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Posts Tagged ‘memoirs’

My colleague Sandy read this debut of my memoir Now, from Antiquity — tracing my father’s line back to forever.  This reading was part of a larger service on veterans at the Unitarian Universalist Church of the Restoration in Philadelphia. You can the excerpt on YouTube or read the excerpt pasted below that.

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l99Mgj_yGhs?start=1&w=560&

My father was a veteran. He was in the United States Army Air Force during World War II, and since he was blind in one eye avoided being in direct combat.  I grew up seeing old black and white photographs of my father – a broad shouldered young man with curly blond hair – smiling into the camera when he was stationed in New Guinea and hearing my mother’s anxious tone telling me that he crossed the Pacific in an un-escorted ship. Two years ago, on May 7th, 2017, when he was ninety-eight, he passed away. When my father died, it was like a library burned down – his life and wisdom contained that much history.

A year later — thanks to our resident realtor, Chrissie Erickson – I sold the home I grew up in.  His death and the sale of the house prompted to write a memoir titled: Now, From Antiquity – tracing my father’s line back to forever.  For today’s service, I am going to read a part of the memoir where I meditate on the flag he was buried with.

I was always proud of my father, but from an early age I did not trust the American flag. This meditation was written when I began to examine my feelings toward the flag.

There is nothing in the history of the American flag – from Betsy Ross onward – that makes me detest the American flag. It was when I was travelling in Greece – about 20 years ago — that I really appreciated being from a country where women could be independent.

My thinking leads me to the conclusion that I don’t really detest the flag. I am enraged by what it has come to stand for. What angers me is nationalism and the idea that I can only salute one flag. What angers me is when one flag is said to be more important than another. In the eyes of some, I might be described as un-American. But the fact is that the flag represents me too. I’m just skeptical and careful about whom I pledge allegiance to.

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Every American flag does not evoke feelings of anger in me. One flag also evokes great sadness.  My father was a veteran of World War II. His cremated remains – as he wished – were installed in a veteran’s cemetery and members of the military came and did a flag ceremony for him. A very dignified young military man presented me with the flag after he had folded it.  When I got up to give my tear-filled eulogy, I handed the flag to my partner who doesn’t cry easily. It is the image of Barbara hugging that triangular folded flag and crying that I think of most when I recall that day.

Barbara bought me a triangular case – with a wooden back and sides and glass front — to keep the flag in. The flag in its case sits in my home office bookshelf. For an experiment, I brought the flag in the case out of the bookshelf and put it close to me when I do my morning meditation. The Buddhist teacher on YouTube talked about the value of “softening” toward the thing that causes you to feel aggression.

I sat in front of the flag and meditated with my eyes closed. The first thing that I noticed when I opened my eyes is the American flag from my father’s service. It is folded into a triangle in its wooden case with its white stars displayed on a navy background. On closer inspection, I saw that the white stars are embroidered and raised. They rest on a woven navy background behind them. There are six stars displayed. Two are in the top row and four are in the bottom row. Of the fifty stars all together (each one representing a state), these are represented in their blue triangle of night sky.  I see now that the stars are beautiful, brilliant, and limitless. They represent what is known as “the wild mind” in Buddhism, the vastness of what is possible. I felt myself soaring between them in the midnight sky, reaching new heights and then coming back to myself as in meditation I breathed in and out and wished this kind of freedom and compassion for all who encounter the stars of the flag.

I breathed in and out, doing the tonglen “taking and receiving” practice of Buddhism. I breathed in my own feelings of hostility toward the American flag. I breathed out feelings of compassion for myself. Then I breathed in any fear or hostility that might be stirred up in others by the sight of the flag. Then I breathed in fear and breathed out compassion for all who feel compelled to armor themselves with the American flag.

I exhaled the vastness of the white stars in the night sky. I exhaled my journey through the stars and into the higher realms that they inhabit. I exhaled joy. Then I inhaled again, wishing this feeling for everyone who encounters the flag.

Namaste

To learn more about my novel THEY, a biblical tale of secret genders (published by Adelaide Books New York/Lisbon), click here.

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This Halloween we handed out treats and talked to parents to find out if they were voting for Hillary.  We got more than a few vehement “yes” es and as one mother pointed out, “isn’t everyone on this street?” Even one of the little trick-or-treaters ran down the street yelling “Hill-a-ary — Hill-a-ry”!

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As one of the father’s pointed out, he hopes this is as scary as it gets!

 

 

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Just a few weeks ago, the bridge at the foot of my street — which had been closed for renovations for several months — had a re-opening party.  This is the historic Walnut Lane Bridge. Walking down my street to the party, I had a sense of living in a village.  There were lots of Hillary stickers and people of all stripes — and instruments and food too.  We even ran into old friends!

 

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Note:  This review ran this week on the international LGBT radio syndicate This Way Out. Originally, it was published on The Huffington Post.

In reading two memoirs by members of the LGBT community, I was reminded of our similarities and differences. In full disclosure, I have to admit being a fan of the show “Orange is The New Black” — the popular Netflix series. I was delighted when I found out about the memoir Out of Orange by Cleary Wolters (2015; HarperOne). Cleary is the real life lesbian counterpart to the character Alex Vause on the series. Finally, I thought. The book details Cleary’s involvement in the high stakes world of international drug smuggling (very unusual for a lesbian) and her unfolding romance with Piper Kerman (whose experience the Netflix series is based on).

In prose that is brilliant (at times breathtaking), Cleary also offers us a story of regret and redemption. At one point when in jail and thinking about her future, Cleary reflects:

“I could see myself coming back, getting back to work in software. I might be close to forty-seven by then, but I would still have some good years left in me. My whole life wasn’t wasted. Maybe I could even write a book about the whole ordeal and save someone foolish from making my mistakes.”

Wolters father, who she was close to, died while she was in prison. She writes unflinchingly about her ordeals in the violent and overcrowded prison system. But ultimately she takes responsibility for her own mistakes and in the Epilogue apologizes to “generations of nameless families troubled by addiction.” Drug trafficking is not a victimless crime.

I was drawn to Bettyville (2015; Viking), a memoir by George Hodgman because it is a story of a gay man who returns to his hometown of Paris, Missouri to care for his mother when she is in her nineties. The writing is witticism taken to new heights. It’s not hard to see where Hodgman gets his own quirky sense of humor:

“I hear Betty’s voice from the hall: ‘Who turned up the air-conditioning so high? He’s trying to freeze me out.’

And here she is, all ninety years of her, curlers in disarray, chuckling a bit to herself for no reason, peeking into our guest room where I have been mostly not sleeping. It is the last place in America with shag carpet. In it, I have discovered what I believe to be a toenail from high school.”

Hodgman puts his life on hold when he finds his mother doing things like trying to put her sock on over her shoe:

“I am doing my best here. I will make it back to New York, but frankly, to spend some time in Paris, Missouri, is to come to question the city, where it is normal to work 24/7, tapping away on your BlackBerry for someone who will fire you in an instant, but crazy to pause to help some you love when they are falling.”

In the process of caring for his mother, this middle aged man, who is an only child, re-examines his childhood and adolescence filled with secrets and self hate as he came of age in small town America with zero role models for being gay. He examines his own young adulthood, including his relationship with his father. He also reflects on surviving the AIDS epidemic in the years when it swept through the gay community.

When I finished these two very different memoirs, I found it interesting that they both ended up in the same place with adult children taking care of elderly parents. As members of the LGBT community, we are different and but we are also are the same as anyone else. We often have elderly parents and we often take care of them. I chronicled my own journey in Tea Leaves, a memoir of mothers and daughters (Bella Books 2012). We often have pets and they often are important topics in our writings and conversations. We don’t fight for “special rights” but demand human rights.

To hear this review on This Way Out, click here.

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UU author/historian Mark Morrison- Reed comes to UUCR on Stenton Avenue and USG on Lincoln Drive in the Mt. Airy section of Philadelphia

RSVP for UUCR events by Friday,  April 10th — email Desi at  office@uurestoration.us

FRIDAY, APRIL 17TH –at the Unitarian Universalist Church of the Restoration in Mt. Airy 6900 Stenton Avenue, Philadelphia, PA 19150

7:00pm – 9:00 Book Reading – Sanctuary

The Selma Awakening: How the Civil Rights Tested and Changed Unitarian Universalism

SATURDAY, APRIL 18TH — UUCR on Stenton Avenue

10:00am – 12:00pm

Morning workshop session – Fellowship Hall

We Are What We Sing: Diversity in UU

Hymnody

Singing our way through UU hymns from 1861 to today, we will make some interesting and telling discoveries about why we are who we are.

How Open the Door?

We will watch this DVD which surveys the history of race relations from the Abolitionists to Black Power. Following the DVD, we will explore Restoration’s history of becoming a multicultural congregation.

12:00 noon – 1:00pm     Catered luncheon:  $10.00

1:00pm – 3:00pm

Afternoon Workshop Session-Fellowship Hall

Eight Keys to Attracting People of Color to UU

Congregations

This DVD explores Davies Memorial Unitarian Universalist Church’s effort to become diverse.  After the DVD, we will explore what Davies and other congregations, like Restoration, have in common with one another.

The Nature of Racism

We will conclude our workshop with an examination of the nature of racism: how and why it impacts our efforts.

JAZZ APPRECIATION MONTH CONCERT WITH

MONETTE SUDLER AND LADIES NIGHT OUT

7:00- 9:00 Jazz Concert in the Sanctuary

$20.00 admission

(doors open at 6:30pm)

Monnette Sudler – guitar & vocals

NorikoKamo – organ

Luciana Padmore – drums and  Lynn Riley – saxophones and flute http://www.reverbnation.com/    monettesudlersladiesofjazz

Sunday morning  – April 19th – Mark Morrison-Reed will be giving the early sermon at 9:15 at the Unitarian Society of Germantown 6511 Lincoln Dr, Philadelphia, PA 19119

Sunday morning – April 19th – Mark Morrison-Reed will be presenting the sermon at the Unitarian Universalist Church of the Restoration on Stenton Avenue:

11:00am  Worship

“Dragged Kicking and Screaming into  Heaven” Early in the 19th century Universalism swept across our young nation finding a popularity it never again achieved. It proclaimed a truly radical message. Is it time for us to return to the message that God’s love brooks no resistance? Universalism re-articulated for the 21st century.

12:15pm — UUCR on Stenton Avenue

Potluck Lunch/Book Signing – Fellowship Hall

Note:  The following is a reflection that I gave at the Unitarian Universalist Church of the Restoration on Stenton Avenue in  Philadelphia where I am a lay minister. Unitarian Universalism is a faith that encompasses all religious/spiritual backgrounds (including atheism, agnosticism and Buddhism) in a “free and responsible search for truth and meaning”.

In 1965, when events that were part of the voting rights struggle unfolded in Selma, I was six years old.  I must have seen parts of it on television.  I don’t remember.  But I do remember that I was influenced by the Civil Rights movement.

This weekend is the 50th anniversary of the historic march on Selma.  Today is also International Women’s Day, a global day of equality that was started in 1908  by the Socialist Party of America to demand better working conditions for female garment workers.

When I came out, I read a book on the nature of oppression and how it is all related and multilayered.  I see now, in retrospect, that the book just reaffirmed the experiences of my life.

The first in my family to graduate from college, I was  born to a feminist mother when she and my father where in their forties. In my book Tea Leaves, a memoir of mothers and daughters (Bella Books, 2012), I relate a conversation that I had with my mother when she was dying.

“I’d feel better about this if you were fifty. I thought if I waited, I could bring you into a better world. I really thought things would be better and in some ways they were. No one talked about racial equality twenty years before you were born, there was no environmental movement.”

“And no women’s movement.” I met my mother’s unwavering gaze.

My mother was an excellent story teller. One of the stories that she told me was about Vera, a black lesbian she met in her licensed practical nurse training program. Vera was her own person, and she made quite an impression on my mother.

In telling me about Vera, my mother was telling me about her past and also about my future.

The Civil Rights movement and the movement for gay and lesbian rights were and are, in many ways, very different.  There was some homophobia in the Civil Rights movement and racism in the gay rights movement — despite considerable overlap.  For one thing, we have some common enemies as seen in the ongoing struggle over same sex marriage in Alabama.

I was heartened by the response of the young people — of all races — who responded to the hate speech of the protestors by yelling, “We love you.”

It is no coincidence that the country’s first African American President was also our first President to embrace same sex marriage. In President Obama’s last State of The Union address, I was proud to see the standing ovation at the President’s mention of same-sex marriage and that it was led by Representative John Lewis, the important Civil Rights activist. He was in the front of the march from Selma to Montgomery and was among those brutally beaten by the police on what became known as Bloody Sunday.

The African American author, retired UU minister, and noted UU historian, Mark D. Morrison-Reed is coming to Restoration the weekend of April 17th.  In his book The Selma Awakening, How the Civil Rights Movement Tested and Changed Unitarian Universalism, (2014, Skinner House Books), Morrison-Reed examines the UU faith and finds it lacking in its concerns with Civil Rights before the events of the freedom march at Selma catalyzed it.

As a newish Unitarian, it was disheartening for me to read that the Unitarian Universalist faith, except for pockets of true progressiveness, was not that evolved even in the early days of the Civil Rights movement.  Yet, it was interesting to read how the emphasis on racial equality changed, especially after Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr., called for people of faith to join the freedom march.

I am currently involved in Restoration’s Beloved Conversations which provides the space for us to examine our experiences of race and ethnicity. In reflecting on what Selma meant to me personally, I realized that I grew up in an era that taught me that injustice is intolerable.

I came out in my early twenties and fell in love with my partner Barbara, who first met many of you at the local Post Office.  She retired several years ago.  Barbara is modest, but she is also a wonderful drummer and early on in our relationship she was part of a racially diverse group of women drummers and that was an important part of our lives. This undoubtedly helped to shaped my experience along the way.  But the underlying fact is that I am more comfortable with diversity than sameness.

The Civil Rights movement gave birth to the women’s movement and the gay liberation movement.  It also opened the door for many others to be fully human.  There is a saying that we are more alike than we are different.  There is still much more work to be done for racial equality.  And as we work for justice, it’s important to realize that we are working to make a better world for all of our relations and for ourselves, too.

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It has been said that children are our future. This is exactly why we should be concerned about LGBT children and teens — and in fact with any kids who are different in any way. I was strongly reminded about this with two new books that recently came across my desk.

Heal This Way, a Love Story (Hot Glue Press, LLC, 2013), written by the Little Monsters ( the name for Lady Gaga fans derived in part from her song titled “The Fame Monsters”) and photographed by Tracey B. Wilson, is a rare gem of a book conceived by Wilson. As she explains in the preface,

In the winter of 2013, Lady Gaga had to cancel the remainder of her concert tour due to a debilitating hip injury. On the weekend that was to be the Born This Way Ball at Madison Square Garden, Little Monsters from around the world gathered in New York City to celebrate their love and devotion to Lady Gaga and to the community that she has given them. Knowing how anxious they were to let Mother Monster know that they loved her no matter what, I had an idea. A signup sheet, three tweets, and 100 Little Monsters later, Heal This Way was born…

The result is a profoundly touching collection of color photographs and letters — many of them handwritten.

I am eleven years old and You have already changed my Life. I love You because You support people who are bullied everywhere.

Dear Lady GaGa,

I want to thank you for INSPIRING a generation! For creating a message and a platform that changed not only how gay, bisexual and transgender people are viewed and portrayed in the media, but for creating an incredible positive message for people in my community everywhere!

One fan, writing about how Lady Gaga has changed her life, writes:

Probably the biggest way that she had impacted me would have to be helping me accept that I’m a lesbian. Before I heard “Born This Way,” I felt ashamed and longed for something to make me feel proud of this part of my identity. The first time I heard her sing, “No matter gay, straight or bi, lesbian, transgendered life/ I’m on the right track, baby, I was born to survive,” I got chills like she was singing that line directly to me. I haven’t come out to my family and not sure if I ever will; I’m terrified of how they would react if they knew. I have come out to my friends and I’m definitely more open about it to other people and I have Gaga to thank for that.

To read Heal This Way, was for me a, baby boomer lesbian (and, in full disclosure, a Lady Gaga fan) was extremely empowering. In the words of one Little Monster, “You have inspired us to follow our dreams and to try our hardest at things people say we can’t do.”

When I picked up, Coming Around, Parenting Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Kids by Anne Dohrenwend, (New Horizon Press, 2012), I was surprised to see that it was addressed to straight adults of my generation. But then it made perfect sense. These are the majority of the people parenting the next generation and they need help.

Coming Around offers help by explaining what being LBGT means and then acting as a guide of how to be tolerant, accepting, and lovingly guide LGBT children into adulthood.

The author explains:

People often confuse sexual orientation with gender identity. Sexual orientation is about the gender to whom one is attracted: men, women or both. Gender identity has to do with one’s internal experience of being male or female.

The author offers the advice for the liberal and conservative parent of what to say when a child comes out to them. Her basic advice is to tell the child (who may be a young adult) that you love him or her (not that you love them despite the fact that they are LGBT) and that you are glad that she or he told you.

She says:

I look forward to the day when mockery of LGBTQs is viewed as socially repugnant. Until that day comes, there are always bridges that can allow passage from the world view to another. Stand up for your child by interrupting gay jokes that occur in your presence. Listen to your child’s insights and perceptions. By valuing his or her experiences, you build the bridge that maintains your connection.

The author also mentions the importance of connecting with others, and mentions PFLAG (Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays) which is one of the country’s largest ally organizations with 350 local chapters. PFLAG is committed to advancing equality through its mission of support, education and advocacy.

Coming Around gives the sound advice of getting to know your child’s partner, and includes sections on marriage equality, same sex parenting and becoming a grandparent.

While the advice that Coming Around offers may just sound like commonsense — the fact is that this information is not common knowledge in the dominant culture. Coming Around is the kind of book that could change an entire family’s experience of life.

first published in The Huffington Post

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Yesterday my partner and I spent the morning and afternoon at The Philadelphia Museum of Art  seeing the opening ritual in the morning performed by the 7 monks from the Bongwon Temple, the head temple of the Taego Order of Korean Buddhism for more than 1,000 years.

The Korean Buddhist ritual at The Philadelphia Museum of Art

The Ritual was incredibly beautiful and moving.  I’ve been chanting Nam -Ryo – Rengi – Kyo (the Buddhist chant that Tina Turner does on You Tube) for about six months now and no doubt that contributed to my appreciation.

Buddhis ritual at The Philadelphia Museum of ArtLater that afternoon, we visited the Treasures from Korea: Arts and Culture of the Joseon Dynasty, 1392–1910 exhibition.  The exhibition was interesting in that it brought to mind my lack of knowledge about Korean culture.

After I read that there were separate residences for the men and the women in the Joseon Dynasty, I jokingly remarked to my partner that it was nice that everyone that lived at that time was homosexual.  She replied that she didn’t think that was  the case since they had managed to have some children.  It was then that I started wondering about LGBT rights in Korea, North and South, and what it is like to live there.

Korean Buddhist Ritual at The Philadelphia Museum of ArtOn Wikipedia, I found, ” There is no visible LGBT community in North Korea and no LGBT rights movement, although the country’s criminal code does not appear to expressly address same-sex sexuality or cross-dressing.”

North Korea’s official web site states:

 “Due to tradition in Korean culture, it is not customary for individuals of any sexual orientation to engage in public displays of affection. As a country that has embraced science and rationalism, the DPRK recognizes that many individuals are born with homosexuality as a genetic trait and treats them with due respect.”

I found that gay and lesbian life in South Korea is legal but that there is widespread discrimination.
Wikipedia also states, however, that,  “South Koreans have become significantly more accepting of homosexuality and LGBT rights in the past decade, even if conservative attitudes remain dominant. A 2013 Gallup poll found that 39% of people believe that homosexuality should be accepted by society, compared to only 18% who held this view in 2007. South Korea recorded the most significant shift towards greater acceptance of homosexuality among the 39 countries surveyed worldwide. Significantly, there is a very large age gap on this issue: in 2013, 71% of South Koreans aged between 18-29 believed that homosexuality should be accepted, compared to only 16% of South Koreans aged 50 and over.[23] This suggests that South Korea is likely to become more accepting over time.”

Reuters reported last September that Gay South Korean film director Kim Jho Gwang-soo “symbolically married his long-term partner on Saturday, with the couple exchanging vows on a bridge, though same-sex marriage remains illegal in the conservative Asian country.  Both men made clear they were trailblazing in a society where traditional values keep many homosexuals from coming out, let alone pressing for legal approval for same-sex unions.

‘Now people cannot but call us as a married couple as we have had a wedding,’ Kim, 49, told a news conference, holding his partner’s hand tightly before the ceremony got under way.

‘It is important whether or not we become a legally bound couple. But more importantly, we want to let people know that gays can marry too in our society.’

So now I know a few more things about the culture and history of Korea.  In the exhibition, the word “filial” kept cropping up — as in the honoring of ancestors. I strongly related to the concept — having taken care of my mother when she was dying and learning more about my family history and legacy.  I then wrote about this is my book, Tea Leaves, a memoir of mothers and daughters.

It is my hope that Korea holds onto its history and its strong sense of filial duty — and at the same time recognizes that same honor is due to all of its citizens.

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from The Huffington Post

Now that Harvey Milk is on a stamp, I’ll be able to ask for him by name whenever I go to the post office.

05_10_Milk_Stamp_52_LRGThe announcement was made close to the 35th anniversary of the assassination of Harvey Milk, who became the first openly gay official to hold public office when he was elected to the San Francisco Board of Supervisors in 1977.

The news was broken on Twitter by Stuart Milk, the nephew of Harvey Milk.

The Harvey Milk stamp is being heralded as perhaps depicting the first openly gay LGBT figure.

However, Harvey Milk is not the first openly-gay LGBT figure to be on a stamp.  One notable exception is James Baldwin. 

Baldwin was perhaps ambiguously out but he was the author of Giovanni’s Room, one of the first gay novels. He is known for his identity as an African American writer, as a gay writer and as a great literary figure in general. When his stamp was issued in 2004, my partner, now a retired postal worker, came home with stories about a co-worker who asked her if Baldwin was indeed “that way,” a customer who said he would take any other stamp other than the one with Baldwin’s face on it and another customer who said,  “He was a great man. I had the honor of meeting him once.”

My partner’s response to hearing that Harvey Milk was going to be on stamp was one of wonder.
“Wow.  That’s deep… I wonder what people will have to say about that.”

Undoubtedly some will be thrilled, others repulsed and, unfortunately, a great many will be indifferent.

The fact that the issuance of the stamp will offend the religious right is a cause for celebration in itself. But Harvey Milk is a great American hero.  And although we were on opposite coasts and I was in high school when he was elected to city supervisor, he is someone who influenced my life greatly. The fact that Anita Bryant, the former Miss Oklahoma who was best known perhaps as an outspoken opponent of homosexuality, was on the national news denouncing Harvey Milk meant that there were others like me out there.

Before the movie Milk, the box office hit starring Sean Penn, in 2008, there was a documentary called The Times of Harvey Milk that I saw when it first came out in 1984.

I had a ticket for the premier showing at the Roxy movie theater on Sansom Street in Philadelphia. I was 25 and had come out a few years before. Inside the small but cozy theater, the audience was comprised mainly of gay men, with a few pockets of lesbians here and there.

The Times of Harvey Milk opened with Diane Fienstein, as the first female President of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, announcing that San Francisco City Supervisor Harvey Milk and Mayor George Moscone had been assassinated. As the documentary progressed, with the narration of Harvey Fierstein, the delightfully husky voiced gay icon (and one of the few openly gay actors at the time), I became aware of an unusual sound coming from all around me.

I realized then, that it was the sound of men, sitting in the dark, softly crying.

In those days my activist life was divided into two camps, women’s liberation — which is where most of the lesbians were — and the gay movement, at that time still predominantly men.  Often, I was the person who brought the two groups together in my activist community in Philadelphia.

Today gay men and lesbians are working together — and we are a force to be reckoned with.

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Like many LGBT Americans, I was profoundly moved by President Obama’s recognition of gays and lesbians in his inaugural speech. Even my straight-talking retired postal worker partner who usually has something to say about everything (when it comes to gay rights, her usual comment is “it’s about time”) sat quietly in front of the television taking it all in. It is about time and it is still amazing.

There were quite a few historic firsts at the inaugural ceremony, but the highlight for me was the inaugural poem by Richard Blanco, the first Hispanic and the first openly gay poet to recite a poem at a presidential inauguration. For me a poem is a slowing down of time, an opening, and a good poem always presents a teaching moment, that is once in a while life-altering, and leaves you experiencing the world differently.

There were two such moments within Blanco’s poem, “One Today,” and with the help of thecamera panning the immediate crowd, we can see the immediacy of those moments on the listeners. The first was when, Blanco recited the words “…. on our way to clean tables, read ledgers, or save lives– to teach geometry, or ring-up groceries as my mother did for twenty years, so I could write this poem.”

The camera panned to Michelle Obama who looked up from her poetic reverie and opened her eyes when Blanco mentioned his mother. The look in her eyes was solemn, one that appeared to be based in compassion and identification.

The second teaching moment occurred closer to the end of the poem when Blanco was reading the words, “Hear: the doors we open for each other all day, saying: hello, shalom, buon giorno, howdy, namaste, or buenos días in the language my mother taught me…” And then the camera panned to Virginia Rep. Eric Cantor. Shortly after the phrase “buenos dias,” he twitched. In all fairness, Cantor may have been twitching all day — it was cold and he couldn’t simply sit in his warm home and turn off the television like so many other Republicans undoubtedly did. And it could have been worse. If Blanco had read a poem with explicitly gay content, Rep. Cantor might have done more than twitch.

I had been wondering, how Cantor and Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-Ohio) could stand there and listen to Blanco’s poem and not be moved by it. I was profoundly moved. I was the first in my family to go to college and I was close to my mother. When I began to write my book Tea Leaves, a memoir of mothers and daughters (Bella Books 2012), I was primarily a poet. And even though I haven’t written poetry in years, I still have poetic sensibilities.

I wrote Tea Leaves to make some sense of losing my mother to cancer and being, along with my father, one of her primary caretakers. I also explore my working class background in this book, in particular writing about grandmother’s life who was a spinner in a textile mill in Philadelphia.

It is because of my class consciousness that Blanco’s poem resonated so strongly with me. Many immigrants have taken jobs that others would not do and whether it was picking fruit, packing meat, bagging groceries, or taking care of other people’s children they provide the services that this country could not do without. Then if they are “illegal,” they are deported or at least must always live in fear of deportation. Don’t we owe it to them to provide them with citizenship?

This week, both parties plan to introduce overhauled immigration legislation and they have the opportunity to do the right thing. Cantor, predictably, is solidly against immigration reform. His record speaks for itself. In 2007, he voted to declare English as the official language of the United States. In 2006, he voted yes on building a fence along the Mexican border.

More recently, Cantor was consistent in his conservative views in voting against enforcing anti-gay hate crimes in 2009, and in 2012 stated that taxpayer money should never be used to “kill innocent life” and in 2011 he voted in favor of banning federal health coverage that includes abortion.

There has been much talk about how Republicans lost the Hispanic and female vote in the Presidential election — and how they have to appeal to these groups of voters if they want to have a future as a viable party. While I have found these discussions interesting, I am not personally invested in the Republicans improving their lot.

But I do think that Republicans should do the right thing on immigration reform.

And if they do, then maybe some credit can be given Richard Blanco’s poetic moment.

In short, we are more alike than different. And if you doubt that, remember Blanco’s one word sentence,

Breathe.

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The Obama administration has declared that November is National Family Caregivers Month. The proclamation declares that family member, friends and neighbors dedicate countless hours providing care to their relatives and loved ones.

When my mother was diagnosed with fourth-stage cancer, I put aside everything that I could and went to take care of her. I was 34 at the time and my mother was 74. She died a little more than 17 years ago. I chronicled my experience in Tea Leaves, a Memoir of Mothers and Daughters (Bella Books, 2012).

My personal journey of caretaking my mother in her final months coincided with my curiosity of learning more about my working-class background. Despite my belief (rooted in strong denial) that she would somehow, miraculously, get better, I knew I was hearing her stories for the last time.

Being the first person in my family to graduate from college put a wedge between me and my background. I was only marginally in touch with my best friend who I had grown up with. We had grown apart. She had married young and was in an extremely conventional marriage to a man (think 1950s). A few short years later, I came out as a lesbian (very 1970s, but this was actually in the early 80s).

I was okay with the fact that I had nothing left in common with the friends I grew up with. But I had a yearning to understand more about my own history. So I read up on the labor movement and asked my mother questions about my grandmother, who as an adult had been a spinner in a textile mill in the Kensington section of Philadelphia:

“When your grandmother was a girl, she worked in a candy factory,” my mother said, slowly and carefully.   I remembered that this was not the first time she had told me this.

“What did she want to do?”

My mother looked at me as if I were insane.

“No one asked her what she wanted to do. She just went out and worked.”

As a result of taking care of my mother in her final months, I learned more about myself. In coming to accept my mother’s mortality, I came to an acceptance that my own life was finite, also, giving me greater insight into the things in life that were important to me. My mother had a keen sense of humor, which undoubtedly got us through:

Increasingly, my mother’s moods changed from minute to minute. On my last visit, she was laughing, telling me that she almost put her straw in the urinal which was sitting next to her water bottle on her nightstand. Then, less than ten minutes later, when the HMO nurse came, my mother told her she wanted a black pill. I was sitting in the room with my mother when the nurse turned to me with an exaggerated expression of shocked concern on her face, and said, “Did your mother tell you she felt like this?” I shrugged. My mother, in moments of excruciating pain, had told me she wanted to end her life. But there was no legal way to do it. A black pill, or suicide pill, was illegal in Pennsylvania and almost in every other state. When my mother suggested that I could put a plastic bag over her head, all I could do was suck in my breath.

click here to read the entire article in The Huffington Post — including practical caregiving advice

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