The Shoes

FeaturedThe Shoes

No one told us about the shoes.

Truth be told, we didn’t know much about the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum. My colleagues and I at the Department of Education were too busy. Busy with our new jobs. Busy in the heady Washington scene. After all, we were political appointees of newly-elected President Bill Clinton. 

The Secretary of Education, Richard Riley, revealed in a private moment that he thought his Deputy Secretary, Madeline Kunin, should have had his job. As a feminist, an immigrant, and a Jew she successfully ran for governor of rough-hewed Vermont three times. Like many survivors of the Holocaust, Kunin’s political courage developed in her core at an early age. She voluntarily lobbied for better education, health care and reproductive rights as a young stay-at-home mother. 

Like a hen with her clutch, she rounded up the staff at Education and arranged for a special tour for us of the Holocaust Museum before its grand opening in 1993. At first I thought she’d lead the group of Assistant Secretary level who’s-who’s. After all, Madeleine Kunin’s name is among those carved into the granite exterior of the Museum. But no, Deputy Secretary Kunin accompanied us staffers on the bus.

As a group, we were from all parts of the country. Some knew people from education circles. Some knew each other from the Clinton campaign. Our clucking enthusiasm escalated as we gathered in the Hall of Witness.The Museum staff beamed. We, their initial visitors, crowed about our staggering first-look. The architecture appeared contradictory: industrial and elegant, light and shadow, wide and narrow. Initially the exhibits were background to our huddled getting-to-know-you conversations rather than observations of incomprehensible evil. We skimmed family narratives, peered into replicas of boxcars and camp barracks, listened to eyewitness recordings.

At some point the way narrows, and Museum visitors have no choice but to crowd into a shadowy passageway. It’s meant to replicate the cramped trains and camps. Then all at once our eyes adjusted to a large dark room illuminated by several downlights drawing attention to the floor.  Shoes. A field of shoes. Men’s leather wingtips, women’s pumps, children’s oxfords are all piled up in an erratic display of magnificent personal remembrances. My stomach cramped. And then I saw them. Baby shoes. Tiny Mary Jane’s like I used to wear.

It wasn’t imagination that told me what happened to that child. The proof was all around me: the photos, the documentation, the accounts of survivors. The shoes told the story. The Jews wore their best apparel in the forced-leaving, believing they were being transported to a better place to live, not a place of torture, starvation and extermination. 

Shoes confiscated from prisoners at Majdanek, Poland Concentration Camp (photo: US Holocaust Memorial Museum). 60,000 Jews were exterminated at Majdanek between October 1, 1941 and July 22, 1944

I hung onto the railing and wept.

Sixteen years later two of my grandchildren, ages ten and twelve, and I traveled to Barack Obama’s Inauguration from our hometown Chicago. At a visit to the Holocaust Museum they followed the life of a brother and sister in a special children’s exhibit. When we got to the shoes, they whispered.

“Are those hers?”

“Are those his?” 

The Trouble with Harry

FeaturedThe Trouble with Harry

“The Trouble with Harry”,  a 1955 Alfred Hitchcock black comedy about a dead body, tickled my mother’s macabre sense of humor for years. In the movie, a group of five small-town oddballs try to keep Harry’s dead body hidden. After they bury Harry, they dig him up and re-bury him five separate times to try to solve the mystery of his death. Each has a story about why they think they killed Harry. In the end, a kooky doctor pronounces that Harry died of a heart attack.

I don’t recall my mother ever going to the movies, but she joked around about “The Trouble with Harry” and loved watching Alfred Hitchcock films on TV. The movie isn’t funny by anyone’s standards, except my mother’s. She couldn’t wait to crack open the new issue of the New Yorker every week and show us the latest Charles Addams cartoon. Charles Addams, creator of the Addams Family franchise, concocted neither violent nor diabolical characters. They were goulish goofs, like their dark-humored animator. And, like my mother.

The New Yorker Jan. 25, 1958. Charles Addams

About the time I became aware of my mother laughing about dead people, the nuns were teaching my sisters and me the Latin Requiem Mass to sing at Cathedral funerals in downtown Indianapolis. The quaint practice of using children to sing at Catholic funerals developed in the Middle Ages with boy choirs. Females were not allowed to participate publicly in sacred music until the mid-19th century. I attended thirteen Catholic grade schools and the nuns in every single one managed to squeeze rehearsing the Requiem into the girls’ weekly schedule.

At the funeral of the father of triplet girls who were in my third grade class, the eight year-old daughters processed up the aisle behind their father’s casket. White veils shadowed our bewildered choir faces as we peered over the pews and chanted the Requiem in Latin, Eternal rest grant him, O Lord”.

It’s as if we wished the dead father a deep dark sleep.

Leading up to the day of the funeral, the shock of a young father’s death did not escape nervous chatter. I sensed my parents had questions about how he died. Perhaps that’s the case with every death. Like Harry, isn’t the first thing we ask, “how did they die”? And don’t we always wonder if there was something suspicious about the end of a person’s life? All closed-door gossip was put to rest with the triplet’s father in the clearing at the Requiem Mass.

In the 1970’s the Catholic Church decided to celebrate the living dead, shining in God’s light forever, as well as lament the finality of the deceased’s eternal rest. My mother had a low opinion of her Catholic Church, but approved of celebrating souls living forever, perhaps floating around in the light of the cosmos, like Charles Addams’ characters.

I’m no longer Catholic. However, influenced forever by the nuns and my mother, I accept the mystery of the two seemingly contradictory notions in the Requiem.

Requiem aeternam dona eis: eternal rest grant them. 

And,

Lux æterna luceat eis: let eternal light shine upon them.

Featured

WGN Interview with Bob Sirott: “Campaigning then vs. now”

Regan Burke is author of “In That Number: One Woman’s March Up From the Streets of Protest To The Halls of Power and Beyond” and political organizer. She’s worked in the campaigns of Adlai Steve…

Click to hear 10 minute interview: Campaigning then vs. now

From left, President Donald Trump, first lady Melania Trump, former President Barack Obama, former first lady Michelle Obama, former President Bill Clinton, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, and former President Jimmy Carter and former first lady Rosalynn Carter participate in the State Funeral for former President George H.W. Bush, at the National Cathedral, Wednesday, Dec. 5, 2018 in Washington. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon, Pool)

the Before Times

the Before Times

Is there life after covid-19? The latest reports say we’ll never be rid of it. Every week In the past two months at least two people I know have come down with the virus. All fully vaccinated.

When a friend recently revealed that she can’t remember what the shutdown was like. I reminded her she’s still working from home. Working remotely could be on the life-after-covid list if your definition of life-after isn’t back-to-normal. I recommended Elly Griffiths latest novel, “The Closed Room.” In that book, the protagonist, Ruth Galloway, receives a voicemail from a prime witness coughing up an urgent message to call her. When the call came in, Ruth was stocking up on toilet paper and cat food at the supermarket. By the time she returned the call, the witness had died of covid.

At the beginning, March 2020, dramatic shutdown rules came on too fast. As I sauntered toward an afternoon celebration at my neighborhood church, I waved to one of the pastors dashing toward the redline.

“Headed home! The church is shutting down,” he shouted.

“What? Everything? Even the exercise classes?”

“Everything. Starting tomorrow.”

I whispered the news to a circle of friends, as if it were a secret.

“All our classes will be on Zoom,” one said.

“What’s Zoom?” I asked.

“I don’t know,” she said.

After covid, conversations are peppered with “before covid” and “before the pandemic.” My favorite, “in the Before Times” sounds like an era. The Before Times. There’s a definite marker.

Before covid I attended church and had spontaneous lunches with friends. During covid and now after covid, Sunday is a day like any other. No church. No ad hoc “let’s grab a bite”. Time, no longer marked by ticking off a schedule of events that includes travel, is measured by brushing my hair before I click on my Zoom square.

Indoor group amusements proliferated for a time until the phrase “super-spreader” caught fire. I felt immune for life after triple vaccinations and a mild case of covid. But these days I read my immunity has waned  and a new variant is out to get me.

At my first indoor group event post-shutdown, a lovely friend aimed her big red pursed lips at my cheek.

“Nooo! I can’t do that!” I said.

Partiers who had bragged incessantly on Zoom chats for the previous two years about mask-wearing, lining up for vaccinations and social distancing, embraced and kissed as if covid had been eradicated. In order to protect myself from this affectionate mob, I sat down. It worked for a while until latecomers greeted me with a drapey hug.

I left the party when I could no longer muster up the necessary social graces to keep friends at arms’ length.

At the Goodman Theater recently I had a slight panic attack when the usher said they no longer require vax cards, only masks. I didn’t fear catching the virus. I feared theater bosses were presuming vaccinations don’t matter. Or, don’t work.

Oh for the simple worries in the era of the Before Times!

Me and Jeremiah

Me and Jeremiah

Anti-abortion evangelical Christians use the scriptural, “The Call of Jeremiah” to defend their idea of fetal viability at conception. It goes something like this:

“Before I formed you in the womb I knew you…”

Frankly, those words take my breath away. I believe in a higher power most days and simple words like those give life to the marrow of my dry old bones. I can feel their power shimmy up and down my spine. My life has meaning if for just one moment of each day I know that spirit, that entity, whom I sometimes call God, has known my name since the beginning of time. 

Nothing in those words equates to the government denying women (and men) the right to choose when they wish to become parents. 

Christian mystic Richard Rohr teaches “The marvelous anthology of books and letters called the Bible is all for the sake of astonishment—not “proof” or certainty!” He says we don’t read for information but for transformation.

I’m not meant to get explanations from scriptures on how to support my point of view. I’m meant to be astonished. On more days than not, I accept the mystery and power of that astonishment without explanation, without questions, without answers. On some days, like when my body needs medical attention, I dig for certainty and absolutes, even demand them. I throw the spirit of mystery out the window and root around in the soil of black-and-white thinking.

Every week this summer I wake up feeling like Supreme Courts-federal and state—are bludgeoning me with a baseball bat. Their traditionalist interpretation of the Constitution coincides with literal  interpretations of the Bible. Prayer in the schools. Public funding of religious education. Dismantling the administrative state of consumer & climate change protections. The license to freely carry any weapons anywhere. Denying reproductive freedom. These and other contrivances are biblically-based ideas embraced by 41% of Americans who believe Jesus will descend on Earth in the flesh by 2050. Yeah. Really.

Christian zealots in every age have found signs that we are in the end-times as described in the Book of Revelation. In my twenties I belonged to a cult that looked for modern signs of the Apocalypse. We were convinced the arrival of branch banking and credit cards signaled the end was near. Globalism was then, as now, a sign. If we had today’s Supreme Court, they’d take up consideration of banning those. The World Council of Churches constituted a fulfillment of the end-times prophecy of a one-world religion. Ecumenism was shunned since it relegated Christianity an equal to other religions. I escaped that cult with a staggering amount of information that took years to dump. 

Now comes word  about how excited the 41% religious warriors are about the war in Ukraine—another fulfillment of the prophecy of the second coming of Christ. 

I know. I know. Who would believe such wacky stuff?

But is it such a leap from my belief that my existence was known eons before I was born? 

Happy Birthday Roger Ebert

Happy Birthday Roger Ebert

(Wait a sec, isn’t he dead?)

Roger Ebert would have been eighty years old this week. It goes without saying he died too soon (2013), meaning we wanted to hear more from him.  We wanted him to give us more. What a fine legacy that his written voice lives on for those who have the yearning to listen. I am grateful to his widow, Chaz Ebert for vitalizing Roger through RogerEbert.com.

Roger often wandered around on the page about death, even before he was diagnosed with a lethal form of oral cancer. He easily interspersed philosophical musings into movie reviews. His essay on Apocalypse Now ends: “The whole huge grand mystery of the world, so terrible, so beautiful, seems to hang in the balance.”

When I recently regained semi-consciousness after hip replacement surgery, I thought I was dead. Where am I? Where’s my body? What are you doing to me? Why does this hurt so much? Why am I so cold (a sure sign I was dead)? All these questions were in me but I’m not sure I was vocalizing them. Sounds of voices swirled around me. Were they talking to me? Or was I just thinking they were? It may not naturally follow that a person is consumed with thoughts of death after such an experience, but it certainly is true in my case. Spending a month of recovery reading about death was not my brightest idea, until I found consolation in old blog posts that Roger wrote towards the end of his life. Excerpted here are some of his words.

Happy birthday,  Roger.

Go gentle into that good night 

Roger Ebert May 02, 2009

Roger Ebert was the film critic of the Chicago Sun-Times from 1967 until his death in 2013. In 1975, he won the Pulitzer Prize for distinguished criticism.


I know it is coming, and I do not fear it, because I believe there is nothing on the other side of death to fear. I hope to be spared as much pain as possible on the approach path. I was perfectly content before I was born, and I think of death as the same state. What I am grateful for is the gift of intelligence, and for life, love, wonder, and laughter. You can’t say it wasn’t interesting. My lifetime’s memories are what I have brought home from the trip. I will require them for eternity no more than that little souvenir of the Eiffel Tower I brought home from Paris.

I don’t expect to die anytime soon. But it could happen this moment, while I am writing.

I was talking the other day with Jim Toback, a friend of 35 years, and the conversation turned to our deaths, as it always does. “Ask someone how they feel about death,” he said, “and they’ll tell you everyone’s gonna die. Ask them, In the next 30 seconds? No, no, no, that’s not gonna happen. How about this afternoon? No. What you’re really asking them to admit is, Oh my God, I don’t really exist and I might be gone at any given second.”

Me too, but I hope not. I have plans. Still, this blog has led me resolutely toward the contemplation of death. In the beginning I found myself drawn toward writing about my life. Everyone’s life story is awaiting only the final page. Then I began writing on the subject of evolution, that most consoling of all the sciences, and was engulfed in an unforeseen discussion about God, the afterlife, and religion

I was told that I was an atheist. Or an agnostic. Or a deist. I refused all labels. It is too easy for others to pin one on me, and believe they understand me. I am still working on understanding myself.

“Kindness” covers all of my political beliefs. No need to spell them out. I believe that if, at the end of it all, according to our abilities, we have done something to make others a little happier, and something to make ourselves a little happier, that is about the best we can do. To make others less happy is a crime. To make ourselves unhappy is where all crime starts. We must try to contribute joy to the world.

Someday I will no longer call out, and there will be no heartbeat. What happens then? From my point of view, nothing. Absolutely nothing. Still, as I wrote today to a woman I have known since she was six: “You’d better cry at my memorial service.”

Read the entire essay at Go gentle into that good night

Photo Credit: Ebert Digital LLC © Copyright 2022

Death by Choice

Death by Choice

What’s a crucifix doing on the wall?

The nurse told me I was in a Catholic hospital. I could have figured that out. I checked into Amita Health Saint Joseph, after all. I assumed Amita appropriated the name for brand continuity. Ok, it’s Catholic, but do they have to display a crucifix on my wall?

A friend came by and said there’s a cross on the wall. 

“That’s a crucifix, not a cross, “ I said.

She shrugged as if it makes no difference. But maybe she just didn’t know the difference. 

“It’s a Catholic hospital,” I said, “only Catholics hang crucifixes. Protestants hang crosses.”

“What’s the difference?” she asked. 

In the late afternoon, the overhead fluorescent from the hallway shed enough light on the crucifix for me to see it from my bed. I said a few words.

Thank you god for replacing my decaying hip with a shiny new titanium rod and ball and clean ceramic joint. 

He didn’t answer. That’s ok. He never does. Specificity was key in my gratitude. I needed to state out loud exactly what just happened to me, to visualize the medical miracle of supplanting the largest joint in my body. 

Jesus’ body hanging there with nails through his wrists and in his crossed feet started to take on a living drama. The nerve block and painkillers from my surgery were wearing off. We were in agony together. I fumbled through the sheets for the control button and banged on it to call a nurse. 

She came. Later than I’d hoped.

“I’m in a lotta pain,” I cried out.

“I have your painkiller. Oh look, your ice pack slipped to the floor. I’ll refill it. Be right back.”

I looked at Jesus.

How could you bear this? I can’t stand it.

I later opened my eyes to Sister Leticia peering down at me. After introductions and medical pleasantries, she fumbled through a sheaf of papers until she pulled out the Do Not Resuscitate form. 

“I’m here to talk to you about your papers. Do you have one of these?” 

“Oh yeah, I have a POLST.”

“You do?”

She thumbed through her pile and pulled out a blank POLST, “Does it look like this?”

“Yes, I’ve got a copy here in my purse.”

We spread my papers out on the bed—what I’d brought and those accumulated a few hours earlier when I checked into the hospital. 

“There it is!” exclaimed Sister Leticia. She found the holy POLST among Amita brochures and post-op instructions.

POLST stands for PRACTITIONER ORDER FOR LIFE-SUSTAINING TREATMENT. It’s a DNR signed by a doctor and witnessed by a third party. Some say it’s too final, a death warrant. Sister clucked with excitement at the sight of my POLST. She could then forego the talk on the tender subject of medical interventions to save my life if I stopped breathing or slipped into unconsciousness. 

Sister Leticia ducked out of sight before I could ask if she, as a Catholic, approves of my choice about my body.

I looked at Jesus. 

He seemed ok with it.

The Day I Turned Old

The Day I Turned Old

My actual (as opposed to official) retirement began the day I walked into Fourth Presbyterian Church in Chicago and asked to volunteer for a few hours each weekday. I’d had a couple of rough years at my final payroller job and I thought volunteering would help lift me into a new way of thinking. Or, more precisely, I wanted a time-filler to keep from obsessing over the aftermath of the soul-crushing previous twenty-four months of my life.

Oh churches! There seem to be so many cries for help, until they try to find a job fit for you. I grabbed the first one offered and plunked myself down in front of a computer in the cubicle next to Vince, a friendly volunteer who was out of work but not yet retired. Our job: clean up the database. 

The database. Every pensioner I’ve met since my stint who looked to the church to help fill the first year’s lonely unproductive hours says the same thing.

“I started with the database.”

Vince knew what he was doing and in fact devised a formula and matrix for our work. I suppose it was simple. If you could pay attention. I couldn’t. At the end of each of my four hour stints, he’d spot-check my work and stay an extra hour or more to correct everything I tried to accomplish. Vince had an advantage—he was good at the game Concentration. He could spot a misspelled name in seconds-flat with his highly industrious mind.

The room next to the dreaded cubicles had been cleared of all furniture. It may have been the size of a football field. For about a year, having been diagnosed with PTSD due to the aforementioned job, my perception of size, space and time was like science fiction, all out of whack. 

One day, I heard an old Frankie Valli tune, “Sherry Baby” seeping under the door from that huge room. Of course I learned all the words—they’re pretty simple—as a teenager and never forgot them. 

“What’s going on in there?” I asked Vince. 

“Sher-er-ree, Sherr-ee, Baby…

“Oh, that’s the old people’s exercise class,” he said.

“Old people?”

“Yeah, ya’ know. CLL. The Center for Life and Learning.”

I didn’t, in fact, know. The church bulletin had notices about CLL but I never thought they were meant for me. Within the next few weeks, each day I grew grumpier and grumpier working on the database.

“Vince,” I said, “No offense, but I’d rather be in that room dancing around to “Sherry Baby” than sitting in front of a computer.” 

“Aw, yes, Regan,” he said, “But would it be as rewarding?”

Rewarding. Now there’s a loaded word. Did I really need to feel rewarded for the hours between sunrise and sunset? How about satisfied? Couldn’t I just feel satisfied?

Or, neutral?

“Vince. I’m logging out today and joining the exercise group tomorrow.”

And that day, that neutral day, is the day I turned old.

Roe

Roe

Well, It’s Happening

Long before the Supreme Court decided that a woman’s right to an abortion was a privacy issue, I helped a few friends obtain illegal abortions. They had no choice. I almost had one myself, but chickened out on the steps of the abortionist’s old row house in Newark, New Jersey.

Prior to the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision, most women I knew had a secret contact closeted away in the flap of her wallet or scotch-taped to a page in her locked diary. The Supreme Court ended that phase of our lives. No longer would we meet in secret and whisper in corners about where to go for an abortion. 

One year I drove a group of friends from New Jersey to a roadside motel outside of Baltimore. There were two girls to a room. It cost two hundred bucks, paid for with babysitting earnings or waitressing tips. Where did I get the abortionist’s name and number? I have no idea. But I do know this: in the 1960s my friends knew I could and would help them.

The Roe v. Wade decision came as a surprise. I had paid attention, written to Washington in support of the decision and sent plenty of letters to the editor. But I never expected Roe to become the law of the land. It seemed preposterous. Born-again Christians had just started flowering in the 1970s. Hell, I was one myself. I even joined a Christian cult. But anti-abortion wasn’t the primary cause at the beginning of the Christian Right movement. They took aim at teaching creationism in the schools and working against ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment. To the Moral Majority, the ERA was—and still is—a threat to what they call traditional family values. And I call traditional patriarchal values.

“We certainly can’t have women exercising the same rights as men!”

In the five decades that the right to choose has been law in the United States, a steady, ever-escalating squall has been battering its shutters. I know women and men who have worked tirelessly to keep abortion legal, as if any day now the Supreme Court would unlatch and reverse their 1973 decision. I never really believed it would or could happen. It just seemed preposterous.

Well, it’s happening.

A leaked memo written in early 2022 by Supreme Court Justice Alito tells us the Court is on the brink of reversing Roe.

Roe was egregiously wrong from the start,” writes Alito.

There are enough conservative judges on that bench to reverse Roe when they vote sometime before the end of the 2022 session. Abortion laws will go back to the states. Contact information will once again be squirreled away in secret places. An underground railroad of frightened teenage girls will stream into Illinois where abortion is legal. And when we send them back home, there’s no telling if they’ll be discovered and arrested for the crime of having an abortion.

As for me, I will make a bed for any girl who manages to find her way to my door.

May Day! Mothering Rough Seas

May Day! Mothering Rough Seas

For a few years, my son and I lived at the Jersey Shore with his stepfather, Jack, on the confluence of a fresh water river and a saltwater bay. The east-west Toms River begins in the swamps of the Pine Barrens, widens and swells its way east, eventually slamming into the Barnegat Bay. Sailors love the Toms River, especially during the summer’s prevailing southerlies.

I am not a sailor. 

In our family, swimming, passed down from one generation to the next, was a right of passage for a three-year old.  Water is in our blood. Our sandy backyard, bulkheaded rich brine that nourished vibrant sea creatures and, in turn, fed migratory bird colonies. Life on the water with my inquisitive six-year old was pure joy.

Jack arrived home one day with a used polystyrene Sunfish trailing his ’65 Mustang. For fifty dollars, the previous owner threw in a booklet on ‘how to sail’. A 1971 ad in Boating magazine called the thirty pound Sunfish the “Volkswagen of sailboats. A perfect learner’s boat” 

I called it a styrofoam bathtub.

Joe and I practiced our new book-learned sailing skills, 100 feet offshore, moored to the bulkhead. On our first untethered day at sea, Joe rigged the sails. We lulled away the dead calm until Joe spotted our German Shepherd swimming our way. As she approached the boat, I stood up, pointed toward shore and shouted “go home!” Which of course she did. She was, after all, a German Shepherd.

The next time Joe and I unmoored, we sailed expertly into the middle of the widest part of the river. We took turns at the tiller, successfully jibing and tacking as the wind took us west. But then we tacked to come back downriver. The sweet southerlies that had funneled us upriver suddenly turned on us like a mad dog turning on its master. The rogue wind bared its teeth. Thunderclouds whipped up the tide. And the sail luffed out of control. We. Were. Trapped.

The boat, too light for wind-churned waters, threw us around like a sea monster. I reassured Joe we were safe since we were both good swimmers. 

“We can’t leave the boat,” pleaded Joe.

“We won’t!” I assured him. But truth is, he’d seen the thought to abandon the boat cross my brow. I could swim to shore with one arm around Joe’s chest but I couldn’t pull the Sunfish with the other. 

Private docks, woods and marinas dotted the riverfront. I spotted a sliver of sand and rowed furiously. We pulled the boat up, tied it to a tree and ran to the door of a stranger who drove us home. The next day the Coast Guard towed our Sunfish home. 

“No markings on this thing,” the officer said. 

“You should name her ‘May Day.’”

At twenty-seven years old, I had no reason to believe motherhood would come naturally. All my choices to that point had been daring, radical, reckless.  Only four years before, I’d taken LSD, left toddler Joe with his father and trekked to Woodstock in a station wagon full of Rolling Rock chugging hippies. I was separated from them on the first night while swooning over Richie Havens’ performance of “Freedom”. During the muddy aftermath, I smoked opium with a stranger and hitched a ride home with him to New Jersey.

Ancestral maternal instincts swelled up out of nowhere that first day battering around in the Sunfish on the roiling Toms River. No matter how afraid I was, I had to show no fear, lest my six year old become traumatized and frightened by open water for the rest of his life. 

“Let’s try again,” I announced one day and we eagerly sailed into the prevailing southerlies on a sunny calm morning. Upriver, nature turned against us again.

“We need help,” Joe shouted in the sea spray. And we beached the boat once more.

Our sailing adventures made for wild-eyed good stories with our friends and family, but I feared my recklessness may have given Joe a subconscious dread of the sea  into adulthood.

I needn’t have given it a second thought. In his fifties now, Joe and his family leave their midwestern flatlands to vacation on tropical seas—snorkeling, bodysurfing and scuba diving. 

But.

No sailing.

Earth Day: Turn It Down!

Earth Day: Turn It Down!

April 22 is Earth Day—a time to celebrate nature and to protect the earth against pollution. April also marks the beginning of the Noise Parade! Excessive noise is an often-overlooked cause of pollution. We are constantly bombarded by excessive noise—from gas-powered leaf blowers and lawn mowers, motorcycles, loud car stereos, barking dogs, helicopters, airplanes, noisy neighbors, car traffic, helicopters, raucous restaurants, back-up beepers, honking horns tied to keyless entry systems, train horns, car alarms…did I mention motorcycles?

Noise pollution is real. Heart disease, high blood pressure, hearing loss, sleep deprivation, ringing of the ears, headaches, and chronic fatigue are more prevalent in acoustically chaotic neighborhoods. Excessive noise is a cause of reduced property values and decreased job and academic performance.

High-intensity sound harms Nature’s ecosystem. It can induce fear, causing species to abandon their habitat. Have you noticed the birds are chirping louder? They’re competing with the constant outdoor din. Since the 1960s, there has been a 16-fold increase in ocean noise—posing a threat to fish, dolphins, and other marine life.

Most noise makers are air polluters. Garden equipment is responsible for about five percent of the nation’s air pollution. An EPA study indicates that a gas-powered leaf blower creates as much nitrogen oxide emissions and volatile organic compounds in one hour as 11 cars being driven for one hour.

What can be done? Speak up. Ban gas-powered leaf blowers. Enforce noise ordinances, especially unmuffled cars and motorcycles. Turn down the decibel levels on fire engine, police and ambulance sirens. Reinstate the federal noise pollution control office. Join the anti-noise cause with Noise Free America: A Coalition to Promote Quiet. 

And for god’s sake, turn it down!