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Archive for July 2014

Remember summer bedtime?

                                 Bed in Summer
                         Robert Louis Stevenson, 1850-1894

In winter I get up at night   
And dress by yellow candle-light.   
In summer, quite the other way,   
I have to go to bed by day.   
I have to go to bed and see          
The birds still hopping on the tree,   
Or hear the grown-up people’s feet   
Still going past me in the street.   
And does it not seem hard to you,   
When all the sky is clear and blue,   
And I should like so much to play,   
To have to go to bed by day?

(S-R archive photo)


Summer night - a poem

Back Yard

Carl Sandburg, 1878 - 1967

Shine on, O moon of summer. 

Shine to the leaves of grass, catalpa and oak, 

All silver under your rain to-night. 

An Italian boy is sending songs to you to-night from an accordion. 

A Polish boy is out with his best girl; they marry next month;

     to-night they are throwing you kisses.

An old man next door is dreaming over a sheen that sits in a

     cherry tree in his back yard. 

The clocks say I must go—I stay here sitting on the back porch drinking

     white thoughts you rain down. 

     Shine on, O moon, 

Shake out more and more silver changes.

(S-R photo: The July 12, 2014, full moon over Spokane was a “super moon.”)

The “f” word

I loved him. He loved me, but when I left for college he couldn’t love me across the miles, so he wrote a good-bye letter, an ugly letter with untruths, cruel comments. I cried and quickly survived. When we met decades later, we laughed about all our teen-age adventures and how we skillfully violated curfews. Our relationship had always been one of easy conversation – any topic, no limits. So when he paused and grew serious, I paid attention. “I have to tell you I always felt terrible about the way I ended…” I interrupted, trying to save him. “Oh! But I have only great memories…you set the standard very high…” He interrupted back and said, “Please! I have to say this.” Then he said he was sorry. I smiled, but knew he wanted more. “Do you need me to say the word?” I asked.  “Yes, I need to hear the words.” And so I said the “f” word: “I forgive you, of course! Of course, I forgive you.” He exhaled audibly, his face relaxed and he said, “Thank you, thank you.”  

Ten years ago when I was diagnosed with cancer, I remembered that “f”-word conversation. I wanted to say I am so sorry to another man I once loved madly. I had told untruths laced with cruel comments when I ended our relationship decades ago. If I was going to die of this dreaded disease, I must tell him the real story. Not wanting to blindside him on the phone, I emailed him – asking for no reply, really. I just wanted him to read my words, to know the truth. He did – and responded with his usual kindness, “I have only great memories of that magical time…”

Recently, the president of the Tacoma School Board, Kurt Miller, offered an apology, 42 years after the incident, to a former teacher. Jim Gaylord was a Washington state history teacher in 1972. He was fired, not because he was a bad teacher or unethical. He was fired for his sexual orientation.

“Forty-two years later, all we can do is to apologize,” Miller said. “We want to give him the dignity back.”

Gaylord said that it felt really good to put a nice ending to an unfortunate story.

Forgiveness is an “f” word  often ignored. We blame and condemn and seldom own up to our bad behavior when we should. Asking for and granting forgiveness takes courage. Not easy - even when we need to forgive ourselves.

Apologizing to an erstwhile love, a former employee or anyone we have hurt, brings healing. So, say you are sorry. And when you do, you just may hear a lovely “f” word in reply.

(S-R archive photo: Gonzaga University)

A summer’s day

A friend hosted a wedding shower the other night. She asked guests to bring their favorite love poem. Do you have one? With all the twittering about, I wonder if lovers still share poetry or even poetic thoughts. Here is a classic:

Shall I Compare Thee, (Sonnet XVIII)
by William  Shakespeare

Shall I compare thee to a Summer's day?

Thou are more lovely and more temperate:

Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May,

And Summer's lease hath all too short a date:

Sometime too hot the eye of heaven shines,

And often is his gold complexion dimm'd;

And every fair from fair sometime declines,

By chance or nature's changing course untrimm'd:

But thy eternal Summer shall not fade

Nor lose possession of that fair thou ow'st;

Nor shall Death brag thou wander'st in his shade,

When in eternal lines to time thou grow'st:

So long as men can breathe, or eyes can see,

So long lives this, and this gives life to thee.


(S-R photo: Summer sunset at North Idaho’s Priest Lake)


Weather or not

Seems many adults have forgotten their small children in cars lately – hot cars. And the result is deadly.

Spokane will experience hot temperatures in the following week.

What is your reminder to check for your children, pets – all those riding in your vehicle – when you turn off the ignition?

(S-R archive photo)


Keeping the promise

Holocaust survivors ask that history remember their stories. Today, we remember the remarkable life of Yehuda Nir, a psychiatrist and Jewish man who, as a child, escaped certain murder by the Nazis. Nir died on Saturday in his Manhattan home at 84 years old.

He pretended to be a Catholic in German-occupied Poland. His Jewish identity was almost revealed when he asked a woman what day Christmas was on that year. She figured he was not a Catholic. He told her he would expose her affair, if she told the truth about his identity. He had no idea she was having an affair, but she was. She never spoke a word.

Nir, his mother and older sister eventually made their way to Palestine. He came to the United States in 1959 for medical residencies.

As a psychiatrist, Nir brought healing to others who suffered trauma, children and Holocaust survivors as well as their children. Nir served as a chief of child psychiatry at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center for seven years (1979 to 1986).

As survivors of the Holocaust die, we must continue to listen to their stories - and live their lessons of courage, of reverence for life.

Today, we remember Yehuda Nir.

(S-R archive photo)


James Garner – what a guy

He was smart, sexy and still a regular guy. James Garner, 86, died in Los Angeles at his home on Saturday. His film and television legacy leaves us with entertainment to remember.

Garner starred in more than 50 films. He appeared in comedies, a jederman, everyone, playing a character we either identified with or simply loved. 

Garner was a man who grew up in hardship, leaving home at 14 after a violent episode with his stepmother; but he created a life of opportunity as he took on various jobs: dishwasher, janitor, gas station attendant.  Years later, he returned from his military service in Korea, he worked as a carpet layer for his dad. One day he was driving and saw a sign with the name of an acquaintance – now an agent – so Garner stopped in to chat. Garner was soon hired in a non-speaking role. So began his career.

Garner’s personal approach to acting? “Be on time, know your words, hit your marks, and tell the truth.” Good advice for any profession. 

(S-R archive photo: James Garner, 2004)

Flight MH 17 passengers remembered

Flight MH17 shot down over the Ukraine carried people who passionately loved life – and some of those people shared their remarkable skills seeking to cure HIV AIDS.

The plane carried world leaders headed for the International AIDS Conference hosted this year in Melbourne. Dutch researcher Joep Lange, who has worked in AIDS research and treatment since 1983, was on board with his partner, Jacqueline van Tongeren.

Media reports state nearly 100 passengers who were AIDS advocates, leaders, and humanitarians were on flight MH17 headed to the conference.

When tragedy so encompassing overwhelms us, I am reminded of Henry David Thoreau’s mandate not to retreat from life, but to passionately persevere:

“On the death of a friend, we should consider that the fates through confidence have devolved on us the task of a double living, that we have henceforth to fulfill the promise of our friend's life also, in our own, to the world.”  

We pause in solidarity with all families, friends and leaders who grieve this unfathomable tragedy. May those attending the AIDS conference in Melbourne hold the memory of their colleagues in their hearts as they continue their commitment to ending HIV/AIDS, fulfilling the promise of friends' lives, too.

(S-R photo)

More, again, still - enough

The desire to retain position at the cost of victims continues within the Catholic Church. St. Paul-Minneapolis Archbishop John C. Nienstedt refuses to resign while the scandal surrounding him continues.

Former chancellor, Jennifer M. Hasleberger, filed an affidavit claiming while the archbishop was informed of pedophile priests, he did nothing. Haselberger’s documents also claim the archbishop, “…declined to report suspected abusers to civil authorities; failed to monitor sex offenders in the clergy; and in various ways violated the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People written by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.”

Violence against children and other vulnerable people is a crime. The Church is morally and legally responsible to protect those persons it claims to shepherd. Enough.

(S-R archive photo: St. Peter's Square, Vatican City)

The children must die…no more

The children who are deemed mingi children in Omo Valley, Ethiopia must die.  Mingi children are those born out of wedlock, or have their top teeth appear before the bottom teeth or other defined situations are considered mingi; their very lives bring a curse upon the tribe. Killing these children – through suffocation, drowning or starvation - has been the practice in the remote Omo Valley in Ethiopia – until two years ago when tribesman Lale Labuko was able to convince the tribe that the time of mingi was over.

Labuko worked with American John Rowe, a retired executive who traveled to the Omo Valley to photograph the remote community. After years of serving as Rowe’s guide, Labuko confided in the mingi secret and asked for Rowe’s help in stopping the practice.

The two men created the Omo Child organization saving 40 beautiful children from certain death. The heroic work continues…

Mama Birds

The Mama Bird arrived late in the season. She feverishly created a nest in our impatiens plant that hangs in a basket outside our front door. And then: we opened the front door. Mama Bird flew at us and squawked wildly.  “Settle down!” I implored.  I assured her she would be fine. I, too, arrived at motherhood later than my peers. “You’ll do fine. More life experience, broader world view.” Now I exit quietly and she stays in her nest.

I did peek in yesterday when Mama Bird had left for coffee or perhaps meeting up at the bird bath with her friends. And alas, a little baby bird peered back. Hopefully, Mama Bird knows where the best baby bird grub lives…

A high school friend arrived home to Minnesota earlier this year with her three little daughters. She worked tirelessly – for years and years – to adopt them and bring them home from Latin America. She is 60, and the girls will soon be on the brink of puberty. “You'll do fine. More life experience, broader world view.”

That Mama knows the rewards of working hard to build her nest.

When we are young, we have plans and naively believe life will unfold accordingly. Life offers different timelines, still we persevere. And if we pause, we really can hear the birds sing. 

(S-R archive photo: three baby Masked Lovebirds, Singapore)

“But who wears the dress?!”

Spent time with two sweet girls this week – 7 and 10 years old. We talked about the summer and how we are all busy with weddings. I attended two weddings of my husband’s colleagues. One couple now has a blended family with six children. The recessional from the ceremony was the theme from “The Brady Bunch.” Everyone giggled, cooed and cried.

The little girls told me of one upcoming wedding they will attend: “Our great cousin! And she is marrying a girl.” I commented, yes, girls sometimes marry other girls and boys sometimes marry other boys. When I asked if they were excited about the wedding, they both looked perplexed.

“Cathy, we have a question about our ‘great’s wedding’ ”

Hmm. I thought this conversation could get interesting.

“What is the question?”

“Well, if there are two girls getting married, who wears the dress?!”

I laughed. So sweet. Still, weddings come down to fashion curiosity.

“Well, you will have to go and see! Maybe both of them will wear dresses – or neither or just one of them. They can wear what they want,” I said.

The little one smiled: “Oh, I hope both of them do, that would be best.”

(S-R archive photo)

The children

A man kills five children in Texas… a woman gets off a subway, pushes a stroller with her toddler in it onto the platform and re-boards the train…children are fleeing violence in Central America and people in Murrieta, Calif. protest their arrival…Enrique rides atop trains, a dangerous journey, out of Honduras to find his mom in the U.S. She left years ago, seeking work so she could send money to her starving family.

Children in our families or scores arriving from a foreign land deserve what each person inherently longs for: safety and love. The stories this week are heart-breaking and complicated. And while leaders ponder political and humanitarian options, the children continue to suffer.

(S-R photo: Demonstrators from opposing sides confront each other outside a U.S. Border Patrol station in Murrieta, Calif.)

The power of good

I read a lot of nonsense on Facebook, but then this story popped up today. In a world gone mad with adulation for rock stars and Kardashians – ugh – I love reading about people with courage and humility.

Sir Nicholas Winton is one man whose compassion saved 669 children from the Holocaust. Today those 669 people have more than 15,000 descendants. He got children out of Czechoslovakia and into England before the Nazis could claim them. When he wrote to the U.S. asking our country to accept these children, the written reply said, “The United States is unable…”

Winton – at 104 years old - gives this advice to others: always be prepared to do good in the world.


A first step…toward healing

Pope Francis met with six victims of sexual assault; people who had trusted clerics, but were victimized through sex crimes. (Why do they call it “sexual abuse”? As though there is some standard of “sexual use” that is acceptable? It is a word thing, I know.)

The pontiff spoke of the need to address not only the criminal priests, but also the bishops who did nothing or little when learning of specific men who committed these crimes. He asked for forgiveness of the Church for its inattention.

Francis has appointed a special commission to address the sex crimes scandal, and included in that team a prominent Irish victim who is now an advocate.

The Rev. Federico Lombardi, the Vatican spokesman, acknowledged the meeting is an important step on the long road to healing – and restoring faith in the hierarchy of the Catholic Church.

We can only hope.

(S-R photo: Pope Francis I)

We are Americans, a country of other

On this 4th of July holiday weekend, it is nice to remember the attraction of our country: to live in a land where we are free to worship as we wish, to love whom we love and to explore opportunities we desire. Joe Nocera writes of his Italian heritage and how he and his elderly mom now view their diverse community.

(S-R archive photo: Florence, Italy)

Twelve little girls, in their lines

The stories are now 75 years old: those Madeline books of our childhood. She was one of 12 little girls, in their lines, leaving a house covered in vines. Madeline is on exhibit in New York at the New York Historical Society.

The books, written by Ludwig Bemelmans, continue to delight children.  He was an Austrian immigrant to the United States. He wrote the first book on the back of a menu in Pete’s Tavern in Manhattan. Bemelmens wrote four other Madeline books before his 1962 death. His grandson continues to pen the stories.

Life magazine first published the Madeline story – the week World War II began. And while the story is set in France, French children have not appreciated Madeline as Americans have. The France in the stories reflects an imagined, not realistic Paris.

Still, the stories continue to delight children. And after the exhibit closes in October, the story of Madeline’s stories while live forever at the Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art in Amherst, Mass. Some gold does stay forever.

(S-R archive photo: John Bemelmans Marciano, grandson of Ludwig Bemelmans, 2008)

StoryCorps: voices that inspire

If stories come to you, care for them. And learn to give them away where they are needed. Sometimes a person needs a story more than food to stay alive.
—Barry Lopez, in Crow and Weasel

Our stories help to heal. When we tell our story, others may need to hear of our experience and be inspired. And when we tell our own story, we give ourselves a chance to heal, celebrate, remember.

StoryCorps gave Jordan Kemper a chance to tell her story of homelessness, her journey to hope and a new life. 

(S-R photo: Morning fog covers the valleys near Bernbeuren, southern Germany, at sunrise )

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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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