About a month ago I was visiting a patient at a facility that recently reopened to me. We were sitting in one of the common rooms, chatting, watching TV together. A resident I didn't know was wheeling by and as he passed the door he said, "Chip? Chip Mahr?" I said, "No, I'm Bob," and showed him my badge and repeated, "I'm Bob, I'm the chaplain."
Sunday, June 6, 2021
Thursday, May 27, 2021
A new patient this morning, a retired funeral home director, said to me something along the lines of, When you're older you start reminiscing more often. He thought it was funny that, some 20+ years younger than him, I was already doing that. But it's true that much of my time while driving or doing crosswords is spent with the equivalent of 16mm film clacking in the back of my head.
In 1973, I was a fat, ungainly, probably acned tween, although the term wasn't used then, on the way from middle school to high school. In the next year I'd start acting in school productions, reading pulp novels, and lose my virginity. But at 13 I was just a schlub who, on Friday nights, stayed up late to watch The Midnight Special.
Most of the artists they played were pretty good, if not terribly innovative. I mean, I was just starting to listen to groups like the Doobie Brothers and Steely Dan and appreciate the comedy of Monty Python. But Mac Davis and Anne Murray were more the stuff I'd see, and they were all right, although I could hear them in regular rotation on local radio. But in November they played the David Bowie 1980 Floor Show.
I can't say if I knew Bowie was appearing on that show or not. I'd heard "Space Oddity" of course. It had penetrated even the stodgy AM wasteland of rural upstate New York. There had been something to the sound that appealed to me, so it's possible I was paying attention that he was headlining.
But the first minutes of the show, a videoed version of the two night farewell to Ziggy Stardust Bowie performed at London's Marquee Club that previous October, did not prepare me adequately for the moment as he began the title song "1984" and two of his backup singers stepped forward to rip the gaudy gauzy costume he was wearing from him to show he was actually wearing a spangled bustier with fishnets and garters and high heels. That moment smacked me across the forehead with a force it would take me decades and my first experiences with LSD to identify as pleasure in the unexpected and unexplainable.
I would go to bed that night having sat on the edge of my dad's padded rocker for an hour and a half hearing sounds and seeing things I couldn't articulate to anyone. On Monday, no one I knew or asked had remained with the show much beyond the first minutes. "You kidding, that flashy queer stuff? What was that, anyway?"
It was flashy queer stuff, no mistaking. And while my response was not equal to the imagined reaction of Christian Bale in Velvet Goldmine, it was a solid, rock hard love that's lasted my life since. Bowie's sexually charged pas de deux with strutting Mick Ronson awakened feelings in me I couldn't articulate and certainly couldn't act on for years. My first Bowie was the Changes One album bought that week at Barker's, the local department store that everyone knew had the better selection, and played deep grooves into the nylon.
Decades later, teaching the Orwell novel, I tried to introduce it and make its messages relatable to classes by playing cuts from Diamond Dogs for them, trying to explain what seeing the songs acted out was like. But it left them staring at me like I was showing them nude photos of their mothers. I suppose some things, like the life-altering media experience one goes through at that certain age, are untranslatable.
Tuesday, April 20, 2021
Sunday, March 28, 2021
I want to focus on one paragraph in this essay: "These are desperate people who have been waiting for an opportunity to migrate for a long time, so it’s not clear whether that kind of messaging ['don't come to the US, stay and apply for asylum in the future in your home country'] actually resonates."
When many of us voted for Joe Biden it was in the clear knowledge that, distinct from The Former Guy, he would be amenable to doing the correct, humane thing when it was pointed out his policies were harming people. I continue to believe this. At the very least, the policies mentioned in this article, Biden's sweeping aside building a wall and reuniting separated families, point at a recognition of the basic dignity of asylum seekers.
But troubling elements remain. No matter how you phrase it, "reports of children in the facilities sleeping on gym mats with nothing but mylar blankets to keep them warm and not being permitted to go outside or take a shower for days at a time" is indefensible. We opposed it under trump. It is wrong no matter who it happens under.
I don't have a solution to what's happening on the border with Mexico. I don't know much about the region or its history, and I don't even speak Spanish. But I recognize wrong and separating families, whether it's done by our government, another government, even by desperate people hoping the sight of a lone child on a bus or with other kids will give that child a better chance at being accepted, is wrong. People in desperation to leave a place where they and their children are at risk will do desperate things. They can be forgiven their desparation. We can't allow their desperation to allow us to do wrong so we look like we are doing something. We will not be forgiven.
Tuesday, February 23, 2021
Part of my work since we've been isolating and locking down is to write a weekly message for the rest of my healthcare team. I call it "Joys and Concerns" after the UU check-in at each service. This is my most recent one. The links aren't in the original because my readers don't have time to click on them.
We reached a couple milestones over the weekend that will have a tremendous effect, I think, on our future. The first is particular to us, as healthcare workers. The US reached the half million mark in covid-19 deaths. Figures from Johns Hopkins University tell us we are at the top of the list of countries with coronavirus deaths, followed by Brazil, at nearly half the number. There are many articles out there helping people to visualize 500,000 people, but I'm going to use an aid that, in our media-saturated culture, might have some power left. It is as if Thanos' snapping his fingers, decimating the universe by half, had happened. Slowly. And to people you know.
Monday, February 15, 2021
Not so long ago someone asked me what songs helped me get through the past 4 years. This is one of them. It was released some 3 years before trump's ascension; nonetheless, the music and the video helped me cope. Particularly in the video, from the intensity of Adam Grunciel's staring out the window, to the near blissful looks on Robbie Bennett's face, it has given me some sense of the historicity of this moment, how it will not last, how we can transcend it. It's harder to explain than I thought it might be. That may be what art that helps you through hard times does, gives you reason to hope in unexplainable ways.