Thursday, April 25, 2013

Hate breeds hate.

Once again a terror attack has been visited upon our country.  We don't know everything about the people who did it but we do know that radical Islam was a factor in their decision to give up on the values of the United States in favor of the distortion of a great religion that led to homicide.  But what is remarkable, while much of country is fighting back with a sense of resilience, others are embracing their own form of hate and bigotry.

The usual Islamophobes were in form calling for deportation of Muslims, the destruction of mosques and if not that, one member of Congress suggested we should investigate all Muslims.  While I have almost given up on trying to explain the difference between the radical Islam and the vast majority of Muslims around the world.

I often wonder how it is so easy for so many people who's voice is amplified by position or money can be so thoughtless as to make clearly bigoted statements that inflame more hatred.  Ann Coulter suggested that the mother of the bomber should be arrested not for any crime, but simply for wearing Hijab as part of her religion.  Isn't this exactly what the propaganda of the Islamists is.  They portray the west as hostile toward the very nature of Islam.

We live in a country that from the very beginning started with a simple idea, that our diversity could be a strength.  We didn't always get it right.  But with each wave of immigration we had the fertile soil that would allow each group to add the best of them to what it meant to be an American.  Originally the concept of the American Melting Pot was that as more cultures brought their traditions and culture to the United States they would melt theirs into what it means to be an American.  But later the idea of a salad developed.  While each distinct culture will keep their own flavor but tossed together with the dressing of American freedom we all formed a more flavorful mix.  But in making the salad the bitterness of the culture needs to fade away.

But here is the thing, our culture has to find a way to welcome the good of other cultures.  When we stereotype, when we attack as enemy someone who has a real interest in adding to the greatness of the country then we will set ourselves up for failure.  Asking people to give up harmless cultural rituals or practices like hijab or circumcision because some people don't like it is not the American way.

Let me be clear, if someone wants to visit hate, terror or anything to undermine our country to our shores they should be stopped, sent away or prosecuted.  But here is the thing, when we decide to block the building of a mosque in a community because of a few terrorists' actions, when we bug houses of worship because some co-religionists preach hate or if we argue to criminalize harmless behavior because it "feels" unAmerican we aren't stopping hate of our freedom, we are contributing to it.

So be angry with the bombing, be angry at the distortion of Islam that would lead to it, but don't treat all Muslims the same way, hate is never a good defense.  Embrace the real American values, including freedom.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Eulogy for my mom

I had the honor of doing the eulogy at my mother's funeral.  As many of you know I am a convert to Judaism and the rest of my family is Catholic or lapsed.  They allowed me to bring our tradition into the service for mom.  My mom and I spoke briefly about this once, and I am sure she would be happy.  At the burial I had planned to stay to help bury and say the burial prayers from the Jewish tradition.  At first it was to be me and Dianne.  I worked it out with the mortuary and the priest and suddenly my entire family, the priest and many of my mom's friends wanted to stay.  Her community helped bury her.  That, more than anything else, made me cry.  My mother's love and care of others seemed to inspire all of us to come together for each other.  A miracle if you knew my family.  My mom's memory was truly a blessing that day.

Here is what I wrote, I am not sure what all I said.  I am sure I went of script: 

Good morning, On behalf of our family I want to thank you all for being here today to honor Gertrud Kelley, a mother, a grandmother, a sister, a friend and to some, simply MA. 
A woman of valor, who can find? Far beyond rubies is her value.  A woman of valor…that was our mom.  Dedicated to family and community, Gert, as she was called, was known for giving of herself and from her childhood she learned it was important to try to make a difference.    
Mom was born in 1935, into a Germany under the dark cloud of the Nazi regime and came of age in the post-war rebuilding. In her teens she worked to help support her family, sometimes at two jobs.  One of which put her in touch with allied soldiers at the nearby base.
It was at this time she met a man from Ogdensburg, NY, Francis Oscar Kelley, and through his deployment to Korea and his various posting they found time to fall in love.  They married in 1959 and while her peers were exploring the freedoms of the 1960s, our mom spent much of the decade pregnant (I told you they loved each other).  But after 2 wars and 25 years our father retired from the military and in 1966 our family, then 6 kids, two parents and my mother’s mother settled in our small city on the St. Lawrence and began building our lives.  It wasn’t always easy but we made due and through it all, our mom made sure that we tried to show pride in who we were. 
Our lives all changed when our dad died in 1978, and mom lost her partner and the love of her life.  Dad took care of so many things that mom had to quickly understand.   She learned to be a head of the household and did her best to give us the opportunity to have a better life.  It was then, in her 40s, she obtained her first driver’s license for the sake of the family.
As our mother’s recent illness developed I found myself thinking more about what she taught me, directly and indirectly. The one part that seems to have grown from her tutelage was my own challenging of the status quo.  Mom never seemed satisfied when she saw what she thought was injustice and pushed back.  She helped me develop a healthy skepticism of power, while also making sure I understood that I was responsible for making the world better.
That responsibility was seen in all she did for her community and those that worked on its behalf.  A simple example was her getting up in the middle of night to make coffee and donuts for fire fighters at the scene of a large fire.  She always felt an obligation to do things like this.  It seemed so natural growing up that she would be motivated to do such things.    
However, she also was a champion of those who needed special support.  She was a legend in the North Country for her more than 30 year commitment to the Muscular Dystrophy Association.  Year in and year out she found a way to get people to give, and one of my favorite pictures I have of her is with a young boy who she helped obtain a new wheelchair he so desperately needed.  A picture that now sits on the desk of my own son who knows the story and that it is part of his legacy.  I never fully understood her commitment as none of us kids had the disorder but she really put her heart and soul into it.  It could have been an elaborate ploy to meet Danny Burgess, the Channel 7 weatherman, who I am sure our mom had a crush on. 
Later, after I had left for college,  mom called me one time and asked me if I could donate to a new program in the burg Heart-to-Heart was a program that collected  presents for impoverished families in the holiday season.  She took the time to volunteer because the holidays were so important to our mother.   Anyone who knew her when we were growing up is familiar with her cookies that she began baking in November with an output rate that rivaled Nabisco.
For her, making sure children had a Christmas was close to her heart.  With Heart-to-Heart she helped package and wrap toys she couldn’t herself afford for her grandchildren. But she also knew her own grandchildren would be fine, these other children needed the good memory and this was her way of making that happen. 
If that is all she did it would be a lot, but mom baked for local fund raisers, volunteered for the Bishop’s fund and at the old Notre Dame Bazaar.  She always made sure we brought food for the local food drives, and would help neighbors and friends who had no family in the area with the little things that just often get missed, and she would listen when her friends and when I needed an ear.  A skill often lost today in our technological world.  And since she is gone I realize that was one thing she did for me was listen when I needed it.  I took it for granted. And of course mom had a way of making me laugh.
Now some of you knew the Gert who learned American English from the GIs she served as a waitress in Germany. The sometimes bawdy and not often polite language that would flow from her mouth that I can still remember including some of her jokes with that rich German accent.  She rarely minced words and could be brutally honest and strong, but never hurtful to your face.  However, she let you know if you were acting the fool.  Trust me she let me know on more than one occasion.
It was all that complexity that made mom who she was to all of uc.  I took note that her death came within a day or two of two well known other women of the 20th century.  Baroness Margaret Thatcher, the Iron Lady of Britain and Annette Funicello, arguably one of American’s sweethearts.  Our mom had a little of both in her. Tough as nails and sweet as sugar.  Sometimes depending on the day, but if you spent time with her you got both, in measured amounts.  For me there were times it was refreshing.   
So as we say goodbye to Gert, we should remember all that she was, from the Black Forest cakes donated for local raffles to the stories she told of growing up in wartime Germany, some not for young ears, to her last days when she told me she didn’t want to be a burden on Betty, who so lovingly and tirelessly took care of her for the last several years. 
Our mother’s faith gave her the hope of eternal life in the presence of the Almighty.  For her she knew when her last day came she would be reunited with loved ones who left the earth before her.  But we have a responsibility to give her perpetual life here.  Our memories will bring her a life eternal through the gifts she gave all of us that we pass on to our children and all those who we share Gert with.  Be sad today, but also take a moment to remember why you are here: What she did for you and how you can use her example to teach others.  Gertrud Kelley has left us in body, but she lives on in our hearts and memories.  I would like to conclude with a simple prayer.

Compassionate God, at this time of remembrance, I offer my prayers on behalf of our mother, Gertrud Kelley.  Keep her beloved soul in Your beneficent care. May her memory and the goodness which she brought into this world find continuity in our lives, and unto all eternity and may her soul be bound in the spirit of the Eternal and may she always be remembered for a blessing and May she Rest in Peace. 

Monday, April 15, 2013


This morning I buried my mother, surrounded by her friends and our family and Dianne who has been my strength since coming to Ogdensburg for this trip.  The day was tougher than I thought for many reasons including my siblings being so amazing as were able to all pull together to make the day about the memories of mom and not our petty and maybe not so petty disagreements over the years.  I have a lot pent up because of today.  After the service and burial, the family and friends gathered for a lunch, and Dianne and I drove to Syracuse for an early morning flight.  As we walked into the hotel a large television in the lobby flashed a special report.  It was a few minutes after 3pm.  I had forgotten it was Patriot's Day.  So as the clerk asked if she could help me I was transfixed on the film of an explosion on a street I once walked down regularly.  We got to the room and I watched the news trying to make sense of this.  I wanted to know my Bostonians friends were okay, I thought of who might be running today, and I thought this was an added surrealism to the day.  I can't seem to take my eyes off this.

It didn't take long for the crazies to come out.  Already there are conspiracy theories about why this occurred.  I have also seen partisan bitching about it and the news reporting unverified rumors to be first.

But the one thing I heard more than anything from last night through this morning about my mom was how much she helped people around her.  Even I didn't know some of the details of the little things she did.  So with that in mind my eyes are not as jaded as normal.  But we saw neighbors and strangers, runners and spectators, first responders and normal citizens all trying to find a way to help.  One woman who lives and works in Boston wrote it better than I could today.  Read what she wrote.  Think about it and focus on the good in life.

I will share what I said about my mother later in the week.  Tonight remember as a community, a country and a humanity we will always be more good than evil.  I truly believe that.

The Current Has Been Torn Away

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