I've always thought that cemeteries hold hundreds of stories. Here's one of them.
Pierre was brought to the United States as a slave in 1787. He trained and worked as a hair stylist for wealthy women. Hair stylists in the 1700's had a different task than today. They had to work with hair that was stacked up high, curled, woven with ribbons and flowers. It took a lot of skill, time and it cost a lot of money. Women might spend $1,000 per year on their hair. That doesn't sound unreasonable unless you remember it was the late 1700's and it was actually a huge amount of cash.
Apparently, Pierre was quite good at his craft and he served the most elite of New York City. His owner allowed him to keep a percent of his income and he was able to purchase freedom for both his wife and sister before he achieved his own independence at age 45. It was then that he took the last name Toussaint.
Toussaint Louverture was best known as the leader of the Haitian Revolution, a slave revolt that lead to the elimination of slavery in the Republic of Haiti. Pierre's selection of that last name not likely a coincidence...
Pierre and his wife opened their home to orphans and were benefactors for NYC Catholic school for Black Children at St. Vincent De Paul. They nursed the ill during an outbreak of yellow fever and brought baked goods to children suffering from hunger. Charity was a very, very important part of Pierre's existence.
At a certain point, Pierre no longer needed to work but he said, "I have enough for myself but if I stop working, I have not enough for others." So he kept working.
Pierre, a former slave, was one of the main contributors toward this...
That's a picture of old St. Patricks Cathedral and it is absolutely stunning. There's a story that says that when it first opened, Pierre was turned away from entering (due to his race) by an usher that didn't recognize who he was. Fortunately, another man saw him and escorted him inside.
Pierre Toussaint was declared Venerable in 1996. What does that mean?
In the Catholic church, there is a pathway to becoming a saint. When a person dies, a Bishop can initiate an investigation looking for special favors or miracles. The candidate's life is examined closely for evidence of their faith. And then even more research takes place.
Were they martyred? Motivated by charity toward their neighbors?
A devil's advocate is assigned to look for reasons to deny the candidate. His job is to find flaws, to look for holes in the evidence presented. He will argue against the sainthood of an individual.
On the other hand, if a candidate is found to be virtuous, he is then declared Venerable. (that's Pierre's title now)
Beautification is the next step. Two verified miracles are needed in order to be declared a saint. It could still happen...
Special thanks to the Catacombs by Candlelight Tour in NYC for this and many other fascinating stories...
Isn't it interesting to hear what someone from another culture thinks of the United States? Admittedly, sometimes it's not flattering. But this one time, my whole understanding about the U.S. was re-shaped.
Sunil is a wise man. Smart too. He reads and stays up to date on numerous topics--that's what makes him smart. But he's wise because he ponders and contemplates issues and situations. Every single time I have a conversation with him, I come out of the discussion feeling like I've been given a gift.
Once, he leaned back on the sofa in my living room and proclaimed that the United States was an extraordinary place.
Sunil is a world traveler. He's seen a lot and I couldn't fathom why he thought the US deserved such a flattering accolade.
"From the beginning, Susan, this country was inhabited by the bravest, the most daring of men." His voice is deep and melodic and it's easy to get drawn into his explanations. So much so that the world around you disappears and all you can hear is his voice.
My mind sorted through images of Columbus, recalled stories of Jamestown and Plymouth--and the first settlers in the New World. Basically, his words drew to mind the pages of my junior-high history book.
"Do you understand? Those first colonists believed in a dream. They left their families, their jobs...their security and they climbed aboard ships and sailed around the world. The first settlers were among the most intelligent, strongest, iron-willed inhabitants of the entire world."
I let the words sink in. I'd read similar words in the text book but now they had a different meaning.
Years ago, a friend came to me and told me that she was looking for a new job. She'd seen certain signs that made her worried that her company was not going to make it. She was right. Sadly, other employees saw these same signs but the idea of finding a new job was so daunting that they clung on till the bitter end and then they struggled to find a new employment. That was just a job...
These early Colonist left everything behind. They came to the New World with practically nothing... including no certainty of survival.
"Your gene pool here is saturated with people that take risks, are high achievers...believe that they can do anything they set their mind on. It's extraordinary if you think about it."
I have been thinking about it.
My husband says that we've won the 'womb lottery'...we were lucky enough to be born in the United States. We don't have to make the hard decision whether to pick up and go across the globe for a chance at a better life.
We've been blessed with good genes. We have the capacity to dream bigger, work harder and reach further. Shouldn't it be our duty to help the tired, the poor...the huddled masses?
Have a happy July 4th!
Last Sunday, I realized the preacher was going to be talking about Deborah in the book of Judges. I was a little worried. I’d been down this road before and I wasn’t sure I could keep quiet this time.
The last preacher I listened to announced that God chose Deborah because no man was available for the task. I laughed out loud in a very quiet church. A friend leaned over and whispered, “He’s serious!”
She shrugged her shoulders and I lost track of what the preacher said after that. I couldn’t imagine that this pastor felt that God was incapable of finding a man for a job. For heaven’s sake….he could CREATE a man. He’s all POWERFUL. With perfect WISDOM. He absolutely did not pick Deborah because he was forced into a corner and no man was available.
Let me tell you the story in case you’ve not heard it…
Deborah was a Jewish prophetess (which meant that she knew God’s thoughts) and a judge. The people of Israel were being oppressed and she had a message that God wanted them to take action.
She told them…“The Lord, the God of Israel, commands you: ‘Go, take with you ten thousand men of Naphtali and Zebulun and lead the way to Mount Tabor. I will lure Sisera, the commander of Jabin’s army, with his chariots and his troops to the Kishon River and give him into your hands.”
Barak was nervous about the whole deal and refused to go unless Deborah accompanied him. So she did. And as promised, all the enemy perished by the sword…except Sisera himself. He escaped, took a nap in a tent…and had a tent spike drilled into his temple. By a another woman. (who was also there because God planned it)
I thought my experience was unique but apparently it is not. This is an article about similar situation, written by someone more familiar with the Bible.
I really thought this was all behind us. I grew up learning about Susan B Anthony-- who successfully won the right to vote for women in 1920. That was a long time ago! (It shouldn’t surprise you that she fought against slavery too.)
I grew up watching commercials and reading ads (These are pretty funny, you should take a peek) that compared modern women to older times and claimed, “You’ve come a long way, baby.”
And we have. But we still have work to do…#MeToo.
But here’s the good news. Last weekend…that preacher understood that God knows exactly what’s he’s doing. And he always picks the best person for the job.
When I was little, I remember shopping with my mother and grandmother. Grandmother would pick up a garment, roll up the hem and point toward the stitching with a frown on her face. Mom would nod in agreement and then grandmother would put the item back on the rack. Grandma’s lips would thin at dresses with no linings and button holes with inadequate stitching.
Grandma lived through the Depression. Most of us don't understand the how frugal the average family had to be just to exist. Food was a priority, meat was a luxury. My grandmother could carefully remove the thread from a skirt's hemline so that she could use it again to shorten the length. Let that sink in...reusing a thread so you didn't have to buy a new spool.
Clothing, in her opinion, should be well-made. A woman should be able to wear her purchase for quite some time without fears that a seam would rip or a button would be lost. Or that the whole thing would fall apart in the washing machine.
Fashion came secondary.
I can’t say I disagree with her priorities. But let's talk about fashion-because it’s a matter of some confusion to me.
The original designers fashioned clothing to be flattering to your body type. Fashion, in this form, is an art. But somehow it evolved into something different. A status symbol. Fashion became wearing someone’s label...becoming a human billboard to advertise their goods. And if you were going to use your body to advance someone’s profession, shouldn’t you get reimbursed instead of paying for this opportunity? I don’t get it.
Remember the fairy tale about the Emperor’s new clothes? No?
Let me tell you about it... it’s one of my favorites.
In 1837, Hans Christian Andersen wrote a tale about two weavers who talked the Emperor into buying a new suit. This suit promised something special. It would be invisible to anyone who was "hopelessly stupid”.
The weavers displayed the imaginary fabric with a flourish. With theatrical gestures, they expertly wove the non-existent material into the glorious new apparel. But there was a problem.
The Emperor couldn't see his own new suit. And he was ashamed and unwilling to admit it.
So, he paraded around with nothing on.
(I posted this picture of a throne instead of naked Emperor. You didn't need to see that.)
Everyone was afraid of saying anything to the Emperor and being exposed as being stupid. Except for one innocent young boy who declared...
“But he isn’t wearing anything at all”
Even in 1837, it wasn't a new theme. A similar story circulated in Spain in 1335 and in India in 1283.
What does it come down to? "Fashion is an emotional decision, not a rational one.." according to Susanna Koelblin. Let's chose to use our heads when we're buying clothing. She says that while 60% of us are interested in sustainable clothing, only 30% purchased it. She had an interesting article that you can read here.
Let's follow Patagonia's example. In 2011 they ran an amazing campaign starting with an ad in the New York Times. In huge letters, above a picture of one of their coats, the page declared, "Don't Buy This Jacket". When asked why they did this, this was their response:
It’s time for us as a company to address the issue of consumerism and do it head on.
The most challenging, and important, element of the Common Threads Initiative is this: to lighten our environmental footprint, everyone needs to consume less. Businesses need to make fewer things but of higher quality. Customers need to think twice before they buy.
Why? Everything we make takes something from the planet we can’t give back. Each piece of Patagonia clothing, whether or not it’s organic or uses recycled materials, emits several times its weight in greenhouse gases, generates at least another half garment’s worth of scrap, and draws down copious amounts of freshwater now growing scarce everywhere on the planet.
Let's start looking at hems. Let's buy quality and expect it to last more than a single season. Let's consider what a person says and does...instead of what logo they carry on their garments.
Full disclosure: I've purchased and worn items from Costco, Walmart, Target, consignment stores...and I'll do it again. But I'll also start shopping Patagonia because I love what they stand for.
I want to introduce you to someone.
This is Caroline.
She’s sweet and funny. She’s good at ignoring me when she’s trying to finish texting someone.
She has Pfeiffer syndrome. It’s pretty rare and only happens 1:100,000 kids.
Pfeiffer syndrome is a disorder where the bones of the head fuse too early and it causes the head and face to look different.
When Caroline was born, her eyes looked like they were bulging and her jaw looked too small for her little face. But after a lot of surgeries, she looks more like you and me. Children with Pfeiffer syndrome can have wider than normal thumbs and big toes and sometimes they have hearing loss.
In most cases, their intelligence is normal. Caroline's is better than normal...she’s on the A honor roll.
Caroline is a miracle.
She has her own team of doctors to help her including every doctor you’ve probably ever heard of: ENT, Ophthalmology, GI, orthopedics, pulmonologists, neurosurgeons, craniofacial surgeons... and me. I’ve had the privilege of taking care of Caroline since she was one week old.
She’s had 32 surgeries so far. That’s amazing, right?
She’s the strongest, most resilient kid that I’ve ever known.
So we should respect her...admire her.
And not tease her.
That’s what happened this week. Right in our pediatric office. And it makes me feel really sad…but that kid didn't know Caroline. Because he would never do that if he’d met her.
So, I want to introduce everyone I know to Caroline.
If you’re a mom, take this as an opportunity to talk to your children about kids that have to be stronger than the rest of us.
Years ago, I was really worried about the kids I was seeing in my office. Instead of grubby sneakers and tee-shirts, I was seeing designer labels...expensive purses....manicures and pedicures. I was astonished when one mom confessed that she'd had highlights put into her six-year old's hair. What's left?
As the years passed, the parents had to come up with new glittery, shiny things to satisfy their children. One parent flew (by helicopter) his child and high school date to Austin for a special dinner before their prom. Holy cow.
It was a tsunami wave of materialism and I was really worried that the children would drown in it. But it turns out, I didn't have to stress so much. The tide has turned.
This generation is more interested in experiences instead of accumulation of wealth. They value time with their friends and family. As one guy explained it...previous generations gave up a lot for the sake of big houses and expensive cars...we want to savor our lives instead. Don't you love that?
I'm seeing more dads participate in raising the children. Stay-at-home fathers. More guys who can discuss how their child is doing in algebra. Dads who are expert diaper-changers.
And I'm seeing families pare down their life styles and really pay attention to what matters. Instead of big houses, they've come up with a whole new concept of little homes that allow families to focus on something beside making the mortgage payment.
And I've been reading about a capsule wardrobe. It's a systematic approach to buying exactly what you need, making sure that the components all work together and then avoiding impulse buys of items that will hang in the closet and never get worn.
Even the advertisements for this generation are changing. One company for corporate clothing promised 'practicality'. A tagline said something like, "my clothing is the last thing I want you to notice about me." What? Look deeper than the surface? I love that.
I read a quote once from someone's grandmother. She said, "You can never get enough of what you don't need." So true. The things I tend to crave aren't the things I can't live without. And I've got plenty of what I really need- family, friends, food, shelter and clean water.
I've been considering what's important in life and what it means to have real joy. Those kids that grew up and discarded that lavish lifestyle --they're on to something. We should pay attention.
It is unacceptable for my mother to be in pain.
There is so much I can’t control, but I could do something about that.
The doctor’s office agreed to see her only if I’d bring her in immediately. Otherwise, the woman explained, it would be five more days before they had an opening. I looked down at my damp running shirt and brushed a sweaty strand of hair off my forehead. I accepted the offer.
I wished that I had time for a shower. But mostly I was just thankful to be able to do something to fix the situation. I guess that feeling of gratefulness was contagious because it opened up a floodgate this morning.
I am thankful that my car is so reliable. The dashboard may have some cracks and one mirror is broken but that car just never stops. I never have to worry if I’m going to get somewhere.
A keypad unlocks the door that separates me from my mother. For a long time, this electronic instrument evoked the same emotion you get when you hear the ominous clang of the prison door slamming on an innocent man. Today, I realized that I’ve never once worried that my mother would get up in the middle of the night and wander down a street. Confused and alone. I’m thankful for that.
My mom was sitting at a table with a night gown worn under her shirt. I couldn’t take her anywhere looking like that. I rushed her to the room and then searched every drawer (twice) for a bra. My mother has been modest her whole life…until now. But I couldn’t stand the thought of walking outside a building without an appropriate undergarment. When I stuck my head out her door to ask for help…there it was. A laundry basket full of clean clothes. After some acrobatics on my part, I got her dressed. And then realized that despite the times the food slips from her spoon, her clothes get washed regularly. How lucky I am that she is in a place that takes care of her daily needs.
At the doctor’s office, mom told the receptionist that she was a very pretty lady. She said a lot of stuff — but that’s the part I understood. She invited the physician assistant, who was attempting to examine her, to a party and then clapped her hands together in glee when the woman agreed. Mom’s been known to touch random strangers on the arm and say things like “You’re so nice, I just wanted to thank you.” Their reaction is always the same. They smile. I usually tug her away just as the smile gives way to a look of utter confusion. I’ve had to deal with mom’s anxious days, a few angry days but mostly mom is (and always has been) the most kind-hearted person I know. You can’t imagine how grateful I am that she was the woman that raised me.
Antibiotics and acetaminophen were suggested when a soft squeeze to her foot brought tears to mom’s eyes. I took her to have some cinnamon rolls afterward, a small consolation for the painful examination. She’s always had a sweet tooth but today she wasn’t too interested. Instead, she uttered strings of sentences that made no sense to me. Pointed at planes overhead and a fragment of a leaf that skittered underfoot. Until finally. She gripped my arm, pulled me close and stared straight at my face. “I love you,” she said.
I’m the luckiest woman alive.
My psychiatry professor in medical school wore bolo ties. High-waisted pants, a chambray shirt and a variety of turquoise studded bolo ties. He spoke softly and managed to give the illusion that there was simplicity to the complex world of mental disorders. On one particular day, he wrote the following words on the board behind the podium: There is no progression without regression.
Life has not been easy lately. For the past several weeks, I've felt under attack. Do you ever feel like missiles are coming from all directions and you just can't duck fast enough? And you're tired. Exhausted. But sleep eludes you because your mind is working overtime on problems that have no answers.
So, I'm trying to take his advice and I'm doing something I normally don't do.
I'm taking a step backward. Unless it's critical, I've been putting more stuff on the back burner.
I've ignored the pile of laundry and the stains in my sink. I don't want to talk about the litter box...
As a result, my husband cleaned the shower for the first time in our marriage. I'm not sure how I feel about this. Should I feel victory for womankind? Or have I taken this too far?
I'll settle for being grateful that he stepped in when I stepped back.
I've put my to-do list under a thick pile of papers containing bills and papers that I need to work on. Instead, I'm taking longer walks with the dog and enjoying the beautiful sunsets that Texas has to offer. I'm spending a lot of time thinking about my sister...mostly incessant thoughts on what to do to help someone who is hurting. I'm sitting on the sofa drinking too much tea and watching documentaries about English castles.
I'm trying to heal.
A small part of me is antsy- guilty at the pile of projects that circle me- but I believe in what he said. I'm waiting for that surge of energy that says I've refilled my tank. That motivation that pulls me out of bed and launches me into my day.
Until then, you're stuck with this blog that's trying to say...
Treat yourself kindly.
Have you seen "The Greatest Showman"? You need to go...right now. It has great music, beautiful costumes and woven subtly amongst the swinging acrobats are several great messages. I've been thinking about it a lot.
Mostly because I want to figure out how to make our kids more resilient.
What in the world does that have to do with the bearded lady?
Again...watch the movie!
In one particular scene, the bearded lady storms into a room that she has been turned away from. She is absolutely glorious in her determination. For a single moment, I wanted to be that bearded lady.
I know that dressing professionally is important in my job. But it has not always been easy. I would rather read an article on mitochondrial diseases than skim through an entire Glamour magazine. I’ve tried. I give myself a pep talk and turn the first page. I do my best to pay attention to the colors, hem lengths, shoe shapes. But within a few pages, my eyes blur over.
Frankly, I don’t get it. We come in different sizes and shapes, different colors of skin and hair. Am I supposed to find the right apparel for me in a magazine? Why in the world would someone wear a long dress in summer in Texas? I thought we were finally showing some sense to get rid of the panty hose.
When I was a senior in cardiology, I worked underneath one of the most feared and respected female cardiologist in the hospital. I was naturally worried about my performance and that of my team. On my first day with her, as my team discussed each patient’s course, one of the students slipped me a note.
This was good, I thought. He’s caught some detail that we need to address. I was proud of the professionalism of my students and interns. Together, we were a tight machine, watching over the children... saving lives. I waited till the attending cardiologist was distracted and unfolded the piece of paper. I was stunned by what it said.
Red is your color.
I read it twice. I’d been working my tail off, losing sleep, frantically making sure that we did the best we could for these fragile kids...but I also had to make sure the students were well-versed in how to present the cases, the interns could discuss the side effects of the cardiac medications and I could defend any decisions I'd made over night.
Red is your color? You want to comment on my outfit? Are you kidding me?
Do you know what you should want from me? You should want me to read those journal articles on infections and diseases and accept that my shoes might have rounded (or pointed) tips that are totally out of fashion. You should want me to sacrifice my sleep, my meals and sometimes my sanity...all for the sake of protecting our children.
We need to look past our clothing, our hair color and see the person underneath. If fashion is your thing...embrace it...but try not to frown at my apparel and I promise not to roll my eyes at your vitamin D level.
We need to be bold at who and what we are.
And we need to teach our children to be the same. I once did an exam on a three year old girl wearing boy's underwear put on backwards. I looked at mom, assuming it was something she was not aware of, but she was quick to explain. Her daughter really liked "Bob the Builder" and the clothing was only made for boys (that's a shame) and... you can't see Bob unless you wear it backward. (true) What a great lesson she taught her daughter by letting her control what she wanted to wear. You go girl!
You need to be your own definition of beauty.
In junior high, my best friend was intelligent, witty...and had six toes on each foot. Unashamed and unembarrassed, she wore open toed sandals every summer. Would you?
Be the bearded lady.
The photograph is a real bearded lady who embraces her facial hair. You can read about her here.