Tag Archives: NY

50 thoughts on turning 50: #22 Flowing with the river of life

life is a river

For most of my life, I’ve been consumed with finding my purpose in life. I believe that I’m here for a reason – that God created me for something and that I’m not here by accident. And yet I’ve never really felt like I could put my finger on what that reason and purpose was.

Then a few years ago, I stumbled on a quote by Cardinal John Henry Newman, which reads in part:

“God has created me to do Him some definite service. He has committed some work to me which He has not committed to another. I have my mission. I may never know it in this life, but I shall be told it in the next. I am a link in a chain, a bond of connection between persons.”

I wrote about it in this post, 50 thoughts on turning 50: #17 Be a link in the chain. But I wanted to take that thought a bit further today, after reading an article last week written by local sportswriter Scott Pitoniak, in which he looks back on forty years spent working at his dream job. Continue reading

When you’re dead, you’re dead a long time

Words of wisdom inscribed on the headstone of Robert and Grace McGowan, Mt. Hope Cemetery

Words of wisdom inscribed on the headstone of Robert and Grace McGowan, Mt. Hope Cemetery

Here’s the thing about death: it’s permanent. Regardless of your beliefs about the afterlife, in this life, when you take your last breath on earth, the story is over.

Think about it. In 100 years, with the exception of a handful of those who will defy the odds and live beyond a century, every single person on the earth will be dead.

Everyone. Gone. Me. You. Babies born at this exact moment, whether here in America or in India or China or Europe. In 100 years, billions of new humans will walk the earth, and while they’ll share our DNA and genealogical ties, none of them will be us.

How’s that for putting your life into perspective? It’s true. When you’re dead, you really are dead a long time.

Reflections on a fallen tree and the brevity of life

This is one of the trees that stand tall over my house. The trees shield us from rain and snow and the sun's rays, provide a home for squirrels and birds. I've never realized how incredibly gigantic this tree is or what power it holds for both life ... and death. Photo (c) Joanne Brokaw

This is one of the trees that stand tall over my house. The trees shield us from rain and snow and the sun’s rays, provide a home for squirrels and birds. I’ve never realized how incredibly gigantic this tree is or what power it holds for both life … and death.
Photo (c) Joanne Brokaw

Coming home from today from a walk at White Haven with Bandit, I took the detour down Main St in East Rochester (they’ve got the street to our house completely torn up with construction) and came across what was clearly an emergency situation.

There was a man directing traffic as a fire truck came towards the intersection, and a crowd of people stood staring at a giant tree that had fallen across the road. I could see the front of a car under the tree. I waited as the fire truck was in place, until I was given the go ahead to turn.

My first thought? I should run home and get the camera. It was a big tree (100 years old, I later learned) and there are always cars parked on that street. It seemed like one of those “moments in history” when it seemed appropriate to capture the images on film (digitally, speaking). I’ve taken lots of nature photos like that- trees down in cemeteries, a train derailment just a block from my house, snowstorms that shut down our town, and the like. I think I’m drawn to the power of nature vs. man in those situations.

But when I got home, I could hear my neighbor telling someone there were people trapped in the car and I decided to skip the “isn’t that interesting” picture-taking opportunity. A giant tree falling is opportunity for photos of nature; people trapped in a car is gruesomely voyeuristic.

Then I saw tonight on the news that the tree fell on a car that was driving down the road, killing the driver and sending the passenger to the hospital.

Imagine for a moment what exact timing there has to be for the tree to fall on the car at the precise moment the car is driving past. In a fraction of a fraction of a second, you’re before the tree, then under the tree, then past the tree. It took longer for you to read that sentence than it takes for you to drive past the tree.

What are the odds?

And what if, under normal circumstances, you wouldn’t have been driving down that road? With Lincoln Rd. under construction, all traffic is routed through town. What if you weren’t really supposed to be there to begin with, but on that one day you happened to drive down that road, a tree happened to fall?

What are the odds?

A few years ago, a train derailed just up the street from my house. Cars were hanging over the overpass, had fallen onto the road below, and had skidded just feet away from homes in the neighborhood where the trains speed by several times a day. While there was damage to cars parked in the lots right next to the tracks, no one was hurt. Which is a miracle, when you consider how much sustained traffic is on that street, how many people are walking to and from cars, up and down the road. And yet no one was hurt.

What are the odds?

But today? Someone is driving down the road and BOOM. Under bright sunny skies, a tree falls on their car and they’re dead. It’s sad and eerie and a little difficult to comprehend.

Even eerier for me was to realize later that, had Bandit and I left our walk at the park just a few minutes earlier, we’d have been driving down that exact street, possibly at the exact moment when the tree fell.

Who decides when it’s your moment to be in the wrong place at the wrong time? What supernatural forces are at work that keep you just a few minutes longer where you are or that would have you be in exactly one place in exactly a specific moment?

I wondered later about a giant BOOM Bandit and I had heard while walking. At White Haven (which is a cemetery memorial park; ironic) we’re just a mile or two away (as the crow flies) from where the tree fell.  It’s possible that what we heard was the tree falling, based on witnesses who heard it fall and said the sound was terrifically loud. In fact, the BOOM scared Bandit because it sounded a lot like thunder. It’s what actually ended our walk. Bandit is frightened of thunder, and given that we’ve had two days of storms, when he heard the BOOM, even though the skies were clear and sunny, he made a beeline back to the dogmobile.

I’d wanted to stop walking a few minutes earlier. I’d been feeling a little queasy all morning and was ready to head home. But at a fork in the road in the cemetery, Bandit (in what is a very regular occurance on our walks) stopped, and when I said, “OK, you pick which way we go,” he opted for a longer route back to the dogmobile – until he heard the BOOM.

What are the odds?

I wouldn’t normally dwell on my own mortality, except that last week I celebrated my 30th birthday for the 19th time. Last night darling husband and I were out to dinner and I was musing about how I’ve accomplished nothing of value in my life, left no mark, and wasted much time and opportunity. And really have no prospects that things will change in the near future.

I suppose birthdays are like that, especially as you get older, moments for reflection and a little bit of self-pity.

But I think today the lesson learned is that there’s no value on worrying about the past or fretting about the future when you don’t even have control of this exact second. There are no odds. There is force at work greater than our desires, our plans, our wants, who controls the moment for reasons we will never understand in this life. The only moment we have is now. That is the only thing we can be sure of.

Seasons of Mt. Hope Cemetery (pictures)

I was going through some photos today and realized I had taken some pictures a few weeks at Mt. Hope while I was out for a walk with Bailey and forgotten to upload them. I also remembered that while on that walk, I’d purposely tried to take some shots at places I’d shot during the last year,  places where I’ve been romping, roaming and researching in my favorite place in the city. So for fun, here are some pics of Mt. Hope, through the seasons.

Mt. Hope CemeteryOctober 2012 (c) 2012 Joanne Brokaw all rights reserved

Mt. Hope Cemetery, Curtis Mausoleum
October 2012
(c) 2012 Joanne Brokaw all rights reserved

Mt. Hope CemeteryFebruary 2013 (c) 2013 Joanne Brokaw all rights reserved

Mt. Hope Cemetery, Curtis Mausoleum
February 2013
(c) 2013 Joanne Brokaw all rights reserved

* * * * * * * * * *

Mt. Hope CemeteryMay 2012 (c) 2012 Joanne Brokaw all rights reserved

Mt. Hope Cemetery
May 2012
(c) 2012 Joanne Brokaw all rights reserved

Mt. Hope CemeteryOctober 2012 (c) 2012 Joanne Brokaw all rights reserved

Mt. Hope Cemetery
October 2012
(c) 2012 Joanne Brokaw all rights reserved

Mt. Hope CemeteryFebruary 2013 (c) 2013 Joanne Brokaw all rights reserved

Mt. Hope Cemetery
February 2013
(c) 2013 Joanne Brokaw all rights reserved

* * * * * * * * * *

Mt. Hope CemeteryOctober 2012 (c) 2012 Joanne Brokaw all rights reserved

Mt. Hope Cemetery
October 2012
(c) 2012 Joanne Brokaw all rights reserved

Mt. Hope CemeteryFebruary 2013 (c) 2013 Joanne Brokaw all rights reserved

Mt. Hope Cemetery
February 2013
(c) 2013 Joanne Brokaw all rights reserved

* * * * * * * * * *

Sylvan waters, April 2012(c) 2012 Joanne Brokaw all rights reserved

Sylvan waters, April 2012
(c) 2012 Joanne Brokaw all rights reserved

Mt. Hope CemeteryOctober 2012 (c) 2012 Joanne Brokaw all rights reserved

Mt. Hope Cemetery, Sylvan waters
October 2012
(c) 2012 Joanne Brokaw all rights reserved

Mt. Hope Cemetery, Sylvan waters
February 2013
(c) 2013 Joanne Brokaw all rights reserved

What Would Susan B. Say: “The Bachelor”

susanbanthony

“I would not object to marriage if it were not that women throw away every plan and purpose of their own life, to conform to the plans and purposes of the man’s life. I wonder if it is woman’s real, true nature always to abnegate self.”

- Susan B. Anthony, letter, 1888 (as quoted in “Failure is Impossible”, by Lynn Sherr)

I’m embarrassed to admit it but I’ve been watching this season of “The Bachelor”. Not because I’m enjoying the show, but because it’s like a massive train wreck that I can’t tear my eyes away from.

Am I the only one who sees this show for what it is: a dating game that sets women’s rights back a hundred years?

If you’re not familiar with the premise of the show, here’s a recap: Handsome Guy is presented with a group of about two dozen women, all who are vying to become Mrs. Handsome Guy. Handsome Guy whittles the group down by wooing the ladies with outings to exotic locales, fancy dinners and romance, and generally trying to get them all to fall in love with him. Once he’s done that, he picks the one he wants and offers her a proposal of marrige. The women, on the other hand, have convinced themselves the day they meet Handsome Guy that they’re desperately in love with him; they then befriend and betray each other, all with the goal of sticking around to the end and hopefully get the coveted marriage proposal.

It looks very much like emotional prostitution. Continue reading

Ending 2012 with firefighters on my mind

Mike Chiapperini

Lt. Michael Chiapperini

I’ve spent the last two days watching funerals on TV. West Webster Firefighters Michael Chiapperini and Tomasz Kaczowka were laid to rest and their services were aired live on one of our local news channels. (You can read more about the events that led to their deaths in this post.)

The services were so different. Chiapperini was married with children, and his funeral service focused on his family and on his 25 years with the West Webster Volunteer Fire Department and his 19 years with the Webster Police Department. The first hour was spent with first responders filing past his casket.

Tomasz Kaczowka

Tomasz Kaczowka

Kaczowka was just 19 years old, only a year out of high school; his funeral service was much more religious in nature, focusing on his committment to his Polish- American heritage and his strong ties to his church. The first hour of his service was a traditional Catholic mass.

In both cases, thousands and thousands of first responders from across the U.S. and Canada stood in formation outside the church or school where the services where held. Appropriate, as the two died together in the line of duty on the morning of Christmas Eve when a madman started a fire to lure first responders to the scene, and then gunned them down.

They died together, mentor and mentee.

Different funeral services, yes, but, like their lives, together they seemed to perfectly bookend the life of a first responder. Chapparini was the more experienced public servant, leaving behind a long legacy of public service and in the dozens of young people he’s mentored over his lifetime – one of them being Kaczowka. Kaczowka was in the spring of that call to a lifetime of service. That lifetime, though shorter in years, leaves a lasting impact that will be felt for decades through lives of other firefighters and coworkers who knew him.

On this last day of 2012, my original plan was to look back on the year and recap the positive changes I’ve made in my life and the obvious progress towards regaining my sense of self.

In other words: me, me, me, me.

But the events of the last week have left me pondering less about myself and more about the nature of service and community. Continue reading

I muse about the tragedy in Webster, NY

west webster patch

Early on the morning of Christmas Eve, tragedy visited the small town of Webster, NY, when a madman set fire to a house and a car, luring first responders to the scene and then gunning them down in cold blood. What ensued were hours of confusion and chaos as SWAT teams descended on the small spit of land, a two lane road bordered on one side by Irondequoit Bay and the other by Lake Ontario, chasing the gunman, evacuating neighbors, and retrieving the bodies of shooting victims. Firefighters, unable to enter the area to fight the blaze, could only watch from a distance as seven houses burned to the ground and their commrades lay injured or dead.

West Webster volunteer firefighters Mike Chiapperini and Tomasz Kaczowka were shot to death and John Hofstetter and Theodore Scardino were seriously injured by gunfire as they arrived on the scene. Jon Ritter, a full time officer with the Greece, NY police, was on his way to work; seeing the fire trucks he followed to offer assistance and was injured by shrapnel when gunfire hit his car.

This happened almost in my backyard, figuratively speaking. Webster, NY is a few miles from my house on the east side of Rochester, NY. My daughter went to Christian high school in Webster for three years; I often walk the beaches to take pictures where this event happened. Webster is part of the larger community of the city of Rochester. It’s a small town just outside of the city, but we’re all neighbors.

When things like this happen in other places, the national news media always reports that “it’s a small town where almost everyone knows someone who was affected.” But you never really understand what that means until it happens in your town.

Yes, I know someone affected. Several someones, in fact. (Click here to continue reading on my blog at Patheos.com)

Another rant about off leash dogs and I ponder why the leash lawbreakers get to run the show

The dog owner is barely visible in the picture, far to the right. That's as close as she got to her dog, which was roaming loose in the cemetery.

The dog has finally left us alone and gone to sniff the wreaths. The dog’s owner is barely visible in the picture, far to the right. That’s as close as she got to her dog, which was roaming around off leash.

Disclaimer: I am about to rant. And rant in a way that you may think is petty. If you think I’m petty then this post is probably meant for you. 

So I’m at White Haven today, in the “Little Lambs” section, pondering the graves of the three infant children of a couple named Michael and Molly Nier, whose  infant daughter and two infant sons died within a three year period, when I hear a woman’s voice behind me say something that sounds like, “Uh oh”.

I love walking in this particular cemetery, because it’s safe and quiet and solemn. I like the tranquility. I think, I pray, I write in my head. I read the headstones and talk to the cemetery workers. I listen to the birds and take pictures of the foliage. It’s a little sanctuary. And the best part is that I can walk Bailey there with relative assurance that we’re not going to be surprised by other dog walkers. It’s not the case with the other places where I can walk Bandit.

Bailey, in case you don’t know, has some reactivity issues with other dogs. As in, if approached by a strange dog she may react in a way that causes harm to the other dog or anyone trying to separate them. It’s a behavior problem we’ve worked with in training, and we have learned to manage the situations as well as help her learn how to manage her impulses. She’s made incredible progress. I mean, really incredible. And now she even does really well in organized situations with other dogs. She can go to classes with other dogs. She can meet another dog nicely and then we do a  quick “break!” and she comes back nicely. We always work on this with another behavior-savvy dog owner whose dog is on leash.

Notice that I say “organized” situations. Surprises, like a strange dog bounding at us from out the blue? Not such a happy scenerio.  Bailey can start out happy and wiggling her butt with joy, but in an instant things can go very, very wrong, and if the other dog is off leash, there’s no way to call it off Bailey.

Translation: when my dog is on leash, I have control over her. When your dog is off leash, you not only can’t control your dog but you cause major problems for me.  Because at no time do I ever have any control over your dog.

Which is why walking at White Haven is so great for both dogs. It’s really close to home, so I can take one dog for a walk, then go home and switch. (Yes, Bailey’s issues extend to her brother Bandit. They are always separated by gates in our house. They can walk perfectly fine together as long as one person walks one dog and they don’t have to ride together in the car.) There are very few places in this cemetery where we can’t see into the distance, giving me a chance to avoid funerals, other walkers, and one maintenance golf cart that for some reason Bailey really doesn’t like. Bandit? No problems walking anywhere. You just have to make sure he doesn’t pee on everything in sight.

So there’s some background. Now, back to this afternoon.

I’d already walked Bailey, gone home to switch dogs, had walked with Bandit and am now on my way back to my car.  And again, I’m standing in the infant section for several minutes, really taking time to read the headstones and wonder about this couple and their loss, when I hear someone behind me.

I turn around and find a big, slobbering (literally, slobber just falling from its mouth) Golden Retriever headed towards me and Bandit. I tell Bandit, “No, no, no, no,” pull his leash tight to me and call to the woman to get her dog. She kind of lollygags where she is, about 20 feet away, calling to the dog, who blatantly ignores her. I call, “Get your dog!” Nothing. I yell louder, “Get your dog! This is very dangerous!” She ignores me while her dog ignores her.

OK, I know that you’re thinking, “I get how this would be a problem with Bailey, since you just told me about her issues. But Bandit is the good dog. And this is just a big, stupid Golden. What’s the problem?”

As nice as Bandit is, he’s not always a fan of other dogs. But at least he’s predictable, in the way most dogs are predictable. At this moment, Bandit is sniffing the slobbering dog but I can see his ears going back and his eyes narrowing and I know that some snapping may ensue if the Golden comes any closer to me. Bandit likes a buffer zone between me and anyone else, two- or four-legged. He’ll send out serious warning signals if he thinks someone is going to violate that zone or otherwise just pisses him off. But I don’t know what this other dog is going to do if Bandit reacts that way. I mean, my dog looks all nice and friendly at this point, too. And Bailey can’t read other dogs’ signals so I know from experience that it can be all happy tail wagging one minute and blood the next. This dog’s owner is clearly clueless; I can only assume her dog is, too.

Translation: a smart dog owner knows their own dog but is always be prepared for the worst from someone else’s dog.

I call again to the woman, “This is really dangerous!! Get your dog!!!” The woman puts her hand to her ear to imply she can’t hear me. I yell louder. She ignores me, her dog ignores her, and I’m getting more and more pissed off by the second. I’m walking away with Bandit but the Golden is following along.

I yell to the woman that she needs to keep her dog ON THE LEASH so I stop walking, and, to make a point, hold her dog’s collar for a second and tell her to come and get her dog. She tells me to leave her dog alone. I let go and basically scream (yup, at the top of my lungs), “PUT YOUR DOG ON A LEASH”. She tells me I don’t have to talk to her like that.

I pull out my cell phone and contemplate calling 9-1-1. My heart is pounding, because I know that this scenerio could go completely awry in an instant if Bandit snaps at this dog and it freaks in return. If that happens, the owner has no way to pull her dog back, mostly owing to the fact that it’s not only off leash but she’s still about 20 feet away. Do I keep walking and have her dog follow? Do I stand there and wait until her dog decides to leave, hoping that Bandit loses interest?

And running through my mind? “God, if I had Bailey with me, this would be really, really bad.” Continue reading

Emma Moore, Sarah Bardwell and me

It took months, but a reward was finally offered for information leading to the disappearance of Emma Moore. While the citizens took up the search immediately, the mayor and police insisted Emma left town of her own accord. When her body turned up in the river, they were proven wrong.

I’ve been spending a lot of time lately doing research on a woman named Emma Moore, who I learned about when I went on the “Mischief, Murder and Mayhem” tour at Mt. Hope. (For the record, I am there so much I joined the Friends of Mt. Hope and volunteered to be a tour guide in the spring.)

Anyway, in Rochester, NY in 1854, Emma Moore went missing. Left home one night and simply disappeared. She was a single, 37 year old seamstress who had a loving family, a good job, some money of her own, and no reason to leave town without letting her family know where she went.

Her disappearance stunned the community, and for months afterwards thousands of citizens met nightly to coordinate a search for her – since the Mayor and police refused to believe she’d come to harm or investigate her disappearance.

The citizens scoured the areas surrounding the city, the lake, the river. They followed every lead and interviewed hundreds of people. They raised money and donated time and diligently searched for the woman they hailed as a modest woman of impeccable character.

Then in March of 1855, the body of Emma Moore was found, frozen in the river. When the coroner examined her body, he found she was six months pregnant.

Her 26 year old fiance was the prime suspect, but while an inquest found that Emma had drowned, the jurors were unable to determine if she had been murdered or if she committed suicide. Emma Moore is buried in an unmarked grave in her family’s plot, the woman once known for her impeccable character hidden away forever due to the scandalous nature of her death.

I’m fascinated by Emma Moore, her life and her death. In an era where woman had few rights or money of their own, she had a little money – about $20 cash left in her room, $20 cash on her when she disappeared, a savings account with about $100, and notes that indicated she’s lent out small amounts of money to friends.

In an age when woman married young, she was single into her middle years. Unmarried and with a much younger fiance. Was that unusual? Despite the fact they were engaged about 3 years, why didn’t they marry? He apparently had lost fingers in an accident and was unable to work (he was a cutter in a tailor’s shop); how would Emma have felt about working to support a younger husband – because upon marriage, anything she had would have become his.

How unusual was it for a woman to be sexually involved with a man to whom she wasn’t married? We like to think of our ancestors as pure and innocent, but was that really how it was? An unmarried, pregnant woman today doesn’t raise an eyebrow. But in 1854? Another story.

And of course, there’s the big mystery: Why did she disappear? Who knew she was pregnant? Was she killed or did she commit suicide? There’s much to believe the truth lies with the former.

I’m also enamored with the story of another woman, Sarah Bardwell. Her interment records indicate that she died of “insanity”. How does one die specifically of “insanity”? I get that you can die of causes related to insanity – suicide, walking naked around town in December and freezing to death. But just … going insane until you die?

Sarah Bardwell died of “insanity” after spending the last 25 years of her life in an asylum.

So I did a little digging and found a newspaper notice of her death, which said:

“Under the effects of religious excitement, at a time well remembered by many of our old citizens, Miss B. suffered mental injury, from which she never recoverd, and the latter years of her life were spent in an excellent Asylumn at Brattleboro, where her friends had placed her with the hope of restoration at first but where she remained for comfort and safety.”

From all accounts, the Asylum in Brattleboro was fairly progressive; treatment included nature walks and painting and music and lots of rest. And the “time well remembered” is most likely the Finney revivals that swept Rochester in the 1830s, making the city a hot bed of evangelism for the entire nation.

“Insane” is a little subjective, in this case. So you know I’m doing research into the Finney revivals, what a “mental injury” from that experience might look like, and what it would be like for a woman to be committe to an insane asylum in the 1850s.

What ties these two women together? When Emma Moore disappeared, Sarah’s brother was the Police Justice.

One of the things I’ve determined this year is that maybe my purpose is to give voice to those who can’t tell their own stories. It’s a general idea that I’ve been able to apply specifically without committing myself to any one genre of writing. And that realization has been really helpful for me. I can share about animal issues, although I find that I’m less and less interested (and often completely turned off by the aggressive, angry, divisive animal scene; but that’s a story for another day).

More importantly, I can share Emma and Sarah’s stories, two women lost in history but whose stories are interesting and important.

And soon, I’ll be sharing about some children in Uganda. Stay tuned for more on that.

The Summer Olympics, Arkansas and making memories

Bryan told me this week, “I remember sitting in Wayne Gretzky’s in Toronto and watching Canada’s Olympic hopeful in the hurdle race fall flat on her face after the first jump, to the dismay and groans of the patrons. It wasn’t funny, but it kinda was.” Here’s a picture of that moment.

I walked into the living room tonight and darling husband said, “Are you ready for Phelps/Lochte?”

“I don’t know what that is,” I replied. We already ate dinner and as far as I knew we didn’t have anything special on tap for dessert.

“Ryan Lochte and Michael Phelps?” darling husband asked. “You know? The kid from Rochester?”

“I didn’t know Michael Phelps was from Rochester,” I replied.

I get the open mouthed, dead stare, “Do you live under a rock” look.

For the record, Ryan Lochte was born in Rochester, NY and lived in Canandaiga, NY. I rarely watch the news and I don’t read the newspaper, and I’ve been on an “as needed” status with Facebook. In other words, unless you came to my house and told me about the Olympics I wasn’t going to hear about any of it.

What can I say? I’m a little out of touch. I didn’t even know until yesterday that the Olympics were happening right now. But when I did find out, my first thought wasn’t about Michael Phelps or Ryan Lochte. My first thought was about a bunch of guys from Arkansas. Continue reading