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Monday, July 6, 2020

Feeding the Beast

When I turned eight, my mother let me have a small birthday party with two other neighborhood girls. It was probably a scaled back affair because later in the month, I would be making my First Holy Communion, and a big shebang was planned.

To protect the innocent, I’ll name the two other girls at the party Karen and Debbie. Karen lived closer, and we played together a lot, but as is often the case, when Debbie, whom I went to school with, came up the street and joined in, there would be tension as Debbie would try to monopolize Karen. It was the classic case of “three’s a crowd.” Most of the time whenever Debbie commandeered Karen and turned her against me, I’d come home crying.

I can’t tell you much about the party, what kind of cake we ate, what paper hats with rubber band chin straps we wore, or what presents I received, but more than 50 years later, I can remember in great detail an incident from the party.

Normally, I’m a very even-tempered person, but as the three of us were playing outside after eating cake and ice cream, Debbie lapsed into “mean girl mode” and began to gang up on me and try to turn the head of Karen.

I was doing a slow burn until we began to play a game in our front yard and was using an old stump as base. Debbie suddenly shoved me off the stump, and I remember thinking as I lay on the ground, What? This is my birthday! This is my day! I jumped back on the stump, looked her in the eye, and hauled off and punched her in the face.

Shocked, Debbie stared at me, and as I stood on the stump towering over her like some little Mussolini, I pointed at her and shouted, “You, go home! Now! This is my party, and I don’t want you here!” 

And she did.

I admit as I was winding up to punch her, I had this great feeling of relief as I was giving in to this beast inside me demanding vengeance for her treating me so shabbily on my big day. When my fist connected with her freckled face, it was a very satisfying, consuming feeling. Until it wasn’t any longer.

Though Debbie had it coming to her, that feeling of giving in to a misplaced, unbridled passion is still palpable and left a big impression on me as I knew it was wrong. As a little girl soon to make her Communion, I had been schooled that my reaction was wrong, and later, I’ve come to know that giving in to that base emotion of anger is dangerous.

With all that’s been happening in the world with injustice, violence and riots, maybe you’re feeling that ravenous beast of anger and vengeance within you rearing too, demanding to be fed with acts of meanness and violence, but I caution you. Don’t feed the beast. 


Because the beast is never satisfied. The beast, once unleashed, is difficult to rein in. The beast isn’t interested in justice, righting wrongs or giving peace a chance. The beast only wants to create discord and destruction. And the beast’s ultimate prey is you. Once unleashed, the beast will not stop until it devours you too. 

This article originally appeared in the July 2020 edition of Northern Connection magazine.  

Tuesday, June 9, 2020

Risk Versus Reward

By the time you are reading this, we will be in the process of trying to reclaim the lives we had before the Coronavirus derailed them. Thankfully, we didn’t suffer as many deaths as was once predicted, but we are deeply sorry for those who did lose a loved one or who suffered a hardship.

Now, we move into another unknown territory: How to safely go about our lives.

While we were holed up in our homes, when I wasn’t spending my free time reading novels, I was watching television. I don’t know if it was because I was hypersensitive to pandemics, but it seemed as if everything I watched, at some point, contained a thread about a pandemic. Some I suspected were purposely broadcast. One Saturday while I was working out in my game room, I thought I’d try MeTV.

Many of my friends love this channel because it plays reruns of old television shows. Gunsmoke came on, and the episode that aired dealt with a pandemic of typhoid that threatened to shut down Dodge City much to the dismay of the merchants who saw their livelihoods jeopardized. Next on was Bonanza, and Hoss, Little Joe and Adam, although not suffering through a pandemic, were going a bit “squirrely” because they’d been holed up at the Ponderosa for more than a month because spring rains had washed out the roads to Virginia City. It was funny to see people react on the shows the same way people were reacting today.

I’m a big fan of historical dramas, and we watched the Netflix series Medici, which followed the famed family in 15th Century Florence. In one episode, the plague struck, slowing down the building of The Duomo. My favorite show ever on Netflix is The Last Kingdom, and a new season debuted while we were at home. In this season, we saw fearless warriors quake in their boots when they met Saxons fleeing from the castle in Mercia because of the “sickness.”

I like to fact check these historical shows, and while doing that, I came across a book published in 1891 called A History of Epidemics in Britain from A.D. 664 to the Extinction of the Plague. What was captivating about this book after glancing through it online was that sickness, death and subsequent famine were such a common occurrence, it was as much a part of the human experience as life itself.

For many of us, we’ve been lucky to have been born in a country and day and age when we know more about preventing disease and nothing of the famine that our forebearers did, and we’ve been blessed and a bit na├»ve to expect that we would never suffer the things previous generations have had to endure. We have forgotten that life has always been a crap shoot.

Another show I watched on Netflix a while back was Hell on Wheels, which dramatized how incredible a feat the building of the transcontinental railroad was across America. The show featured a character named Eva, who had a chin tattoo given to her while she was a captive of the Indians. I also like to watch a series on YouTube called Biographics, and what caught my eye was a woman’s bio on there named Olive Oatman, and she was a real-life person who was captured as a child by Indians while on the Oregon Trail and was given that kind of tattoo.

While watching Oatman’s biography, the narrator dropped this fact: That there are 65,000 people buried along the Oregon Trail who died either from sickness, starvation or Indian attack. Can you imagine that? Or what about the thousands who died on coffin ships while traveling to our shores for a better life? Or what about the 5,000 Americans who died building the Panama Canal? Or the nearly two dozen astronauts who perished in their quest to explore space?

Now, as we venture out of our houses and timidly dip our toes back into civilized society, remember to take the necessary precautions to do what you can to remain safe, but to also remember all of those who have gone before us who knew that life has always been a risk. They also knew that not taking a chance, living your life in fear is no reward, and can be a fate worse than death.

This originally appeared in the June 2020 issue of Northern Connection Magazine. 

Sunday, May 3, 2020

When Little Things Are the Biggest Things

When my twins, Caitlin and Christopher, were about six, I remember watching a rerun of The Little House on the Prairie with them. The episode was one that took place at Christmas when a terrible blizzard strikes. Mr. Edwards, the Ingalls family’s neighbor, walks miles through deep snow and whiteout conditions to deliver Christmas gifts to the Ingalls children. As little Laura opens her gift, she squeals with delight and thanks Mr. Edwards profusely for the gift, which was a peppermint stick.

I remember my son looking up at me and saying, “He’s crazy. He walked all that way in the snow to give her a peppermint stick? I’d have stayed home!” I laughed and hated to be a scoffer too, but I think I would have skipped the trek through the snow too.

Well, we’ve just celebrated an Easter, and for those who celebrate Passover, a season like no other—almost as simple as one on the prairie. We’d become accustomed to donning new Easter outfits, crowding into churches, and enjoying brunches or Easter dinners. We’d become accustomed to the ease of walking into stores to purchase items for our feasts. We’d become accustomed to participating in Easter Egg Hunts and celebrating with those we love. We’d become accustomed to being able to hold our infant grandchildren and kissing the little ones on cheeks. But this year was different—much, if not all, of that was taken away by the Coronavirus. And what did remain was changed.

Perhaps your holiday was like mine. I attended Mass online, stayed six feet away, cordoned off by orange safety cones, to watch my little granddaughters hunt for Easter Eggs. We ate Easter dinner with only those who resided in my house instead of gathering with my whole family. We went online and Zoomed with each other in rectangular boxes as if we were the Brady Bunch. 

Everything that we’d come to know love and expect when celebrating Easter was changed. But as Mr. Edwards went the extra mile in a blizzard to share the Christmas love, I’ve gained a greater appreciation for each small way that we were able to keep the holiday. Though we couldn’t go to church or dine with family, couldn’t shop for Easter finery, foods, candy, or flowers, though we couldn’t hug our loved ones, it helped to make me focus on the little things. My son and I may have sneered at Mr. Edwards back then, laughing at his simple gift of a peppermint stick, but like the Ingalls family who faced a difficult life on the prairie, we now have been humbled and have learned that little things mean a whole and sometimes are the biggest things.

This article appeared in the May 2020 issue of Northern Connection magazine.