Never Again

I’ve taken part in two demonstrations in my life. One was political; the other was, more or less, a labor rights issue. Both ended – not well.

The first took place around 1970 at a university in Connecticut. While not a student there, I did know many friends that were and the issue was close to home: the Viet Nam war. The evening rally started out boisterous, but peaceful. Many in the crowd were there only because of its party-like atmosphere. Many others were there to show support for the anti-war sentiment rising throughout the country. The demonstrations were not against our troops, mind you, but against our government’s involvement in a war few understood and fewer, at least of draft age, supported. As the evening progressed, the mood of the speakers became more hostile and their speeches more filled with vitriol. Representatives of the Yippies, SDS and the Black Panthers all took their turns at the podium. Ah, the good old days! Yeah, right. The night became darker and so did the calls for something to be done to “make a point”. Several carloads of “students” were dispatched to a nearby interstate road to block all traffic and hold up their signs. What a waste of time, I thought. What’s the point? What really got my attention, however, was the announcement that the following evening a larger rally would be held and one that would garner regional, if not national, attention. Fires would be set, windows broken, buildings would be occupied. And, when the police and fire departments responded, they would be met by a barrage of rocks and paving stones that were being stockpiled on the roofs of the university buildings. It would be a set-up to facilitate a full-scale riot.

It made no sense. If someone was against a war, why would they start one in their own backyard, or mine, to be more accurate? The speakers had, however, made a tactical mistake in announcing their plans. They didn’t know their audience. While this university was made up of mostly out-of-staters, the audience contained many locals. For this “local,” their plans were not going to happen. You see, as first generation Irish, most of the boys in our family took to one of two callings: the priesthood or the cops. My older brother, my cousin and my brother- in-law, all cops, would all be sent to the university in the event of any riot. A call was made. The following night, as the crowd started to fill in the university square, the speeches became more heated. But, as a group of “demonstrators” made their way up to the roof tops they were met by a welcoming committee. No rocks were thrown and the “leaders” at the podium vanished into the night. Later that evening we learned that someone having a heart attack the night before couldn’t make it to the hospital because of the blocked roadway. They died sitting in traffic. I told myself that I would never attend another “rally” again.

That promise lasted several years. This second time I was part of a group that had followed one of the callings that seemed predestined to our extended family: I had become a policeman.  It was the late 1970’s and our city had been wracked by riots (non-political, but the tactics were similar to what I had witnessed in the 1960’s). A policeman that we all knew to be fair and compassionate had been unjustly accused of brutality (after years in various courts, numerous lawsuits and a marriage that fell victim to the strain, he was eventually cleared in Federal Court). The Chief, bowing to what could have only been political pressure, suspended the cop from duty. We organized a demonstration in front of the police department. Every uniformed officer took part – except the traffic division. To get into Traffic one had to be hand-picked by…the Chief. So, we weren’t too surprised when that group didn’t walk the picket line with the rest of us. No problem. We walked and hooted and a few carried signs.  However, we did not have the right to strike and wouldn’t have done so anyway. Our beef was with the city and department administration, not the people of the city. The Chief was backed by everyone that mattered. We made our point and then it was done. Or, so we thought. Two weeks later every uniformed officer was ordered to report to a remote location for “special training”. We were marched in groups of fifty into a Quonset hut to have “gas training”.  Yep, since we had taken part in a “demonstration” we would learn first- hand how to deal with demonstrations: Gas em’. The doors were locked and the Traffic Division pumped tear gas into the hut. 10 seconds, 30 seconds, a full minute. The gas stopped and the doors eventually swung open. We stumbled out, gasping and puking. The gas vapors rose like steam from our clothes. Everyone had “sunburn” from the chemicals. It was truly a unique experience.

Never, again, I swore, would I ever partake in any demonstration. Not even the gross unfairness of being the only one in our home to take out the garbage would tempt me to march or carry a sign of protest.  Nope, never, never.

Until tomorrow.

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Early tomorrow morning, The Redhead and I will join others from our parish, St. Francis of Assisi, Staunton, Virginia to travel to the Virginia state capitol in Richmond to not only protest the recent attempts by our state government to legalize the killing of children, but to champion and support the Right to Life of EVERY HUMAN: Not-yet-born, just born, handicapped, elderly…Everyone. We are all Children of God. No longer can we stand by to see murder committed before our eyes and do nothing. We will not stand idly by like the Europeans of the 30’s and 40’s as the trains rolled by. We cannot remain silent as the world did when China and Cambodia purged themselves of “unwanted”. We must not remain silent as did so many when the “unwanted” and “inconvenient” underwent the horrors of medical “procedures “in the 1920’s and 30’s – even here in Staunton (ah, the 30’s and 40’s here and in Europe seem to have something in common with the “enlightened” period we are in today).

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Former Western State Lunatic Asylum where “medical” experiments were performed on children in the 1920’s and 30’s

For those that may be tempted to say that a woman’s right to choose what to do with her body supersedes that of an unborn or even a just-born child, let me ask this: would you just stand by while a woman tried to commit suicide? Or argue that it was her “right” to do so? As someone who has risked life and limb several times to prevent such a decision, I could not. You wouldn’t either, I think. Life, after all, is precious.

I’ll report on tomorrow’s efforts soon.

 Pray. For the babies. For the women struggling with these agonizing decisions.  For those that stand up and March for Life.

Pax Vobiscum

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Schola of St. Francis of Assisi, Staunton,VA

Christmas. It is both the beginning and the end. The Alpha and Omega. The fulfillment and the promise.  It is what we let it be.

We are blessed, The Redhead and I. We have our health, our family of heart and blood, a new beginning and hopeful expectation. We have one another. And we have our Faith. None of it has come easily and for that we are all the more grateful for having what we do.

For us, this Christmas is a new beginning in many ways. Our move from Florida to the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia has opened up possibilities and opportunities. We have no idea of where we will call home or what we will be doing in the future but we are filled with a sense of peace. We are, we are sure, where we are supposed to be at this time. There is an expression that I have used over the past number of years, “Before you can know what you have, you first have to lose everything”. We know what we now have.

Our parish church here in Staunton, St. Francis of Assisi, has been a source of comfort, strength and inspiration to us. We decided to attend Mass at the Christmas vigil this year. Before Mass there was a “concert” presented by the Schola of classical musicians and singers. It was a mix of both traditional and religious songs and hymns. No, “Santa Baby”, was not one of them! One of the traditional songs was a Charles Floyd/Yo-Y o Ma arrangement of “The Wexford Carol”. Here it is performed together by Alison Krause and Yo-Yo Ma (click here.)  The rendition sung in church was very close to what was sung by Krause, thanks to soprano, Nancy Hanna. The video’s bagpipe drone section of the music was substituted by the church organ. It was very stirring and served as an excellent example of how contemporary music can be sacred. This Vigil Mass was one of the most reverent we have attended in many years and Father Wamala’s Christmas message was simple: Love God, love one another and find your way to serve.

 

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Christmas Vigil altar St. Francis of Assisi, Staunton

Christmas Day was something different for us: a little baby will do that! Baby Jonah kept his parents hopping, yet Grammy (The Redhead) found a way to lull him to peaceful sleep.

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Sleepy Baby

Some Christmas music was played during the morning.  The organic farm just up the road provided us with a fresh turkey for a special Christmas dinner (I’ll write more about that farm at some later point).  It was truly a peace-filled day.

And now, New Year is upon us. No silly resolutions…at least for me. Yes, I’d like to take advantage of the more temperate (for me) weather and get outdoors more. But, dreams of six-pack abs have been diminished by the reality of a half-keg belly! Our goals are more straightforward: 1) Find a new home (are ya’ listenin’, Becky!), 2) Find a place to resume my furniture restoration interests, 3) Learn how to use my new Nikon 5300 camera that was a gift from the Redhead and 4) Develop a social circle of friends in our new hometown while keeping our family of the heart ever close to us. Doable? Yes, I believe it is.

In closing, here are some more pics from our continuing explorations of the Shenandoah Valley.

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old hamlet of Brownsburg, north of Lexington,VA
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Valley farm, near Lexington,VA
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Blue Ridge Mountain farm, Edinburg, VA
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Edinburg Mill. Detail showing charred timbers resulting from Union General Sheridan’s raid and burning of the mill and town, 1864

 Peace be with you. Thank you for reading. Happy New Year to all! 

Bill

Staunton

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West Beverly St. Downtown Staunton

It’s been nearly a week since we made the trek from Jacksonville to Staunton, Virginia to prepare for our relocating there in about six weeks. Skirting the effects of hurricane Florence turned a nine hour trip into 15 driving hours through Georgia, up into Tennessee and finally slipping over the mountains into Virginia from the West.

Along the way we spoke of what lay ahead of us and what we were leaving. Four years earlier we had had a similar conversation of what we were leaving behind in Connecticut as we drove along I-95 toward The Bold New City of the South. We said we would make a home that would be our “forever home”.  As singer-songwriter John Gorka wrote, “the old future’s gone”.  Apparently, this bold new city requires a sensibility different than ours.

Here, friends were made, acquaintances, too. Some were lost, some just recently made. Some know, too, that this is not their “forever home”.  Our reasons are mostly the same: too much heat, traffic and violence. There is also the feeling that something better is possible, if only a chance is taken.

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Our cross mountain conversation centered on what was most important to us. Not just now, but what has always been so: Family, of blood and heart, a sense of purpose and a sense of belonging to and in a place and a shared Faith.

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St. Francis of Assisi Church

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How odd, then, that by moving we hope to better have these things. The Redhead and I will be closer to “the kids” and our Connecticut friends. Staunton is also closer to northern Tennessee than is Jacksonville, making it easier to still be close with some of our family of the heart who will be leaving here, too.

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The Shenandoah Valley in many ways reminds me of the western Ireland of my heritage: rolling hills dotted with cattle and the abandoned homes of those that once worked the land, all in the shadow of the nearby mountains that, like those in Eire, also witnessed a bloody, never forgotten, conflict.  Yet, there is a gentleness to the land that has been smoothed by time.

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Abandoned cabin, Churchville,VA

The main purpose for our trip was to find a rental property to settle into as we explored and learned the area. It turned out that finding something we liked was not as easy as we had imagined. But, after a few days a very nice condo-type apartment in the town of Waynesville, about 20 minutes from Staunton, was found and secured for our arrival in early November. After taking care of a few more business matters we spent the rest of our week exploring the area and enjoying an afternoon at the Blackfriars PlayhouseStaunton certainly has no shortage of interesting things to see and do.

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Staunton Arts Center

Each day, now, we pack a little more. Boxing what we’ll need immediately and sorting it from those treasures we cannot part with but may not see again for a year. It is a strange experience.  We know that we both are resilient and optimistic and our prayer for guidance is simple: “Lord, let us know what You want us to do and give us the courage to do it”. Who knows what’s in store for us? It’s all part of a plan.

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All according to plan, Swoope, VA