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Archive for March 2013

Passion and Grace

Holy Week … Passion and Grace

We enter Palm Sunday with triumph and joy, a journey into Jerusalem; our own lives seek the journey to return home, to enjoy friends and wonder about our future.  Jesus was deceived by false claims of devotion.  We travel our lives with similar steps.

Holy Thursday invites us to share food, drink wine, speak holy words, share our thoughts amidst laughter, memories and gentle friendship.  Ritual and celebration define us.  But soon, darkness, betrayal, and anguish overcome us and life offers no real control – even when you are Jesus.

Good Friday crashes down with tragedy and skewed loyalties among friends; a frenzy of courage and grief and loss and confusion and hopelessness; a spiritual wandering; emptiness and death.  Primal-scream loneliness.  Darkness extinguishes one’s spirit.  Where is that God who promises so much?

We seek quiet stirrings and reflection and desperately demand meaning out of endings.  How can one live with deep anguish?  How can one survive the death of all that is good, close, holy, loving?  Chaos reigns.

And then … when hope no longer lingers in one’s bones … that stone which has sealed us into death, suddenly quakes loose in ways we could never imagine, understand or even ask for.  The thunderous movement liberates creation and the stone moves farther and farther away, smashing darkness.  Light reaches into our own hiding places and warms what has been broken, offering healing and hope.

While our brains cannot explain, measure or understand, we are healed as we eagerly race from that sealed tomb into God’s grace of light and love; we arrive crashing into our God who will not abandon, our God who dances with joy at our own goodness.

The passion of Christ is the passion we claim for our own lives.

When we listen, we know of this cosmic message; we are made in God’s image and deserve to be liberated from all that shackles us.  In thunderous revelations or in quiet wandering, we arrive in Light, we are made whole.

We deserve to dance in the Light of God’s Grace…. 

(S-R Photo archives: A detail from Pinturicchio's fresco “Resurrection.”)                                                             

A spot of beauty every day

Seeking out a bit of beauty every day is supposed to help a person fight despair and anxiety, and it can counter the effects that ugliness has on our psyche.

Or so they say.

Anyway, in that spirit, I asked my husband to take this moon view out our window one recent early morning.

My spot of beauty. It helps, indeed.

(Photo by Tony Wadden)

Italy: Basta!

Enough! of the nonsense of trying to frame Amanda Knox for a murder that someone else is already serving time for, someone else whose presence at the crime scene is supported with evidence.

 Seems unfathomable that this young woman must endure more publicity, more scrutiny for an acquittal.  Perche`?  

Legal experts say that the U.S. will not allow her to be extradited since our own legal system does not support someone being tried for the same crime twice. But unfortunately, Amanda may need to leave her passport locked up for a very long time.

(S-R: Amanda Knox’s upcoming memoir “Waiting to be Heard” will come out April 30, two months later than originally scheduled.)


One more damn thing to worry about

We get a lot of cold sores in my extended family. In old family photos, there's usually one of us kids with an ugly sore on his or her lip. When we get colds, we break out with them.

In recent years, prescription creams have helped prevent the cold sores. But you have to apply the cream upon the first tingle on your lip. (The tingle is the warning sign that a cold sore is in the making.) We share the cream like it's an illicit drug because it's done such a good job preventing the family lip “curse.”

Now comes a report, from HealthDay News, that older people prone to cold sores might also be at increased risk for Alzheimer's disease.

“Researchers found that of more than 1,600 older adults, those with signs of chronic infection with herpes simplex and certain other viruses and bacteria scored lower on standard tests of mental skills. But the findings, published in the March 26 issue of Neurology, do not prove the infections are to blame. 'They could just be bystanders,' said lead researcher Dr. Mira Katan, a neurologist with Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons in New York City.”

The report offers one note of hope for cold-sore sufferers worried about later Alzheimer's.

“The study hinted that exercise might play a protective role. The research team found that infection 'burden' was related to mental impairment only among sedentary people — and not those who said they got some exercise.”

One more excuse for me to nag my non-exercising siblings. Get moving!


Zags and grief

This most wonderful photo taken by Dan Pelle, just after GU's heartbreaking loss Saturday, reminded me once again how grieving the loss of sports games is a preparation for deeper griefs in life.

Especially this reality: When it's over, it's over.

In hospitals, after someone has died, and the family has had its time to cry and reflect and make phone calls, the room clears. Within hours, after the deceased person has been removed, the room is flled with another patient.

Life is for the living.

And so the Big Dance goes on without the Zags.

Like a funeral, there will likely be warm welcoming and memory sharing on the GU campus this week, I hope.

And then, back to business as usual.

This happens in death, too. The person dies. The family grieves. Services are held and then, it's back to daily living.

What Pelle's photo catches is the first shock of realizing it's over. All that work, all that struggle, all that hope.

The eyes in this photo — coaches and players — are sad. But they encircle their arms around one another. And they go on, because that's what you do.

(S-R photo by Dan Pelle)

Should doctors ask patients about their guns?

Kaiser Health News has a fascinating story on its website about a Denver-area doctor, Frank Dumont, who regrets not asking his 70-something depressed patient if he had guns in the house.

From the article:

Dumont's patient shot himself in the head with a rifle. Dumont was stunned, and guilt-ridden. He says he always asks his depressed patients about suicide, and whether they've thought about how they'd do it. But he regrets not asking this patient specifically whether he had any guns in the house…Suicide prevention researcher Dr. Matthew Miller at the Harvard School of Public Health wants to make that question routine when doctors talk with patients.

In 2010, about 20,000 men and women killed themselves with guns. NPR had a fascinating story this week on the fact that Wyoming has the highest suicide rate in the country and two-thirds of the suicide are done with firearms. See story.

Do you think these doctor-patient talks would help cut down on suicide by gun?

(S-R archive photo)


So many journeys at this time of year…vacations, visiting friends and journeys to a final home. Poet John O'Donohue - who died suddenly a few years ago - writes beautiful words for the traveler:

For the Traveler

Every time you leave home,
Another road takes you
Into a world you were never in.

New strangers on other paths await.
New places that have never seen you
Will startle a little at your entry.
Old places that know you well
Will pretend nothing
Changed since your last visit.

When you travel, you find yourself
Alone in a different way,
More attentive now
To the self you bring along,
Your more subtle eye watching
You abroad; and how what meets you
Touches that part of the heart
That lies low at home:

How you unexpectedly attune
To the timbre in some voice,
Opening in conversation
You want to take in
To where your longing
Has pressed hard enough
Inward, on some unsaid dark,
To create a crystal of insight
You could not have known
You needed
To illuminate
Your way.

When you travel,
A new silence
Goes with you,
And if you listen,
You will hear
What your heart would
Love to say.

A journey can become a sacred thing:
Make sure, before you go,
To take the time
To bless your going forth,
To free your heart of ballast
So that the compass of your soul
Might direct you toward
The territories of spirit
Where you will discover
More of your hidden life,
And the urgencies
That deserve to claim you.

May you travel in an awakened way,
Gathered wisely into your inner ground;
That you may not waste the invitations
Which wait along the way to transform you.

May you travel safely, arrive refreshed,
And live your time away to its fullest;
Return home more enriched, and free
To balance the gift of days which call you.

~ John O'Donohue ~

(S-R archives photo)


Former Justice Tom Chambers: “I have three to six months left”

Former Washington Supreme Court Justice Tom Chambers, who retired at the end of 2012, has announced on his blog that the tongue and mouth cancer he's been battling has spread.

He wrote March 7: “The latest test results are not good.The cancer has spread.We are out of bullets.There are no more curative treatments available to me. I am on chemotherapy until I am transferred to hospice care. I have been told I have three to six months left. For my part, I feel some sense of relief as the last couple of years have been very difficult and, although I have always had hope, as new tumor after tumor was discovered, the handwriting has been on the wall that I have been losing the battle for some time.”

His blog post is filled with gratitude: “Let me emphasis that mine is not a life cut short but one fully and richly lived. Not only do I have a great and supportive family and many friends but also I have been blessed with so many rich experiences. Nearly 46 years ago, I married the girl who lived just 100 yards away from my home in Wapato. Besides making a life and raising a family together, we have taken time to smell the roses.We have shared more adventurous moments than anyone is entitled.”

At the end of his long blog post he concludes: “I am proud of my professional accomplishments and my service to the State of Washington as President of the Washington State Bar Association and as a Justice on the Washington Supreme Court.Mine is not a life to mourn.I think it was well lived.”

Thank you, Justice Chambers, for sharing your end-of-life journey.

(AP file photo of Chambers)





St. Patrick and the St. Charles nuns

St. Patrick's Day always reminds me of the sisters who taught us at St. Charles nearly 50 years ago. They were really into Irish dancing and nearly every recital or spring event included girls (and the guys?) doing Irish jigs.

Our mothers were called upon to sew the costumes — green skirts with green suspenders, white blouses and a green hair accessory. 

The  Franciscan sisters who taught us, especially in the pre-Vatican 2 days, were extremely young, early 20s, and they were likely homesick for the East where many came from. They must have been from those Eastern United States Irish-Catholic communities where St. Patrick's Day was a huge day of celebration.

And so they taught us clueless Northwest girls how to dance Irish jigs. They seemed happy when they taught us, too. Happy St. Pat's Day, St. Charles sisters of long ago.I don't know how many of you are even left.

Pope: Old people are like good wine


Pope Francisco in his first meeting with the College of Cardinals today, as reported in the Vatican Information Service.

“Courage, dear brothers! Probably half of us are in our old age. Old age, they say, is the seat of wisdom. The old ones have the wisdom that they have earned from walking through life. Like old Simeon and Anna at the temple whose wisdom allowed them to recognize Jesus. Let us give with wisdom to the youth: like good wine that improves with age, let us give the youth the wisdom of our lives.”

(S-R archives photo)

And the question is…

Who will the new Jeopardy host be in 2016? We have watched Alex Trebek for decades, but eventually everyone retires, even game-show hosts. Two candidates’ names are circulating in the media.

What do you think the given answer will be?

(S-R archives photo: Alex Trebek)

Meet the new pope

He appeared humble and gentle as he stood at the balcony, asking the crowd below to bless him and pray with him.

The Catholic Church has undergone a purging of evil in the last decade with brave adults telling horror stories of abuse during their childhood, suffered at the hands of clergy. And the Church called to act justly: to admit its sins and compensate victims.

May the hands and heart of Pope Francis I work to infuse the Church with love, trust, integrity, healing and a continued compassion for all of God’s people.

(S-R photo: Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio who chose the name of Francis is the 266th pontiff of the Roman Catholic Church.)

What do Donna and Mary think of the new pope?

Every Catholic, likely, places upon a new pope all their hopes for a better, different church.

My dream has long been for a Vatican III to which the poor and women and others not in the power structure of the church would be invited.

With the announcement of  Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio of Argentina becoming Pope Francis today, I thought of these hopes. And I thought of two progressive Catholic women I knew and respected.

Donna Hanson, the head of Spokane's Catholic Charities who died in 2005, asked Pope John Paul II in a 1987 public gathering to be more inclusive of women. See New York Times story here.

And I thought of Mary Garvin, a Holy Names sister and Gonzaga University theology professor, who introduced us in class one day to the women who attended Vatican II. There were 23 women asked to observe the proceedings. Just 23. The priests, bishops and cardinals attending didn't want to rub shoulders with the women at the coffee bar, so they built them their own.

Mary died in January. Both Donna and Mary urged Catholic women to always be assertive, to talk truth to power and to stay in this male-dominated church and change it from the inside out.

I wonder what they think of Pope Francis. I'm thinking of them today. 

(S-R file photo of Donna Hanson)

Holy smoke…update

Today begins the conclave of Cardinals to elect a new pope. Who do you think will wear the white garment and stand at the window?  

While the rest of the world tweets, emails, texts and blogs, the men in red sequester themselves without electronics; instead they pray, reflect and vote – just as they did 400 years ago.

 An American? The guy from Milan? The hockey-playing Canadian? The man from Ghana?  Latin America? Who is your favorite?

 We wait and look to the sky for an answer.


Vatican City, 12 March 2013 (VIS) – This evening at 7:42pm, black smoke rose from the chimney installed on the roof of the Sistine Chapel signalling that the Cardinal electors have not elected a new Pope in the first ballot of the Conclave.

(S-R photo: U.S. Cardinal Sean Patrick O'Malley of Boston)

Kudos to my colleague John Webster

One secret to longevity and healthy aging is to continually challenge yourself, despite aches and pains, general fatigue, temporary or permanent disappointment in friends, family and life.

And anyone who reaches late 50s, early 60s, has been visited by all of the above.

My colleague John Webster — a former courts and politics reporter and opinion editor took a decade long break from writing and ran our newsroom — its finances, its computer system, its architectural redesign.

In 2013, he's recommitted himself to writing, plus do all of his regular duties. And he's doing an amazing job. He'll be a regular Boomer U section writer. See his Boomer U story today.

And this week, he's written an in-depth examination of the health care changes rolling our way. I finally get what's coming, thanks to John's well-written and easy to understand articles.

Read Sunday's story here.

Read today's story here.

Thanks, John, for showing others how to challenge yourself and educate others at the same time.

The Long Morrow: Couples in space

The news this week that a wealthy space tourist wants to send a man and woman on a 501-day trip in space toward Mars, immediately reminded me of one of my favorite Twilight Zone episodes, The Long Morrow.

The 1964 episode was about an astronaut about to embark on a 40-year mission to a planetary system 141 light years from Earth. He will be put in suspended animation. He falls in love with a colleague before he leaves.

While he is gone, she has herself placed in suspended animation so they will be the same age upon his return. He, meanwhile, has decided not to put himself in suspended animation. The voyage goes forth and 40 years pass.

When he exits the spacecraft, she greets him, a younger woman still. He is 40 years older. They do not live happily ever after.

The episode does not explain what the man ate or drank or passed the time in those 40 years. Details, details.

But I remember being haunted by the episode, even as a kid, especially the acute loneliness the man must have felt. And couldn't the woman have stayed with him just a little while?

Rod Serling, the writer and developer of Twilight Zone, was a genius. His genius remembered this week, 49 years after The Long Morrow aired on black and white television in my childhood living room. 

(S-R archives photo of Rod Serling)

Nora Ephron’s final days

Writer and moviemaker Nora Ephron kept her illness very secret and so her death last year shocked almost everyone.

Today in the New York Times, Ephron's son, Jacob Bernstein (his father is famous Watergate reporter Carl Bernstein) wrote a beautiful piece about his mother's illness and the final play she worked on.

Writing is big-time in Jacob's genes, and it shows in this piece. He does a terrific job explaining his mother's choice to not talk about her dying. And maybe she was in denial herself?

Ephron's end-of-days story reinforces a lot of what I learned about dying during my chaplaincy training at Rush University Medical Center last fall. Some people want to talk about their dying in depth. Others are very private or in denial to the end. And it's hard to predict who will be open and who will remain private.

Who could imagine that Ephron, who made it really famous with the book and movie Heartburn (about her messy break-up with Bernstein) would clam up at the end?

Writing is big-time in Jacob's genes, and it shows in this piece. Here's an excerpt but treat yourself today and read the whole thing.

Nevertheless, as she ran out of time, she chose not to acknowledge, at least explicitly, what was happening to her. One of the last e-mails she sent went out five days before she died. It was addressed to her film agent, Bryan Lourd. “I am as sad as you can imagine to report that I have leukemia. Early reports are not particularly hopeful but not hopeless either.”

The weekend before she went into a coma, Jerry Groopman called her from Boston. If she wanted to know, he was prepared to tell her that she had entered the terminal phase of her illness. She chose not to call him back.

(S-R archives photo)





Yes, no, maybe…I really don’t know!

When it comes to health issues, the media reports contradictory “evidence” almost weekly.  Once again, we hear that what we thought would protect us, may not actually do anything good at all. What is a person to do?

My doctor says, “Be sensible. We may learn later that mega dosing on even something as common as vitamins may lead to trouble.”

Decisions, decisions.

(S-R archives photo)

Another damn thing to worry about

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued a report today on another drug-resistent bacteria that is spreading in hospitals and kills half the people who get a bloodstream infection from it.

Drug-resistant germs called carbapenem-reistant Enterobacteriaceae, or CRE, are on the rise and have become more resistant to last-resort antibiotics during the past decade, according to a new CDC Vital Signs report. These bacteria are causing more hospitalized patients to get infections that, in some cases, are impossible to treat. 

Upon this rock or rock, paper, scissors?

They are arriving in Rome and ready to vote – behind closed doors.

With scandal as part of the drama, cardinals begin the process of discerning who they believe the Holy Spirit wants as the next leader of the world’s Catholics. But the world’s Catholics have also been listening to the sexual abuse victims who suffered from the decisions of some of these leaders and their confreres. And we know that sometimes the voice of the Holy Spirit falls on deaf ears. So we watch, we wait. And we hope that the next leader of the Roman Catholic Church is a man who will lead with wisdom and grace – and integrity.

(S-R photo)

Reading, Writing, Arithmetic and you

Some students take to traditional learning as easily as a fish to water – others feel like they are drowning in that water. So, how do we make learning – learning?  You can make a difference.

A friend who serves on the local school board tells me that our education system is one of the few systems that has not changed in over a century. We have changed the way we conduct business in the market place, how we deliver babies, how we care for our pets, almost everything – but we still keep kids in chairs and ask them to memorize information and repeat it back in written tests or essay form. We know that people learn differently, so it is time to apply that information: kinesthetic learners need to get their bodies moving, their hands involved to learn. Auditory learners can listen to a book and retain the story easily, instead of only reading it. Some people read and listen at the same time, improving comprehension. Social learners need that group to work together on a project, instead of slogging through a project alone.  As a musical/kinesthetic learner, my son memorized his address as a child when we sang the whole address. Easy.

Relationships and emotional intelligence are increasingly making their way into our education systems. And as we seek ways to prepare children for the constantly changing world we live in, we can creatively find ways to relevantly share and apply reading, writing and that often-dreaded math as well as life skills, the arts and relationships. And perhaps the most needed addition is – you.

 What skills or interests can you bring to a partnership with education in your community?

(S-R archive photo)

Childhood neglect/abuse and adult insomnia

Can't sleep?

Maybe you should look way back in your past to its possible origins.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports this week that “the origins of insufficient sleep can, in certain cases, begin early in life and pose lasting consequences. A retrospective cohort study found that self-reported instances of neglect or abuse during childhood were associated with frequent insufficient sleep decades after their occurrence.”

 March 3–10, is National Sleep Awareness Week.

According to the CDC report adults need seven to nine hours of sleep per night. “Receiving less sleep can pose serious consequences to health and safety.”

 Falling asleep while driving is one of the biggest dangers.

(S-R archive photo)

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About this blog

Writer Catherine Johnston of Olympia, Wash., addresses issues facing aging baby boomers and seniors as well as issues of serious illness, death and dying, grief and loss.

Ask a question: Catherine welcomes questions about aging issues and grief. Email her at

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