We Need To Talk!

Dear Readers and Friends!

Many of you have confessed to sharing with me a certain frustration with the dismal state of American public discourse. However you describe it (“ideological bubbles” “political correctness” “sound and fury signifying nothing”) it is a problem nationally, within our communities and our churches, even within our own families.

Having spent a year or two cursing the darkness, I joined forces with my friend and co-conspirator Mel Pine to create a blog called <a href="https://trulyopenmindsandhearts.blog/" title="Truly Open Minds and Hearts".

KateBraestrup.com will still be the place to go to find out about my writing events and other news, but Mel and I hope that Truly Open Minds and Hearts (I call it To-moh or "Toe-Moe" in my mind) will serve as a genuinely inclusive platform for civil, fearless, friendly discussion about things that matter—to us, to you, to our country and our world.

We will begin by posting essays on topics of interest to us once a week or so, in the hope these will prove interesting enough to inspire comments and discussion. We proceed in the confidence that disagreement is not a disaster, and that the “ free and responsible search for truth and meaning” that has been the calling card of Unitarian Universalism is and ought to be a challenge. It is, nonetheless, worthwhile, indeed, crucial. Not to mention, dare we say it, fun!

To keep it fun, we’ve created and posted a Code of Conduct that all of us will endeavor to follow (keep it civil, play the person not the ball, no profanity, no shouting-in-CAPS…)

There will be worship resources (poems and prayers), links to articles on the world-wide web that caught our attention or challenged our minds, and —we fervently hope—your thoughts, ideas, poems, discoveries and stories.

Please consider pitching in—if you have something to say and especially if you have found yourself stymied and blocked of late, think about contributing to TOMOH.

There are instructions for proposing and submitting your stuff on the site.

Bless you all!
Kate

He’s Still A Drummer…

My son’s Peter’s band, Five of the Eyes, is going on tour to promote their new (and already rave-reviewed) album “Venus Transit” and coming soon to a venue near you!

9/30 Portland House of music, 25 Temple St, Portland, ME 04101

10/13 Sherman Showcase, 522 Main St, Stroudsburg, PA 18360

10/14 Graperoom, 105 Grape St, Philadelphia, PA 19127

10/15 Whytestone Creative, 4903 Osage St, College Park, Maryland, MD 20740

10/17 Buzzbin, 331 Cleveland Ave NW, Canton, OH 44702

10/18 The Hub, 1209 Main St, Cincinnati, OH 45202

10/19 The Doom Room, McCarty Lane, Lafayette, IN 47905

10/20 Progtoberfest, Reggies, 2105 South State St, Chicago, IL 60616

10/23 Be Here Now, 505 N Dill St. Muncie, IN 47303

10/24 Evening Star, 8810 Niagara Falls Blvd Niagara Falls, New York, NY 14304

10/26 Radio Bean, 8-12 North Winooski Ave, Burlington, VT 05401

10/27 Uncharted, 103 Market St, Lowell, MA 01852

10/29 The Space, 295 Treadwell St, Hamden, CT 06514

Marriage Ends

Once upon a time, I was a parish minister and one of my elderly (90-ish) parishioners, “Sally,” was dying. I went to visit her in the hospital, finding her semi-comatose in her bed, surrounded by an encampment of family members and with her not-dying but very old and dignified husband beside her.

The husband—I’ll call him Fred— had not left his wife’s side for two days, sitting upright in a chair, holding her hand and refusing all invitations and entreaties to go home to bed, if not for the night then at least for a nap.

I suggested that if the Fred wouldn’t go to bed, maybe the bed could come to him? The nurse agreed. We found a cot and wedged it in between the wall and Sally’s bed. Upon discovering that the cot wasn’t high enough to allow Fred to be able to comfortably maintain his grip on Sally’s hand, we stacked another mattress on top. Fred clambered aboard this slightly precarious perch, lay down, took hold of Sally’s hand and grinned blissfully. 

I was standing at the foot of what was now—sort of—a double bed. I was dressed in clerical garb. Fred was still wearing his customary jacket and tie. Sally looked lovely in a white hospital gown draped in a white blanket. There were bouquets in the vicinity. 

“Yeesh, this looks like a wedding!” said one of the grandchildren.
Fred and Sally’s daughter’s eyes at once lit up. “That’s what we’re going to do! We’re going to have a wedding!” She ran out into the hall to collect stray grandchildren who had wandered away during the cot-moving exercise, roped in a few nurses’ aid and a doctor or two. One of the grandchildren strummed a guitar.

“In the presence of God and of this beloved congregation,” I performed a renewal of vows and, “by the power vested in me by the State of Maine” pronounced that Sally and Fred were still married. Fred kissed the bride, who smiled. 
Sally died the next morning. 

In the National Review Online, Wesley J. Smith has written an essay about the increase in “couples euthanasia” in European countries that have adopted an affirmative right to end your own life.

In a story guaranteed to evoke “ahhhs” from the sentimental and perhaps a recognizant twinge from anyone who is in love with his or her spouse, he describes an elderly couple who died “holding hands, surrounded by loved ones.” 

They were both 91, seriously old even by 21st century standards. 

“The couple’s daughter told The Gelderlander [translated]. “The geriatrician determined that our mother was still mentally competent. However, if our father were to die, she could become completely disoriented, ending up in a nursing home. “Something which she desperately did not want. Dying together was their deepest wish.”

When my first husband died, I had our four young children to think of, so the thought of joining Drew in death could not be entertained for long…but it definitely did occur. So I get the “deepest wish” thing, truly. 

Fred would get it, too, I think. After all, he had loved, honored and been faithful to Sally for sixty years, but even if their marriage had made them one flesh, they remained two souls and so they were parted by death.

And that sweet old Dutch couple in the story have been parted by death, too.

“Unless, of course, you can literally believe all that stuff about family reunions ‘on the further shore,’ pictured in entirely earthly terms,” C.S. Lewis wrote in his autobiographical A Grief Observed: “But that is all unscriptural, all out of bad hymns and lithographs. There’s not a word of it in the Bible. And it rings false. We know it couldn’t be like that. Reality never repeats.”

The notion that we can (let alone should) die together with our loved ones and then spend eternity in a celestial version of earthly reality is as absurd and, in its way, as selfish as the idea that we can take our money with us when we go. That the Dutch wife might become completely disoriented, might end up in a nursing home was not a reason for her to die in some sort of refined pharmaceutical sutteee.
For all her children’s sentimentalizing self-exculpation, the fact remains that a double-euthanasia has freed them from the duty (and, if only they could see it this way, the privilege) of comforting their mother through the grief that is the privilege of love. 

 “Et voila,” Smith writes. “…Before you know it, the children of elderly parents attend and celebrate their joint euthanasia killings–instead of urging them to remain alive and assuring them that they will be loved and cared for, come what may.” Euthanasia, he argues, inevitably corrupts our ”perceptions of children’s obligations to aging parents and society’s duties toward their elderly members.”

It also extends an already-endemic and self-indulgent DiCaprio/Winslet identification of eros rather than agape with the highest, best manifestation of love.

A good friend and fine warden, Michael, demonstrated agape for me when his wife died. He was devastated. And yet, within minutes of her death, when a kind nurse at the hospital tried to tell him “she’ll always be with you,” Michael gently corrected her. “She is with God.”

For all my anguished yearning to somehow be with Drew after he died, he was with God. It was not possible for me to go with him nor for him to remain with me. Instead, it was my privilege to grieve for him and to carry his memory into the life he did not get to live.

I frequently assure my present husband that he is obliged to outlive me, but if Simon instead predeceases me, then as his (hopefully really aged) wife I will yield him into God’s embrace and mourn him fiercely, for whatever time is given me to live.

It is living on and loving more, not dying-too that honors love.
Fred, by the way, grieved strongly for his Sally. It hurt to lose her; it was—as C.S. Lewis would say—a kind of amputation. And yet, he lived on. Sure, he needed more help as he got even older. He moved in with his daughter and son-in-law… and then he started dating again.

My Boy’s Band and Maternal Inadequacy (Updated!)

I’m not a music person.

I’m just not.

Yes, I used to play the piano. Still do, when I happen across one, but otherwise? I barely even listen to music on the radio anymore.

I wouldn’t have said that my children’s dad was especially musical either, yet somehow we managed to produce Peter.

PeterDrumming

Who has been working on, working with, working toward music—specifically the drums—since he was about eleven years old.

Is he any good at it? I don’t know. Even when I do listen to the radio, I listen to classical (specifically Baroque). Left to my own devices, I would never listen to whatever it is that Peter’s band—Five of the Eyes— does. I know that when I go to hear his band play, I am mesmerized. All the wild energy that made Peter a challenging boy to have in the house or for that matter in one’s uterus (he was always Peter, right from the get-go!) make him compelling on stage, Or is that just maternal devotion talking?

Some of you, dear readers, must know about music. So I figured I’d provide this link to Five of the Eyes’ new album’s promo page and maybe those with ears to hear will understand him as his mother can’t.

Oh, by the way—there are two guys who look like Jesus in the band? Mine is the taller Jesus.

UPDATE: Their album has received some rave reviews, including one that described my son thus: Drummer extroardinaire Peter Griffith holds down the backbeat with his impeccable timing, precision playing and a Tazmanian Devil level of energy that propels the songs forward at a breakneck pace.

That’s my boy—a Tasmanian devil, right from conception.

Sermons and Events, Fall 2017

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Sunday, August 27 Sermon, Lincolnville Center (ME) United Christian Church
Thursday, September 14th “Two Old Cops And An Angel” with Mark Nickerson and John Ford
Gray Library, Gray ME 6:30 pm
Sunday, September 17, Sermon, Lincolnville Center (ME) United Christian Church
Sunday, September 24th Sermon, Lincolnville Center (ME) United Christian Church
Sunday, October 8th Sermon Lincolnville Center (ME) United Christian Church
Sunday, October 22nd Sermon Lincolnville Center (ME) United Christian Church
Sunday, October 29 Sermon First Universalist Church of Pittsfield, ME
Sunday, November 19th Sermon Lincolnville Center (ME) United Christian Church
Sunday, December 10 Sermon Lincolnville Center (ME) United Christian Church

Sermons and Talks, Spring ’17

Sunday, April 2, Lincolnville United Christian Church, Lincolnville, ME 9:30 AM
Saturday, April 8, Maynard Book Festival, Maynard (MA.) Public Library 3:30 PM
Sunday, April 16, Easter Service, First Universalist Church of Rockland, ME. 10 AM
Sunday, April 23, First Universalist Churches of West Paris and Norway, ME 9 and 11 AM
Sunday, May 7, Unitarian Universalist Church, Castine, ME 10:00 AM
Wednesday, June 7 Think and Drink Community Discussion Panel, Portland, ME 6:00 PM
Sunday, June 11 Lincolnville United Christian Church, Lincolnville, ME 9:30 AM
Sunday, June 18 First Universalist Church of Pittsfield, ME 9:30 AM
Sunday, July 16 First Universalist Church of Rockland, ME 10:00 AM

Modern Love with David Hlavsa

For reasons that are probably obvious to readers of Anchor and Flares, David Hlavsa’s book, Walking Distance: Pilgrimage, Parenthood, Grief and Home Repairs (Michigan University Press, 2015) found a place in my heart. Now, Hlavsa’s New York Times essay, “My First Son, A Pure Memory,” is featured in this week’s ‘Modern Love’ podcast.

http://www.wbur.org/modernlove/2016/08/24/my-first-son-a-pure-memory-modern-love

Emmy-nominated actor Sterling K. Brown does a beautiful reading of the essay, followed by interviews with NYT editor Dan Jones and with David and his wife Lisa.

Walking Distance was chosen as the Gold Winner for Family & Relationships in Foreword Reviews’ 2015 INDIEFAB Book of the Year Awards, and as a Finalist in the Next Generation Indie Book Awards 2016. It’s available through Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and at independent bookstores.

I Love Dallas

I am here with three Maine troopers, a sheriff’s deputy from Knox County and at least once municipal officer from Saco. When the members of our party introduce ourselves to Dallas police officers, they say “Maine!” in wonder, then thank us, with heartbreaking, humbling sincerity.

We were shown around the scene of the shooting by the Texas Highway Patrolmen and officers from neighboring agencies who were providing scene security so their brothers and sisters from the DPD could attend the ceremonies. It is smaller than I thought it would be, even weirdly intimate—there are the pillars we saw on television, chunks of concrete removed by the shooter’s weapon, small pings marking the places where police officers’ sidearms returned fire, right over there is the 7-11, where Officer Mike Smith was gunned down. Shattered windows and a small bulge in the building’s skin show where the bomb went off. There’s crime scene tape lying around on the sidewalk, and I have to restrain myself from gathering it up to take with me, as a kind of relic.

Four funeral services in as many days, with each of the dead receiving the temporary resurrection a memorial service can provide: we get to hear the stories, see the family pictures and share the same space with the widows, mothers, fathers, siblings, comrades and the little kids gazing wide-eyed at the sudden, surrounding sea of police officers (five thousand or so at a rough estimate at each of the funerals I attended) from all over the country.

I am trying really hard not to be angry. Trying not to snap when a relative eagerly asks, “Did you get to see Obama speak?”

“I got to hear Chief Brown speak,” I reply.

I got to hear Officer Krohl’s girlfriend speak. One of Krohl’s nicknames was BWG —Big White Guy. His girlfriend is small, and Latina. “He ignored prejudice to love me,” she said. “And now hate has taken him away from me.”

No one expressed the anger that I feel. This is more than okay—it’s inspiring; every cop and pastor (Republican Christians all, of course) expressed forgiveness, empathy, the desire to understand and to love.

After the services, we lined up in rows outside the churches, in our thousands. I don’t know what the others thought about as they stood in silence, at parade rest.

I thought about how much I love these people—all of them. And how unutterably proud I am to be allowed to stand beside them. We stand for as long as forty minutes, however long it takes for the family to emerge from the church. The buglers play “Taps.” There is an amplified sound of radio static, then the dispatcher’s voice is calling out the unit number. “Car Four One One…Car Four One One…” All of us, in our thousands, are waiting, illogically, for the answering voice. It does not come.Attachment-5390CB6D-1652-487D-8860-B0D57B164254Attachment-C80BA69C-4209-4EBE-A187-8D23C9C9E0D2

What My Daughter Said

This is the speech my daughter gave at the Maine Law Enforcement Officer’s Memorial last month!

“Good morning,

My name is Anne Griffith. I am the youngest of four children of Maine Warden Chaplain Kate Braestrup and fallen Maine State Trooper Drew Griffith.

It is a privilege to stand with you, and honor my father today. On behalf of the families of the fallen, I thank you all for being here.

As the youngest of Drew’s children, I was three years old when my dad died, too young to form clear memories.

I did not have much of a chance to experience him as a father, and my memories of him are vague and uncertain.

What I had, growing up, were stories — stories of his intelligence, his kindness, and his humor— told to me by those who had known him well: my mother, and my siblings of course, my family…and my blue family, too. Law enforcement officers who worked with Dad supported us, shared our sadness and kept us close over the years, caring for him by caring for us. They, too, gave me my father in stories.

And so, two decades later I am still a part of that blue family.

In 2014 I worked as a Reserve Patrol Officer. During this time, I thought often of my dad. I got a glimpse of him—his sorrows and satisfactions— through performing the tasks that he performed; I placed handcuffs on offenders while they fought me.

I performed CPR on two victims… and could not save them.

I helped in preventing the suicide of a mentally ill woman.

For the past year, I have worked as an Investigative Analyst for the Computer Crimes Unit. During this time I have assisted in a variety of cases from child pornography possession to child molestation offenses.

Because of the nature of my work for the Unit, I can definitively point to particular cases and know for certain that I made a difference in the outcome of the investigation. There is a satisfaction in this that my father felt…and I have felt it, too.

I know there is no greater sense of honor and purpose than participating in the protection of innocent human lives. This is what my father died doing.

Besides working with an incredible team, I am fortunate to work closely with those who knew and loved my father- Lt. Glenn Lang who helped to carry his casket, Sgt. Laurie Northrup who once told me her last conversation with my dad was of how much he loved his wife and children; Computer Analyst Andrea Donovan, who worked as a State Police Dispatcher and heard my Dad sign on 10-8, and sign off 10-7.

I am able to know my father through them, just as they are able to know him through me.

April 15, 2016 marked the 20th Anniversary of my father’s line of duty death.

To mark the day, I went for a run.
A sergeant of the Maine State Police K9 Unit, and a recently graduated State Trooper ran with me, in the area where I grew up—and Dad’s patrol area.

We ended up at Marshall Point Lighthouse in Port Clyde, where a bench dedicated in my father’s name is placed. The sky was clear blue and the air was crisp with salt from the nearby ocean.
Neither the sergeant nor the brand-new trooper had ever shaken my father’s hand, or laughed at his jokes. Still, they are his family, they are his brothers. They ran with him by running with me.

The law enforcement family is large; it crosses state lines and international borders. Though my siblings and I lost our father, we did not lose our connection to his legacy, nor the family he became a part of when he joined the Maine State Police in 1986. I know who my father was because I know you—his brothers and sisters in uniform, intelligent, good-humored and kind—who continue to serve and protect the people of Maine and of the United States. In honoring my father today, I honor you.

Thank you. “

Twenty Years

Tomorrow, it will have been twenty years since my first husband, Trooper James A. (“Drew”) Griffith of the Maine State Police was killed in the line of duty. This is the last picture ever taken of him.

DrewpictureIt appeared in the local newspaper to illustrate a story about the Maine State Police’s pilot project in community policing: Drew was going to be the first Trooper to try it out.

A friend cut the picture out of the paper and brought it to me at church in case I hadn’t seen it. I hadn’t—and throughout the sermon I kept taking it out of my pocket, unfolding it and looking at it, then putting it away again. He was, I thought, so handsome and looked so happy.

That evening, I pasted the clipping into our photo album and then—uncharacteristically—I wrote a prayer around it. “Dear God, take care of him.”

The next morning, he was killed instantly when his cruiser was struck broadside by a fully-loaded box truck.

I suppose I could have said that God did not answer my prayer. Or that there is no God. But I believe in God-is-Love, and God-is-Love is who I prayed to, that night and ever afterward.

God-is-Love came flying down the roads, blue lights flashing, to bring Drew’s comrades to the scene of his accident; God was present in the tender hands of the paramedic (a neighbor and friend) who felt my husband’s last heartbeats; God was there in the prayers of the truck driver who could have been defensive but instead took on more than his share of responsibility for the tragedy and let it break his sweet, good heart.

God was baked into every casserole brought by my neighbors and steeped into every cup of Tension Tamer tea my friends and I shared. God was in the funeral home, where Mr. Moss, three troopers and Mom helped me get Drew dressed and ready for his funeral. God was the strength in the arms of Drew’s pallbearers, the crispness of their last salutes, the grace with which they folded his flag into a tidy triangle of stars, God was the governor slipping off his suit jacket, draping my youngest in it because she looked chilly, before handing that flag to me.

God-is-love took good care of Drew, and has taken good care of Drew’s children. God has brought me safe thus far, and God will lead me home.
Drewpicture