This is Blood

At work, I mentor young adults interested in health care and social media and I often talk about understanding your audience. Often, the people I work with have fairly narrow views of life and the people around them. So, I find different videos to help them gain a little perspective. One of my favorites is This is Water from a commencement speech by David Foster Wallace. He starts off with

There are these two young fish swimming along and they happen to meet an older fish swimming the other way, who nods at them and says "Morning, boys. How's the water?" And the two young fish swim on for a bit, and then eventually one of them looks over at the other and goes "What the hell is water?"

He goes on to talk about the banal tedium of daily life and suggests the following:

I can choose to force myself to consider the likelihood that everyone else in the supermarket's checkout line is just as bored and frustrated as I am, and that some of these people probably have harder, more tedious and painful lives than I do.

It is up to us, what we do with life around us.

I had shown this video to some coworkers one Thursday, before heading out to a dinner at church.

It was a Thursday evening and I stopped in the basement of Grace and St. Peter’s Episcopal Church in Hamden, CT. The basement is like many church basements. The ceiling is covered with square foot sized tiles with lots of little holes in them; the kind I remember from my childhood, and probably even older. I can’t say that I remember the walls, but it seems like they are cinderblocks painted with some bland industrial color, perhaps from the 50s.

This is the room where Alcoholics Anonymous have meetings many evenings. There are hand written instructions near the giant coffee percolators and trash cans. On Friday nights, there is Dinner for a Dollar. It is an inexpensive home cooked meal where people contribute what they can, typically a dollar; sometimes more, sometimes nothing at all. People of all walks of life gather, chat and have a nourishing meal.

But Thursday night was Maundy Thursday. I had just gotten through rehearsing with a small pickup choir that would be doing Tallis’ Lamentation of Jeremiah on Good Friday. My youngest daughter was with me, talking blithely with those around her.

I sat quietly, considering the walks, the ceiling, the lives of people who have passed through this space. I thought of people who perhaps first started worship at Grace and St. Peter’s after attending an AA meeting in the basement, or having a nice home cooked meal when they were down on their luck and between jobs.

As we shared the supper and listened to the story of Maundy Thursday, it struck me. David Foster Wallace had told students about finding meaning in the tedium of daily modern existence. “This is water”.

The words of consecration, “this is my blood”. I thought of people struggling with addiction, struggling to make ends meet after losing a job. I thought of people that we pray for, week after week, fighting some illness. I thought of those close to me struggling with one calamity or another. I thought of monks I had met at monasteries, who had taken vows of silence, eating their simple meals. I thought of my own failings.

David Foster Wallace’s words mixed with Jesus’: “This is blood.” This is going beyond just “considering that everyone else in the supermarket's checkout line is just as bored and frustrated as I am”. It is recognizing that when you get right down to it, we are all the same, we are all connected, and that the Blood of Christ helps us transcend the tedium and empowers us to not only consider those around us, but to connect with and help them.

Around the state, I figured that friends of mine would be at similar dinners. They would have different ways of remembering, of celebrating, of talking about being ‘washed in the blood’, and that too, reflected our connection.

David Foster Wallace ends off his commencement speech with

It is about the real value of a real education, which has almost nothing to do with knowledge, and everything to do with simple awareness; awareness of what is so real and essential, so hidden in plain sight all around us, all the time, that we have to keep reminding ourselves over and over:

"This is water."

To which, I add, and “This is blood”

Meriden Daffodil Festival

Yesterday, Fiona and I went to the Meriden Daffodil Festival. The band The Foresters was supposed to play, but their set got rained out. So, instead, Fiona and I spoke with some friends, had a bite to eat at the food tent and visited the crafts fair.

I’m not a big fan of shopping, but Fiona likes to shop and I figured we could walk around for a while before heading home. It was interesting to talk with some of the merchants. Some were old established small local businesses, like Sugar Maple Farms. We talked about this year’s maple syrup season and beekeeping. While they didn’t have any at the festival, and they don’t sell it online, they do sell comb honey. I believe they also visit some of the farmers markets, which several of the vendors do.

Woodbury based Winding Drive was their selling their various jams. They had plenty of samples of very good jam and talked about making jams from local products. The story of their founding is a great small local entrepreneurial story.

Similar to the story of Winding Drive is the story of Bradley Mountain Soaps. They started making herbal and goat milk soaps due to allergies in the family and this has grown into a nice little business.

So, while we didn’t get a chance to hear a good local band, we did get a chance to sample and buy some good local wares. The Meriden Daffodil Festival continues today, so if you get a chance to stop by, visit these vendors.

Catching Up

Another month has flown by, with almost no time to write, so my list of blog posts to write has gotten much longer. One of the things I’m doing at work is teaching elementary school kids how to design and print 3D objects. I probably have about three 3D printing posts I need to write; one on Tinkercad, one on advanced options, and one on working with the kids.

I’m also getting Samsung Gear 2 watch at work. I’m excited because it uses the Tizen operating system. I’ve started looking at developing on that platform, so there is another blog post or two that needs to be written there.

There were several events over the past month that need to be written about. I’m really want to write a blog post about Maundy Thursday, relating it to the great This is Water commencement speech. I went up to Podcamp on Saturday, and there is lots I should write about this, especially as it relates to the social constructs of teaching social media to digital natives. And, there is the 50th Anniversary of the World’s Fair in Flushing Queens. I hope to weave in Ingress and period pieces.

For both of these last two events, there are lots of photos as well, and I’m trying to organize my photos much better. Between autosyncing to platforms like Dropbox, Google+, Facebook and Flickr, running low on space on certain platforms and devices, separating work and personal photos, and having large archives, there is a lot of work to be done.

May and June are looking perhaps even busier. I used to keep an Upcoming Events section on my blog. Perhaps I’ll revive that as I plan for the coming months.

But first, I need to get on with my day. Fiona is going to go hear the Forresters at the Daffodil Festival in Meriden. I hope to get back in time to make a dump run, and then we’ll see what other writing I can get done.

Profiles in Privilege

In his column a couple days ago, Colin McEnroe writes about the Doug Glanville article in The Atlantic, I Was Racially Profiled in My Own Driveway. Colin asks if this was ”Cops Doing Their Job? Or Profiling?”

Colin, along with people who commented on the column, both on the Courant’s website, and on social media sites like Facebook raise some interesting questions. At what point does an officer reacting to a complaint and attempting to enforce an ill-considered law cross over into racial profiling? If the officer was just reacting to a complaint by a citizen, wasn’t he just doing his job? Unfortunately, the ‘just doing my job defense doesn’t always stand up, particularly if it is reinforcing some injustice.

Perhaps the bigger questions start with how much of a reaction is appropriate, independent of whether or not it is called profiling? Instead of talking about profiling we need to be exploring how each one of us contributes to, benefits from, and is damaged by unexplored expectations about the people around us based on their age, gender, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation and other factors.

Perhaps we need to explore how these unexplored expectations fit into laws, rules, regulations, and ways that our institutions operate that benefit one group of people and the expense of another group of people.

Lamentations and The Heights

Incipit lamentacio Jeremiae prophetae

Thus begins Thomas Tallis’ The Lamentation of Jeremiah, a piece we will be singing at church on Good Friday. In has been ringing through my mind the past few days. Today is my mother’s birthday. I would always call her up and talk with her on this day, and on my birthday, I would always get a card from her. Over the years, her beautiful cursive script slowly degenerated and became harder to read as the essential tremors became more powerful.

Last week was public health week and I went to a few health care related events. On Friday was the CT Health Foundation fellows spring retreat and the discussion was about health equity. From there, I rushed home to join Kim and Fiona in heading to the Amity High School production of “In The Heights”. As with all the Amity productions, it was amazing.

The musical was set in Washington Heights as immigrants to our country struggled to get ahead. By and large, I suspect most of the cast of “In The Heights” come from families that came to this country less recently and have gotten much further ahead than the characters they played.

I suspect that most of the students will go on to college or the careers of their choices without the struggles that Nina faced returning to the Heights as the shining student who managed to go to college and then struggled to keep up with the more privileged crew.

The winning lottery ticket and the death of Abuela Claudia struck home for me as I mourn my mother’s death and work on settling her estate. How can my siblings and I do something meaningful with our inheritance?

I remember my days in elementary school when my mother would come in and help. These days, when I write of my mother classmates of talk about how much they liked her, how kind she was. She didn’t come to Williamstown from the farms of Puerto Rico. She came from a farm in Northfield, MA. Of course, growing up, I always assumed that this was the family farm, land my grandfather had owned and had been passed down to him. In fact, someone else owned the land and my grandfather was a worker on the land. Although my ancestors have been in this country for generations, I am perhaps much closer to the new families in the Heights than I realized.

Like Nina, I was a good student, and headed off to college with much fanfare, although in my case it was amidst difficulties at home up on the hill in Williamstown and feeling somewhat of an outcast at school in my hand me down clothes. School musicals were one of those special times to be part of something bigger, part of the school community, and even though I always played bit parts at best, I loved the musicals.

Now, the curtain has come down. We move from public health week, to Holy Week. At church today, we will read The Passion. We will join with the crowds welcoming Jesus to Jerusalem. Shouting Hosanna, Save us, and then change our tune to Crucify Him as The Passion unfolds. I’m rarely one to go with the crowds so this part of The Passion feels less familiar to me. Instead, I find Peter’s denial much more resonant. Loyal, yet clueless the promise to never deny Jesus, and then denying him three times. I’ve done that way too many times.

convertere ad Dominum Deum tuum

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