Inspire. August.

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I’ve often talked and written about how profoundly life-altering it was when I returned from my first (and at the time I thought only) trip to Wales. It was barely forty-eight hours and yet it left an indelible mark on my soul. It led me down new paths that branched off and created new adventures and journeys within these past thirty-five years. If I recall correctly, that first summer was spent working at (the now defunct) Waldenbook’s bookstore, where as an employee I received a 33% discount, and folks wonder why I had less money at the end of the summer than I started with. I was straightening and dusting books, and performing an additional wide plethora of mindless tasks when I noticed a small mass market paperback book high on a shelf. It was the title that drew my attention: Here Be Dragons. I thought it would be fantastical and in line with my hobby of playing Dungeons & Dragons, but I was to be disappointed in that, and extremely gratified to discover that it was a novel based in medieval Wales centering on the life and world of the Prince of Wales, Llywelyn Fawr.

I was drawn into this story quickly. This is the only book that I’ve owned three copies of: one that I read several times and gave to someone to read, a new copy to replace that one, and a digital copy for my Kindle. There were two subsequent novels, Falls the Shadow and The Reckoning, now know more or less as The Welsh Trilogy. I was all in.

The author, Sharon Kay Penman had a way of bringing me into the medieval age, and I read the rest of her books – all of them – voraciously. Not one was a disappointment. One of the things that drew me so deep was Penman’s Author’s Notes, where she discussed and explained her researching process and she defined some of the things that seemed implausible but that had in fact actually happened.

  1. Lady Joanna’s affair, the burning of the prince’s bed, and the execution of her lover. True.
  2. Gruffydd ap Llywelyn, the prince’s son was held hostage by King John and the terms of his release were detailed in the Magna Carta; yes, THE Magna Carta. True.
  3. Eleanor de Montfort kidnapped by pirates. True.

And much more.

Earlier this week, I discovered that Ms. Penman died in early 2021. I am heartbroken, but I’ve discovered her last published book, The Land Beyond the Sea, which I began this afternoon. The memories of reading her well-researched and well-developed books will continue to inspire me as I continue to gain insight into the process of writing and the joy of reading.


“We’d become aliens in our own land,” he’d warned, “denied our own laws, our own language, even our yesterdays, for a conquered people are not allowed a prideful past. Worst of all, we’d be leaving our children and grandchildren a legacy of misery and loss, a future bereft of hope.”
― Sharon Kay Penman, The Reckoning

“But in all honesty, I do not find it so peculiar a notion, that a Welshman should rule Wales.”
― Sharon Kay Penman, Falls the Shadow

“Poor Wales. So far from Heaven, so close to England.”
― Sharon Kay Penman, Here Be Dragons

“Fretting about time’s passing will not slow it down one whit.”
― Sharon Kay Penman, Here be Dragons

“for each age interprets the past in the light of its own biases.”
― Sharon Kay Penman, Falls the Shadow

Dolwyddelan Castle, built by Llywelyn Fawr (the Great) in or around the 13th century. Dolwyddelan, Gwynedd, North Wales. (I don’t imagine it looked much different in his time, especially from this angle.)
(c)2022

Inspire. July.

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I’m not feeling particularly inspired this month after last month’s partisan, rogue display by the Supreme Court, so I will leave you with two quotations that I listened to today on Jon Meacham’s podcast, Reflections of History, both by Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall:

We must never forget that the only real source of power that we as judges can tap is the respect of the people. We will command that respect only as long as we strive for neutrality. If we are perceived as campaigning for particular policies, as joining with other branches of government in resolving questions not committed to us by the Constitution, we may gain some public acclaim in the short run. In the long run, however, we will cease to be perceived as neutral arbiters, and we will lose that public respect so vital to our function.

Thurgood Marshall, 1981

I do not believe that the meaning of the Constitution was forever ‘fixed’ at the Philadelphia Convention. Nor do I find the wisdom, foresight and sense of justice exhibited by the Framers particularly profound. To the contrary, the government they devised was defective from the start, requiring several amendments, a civil war and momentous social transformation to attain the system of constitutional government, and its respect for the individual freedoms and human rights, we hold as fundamental today. They could not have imagined, nor would they have accepted, that the document they were drafting would one day be construed by a Supreme Court to which had been appointed a woman and the descendant of an African slave. ‘We the people’ no longer enslave, but the credit does not belong to the Framers. It belongs to those who refused to acquiesce in outdated notions of ‘liberty,’ ‘justice’ and ‘equality,’ and who strived to better them.

Thurgood Marshall, on the Bicentennial of The Constitution, 1987

St. Brigid’s Day Book Rec

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St. Brigid may be remembered as turning water into beer or the legend that she midwifed Mary in the birth of Jesus, but for those of us hoping for women’s advancement in the church, she preached to her flock, and founded a monastery for men and women, and became abbess there. Several of her images are shown with her holding a Bishop’s crosier. While there is some dispute if she was an actual bishop, she was the leader of both monasteries and the Abbess of Kildare is considered as the superior general of the monasteries in Ireland. Regardless of her official capacity as a pastor, Brigid’s oratory at Kildare became a centre of religion and learning, and developed into a cathedral city. [1]

Personally, I’m disappointed that when I visited Ireland a few years ago that I was so close to Downpatrick and didn’t visit. Her relics aren’t there any longer (not since 1538) but I still would have liked to have visited especially since the relics of Patrick, Brigid, and Columba (Columcille) had been there and all are said to have been buried there.

Imbolc dates back to ancient times and Celtic tradition has it beginning the night of February 1st and continuing through February 2nd. This speaks volumes, to me at least that this tradition was adopted/co-opted by the early Christians in the Celtic world. February 2nd is Candlemas, which commemorates the presentation of Jesus in the church. Imbolc is about halfway between the winter solstice and the spring equinox and foretells the coming of spring. Groundhog’s Day is February 2nd and he also foretells the coming of spring, whether after six more weeks of winter or right around the corner.

Beginning next year, St. Brigid’s Day will also be a public holiday in the Republic of Ireland.

So many things in our myths, traditions, and religions are interconnected; not all of them by chance or coincidence. Some were intentionally brought forward by the church to include the “pagans” in their conversion to Christianity. This feels almost like a “gentle Crusade” rather than at the point of a sword when they encouraged Jews and Muslims.

I’ve just completed reading a Celtic spirituality book that has nine chapters describing different Celtic ways along with the intertwining of Christianity. The second chapter was focused on St. Brigid and what she brought to Celtic spirituality in this author’s opinion: the Sacred Feminine. Celts had a tremendous respect for the feminine and how it balanced the world they lived, and we live in.

The book is an easy read. I chose to read one chapter a day. That let the information gradually process. There is also prayer and an appendix that would lend itself to daily prayer and meditation in the Celtic tradition.

Sacred Earth, Sacred Soul by J. Philip Newell can be found or ordered from bookstores, national and independent. I read most of my books on my Kindle; this is the link for Amazon Kindle’s version.



[1] Herbermann, Charles. St. Brigid of Ireland, Catholic Encyclopedia, 1913. Public Domain.

[In my interpretations of St. Brigid’s religious life, I would appreciate any corrections from those expert in such things.]

September 11th: A Reflection

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September 11th, 2001.

It’s hard to believe that twenty years have passed in the blink of an eye, although I can imagine for those there that day it passed less fast. I look at my twenty-four year old who at four, I relegated to his room and cartoons so I could watch the aftermath. He was still asleep when the second plane hit the towers, but I witnessed it live on television. It was shocking. I think I tried to call my parents who live on Long Island. I don’t remember if I got through the first time. We had just seen them the day before. September 10th was very much like the 11th – a bright blue sky, fluffy white clouds, sun shining warm on the cool air of the beginnings of fall. I wouldn’t have even been awake the morning of the 11th except we were having landline trouble and the Verizon guy was outside fixing something for us. We lived on the first floor of a former carriage house, and I kept my door open to let any passersby get updates from the news that I had still going on my television. My landlord was there for some reason I can’t remember now. The door was open most of the day.

We sat in front of the television solemnly for days. We cried. We called family and friends daily, just wanting to hear their voices. It took a long time to be able to pass the nearby airport with the planes taking off and landing overhead without cringing or having a minor panic attack.

On the one month anniversary, a plane crashed. We thought it was terrorism again. We were all on edge. It wasn’t. I remember the date because my father was having surgery to remove his second leg due to diabetes complications. And then November 11th was my aunt and uncle’s wedding anniversary.

It seemed that the eleventh would be on our minds for a very, very long time, and here it is twenty years later, and on this day it feels like yesterday.

On the one year anniversary our only child (at the time) had just begun kindergarten. We kept him home from school on that first 9/11 and we took him to the NYS Museum, which was near our home and visited the 9/11 exhibit which included a partially crushed fire truck. It was profoundly moving and emotional. We weren’t the only ones in tears.

Thinking about the interim years of war and increased security, embedded journalists, two more moves, an addition of two more children, buying a house with a large yard, growing as a writer, and the loss of three parents. But there was also the election of the first Black President, a high school/college graduate, a change in religion, a diagnosis of severe depression that is continually being addressed and adjusted to.

As with my parents’ deaths, not a day goes by that I don’t think of September 11th, although it is often remembered with the beauty of September 10th, crossing the Throgs Neck Bridge, the sun reflecting off the water of the East River, viewing the World Trade Center, the Twin Towers in the distance, pointing them out to my son in the expectation of taking him there one day. He visited the memorial and museum a couple of years ago as a firefighter.

Twenty years is a long time, but it is also a heartbeat, a fraction of life. I think I’ll go outside for a bit and just be there.

Summer Rec Lists, Featuring President Barack Obama

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So, technically, President Obama isn’t a guest blogger here, but he has provided (through social media) the first two graphics of both his summer reading list and his playlist. It reminded me of some of the things I’ve been occupying my time with, and wanted to share with readers.

My current reading list includes:

  • Book of Ages: The Life and Opinions of Jane Franklin by Jill Lepore
  • 18 Tiny Deaths: The Untold Story of Frances Glessner Lee and the Invention of Modern Forensics by Bruce Goldfarb
  • A Stranger and You WElcomed Me: Homilies and Reflections for Cycle B by Jim Knipper, Richard Rohr, James Martin, Greg Boyle, and others
  • Dusk, Night, Dawn: On Revival and Courage by Anne Lamott

My Top 5 of Recently Read Books:

  1. Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents by Isabel Wilkerson
  2. wow, no thank you. Essays by Samantha Irby
  3. Without Precedent: Chief Justice John Marshall and His Times by Joel Richard Paul
  4. Kill Switch: The Rise of the Modern Senate and teh Crippling of American Democracy by Adam Jentleson
  5. His Truth is Marching On: John Lewis and the Power of Hope by Jon Meacham

Next in line to Read:

Presidents of War: The Epic Story, from 1807 to Modern Times by Michael R. Beschloss

Spotify Curation So Far:

<——————— Newest Link can be found by scrolling down on the sidebar.

All other Spotify links (so far):

The Feast Day of St. Kateri Tekakwitha

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St. Kateri Tekakwitha was the first Native American woman to be canonized. This was in 2012, the same year I joined the church with my ongoing attendance. It would be another two years before I came into full communion and participation.

There were many reasons that I was attracted to St. Kateri as I considered her among others while I discerned a confirmation name (ultimately choosing St. Elen of Caernarfon as many of you know).

I have always felt a connection to the Native American people and interested in their culture and spiritual practices. As kids our parents took us to the pow-wow out on Long Island with the Shinnecock Indians. It’s hard to live anywhere in New York State and not find nearby towns with Native names.

A gift from my friend in South Dakota. It is a dream catcher and it has helped me at times when I’ve had trouble sleeping. It is Native made near the sacred Black Hills.
(c)2021

Kateri was from nearby; just west of the Capital District. She was born in the village of Ossernenon, now known as Auriesville. The village is mapped out at the Martyrs Shrine. After a small pox epidemic killed her family and left her scarred, the remaining Mohawk burned the village and moved (as was done when a disease ran rampant through their homes).

They moved further west and to the other side of the river to what is now Fonda, above where the current Kateri Shrine is located in the village called Caughnawaga. The footprint of the village can be seen and can be reached either by car or by walking the trails to the village and the spring.

Continue reading

Juneteenth: A National Holiday

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Today is the first nationally recognized, federal holiday commemorating Juneteenth, the day two months after Robert E. Lee surrendered at Appomattox Court House, ending the Civil War despite some branches of the Confederate Army did not officially surrender until June. Juneteenth (originally known in some areas as Jubilee Day) had been commemorated in Texas officially since 1980, although celebrations had occured since 1866. Today’s holiday signed into law by President Joe Biden is called the Juneteenth National Independence Day Act.

It is thought of by many as the Second Independence Day. According to Gladys L. Knight in the Juneteenth entry of the Encyclopedia of African American Popular Culture, Juneteenth is the “longest-running African American holiday.”

As the Thirteenth Amendment abolished slavery and the Fourteenth recognizes the enslaved population as United States citizens, Juneteenth is equally important to their descendants. I firmly believe that all of us should be celebrating and commemorating Juneteenth the way we celebrate the 4th of July. The 4th commemorates our independence from the British, and Juneteenth commemorates those not included at that time despite their long standing contributions to the country’s advancement.

I see some controversy online and in the week’s news that Juneteenth is meant to replace July 4th and we should be “offended” by its declaration. That is not the case at all, and we should not let pettiness and bigotry get in the way of knowing our own history.

It is not anymore reasonable than suggesting that September 11th replaced our commemoration of Pearl Harbor Day. Or that Memorial, Veterans’, and Armed Forces Days are interchangeable. Each one represents a different aspect of our country’s past and observes its tragedy and its renewed purpose.

There is plenty of room in our calendars and our communities to commemorate the day that all of those enslaved Africans were free and became American citizens by virtue of their birth.

Take some time today to think about what the holiday represents, how meaningful it is, not only to African Americans, but to all Americans who value freedom and liberty.

For those who think we have too many holidays, and wonder: who’s next? I have a suggestion for you. Perhaps we should find a way to commemorate the first Americans, the Native Americans, those who cared for the land and lived valuable lives before the Europeans came to their continent and disrupted them, to put it mildly.

We, as a country have a lot to think about, and those thoughts and future decisions shouldn’t feel threatening to anyone in this country.

When I was growing up, it was a world of embracing the melting pot and the encouragement of learning the cultures that surround us in our lives, that aren’t our own, learning about our differences and relishing in how much we are alike.

We should all be able to celebrate African American freedom and the abolition of slavery. We should all want to celebrate that. What is there for us to celebrate that is more important than that?

World Book Day

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On this World Book Day, I’d thought I’d share my favorite books.

The Magic Tunnel by Caroline D. Emerson was my very favorite book as a child. I still have it although the book jacket is almost long gone. It takes place in New York City and the main characters, children about my own age at the time took the subway and ended up somehow in New Amsterdam. It was a combination of my favorite things: time travel, history, and being that I lived in NYC it seemed plausible to my child mind.

Maybe one day I would get on the subway and end up somewhere far away and long ago.

My second favorite book came to me as an adult while working at Waldenbook’s. It was the cover illustration that caught my eye, and of course the title: Here Be Dragons by Sharon Kay Penman.

Like The Magic Tunnel this was also historical fiction, no time travel though; this time taking place in Medieval Wales during the time of Llywelyn Fawr, the Prince of Wales. It set my on a path of learning Welsh history and discovering myself. I was enthralled with the story and even more enchanted by the author’s note that revealed how much of the fictional account had actually happened, including burning mattresses, adulterer’s murdered, and in the third book a kidnapping by pirates! Not to mention the release of Llywelyn’s son from the King’s custody as spelled out in the Magna Carta no less.

Everything you could ask for in a book!

The most recent books I’ve read (out of about eighteen for the year so far), and all that I would recommend include:

Lily Dale: The Town That Talks to the Dead by Christine Wicker,

The Alchemist by Paolo Coelho,

When Women Invented Television: The Untold Story of the Female Powerhouses Who Pioneered the Way We Watch Today by Jennifer Keishin Armstrong, and

Inside Camp David: The Private World of the Presidential Retreat by Michael Giorgione.

Black History Month – Black History Library by Charles A. Preston

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This information was originally shared here a little more than a year ago. The compiler of the information at the links has continued to update and maintained it so all of us can learn more about Black History throughout the year.

Author and activist, Charles A. Preston maintains this Google doc on his own. I discovered him from a random Twitter post last year, and feel fortunate that I did.

The multi-folder Google doc is chock full of information about many aspects of Black History from Afro-Futurism to Zora Neale Hurston and many others in between. I believe he is continuing to update it. When using his folders, remember to give him credit as well as linking to his Twitter or website (linked below).

Black History Month Library

In addtion, you can follow Mr. Preston on Twitter or visit his Website.

Black History Month – Henry Johnson

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Mural on a building of WWI hero Henry Johnson and other WWI service members, on Henry Johnson Blvd. in Albany, NY.
(c)2021

Henry Johnson was born in Virginia, but lived in Albany, the capital of New York, since his teens. He worked as a redcap (porter) at the Albany Union Station. He was also a sergeant in an all African American unit (the 369th Infantry Regiment, formerly the 15th Infantry Regiment of the National Guard during World War I and was awarded the Croix de Guerre with star and the Gold Palm from the French govenment for his heroism in fighting off a 20 person raiding party of Germans.

He was the first American to receive these awards, and yet there was no recognition from his own country.

Finally in 1996, he was awarded the long overdue Purple Heart and in 2003, the Distinguished Service Cross. In 2015, President Barack Obama awarded him the Presidential Medal of Honor, accepted by Command Sergeant Louis Wilson of the New York National Guard.

He is buried in Arlington Cemetery.

In Albany’s Washington Park stands a monument to Henry Johnson, just over half a mile from the street that bears his name.

Henry Johnson Monument, Washington Park, Albany, NY, erected in 1991.
(c)2021
Detailed photo of the bust of Henry Johnson.
(c)2021

WMHT presents Henry Johnson: A Tale of Courage

Author Max Brooks on Henry Johnson, the Unlikely War Hero