May 162011
 
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When I was a child I believed without question that there was a God who made me and the entire world.  I attended Catholic mass and although I often skipped out of catechism class, I did not question what I was taught. That all changed after I was sexually assaulted and was rejected by family and classmates. Alone, abused and in pain I asked, if there was a God, why hadn’t he rescued me from my perpetrators? Why didn’t he make my parents love me? The final blow came when I was 16 years old. My father had a heart attack and my hope for a college education was threatened. It felt as though God had abandoned me so I rejected Him. I stopped attending mass and wavered between agnosticism and atheism for the next thirty years.

I became a Unitarian Universalist when my children were small and had them attend UU religious education. While a UU I passionately embraced UU’s pluralistic approach to religion because I believed that would lead to greater justice for all of us. Only it didn’t. By declaring man innately good, UU’s deny the existence of sin and fail to acknowledge their own capacity for evil.  In the late 1990’s I was cast out for not being 100% in lockstep with them in all things, especially homosexuality. My book, Not of My Making, recounts that experience and the intense, personal distress it caused me.

As I put back the pieces of my shattered life back together I heard my grandmother’s voice over and over in my mind’s ear, Margaret, don’t lose your faith.  After reading the writing and biographies of great men like Martin Luther King, Jr., Albert Schweitzer and Gandhi, I realized they all believed in God. What did they see that I didn’t?

I gazed up at the stars at night and knew a force greater than human beings created the universe. No person or even group of persons possesses the power or imagination to conceive and create such magnificence and beauty. I remembered when I stood on a mountain top in the Rockies awed by an eagle soaring over the canyon below. Men didn’t create that either. So maybe, just maybe, there was a force and a power that my puny, little mind could not fathom.

As my anger over a lifetime of abuse and neglect subsided, I sought God and He answered. He had been there all the time. It was I who abandoned Him and not He who abandoned me. Seeking shelter in the shadows of God’s wings, I was healed and found joy.

Aug 162010
 

How could we forget those ancient myths that stand at the beginning of all races – the myths about dragons that at the last moment are transformed into princesses. Perhaps all the dragons in our lives are only princesses waiting for us to act, just once, with beauty and courage. Perhaps everything that frightens us is, in its deepest essence, something helpless that wants our love. ~ Rainer Maria Rilke

When I graduated from high school in 1970 I swore I would never attend a reunion. I was never part of the in crowd and was often cruelly treated. I hoped never to see my classmates again. I threw my invitations to my fifth and tenth reunions in the trash. When the invitation to my twentieth reunion arrived I was standing in my kitchen with my teenage daughter. “Mom, you should go,” she said.

“They were never my friends,” I replied.

“Show them how well you did. You’re Dr. Jones now,” she said.

“Success is the sweetest revenge,” I said. “But it is a poor reason to go. I have better things to do with my time.” I chucked the invitation into the trash and moved on.

Eighteen years later I joined Facebook for the sole purpose of marketing my book, Not of My Making: Bullying, Scapegoating and Misconduct. First, I added my family and current contacts to my circle. That was easy but when Facebook suggested I add classmates from my high school I recoiled. Why would people who had refused to be my friend 38 years ago accept my invitation to be friends now? I moved the cursor to the close button. I paused. What did I have to lose, I thought. Maybe I could sell some books. I clicked ‘send invitations’ and went to bed. The next morning my inbox was filled with replies. They didn’t remember me. That was okay. I didn’t remember them either. Why would we? Although we shared a hometown and school, we hadn’t seen each other since graduation.

My high school experience was radically different from my classmates who were now corresponding with me on Facebook. They good memories of teachers, classmates and events. All I could remember was the daily torment. I walked to and from school by myself. At home I spent my afternoons and evenings alone in my bedroom. I didn’t attend school dances, proms, or sports events. Unable to stop the bullying I retreated to my bedroom and focused on my studies.

It took several decades and a series of traumatic experiences with local churches before I understood the bullying wasn’t my fault. I was an easy target. Short, introspective and shy, I didn’t know how to defend myself. No one, not my parents nor my teachers, offered any useful advice or help. Some of that was ignorance on their part. Some of it was neglect. My father often told me how stupid and selfish I was. There would be no help from him. My mom wanted me to be popular and had no understanding why I wasn’t.

Unsure how to participate in the discussion on Facebook I wrote, “I was not part of the in crowd so I don’t have a lot of fond memories of social events. But I did get a good education.”

Maryann Hughes, who lives an hour from my current home replied, “I know what you mean. I can remember dreading going to school knowing what would happen.” Maryann and I met at a Newport restaurant not far from her home. She shared with me how she was bullied in high school. I didn’t remember that. I had been so caught up in my own misery I hadn’t noticed hers. Sitting at the restaurant we browsed through our yearbook. My classmate identified who she thought had bullied her. I was surprised I couldn’t name my tormenters. Although I have some specific memories of being bullied I have no memory of who the culprits were. I remember vividly the people who showed me a kindness here and there. I figure the rest were either guilty of bullying or were passive bystanders. I was certain most of the bullies would not remember us nor would they realize how much damage they did. My classmate agreed.

When I arrived home in the late afternoon I found Richard Marks had written a public apology to Maryann on Facebook. I was elated. Bullies rarely apologize to their victims. Richard not only did it but he did it publicly. Good for him. I looked at my yearbook. I remembered his face and knew he hadn’t been kind to me either. Even though he addressed the apology to Maryann I understood he was sorry for bullying others. He had become a man with honor. His apology was a blessing and took some of the sting out of my old wounds.

Soon Alan, another classmate, suggested we have a 40th reunion. We contacted Reunions of America. “Who are your class officers?” she asked.

“I don’t know,” I said. “Why?”

“You have to do this right,” she said. “You wouldn’t want to offend anyone.”

“Look we are just a group that got together and want to have a reunion. I’m not into this to recreate the old class hierarchy. That would leave me on the outs. Besides the class president died in a car crash before the prom.”

I hung up and began looking for other ways to plan the reunion. I had help from four other classmates. At first we tried to do the traditional reunion in a hotel ballroom or a dinner cruise. But that required risking a large sum of money. Carol Ostrom suggested we hold it at a restaurant. While I thought the idea made financial sense I was still hoping for a more formal occasion. Then Carol suggested Savino’s Sit-Down Deli, owned by our classmate. I didn’t remember Jimmy Savino but recognized his face in the yearbook as one of the guys that was never kind to me. Carol assured me that Jimmy was a great guy, had excellent food and knew how to organize things.

The week before the reunion high levels of anxiety kept me awake. Why was I doing this? Despite receiving a few written apologies, I worried that I would still be rejected by my classmates. I considered staying home.  These are the people I forsook forty years ago. But as the day approached the excitement grew. Saturday, August 7, 2010 was a clear summer night. Jimmy set up a tent in front of his place and arranged for a DJ to play our music. He also got our late high school president’s younger brother to sing for us. Later that night a group of older graduates stopped by and sang Doo-wop just as they use to at the candy store on the corner of Lake and Deer Park.

The good will filled the tent and deli. Classmates kept coming up to thank me for organizing the reunion. I was at the center of the class and not on the outskirts looking in. I finally belonged to the group I was always a rightful member of. By discarding the old class hierarchy, by people admitting and apologizing for ridiculing me and others we as a class were able to meet each other in the here and now and enjoy the company of those who shared a common heritage. Memories of those painful, lonely school years were replaced with acceptance, love and friendship.

Since the reunion classmates continue to talk to each other on Facebook and there have been several mini-reunions. I have visited a classmate at his home, ate his food and then spent the evening at Water Fire and Federal Hill in Providence, RI with four other classmates. There are plans to keep meeting at Jimmy’s and to set up a class webpage.

Facebook has given us all a chance to redeem ourselves and build a caring, inclusive community. As one classmate wrote, it is like finding long lost family members. We not only went to high school together but many of us knew each other in grade school. Some of us had a blast in high school, others were miserable.

I was not completely blameless. All of us could have behaved better. There were times I witnessed bullying and did nothing to stop it. I just watched. I didn’t know what to do. I was afraid the bullies would turn on me if I said anything. One of the strange blessings of the Columbine shootings is it spurred research into the problem. We understand more about where, when and why people are bullied. Schools have implemented programs to stop bullying. The better ones assist the bullied to build friendships with other children like themselves, teach bullies how to be compassionate leaders and encourages bystanders to stand up for the victims.

Who did what to whom forty years later is not important to me. What matters is how we behave today. We are all saints and sinners. “How many times should I forgive?” Peter asked Jesus. “Seventy times seven.” Jesus replied. Richard Mark’s apology made it easy to forgive. The reunion was my gift to my class. Not because they earned it, but because after 40 years I discovered I was and will always be connected to them and the town in which we grew up.

Not of My Making, is available from Amazon, Barnes & Noble Online, Barrington Books or directly from www.pluckpress.com

May 242010
 

Below is a speech delivered at the Women’s Tea, All Saints Anglican, Attleboro, MA  on May 15, 2010 The speech was based on exerpts from Not of My Making: Bullying, Scapegoating and Misconduct

Choosing Joy in Times of Trial. I had to think about that one. My book, Not of My Making, reveals the challenges I faced and overcame at school and in church. Did I choose joy during the dark times of my life? Is it possible to choose joy? My psychological training tells me joy is an emotion and while what we say, do and think can influence how we feel we cannot directly choose to feel anything. When I think of the years of depression and anxiety, I see myself in my mind’s eye hanging on to a piece of drift wood in turbulent seas while resisting the urge to let go and drown. Letting go would have been so much easier but while it may have ended my pain it would have spread it to others. So I hung on.

My standing here before you today is evidence that I overcame the forces that sought to destroy me. Thank you for giving me this opportunity to share with you my struggle and how with the help of God I finally found the peace, contentment and joy that often eluded me.

I was raised Roman Catholic and lived in Italian Catholic neighborhoods. When discussing the back story to my book, my editor referred to those neighborhoods as “oppressive”. I protested. The priest walking through the neighborhood in his black cassock blessing our homes while we followed him as if he was the Pied Piper are among some of the treasured memories of my childhood. When I communicate with my high school classmates on Facebook, we share this common experience. Even though my classmates rejected me when we were young, as adults our memories of catechism, First Communion and Confirmation at St. Cyril and St. Methodius connect us to each other. Rather than being oppressive, the Church was a safe haven. A place I went to during times of distress. Even when I insisted there was no God, when distressed I sometimes slipped in and sat in a back pew and felt comforted.

So why, at age sixteen, did I stop going to church? After years of neglect and abuse my father’s heart attack triggered my decision to leave. I can’t say why exactly. We weren’t close. My father was an angry, bitter man who told me frequently that no one would ever want or love me. On a Sunday morning in February 1968, my mother woke my sister and me to tell us that our father was in the intensive care unit at Good Samaritan Hospital. My mother, who only went to church on Christmas and Easter, insisted we attend mass before going to visit him. She drove us through a blizzard to St. Cyril and Methodius in time for the service being held in the church basement. We sat crowded together on folding chairs with our hats and coats on. Although I remember the priest delivering a good sermon, it had absolutely nothing to do with my life. I felt numb and had a deep sense that I no longer belonged there.

While my father recovered, I began wondering why God required Sunday worship in a building built by human hands. If God was omnipresent and omniscient, couldn’t He hear and respond to my prayers no matter where I uttered them? At that point in time I didn’t understand it wasn’t about where God could hear me but rather about Christians joining together to help each other remain faithful and obedient to God.

I stopped going to church. I stopped praying. It seemed that asking God for something was one sure way not to get it. All the praying, pleading and begging didn’t end my isolation. Yet, if I didn’t pray to God and ask for His help, whom could I turn to? Who else besides God would listen to me? Not my mother. Not my father. Not my classmates. I was alone. No one reached out. Maybe God wasn’t there at all.

I threw myself into my schoolwork believing that knowledge was the one thing that couldn’t be taken from me. I was alone but gained comfort and strength from my books and my journal. It didn’t occur to me that on the day I discovered the joy of reading it was God showing me a way out.

Two years after my father’s heart attack I argued with my boyfriend about God.

“Everyone is alone,” I told him. “The only thing you have is yourself. You make who you are. If you get knocked down, it is your own courage that gets you to stand up again, not God.”

My boyfriend, a devout Christian Scientist, had enough confidence in his own faith to listen to my rants. He challenged my agnosticism and accused me of running away from God. I denied it, but I worried he was right.

When my boyfriend ended our relationship without explanation, I was devastated. Heartbroken, I sat in Evans Chapel in the center of the garden below the library. I found some comfort in its simple interior of pale pink walls, arched stained-glass windows and polished-wood pews. I prayed, but God didn’t send anyone to hold me and love me. My father’s prediction that no one would ever want me appeared to be true. I dropped out of college and sank into a severe depression. I put all religious questions aside. Whether God existed or not was irrelevant to my life.

I sought answers in therapy and psychology. With the help of mental health professionals I returned to college, prospered and earned my degrees. I married and had children. When my son was about five years old and my daughter seven, I became aware of an emptiness in my life. I missed church.

Listening to public radio I learned about Unitarian Universalism. Soon I joined the local UU fellowship where I found a large numbers of Catholics who, like me, wrongly concluded religion and Christianity in particular was the cause of the world’s and our own problems. Not wanting to be told when and with whom we should or shouldn’t be sexual or whether we should or shouldn’t use birth control or have an abortion, we struggled to establish a new religious identity for ourselves and our families. While we rejected God-talk and modified the old hymns, we still celebrated Christmas and Easter while adding Passover and Kwanza. Longing for a world free of hate and violence, we embraced tolerance and strove to be inclusive. A decade later when I questioned the selection of a lesbian minister I discovered that Unitarian Universalists had their own hidden dogma. Thinking this was just an anomaly of one congregation I joined another UU church.

While I’m grateful for the freedom Unitarian Universalism gave me to explore and think about religion it began to feel incomplete. I didn’t know it then but what I really missed was not the trappings of church, but God, Himself. I asked myself why did so many people that I admired believe in God? People like my grandmother, Martin Luther King Jr. and Albert Schweitzer. What did they know or understand that I didn’t? I began reading books about Christianity and to use Marcus Borg’s phrase, I met Jesus again for the first time.

In August 1998 while vacationing in New Mexico my husband and I drove north through the high desert and past the mesas. Unlike Long Island where I grew up, the sea didn’t limit the landscape. Instead, it literally went on as far as the eye could see. I was unsettled by the land’s hugeness and immensity. Standing at the base of the white cliffs painted by Georgia O’Keefe, I knew I was in God’s country.

That August night, sitting in our room at a bed-and-breakfast, I read a discussion of the Ten Commandments. I knew them, of course, but hadn’t really reflected on them since leaving the Catholic Church. As I read the first commandment, “I am the Lord, your God, thou shalt have no other gods before me,” I remembered a conversation with a fellow Unitarian Universalist.

“I think it is just as likely for there to be more than one God as there is to be only one,” she asserted.

“That’s fine,” I said. “UUs have no creed. You can believe whatever you want.”

“Including paganism?” she asked.

“Yes,” I replied.

I blinked and dropped my book in my lap. Was it really okay? Polytheism was a violation of the first commandment. In my desire to be tolerant and open, I had supported her idolatry.

My return to Christianity contributed to a conflict at the Unitarian Universalist church I belonged to and I was forced to leave. Memories of my childhood victimization were triggered and I was overwhelmed by anxiety. I returned to therapy.

Devastated and numb, I went to the healing service at the local Lutheran church. I allowed the minister to anoint my forehead with oil and lay her hands on my head. Her touch was gentle and loving. I was comforted.

Almost every week after Bible study, she and I would talk privately in her office. She would sit across from me in her rocking chair while I sat on the black couch. She told me she liked me and I was always welcomed even though I didn’t believe in Jesus as Savior. I shared my childhood history of neglect and sexual abuse. We discussed why God had allowed me to be abused.

I read holocaust survivor, Elie Wiesel’s The Night Trilogy. While I went about my daily routine, I was haunted by Wiesel’s image of the hanged child as God. I was uncertain what Wiesel meant when he saw God in murdered children. Were they Christ-like figures, or did evil kill God, or is God with the oppressed? It was disquieting. The Nazis turned their captives into godless, wild, hungry animals. Did clinging to God and love help a prisoner maintain some dignity, some humanity?

I didn’t have any answer for where God was when children were being raped or abused. If evil was the work of the devil, why didn’t God, who was more powerful, stop him? But how could God stop it? With a lightning bolt? By yelling at pedophiles to stop? How? How could God intervene without us losing our sense of self? Is evil the price we pay for free will?

I needed to believe God valued me and didn’t want any harm to come to me. But where was God? Was I, as Elie Wiesel asked, a mere toy for God to play with? Surely God didn’t want to harm us, any more than a parent wants to hurt their child. There are things that happen, painful experiences we cannot protect ourselves or our children from. Maybe God, like a good parent, knew that you often have to allow your children to work things out by themselves.

Where was God? I remembered St. Augustine’s words: God is always with me even though I have not always been with God. God hadn’t abandoned me. It was I who abandoned God.

During my struggle with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder I read the Psalms and prayed to the God I said I didn’t believe in. One Sunday morning I lingered in bed, I recalled my visits with my grandmother. In my mind’s eye, I saw us sitting at the table on her sun porch. She fed me roasted peppers and apologized for not having more food to give me. She told me stories of how and why our family left Italy for America.

“Everything works out for the best,” she often reassured me. “Margherita, keep your faith,” she urged.

“I will,” I promised her.

Suddenly I knew with certainty there was a God. My entire being radiated with joy. God had always been there for me. In the midst of my worst times, I prayed to God and He eventually helped me.

I had been teetering on the edge of a cliff about to fall to my death. There were people offering their hands, but I didn’t know which ones, if any, could be trusted not let go. Then I thought, God is there, too. God will catch me if I am betrayed. I felt calm.

I was the prodigal child returning home and finding there was still a place for her there. Just as Hosea kept taking back his faithless wife, God had taken me back. God had always been with me, even if I had not always been with God. When you believe in God, you accept life as it is without despair and know it will work out in the end.

A few years later I again found myself in the center of a church conflict and pastor’s promise that I would always be welcomed in her church was not kept. Desperate to belong to a spiritual community I attended a service at an Episcopal church in Providence, where there was little chance anyone would know me. As if I had a scarlet letter sewn to my dress, I furtively took a seat away from the other worshipers. Speaking to no one, I sought God’s protective embrace.

During the service, a woman who had been raised in the church and who raised all her children in the same church spoke about the love and care she had received from her religious community. Like a starving child looking through a window while people feasted and who would never
be invited to stay, I envied her. Tears filled my eyes. Where and when would I find a spiritual home? Exiled, I had become a spiritual nomad, taking up residence for a season and moving on when I was no longer welcomed.

Feeling the sorrow and fear rise within me, I bowed my head and closed my eyes. I purposely breathed slow and deeply. I leaned forward, placing my elbows on my knees while resting my head in my hands. If anyone noticed they would think I was praying and would not see my tears. In my mind’s eye I saw Jesus walking close to me. I touched his robe and God blessed me. I belonged to Him.

Nov 022009
 

Friday, September 18th, while I was inline skating at Poncin Hewlett Athletic Park, Jim stopped me. “Did you hear?” he asked me.

“Hear what?” I asked.

“Do you remember that lady that used to walk here?”

“Do you mean Kathy?” I asked.

“Yes. She passed away,” he said.

“Passed away,” I repeated. “How? When?”

“I don’t know but I’m going to go to the wake.”

“Thanks for telling me,” I said as I skated away.

I hadn’t known Kathy was ill. It had been months since I heard from her. I kept trying to get together with her but she never had enough time. I thought she wasn’t really interested in being friends. I gave up but kept thinking I should call.

When I got back to the house I called First Baptist Church and asked if the rumor was true. “Yes,” the woman said. “We are very upset about it.”

“Do you know the funeral plans?” I asked.

“Calling hours and the funeral will be on Wednesday at the funeral home next to the church.”

Sunday Ken, Kathy’s second husband, called early in the morning while I was dressing for church. He was upset when he realized he wasn’t the first one to tell me of his wife’s death. “She was well loved by many people,” I said. “The news spread fast.”
We talked for thirty minutes. “The doctors,” he said, “kept saying she needed to eat but at home she was eating.” He then told me everything she ate before going into the hospital. But it was too late. Ken’s deep love for his wife couldn’t fix the damage done by Kathy’s first husband. She had aged early. Her back was bent. She lived in fear. She grazed but seldom ate a full meal. She remained underweight. In the end her electrolytes were out of balance. She had a heart attack and died the day she was to be discharged from the hospital.

Victims of abuse struggle their whole lives. On average they die younger than those who have been well treated. One of the lingering effects for me as a survivor is I never know who is or isn’t a friend or ally. I expect abandonment. When Kathy stopped calling I assumed she was no longer interested in being friends. When Ken called I realized he regarded me as his wife’s friend. My eyes filled with tears as I set the phone in its cradle.

I remembered meeting Kathy approximately four years ago in the early hours just before dawn as I stretched before my skate at the park. Kathy was a newcomer to the park who unlike the park veterans chattered gaily as she walked the path stopping to introduce herself to everyone she passed. “Do you know Jim?” she asked. “He walks here too.”

“Oh, the old man,” I said.

“Who is that guy walking the golden retrievers?” she asked.

“I don’t know,” I replied.

“I’m going to find out,” she said. In that way, Kathy turned strangers into the early morning exercise club. Soon we were talking and joking as we passed each other on the trail.

Kathy entered my life at a time when I was friendless and hungry for connection. As we exercised in the park she told me she was a retired chemistry teacher and was widowed and remarried. She often praised her first husband but once she trusted me she told me he had been an abusive alcoholic. As a Christian Kathy didn’t want to speak ill of the dead. On Tuesdays Kathy frequently traveled into Stoughton near my office to visit her mother and the graves of her late husband and father. Despite numerous invitations she never joined me for lunch. I also tried to get her to go with me to book club. She didn’t want to go out at night. Finally as I skated along side her near the basketball courts I said, “Don’t you have time for friendship?”

“Of course I do, Miss Margaret,” That was Kathy’s affectionate way of addressing me. It was a compromise. I wanted her to call me by my nickname but after learning I held a doctorate in psychology she refused to address me without an honorific. Doctor was too formal so she called me Miss Margaret.

A few days later on Friday she finally came over to my house for lunch. She brought her own sandwich. After we ate we sat in the living room talking about faith. Kathy told me about her friend who was a nun in the convent in Plainville.

Kathy invited me to her husband’s choral concert to be held at Immanuel. Fearful she would learn about me from my enemies I asked her not to believe everything she heard about me. Kathy wasn’t interested in the church gossip. She encouraged me to come any way. My husband and I went despite my fears. Kathy greeted us and had no problem being seen with us.

In May 2007 things took a turn for the worse in Kathy’s life. She was in a major car accident. I went to visit her at Rhode Island Hospital and then at the rehab center in Boston. It was then I became aware she didn’t like to eat. Mary at the park had commented once on how Kathy’s back was curved and bony and wondered what was wrong. I suspected anorexia.

Ken an dKathy listening to music at the launch of Not of My Making

Ken and Kathy listening to music at the launch of Not of My Making

After her discharge from the hospital Kathy would occasionally stop by with gifts for my newborn grandson or to show me her new car. She supported my book, Not of My Making by attending my book launch party and buying copies for herself and family.

The last time I saw Kathy was about a year ago when I returned from my church trip to The Museum of the Russian Icons. She had an article about bullying she wanted to share with me. She also had concert tickets. I couldn’t go this time. Conflicting obligations. I am sorry now that I didn’t make the time. I thought I had more time. I didn’t.

When I skate at the park I see Kathy in my mind’s eye greeting everyone and encouraging me as I practiced my spin stop.
“You’ll get it, Miss Margaret, I know you will.”

My eyes filled with tears as I set the phone in its cradle.

Nov 072008
 

I went skating early this morning along the Ten Mile River Bike Path in Pawtucket. The cool fall weather was perfect for skating and I felt strong. I skated up and down the hills back and forth between Paawtucket and East Providence. After an hour I turned around and started back towards my car. As I approached a small bridge that crosses a stream I thought, this would be a really bad place to fall. There are no guard rails to prevent you from going into the water.

As I skated through the dry leaves I watched a drake and its mate swim away from the bridge. On the other side of the bridge I set my left foot down and pushed through my heel accelerating as I approached the rising slope of the next hill. I glided. I was pleased with my ability to skate well. I set my right foot down. My wheels locked and I was propelled into the air. Before I could react my arms hit the pavement first and I skidded along the pavement toward a fence. Unable to support my weight against the force of the fall my face hit the ground. As I slid I felt my permanent crown and another tooth cave in. Oh, no, I thought, I have ruined my teeth.

I stopped just inches from rail fence sprawled on my stomach with dirt in my mouth. I laid there catching my breath. Slowly I sat up. Blood was dripping from my chin and lip onto my grey sweatshirt. Stunned I stood up as I tried to think what to do. I was at least a mile from my car. Do I wait until someone passes and ask for help? I looked in the direction I was traveling and saw an old man walking towards me. I waited. He looked at me, turned his eyes away and kept walking. Can’t stay here hoping someone will help, I thought. I tried to move off. My wheels wouldn’t move. I sat down again and examined my skates. That’s when I found the stem of an oak leave stuck between the brake and the rear wheel. I removed it and stood up again. I considered removing my skates and walking. No, better to skate, I thought. It will take too long walking in my stocking feet.

I started skating slowly. A couple approached. I looked at them. They kept talking to each other and walking passed me. I sighed. My face ached. I must get myself back to the car and check my face in the mirror. I could feel that one tooth was chipped and my crown was bent. There was a cut on my lip and chin.

I would have to make it back to my car on my own. I skated slowly down the path. I saw a man in an orange velour jacket jogging. When he saw me he stopped, “What happened? Are you okay?”

I stopped and told him what had happened to me.

“Should I call someone?” he asked.

“I’m on my way back to my car,” I replied as I started rolling off.

“I’ll go with you,” the man said as he turned around to jog along side of me. “Did you hurt your head?”

I hadn’t considered that. My head and neck ached. Lucky I didn’t break it, I thought.

“You should call someone,” he said.

“I will call my husband when I get back to the car.” I replied.

“Here take my phone and call him now,” the man said.

I looked at the phone in the man’s hand. “I have my own phone,” I said. “I will call him when I get back to the car.”

“Call him now,” the man said. The man held out his phone.

Confused I reached into my pocket and removed my slim silver phone. I pressed “3”.

“Hi,” my husband said. “How was your skate?”

“I fell,” I told him. “I cut my lip and broke my tooth. I think I broke my implant. A nice man is helping me. He is coming with me to the car.”

“Let me know what happens,” Lyndon said. I could hear the worry and distress in his voice.

“Have your husband meet you at your car,” the man suggested.

“He is an hour away in Worcester,” I replied as I put my phone away.

The nice man jogged along side of me telling me about the hazards along the trail and the accidents he has either seen or heard about. I try to smile but cannot. It hurts too much.

“Twigs can be worse than pebbles,” I tried to explain.

When we reached the turn off to my car he said he would wait until I got in the car. “What’s your name?” I asked as I turned left.

“Jesus,” he said.

“Jesus,” I said as I turned towards the car, “Thank you.”

When I reached my car I saw a man on a bike stop and talk to Jesus who was nodding and gesticulating towards me. I bent down to remove my skates. When I looked up both men were gone.

A friend when she saw my face and heard my story was dismayed that three people did not stop to help me. What was wrong with them, she asked in her blog, The Cookie Momster.

Social psychologists have studied helping behavior. Before bystanders offer assistance they must first recognize that help is needed. Since I didn’t ask for help the three people who passed me by may not have realized help was needed.

Once bystanders realize an emergency exists they have to figure out what kind of help is required and whether they have the necessary resources. Jesus perhaps because of previous training and/or experience recognized I should not be left alone until it was certain that I would not collapse from a more serious and undetected head injury. He also understood that a little emotional support would ease my fear.

As I recovered from my injuries I also thought about the story of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:29 – 37). “Who,” Jesus asked, “was the good neighbor? The one who passed the wounded man by or the one who stopped?”

If we are to be good neighbors to each other we must first want to be the person who offers help to a stranger. Then we must know how to do it. It is impossible to know if the three people who passed by wanted to do the right thing and didn’t know how or if they were indifferent. All we know for sure is that the man who stopped and walked with me was the good neighbor. Ironically, his name was Jesus.

Nov 142011
 

Last summer I went to Lake Erie to vacation with my family. While there my husband and I visited the Ashtabula Arts Center. The July exhibit was A to Z by Lisa Burroughs-Betras. The artist created letters by using natural material and photographing them. I’ve seen something similar done with architectural images at a craft fair. Some of Ms. Burroughs-Betras images were striking but mostly my husband and I were not impressed.

As we drove back to our cottage I read the blurb in the arts center’s newsletter about what we had just seen. Ms. Burroughs-Betras explained how she created the images and how it became a meditative process.  Since I make beaded chaplets and crochet I understand how the artistic process can be a form of meditation and prayer.  However, the prayer beads I design and assemble are merely meditation aids and do not have the power of the divine. Unfortunately Ms. Burroughs-Betras attempted to infuse a deeper meaning into her work than it merited. She stated each letter was “a powerful symbol.” A powerful symbol of what, I wondered. Ms. Burroughs-Betras further said she resisted thinking of her art in conceptual terms but has some ideas about “the original mystery of symbols, letters and words as magical.” Magical? Isn’t she confusing the symbol with what it symbolizes? She further said ancient peoples imbued the symbol with the power the object represented and people connected to the symbol in a sacred way. I am reminded how the Israelites made the golden calf and worshiped it as if it was a god. No matter how much the Israelites wanted and believed in it the golden calf did not have and never would have divine powers. If Ms. Burroughs-Betras hungers for deeper meaning as so many people do today, I would urge her to focus on her relationship with God.

Letters have no inherent meaning. Humankind has decided what sound each letter represents and how to combine letters into words that have meaning. Words may express sacred ideas but are not in themselves sacred. There is no real meaning to Ms. Burroughs-Betras photos. They are simply pictures that demonstrate her ability to manipulate light and form.  A discussion of the artistic process would have been more interesting.  

Oct 032011
 

Elvira Feleppa

Until recently I did not take mid-life crisis seriously. It was not something discussed or taught in my psychology classes. It appeared to me to be one of those popular myths the media promotes and profits from. According to Wikipedia 15% of middle age adults experience “a period of dramatic self-doubt … as a result of sensing the passing of their own youth and the imminence of their old age.”  In recent months I have been made aware of the pain and suffering caused by men who fear growing old and who in the selfish pursuit of their own desires and pleasure discard their wives and family. Men who have recovered from a mid-life crisis say during the crisis they questioned why they are here and what is the meaning of their lives. Once they come to terms with their mortality the crisis is resolved.

My own observations suggest that this type of crisis may occur at any time during adulthood and would be better described as an existential crisis.  I have since read two popular books about the topic and have concluded it is the cause of many divorces. It is frequently triggered by the death of a parent or the diagnosis of a chronic or life threatening illness. Men appear to be especially prone to this type of crisis. Perhaps childrearing responsibilities help protect women from fearing old age. I don’t know.

I do know that while I have gone through and resolved spiritual crisises triggered by being sexually molested, I have not gone through a textbook style midlife crisis. That is, I do not fear old age. It is just another stage of life with its own opportunities and pitfalls.  Any fear of death I may have had was completely erased in 1985 after I was a victim of a hit and run accident.

It was a beautiful May day. My husband was working that evening and my kids were particularly well behaved. “You guys have been so good,” I told my kids, “Why don’t we go to the Brentwood Five and Dime.”  I loaded my eight and ten year old into the car and drove to Brentwood. When we got there the store was closed. I had gotten so spoiled by the mall I had forgotten this was a traditional mom and pop. They were closed on Mondays.

“Don’t worry,” I told my kids. “We will just go to the mall.”

I approached the exit. The light was red so I waited until it turned green. When the light changed I slowly accelerated. I could not have been going more than five miles per hour when I heard the first crash. “What the hell?” I thought. “What was that?” Then the car started to spin out of control. “Oh, my God,” I thought, “Lyndon (my husband) is going to be mad.”

As the car spun in a clockwise direction I desperately tried to remember which child was sitting on that side of my car. Which of my two children was dead? Then I heard a crash on the left side. Oh, it doesn’t matter,  I thought. Both kids are dead.  I felt a deep inconsolable grief as my car started to tip over.  We are all going to die. Who is going to take of Lyndon? Then miraculously we landed right side up.  My daughter started screaming. I felt relief. She was alive but what about my son? Stop screaming, I thought. I can’t think. Was my son dead? I was afraid to look but knew I had to. Bystanders were racing around the car trying to open the car doors. My seat belt had me pinned to the back of my seat. I pressed the red button and pulled the belt off of me and turned. Both children were alive. Dazed I opened my door and stumbled onto the pavement. Passerby’s rushed pass me and pulled both of my kids out and sat them
down on the curb.

“He’s leaving,” a black woman standing in the middle of the road said.

“Who?” I asked. My eyeglasses had fallen off while we are spinning around but I could see a black sedan back away from my car and turn down the
side street.  “Get his license plate,” I said to the black woman. A man in a suit identified himself as a volunteer fireman.  “The police have been called. “

“Why did he leave?” I asked.

“He is probably intoxicated or stoned,” the fireman said.

“Oh,” Not sure what to do I went over to my kids and sat next to them. A cop handed me my bag and my eyeglasses after he found my license.

We all survived. My son just looked liked someone had beaten him up but our seat belts saved our lives.

A week later I drove my daughter to her dance class. On my way back to our house I was brooding about the accident. What if my children
had died? What if I had died? What if my kids survived and I didn’t? Oh, my God, I thought. Who would take care of them and my husband if I died?  I looked ahead and there in the sky I saw it. I can’t explain it or describe it. It wasn’t a thing that you see with your eyes like a car or a house. The clouds – God was there spreading his wings. I would always be able to care for my family even if I died. I would spread my arms from heaven and protect them forever. A sense of peace filled me.

Since that day death does not frighten me. I know my family and I will be safe for all eternity.

That is why I do not fear death and old age. I look at my hands. They are getting knarled and wrinkled like my maternal grandmother’s hands. I loved my grandmother’s hands. They were so interesting with their wrinkles and crevices. I would trace the veins.  Now my hands are becoming as beautiful as my
grandmother’s. I feel good. I feel safe.

When I look in the mirror I see my gray hair and my grandmother’s face staring back smiling. I am beautiful. My face is becoming wizened. That is good. I wouldn’t have it any other way. No plastic surgery. No hair dye. I will grow old and wise just like my grandmother.

Old age is a new adventure, a new challenge. It is an opportunity to perfect Maggie.To become more me. To draw closer to God. To share my hard earned wisdom with those younger than myself. I am not afraid. Old age is going to be the best part of the journey. When it is time God will welcome me home.

Aug 222011
 

Today I drafted a post on idolatry in the conceptualization of an art exhibit that I saw while on a family vacation but a high fever and headache last weekend has left me tired. I am unable to edit the rough draft since it requires more brain power than I currently have. That post will have to wait until I am fully recovered.

Instead, I will meet my goal to post once per month by publishing a short piece I found while searching for some old letters for my next book, No Love for Daddy, (formerly titled For George).  I wrote about Shelly on April 30, 1982 while I worked as a psychologist at Long Island Developmental Center in New York. Shelly was confined to a cart due to severe contractures of all limbs. She was unable to sit or walk or do much of anything else.

Shelly, so helpless, on your back, waiting to be fed. Grunts and groans that approximate words. Left here, alone, by your mother. Never given a home except these cold stone walls painted green to make them gay. Your father –perhaps his name was Jones, Levine, Howard, one of thousands of soldiers who met their deaths in the mud of Europe. Or perhaps he survived. He doesn’t even know what became of that young woman who told him she was pregnant. He doesn’t know you were born, small, helpless and imperfect. And where is your mother? She left you. How could she take care of you when she had to work and find a way to survive? Perhaps she loved your father. Perhaps she loved you. But where is she now? Did your birth destroy the rest of her life? She was so young. And you – you can’t do for yourself, barely say a few words, understand a little. Why do I like you so? An imperfect human baby grown into a child-woman, a baby still. Which is the worst tragedy? That you are left abandoned in an institution with only strangers to care for you, or that your mother was left, abandoned with only herself, no one to care for and protect her?

Jul 182011
 

Whitaker’s conclusions in Anatomy of an Epidemic are consistent with my personal and professional experience as well as my professional training as a researcher and psychologist.

I could have easily been an example for Whitaker’s book. In 1971 when I was 19 years old I was hospitalized for six weeks for depression. Hospital staff told me I would always need medication. It was implied I would be in and out of hospitals for the rest of my life. Nursing staff observed me moving my lips when I was in deep thought and incorrectly concluded I was hearing voices.  In fact, I have never had a hallucination of any kind. I was just severely depressed after years of neglect and abuse. Who wouldn’t be? We all need to be loved to feel happy. Instead of loving me my parents were verbally and emotionally abusive. Their neglect made me easy prey for the local pedophiles.

After my discharge from the local state psychiatric center I was sent to a county run clinic where they upped my medication every time I  attempted suicide. My suicide attempts didn’t start until after I was medicated. No one including myself seemed to notice that. The sedative effects  of the drugs made it harder and harder for me to function. I was unable to perform a summer job that I once did well. One day I backed up into another car in the post office parking lot. The owner of the car asked if I was high on drugs and threatened to call the police. When he saw how distress I was he relented and let me go.

Shortly after that incident my father had an argument with my prescribing psychiatrist over his bill. The psychiatrist refused to continue seeing me.  Aware that the drugs weren’t really helping I seized the opportunity and stopped taking my medications. My therapist, George Howard, referred me to another psychiatrist but I never made an appointment. Dr. Howard asked if I was going to stay on medication. I told him no and he dropped the matter. Under his care I began to get better. Moving out of my parent’s house helped too. I was no longer subjected to the daily messages from my father about how inadequate I was. With the love and support of Dr. Howard and a mind clear of the psychiatric drug haze I fully recovered from my depression. I completed my college degree, married and raised two children while pursuing my career in psychology. I thrived without medication.

I have long been aware that anti-depressants did not help me nor were they helping my clients. Clients who relied on them were less likely to implement the life changing skills taught as part of cognitive behavioral therapy. I had been seeing a client for close to two years whose depression started after she was diagnosed with chronic lung disease. My therapeutic efforts were failing. I thought it was because her physical illness was too hard for her to bear.  She dropped out of therapy but came back a few months later. As part of the routine intake I asked her what medications she was taking. She pulled out a two page list. I gasped visibly and unintentionally as I read over the list. In addition to the medications she was taking for lung disease she was on several anti-depressants and anti-anxiety medications. My client noticed the gasped. After she left my office she admitted herself to a psychiatric hospital and with medical monitoring removed herself off most of her psychiatric medications. She saw me a couple of more times and informed me she was weaning herself off the rest of the psychotropic medication. She appeared happier and said she was doing well for the first time in five years.  It turns out that my spontaneous gasp was the most therapeutic thing that I did for her.

This was my most dramatic case. I have had several other clients who improved after they weaned themselves off the medication.  However, it wasn’t until I read Whitaker’s book that I became aware that psychotropic medication may have worsened my own depression and made me suicidal. I now strongly encourage my clients to avoid medications and if they do use them to only do so for a brief period of time.

Jun 202011
 

Sunday, June 12, 2011 was Pentecost. Fr. Lance. the priest at All Saints Anglican, arranged a grand celebration. For nine days we prayed and then on Sunday we wore red and had our heads anointed with oil.

13 years ago all I understood about Pentecost was that it appeared on church bulletins. There was the First Sunday after Pentecost, the Second Sunday after Pentecost and so on. Despite my ignorance I put it on the preliminary worship calendar of Foxboro Universalist Church. At a seminar for worship chairs at the Sharon Unitarian Universalist Church we were told to put every secular and religious holiday on a preliminary worship schedule. So I added Pentecost to the worship calendar and sent it to Rev. Glessner, our minister, for his review. I assumed he would modify it and send it back to me. Instead he banded together with two other parishioners and sent a letter to the entire congregation accusing me of wanting to move the church towards Christian orthodoxy. He used as evidence my listing Pentecost and Trinity Sunday on the worship calendar. What he didn’t tell them, was other holidays from other faiths were also listed and that whoever was doing the service for a particular Sunday could choose to ignore a particular holiday if they wanted to.

After receiving Rev. Glessner’s letter I looked up Pentecost. I learned it was part of the Jewish harvest festival, Shavuot. For Christians it symbolized the Holy Spirit or as I understood it then, the spirit of God. Why would Rev. Glessner, a congregational minister, be alarmed by its inclusion on a proposed worship calendar? Was he purposely manipulating parishioners’ ignorance and fear of Christianity in order to maintain his power and control? Or was he frightened by the Holy Spirit? Why couldn’t a Unitarian Universalist minister or lay leader create a service explaining what Unitarian Universalists believed about the Holy Spirit? On Christmas and Easter they reinterpret Christ’s birth and resurrection. Why not reinterpret Pentecost, also? Why were UUs afraid of that?

I will never know Rev. Glessner’s motivations. After I was pushed out of Foxboro I joined a Lutheran Church. There during a Bible study on Acts, I learned that on the Jewish Pentecost, the Apostles were visited by the Holy Spirit in the upper room where they were hiding. I also learned to wear red on Pentecost Sunday. Red being my favorite color I was happy to conform even though I didn’t understand why.

This year during Bible study, Sunday Gospel readings and Fr. Lance’s sermons I learned that Jesus promised not to leave His apostles orphaned. He would send the Holy Spirit to them. Pentecost is a celebration of the fulfillment of that promise.

In Not of My Making I recount at least two instances where the Holy Spirit moved and comforted me. I don’t identify it as such but given my new understanding of Pentecost, I believe it was the Holy Spirit who let me know there truly was a God and during my morning prayers and meditation guided my recovery from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

I am comforted knowing God promised not to abandon those who had accepted Christ. I am His by adoption and, unlike my fickle church friends, He would never abandon me. I take shelter in the shadow of God’s wings. Amen.

Apr 042011
 
large_Henri-Nouwen-A-Restless

Last Advent I read an excerpt from Henri Nouwen’s Making All Things New found in Foster and Smith’s Devotional Classics. Foster and Smith titled their chapter, Bringing Solitude into Our Lives. Every year during Advent I struggle to shut out the secular celebration of Christmas with all its emphasis on materialism and try to observe Advent quietly and prayerfully. Every year I don’t quite make it. Nouwen’s discourse on finding solitude for prayer was apt for the hustle bustle just prior to Christmas.

Since I had never heard of Nouwen I googgled him and came across Michael Ford’s allegations that Nouwen’s close friends knew he was gay and that it appears in Nouwen’s journals. However, the Wikipedia article fails to substantiate this claim with direct quotes from his journals. In reviewing Ford’s book Rowland Croucher writes that “while at Harvard, he (Nouwen) was hard on gay students, telling them that homosexuality was an evil state of being.” Andrée Seu, a journalist, published an essay in World apologizing for writing Nouwen was gay based solely on Ford’s allegations. She could find no other supporting evidence.

The gay issue has troubled me from time to time. When my brother was expelled from a Catholic seminary he came out and took a leadership role in the gay rights movement. I supported him without carefully researching the causes and consequences of homosexuality. I also did not read the biblical passages on homosexuality. At this time I was also very active in the women’s movement. Opponents to women’s rights called me queer. They believed all “women’s libbers” were gay. While many of my fellow feminists were gay and actively promoted homosexuality as a solution to male dominance, I was not one of them. From time to time lesbians accused me of sleeping with the enemy. A female instructor told me on the Staten Island ferry that she had yielded to the pressure and left her boyfriend for a woman only to find it unsatisfying and fraught with the same problems as living with a man. She returned to her boyfriend who forgave her. Fortunately I never yielded to the pressure. Instead I married and had two children. It was challenging to be heterosexual and a feminist. 

After a few negative experiences with gays including provocative comments from my gay brother I began to question my previous support of the gay rights movement. When a gay minister was hired by the Unitarian Universalist church I belonged to I voiced my misgivings. This eventually led to my being blacklisted by the liberal ministers in my town. My detractors accused me of being a closet lesbian even though I was married with children. They didn’t think it was possible after a careful review of the research literature for a psychologist to reject homosexuality and view it as unhealthy behavior. I either had to be gay myself or I had never met and gotten to know a gay person. Both assertions were clearly wrong. More information about this struggle can be found in Not of My Making: Bullying, Scapegoating and Misconduct in Churches

I imagine that as Nouwen struggled with loneliness and celibacy he may have wondered about his own sexual orientation. Primates when denied access to females will engage in homosexual behavior just as inmates in prisons do. If Nouwen struggled with his sexuality, I wonder if it would have been resolved if he had been allowed to marry. Martin Luther’s struggle with sexual desire was resolved when he married. Ford speculates Nouwen’s depression was caused by suppression of his homosexuality. This viewpoint assumes homosexuality is an inborn orientation and failure to be sexually active causes depression. Despite the popularity of this point of view there is very little scientific evidence to support it. In any event Nouwen’s depression was resolved when he went to live at Daybreak where he served others. This presumably gave him a sense of purpose and the human connections he missed and every person desires. These connections do not have to be sexual. There is no evidence Nouwen ever broke his vow of celibacy demonstrating that with whom, when and where we are sexual is a choice all of us can make.

Jan 102011
 
When the Japanese mend broken objects, they aggrandize the damage by filling the cracks with gold. They believe that when something has suffered damage and has a history it becomes more beautiful    ~Barbara Bloom~

 

The Christmas season is over. I worked myself to the bone setting up booths at craft and vendor fairs on weekends and seeing clients during the week. It was an uphill climb just to make my table fee and cover my costs. But I’m determined to keep going. That is one thing about me. I’m tenacious. I believe if I keep trying I will succeed at selling my book, writing my next one and becoming a profitable crafter. It isn’t easy but I firmly believe hard work and integrity eventually pays off, if not in this world, then in the next.

The story I tell in Not of My Making is a compelling read. Fellow survivors, teachers and mental health professionals who have read my book have gained insight into the dynamics of bullying and its long term impact. Through my personal example, they have learned how to not only survive but to thrive.  My training as a psychologist is reflected in by my inclusion of the books I read as I desperately tried to understand what was happening and why. I included my reactions to these books within my narrative and there is a reference list at the back. 

There are people who have criticized me for telling “too personal of a story” and/or have called it “victim’s lit”. They believe it is uncivil to share your pain with others. In fact, during the struggle with the church I was told on two occasions I should stay home and not attend church services until I could keep my pain and grief private. This, of course, benefited them, since it relieved them of their responsibility to care for me while I was depressed and grieving. That their abandonment and attempts to silence me exacerbated my suffering, well, that was my problem, not theirs. 

Other survivors, of course, have also been told similar things. Fearing further abuse they don’t tell others they have been abused while maintaining a façade of health and happiness. When I’m at craft fairs, I have seen other survivors circle my booth, whisper to me that they too are survivors, leave, come back before they will purchase Not of My Making. Often they prefer to buy my book anonymously from Amazon or Barnes & Noble even though have to pay a higher price for it plus shipping and handling. 

I’m reminded of the days when people with cancer or parents of disabled children hid this information from others. It was their deep, dark shameful secret to be whispered and gossiped about by neighbors and acquaintances. Finally people with cancer had enough and they went public. They, too, were criticized for burdening others with their problems. Now people shave their heads in solidarity with a friend or family member who is undergoing radiology. 

Just like people with cancer did a few decades ago, I am asking other abuse survivors to come out of hiding, tell their stories and confront those who try to silence us. I am also asking good people to listen to survivors and help them prevent abuse.

Oct 042010
 
jonathan-edwards

On the second Sunday in July Leah Turner, the deacon in charge of All Saint’s Anglican Church’s Women’s Breakfast asked me to lead the teaching as she had a competing obligation.  We’ve been working our way through Devotional Classics edited by Foster and Smith so all I had to do was read the next chapter and lead the discussion. Then Deacon Leah told me we would be doing an excerpt from Jonathan Edwards’ Religious Affections. Jonathan Edwards? I thought. Fire and brimstone Edwards?  This is all I knew about Edwards. In public high school  his sermon, “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God,” was used as an example of fire and brimstone preaching that triggered the Great Awakening.  I covered up my negative reaction with a smile and told Leah I would be happy to help.

Later that evening I pulled out my book and read the assigned chapter. I found myself agreeing. Without passion, there would be no faith. We need to feel it in our hearts. This wasn’t the Edwards’ I had learned about in American history. I immediately looked him up on Wikepedia. Turns out my teachers failed to mention that Jonathan Edward’s is considered a great American theologian and this particular sermon was atypical out of the hundreds he had delivered. Also he knew his audience understood the remedy, accept Christ and receive His grace. Edwards wasn’t saying we were all doomed to go to hell no matter what we did. Edwards also championed women’s equality to men and ministered to the American Indian. This was an Edwards I could admire.

Reflecting on this 18th century male feminist I am reminded of the folly of drawing an opinion based on limited information. I assumed my teachers taught me all I needed to know about Edwards and there was nothing more worth learning. I was wrong on both counts.  While some situations call for rapid decision making, most times it would be wiser to withhold judgment, remain neutral and wait for more information.

My initial reaction to Deacon Leah’s reading assignment reminds me how the human tendency to draw conclusions on insufficient information and go along with the crowd allows bullies to easily mislead bystanders who usually fail to verify information the bully has provided. As a result they form opinions based on gossip and innuendo. The victim is devalued and their humanity denied. This allows the bully to continue to be mean and gives bystanders permission to do nothing. Jonathan Edwards himself became a victim of spiritual abuse in 1749 when his congregation rose up against his preaching about communion, manipulated the evidence and pushed him out of the church where he had been a minister for twenty years. Rather than express bitterness, Edwards farewell sermon was dignified and temperate. Not something I expected from a fire and brimstone preacher.

In my own experience with my former church my former church friends formed judgments based on what the pastor and my 16 year foster son said. When presented with evidence that contradicted their hastily formed conclusions they became angry and refused to speak to me. Denied a fair hearing I wrote Not of My Making: Bullying, Scapegoating and Misconduct which is available directly from the publisher or from Amazon or from Barnes and Noble.

Aug 232010
 

Saturday, July 31, 2010 I participated in Carver, Massachusetts Old Home Day craft fair. I had some misgivings abut the fair before I registered. They didn’t appear well organized and weren’t set up to send email. Also there were a lot of activities and I had read that these type of events bring lookers not buyers. But The Expo for the Senses also had special events and I sold my book, Not of My Making, there. So I decided to give Carver a try.

The night before the fair I received a phone call telling me my booth space was number 38, near the restrooms. Oh no, I thought, will it smell? I also read that being near the restrooms is not a good location. But crafters don’t get to choose their spot. You have to accept what you get and work with it.

I decided to arrive earlier than the usual two hour set up. I have read and later learned through experience that the earlier you start the better. If you finish setting up before the start of the fair you can use the time to relax and/or visit the other vendor’s booths. So far I haven’t finished early but hope as I streamline my setup I will. I would like to see what other people are selling besides my immediate neighbors. Right now I work alone putting up my tent and putting out my rosaries, chaplets and books for display. I am considering purchasing jewelry trays and loading my products before I arrive at the fair. Rena Kingenberg does it that way.

I was the second vendor to arrive at the Carver fair grounds. Pleased with my early arrival I found my space but was unsure if the markings on the ground indicated the front or back of the booth line. We were in a pine grove and there were trees to consider. I asked the man setting up the clam bake. He informed me where he thought the front line was and also told me I could park my car among the trees behind my tent. I didn’t need to unpack my car and drive to another location to park. I could leave some things in the car using it as my “back room”.

Set up proceeded smoothly until I tried to get my tent up myself. It no longer slides easily when you pull it out. The clam bake man assisted me while I wondered if I should purchase some silicone spray to help reduce the friction. Later while talking to Chelsea from Chelsea Cottage Crafts, I learned she uses vasoline.

With Chelsea’s help I opened my tent. While I was weighing down my tent, putting up my tables and putting out my products, an older man arrived and told me he was my neighbor for the day. “I never bring a canopy for this fair,” he said. “You don’t need it. The trees give lots of shade.”

“Yes, they do,” I replied. “But I wasn’t aware of that. This is my first time here.” Besides, I thought, I want to set up a little shop that’s inviting.

George, the older man, was chatty and wanted to talk about himself, his three failed marriages, and his current girlfriends. I am task oriented and wanted to get my booth set up. I also felt uncomfortable and unsafe around him. I feared he was a womanizer.

George also told me not to expect too much traffic. Everyone hangs around the clam bake. Enjoy the music and the people, he said. Don’t be upset that you don’t make any money.

I retreated to my tent and sat in my chair. I called my husband. I tried to be positive. Maybe George was wrong. I prayed that I would sell at least one book and make enough money to cover my costs.

Except for some smoke coming from the clam bake it was pleasant to be in the park. The venders circled the bandstand so we got to enjoy the music, too.

Chelsea, my neighbor to my left, was friendly but not as intrusive as George. We helped each other out during the day. She greatly admired my tent and my products. She purchased a rosary necklace for her aunt. I was hopeful that this was a good sign.

It wasn’t. Lots of admirers, lots of lookers. No buyers. No interest in my book. I worried that my prices were too high. I talked to Chelsea. She was doing well. Her prices were $5 and below. I had a few $5 items but no one bought them. A little girl kept coming back. She finally asked me if I would give her the bracelet she had been admiring for free. I was surprised by her boldness and politely told her no.

I decided to check out how George was doing. He kept things simple. A couple of tables, no cloths, and a chair. He was selling wood boxes from Poland. A reseller. I thought that was prohibited. They were beautiful boxes with designs burned into them and his prices were as high or higher than mine. He was doing a brisk business. Perhaps people are more willing to spend the money on a product that was more utilitarian than mine. While the people of Carver were friendly they didn’t appreciate prayer beads. I wondered what the predominant denomination was in Carver. Congregationalist? Unitarian? Were there any Catholics or Episcopalians?

I did meet one woman who was wearing a Christian motorcycle club T-shirt. She came into my booth and we talked. She had just moved out of Carver to Avon. She admired the prayer shawl I was crocheting. She told me about how her mother recently received one and felt so loved and cared for that someone would take so much time and effort just for her.

She looked at my prayer beads and said, “These aren’t magical.”

“No, of course not,” I replied immediately recognizing she was from a non-liturgical Christian tradition. I picked up a chotki. “Look,” I said. “These prayer beads are from the Eastern Orthodox tradition. There are 33 beads, one for each year of Jesus’ life. On each bead you pray the Jesus prayer. The beads are simply a way to keep track of how many you have said like an abacus. They are also like the prayer shawl that brought your mother comfort. They remind people of God’s love and grace. The salvation bracelet reminds us of Christ’s victory over sin.

The various chaplets of the different saints reminds us of their stories and encourages us to emulate them in our own striving to do what God commands. The stories of the saints are like the family stories your grandmother told you.

Mid morning I was famished. I hadn’t had time to prepare lunch for myself. The Missionettes from the local Assembly of God stopped by. They were selling baked goods. A banana muffin was just what I needed. And it only cost me fifty cents.