Editor's Note

Me and Lindsey Vonn on a Mountaintop

I learned to ski in Are, Sweden where Lindsey Vonn won the bronze medal in the world championship downhill, the final race of her skiing career this weekend. She’s tenacious, and I admire her determination and all out performance.

There were no crowds cheering me on as I tumbled down that mountain for the first time. My Swedish guides knew I’d been cross country skiing but seemed unaware that there are no mountains in Illinois. They chose a nice, high, wide mountain with a scenic view to help me remember what they considered the basics. Alas! I’d forgotten how to snowplow. Teaching me how not to fall took the entire afternoon (which is rather short during February that close to the North Pole). But like Lindsay, I kept getting up and was back out on the slopes the next day. After a couple of days on safer trails, I was able to keep up with my friends. Persistence wins, every time!

— Read more about Lindsay here:

Editor's Note

Celebrate Mother’s Day as Reality, not Idealized Perfection

FoterTulipMothersDayHere’s the deal.

I’m not a mom. Yet. I want to be, but my husband and I have been walking through the perils of infertility on our way to parenthood. It is most likely that we will adopt or become foster parents. Or just the best godparents, aunt and uncle our fifteen nieces and nephews could ever want.

So Mother’s Day is a little tricky emotionally. Not quite as much as it might be for women who have recently miscarried, like one of my friends or this particular rabbi who would really, really like us to tone it down. And she’s at least half-right. There’s a lot of pink, a lot of painful reminders about what isn’t. What isn’t in our arms, what isn’t the way we’d thought it would be.

But then there is what is. An awesome husband. Understanding parents. Sweet in-laws. Four sisters and two sisters-in-law who are amazing mothers. A new sister-in-law with her own wonderful, charming mother. As I said before, FIFTEEN nieces and nephews.

So I celebrate that, even as part of me mourns. It doesn’t help to pretend that the holiday isn’t happening. There will be a lot of chocolate and flowers floating around this weekend. I’m excited to visit and share the holiday with my sister and my mother, and we will be having some of that chocolate together. But it would help to acknowledge that motherhood is a bit more complicated than often portrayed in popular media and in our churches.

For one thing, not everyone has a mother to celebrate. One of the searing memories of my mother’s childhood is being forced to make a Mother’s Day card after her mother died. In her day, that’s what you did in a first grade art class, apparently, whether or not you had anyone to receive your folded paper gift. There are mothers who generously give their babies to adoptive parents and foster mothers who are mothers for the moment. And then there are the people who bear the scars of mothers whose abuse still costs them and can not be celebrated.

There are mothers who triumph against the weight of their destructive family histories, and mothers who struggle to lose that baby weight. There are mothers who find themselves pregnant, and single, and lost, and mothers who love being pregnant way more than parenting. Mothers who love the baby part and others who rock the teen part and mothers who just juggle the best they can until their kid learns to juggle too.

Sometimes we have this picture of motherhood that does not involve vomit or blood or meetings in the principal’s office. All of those things seem to happen to most mothers at some point. They also happen to teachers, who get an entire national week of appreciation (often organized and facilitated by the school’s mothers). One single day in May hardly seems enough, and it isn’t. We can never tell our mothers that we love them too often. We can never try hard enough to honor them through our behavior and accomplishments.

But we also can not forget the women who aren’t yet, and may never be, mothers. We must not forget the mothers who have buried their children, and those who are waiting for them to come home. We can acknowledge the mothers facing challenges they never expected. We can remember those who are mourning the death of their own mothers. We can count our own blessings, and open our arms and hearts to others.

Photo credit: zenera / Foter / Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Editor's Note Reflections

This is What Heroism Really Looks Like

rogiro / Foter / CC BY-NC

The extraordinary bravery of Antoinette Tuff  intersects with an interesting time for America. As we prepare to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington, it’s tempting to list our many national political failures and the continuing systemic discrimination and endemic poverty that undermine our founding principles. But then a woman like Antoinette Tuff steps into the shadow of Rosa Parks and rocks our perception. Just as Parks was not the first black person who refused to move on a bus in Montgomery, Tuff is not the first person to ever avert a shooting. But many are cheering how Tuff responded to the dangerous, gun-toting man in front of her with a patience and compassion born of faith. Parks was also a woman of faith, though hers was more stubborn and impatient to achieve justice. Her faith led her to challenge an unfair system of discrimination. As Jeanne Theoharis reports in her fabulous biography The Rebellious Life of Mrs. Rosa Parks:

…When the driver ordered them to give up their seats, no one moved. Getting agitated, the bus driver said, “You all better make it light on yourselves and let me have those seats.”

Parks reflected to herself on how giving up her seat “wasn’t making it light on ourselves as a people.” She thought about her grandfather keeping a gun to protect their family. She thought about Emmitt Till. And she decided to stand fast. “People always say that I didn’t give up my seat because I was tired but that isn’t true. I was not tired physically, or no more tired than I usually was at the end of a working day… No, the only tired I was, was tired of giving in.”

Though she had been an activist for years, Parks had no idea or plan that her resistance would lead to a 382 day boycott that brought the Rev. Martin Luther King. Jr. to worldwide attention and ended legal segregation. Likewise, Antoinette Tuff could not have anticipated a media whirlwind or a call from President Obama, but what would our world be like if we all followed her example and became “doers of the word and not just hearers?”

Editor's Note Reflections

Writing and Responding to the Boston Bombings

Photo by Greg Wake, via flickr CC 2.0
Photo by Greg Wake, via flickr CC 2.0

It’s been quite a week. Much has been written about the tragedy of the Boston Marathon and the drama of pursuing the suspects, with great reporting and commentary by fine writers such as Amy Davidson, Emily Bazelon and Megan Garber. Boston College grad Amy Poehler turned her advice vlog post into a reflection that sometimes it’s ok not to follow the media storm; sometimes we have to find the balance between following current events and giving our eyes and hearts a rest.

There is wisdom in that advice. We can choose what we read and watch, our sources and our depth of engagement. But it’s almost impossible not to stumble into this story right now and not be moved by the heroism and the tragedy. I’d like to take a moment and highlight some perhaps lesser known voices who brought their unique perspectives to us:

Last Wednesday, Boston Globe columnist Yvonne Abraham wrote a piece entitled In grieving city, one can’t help but think ‘what if?’ in which she traces the near misses of marathon participants as well as Boston residents and concludes with this:

Terrorism is only effective if we let it freight everyday choices with debilitating significance. And so, the best way for those preserved by luck to honor the deaths and injuries of those whose choices led them to that one cruel spot is to keep living as if there is nothing to fear.

But in a grieving city, a city full of second thoughts, that seems like too much to ask right now.

In later columns, Abraham explores the grief, fear, and civic pride of Boston’s Muslim community, and makes the connection between the victims’ families from Monday’s bombing and a family still quietly grieving for a victim of 9/11. Her work will slide back behind the Globe paywall tomorrow, so check it out now or sign up for subscription to support more great writing.

Today is Sunday, so it seems very appropriate to mention Susan Brooks Thistlewaite, who examined the role of belief and tragedy in her On Faith articles for the Washington Post. She encouraged us to look for the helpers, seek peace with the eyes of a child, and recognize that a state of grace is not triumphant but grateful.

And finally, on a much lighter note, there’s Boston’s own Annie Cardi, who paid tribute to writers from the Boston area in her weekly feature Friday Fifteen. Every week I’m astounded by her book reviews in fifteen words or less. They are concise and witty and marvelous. This week she posted while under municipal lock down. While her reviews aren’t specific to current events, her humor and commitment are a fine example of Boston Strong.

Kudos to Ms. Cardi and all these fine writers. Thank you for your words.

Achievements Editor's Note

A Capella Glorious

Congrats to Caroline Shaw on her Pulitzer for music… Ashley Fetters at the Atlantic has a nice write up with some good links. A capella groups amaze me with their power, and it’s nice to see young musical talent recognized for daring, avant garde work.

I’m quite aware of the irony of writing this post about vocal music even as I skip choir practice. But my neck and shoulder pain have flared up so I’m going to spend the night stretching out kinks, and reading.

I’ll have more soon on all the female Pulitzer winners and runner ups…

Editor's Note

It’s All Barbara’s Fault…

…or actually Joan’s.

I’d been tossing around the concept of this blog for a few weeks when I sat down yesterday morning with coffee and a copy of  the June 2010 Smithsonian. New Yorker dance critic Joan Acocella contributed a great profile about Barbara Morgan which explores the photographer behind the iconic image of Martha Graham dancing in Letter to the World. The picture is also called The Kick… you can look at it in the Smithsonian article but you’ve likely seen it many times. It was used as part of the design for the commemorative stamp in honor of Graham and probably in every high school history text book that bothers to mention American art in the twentieth century.

The great writing of the article hints at a brilliant, temperamental artist unafraid to bend others to her will for the sake of art. She labored alongside luminaries like Graham and Georgia O’Keefe but her life and work remain in the shadows. I wondered why, and I wanted to do something about it.

A web search yielded very little, though apparently if you name your daughter Barbara Morgan, she’s going to do something interesting because I also learned about an astronaut and a country music songwriter. A visit to my local library also turned up a civil rights leader by the same name, but no biography about the woman who co-founded Aperture magazine.

I did find a Wikipedia biography that cites actual books but omits the fact that she and her husband had at least one child, a fact I gleaned from their grandson’s gift of some of her work to UMassAmherst. Kendra Greene has written a nice summary of Morgan’s accomplishments that museums and galleries apparently use freely.

All that is lovely, but I wonder what it was like dragging around a Leica in the thirties and forties… and what she would think of our digital world. I’m hoping to visit the Library of Congress and read some of what Morgan herself wrote in Aperture and for her various books. I’ll keep you posted…