Archive for the ‘Remembered.’ Category

10 days in Haiti

January 13, 2010

In December of 2007, I spent 10 days in Haiti. Most of my time was spent up in the Central Plateau in a town called Thomonde, near Hinche. I spent a day or two on either end in Port-Au-Prince. I was working on a solar power project with the Catholic Diocese of Richmond, which had paired each church in Diocese with a church in Haiti. Watching the images pour in today from Haiti, my mind keeps returning to the intense ten days I spent there.

It’s less than a two hour flight from Miami to Port-Au-Prince. How could one of the world’s poorest countries be in the same time zone as Washington DC? I grew up around the world, in Africa and Asia, and I have seen exceptional poverty. But the gritty, intense poverty of Haiti was brutal and beyond my previous experience. The country had a hopeless, desperate feel to it — even as the people of Haiti opened their hearts and homes to me. The generosity and spirit of the Haitian people was an inspiration and remains to this day a reminder of grace.

Even the landscape was desolate. It seemed as if every single tree had been cut down — not so far from the truth, it turns out — and when we attempted to visit the beach, we discovered that the deforestation had led to severe erosion that had destroyed the coral reefs.

But the most striking thing was what appeared to be an almost total absence of government. Once we left Port-Au-Prince, it was hard to discern any institutions at all — other than the Catholic Church. Roads, banks, hospitals, courts – really any kind of systemic institutions seemed absent.

Today, watching and listening to the news of the earthquake, I feel my heart breaking for Haiti. How much more heartache does Haiti deserve? Please do what you can, and keep Haiti close to your heart.

Cross-posted to

Sunday Mornings in Fascist Spain`

November 20, 2008

These days I’m reading “Sunday Mornings in Fascist Spain” by Willis Barnstone. It’s out of print so I had to track down a copy, a fairly straightforward task in this wired age. How I came to be reading this particular memoir is odd in and of itself; I don’t have any idea who Willis Barnstone is.

Ten or eleven years ago, in the winter of 1997, I visited Haiti for a few weeks. An acquaintance of my parents’ heard of my impending travel, and asked me to bring this book to his brother. I carried the book around Haiti for a couple weeks, never reading it but reading the title over and over again. Haiti was in complete disarray and it took me some time to track down my friend’s brother. It seemed like it was going to be an odd quixotic quest that would end without delivery of the book until finally I found him in that strange, dis-jointed semi-providential way people found each other before mobile phones in a city without street names. The brother invited me in to his house, and we sat across from each other, a bit uncomfortable, nothing really in common, or so it seemed, so I handed him the book and left after just a few minutes of silence and snippets of conversation.

But I continued to carry around the title of that book, “Sunday Mornings in Fascist Spain”. A few years later another friend gave me a translation of C. P. Cavafy’s poems by a woman named Aliki Barnstone; I wondered if she was related to the Willis Barnstone of the Haiti Brother Book Quest. Turns out she’s Willis’ daughter (and a fine translator of poems!).

The title of the book stayed with me, completely without any context and so my imagination added context and layered meaning. When Morra and I traveled around Spain, I would find myself imagining Sunday Mornings in this particular spot in Spain half a century ago. But still I had not read the book. Finally, inexplicably, a month ago I tracked down the book online and ordered it. The siren call of that title had finally become to great to resist, and so now I find myself devouring Barnstone’s delicious memoir of poetry and a time when American and indeed the World was quite different.

What We Need Is Here

September 11, 2007

This morning I was driving Rascal to doggie daycare when I heard, in the car over the radio, a reminder that it was the 6th anniversary of the attacks on September 11. Somehow I had managed to put this fact out of my mind, to pay no attention to the approaching anniversary, and so hearing the announcement on the radio was a shock, a jolt to my system. It all came back to me very suddenly, very vividly – especially the smells – the acrid scent of the collapsed building in the thick air, mixed with a heavy smoke. I had to pull the car over; it was just unexpected and intense, even after these six years.

And then it all begins to make sense. For the last couple of weeks I’ve had a heavy heart – every day seemed overcast – and I had been talking with Morra about it. Now I remember that for the couple of weeks before the anniversary, I always sink into a bit of a slump, a dark sense of foreboding creeping across everything. And I never remember why; it’s as if my head puts the memory of September 11, 2001 completely out of my head, out of my personal history, so that it does not exist. Then in a quiet moment, my guard down, it comes creeping out of the dark corner and terrifies me.

It’s funny; I listen to a lot of news radio in the mornings – a clock radio wakes us up, a radio blares in the kitchen while we’re having our morning coffee, a radio in the car. In fact, the morning radio is about the only news I consume all day long. Today I realized I had managed to tune all of the various radios to music stations over the last few days, a completely unconscious way to avoid hearing about the anniversary.

I get myself all tied up in knots remembering that day. It is such a difficult memory for me – not just that day but the weeks that followed – and yet I feel like my experience was not nearly as bad as many others. I had it pretty good, all things considered – I am alive today and no one I am close to was killed in the attacks. I was right downtown when it happened; I did get hit by some debris and bled from some resulting small cuts on my neck and head; but compared to what some people experienced that day – and compared to many people’s tragedies every day – my experience, as painful as it is for me, seems small and not worth mentioning. Mostly it remains my own private scary memory, a landscape of mixed emotions that stays buried inside me until the anniversary, when it invariably surfaces and terrifies me yet again.

I don’t know what to do with it, this memory full of emotions. I don’t want to forget it – but I don’t want to remember it, either. I don’t want to share it; but I can’t just hold it alone. I feel like my experience on that Tuesday six years ago completely re-wrote my future; it fundamentally changed my life and who I am. I don’t like to think about how living through the experience changed my life, because it’s not a matter of debate – it has happened.

I want everyone to be quiet today. I don’t like the news media’s approach to the anniversary. I don’t like the constant discussion of Iraq that invokes September 11. I don’t like the impersonal tone of all the coverage and chatter. I want everyone to be quiet and to consider their lives. A favorite Wendell Berry poem (“The Wild Geese”) ends:

And we pray, not
for new earth or heaven, but to be
quiet in heart, and in eye
clear. What we need is here.

What we need is here. The love of our friends and family – and the loving of our friends and family – for all the madness, that’s what this day returns me to: what we need is here.

I have written twice before about my experience of Sept. 11 – the first time was just a few months after the attack and the second time was last year.

We are with you, Virginia Tech.

April 16, 2007

It’s madness.

Total madness.

I haven’t blogged in weeks but the Virginia Tech shooting tragedy has wrenched open my heart.

As an alumnus of another Virginia state school (College of William and Mary), I have many friends from Virginia Tech and have visited the campus a number of times. It just feels so close, so real, so terrifying.

And having survived a tragedy myself, it brings it all back.

I created a Facebook group to show support for Virginia Tech; as of 3:51pm ET, it’s got 675 members.

I also created this sign for people to download and show their support for Virginia Tech:

What is there to say?

Try To Praise The Mutilated World

Try to praise the mutilated world.
Remember June’s long days,
and wild strawberries, drops of wine, the dew.
The nettles that methodically overgrow
the abandoned homesteads of exiles.
You must praise the mutilated world.
You watched the stylish yachts and ships;
one of them had a long trip ahead of it,
while salty oblivion awaited others.
You’ve seen the refugees heading nowhere,
you’ve heard the executioners sing joyfully.
You should praise the mutilated world.
Remember the moments when we were together
in a white room and the curtain fluttered.
Return in thought to the concert where music flared.
You gathered acorns in the park in autumn
and leaves eddied over the earth’s scars.
Praise the mutilated world
and the grey feather a thrush lost,
and the gentle light that strays and vanishes
and returns.

by Adam Zagajewski
Translated by Renata Gorczynski

I Remember.

January 15, 2007

I remember, maybe first of all, my grandmother’s voice. She would make cassette tapes narrating a book of photos for me as a little kid, and even though we lived thousands of miles away in a different country, through the tapes I got to know her voice.

I remember that she always made me feel special – very, very special. I remember the feeling that she lived for me. When I got older – much older – I realized that this was part of what she brought to the world: she made people feel very special. It was the warmth of her intense, embracing love.

I remembering watching her start a book company with my grandfather, while they were building a house together. There was never any question if something was possible; the world was available to you – for you to pursue your dreams. She was fierce in her love – and fierce in her achievements.

And of course I remember her wheelchair. The amazing thing is that for a woman who spent 52 years in a wheelchair, I never thought of her as constrained in any way. She taught me about how accessible the world was: anything I put my mind to, I can realize.

When I was in college, she sent me a porcelain figure of a grandmother angel. She threatened to cause some serious trouble unless I placed it some place where she could “watch” me. I’ve carried it with me for ten years, always careful to place some place where she can watch me.

I just loved her so much. The fierce way she loved me – it feels like a fire I can have, a fire of love I can have for others, if I cultivate and encourage it.

She was the most powerful person I have ever known, and it was a power fueled by sheer determination and will – and by a deep, intimate love.

She died in her sleep the morning of December 3, 2006, and I’ve thought about her every day since she died. I know she’s up there praying for me, whispering encouragement in my ears.

For Aunt Joey

December 29, 2006

Martina Austin is the wife of Paul Austin, my grandmother’s nephew. Martina sent me this remembrance about Joey:

It is three weeks to the day since Aunt Joey passed on and two-and-half weeks since Paul and I had the honor to stand with our family at Assumption Catholic Church in Bellingham to celebrate her life and mourn her passing.

Aunt Joey was an extraordinary woman who took on the many challenges in her life with common sense, spunk, and grace, and with the steadfast assistance and devotion of her husband, our Uncle Peter. They lived busy lives as professionals, participants in their church and communities, and parents, not only to Mary Helene and Jim, but to other children who sojourned under Peter and Joey’s roof. I stand in profound admiration of them both.

As we drove to the services at Assumption Church, I was struck by the winter landscape. Browns and grays, the silhouettes of trees standing before quietly clouded skies. Nature’s work is done, and the year is coming to a close, I thought. It’s going underground to be able to come forth again as spring when the sun grows stronger and the skies clear.

Let Evening Come

Let the light of late afternoon
Shine through chinks in the barn, moving
Up the bales as the sun moves down.

Let the crickets take up chafing
As a woman takes up her needles
And her yarn. Let evening come.

Let dew collect on the hoe abandoned
In long grass. Let the stars appear
And the moon disclose her silver horn.

Let the fox go back to its sandy den.
Let the wind die down. Let the shed
Go black inside. Let evening come.

To the bottle in the ditch, to the scoop
In the oats, to air in the lung
Let evening come.

Let it come, as it will, and don’t
Be afraid. God does not leave us
Comfortless, so let evening come.

–Jane Kenyon

Aunt Joey accomplished so very much personally, and as a mother, wife, citizen. She and Uncle Peter raised Jim and Mary Helene to be thoughtful people who live meaningful lives and who have, in turn, raised their children – Jesse, Sarah, Tony; Nicco and Peter – to do the same; they are making a difference in our world. Aunt Joey surely sighed many times over a job magnificently done.

I am thankful for our visits with Aunt Joey and Uncle Peter, first at Pollock Pines, and then in Bellingham. We talked of so many things – raising children, religion, and ethics mixed in with cooking, movies, stories, and playing Monopoly. She always listened, really listened, and always encouraged each of us – Paul, James, Meridian, and me – in what we were doing.

So the year passes into the next, and Aunt Joey passed from this life into the next, into the fullness of God which she so fervently sought. Bless her soul.

Note from Vivian

December 9, 2006

My grandmother, Josephine Davidson, passed away a week ago – her obituary is here, and a photo slideshow is here. Her good friend Vivian Chapman is 90 and lives down the street; Vivian asked me to publish her rememberances on my blog:

Joey was a profound influence in my adjusting to life in the Northwest, as well as widowhood one year after moving here. She invited me to a prayer and study group which met weekly at her home. She also included me in many family affairs. I was to learn that being wheelchair bound didn’t hinder this vivacious woman from accomplishing whatever she set out to do. In one of our special bonding of friendship periods she told me how the general public dismissed the abilities of one in a wheel chair. Well – they had no idea of the bundle of energy they were challenging.

She had been teaching school before she became a victim of Polio. On her efforts to return she found California had a law preventing it. She then spent two years serving as teacher’s assistant without monetary reward to prove that being on wheels did not effect her mental and professional abilities. She was soon re-instated. That is dedication.

Another incident that caused us all to stand up and take notice of this little woman’s abilities to get things done, regardless of opposition, was her picture in the Bellingham Reporter sitting at the entrance of City Hall. Here she sat and the only entrance to the building was a revolving door. It wasn’t long ’till a push button door was installed. She was also instrumental in the installation of ramps at all public sidewalk corners, also for large stalls with grab bars for using public wash rooms and toilets.

She didn’t seek credit for these improvements, just results. I could go on and on – but so could all who knew her If she had any human faults they were so lost in her Christian Charity, none could be found. She was a treasured gift to all who knew her.

Photos of my Grandmother

December 6, 2006

It’s a bit nuts the last 48 hours; 40+ relatives flying in from multiple continents, and I’m co-ordinating food, lodging, and transportation, as well as all visual elements of the funeral (photo slideshow, program, mass card). On top of keeping some work projects running. I’m exhausted. I’ve uploaded all of the photos we’re using in the slideshow to my flickr feed so that family and friends who can’t make it can still see it: Joey Davidson, 1923-2006. I think my two favorites are (1) Nan with her father, Wallace McPhee, my great-grandfather and (2) when she won Polio Mother of the Year from the March of Dimes in 1957. The little girl in the photo is my mother, and the dog’s name is Bill.

Josephine “Joey” Davidson

December 5, 2006

Joey DavidsonJosephine “Joey” Davidson died in her sleep the morning of December 3, 2006, after spending the previous day with four generations of family members.

Joey was born in Brooklyn, New York, February 13, 1923, the fifth of six siblings, and moved to Santa Rosa, California, as an infant. She graduated from Ursuline High School in Santa Rosa and then from the University of California at Berkeley. At Cal she met her roommate’s brother, Peter, whom she married in 1947.

An educator, author and columnist, Joey lived in Illinois, the Middle East, New York, California and Texas before moving to Bellingham in 1988. Joey, who contracted polio in 1954, spent the rest of her life in a wheelchair. When she wished to return to the classroom in the 1960s, she discovered that it was illegal in the state of California for people with disabilities to teach. She persisted and taught for 23 years in Catholic schools in California and Texas.

After she retired, Joey wrote a bestselling middle-school resource book, Teaching and Dramatizing Greek Myths. She eventually founded her own publishing company, and wrote three more school texts, most notably The Middle School Debater. She worked with friends at her church to compile and publish a large print hymnal and co-authored with Phyllis Shelley Jesus and People with Disabilities.

Joey wrote a column for The Bellingham Herald for a number of years. In her column, she continued to educate and advocate on behalf of people with disabilities. She also served on city and county advisory panels and commissions and helped with the design of public parks and recreational facilities to ensure that they are accessible, comfortable and usable for people with disabilities.

Survivors are her husband of 59 years, Peter D. Davidson; son James, his spouse Tamara, their children Jesse, Sarah and Tony; and daughter, Mary H. Mele, her spouse Nicholas, their children Nicco and his spouse Morra, and Peter, his spouse Barbara and their daughter Sophia Josephine. Her brother John McPhee of Moraga, California; her sister, Virginia Shea of Santa Rosa, California; and sister-in-law Helene Jacoby of Boise, Idaho, and their families, also mourn for Joey.

There will be a vigil for Joey at Moles Funeral Home on Lakeway Avenue in Bellingham, Washington State from 7 pm Wednesday, December 6; her funeral will be at Assumption Catholic Church at 10:30 am Thursday, December 7.

Joey expressed a wish that in lieu of flowers, memorials be made to the Interfaith Coalition, 2401 Cornwall Avenue, Bellingham, WA 98225.

This obituary appeared in the Bellingham Herald, the Santa Rosa Press Democrat, and on the Moles Family Funeral Home website.

Nan, My Beloved Grandmother

December 3, 2006

This Sunday, Dec. 3rd, my grandmother, Josephine Davidson, passed away in Bellingham, Washington State. I’m headed out there tomorrow to be with my family. I loved her very, very much and I’m going to miss her. I was at Mass today exactly when she died; she must have known. I’ll write a longer post about her shortly – it’s late, and I’ve been running around trying to get everything done since I’m going to be away for a week unexpectedly. She is survived by my grandfather, her partner of more than 59 years, and by her two children, my mother and my uncle. I’m the oldest grandchild and I have so many fond memories of her… well, now I’m crying, and I need to go to bed. Got an early flight to catch. I love you, Nan.