Friday, October 22, 2010

How May I Offend You Today?

I woke up to the television report of Juan Williams’ firing by NPR after voicing an opinion on FOX’s “The O’Rielly Factor.”  It is my understanding that this NPR news correspondent turned senior news analyst makes regular appearances on FOX news, which in spite of its “Fair and Balanced” tagline, is known for its general right-wing, conservative political stance. NPR, on the other hand, is a non-profit, member-based media organization, operating on mostly (98%) private donations or non-government sources, and it has a left-leaning, liberal reputation. That Williams maintains objectivity for one organization and voices opinions on another does shine a spotlight on his credibility. And according to the NPR Ombudsman, Alicia Shepard, this was not an isolated incident. Williams was already walking a fine line.

First let me say, I don’t believe Williams’ comment about an underlying fear of Muslims on airplanes dressed in religious garb on its own warranted firing. It was an honest admission and may have voiced a fear shared by many Americans since 9/11; however, I do believe the comment was ill-advised, and it pandered to the O’Reilly audience. In other words, it wasn’t news reporting or analysis, and it really wasn’t even opinion. It was a personal admission that supposedly violated NPR’s code of ethics as it illustrated and may have even promoted a prejudicial stereotype.

“News analysts may not take personal public positions on controversial issues,” said NPR CEO, Vivian Schiller.

If this is truly the case, how and why did NPR tolerate Juan William’s appearances on FOX news in the first place? And why wasn’t he fired for previous statements he’s made publicly? Further, there are other NPR correspondents who voice opinions on other networks. Are they the next to be fired?

It’s amazing to me that there’s anyone left out there with the balls to voice an opinion without being slapped with a politically incorrect label.

My blog is benign politically, for the most part, and that’s because as an independent voter, I abhor partisan politics. That doesn’t mean that I completely refrain from voicing political opinions and that some of my non-political Internet postings have not been offensive to some.

For example, recently I posted a photo of a white male streaker, which I happened to snap during the half time show of the local high school’s homecoming game. I didn’t have my telephoto lens and the runner was clear across the field. So, while I did manage to get a shot of him in frozen motion, in the 5-1/2” x 3-1/2” snapshot, his number-4 shaped figure measured ¾” x ¼” and the only clear anatomical details visible were his bent elbows and his left knee. It’s impossible to make out a nose or whether or not he was wearing a cap—and there was certainly no evidence of genitalia or even butt-crack. Regardless, I received a message indicating that there was concern among the high school faculty that I had posted “naked photos of a minor” on the Internet and it made them uncomfortable. The person who wrote to me didn’t want me to get in trouble, so I said, “thanks for the heads-up” and removed the photo.

Hey, I didn’t know it was a “minor!”

I heard the streaker was caught and there was talk about charging him with far more than an “indecent exposure” rap. It was alleged he’d have to register as a sex offender for his homecoming prank. I don’t know whether or not this is true because frankly, it’s an outrageous a charge and really hard for me to believe. But if it is true, my opinion is that it’s a major injustice to this minor and a gross misinterpretation of the law.

Five minutes after the streaker photo note, I received a comment on another homecoming photo I’d posted, which was of a white girl dressed in costume as a black woman. The comment said this costume was “racially insensitive” and also asked why they didn’t have a black girl play this role. Gotta say, I didn’t see that one coming. So, lest I be responsible for anyone else being offended, I took down that photo too.

I thought back to 20-some years ago when I dressed up as Oprah for Halloween (and Mike was Phil Donohue). I painted my freckly pink skin chocolate brown, wore a dark-haired wig and big earrings. And since Oprah was in one of her heavy phases at the time, I added a pillow to my middle. It was a long time ago and probably before the height of politically correct watchdoggedness, but I don’t remember anyone saying my costume was racially insensitive. I do remember an African-American friend at the party told me I “passed for a sister in every way—except for the blue eyes, baby!”

We’re supposed to go to a Halloween party tomorrow night and I’m sitting here staring at my tall black witch hat. I wonder if wearing it tomorrow might offend supporters of Christine O’Donnell, the republican senate candidate from Delaware who infamously proclaimed in a recent television commercial, “I am not a witch. I’m YOU.”

Hmmmm, I can only imagine how many people were offended by THAT statement—especially in light of her exposed resume misrepresentations and the accusation of her using campaign funds for personal expenses.

I can honestly say it is not my intention to offend anyone by what I write or what pictures I post; however, if you do find me offensive, than all I can suggest is that you get over it and move on. With my fiftieth birthday looming over me like a waning moon and the life lessons I’ve just experienced, I really don’t give a damn.

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Tuesday, October 19, 2010

The Life of Jeremy Izzo: Threading the Eye of a Needle

He lived for 29 years. No one believes it was long enough. And yet, he lived. Boy, did he live.

Jeremy Izzo’s funeral was one of the most profound and moving experiences of my life. I’m home now—returned to an adult world from a few days in my childhood surroundings and among childhood friends/family. But after an intense few days spent with people I love and amidst grief so thick it clogged my throat and threatened my ability to breathe, I’m having a hard time readjusting.

There are so many things I don’t know and can hardly explain; however, I know one thing for certain. I am changed.

Since the moment I learned of my dear friend’s son’s passing, everything around me felt different. I call it a “death haze.” I’ve seen it before—like when my parents died—or when I lost my father-in-law. . . or when my beautiful, 20-year-old niece suffered a fatal heart attack.

Jeremy also had a heart attack. He had a genetic disorder called “Marfan syndrom.” Marfan’s affects the body’s connective tissue, and it emerges during puberty.  People who have it are typically quite tall, with elongated features—long limbs and thin fingers. I remember when he was 12 and he came to Sandy Point Resort along with his mom and dad, and brother and sister. I marveled at this extraordinarily tall young man—far taller than his parents—who spent every waking moment on the basketball court.  “Wow,” I said to his mom. “You’ve got a real jock on your hands.”

It wasn’t long after that when Jeremy, already a basketball star, collapsed on the court. When Marfan’s was diagnosed at the age of 13, the doctors told his mom “he had the heart of a 75-year-old man.” He would never be able to play competitive basketball again.

Although his heart was also breaking with disappointment, Jeremy did not let that stop him from living. This amazing child, who faced a wall that could have stopped him in his high-tops, did not allow that wall to crumble down upon him. He became the first student coach at his high school, Nazareth Academy. He was such an inspirational figure they named an award after him: “The Jeremy Izzo Love of the Game Award.” This is given each year to a senior who demonstrated a true spirit of love for the game and inspiration to the team.

Before landing a head coaching position at Joliet Catholic Academy, where he also taught history, Jeremy went to the University of Illinois. There he was the student manager under such big names in the world of Illini basketball, as Lon Kruger, Bill Self and Bruce Weber. There was definitely a buzz in the funeral home when Weber showed up to pay his final respects to his close friend, Jeremy. In fact, the place was filled with athletes and students whose lives Jeremy had touched. The line of people snaked around the lobby of the large funeral home and I watched as his family stoically stood in a receiving line for over five hours.

The next day, Joliet Catholic was closed and its students were bused to the church in LaGrange.  Their solemn, cherubic faces lining the stairway—the pathway for the casket—broke my heart. This enormous, exquisite church was filled to the rafters with mourners, all there to support this lovely family. Voices sung out in spite of the tightened throats and tears flowed.

Jeremy’s mom asked me to stand at the podium and deliver a letter she had written to her son, which she had worked on late into the night. In spite of her overwhelming grief, she put together a eulogy containing such strength and beauty, I felt it did justice not only to her son’s spirit and accomplishments, but it also was testimony to all of those who loved him. “Jeremy’s mom, Laura (Santos), asked me to read this letter . . . and it is my honor to do so,” I said into the microphone. And with a deep breath and a pounding heart, God’s grace enabled me to read her letter to the thousands of tearful eyes looking back at me.

I can’t tell you what it feels like to lose a child. I do, however, know the pain of losing someone whom I love with all my heart. And I have learned to understand the lessons the dead teach us. I’ve learned to believe that death is what comes at the end of a life and that funerals and eulogies are meant to celebrate that life—in spite of our grief. When we remember our dead loved ones, I feel it’s their way of reminding us to celebrate our own lives—while we are still living them. And it’s our responsibility to live them well.

The amount of effort Jeremy’s mom and dad, step-dad, brother, sister and young wife put into the arrangements was extraordinary. There was an impromptu candlelight vigil organized within hours of his passing; there were poster collages and slide shows, and even an Illinois State Police escort for the funeral procession. And that letter! How my friend found the courage and the strength to put together those powerful, heartfelt words can only be accredited to faith in a higher power.

Jeremy has left behind a wonderful legacy of a short life very well lived. His efforts to make the most of each day clearly showed he knew how to thread the eye of a needle. I pray his family will see this gift each day in the bright blue eyes of his one-year-old daughter, Addison Faith. And I know she will hear stories of him throughout her life.

To anyone interested in contributing to the Jeremy Izzo Trust Fund to help support the education and wellbeing of young Addison, please contact me (or hit the above link) for more information. Meanwhile, please keep this family in your prayers . . . and also, remember to hug your children as much as possible.

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Sunday, October 10, 2010

GROWING Old Together?

Mike and I celebrated 21 years of marriage tonight. Not just marriage. GOOD marriage—the kind any romantic dreams about. It’s the kind that begins with a mutual physical attraction, and then leads to a pursuance of good nature and a copasetic sense of humor. It’s followed by an undeniable passion and (perhaps) even to acts defying common sense.

Getting married is called “taking the plunge” for a very good reason. And I believe one can be either happily or unhappily married to understand this vernacular phrase. Trust, I thank God each day for my lucky fortune in first meeting Mike and then having the courage to marry him. And I can say without hesitation, that taking the plunge with this man is the luckiest and smartest decision I have ever made.

Meanwhile, last year when we started waking up each morning and telling one another what hurt (“Aargh, my feet!”; “OH! My hip joints.”;  “Ouch! My back!”) my husband and I believed we had discovered what it truly means to grow old together:

It means telling one another what hurts.

And now, as we continue raising two beautiful teenage girls and face challenges of which we were warned—but couldn’t have possibly understood until we met them head-on—today, I believe we were reminded once again of a way to embrace each moment.

Today as I was getting ready for the morning’s soccer game, I learned that one of my oldest and dearest friends had just lost her son. When she phoned to tell me of his death, my mind went numb and clouded with grief.  I couldn’t form words to comfort my friend.

Are there any such words?

And then, out of nowhere came my daughter. Her arm was around me at once, and before she even knew what happened, her grave look of concern expressed that she was there to help no matter what. And in spite of the extraordinarily stressful few weeks she had just faced at school, and the soccer game waiting for her, that’s exactly what she did.

Clicking off my cell phone, consumed in grief and struggling with uncertainty over what I had said or what I was supposed to do, I told my daughter what happened. She instantly hugged me and said, “It's okay Mom. You’re such a good friend.”


I studied my own blue eyes looking back at me and tried to focus. She's fifteen, I thought, and I'm on the verge of turning flippin' fifty. I've been trying to teach my daughters the value and importance of friendship all their lives, and all I could say in response was: 

“Am I?”

I believe that today I reflected upon not only what it means to grow old . . . but also upon what it means to grow up. And ultimately I can’t help but ask—in Jeremy’ name—Is there ANY question at all about how much we love our children?

God bless you and keep you, Laura, and I’m so sorry for your loss.

Tuesday, October 05, 2010

If You Can See This Without Glasses, Don’t Bother Reading It

I don’t know how else to express this: It SUCKS going blind.

For some forty-odd years, God blessed me with perfect, 20/20 vision. And then I crossed the bridge into the world of MIDDLE AGE, and suddenly, my arms weren’t long enough to hold words in print far enough away to see.

When it first happened, I had a vision exam and was told, much to my disbelief, that I STILL had 20/20 vision. “This normal aging change in the eye's focusing ability, called presbyopia, will continue to progress over time,” said the optometrist. And I’m not sure I saw it clearly, but I think he was wearing a smirk when he said it.

True to the diagnosis, my condition has progressed over time. And for the past seven years, my ability to read the fine print has deteriorated to the point of being book blind. Simply put, I can’t read ANYTHING up close without wearing glasses.

My daughter increased the font size on my text messaging device; however, I still have to hand it to her to read to me unless I’m already wearing glasses. Problem is, I don’t need the glasses—and can’t see with them—for anything besides reading.

(Although lately, I’ve found that I also wear them while cutting and eating my food).

I admit that I used to laugh at my dad whenever he stretched out his arm while attempting to read something like a newspaper or a report card. And I couldn’t understand why every pair of glasses he had was held together with black electrical tape. At first I thought it was because he was employed as an electrician, and my siblings and I grew up believing that anything and everything could be fixed with black electrical tape. Later, however, I learned that his glasses fell out of his front pocket every time he leaned over and the repeated abuse caused them to break. Rather than buy a new pair, he repaired them.

I, on the other hand, have a collection of reading glasses large enough to provide clear vision to a small town. I try to keep them in every potential reading venue in my home—and, of course, carry them in my purse and in my car. Usually, there’s a pair on top of my head and another hanging around my neck.

And yet, damn it, more often than not, there’s not a pair in sight when I need them . . . at least I pair that I can see.