Category Archives: current events

50 thoughts on turning 50: #27 We are the sum of our ancestors, at least when it comes to fear

Turns out that if you scare the bejeesus out of a mouse, its offspring will be afraid of the same things.

Turns out that if you scare the bejeesus out of a lab mouse, its offspring will be afraid of the same things.

I remember, many years ago, watching an episode of “Touched By An Angel” in which the angel Monica is counseling a young girl brought up in difficult circumstances who is fearful that she’ll go on to live the same life her parents led. Monica assures the girl that just because her parents before her made bad choices in life, it doesn’t mean she has to follow in their footsteps.

“We are not the sum of our ancestors,” says the soft spoken Monica.

I wrote that quote down (as you know, I’m a quote junkie) and have mused on it often over the years. We are not the sum of our ancestors. Or are we?

According to a study out of Emory University, researchers have used olfactory conditioning to study whether or not fear can be passed on genetically to offspring. In other words, if your great grandmother had the bejeesus scared out of her by spiders, does that explain your own spider phobia? Continue reading

Caledonia Jane Doe identified, and the next chapter of her story begins

In 1979, the body of a young girl was found in a cornfield in Caledonia, NY. She had been shot in the head and in the back. She remained unidentified for more than 30 years. Today, she was identified as Tammy Jo Alexander.

In 1979, the body of a young girl was found in a cornfield in Caledonia, NY. She had been shot in the head and in the back. She remained unidentified for more than 30 years. Today, she was identified as Tammy Jo Alexander.

In November 1979, the body of a young girl was found in a field in Caledonia, NY. She had been shot and dragged into the field, and then shot again. For more than 30 years, she remained unidentified and her case unsolved.

Until today. Her case is still unsolved, but we now know that the girl is Tammy Jo Alexander, a teenager from Brooksville, Florida who was last seen in 1977.

For three decades, the Livingston County Sheriff Department has followed thousands and thousands and thousands of leads, never giving up in their attempt to identify the young woman and track down her killer.

According to news reports, a girl who went to high school with Tammy Jo contacted Florida authorities to ask if anyone had ever reported her missing. Apparently, no one had. Ever. With that new missing person report, police in New York were able to heat up their investigation and, using DNA from Tammy Jo’s sister, identify their Jane Doe.

With a name, I can search for information. Here’s Tammy Jo Alexander, c. 1977, the year she went missing and two years before her body was found in Caledonia. She was 13 years old when she disappeared from Florida.

Tammy Jo Alexander, c. 1977, the year she went missing and two years before her body was found in Caledonia. She was 13 years old when she disappeared from Florida.

I mused about the case of Caledonia Jane Doe back in 2010 on my blog, when I was reflecting on my own life, my own wasted opportunities, my own sense of going through the motions of life rather than living them. Her story haunted me; Who was she? Where did she come from? Were her parents looking for her? And what would she be doing right now if she hadn’t met with such a tragic end?

My goal, at the time, was to research and then write about her story. I didn’t have any hope of solving a case or even shedding light on it. I just felt like there was  story to tell and I should tell it. Over the almost two decades I’ve spent writing, I’ve done countless feature stories for magazines and newspapers. I’ve interviewed celebrities and regular folks. I tell stories, often stories people can’t tell themselves.

But when I started researching Jane Doe, I quickly realized that I was out of my element. No person to interview. No name to Google. Almost no place to begin and, if I’m being totally honest, no idea where to start. I’d never researched a police case before, and I wasn’t familiar with places to even begin, or what to do with the information once I found it.

So rather than charging full steam ahead – which is what I felt like I should do – I put the folder on the desk and moved on to other things. But I never forgot about her.

Over the last few years, I’ve got more savvy about researching local history and genealogy, developed better techniques for managing mountains of information, newspaper clippings and notes (I love paper, so my filing system involves lots of folders and boxes). I dove headfirst into stories about women in the Rochester area in the 19th century (Emma Moore and Sarah Bardwell being chief), and while I never forgot about her, Caledonia Jane Doe stayed on the desk.

But I confess that as I watched the press conference today in which the Livingston County Sheriff announced that they had identified Caledonia Jane Joe as Tammy Jo Alexander, I felt a twinge of regret that five years ago I didn’t stick with my own research.

The important thing is that the unidentified body found in the cornfield thirty five years ago now has a name. Her headstone will have a name and my folder labeled “Caledonia Jane Doe” will be replaced with a new one labeled “Tammy Jo Alexander”. My curiosity is piqued again. Why did her family not report her disappearance? Where was she in the two years from when she was last seen in Florida to the time she was found in Caledonia? Her story is still waiting to be told.

It’s time to say “Thank You” to our police officers


(Video of the moving eulogy by Lt. Eric Paul at the funeral of Officer Daryl Pierson)

It’s been more than a week since Rochester Police Department’s Officer Daryl Pierson was gunned down by a repeated parole violator he was trying to apprehend, and just a few days since Pierson’s funeral and the community-wide gathering in his honor. While there was a memorial last night at the East Rochester High School football game (Pierson grew up here, attended school here, and lived here with his wife and two young children) the press has moved on to other, more pressing subjects.

But this morning, a young wife and her children awoke, just one of thousands of days ahead of them as they learn to live without their husband and father.

And this morning, hundreds of police officers across our community pinned on their badges, strapped on their guns, and went out to do the same job that killed Officer Pierson.

For you.

It’s been on my mind this week that while our community has rallied around the Pierson family, the Rochester Police Department and other area law enforcement, it’s only natural that our devotion will wane as we move farther and farther from the event that shook our city just 10 days ago.

That bothers me. I’m the daughter of a police officer; my dad is a retired Gates cop. I know firsthand the toll the job can take on a family, a marriage, a life.

I think the vast majority of people in Rochester understand that the police are the good guys. Are there bad apples here and there? Sure, but they’re a fraction of a fraction of a fraction of the family of men and women who wear a badge.

That’s why you hear about the bad ones; it’s not a big news story when a cop goes to work and no one complains, when he serves a warrant and takes the criminal into custody without incident, when he stops a car and apprehends the suspect and no one is killed.

I know that you believe they’re the good guys, too. But even so, I think most people take for granted that when they dial 911, there’s an officer on duty – and what that means for him and his family. Continue reading

50 thoughts on turning 50: #20 Put a face on the problem

Once upon a time, I had a lot of opinions about stuff. People, religion, politics, lifestyles, sexual orientation. Most of what I believed I learned in books and church.

Then I actually put faces to issues and life changed for me.

This is on my mind this week thanks to news reports about proposals to create local housing for illegal immigrant children out of former warehouses and retail space. A lot of people are questioning where the children came from and why are we taking care of them rather than sending them home.

Illegal immigration is a tough one for me. Yes, I believe in obeying the law. Yes, I believe illegal immigration is causing serious problems – like people entering the US without proper immunizations and sparking a resurgence of diseases like measles; crimes caused by illegal immigrants; the destruction of private property along the border (check out the 2006 documentary “Border War: The Battle Over Illegal Immigration“); the crushing burden on our educational and health care systems.

But there are these other nuances to the issue that, unless you really look for them, would leave you with the belief that the problem can be solved with the wave of a wand.

Like what to do with illegal immigrant children.

A few years ago, I watched the 2009 documentary “Which Way Home“. It completely changed the way I view illegal immigration. The number of children trekking from South America to the United States is staggering. More than 100,000 children were taken into custody every year, on their way to a better life, in search of their parents, or escaping abuse and poverty. And that’s just the number we know about; who really knows how many children die or are lured in the drug and sex trade along the way.

It caused me to think more about the reality of the situation – could I put a child on a bus back to Mexico if I knew they were going back to forced prostitution, for example? What do we do with otherwise law abiding illegal immigrants who’ve been here for years and are ingrained positively in their communities? I ended up with no answers but a lot more insight into an issue that really doesn’t have a blanket solution and can’t be addressed with bumper sticker politics.

The broader lesson? If you’ve got a strong opinion on an issue, take time to put a face to it. Against gay marriage? Befriend a gay couple. Anti abortion or pro life? take someone of the opposite opinion to lunch – once a week for a year. Pro gun? Befriend someone who has lost a child in a gun accident. Anti gun? Take a class in gun safety and learn how to fire a pistol.

I don’t have any answers to the problems or political issues. But I do know that you can’t really have a legitimate opinion on something until you’ve honestly faced the other side of the issue. And the best way to do that is to listen.

I think I’ve developed more compassion and a broader world view, as well as more desire to actually consider an issue rather than just blast an opinion on social media and move on with my day.  That doesn’t mean you can’t take a stand on an issue or argue for reform or believe with every fiber of your being that your side is right. It does mean that you move forward with more grace and humility in all areas of your life.

This post is part of my series, “50 thoughts on turning 50″. Read more here.

RELATED POSTS:

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)

9/11, ten years later

September 11, 2011, 8:40 a.m. – I get up like any other Sunday, ready to watch CBS Sunday Morning, have some tea, and start a relaxing day. Except instead of the usual Sunday morning t.v. fare, Mayor Bloomberg is speaking at a ceremony commemorating the 10 year anniversary.

I didn’t forget, but I did get up like it was any other morning only to be jarred from my complacency by tragedy.

Just like I did 10 years ago.

Ten years ago today, I don’t remember exactly what I was doing that morning. I know the television was on, tuned to a morning show. And I know my attention was elsewhere, probably with the dog. (We had one dog then, Natasha, and one cat, Penny; both died in 2005.) 

I remember the moment after the first plane hit, watching the smoke billow out of the first tower at the World Trade Center. What a horrible feeling, what a horrible accident.

And then, soon after, the second plane. I saw that one as it happened. The panic, the confusion. My panic, my confusion. I don’t remember what I did next. I may have called darling husband at work. I may have called someone. I may have sat glued to the television. The images on the television screen are burned in my mind but my actions, if there were any, are a blur.

As I sit here writing, I can hear the families of those killed on 9/11 read the names of those killed on 9/11, and I think, “It takes so much longer for them to read their names than for their lives to be snuffed out, as quickly as a candle flame, thousands of souls left this earth.”

I know that I was glued to the television when a reporter breaks in with the news that something has happened at the Pentagon. At this point, I know I am in total panic. This is the end of the world. I either call my stepmother or she calls me. She has a nephew who works at the Pentagon, or worked at the Pentagon, or has a friend who is at the Pentagon. I can’t even remember. We both are watching the television as we talk on the phone.

I don’t know what to do, so I decide to drive to darling husband’s work, bringing with me a small, portable television. At that time, darling husband was in the midst of plans to go to Jamaica on a mission trip with a group from the church we were attending.  I’d had a sense of foreboding about the trip; normally I was completely supportive of these trips but this time I had a knot in my stomach right from the start. I know I am in a panic about that trip, as I bring the television so he can watch what’s going on. He is supposed to leave in a matter of days, departing from Logan airport in Boston with a layover in Miami.

As we plug in the television, we see the images of the first tower crashing to the ground. I am in a panic, I am numb, and I am sure the end of the world is at hand.

And as I sit here writing, the names of the victims are still being read in the background. This time, there are many children and young adults reading names, children of the victims, children now on their way to adulthood, their entire lives overshadowed by losing a parent or loved one in this national tragedy.

It’s strange to think that these young people were just babies or young school children when 9/11 happened. It seems like just yesterday.

I get up and let the dogs out as the reading of the names continues; I can hear the television faintly as I toss the ball for our dogs in the backyard. Time has moved on, the world did not end, life continued. But the memories will last forever.

Gay marriage legalized in NY

Last week, New York State legalized gay marriage. I don’t know that anyone doubted that it would eventually come to pass, New York being a bastion of liberalism. I confess that I don’t really know how I feel about the new law. But here are some of the things I ponder:

1) Yes, the word “marriage” does have religious meaning for me, so I struggle with pairing “gay” and “marriage”. But even more at the forefront of my dilemma is that the word “marriage” has lost its religious meaning, even for religious people. The divorce rate in this country is astronomical, so I think that unless those who are rallying for “traditional marriage” get their own acts together, the debate over “gay marriage” is a moot point.

2) Just for the record, marriages in the Bible usually involved more than one wife and/or lots of concubines. So the word “traditional marriage” needs to be tempered with “American traditional marriage”. Just saying. Continue reading