Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Prayer vigil for immigration reform held at Cabrini College

From Daniel DiPrinzio at Cabrini:


Cabrini College was the first higher education institution in Pennsylvania to host a prayer service as part of the national Interfaith Prayer Vigil for Immigrants and Immigration Reform. Msgr. Hugh Shields, Vicar for Hispanic Catholics of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, presided over the June 7 service. The vigils, initiated by the Interfaith Immigration Coalition, are planned nationally through late July, when Arizona’s immigration law is slated to take effect.

In photo: (standing in front of an immigration mural created in honor of Saint Frances Xavier Cabrini, the College’s namesake and patroness of immigrants) are Sister Mary Kay Flannery, SSJ, regional coordinator of Justice for Immigrants; Sister Mary Louise Sullivan, MSC, president emerita of Cabrini College; Msgr. Shields; Father Michael Bielecki, Cabrini chaplain; Sister Christine Marie Baltas, MSC, Cabrini’s campus ministry associate; and Dr. Mary Laver, Cabrini’s director of international partnerships.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Philly Moms: Let’s dance

Let’s dance

Original post to Philadelphia Moms Blog.

SFeinIrishreel

So, my car was in the shop for a month while the mechanic replaced a fuel pump and assorted parts that seem unusually hard to secure given that the car is foreign. And old. I got it back about a week ago, and yesterday I noticed some fluid leaking from the undercarriage. After contorting himself to try and figure out what it was and where it was coming from, my husband declared it oil, leaking from some age-pitted connector tube (I’m sure he called it something else but I’m not going to bother trying to dredge my memory banks for the actual term – see third paragraph for why). The car was born in 1998, by the way.

Last weekend, our computer’s hard drive went down. Irreparably. We carried it into our not-so-local Apple store. “Oh,” said another customer as we walked by the iPad table where he and scads of other people were fiddling around on the testers, “I remember that model.” During our appointment at the Genius Bar, the tech (nice guy, very sympathetic) weathered giving me the information that the drive was done and that there was no way to retrieve any data (i.e., my two completed novels, a manuscript-worth of short stories and poems – most of them not backed up since the last ice age, if ever). “But, you’ll get a fresh new drive under your extended warranty,” he said brightly. “With that – and I’d suggest you bump the memory to help it run faster – you should be able to get another two or three years of good use out of it.” The computer was born in 2008.

Age-pitted. Slow. Creaky foreign-born parts and irretrievable data. Story of my life. No, really. I was born in 1960, and this week I turn that age my mother taught me to dread. In case I was in danger of forgetting, I got my AARP card in the mail not so very long ago.


Around that same time as that plastic reminder of incipient decline arrived, I was doing research for a poem framed by Greek mythology (alas, a poem that now lives only in my imperfect memory) when I happened across a description of the Delphic oracle. Who, though she sounds like a place, was a woman. In the Wikipedia entry I stumbled upon this (emphasis mine): "Echecrates the Thessalian, having arrived at the shrine and beheld the virgin who uttered the oracle, became enamoured of her because of her beauty, carried her away and violated her; and that the Delphians because of this deplorable occurrence passed a law that in the future a virgin should no longer prophesy but that an elderly woman of fifty would declare the Oracles and that she would be dressed in the costume of a virgin, as a sort of reminder of the prophetess of olden times." I think I might have howled a little. I know I dashed off at least one despairing email to a friend.

An elderly woman of 50? Elderly?! Ay, ay, ay.

I know. The enlightened thing is to not get hung-up on a number. Small comfort when your 15-year-old daughter looks at you critically one day and says – casual as you please – “Mom, don’t take this the wrong way, but I think your butt is starting to sag.” Or, when you’re watching a movie together and your daughter grimaces when the characters (Dustin Hoffman and Emma Thompson) kiss. “It’s just not right,” my daughter explains. “Old people doing that stuff is just gross.”

Emotion knows nothing of enlightenment.

The problem as I see it, is that I’m entering an in-between place. Twilight or dawn, the border between countries, neither here nor there. A liminal fairytale space without characters to represent me: too young to be wise wizard or gleefully wicked witch; too old to be the questing knight or the princess with ever-dancing shoes. Or, if you prefer a non-fantastical analogy, I’m neither Archbishop Desmond Tutu endearingly shaking his septuagenarian bones on the sidelines when his South African Bafana Bafana team scored a goal at their first World Cup match, nor Shakira enticingly shaking her thirtyish ones on stage during her performance at the World Cup’s opening concert.

Thing is, nobody – even in the grand mythic cycles and fairy tales - knows a safe way to traverse those threshold, liminal spaces. They are always fraught with danger. Mirrors speak hard truths there. The land of the body can become sere when the right questions can’t – or won’t – be asked. Parents see their children setting off on perilous journeys for which they can provide neither safeguard nor road map. And we witness the young (seemingly unwounded and unsullied in ways we can hardly remember) catch a glimpse of the Grail we’ve long sought.

It’s worse for women. At least, that’s what my mother used to say. According to her, women disappear at fifty. Even extraordinarily beautiful women – the princesses turned queens. And if I think of the last time I saw Michelle Pfeiffer or Rene Russo or Sela Ward in a movie, I’m tempted to agree with her. Or when I hear stories about dating-after-fifty from some of my single friends.

Still, there’s got to be something in between enticing and endearing, right? I’m trying to find the right adjective – one I can embrace with heart, spirit and body but maybe I won’t hit upon it until I get a few days, or months, or years, past the 5-0 marker.

Meantime, I’m figuring the trick is to keep dancing anyway. Maybe not on the forefront, maybe not on the sidelines, but somewhere in between. I seem to remember I had a pair of those ever-dancing slippers somewhere, back when I was a princess young and rash enough to go dancing all night, every night. If only I could remember where I put them….

Photo credit: Samantha Fein.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Counting down to the World Cup

Very cool that the Bishops in South Africa have blessed the football stadiums, initiated an educational campaign about human trafficking, drafted a special World Cup prayer (and no, there are no petitions in it for the home team) and and set up this web site: www.churchontheball.com.

World Cup fever is everywhere.

Tomorrow, folks.

Church on the Ball from CatholicStudio on Vimeo.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Philly Moms: Horse latitudes, doldrums and dark matter

Horse latitudes, doldrums and dark matter

Original post to Philadelphia Moms Blog.

Moon My daughter plots weather patterns.

No, she doesn't want to grow up to be a meteorologist. It's part of her honors science class, and, throughout this past first year of high school for her, the class has prompted some very interesting changes at home. We've had to watch everything on TV that has to do with volcanic eruptions. And in a freakish sort of coincidence, the earthquake in Chile took place just around the time her class was studying tectonic plates - so she was able to add scientific snippets of information to each newscast in which the disaster figured.

Although the class is not her absolute favorite (that passionate honor is reserved for her history class - but that's a subject for a different post) it is the class that has generated the richest - and perhaps most varied - vein of conversation for us as a family.

My husband is pretty knowledgeable about natural history, so he can hold his own in many of the conversations engendered by the earth and space science curriculum.

Me, not so much.

Take the recent shift into astronomy. During one of our conversations I had to resort to trolling for stray bits of memory from years ago, when I was a reporter.

"Astrology is the mother of astronomy," I say to my daughter during one of our dinnertime conversations. "At least, that's what one of the astronomers at Colgate University said when I interviewed him for an article."

I see my daughter's eyes light up. "You interviewed an astronomer?"

I nod. This is good. It'll do something to amend my status as the goofy, dweeby parent. "And I got to check out the observatory while I was at it."

Even better. Respect. I think I see it flash across her face.

"What else did he say?"

"That stars are given identifying numbers now instead of names out of Classical mythology."

Okay, but a little too soft - I read this in her expression. She expects me to know about mythology.

I dredge, dredge, dredge my aging memory banks.

"And I misidentified the nebula he spoke about." I admit this after I realize it's the only other thing I remember about the article I had written. Of course, you always remember what you get wrong.

Still, my daughter is feeling generous. She gives me one more chance in the conversation to impress her. "What nebula?"

R-i-i-ght.

I'm not sure why some of us are hard-wired the way we are. Give me literature and poetry and I can find my way around the twistiest constructs. But math? I'm hopeless. And obviously I don't fare much better with the sciences.

I remember many years ago discussing this lack with a professor of mathematics at Colgate.

"But math, at its highest levels, is poetry," he said to me, unwilling to accept the insurmountable wall I had built between the field he loved and the one that held my heart. I mumbled something about never having even glimpsed that level, and left it at that.

But I look at my daughter and understand that she has bridged that wall. Or that it never existed for her. Like a true interdisciplinarian, I think she's able to hear music and poetry in math and science - and vice versa.

So, for her sake, I try to do the same.

When the conversation turns to weather patterns I key into the stories and poetry of the words: horse latitudes describe a subtropical region where winds are so variable that, reputedly, those aboard historical sailing vessels shoved their horses overboard in a desperate attempt get going again. Or the doldrums, a place of meteorological and vernacular calm, actually somewhere near the equator. It works for astronomy too. I'm pretty sure you can turn dark matter - that matter which can't be detected except by the gravitational pull it exerts - into a whole literary subgenre.

Sigh. No matter how hard I try I still won't be able to help her with chemistry or physics homework when she takes those courses - especially if she continues on the honors track. But when we look through that telescope she's been bugging me to get her, I think I can come up with some good stories.

Maybe I'll even chose a word or two from science.


Thursday, June 3, 2010

Behind the camera

I received an e-mail yesterday from longtime Catholic Standard & Times freelance photographer Joanna Lightner letting me know that she is gravely ill. Like Joanna herself, the e-mail was filled with the kind of grace I rarely evince but always recognize. And while the news saddened me greatly, it also brought to mind the words I spoke at my own mother's memorial: how the loved ones of artists are luckier than most - because the artist lives on in the art she created during her lifetime.

So it will be with Joanna.

Her images have been part of the Catholic Standard & Times much longer than my six years at the paper. She has probably photographed thousands of events at hundreds of venues. Those of my readers who are part of the Philadelphia Archdiocese have probably seen her snapping pix at the Cathedral and churches around the five counties - a tidy, slender figure with a mass of blond curls and the kind of dangly, artsy earrings I covet.

Since Joanna has always worked for us as a freelancer, I haven't had the opportunity to spend tons of time with her - but she's always been one of my favorites (yes, managing editors have favorites). I usually schedule her to cover the annual Hispanic Heritage and Migration Week Masses because she doesn't mind diving into the fray and capturing the energy and pageantry that gets lost if you stand back and set yourself apart from what you are shooting. I seem to remember her telling me that she didn't start out as a photographer, but discovered her passion for that artform later in life. Maybe that's why the distance and reserve aren't there; maybe that's why I schedule her for the events that are nearest and dearest to my own heart.

Joanna's photos are here, too, accompanying some of my blog posts. (If you type Joanna's name into the Lijit search tool on the right nav bar you will bring up each post that has an image or two of hers to accompany it.)

Much as I try to be a stoic, I'm just not. It's hard for me to lose anyone I care about, and I care about Joanna. But the friends and colleagues of photographers are luckier than most - the images captured by their unique eyes, their unique hearts, will live on and on.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Philly Moms: Let that geek flag fly

Let that geek flag fly

Original post to Philadelphia Moms Blog

Manga So let me just say, upfront, that until fairly recently I didn’t know I was a geek.

It took reading Junot Diaz’s profane but moving Pulitzer-prize-winning novel, The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, to understand that I am. I got almost every single literary, genre fiction and pop culture reference his geeky Latino protagonist makes during the course of the novel. I got them in two languages, even.

Uh oh.

Even more recent confirmation: I arranged and rearranged, imposed on friends and brazened to leave early on the evening our newspaper goes to press, all to go listen to Irish poet Seamus Heaney give a reading at Villanova. I was commenting on the turnout for the reading – a good number of the audience were students – when the professor friend sitting beside me leaned over.

“You do know they’re all required to be here, don’t you?”

You mean those students didn’t think it was the coolest thing ever to have the opportunity to hear a Nobel-winner read poetry in the most sonorous and mellifluous of Hibernian accents?

I think I discerned pity in my friend’s eyes. His wife’s eyes too.

Uh oh.

My younger brother can’t believe that this is a new revelation.

“How many times have you read the Lord of the Rings?” he asks pointedly.

He’s not being unkind – he’s also read the trilogy multiple times and can fit a quote or two into almost any conversation given half a chance.

“Face it,” he says with finality, “we’re the definition of geeky.”

This worries me. Sure, my younger brother can feel at ease saying he’s a geek – his beautiful wife is, after all, a diehard Star Trek fan. I wonder whether the fact that my daughter’s been to a manga-anime convention (and reads manga even when she's not at conventions) counts against her cool quotient and places her close to, if not in, the geek camp. If so, we can only blame the two X chromosomes she got from me, because my husband hasn’t a geeky bone in his body.

Being the geek that I am, the minute I admit I must be one, I go look up the history of the word. Turns out it has only recently taken on its obsessive enthusiast of mathematics/technology/intellectual/pop-culture meaning. It was originally used to refer to carnival sideshow performers who bit the heads off animals. Which, I guess, would make Ozzy Osborne a geek.

I’m thinking about all this (obsessing, as is the geeky wont) and eventually post something about it on my Facebook page.

One of my newspaper columnists posts in response: “We talk math at the dinner table.” Geek solidarity. This is followed by several posts (on her own Facebook page) about repeated viewings of the new Star Trek movie.

And I marvel that this woman I’ve admired since I’ve known her – a chemistry professor at one of the seven sisters; an accomplished writer of columns and blogs and scientific papers; the capable and sensible mother of teens, and a woman of profound spiritual understanding – is also a geek. And perfectly comfortable with it.

Hmmm.

My daughter, it turns out, isn’t all that worried about geekiness either. “If that’s what you want to call it,” is what she seems to say when she shrugs my concerns away. For her it is just who we are. What we love. We fangirl over poetry and science fiction. Or the Ignatian Examen and Gaussian functions. Or comic books and elves with impossibly perfect hair. So?

This is why you need friends and kids. To let you know the flag you’ve been flying for years is just fine.

Exactly. The. Way. It. Is.