyone to do anything for him and be happy about it. I am sure that each individual was treated in similar ways. My ability to help was limited, but there were others who could and did help more. Pyotr treated all of us as if we were miracle makers when it was he who made the miracles happen.

I have not seen Pyotr since. In 1995, he retired from the Peace Committee, but he continued to work very hard behind the scenes for some years.

If you were to meet Pyotr, he would surprise you. Barely five feet tall and well past seventy when I first met him, he seemed seven feet tall and 30 years old as he talked about saving his land and his people. His eyes sparkled with the energy of someone much younger. His intensity and enthusiasm would move anyone to help him save his beloved Belarus.

The Pyotrs of this world can get anyone to do anything because they have a clear and altruistic goal and undauntedly tread toward it, regardless of obstacles. In such cases, everyone wants to help, and everyone feels good about helping. As for God, in addition to obviously facilitating some of those miracles, such as the inflow of medical equipment and the sudden appearance of hundreds of dollars in my institute's coffers that had to be used in Belarus, I think that Pyotr must have been one of His favorite instruments. After all, Pyotr proved that he could spread the good just as quickly as God could deliver it!


Excerpted and adapted from a story I published in a collection of vignettes, copyright 2003.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Kitchen Chaos

My Mommy is a very nice Mommy, but she is a very bad cook. When my sister needed to take some deviled eggs to Rainbow Girls' meeting, my Mommy made them. My sister took them to her meeting, but we all knew what would happen. Sure enough, she came back with all the eggs except one. After one person tasted the eggs, no one else wanted to eat them.

That's how my Mommy cooks, and I guess that's how she always cooked. When she was a little girl, she cooked a cake for Grandpa. He did not like it. He said it was not fit for the pigs, and he threw it into the pigpen. Mommy was very unhappy. The pigs would not eat her cake, and every day when she slopped the pigs, she saw the cake sitting in the corner of the pigpen where the pigs had pushed it away. I guess at some point, it just disappeared because it was something called biodegradable. At least, that's what I think happened because years later when I stayed on Grandma's farm, I fell into the pigpen, and the cake was gone.

That’s why we don’t let Mommy cook! Mommy used to scare us. She told us that if we did not help clean up the house, she would cook supper. We really hurried and worked hard to get everything cleaned fast, so that Daddy would cook supper.

We learned to cook, too. I like the way my brother and sisters cook better than the way Mommy cooks. Mommy got mad about that once, though. She had an important visitor. My brother, who was twelve years old at that time, made pot roast for dinner. It was very good. Mommy was very pleased with him until the guest complimented him on his cooking, and he said. "Thank you, but in this house, knowing
how to cook is self-defense."

My mommy's secretary, Jacqueline, was a good cook, though. So, once when it was my birthday, I called her and asked her to make my birthday cake. She said she could not because she would not be home that evening. I cried really hard. I told her that if she did not make my cake, Mommy would! So, Jacqueline told Mommy to buy me a cake. (Whew!)

Every once in a while, though, Mommy thinks that it is okay for her to cook. Once she decided to have a BBQ for all the people who worked for her. That was a good decision, and it should have been and actually was a lot of fun. She also decided that she would like to make braided bread for the BBQ. That was not a good decision, but it was fun. She made the dough, put it in a bowl to rise, and then became involved in other things until it was be time to braid the bread and bake it. While Mommy was working on other things, the doorbell rang. It was her secretary, Irene, who had come early to see if she could help with anything. Mommy thanked her and assured her that everything was under control. Irene did not believe her, though, because she could see some white stuff oozing out the kitchen door into the living room. It was Mommy's dough! She had left it for too long, and it had risen up and out of the bowl, down the stove, and across the floor. Who knows where it would have run off to had Irene not shown up when she did?

Daddy lets Mommy cook Christmas dinner. I keep telling him not to, but lots of times it has turned out okay. Each time that was a very pleasant surprise. However, last year, it happened! I knew it would. Mommy burned the ham. We could not eat it; there was only a black outside shell—all the inside had burned away. No stores were open, so we all went to a restaurant for Christmas dinner. What can I say? I told Daddy not to let Mommy cook!

As I promised Great-Granny Grandma this morning, here is another excerpt from Doah's book.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

The Babysitter

When I was smaller, Mommy sent me to church every Sunday morning. I like to go to church, but I was the only one in the family at that time who attended church, so the church sent a van to pick me up. The church van always came at 9:15, and Mommy was always rushing to get me ready on time.

One Sunday morning a man came to the door at 9:10. Mommy could not believe that the van was five minutes early. She always counted on those five minutes to get me ready. Usually, no one came to the door, so she figured that they must have been sitting there for a while. She started to hurry.

"Just a minute," she said, leaving the door open. She quickly grabbed my suit coat and put it on me.

"I just have to comb his hair; it will just be a second," she called to the man at the door as she darted into the bathroom after a comb. A few seconds later, I looked mighty spiffy.

"Almost ready," she called out again, as she rushed upstairs to get my Bible and offering.

Whew! She had never got me ready so fast.

"Here he is," she said, out of breath, as she pushed me out the door.

I looked up at a tall man in blue. I did not know him, so I just stood and looked at him, and he looked at Mommy.

"Ma'am," he said, now that he could get a word in edgewise. "All I require is a signature." He was an express mail postman with a package for Mommy.

A friend of Mommy says that every time she sees an express mail truck now she thinks that there goes Mommy's babysitter. She also said that Mommy was not going to get Mother of the Year Award that year.

I thought it was about time for another of Doah's stories. This story is excerpted from a collection of vignettes that I helped Doah, my severely mentally challenged youngest son, to write and publish several years ago (copyright 2003). It was my attempt to help him understand literacy and the purpose of writing and reading.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Angel of Beirut

Were I to have had any doubt about God protecting me, one incident in the Middle East would have dispelled it. I had traveled on university business from Jordan to Lebanon (a trip that put me on the “search her on every leg of every trip,” i.e. “randomly selected for search” list at airports worldwide for a while).

One morning in Beirut I started down a ghetto-looking street, devoid of vegetation or people, wondering if I had somehow misunderstood the instructions that the hotel clerk had given me in French. (French and Arabic are the two lingua francas in Lebanon. Of these, I chose to speak French. My mastery of French was greater than my capacity to communicate in Arabic, and I certainly looked more European than Arab although when I donned hijab — a headscarf — I could surprisingly pass for a Middle Easterner in looks.)

The stone buildings on the Beirut street stood stoically silent as if on guard, comrades of mixed color and size, humbly displaying the wounds of past wars for any accidental passerby. Some had chipped corners and broken stairs. Most were bullet-ridden.

As I walked down the street, a man suddenly appeared. Where had he come from? He looked directly at me and called out to me.

“You are not from Beirut, are you?” he asked in excellent English although his countenance was definitely Arab. He then commented, “You look Western.”

“I am a Westerner,” I answered cautiously, careful not to mention my American heritage. In the Middle East, I was always honest but never candid. If, in any given situation, I could pass for European or, as more often happened, a Russian, I did so. It was safer, given the war in Iraq and highly emotional reactions to Americans in the Middle East in general.

In response to my admission, the man replied, “In that case, you don’t want to be walking down this street. It would not be safe for you. Where are you trying to go?”

I crossed the street to where he was standing so that we did not have to continue to shout. He waited patiently, without moving. Coming up to him, I explained that I was looking for an ATM. He directed me to another street. I thanked him and walked away.

I thought he had remained at the spot where we had spoken, but as I was passing through the intersection only seconds later, I turned and saw that the spot was empty. How fortunate, I thought at the time, that he was in the right place at the right time to protect me. Later, I wondered how he could have disappeared so quickly?

But who was he? As Ashley Siferd wrote in her guest blog on this site last week, there is someone watching out for me. Wish I worthy of it! No, I don't deserve it, but I do love it!!

Adapted excerpt from Blest Atheist. Double-posted on my other blog, Blest Atheist, for convenience of readers of that blog, who tend to differ from readers here.

For more angel stories on the Blest Atheist blog, click here and for ones on this blog, click here and here.

Beth Niquette maintains a blog of angel stories that you might like to read, and I would point out that Sr. Lorraine is looking for angel stories for a book should you have any to share.

In conclusion, may you always be watched over by angels!

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Hi, There!

Hi! My name is DD. At least, that is what everyone calls me. I do have another name. It is Doah Donald Mahlou, but almost no one calls me that.

Let me tell you a little bit about myself. I like to organize things and to manage what other people do. Most especially, I like to make plans. Mommy says that my favorite phrase is "I've got a plan!" Well, I've got a plan now. My plan is to tell you some stories about my mommy. She says they're embarrassing. Daddy says they're normal for Mommy. I say they're funny. You decide!

Now, let me tell you about my mommy. Perhaps you have met her — my mommy? She's like the lady next door except that all kinds of strange and funny things happen to her. She rushes to the bus stop, ready to attack the workday with a vengeance — except that she seems to have forgotten something that leaves everyone staring. Airplanes fall apart on her, and road trips somehow end up in the wrong states. Then, when she is exhausted, she flops into bed and finds a "stranger" there.

Mommy says that there are two kinds of people: the detail-observant and the detail-oblivious. Some folks are detail-observant. They notice immediately if a neighbor has purchased a new truck, someone has rearranged the living room furniture, or the house is on fire. Other people don't seem to notice the little (uh, sometimes big) details—but they might notice a house on fire if it is their own and they are sitting in it and starting to feel hot. Mommy calls these people detail-oblivious.
My mommy is detail-oblivious. I like that because odd things happen to detail-oblivious people. Life with a detail-oblivious person can be a whole lot of fun.

This book contains only true stories about my Mommy, but mommy made me change the names of her friends (and her bosses). She says that I should protect the innocent — and her. I don't quite understand that because most all of the people I talk about in this book are guilty of the things I describe, including Mommy. Well, Mommy says that they have to be treated as if they are innocent. So, I did that.

I got the idea for this book from Jacqueline Reuss. She was my mommy's secretary, and she thought funny things happened to Mommy. She said that someone ought to write a book about Mommy. So, I did. Thank you, Jacqueline. That was a fun idea! We got you, Mommy!

I dedicate this book to Dr. Joan Landy, Karen Lindstrom, and Sue Scott, who were some of my teachers, and to Julie McGlinchey, my reading tutor. They all thought there was hope for me to become something called literate, but they were the only ones who thought so — except, of course, for my mommy, my relatives, and my family's friends. As for me, I'm starting to believe now.


This story is excerpted from a collection of vignettes that I helped Doah, my severely mentally challenged youngest son, to write and publish several years ago (copyright 2003). It was my attempt to help him understand literacy and the purpose of writing and reading.

Since several readers have commented on the human interest aspect of this "project," I thought you might be interested in reading the introduction to the book that Doah and I worked out together, talking about the origin of the book and the reason for his enthusiasm. He really put in a lot of hard work. It took us all weekend every weekend for a full year, with him relating to me the stories he remembered personally or remembered having been told by various relatives and friends and my typing them up and reading them back to him for his approval and editing ("no, no, I not say that," he would pronounce when my words did not meet his approval). It was a great mother-son collaboration -- and Donnie, the daddy here who is a computer graphics specialist, did all the graphics, again with Doah having the right to final approval.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Shopping Catastrophe

Mommy does not like to shop, but she does go shopping sometimes. It is probably good that she does not go shopping too often. The times that she does are interesting. If it were more frequently, it might be irritating—or worse. Let me give you an example.
Once my Mommy and her friend, Zina, went grocery shopping. At that time, Zina and her daughter, Ksenya, were living with us.

Zina is like my Mommy in many ways. Like my Mommy, she does not see details. In the case of food, people like Zina and Mommy do not see apples and oranges, they see fruit.

Anyway, Mommy and Zina came home from the store with a lot of food, but it was not the kind of food we usually eat. In fact, I did not even know what some of the food was.

My sister was quite surprised at the food she saw on the kitchen counter, so she asked my Mommy what the food was and why she had bought it.

Mommy answered, "Aunt Zina put it in the basket, so I bought it. Frankly, I have no idea what it is. I just figured she wanted it."

So, Ksenya asked Zina what the food was and why she had bought it. She got a surprising answer.

Zina said, "Aunt Beth put it in the basket, so I said nothing. Frankly, I have no idea what it is. I just figured she wanted it.

My sister and Ksenya then confronted their mothers with their near identical answers. It turns out that neither had put the food in question into the basket. In fact, neither remembered taking a basket at the door. So, obviously, they had waltzed off with someone else's grocery cart and bought someone else's food.

Conclusion: Do not send someone who does not see the difference between apples and oranges to the store.


This story is excerpted from a collection of vignettes that I helped Doah, my severely mentally challenged youngest son, to write and publish several years ago (copyright 2003). It was my attempt to help him understand literacy and the purpose of writing and reading. The book was featured, one of thousands of other books of course, at the National Book Exhibit in Los Angeles that year, and Doah proudly walked up to the check-in counter for his author badge. "I author," he announced, and he really acted like one at the booksigning. Sometimes that boy can surprise me! Here are some other posts from Doah's book: Casual Attire and Just One of Those Days.

Note: After several rather lugubrious posts, I thought it might be time for some fun. I hope this post will bring some laughter, or at least a smile.

Monday, October 5, 2009


That my grandfather died was not troubling. It was a relief. What was troubling was that I let him die deliberately. It was not chance; it was a choice, and the guilt dogged me for more than 40 years.

Pop (the name my grandfather preferred) had a special affection for the girls in the family. In fact, we three older girls in the 8-Pack, my brother's term for the eight children in our family, just whet Pop’s appetite for more. Soon, he was sexually abusing our slightly younger girl cousins, as well.

We girls had only one conversation about the matter, and I remember it clearly even now. My younger sisters, Danielle and Katrina, and I were in the bathroom together. Our parents were asleep. In this conversation, we were comparing notes about what happened when Pop babysat us. It turns out that he had prurient interests whenever he came close to any of us girls. I wanted to tell Ma, but Katrina urged me to say nothing. “How many beatings do you think you can survive?” she asked.

Katrina was always worried about staying alive because Ma was extremely physically abusive and would find highly creative and life-threatening ways of beating us, such as pulling us down the stairs by our hair, coming after us with knives, hitting us with wooden objects, and even at times biting us. I was willing to risk everything and anything for “the principle of the matter,” but in this case, it was clear that the risk would be useless. Just thinking about what might happen, Danielle fainted, her typical ruse to avoid beatings and other unpleasantness. So, giving in to the petrified urgings of my sisters, I said nothing to Ma. Instead, I listened to her extol Pop, her father, with warm heart and misty eyes and tell us how lucky we were that he was willing to baby-sit us when she and Dad wanted to go out.

With Pop, one wore pants, not skirts, and quickly made oneself scarce. Avoiding Pop, however, was not always possible, and wearing pants in a community where girls were expected to wear dresses was not always possible, either. On one visit to my grandparents, it seemed safe to wear a dress since there were ten of us descending upon our grandparents and we were all going to sit around the kitchen and talk. Still somewhat naïve — after all, I was only nine — I mistakenly assumed that there could be no danger in that. However, as soon as we arrived, Grammy said to me, “Elizabeth, go see what Pop is doing in the basement. He made a bureau for you and is painting it. See if you like the color.”

“Oh, Grammy,” I replied. “Whatever the color is, I will like it.” I spoke bravely and strongly but trembled inside, feeling alone in that room of eleven people.

“No, no, go down and look,” Grammy insisted. I came up with a myriad of creative excuses not to go into the basement, each one more lame but more urgent than the one before. Grammy would not entertain them. She thought that there was something “good” for me down there. She did not know that it was a lion’s den, and the lion was lying in wait for me (or for any girl relative who might be innocently thrown to him). Dismissing my pleas to stay upstairs as a childish desire to remain with the grownups, she led me down the stairs and handed me over to the lion.

Perhaps she will stay, I thought hopefully but incorrectly. “Here is Elizabeth,” she announced to Pop. I felt like I was being “served” to him as some kind of entrée. I know that Grammy had no idea what would happen next, what always happened next. After all, we always emerged from the lion’s den healthy on the outside albeit bruised inside. The kinds of mauling we experienced were well hidden under clothes.

I turned to go back upstairs with her, but she firmly turned me over to my grandfather, standing me next to the half-painted blue bureau, saying “Perhaps you would like to help Pop paint.” Painting, I thought, is not what Pop ever has in mind for me.

As soon as my grandmother disappeared, I became numb for an instant. I was once again in the lion’s den alone.

Pop lay down his paintbrush and in one quick movement, deftly slid his paint-covered, rough fingers into my body with a practiced hand. “You are a good girl,” he whispered. “Gram does not let me touch her, but you understand. I need you to understand. It is important that you be a good girl for Poppy.”

As he pulled me closer, I felt the hardening in his pants, something that no 9-year-old girl should know anything about. Although I was physically pinned, my mind was free, and I desperately searched for a way to distract him long enough to get away from him and back upstairs.

“Grammy said she would be right back down,” I said to him, hoping that he would be afraid of getting caught. Grammy was a matriarch of formidable proportions, and she was able to control Pop like no other.

That argument was ineffective, however. “Don’t worry,” he murmured, as he began nuzzling my neck, “we can finish before she comes back. It won’t take long. She won’t know. I just need you to help me take care of this.” With those last words, he rubbed his free hand along the protrusion in his pants, and, growing excited and breathing heavily, he fumbled with his zipper.

At that moment, my eye fell on the paintbrush. A weapon!

“Look, Pop,” I said. “Here is the paintbrush. Grammy wants us to paint. If no more gets painted, she will wonder what happened. I am going to paint.”

I was able to catch him off-guard as his zipper jammed, and I quickly twisted away. I, too, had become practiced at these encounters. Dipping the paintbrush into paint, I quickly began to paint the bureau, putting dark blue where light blue belonged. That distracted him long enough to say, “Stop! You’re messing up the paint job.”

At that point, I handed him the paintbrush, saying “You finish it!” With that, I ran upstairs.

“How do you like the bureau?” asked Grammy.

“It’s very nice,” I answered. Right, nice! I hated that bureau for the next nine years that it stood in my bedroom.

My bedroom, with or without that bureau, was no haven. Whenever Pop babysat us, I never slept. If I did, I would awaken to 250 pounds of Pop on top of me. Sometimes I would hear him coming up the stairs. He was a big man, and climbing stairs caused him to breathe heavily. In those cases, if it were not winter, I would climb out of my bedroom window onto the sloping second-story roof and hide under one of the old-fashioned New England eaves, pulling back against the angle created by the intersection of the eave with the side of the house, hoping that no neighbor would notice that “Elizabeth is on the roof again” and solicitously call my grandfather. With eight children and ten rooms in the house, it could be anyone’s guess as to where I was — or, at least, that was my thinking. Pop could not squeeze through the tiny attic window, anyway.

When he could not find me, he would amble off to Katrina’s and Danielle’s bedroom to tuck them in. Familiar with his special tucking-in routine, I felt like a coward that I watched him leave in relief and did not come to the rescue of my sisters. Of course, my 50 pounds was no match for his 250, so I just crawled farther under the eaves and hoped that the two girls could protect each other.

When I became a teenager, I brought even greater joy to my grandfather, who always expressed delight in seeing me. “Pop really loves Elizabeth,” everyone would say.

“With love like that,” I would think, “let him love someone else!”

One morning, my father dropped me off at my grandparents’ house in the city before school. (We had no school bus in the country and 13 miles was too far to walk.) I was still tired from one of Ma’s late-night beatings and fell asleep while waiting for a friend to stop by to walk to school with me. That was a big mistake. Grammy had already gone to work, and when my friend stopped by, Pop told her that I would be out sick that day.

I woke up to the sound of the bedroom door being locked from the inside. Lying on my stomach and watching through half-closed eyes, I saw Pop remove his pants. I had a very good idea what was coming next and realized that there was no way out because Pop was between me and any exit. Then, nearly immediately he was on top of me, trying first to remove my clothes, then to turn me over. I clung desperately and wordlessly to the sides of the bed. I have no idea where I got my strength because for a young teenage girl to win a strength contest with a former lumberjack and blacksmith was unrealistic, but win I did. Unable to "awaken" me or turn me over, he was pondering his next move when the front doorbell rang.

“Saved by the bell!” I thought, as relief washed over me. “Literally!” Who rang that bell and why? That was a wonderful mystery, but not one I was going to waste any time solving.

As Pop went off to answer the unexpected doorbell, I did not wait to see who, if anyone, was actually at the door but quickly grabbed my school bag, raised the window, jumped to the ground, and ran off to school, having thwarted yet another attempted rape. I arrived at school a little late but elated: I had won a show of strength in more than one sense of that expression. Serendipity had once again protected me.

Serendipity and I had to thwart many such attempts. Ma was constantly putting me in Pop’s charge. Whenever I complained, Ma would hit me. Whenever I suggested an alternative babysitter, Ma would hit me. Whenever I tried to reason that perhaps I was old enough not to need a babysitter, Ma would hit me. And in every instance, Pop would show up with a smile to watch over me.

The greatest opportunity for Pop arose when Ma decided that it was time for me to learn to drive a car and that Pop would teach me. I did not need many lessons; I had been driving a tractor for many years. I imagined being with Pop alone in the car on the isolated roads in our farm community and knew that this opportunity spelled disaster. I refused the lessons. Ma demanded. I still refused. Ma called me a bitch and a brat. I still refused — I was used to being called names, anyway. Ma hit me and spat in my face. I still refused the lessons — and reciprocated Ma's attack with an equally forceful hit-and-spit counterattack. I knew I could win this battle because no one could make me get into the car. I had free will even if free will came with physical and emotional abuse. Both were preferable in my mind to sexual abuse. So, I learned to drive a car only after Pop died.

Thank God, Pop did die. Katrina, Danielle, and I were teenagers at the time, and we were the only ones with him when he departed our universe. He was supposed to be babysitting us. He made some popcorn for us, a talent he had that all his grandchildren enjoyed. (Even bad people have some good traits.) Then he sat down, took a deep breath, put his head back, and stopped breathing. I watched with the dawning realization and hope that he was dying. When he did not take a next breath, I told my sisters that something was wrong with Pop. I was pretty sure that they knew what was going on, but they said nothing.

At the time, unspoken thoughts were the safest ones because of the steps I chose to take next. Rather than going into the kitchen after Pop’s heart medication, I walked slowly to a neighbor's apartment. There was a part of me that said this was wrong; any human life should be saved. Another part, however, said that this was right. Nature had determined that Pop's life was at an end, so why should I do something artificial to prolong it, as well as prolonging the abuse of myself and the other girls in the family. My decision was as much a matter of self-preservation as it was a form of protection for others. I would not consider it altruistic. Later, I rationalized that I had not denied Pop his medicine because he had not asked for it. Instead, I had left it in the hands of Nature, and Nature ultimately had given the female side of the family a reprieve.

The neighbor came, determined that Pop was dead, and made all the proper phone calls. I could finally breathe a sigh of relief. I watched the coroner carefully as he checked Pop, wanting to be sure that Pop was, indeed, dead, very dead, as dead as the chair he was still sitting upright in and would not, like a zombie in a horror movie, suddenly come to life and terrorize us again.

Dozens of town folk showed up at church for Pop’s funeral. He was clearly very popular in town, and, like my parents, he had been an ardent church-goer. As Pop’s immediate kin, my family sat up front and center. We were all decked out in our Sunday-nice clothes. With folded hands, outward demureness, and inward relief, we waited for the final sentence in the last chapter of Pop’s life to be spoken. That sentence shocked all of us victims of Pop’s sexual addictions: “This man has been a pillar of the community and a great example to all of us in his godliness. May all the men in our community follow his example!”

I could only imagine a town gone wild with orgy and wondered where the morals were. How could a minister of the church say such things? Those words were nails not in Pop’s coffin but in mine, in the coffin of atheism that I had been building for myself for 16 years. From that day forward, for me, any concept of God was also dead. I had no idea whom or what the members of the church were serving, but in my mind, if the minister was promoting sexual abuse of children, or equally bad, did not have any idea of my grandfather’s proclivities, I wanted nothing to do with him, the church, or what the church represented. It gave the final impetus to my fateful youth sermon a few months later in which I suggested that an atheistic upbringing was preferable to being raised in hypocrisy, a sermon that ended in my family being permanently expelled from the church. At that time and for many years afterward I did not realize that one cannot judge God by the people who enthusiastically attend church, proclaim their faith in public ways while practicing evil, or really do worship God but suffer from the weakness of the flesh.

The trauma did not end with Pop’s burial. Afterward, I lived with the conviction that I had murdered him. Even though I rationalized that Nature took him, he was not old (64 years old) and could have lived longer had I brought him his medicine. I knew that, and so did my grandmother.

“You are 16 years old,” she admonished me. “You are capable of knowing what was going on, and you knew where his medicine was. Why did you not give it to him?” She looked at me questioningly. I think deep down she knew I had intentionally not given him his medicine, but she had no understanding as to why I would withhold it from him. It was not a question that I ever answered for her. The truth would only have hurt her, and she had done nothing to deserve such hurt.

The instant Pop died I forgave him for his sexual appetite that would not be satiated by someone of his own age and was only whetted by children who were helpless in his grasp. To some extent I felt vindicated that I had taken charge of the situation and "gotten back" at him by not giving him his medicine. Some day I would forgive myself for my helplessness, for my reluctance to tell someone who might have been able to put a stop to it, for taking the coward’s way out and letting Nature deal the death blow. Someday, I would do that, thanks to a divine lesson, but not right away for such a day does not come quickly nor such an act easily.

Excerpted from Blest Atheist, copyright 2009.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

An Extra-Ordinary Right

Just scratch the surface…. It is a thought I have often had over the past three decades of raising handicapped children. When you think you have a hard lot, all you have to do is scratch the surface of someone else’s life, and yours suddenly looks not bad at all. There are those who would say that God gives each person no more than he or she is capable of bearing, but I don’t think God gives us our burdens at all. Rather, in my experience, the burdens come from the workings of nature, our own ineptness, and the sometimes ill-intentioned behaviors of others. God steps in and provides the support when our load becomes an overload. Breaking points differ, though, for one person’s load is another person’s overload. That is what Eliana and I learned three decades ago.

When my children were little, Eliana’s were, too. Like my children, hers had medical problems. Her older son was born with Immune Deficiency Syndrome. He was the first “bubble baby” to be raised outside a bubble, mainly because Eliana is a force to be reckoned with. She was unwilling to let him be put into a bubble. Whenever I thought my problems were bad, I would call Eliana, who had been my best friend in college. We ended up living only 30 miles apart for a while when our children were small. I was at Renboro University, and Eliana was working for an insurance company in nearby White Spring. Eliana and I would compare notes. Somehow she always thought that my load was worse; after all, I had two children with problems. I always thought her load was worse; after all, her son, Paul, had a much smaller chance of survival than did Doah and Noelle although for a while Doah had been given no chance at all of living, something that I, like Eliana, was just not willing to accept.

Eliana had another difficulty, one that I did not. She was Jewish, and her husband Bob was Catholic. Donnie and I, both being atheists, never had to deal with familial religious dissent on top of the strain that birth defects put on a marriage and family. Eliana and Bob had few problems in the early years of their marriage: she went to synagogue on Fridays and he went to mass on Sundays. Then came the kids and the struggle as to choice of religion in which to raise them. Judaism being matrilineal and Eliana being matriarchal, Eliana won. The children were raised Jewish, and Donnie, Eliana's children, Eliana, and I had a wonderful time at their bar mitzvah and bas mitzvah, as did Bob.

The friendship that Eliana and I had helped us both in many ways. One of the things that Donnie and I worried about in the early years was appointing a guardian for our children. In the event that something should happen to us, we wanted a guardian who would raise them similarly to how we would raise them, who would fight for them, and who would teach them to fight for themselves. We certainly did not want my abusive mother raising them, and Donnie's mother was too old and would have been unable to cope with all the defects -- she cried whenever she thought about them. Eliana was a perfect choice. She was young, and she was used to handling children with birth defects. She agreed. Of course, she would -— for the same reason that I agreed to take in a dying child artist from Siberia during a period of time when we had no money, I was partially unemployed (trying to start up an independent institute), and our kids were in the delightful but demanding teenage years.

Eliana, in spite of her robust ability to handle nearly any crisis sent her way, had a limit to her emotional resilience. She found that limit in the summer of 1982. She and Bob had taken Paul and Mavis, their younger daughter, to Philadelphia, Eliana’s home city, to find a good oncologist. The ones in Renboro declared that treating Bob for cancer that came from being exposed to Agent Orange during his military assignment in Vietnam was useless. The cancer was too advanced when the doctors found it. As usual, Eliana was not willing to accept such a prognosis. She packed up Bob and children, took a leave of absence from work, and drove eight hours to Philadelphia to meet with doctors she trusted. The doctors there, as Eliana suspected, were able to get Bob’s cancer in remission, and Eliana and family made plans to return to White Spring.

That was when she received the urgent call from the pediatrician. Mavis, the healthy child, apparently was showing signs of juvenile diabetes, based on tests done right before the family left for Philadelphia. With her usual enthusiasm substantially subdued, Eliana returned to White Spring with a still-ailing Bob, daily medicine for Paul, and concerns about Mavis. Ah, it would be so good to be home after eight weeks away!

As she drove up to their house, however, something seemed wrong. Something was wrong. The back door was swinging on its hinges. Eliana walked in cautiously. No one was there. The place was empty, very empty. The house had been ransacked. Nearly every personal possession she cared about was gone.

Eliana did not cry that day. She was too stunned. She did not cry the next day, either. Instead, she did some research and found out who was considered the best psychologist in the White Spring area and made an emergency appointment.

At the psychologist’s office, Eliana laid out her whole story. I imagine that took some time! When she finished, the psychologist was silent for quite a while. Then, he quietly said, “I’m sorry. I will not charge you for a visit because I do not have any good answer for you. If I were in your place, I would just go have myself a nice little nervous breakdown. I think you have earned it.”

Eliana started to laugh. She laughed all the way home. She never did end up crying over the lost possessions; she just rebuilt her house and her life. Bob is still alive; his cancer has been in remission many years. Paul outgrew his lack of immunity somewhere around age 12. Mavis, it turned out, never did develop juvenile diabetes; it was a false alarm. Both children are now married with families of their own.

Now, though, any time I feel that I have an overload, I think of Eliana and her (and my) entitlement to a “nice little nervous breakdown,” and I laugh like Eliana did. Once again, a divine intervention in a very unlikely source — an honest psychologist with an odd sense of humor — had given both of us — Eliana and me — a mechanism for handling our lives when they went into overload. Somehow, the knowledge that the best psychologist in White Spring had given us a free prescription for a nervous breakdown was enough to lift our spirits. Neither of us ever filled that prescription.


Adapted from an excerpt from Blest Atheist (copyright 2003, MSI Press).

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

The Stabbings of Rollie

Development of self-worth was not a natural part of what passed for nurturing at our home. As the oldest and most defiant, I received perhaps the greatest number of beatings, but I did not receive the worst of them. That was reserved for Rollie, my younger brother, who was a happy-go-lucky, live-for-today fellow with my spirit of defiance when accosted. Rollie, as a teenager, could easily have dropped Ma to the floor but had sufficient residual respect for her role as a mother not to use his physical size to return the hurts she delivered to him. He mainly used words, but no words admitting being hurt ever slipped past his lips. Not even when he was stabbed twice, once by Ma and once by Dad. In both cases, he remained defiant.

I have a somewhat hazy memory of the first stabbing. It was not undertaken for any reasonable motive. Reasonable people don’t stab their children, so there could not be any good reason for doing so.

In any event, Ma stabbed Rollie in the buttocks for putting the hamburger planned for supper that evening in the roadside mailbox where no one could find it, something he did for spite for Ma’s beating him about something else. (Rollie, like me, could be spiteful; “don’t get mad, just get even” tended to be a modus operandi.) Realizing that she had drawn blood, Ma became even angrier, not at herself as one might think, but at Rollie.

“Look what you made me do to you! You bastard! Don’t you dare cry, or I’ll do it again. And don’t you dare tell, or I’ll do it again. This is all your fault. If you would behave, you would have no problems.”

None of us ever knew what “behave” meant. Ma’s expectations differed from moment to moment, depending on her mood.

“Go wash your hair, bitch,” Rollie retorted in defiance, referring to the fact that when Ma’s hair was dirty she was at her meanest. I often said the same to her, including using the word, bitch, or other equally pejorative label. Through example, she taught us a rich vocabulary of colorful epithets at a very early age. We never used them at school or in the community, but we had much practice listening to and using them at home.

“Don’t you tell me what to do,” she threw back at him. “I’ll show you who needs a hair washing!” And she grabbed him by the hair and pulled him to his knees. “Now, say you’re sorry. Beg me not to hurt you some more!”

“Hell, no, bitch,” he said. “You beg me to forgive you!” I understood Rollie. I would never beg or ask for mercy, either. Fighting back, not begging, was what kept our self-esteem intact.

Rollie twisted away, wrenching himself free from the hand that was holding him by the hair. “Hey, bitch,” he taunted her in defiance, “You want to try for the other side? I have two cheeks. You only got me in one!”

Of course, he did not wait for an answer. He took off running. She would not be able to catch him, and by the time he would return, she would either have washed her hair and mellowed or would have found another child to beat. This particular event, this stabbing, would be over. It was a completed disciplinary action.

Years later, Ma would not deny the stabbing but would try to justify it. “I did not stab him,” she told me in a conversation in 1998, “I hit him. I just forgot I had a knife in my hand.” As if hitting were all right!

Dad, too, had a moment of pure rage that left a permanent scar on Rollie’s body. It was the end of the summer, and we had just finished haying the lower field. Hardly anyone in our rural Maine farmland had the modern automatic haying equipment that bundles and ties hay into cubes or rolls. We had to do everything the old-fashioned way, which meant by hand and with people power.

Dad had been driving the tractor. Ma and we three older girls had been pitching into the wagon the made hay, i.e. mowed hay dried in the sun (hence the expression, to make hay while the sun shines). The three younger boys had been treading the hay and were now riding back to the barn in the hay wagon. We did not have a large hayfork that could be lowered from the upper story of the barn and mechanically sweep the hay through the upper story window into the hay loft. Instead, we had to drive the tractor into the barn and use pitchforks to pitch the hay up into the loft, forkful by forkful. It was a lot of hard, physical labor. The only ones big enough at the time to toss hay that far were Dad, Ma, and we girls.

We began tossing the hay. The boys were told to climb into the hayloft, take a pitchfork, and weave in the forkfuls that we threw up there. In order for hay to stay put in a hay loft it has to be interlaid, with bundles of shafts being “tied” into other bundles of shafts, in ways that parallel gathering hay from the field by pitching it into the hay wagon while someone walks around the wagon, intermixing the forkfuls of hay being thrown into it, in order to make it lie flat and not fall out. In farm parlance, this is called treading hay. Hay wagons with well tread hay can carry as much as double the size of the wagon. When hay is subsequently taken from the hay wagon by pitchfork and thrown into a loft, the intermixing of shafts breaks down and the hay has to be “re-tread,” so to speak, while being thrown into the loft.

Rollie, for some reason, could not keep up with the amount of hay coming in his direction. Without being tread into the mix fast enough, forkfuls kept falling back into the hay wagon. Dad was clearly at the end of his physical endurance. It took only a word from Ma to put an end to his emotional endurance, as well.

“He’s horsing around again, Bartholomew” she said to Dad. “I can’t do anything with that kid. Just get rid of him.” She was always talking about getting rid of one or another of us, I being the one she most frequently wanted to get rid of.

Unexpectedly, in a burst of rage, Dad threw his pitchfork into the hayloft. It was not clear whether he was angry with Ma for what she said because Dad really did love kids or whether he was out of patience with Rollie.

Regardless of what prompted Dad to throw the pitchfork, he did it. It went sailing through the air and, still with a good deal of force behind it, sliced through Rollie’s lower leg and nailed him to the floor of the hayloft. Rollie stood still, speechless, for a stunned moment, realizing that he was pierced and pinned.

We were all shocked, so much so that I don’t remember if Rollie said a word, if anyone said a word. Wordlessly, Dad climbed the built-in ladder to the hayloft and worked to free Rollie from the pitchfork. I don’t remember if Rollie screamed. I do remember Ma sending my younger sister, Danielle, scurrying for bandaging. Danielle became so good at the home care of wounds that it is no surprise that she is a top flight nurse today at a leading medical center. Danielle applied the bag balm, a wondrous salve that we used on the cattle when they had cuts and abrasions, and wrapped Rollie’s leg. No doctor ever saw what happened to Rollie, and it must only have been by the grace of God that his leg healed with no more damage than a scar as a reminder. None of us, though, needs a reminder.


This excerpt comes from my book, Blest Atheist (MSI Press, copyright 2009), prior to copyediting and publication. The book is essentially my conversion story with all the gory and glorious details. It also contains stories about "The Burning House," the name that my brother-in-law William Smith (Danielle's husband) gave to the home where we grew up and to a poem he wrote about it. I would say that the images in the poem are quite accurate descriptions of the emotional state in which we lived with one exception: we did not perish but managed to escape, each in his or her own way, and have worked most of our lives both to help each other and also to do whatever we can to make the world around us a better place than the burning house where we grew up.

"The Burning House"
by William Smith
copyright 2009

I dreamed a dream of a burning house
With brothers and sisters and a cold bitter spouse.
The halls were all crooked, the doors were ajar.
I heard all their cries from the road in my car.

I put on the brakes and came to a stop
While an old jackrabbit went hippity hop.
I looked back again, and the house was ablaze.
The people inside just looked in a daze.

The curtains were tattered, the roof was not straight.
The hinges were knocked off the broken front gate.
The paint was all weathered, and the shutters hung loose.
A shadow on the barn door looked like a noose.

A kid outside shouted, "There's a fire there, you see".
But Mama kept screaming, "Come back here to me".
"No, I cannot, ‘cause your house is on fire".
But nobody listened as the flames grew still higher.

Once in a while a child would run out,
But Mama and Papa would just scream and shout.
The kid in the yard would utter a scream
As a child ran back in as if in a dream.

Soon the house burned right to the ground.
The kid in the yard made not a sound.
I opened the door, and she sat on the seat.
She didn't look back because of the heat.

I stepped on the gas, and we sped away.
I opened my mouth, but what can you say?
"They had to go back," was her soft reply.
All of them chose their way to die.

I turned on the light; she was just seventeen.
She was the prettiest girl I'd ever seen.
I'll never forget the night I stopped there,
‘Cause I married that girl with the long, flowing hair.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

The Boy in White

This particular excerpt needs some background explanation: (1) I grew up on a farm in Maine; (2) I loved languages, taught myself many as a child with pen-pals in many countries, as well as studied even more in school; (3) always wanted to be a teacher; (4) was the oldest child in a highly abusive home, sexually, physically, and emotionally, where the greatest amount of physical abuse, nearly always on a daily basis, was delivered by my mother; (5) I was an atheist for 56 years before having a hard conversion at the hand of God; (6) long before my conversion, I was not only exposed to many miracles but also a player in the drama that surrounded them including the rescue of a dying young child artist from Siberia named Shura, for which act the priest at the Russian Orthodox Church in Akademgorodok, gave me the label, Good Samaritan, a label that has stuck. Now, here's the excerpt:

As a child, I loved the song, "The Impossible Dream." I could relate to that. Yes, indeed, I did think that my unreachable star was the story of a farm girl who ultimately, as a polyglot, provides consultation to ministries of education in many lands. However, it turns out this conclusion is faulty. All the experience I have gathered indicates that my original goals of learning languages and teaching were just the means, not the end. The means was given to me in spades ostensibly to provide credibility and a vehicle to speed my journey to the star. I am not there yet, but I know what the end must be. The end was somehow in the beginning: to be a Good Samaritan at times and in places of God’s choosing. I generally succeed at the action, albeit far from always, but I often fail at the timing and the manner. I still try to do things my way, on my schedule, and even, at times, with pugilism. To be a Good Samaritan in God’s humble way of quietly turning bad into good, I need conscious repetition of the étude and guided practice in keyboarding. Shura’s interlude was clearly but one of the themes.

The opening score, surprisingly, occurred in childhood. On one bright, cold winter day, I dragged my sled three houses down the street to our neighbor’s teton-shaped hill, where all the children in our area of town gathered to race down to the mostly untraveled country road below on sleds, cardboard, or whatever else was available.

I pulled my sled up the hill, waving to the other children in the neighborhood but mainly concentrating on the anticipated thrill of the ride. Sledding can, and probably should, be a community sport. It was precisely that on Lengory (Lenin Hills) behind the University of Moscow where I was studying as a graduate student. My daughter Lizzie, who had come to Moscow with me, and her American friend Sally, daughter of an American diplomat, shared Sally’s cherry-colored, round, plastic, American sled that immediately drew to them the attention of the Soviet children who had never seen such an object in their lives, their sanki being oblong and wooden with metal runners. Soon a Russian girl piled onto the sled with Lizzie, and they sailed down the hill amid shrieks and giggles that bonded the American and the Russian in a moment of joy in a moment of time. Then it was Sally’s turn to spin down the moderate slope with a Russian boy. The communal play lasted for a couple of hours, during which the lingua franca was laughter.

The scene on our neighbor’s hill 30 years earlier, however, was significantly different. We were a community of children in the sense that we all knew each other, but our sport was an individual one. We did not share adrenaline-spurred shrieks of fun but rather we quietly felt the thrill that defined the fun of New England downhill sledding.

That afternoon as I was pulling my one-person wooden sled up the hill a third time, I noticed a young boy, clad all in white and definitely not adequately covered for the sub-zero temperature that rosied our noses as they protruded from the scarves wrapped around our necks and faces and tucked into the hoods on our coats. I puzzled over the boy in white only momentarily as I mounted the hill and then the sled and began my third downhill run toward the road. Suddenly, about half-way down the hill, the boy in white, well blended with the surrounding snow in my visual field, began moving across the path over which my sled was about to speed.

“Get out of the way!” I yelled. I was as much annoyed at his being in my path as I was afraid of hurting him. He stepped back, and I briefly caught his sad look as I zipped past.

The memory is old and the details lodged in the mind of an 8-year-old whose perception of the world had moments of extremism. Therefore, I will not insist that every detail was precisely as I remember it today. What I do remember precisely, however, was being shaken by my own unkind words. I hurried home, towing my sled and a bundle of regret and concern. Somebody had to help the boy in white. He was wandering through the New Hampshire cold with no coat! He would freeze on the hill or anywhere else in our neighborhood. He seemed so oblivious to his surroundings and to the cold. He must be poor, indeed, I thought. We did not have much when we were children, but we always had warm clothes, and we were always bundled up, displaying a “cared for” look.

“Ma,” I called as I dropped the rope of the sled and ran into the house. “There is a boy on the hill without a coat. He is going to freeze! We have to help him!”

“Well, let’s go,” she said. I could not point him out through our window, so we set off for the hill. By the time we got there a few minutes later, however, he was nowhere to be found. We looked farther afield, but we saw no lad in white. Ma asked some of the other children, but none remember seeing him. I was at a loss to explain to Ma why he was not there, but she was not angry this time.

In spite of her inability to love her children in an altruistic manner, whenever someone in the greater community needed help, Ma was always jolly on the spot. Those two seemingly mutually exclusive attitudes — cruelty to her children and kindness to the community — made it difficult for us children to understand Ma. It also made it difficult for the community to understand our reaction to Ma for the community’s experience of her has always been positive. Indeed, when it came to community affairs, my experiences under Ma’s wing taught me and all of my siblings responsibility for others. For example, when I entered first grade at our local two-story wooden school, Ma pronounced it a fire hazard and death trap. There was only one staircase, and anyone caught upstairs in a fire would be too high from the ground to jump to safety. So, Ma bundled all of us children, only four of us at that time, in heavy coats, hats that came to our shoulders, scarves that covered our faces so completely that we could barely breathe, thick homemade mittens, woolen pants under woolen skirts, and woolen leggings covered by wool socks and heavy boots. Then off we older three marched with her, with Willie, equally swaddled in layers of wool, lying in the hand-pushed sleigh that served as a baby carriage in snow-covered New England of those days. At door after door, we knocked, and Ma would explain the dangers of a fire starting in the school house. Person after person would sign her petition for a sprinkler system at the school. We met every person who lived in our town, or so it seemed. Several weeks later, Grammy came to babysit us, and Ma went to the school board meeting with her petition in hand and words at the ready. A few weeks after that, the school had a sprinkler system.

As for the boy in white, I never saw him again. My friends insisted that he never was there, that he was a figment of my imagination that had frozen in the cold and was hallucinating snow images. Not a boy in white but a boy of snow. Still, I can see him today as clearly as I saw him on the hill so long ago. Today, I wonder if he was not there to teach me a lesson in kindness, in neighborly love — and to reveal perhaps why Ma may, indeed, live in grace, in spite of all her earlier cruelty and self-absorption for when there was a need for a Good Samaritan, Ma was usually the first volunteer. Perhaps God was using her, too? If God could use an atheist, then perhaps a believer with a temper might also be a potential instrument.

Adapted from an excerpt from Blest Atheist (copyright 2003, MSI Press).

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Three Vignettes and One Thought about an Enemy

In a most fascinating way, I once came face to face with the so-called enemy. That meeting remains one of my favorite memories. It occurred in a restaurant in Minsk in 1993. I was helping Academicians from the Belarus Academy of Sciences bring knowledge of individual differences in approaches to learning to the new textbooks being prepared in the Belarus language for K-12 students in a variety of subjects following the dissolution of the Soviet Union and the nationalization of curricula. The Humanities University gave us a place to work, and the president and vice-president took me and several other guests to dinner soon after my arrival. I sat catty-corner from Anatoly, the vice-president. For some reason, Anatoly and I began comparing our biographies and were stunned to learn that during the Cold War, I was an officer in the US Army and he an officer in the Red Army; we had both had the same specialty and held the same rank. For a brief moment, we stared at each other, then Tolya (after such a discovery, it was only natural that I would begin to use the nickname for Anatoly) exclaimed, “You were my enemy!”

“And you were mine,” I responded. We marveled about this discovery until long after dinner had ended. How could it be that two people who seemed to understand each other s poluslova (from half a word), as the Russians say, had been directly targeted against each other in an earlier time? Both veterans of the Cold War, we found we had even more in common than our scholarship. Thereafter, every day Tolya would bring me candies or cookies for our break, and we would sit and marvel again at how strangely fate had wrapped our lives together — and that we had found it out. We shared no military secrets; there were really none of any value by then, anyway. What we shared was a new understanding of the word, enemy.

With the recent cooling off of relations between the USA and Belarus, Tolya has become locked away from me for now, perhaps even forever. Who knows when winds of politics will shift again? But now I know what lies behind the old Iron Curtain that is being drawn again between me and a land and people I came to know affectionately a decade ago. And for one bright and shining moment, I stood side by side in friendship with my enemy.

Likewise, years ago, a Belarusan housewife discovered a similar thing about her enemy. During WWII, advancing German troops would burn down entire Belarusan communities. To escape detection, the citizens of the towns would flee to the surrounding swamps as the Germans approached. In one small village, a mother of many grabbed her children and fled, only to discover to her horror upon reaching the wooded swamp that she had inadvertently left her infant in his crib. She wanted to go back after him, but it was too late. The Germans were already at the edge of town, and the townspeople made the mother stay in the swamp for fear of her giving away their position to the German enemy. The mother wept for her lost infant for three days. When the Germans vacated, the townspeople returned to their razed town, hoping to rebuild it. The mother walked along with them, in the blackest of grief. As the townspeople reached the outskirts, they saw one house still standing, the house that contained the crib of the infant who had been left behind. The mother, hardly breathing as a result of overlapping waves of fear and hope that crushed the breath from her, rushed into the house. There in his crib was her infant, well fed and happy. A bottle was beside the baby, and next to the crib on a rocking chair, which had obviously been used to feed and comfort the infant, was a German soldier’s warm winter shawl. To the shawl was pinned a note: “To the mother of this beautiful child.”

I earned my PhD in Russia, at the time the land of the enemy and, I suppose, still the land of the enemy. Thanks to colleagues and senior scholars from the USSR Academy of Sciences, I was afforded the opportunity to finish the process that I had all but completed in the USA but would never have been able to finish because of arcane residency requirements and high tuition costs. The Russians allowed me to finish zaochno (non-resident). Because this was a first time occurrence of an American earning a doctorate in Russia, there was no bureaucratic way to charge me tuition from across the ocean. So, the university did not charge me anything, simply telling me that being able to claim me as their alumnus was payment enough. What does one say to such kindness to a member of an enemy nation? Perhaps one says what I said at the end of my public dissertation defense:

Двадцать лет назад я приехала в первый раз в Советский Союз, чтобы посмотреть на лицо врага, но за двадцать лет я не нашла не одного врага, а только друзей.
(Twenty years ago I came to the Soviet Union for the first time to look upon the face of the enemy, but in all these twenty years, I have not found any enemies, only friends.)


Veterans from opposite sides becoming fast friends? Humaneness in the middle of war in the form of mercy to a baby? A hand stretched out to a scholar and colleague across the ocean to facilitate degree completion and ultimate better job opportunities worldwide without regard to recompense? Could it be that deep down in the soul even of those at war flows an understanding of what the word neighbor means in God’s reckoning?

Modified and adapted from two of my publications (copyright 2003, 2009). Posted at the suggestion of Adoro at Adoro te devote.

About Me

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I am the mother of 4 birth children (plus 3 others who lived with us) and grandmother of 2, all of them exceptional children. Married for 42 years, I grew up in Maine, live in California, and work in many places in education, linguistics, and program management. In my spare time, I rescue and tame feral cats and have the scars to prove it. A long-time ignorantly blissful atheist converted by a theophanic experience to Catholicism, I am now a joyful catechist. Oh, I also authored a dozen books, two under my pen name of Mahlou (Blest Atheist and A Believer-in-Waiting's First Encounters with God).

My Other Blogs

100th Lamb. This is my main blog, the one I keep most updated.

The Clan of Mahlou
. This is background information about various members of the extended Mahlou family. It is very much a work still in progress. Soon I will begin posting excerpts from a new book I am writing, Raising God's Rainbow Makers.

Modern Mysticism. This blog discusses the mystical in our pragmatic, practical, realistic, and rational 21st century world and is to those who spend some or much of their time in an irrational/mystical relationship with God. If such things do not strain your credulity, you are welcome to follow the blog and participate in it.

Recommended Reading List

Because I am blog inept, I don't quite know how to get a reading list to stay at the end of the page and not disappear from sight. Therefore, I entered it as my first post. I suppose that is not all that bad because readers started commenting about the books, even suggesting additional readings. So, you can participate with others in my reading list by clicking here.
I do post additional books as I read them and find them to be meaningful to me, and therefore, hopefully, meaningful to you. One advantage of all the plane traveling I do is that I acquire reading time that I might not otherwise take.