Archive for February, 2011

A Hap-Hap-Happy Valentine’s Day

Thursday, February 17th, 2011

Because Valentine’s Day arrives on February 14, a day after my father died, I tend to have low expectations for a day that women, Christian women in particular, seem to assign enormous importance to. Jeff’s always been good to me on Valentine’s Day, a real romantic in denim and flannel, but the day still feels kind of ruined to me, and this year was no exception.

Let’s segue back to my mid-elementary school years, when I was about 9 or 10 and reading everything I could find, including cereal boxes, product warranties, and, in what I think was probably not the most appropriate choice, Eldredge Cleaver’s “Soul On Ice.” But I caught wind of perhaps a better offering for fourth-graders, the Happy Hollisters Mystery Book Club, and begged my parents to let me join. Eager, I think, to keep me both out of their hair and out of The Revolution, they signed me up, and every three weeks or so, the nice people at Doubleday & Company sent me the latest of the 19-volume series. I was devoted to the gripping adventures of the Happy Hollisters and the Shoreham Detective Club, run by Pete, a crewcut 12-year-old, and his pretty, fair-haired 10-year-old sister, Pam. Their younger siblings, the mischievous red-haired Ricky, 7, and his pigtailed, curious, six-year-old sister Holly, helped solved mysteries, while the family cat and her frozen-in-time brood of kittens were tended by the impish Sue, a four-year-old with a shiny black bob.

As a studious, less-than-mischievous fourth-grader with stringy brown hair, it never occurred to me that the Happy Hollisters — including dad Russ, with his thick, wavy brown hair, and mom Elaine, a pert blonde — were more than a little fixated on their tonsorial blessings. I just envied their Happiness, their independence — the kids, like Nancy Drew, zipped all over the county apprehending criminals and solving mysteries with stunningly laid-back parents, while I had to ask permission to walk down the driveway — and their myriad adventures. The Hollisters were Happy, and it had to have been because their wholesome and lovable personalities were formed through constant involvement with Lucky Coins, Haunted Houses, Swiss Echoes, Ice Carnivals, Totem Poles, Lizard Coves, Secret Forts, and Skyscraper Cities.

I, on the other hand, lived a life full of Desert Cul-de-Sacs, Grape Boycotts, Anti-War Picketing, Avoiding Cactus, and Being Afraid Of The School Lunchroom. I was the anti-Hollister, living vicariously through Pam, an idol through whom I could be groomed for a life modeled after Nancy Drew. (Pete, even with his golden crewcut, was, sadly, not man enough to forestall my eventual life’s goal of becoming the Happy Wife of David Cassidy). I devoured the Happy Hollister mysteries and consider my time as a Happy Hollister devotee probably the most wonderful time in a not-always-wonderful childhood.

So when the entire series showed up at a local coffee shop, offered by the bookstore my son works at, I was both delighted and chagrined. Delighted because a singularly joyful slice of my childhood was shelved just a couple of feet above me, chagrined because the series was priced at $50, and I don’t generally feel good about fifty-dollar purchases that aren’t absolutely necessary. It was tantalizing, and, unlike the perennially Happy Pam Hollister, I did a bit of sulking, especially when my husband reminded me that our budget was a bit tighter these days than before.

But if Russ Hollister was an athletic, kind, and hard-working father and husband, Jeff Mix is even better. Because when I woke up on Valentine’s Day, there was a lumpy pillow case on which was scattered chocolates and old-fashioned valentines and a single red rose. I swept them off and peered into the pillow case, where the brightly-illustrated dust covers of all 19 Happy Hollister Mystery Club adventures lay strewn together, with every damned Happy One looking back at me with all the love, joy, and anticipation I’ve ever felt.

I cried Happy tears, buckets of ‘em, and I’m going to read every one of them. So far I’ve delved into The Haunted House Mystery and The Secret of the Lucky Coins, and I’m halfway through the fascinating Swiss Echo Mystery, which features the five children running all around Switzerland in pursuit of the dark-haired, husky jewel thief taunting their new friend, Inspector Meyer. Gripping, they are. Simple, they are. Silly, contrived, and echoing early-60s social stereotypes and mores, they are.

And they’re probably the best gift I’ve ever gotten, from the best guy I know.

My Father’s Passing — Two Years, And Infinite Reflection And Grief

Sunday, February 13th, 2011

“Keely, your father
passed this morning.”

Six words that, when I think of them, always appear in my mind in split-stanza form, as if the truth they convey is too much for one sentence to contain.

It was two years ago today that my mother called me at 5:18 in the morning to tell me that the thing I had dreaded, the thought that had taunted me for the previous three or four days, had come to pass. My father, Stephen Edward Emerine, one of the finest three men I’d ever known and the first teacher, mentor, example and friend I ever had, was gone — gone to be with the Lord he had accepted, awkwardly and humbly, a decade before, but, until I join him, gone from my life. No more phone calls, no more emails, no more delight at seeing him at baggage claim at Tucson International Airport during springtime trips to the desert. No more surprises at how fluently my Maxwell House-loving Dad ordered at Starbucks. No more bull sessions about bad journalism, stupid liberal politics, and worse conservative politics, and no more tapping into the impossibly deep well of institutional knowledge of Tucson, jazz, University of Arizona basketball, and classic liberal politics that he possessed. And no more gentle admonitions that I back off and let my sons grow up and make mistakes, no more insistent reminders that I have my yearly mammogram and physical (he had battled cancer in the early 1990s), and no more cracking-voiced reassurances that, when tests came back with frightening results, everything would turn out OK.

No more.

For the first year after he died — of gross medical malpractice, under the control of a Christian wife who, two days before he died, barred me from seeing him — I dialed 520-323-1441, hoping that this time his answering-machine voice would come through. It never did. It never will. He’s dead, and he won’t be calling me back.

He died in pain, sepsis overwhelming his already-weakened organs and confusion and fear bedeviling his mind. He died knowing that she didn’t want people to come see him; he asked me to please tell Keely to come down from Idaho to be with him. He asked me to hold his hand, and when I told him that I was there and that no one could keep me from him, nor keep Jesus from him, he said that Keely loved Jesus and that he prayed to him every day. His wife was mad at him, he thought, for being sick — but I think, in his final hours, as his body crashed and infection coursed through his once-athletic, almost impossibly-youthful frame, he knew that Jesus wasn’t mad. My husband reminds me that the LORD delivers his people in peace; my dad didn’t die in crisis, chaos, and confusion, but in eager anticipation and, finally, rest. His soul left him the day after I left his side, stupidly believing his doctor that this was just typical post-surgery stuff and that, when I returned six weeks later from Montana or Idaho or wherever the hell I was from, I’d see my dad “kicking ass” in cardiac rehab.

Turned out not to be the case.

A few months after dad died, I wrote his doctor a letter telling him I forgave him. I heard he was devastated that his patient had defied his ridiculously inflated, pompous optimism; I needed him to know that my father and my Father wanted me to forgive him, and I did. I battled mightily with my stepmother for many months; I would write to tell her that I forgive her, too, but she’s gone, maybe, I’ve heard, to North Carolina. I can’t find her. I grieve for her, and I forgive her, even though I’ll never be able to understand . . . things she did. And I try to console my own mother, still, 20 years after their divorce, a dear friend of my father’s, and to support my brother, who, as he nears 50, looks so much like dad that my throat catches when I see him. He feels a grief I can’t comprehend, and an anger that, if I were near it too often, would wound me as I see it pouring cold, leaden, resignation into a man once bellicose with enthusiasm and vibrancy.

So I mourn. Not just today, but every time I’m reminded of my dad. I sometimes pray for respite from the torrent of reminders; my faith is an umbrella battered and worn, and I long to be able to put it away because the storm has passed. And yet — my father, dead to me, lives now in eternity with the Savior he so bashfully and clumsily embraced later in life. I believe more in the truth of eternal life in Jesus Christ than I do in anything else; it is more certain to me than the black plastic frame of my laptop, the clamorous barking of my dogs, or the heat rising from my coffee cup.

It is my life; it is the thing I have that conquers death. I live in hope, and I know now what I think I didn’t know then — that hope doesn’t wither in grief and despair, but abounds. I gave the eulogy for my father, and I began it with a passage from the beloved hymn “It Is Well With My Soul.” It is true that when peace like a river attendeth my way, when sorrows like sea billows roll, whatever my lot, He has taught me to say, “It is well, it is well, with my soul.”

It is well with his soul.

Tucson, Where The Very Best And The Very Worst Of My Country Converged

Thursday, February 3rd, 2011

It seems that few positive things have been revealed during the dark month following the attempted assassination of Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, the murder of six people, and the shooting of 12 others in Tucson January 8. It was a tragic peeling away of layer upon layer of societal pathologies, from the horrific violence of the act itself to what it and the resulting shockwaves reveal about the dismal state of mental health care, political rhetoric, and gun laws in this country, to name a few examples of ugliness revealed.

It’s been a very long time since events on the national stage have disturbed me as much as the actions of Jared Loughner in my hometown last month, and I continue to struggle with feelings of outrage and grief as I see heartfelt but tepid calls for a more decent civic discourse drowned out by the bellicose belligerence of the Rush Limbaughs of the world, who seized the moments after the tragedy to assure a profoundly saddened citizenry that this deeply ill young man no doubt had the support and gratitude of the Democratic Party for his actions that Saturday morning.

That’s not an insult to the Democrats. That’s an insult to the God who made vocal cords.

It’s enough to make you want to scream, to make you want to sob, and to turn the appropriate Christian longing for the full arrival of the Kingdom of God into a desperate hope for escape to just about anywhere else not tuned into talk radio. Certainly my “Maranatha, Lord Jesus!” cries have increased — and yet I remain here, in this world, in this country, in Mosocw, Idaho, with full awareness that the world is truly in the Last Days and yet not one iota of conviction that events outside of a Safeway store in Tucson have sped up the Lord’s timing for his parousia. And so while my ultimate citizenship, now and forever, is in the Kingdom of God and the Celestial City, I’m forced to make my way through this part of my eternity as a citizen of the United States, another wife and mom stuck in line at the Post Office, wishing dinner would magically appear and watching the stack of bills on my desk steadily deepen.

Because of my steadfast belief that I hold not “dual citizenship” in the Kingdom of Heaven and the Republic in which I move about, but full citizenship only in Heaven and at most a guest-worker card for the country I live in, I tend not to think of myself as terribly patriotic. I’m dismayed at the Church’s elevation of the United States to “favored by the Son” status at the expense of the dignity and autonomy owed to other nations. And I’m appalled by the enduring and puzzling conclusion popular among the Right that the picture of the U.S. as a shining city on a hill has less to do with a proper understanding of national righteousness — a light not hidden under a bushel — than as a properly platted taxing entity somehow synonymous with the New Jerusalem of the Revelation. I think that too much patriotism is more dangerous for the Christ follower than too little, and so I tend to want to err in expressing my patriotic fervor by cultivating an affection for the United States — its people, history, and place on the world stage — that, in its mutedness, leaves no doubt where my first loyalties lie. I don’t say the Pledge of Allegiance; I haven’t since I was in high school. I wish we had chosen a different national anthem, I don’t get choked up on July 4, and I think that the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence are profoundly important documents whose elevation to near-Canonical status by some in the Church nonetheless evinces a greater reverence for flags, rockets’ red glare, and cannons more than for the Canon.

And yet — I love my country, and when our people represent the best of its promise, I feel it deeply.

So there are those times when I’m just so very proud of who we are as a nation, and for me, the terrible events in Tucson brought with them, perhaps unexpectedly, such a time. Obviously I’m not the only one, and, as quoted in last week’s Progressive Populist magazine, PBS analyst Mark Shields expresses perfectly the flush of pride in my country that I felt, and continue to feel, after the shootings:

“This is America, where a white, Catholic male Republican judge was murdered on his way to greet a Democratic Jewish woman member of Congress, who was his friend. Her life was saved initially by a 20-year-old Mexican-American gay college student, and eventually by a Korean-American combat surgeon, all eulogized by our African-American President.”

That’s our country at its best — a beautiful, wonderful, vivid, often contentious, always colorful, crazy quilt of diversity that, on a January morning in Tucson, Arizona, wrapped itself around the unwitting participants of an unimaginable tragedy and knit them together in ways that can only be described as holy.

I’m not at all ashamed to say that, almost a month later, my heart still stirs with pride and gratitude — not just for the heroics of the individuals, but for the picture of harmony, unity, and courage that no assassin’s bullet could shatter, and no radio bully can poison.

The Patriotic Citizenry And Its Guns

Wednesday, February 2nd, 2011

Amidst a month of heightened discussion about guns and gun laws, and the previous post regarding Utah’s Official State Gun, my friend Rosemary Huskey makes a point on Moscow’s Vision 2020 that needs to be made. Rosemary, a gun owner, has given me permission to reprint this:

“It is astonishing to me how gun rights issues makes super, constitution-loving patriots out of folks who couldn’t intelligently articulate any other section or amendment in the constitution.”

She’s right. And until the Libertarian, Tea Party-influenced Religious Right gets over its slobberingly idolatrous fixation on the Constitution, politics in America will suffer and the so will the Church.

No part of the Constitution of the United States of America was God-breathed, nor is it inerrant, and no part of the Constitution has been more unevenly and carelessly embraced than its Second Amendment. I am not even a little bit a part of the “No Guns In Private Hands” crowd, even though I was raised in a household where the idea of owning guns was strictly verboten — with an almost religious fervor. I believe that the Founding Fathers provided for the ownership of certain kinds of weapons by those able to prove competence, character, and a record clear of the kinds of things that make a gun unacceptably dangerous in their hands, such as a violent history. Further, I am not a vegetarian, and until I kill my own game or go vegetarian, I will not condemn hunters.

But the Founders could not have anticipated the gamut of semi- and automatic weapons currently available, and evidently did not anticipate the formation of a permanent, professional military. And a proclamation like the one issued by Utah, while perhaps acceptable some 200 years ago, is a terribly sad reflection of the callousness that motivates people to cheer a misguided toast to a murky Constitutional right within days of a tragedy — the Tucson shootings — that horrifically illustrates its misapplication today.

Utah, In A Stunning Show Of Civic Pride, Picks A State Gun

Wednesday, February 2nd, 2011

I consider that my blog ought to be full of things I write myself, and so I rarely print excerpts from other sources, and I don’t think I’ve ever reprinted a whole article. But this is so shameful an act of Official Government Business that I can’t resist — and can’t resist, in my next post, reprinting a comment my dear friend Rosemary Huskey of Moscow made on the community’s Vision 2020 forum. I will, of course, follow up with much more on this and other things, but Rosemary nails it with her take on those hearty “patriots” who embrace guns, gun culture, and their perceived right to own pretty much whatever dispatches ordnance and powder.

First, the story, from NPR:

A Browning M1911 semiautomatic pistol may soon join the sego lily, Rocky
Mountain elk and sugar beet as official symbols of the state of Utah.

The State Senate is considering a measure passed by the House of
Representatives on Wednesday that would declare the .45-caliber handgun
the official state firearm — the first in the country.

“This firearm was created by John Moses Browning, who was a son of Utah
pioneers,” said Republican Rep. Carl Wimmer of Herriman, Utah, during
debate on the House floor. “This firearm really has defended liberty and
freedom around the country and around the world. And I think this is a
very appropriate designation to capture a portion of the state history.”

The M1911 is one of several notable Browning firearms and has been used by
the military and law enforcement since World War I.

Wimmer characterized the notion of an official state firearm as benign,
similar to naming the Dutch oven the official state cooking pot. But
Democrat Carol Spackman Moss of Holladay opposed the move.

“It seems insensitive to me at this time when many people are mourning the
deaths of six people in Tucson and the serious wounding of Gabrielle
Giffords, a friend of mine,” Moss told the Utah House. “Many people have a
negative experience with guns because guns do kill people [when they're]
in the hands of those who use them wrongly.”

Moss also described shootings that took the lives of two cousins: a
soldier two weeks away from discharge at Fort Hood, Texas; and a teenager
gazing at the stars with a friend when a thrill-seeker shot them both.

But guns and the right to own them are big deals in Utah. Hunting and
sport shooting are common, and the state has some of the most permissive
gun ownership laws in the country.

The rest of the country has noticed. Last year, Utah issued more than
67,000 concealed-weapons permits, with more than 51,000 going to people
who don’t even live in the state, according to the Utah Bureau of Criminal
Identification.

Advocates of the right to bear arms are a powerful political force in the
state, as Moss noted when she spoke on the Utah House floor Wednesday.

“When I was first elected to this office someone gave me this advice:
Don’t ever speak against guns,” Moss recalled, as her colleagues laughed.
“And now I’m going to break this advice.”

Moss said she had a difficult time imagining schoolchildren drawing and
coloring the Utah state symbols — the delicate sego lily, the majestic
Rocky Mountain elk and the tasty sugar beet — and then turning to a lethal
.45-caliber handgun.

“Guns have their place, but their place is not among the things we
designate,” Moss said.

Republican Stephen Sandstrom of Orem, Utah, rose to defend the weapon and
its official recognition.

“There’s never been a case where a handgun has jumped off a floor and
started shooting people. There’s somebody behind that trigger,” Sandstrom
said. “And I believe it’s safe to say that John Browning has … done more
to preserve the lives of American soldiers on the battlefield than any
other person in the history of this country.”

But state symbols are supposed to unify, insisted Brian King, a Salt Lake
City Democrat, who added, “I think it’s a very poor idea as a matter of
public policy that we choose, as a symbol of the state of Utah, something
that is as polarizing as a handgun.”

Wimmer had the last word.

“There is a huge difference between the actions of a madman using a
firearm … [and] patriots using a firearm to defend our country,” he said,
as he urged his colleagues to vote in favor of the measure.

They did overwhelmingly, 51 to 19.

Approval is expected in the state Senate given Utah’s gun and political
cultures. A vote there has yet to be scheduled.

The National Conference of State Legislatures tracks state statutes and a
spokeswoman says the group can find no record of an official state firearm
anywhere. That means Utah is poised to become the first state in the
nation to choose a handgun as an enduring official symbol.

Courtesy of NPR at:

http://www.npr.org/2011/01/27/133280682/Plans-For-Utah-State-Gun-Spark-Outrage