Random Thoughts of a Disordered Mind


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My “Me, Too” Story

Harvey Weinstein was a lot worse than my abuser, but no abuse is acceptable. Facebook and Twitter, and the news media that reports on both, are filling up with #metoo stories that make me cringe and my skin crawl. But I am so proud of those who are able to name their metoostories, to tell their own tales with authenticity and courage.

My story happened in Virginia in another lifetime. I am an Episcopalian and was seeing our local priest for counseling that got out of hand. Where do you go when the person you are seeing for help is the one who is acting out?  I settled on food to change my body size, to make myself as unattractive as possible, and a geographic solution with a move to Maine in January. Not exactly the best time to move, but I needed to get out and found a way.

Feeling safer there, I told a Maine priest that something had happened that was wrong and I didn’t want anyone else to endure the same. I was basically patted on the head and told to let it go. It didn’t sit well but I did it. Believing I was called to ministry, I began the process to seek ordination – and was told by my bishop that I had a problem with intimacy and authority and needed to be more involved as a lay person. Hmmm. Okay. Vestry member, choir member, hospital visitor, altar guild member, stewardship chair obviously not enough activity.

Moved to Boston. In 1992, news broke about Father James Porter and child sexual abuse in the Catholic Church. I began to cringe and had trouble concentrating. One day in my diocesan newspaper I saw a tiny ad for a booklet on clergy sexual abuse. It was only $5 and I figured that no one would know that I had it. I’d read the booklet and then move on. Except I couldn’t. From page one, that booklet described what happend to me. I was in tears after a few pages, holding my stomach and shaking. It had happened to me. And I needed help.

The booklet was dedicated to a Boston therapist the author had worked with, who happened to practice in my town of Brookline. I called her office on a Friday about an appointment before I lost my nerve; much to my shock, she had an opening on Monday morning. She asked me to read “Is Nothing Sacred” by Marie Fortune if I had a chance before then. Working on a university campus with a theology library next door made that easy.

Twenty minutes into my appointment, the therapist stopped me and told me that there was no question that what had happened to me was clergy abuse, that is was highly probable that the priest had a sex addiction, and was or had abused others. It was shocking how much that relieved me. I didn’t make it up, I hadn’t blown it out of proportion. It had happened, it was wrong, and there was damage.

My diocese had a process for dealing with such things. I went to my bishop with an advocate and a written statement that took me 45 minutes to write after 7 years of living with it. He read it, put down his glasses, looked me in the eye, and apologized to me for the hurt that this had caused me. He believed me. And he did something about it, writing immediately to the bishop in my former diocese where my abuser lived.  I got a call from that bishop within a week, telling me that the abuser had been called into the bishop’s office, confronted with my statement, and had confessed.

shieldIt was done but not done. I had expected it to take weeks, months, years, and even then, didn’t believe that the abuser would ever acknowledge that what he did was wrong. So I wasn’t ready for it to be over. Long, long story involving many letters and much therapy. My abuser was required by HIS bishop to pay for my therapy as well as his own. I asked that my former congregation be told what had happened, which didn’t materialize. However, they WERE required to have a workshop on clergy sexual abuse.  I kept going to church until I couldn’t anymore. Until my anger at the church spilled over and turned my joy into something broken.

Oh, and the bishops. The Bishop of Maine turned out to have been having affairs with married women. And the Bishop of Massachusetts not only turned out to have ALSO been having affairs with married women, but he committed suicide as news was about to break about it. He was the one who had heard my story, who had believed me, and who took action. But my trust was broken. More clergy in positions of power who were not behaving well. I even wrote to the Presiding Bishop about a letter that appeared over his name after the suicide, in which he described the pressures of being a bishop.  I told him he was NEVER to equate the pressure of being a bishop, a role that was deliberately taken, with the pressures of being a VICTIM and a SURVIVOR.

I kept those letters, that initial statement, the therapy word collages, my notes, for over 20 years. I would pull them out periodically to look at, reminding myself how far I’d come. My letters are articulate and thoughtful, and very powerful.  I finally was ready to let them go when I moved to Texas. I took the files in to work and shredded everything – not to preserve privacy, but because there was power in shredding. I felt lighter. I still have trouble with intimacy and authority, and I still have trouble with church. Not with God, but church.

I still have a huge weight problem and deep inside I know I don’t want to look like someone who is likely to attract sexual harassment. No one does that to fat people, they hurt us in other ways, but I’m used to those.  I want to be brave and strong and honest and whole. That last one takes more time than we think. Harvey Weinstein and his ilk opened the wounds again. But I will heal.

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What would you take?

TexasStrongIt was hard to tear myself away from watching Hurricane Harvey coverage. It went on forever and every day had more stories of damaged buildings, flooded streets and homes, injuries and deaths. But it also had heartfelt stories of the Cajun Navy and strangers rescuing stranded people in boats, of shelters in unlikely places such as furniture stores, of social media helping stranded people be found and brought to safety. All they had with them was what they could grab in a few minutes before they got out.

I can’t do anything about Houston except send prayers and give money to organizations doing feet-on-the-ground disaster relief assistance. Those I have done and continue to do. But I’ve been thinking about what I would do if faced with the same situation here. Where would I go? What would I take with me?

I’ll be honest – I’d probably be one of the people who evacuated ahead of the storm, even if no one told me to go. I’m not very agile and climbing onto a roof or into a boat would be problematic. I’m good at hunkering down for something like a blizzard but a hurricane is a different animal altogether.

My house is full of things, and they’re just things. While I love and would mourn the loss of things with family history ties, they’re still just things. I’ve looked around and thought about what’s in different rooms and what I would take, given the chance. In no particular order (well, yeah, the genealogy stuff came first), here are some:

  • Genealogy files and old photos
  • Purse with wallet and credit cards
  • Medicine
  • Cell phone
  • Laptop and backup portable hard drive
  • Kindle
  • Charging cords
  • Insurance papers
  • Car title
  • House deed
  • Good jewelry
  • Clothes

KeepCalmMy mom had what she called the “Boy Scout Folder” that she put on the kitchen counter when she and Dad would go out of town. In it she had copies of insurance papers, social security cards and drivers’ licenses, bank information, list of account numbers, list of people to notify (family, medical, bank, insurance), obituaries and pictures to use with them. She would have grabbed that folder if she needed to leave in a hurry and know that what she needed was there.

I can do that but mine will also be digital on a flash drive – actually, a copy for me and one for my brother so it’s available outside the house if something happens here. Scanning documents won’t take long and the peace of mind will be worth it.

My genealogy scanning hasn’t been a huge priority for me but it needs to be. Many of the records and photos are one of a kind. They need to be scanned as high-quality images and saved in multiple places so they can be preserved and shared. Bottom line is they are just things, however precious to me. I have the power to make sure they are digitally preserved. It’s time to map out a plan to scan and add metadata so what I know stays with them.

Hurricanes happen. Tornadoes happen. Floods happen. Fires happen. Earthquakes happen. Everything we have could be gone in a heartbeat. We owe it to ourselves and to our families to be as prepared as possible. Do it now.

Texas strong!


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Have You Written Your Obituary?

There are three things that you can do now to make things easier for your family when you die. You don’t need to be sick to do them – in fact, it’s better to do these while you’re healthy and have time to think and plan. You can do them in any order. But trust me on this: taking the time to do these three things is a gift to your loved ones.

In Memory OfFirst, write your obituary. You’ve read many of them and if you haven’t, just pull up any local paper and read a bunch. Some of them are boring and just have name, birth and death dates, spouse, children. My favorite obituaries, though, tell me who the person was, what their passions were, what made their lives better. My dad read to first graders for over 20 years and you can bet that will be in his obituary. I read a wonderful one years ago about a 102-year old woman known for her pie baking – I knew who she was after reading it. Include basic information but go beyond it to tell people who you are and why you mattered. Pick a good picture for the obituary, too, preferably one that looks like you as a mature person and not the army picture if you are in your 70’s.

Second, plan your funeral or memorial service and give a copy of what you decide to your church office as well as your own files. A funeral service is conducted when the body is present; when it’s not, as in the case with cremation, there is a memorial service. Different religious faiths and denominations have structure or liturgy for their services, but it’s up to the family – to you – to select scriptures or readings to be included, and to decide on music that’s significant.

This doesn’t have to be hard! There are websites with ideas, such as 30 Top Funeral Bible Verses. Hymnals and prayer books also have suggested music and scripture that’s appropriate. Do you want to have a choir sing, or maybe someone sing a solo? Write it down!  Nothing is written in stone and it can be changed as you change and want something else. Also remember that a memorial service is for the living, so if your family decides on something else, that’s okay, too. But at least they will know what you want, and that will help enormously.

TombstoneFinally, plan what happens to your body. Do you want to be cremated or buried? Do you know where the body/ashes will be interred?  Sit down with a funeral home (or several, to decide on one), and make plans. Even better, prepay it to lock in prices (they call this “pre-need arrangements”).  Your family won’t have to do anything when you die except call the funeral home and meet to review what has already been arranged.

I work in a church office and deal with memorial services and grieving families all the time. I’ve seen what a difference it is for them when these three things have been planned in advance. Make thoughtful decisions about what you want, write them down, and make sure your family and your religious home have copies. It might be the best gift you can leave them.


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Oh, THERE you are!

I found my great-great-great-grandparents today in the 1841 Scotland census. This is not the first, second, third, or fourth time I’ve looked for them. But it’s the first time I found them.

Databases are tricky. Census records are available on many sites but they don’t index, filter, or display their information the same way. Add to it that names are spelled as many different ways as humanly possible, requiring searching endless variations but missing the one that actually was used, or relying on “fuzzy matching” to get multiple spellings in one go. It takes patience, persistence, and creativity.

Today I found them.

Robert Brookmire and Isabella McAusland married in Campsie, Stirling, Scotland, on 3 July 1840. He was a calico printer and his father John lived in Belfast, Ireland. Isabella was a spinster and her father John lived in Dunbarton.

In the 1841 Scotland Census, Robert Brockmyce, age 20, Eliz[abe]th, age 25, and 4-month old John were living in the Village Of Thornliebank in Lanarkshire. Robert was born in Ireland and was a Calico Printer Apprentice; Elizabeth and John were born in Scotland. All the men on their street were also calico printers, many born in Ireland.

Finding one answer leads to more questions: Where is Thornliebank? what is a calico printer? What else can I find about young John?  When did Robert migrate to Scotland from Belfast? What can I find about his father, John?

The fun of research isn’t just finding the answer, it’s figuring out how it fits into context, adding to the puzzle until it makes a more complete picture.


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Liturgy Recharge

shieldSix days a week I report to the local church at 8am. Five of those days are for work; Sundays are for choir and worship, though often members of the congregation ask me work-related questions because, hey, I’m there and I have answers. But that doesn’t mean I like it.

I also really miss liturgical worship. For forty years I’ve been an active member of the Episcopal Church, from a college church to a cathedral to a very high church and a huge historic church in Boston. I’ve sung in choirs, run stewardship programs, studied the Bible and church history, served on vestries, visited the sick, polished brass on altar guilds, been part of small groups, organized libraries, cleaned up kitchens after parish suppers, and served on search committees.

But no matter where we were, our worship followed The Book of Common Prayer. My godmother wrote when I was confirmed many years ago that the BCP “is still a tremendous source of strength, its prayers for quiet confidence, for raising of children, for those we love, for those in mental darkness, have been invaluable to me and I have never been without comfort and support.” She was a woman of great faith with a solid core foundation that shone through her life and relationships. I learned from her that the prayers of the BCP, said automatically so many Sundays, provide the needed words when the heart is full or hurting, beyond words but wanting to cry out.

Most of my churches celebrated communion every Sunday, but the Order for Morning Prayer is also beautiful. I found comfort in the ritual of the liturgy, of an order of service with well-chosen words for celebrant and congregants, with responsive readings and a lectionary that led us through the Bible on a 3-year cycle. With structure and symbolism, kneeling and music. I’ve missed it.

So today I took a needed day off from my own church to recharge at a local Episcopal church. It was a more contemporary service than I was used to, but the words of the liturgy were the same and I found I had forgotten none of them. We celebrated Eucharist, with bread instead of wafers and wine instead of grape juice, gathering around the altar. And we were sent forth with these words, “And now, Father, send us out to do the work you have given us to do, to love and serve you as faithful witnesses of Christ our Lord.”  I always liked being sent out to do the work of Christ.

Mostly, though, I could simply worship and not have to lead anything. I will not be leaving my current church but I will definitely be back. For I may not belong to an Episcopal church, but I am and will be an Episcopalian.


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Sources, Information, Evidence

I thought I knew all about sources for research until I took the Boston University Genealogical Research Course in 2014. Genealogists are very particular (and picky) about types of sources and information contained in those sources than what I’d previously experienced. The term “primary source” and “secondary source” were familiar to me in my work life, too, but in genealogy, we have “primary information” instead of “primary source.” The whole reason it matters is to get to the type of evidence the source and information provide.

evaluating_evidence_chartNot all documents are created equal.  When reviewing results of a search, it’s important to also be aware of the type of source you have, what information it contains, and what evidence it provides to answer your research question.  There are three different categories for each:

Sources:  containers of information, not the information itself. Tangible, stable

  • Original records  – written report of an action, event, or observation
  • Derivative records – transcribed, abstracted, translated from original record
  • Authored works – biographies, genealogies, books, journals, local histories

Information: source’s surface content. Tangible, stable.

  • Primary – reported by an eyewitness
  • Secondary – hearsay; reported by someone not an eyewitness
  • Undetermined – unknown origin

Evidence: building blocks. Intangible and changeable.

  • Direct Evidence – one information item that answers a question by itself
  • Indirect Evidence – set of 2 or more information items suggesting an answer only when combined
  • Negative Evidence – absence [not lack] of information that answers a question [e.g., someone not included in a will that should be accounted for]


Example:

My great-grandmother’s death certificate is an original record, created at the time of her death.  The information contained in it was supplied by 4 people: clerk, doctor, funeral director, and family member. The doctor and funeral director provided primary information about date, time, and cause of death, and of where the body would be buried.  The clerk provided primary information about the state numbering system. The family member provided both primary and secondary information:  primary about address, name, age, marital status, but secondary about birth and parents, since the informant was her daughter and therefore not present when Jane was born.  Taken together, the death certificate provides direct evidence for the question, “when did Jane die?” but only indirect evidence for “who were Jane’s parents?”


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Death, three years later

P1010382Three years ago yesterday, my mom died from complications of COPD. She had been fading away for the few years prior to that, and since my brother and I had researched the disease, her death was more of, “Oh, it’s now” rather than, “OMG, NOOOOO.” My father, on the other hand, was devastated. He still is.

The last time I saw her was at my niece’s wedding three weeks before Mom died. She had saved all her energy for the weekend and it took everything out of her. Her body was frail, almost bird-tiny, and she had almost no reserves of energy. My sis-in-law arranged for transport wheelchairs for both of our moms for the wedding activities, and that allowed Mom to be present for rehearsal dinner, family visiting, the wedding ceremony, and reception, with the whole family (except bridal couple) gathered at the same table. We were all happy, looked wonderful, shared the joy of the day and the enjoyment of each other’s company. And we all said goodbye when she and Dad left to go home. We had our goodbye, even though we didn’t know it was the final one.

I lived half way across the country and didn’t see her often. We talked every day at 6pm my time, 5pm her time, for seven years, since she was hospitalized for a serious infection following an emergency appendectomy when she was 76. Note that she diagnosed herself with appendicitis reading Google search results. I am her daughter in more ways than one.

Three years after her death, I’m living in her house, cooking in her kitchen, caring for her husband of 62 years. And I listen to Dad tell stories about her every day, which sometimes makes me crazy because I hear the same ones, word for word, many times. Yesterday we went to a memorial service for a friend and it allowed us to heal a little more.