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Archive for January, 2012

My good friend and coworker, Mandy, is leaving us tomorrow, off to spend 5 years in vet school in New Zealand. I am so happy for her – what a phenomenal opportunity – but I am also going to miss her terribly. She was the only other one of my coworkers that voluntarily worked the Sunday shift with me; she is a ray of sunshine when I walk into work; and I learned a lot from her on how to deal with feisty animals, worried owners, and errant toenails.

Her departure (along with my friend Steve’s recently) has gotten me to thinking – what am I staying here for? Why don’t I just go?

Truckin’, like the do-dah man / Once told me “You’ve got to play your hand” / Sometimes your cards ain’t worth a dime / If you don’t lay’em down.

I took a long drive around the county last week, to test the emotional waters to see if I would miss this area. While I do admit that it is a beautiful place with lots of history and interesting little spots, I also had to face the ghosts of a lot of painful memories and shared moments. There was almost no road I could turn onto that didn’t hold a shadow of some part of the last 10 years – and so many of them reminded me of things that I had lost. Not just my husband but some good friends, some interesting jobs, and yes even some parts of my self. I think that in some ways in might be better to just get away from those shadows that are haunting me, to leave and start fresh somewhere else.

Busted, down on Bourbon Street / Set up, like a bowlin’ pin / Knocked down, it get’s to wearin’ thin / They just won’t let you be, oh no.

But then, in the same breath, I realized that I would truly miss some of the people that have made this part of my life journey so enjoyable. I have a wonderful group of friends that watches out for me, cares for me, and treats me right. I have a fire department pseudo-family that is there for support when I need it (and frustration when I don’t) – just like a real family. These people are the treasures that I have found in Maryland – and I’m not sure I can leave them. How will I watch my godkids grow up? How will I keep the connection to my fire department brothers and sisters? How will my circle of friends stay intact if I’m somewhere else? How will I feel if I have no roots again?

You’re sick of hangin’ around and you’d like to travel / Get tired of travelin’ and you want to settle down.

I am, in total honesty, lured by the thought of just running away from my problems. A new area with new people offers me the temptation of forgetting. Maybe I can escape those unpleasant memories if I just have a new location? Forget for a minute that the psychological and emotional damage of the last 10 years (both self-imposed and inflicted by others) will travel with me, like some really ugly Louis Vuitton baggage. Forget for a minute that it is damn hard to start over in a new place where you don’t know anyone and are trying to get used to a new job, a new home, and a new locale. Forget for a moment that there are days that I’m not sure I have the energy or courage to get out of bed, let alone move halfway across the country. The lure of a NEW PLACE beckons me like a kid to a candy store.

I guess they can’t revoke your soul for tryin’ / Get out of the door and light out and look all around.

A NEW PLACE where no one knows anything about my personal life, where the sordid details of my marriage weren’t ground in the gossip grist mill for everyone’s enjoyment. Where I can live in a home that doesn’t mock me with its memories. Where I can go out to dinner with a man and no one gives a hoot – let alone have passed it on down the gossip chain with amusing little embellishments. Where I can live anonymously without worry that my ex will recognize my car in a parking lot and cause damage to it or me. Where I am just a nameless face in the crowd and not worried about running into any of my former in-laws. Where no one will remember that I used to be fat or married. Ahhh, the lure of that mythical NEW PLACE.

Sometimes the light’s all shinin’ on me / Other times I can barely see / Lately it occurres to me / What a long, strange trip it’s been.

Mandy is lucky – she isn’t running from anything. She doesn’t leave behind the bitter and sad memories that I do; she gets a fresh start without all the emotional baggage. Granted, that is mostly due to the fact that she has been smart enough NOT to get married. But, regardless, she isn’t running away from the past – she’s running to an exciting new future. She is truly off on a new adventure – and she better realize I’m going to come visit her Down Under! Good luck, Mandy, and safe and happy travels!

Truckin’, up to Buffalo / Been thinkin’, you got to mellow slow / Takes time, you pick a place to go / and just keep truckin’ on.

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Bonnie Baker circa 1945

The long-forgotten contributors to the American pastime are the women in this country. Not just the wives and mothers who have supported and encouraged some of the best players to join the Yankees, the Sox, the Indians and the Giants; not just the few trailblazing women featured in A League of Their Own; but the vast sea of females who have fought for decades to be able to swing a bat at a hard ball, to stand on the diamond and feel the thrill of The Show.  Women have stood in the stands and cheered on their favorite teams, stood on the field as professional and amateur players, stood behind the plate as umpires, stood in the front offices as executives, even stood in the press box as sportswriters. We have, since the game began, struggled to have an equal place at Home Plate – and I wonder if we will ever be able to finally gain full equity?

The argument can be made that baseball itself is a microcosm of American society at large – from the capitalist system of outrageous salaries, free agencies, and merchandising to the socioeconomic disparities between “haves” and “have nots”; from the ethnic opening of the game from its all-white origins to its geographic expansion across this great land of ours. Baseball, too, parallels the struggles that minorities (including women) have had to make to be included in the American pastime. Just as in society at large, women have struggled to break gender, race, and age barriers to participate in a game that they loved. Facing hardship, bias, intolerance and physical difficulties, women have been able to transform their places on the diamond and have forced their way into a game that has been predominantly male.

From base ball’s very beginnings in the 19thcentury, women had to fight the social conventions in order to simply play in gender-segregated leagues. Teams formed at women’s colleges almost simultaneously with the development of professional men’s baseball – but of course women

Vassar College "Resolutes" Base Ball Club (June 1876)

would be discouraged from ever considering a career in baseball. These teams were formed for exercise only and were expected to only play other female teams. The first known women’s professional team was a team of nine African-American women called the Dolly Vardens, formed in Philadelphia in 1867, just one year after Philadelphia’s first black men’s teams organized and two years before the  first white men’s professional baseball club formed, the Cincinnati Red Stockings. These teams could not, of course, interact with their male counterparts or even dress as practically. Most uniforms were long-sleeved, frilled shirts with high necklines, wide, floor-length skirts, and heeled, high-button shoes. In 1870s America, an American woman could not vote or own property in her own name after she married; she could play baseball, though, as long as she could play it in an outfit that weighed almost 30 pounds!

The first women’s professional game (i.e. players received paychecks) was in 1875 in which the Blondes played the Brunettes in Springfield, Illinois and by 1879 the Philadelphia Blue Stockings and the New York Red Stockings (both female ‘nines’) were battling it out in Philadelphia for the female championship. This was just the start of female teams barnstorming the country and by the 1890s, these “Bloomer Girl” clubs were actually allowed to play against men’s town clubs, semi-pro clubs, and minor league teams – they rarely played against other girls’ teams. Interestingly, the average girls’ club of this era usually included at

Star Bloomer Girls Team (Indianapolis, IN) circa 1900

least 3 men playing (often in drag); Rogers Hornsby and Smokey Joe Wood got their starts on these teams.

Around the turn of the 20thcentury, women began to make inroads into the male teams and leagues. In 1898, Lizzie Arlington (real name Elizabeth Stroud) became the first woman to sign a contract to pitch for the Reading Coal Heavers of the Atlantic League. Alta Weiss joined a men’s semiprofessional team in 1907 and was known for her refusal to wear a skirt on the field – and for leaving her baseball career to become a medical doctor. In 1904, Amanda Clement was the first woman to be paid to umpire and umpired professionally for 6 years after that. In 1908, Maude Nelson was the starting pitcher for the men’s Cherokee Indian Baseball Club. And from 1911 to 1916, the St. Louis Cardinals were owned by Helene Britton. Women were taking places all over the game!

Just as women nationwide were pushing for equal rights in the voting booths, the homes, and in businesses, they also found more opportunities in baseball. The 1920s saw the formation of women’s factory teams, the most famous of which was the Philadelphia Bobbies, founded in 1922 by Mary O’Gara, Edith Houghton and Loretta “Stick” Lipski, who made headlines by travelling all over the East Coast and even abroad to play in Japan. But women were under enormous pressure to stay away from the male milieu of baseball – they were ‘supposed’ to be playing softball. Softball, first played in 1887, was really where women were being encouraged to participate. Because of its different rules – including shorter base paths ergo a smaller field, a larger ball, underhand pitching, and no steals – many assumed it was an easier game and more suited to the ‘feminine temperament.’ But it truly is a different game (and, by no means easier or more womanly, just ask any of the millions of men who play it today) and was not what the female baseball aficionado of the time wanted to play!

Edith Houghton, circa 1925

Women were falling in love with America’s game – the traditional seventh-inning stretch ditty, “Take Me Out to the Ball Game,” was written in 1908 about a young woman’s insistence that her beau can only date her if he takes her out to a game. For the first time in history, women could see themselves in the face of the game, in the face of Lizzie Murphy who in 1928 became the first person, of either gender, to play for both the American League and National League in All-Star games. And in the face of Edith Houghton, who played for the Bobbies and left to play for New York’s Bloomer Girls and the Hollywood Girls, eventually ending up making $35 a week playing men’s minor league teams. (As a side note, after playing for the Navy WAVES in World War II, Edith wrote to Bob Carpenter, owner of the Philadelphia Phillies, asking for a job as a scout, making her the first female scout in

Jackie Mitchell of the Chattanooga Lookouts (1931)

the major leagues). Or in the face of Jackie Mitchell, who was signed at age 17 to the Chattanooga Lookouts in 1931 and, during an exhibition game with the New York Yankees, struck out both Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig, causing baseball commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis to void her contract and declare women unfit to play baseball as the game was “too strenuous”. Babe Ruth was quoted in a Chattanooga newspaper as having said:

“I don’t know what’s going to happen if they begin to let women in baseball. Of course, they will never make good. Why? Because they are too delicate. It would kill them to play ball every day.”

Mitchell continued to play professionally, even at one point travelling with the House of David, a men’s team famous for their long hair and beards – she would occasionally wear a fake beard just for the publicity. These were the women that were inspiring a whole new generation of baseball fans, a diverse and plucky bunch of ‘girls.’ Women of all classes could aspire to the highest level of baseball!

Unfortunately, when the Depression hit, all Americans of all genders and races were forced to concentrate on more pressing problems. Opportunities for paychecks were limited and sure weren’t going to be wasted on a girl in the game! Despite the “Bloomer Girls” that had been playing professionally for almost 40 years (the last of which disbanded in 1934), the public opinion in the 1930s was that women had “inferior abilities” in sports. There were but a few bold women who managed to keep their feet in the doors – among them Effa Manley who co-owned the Newark Eagles with her husband and took care of most of the day-to-day operations. An ardent civil rights activists, she would later coauthor a history of black baseball and would lobby for Hall of Fame inclusion of Negro League Players. She herself would become the first woman elected and inducted to the Cooperstown hall in 2006.

In the 1940s, America went off to war – and her men went too. Women’s opportunities in baseball mirrored those in the world at large. As men headed off to war in the 1940s, women moved into the workplace and again took their place on the baseball diamond. Many minor league teams had disbanded due to male personnel shortages and many feared that the major leagues would soon follow. In 1943, Philip K. Wrigley, the chewing-gum mogul who had inherited the major league Chicago Cubs franchise from his father, frantically began searching for ideas to keep his team out of ruin. His committee proposed a female league to attract the crowds to the ballparks and keep the revenue coming in while the men were off to war and the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League (AAGPBL) was born. Originally intended as a softball league, the trustees soon changed the rules of play to match the existing rules of Major League Baseball – although the retention of shorter infield distances and underhand pitching caused some controversy in the media (which would eventually resolve itself as the league adopted overhand pitching and smaller base sizes). Using some of Major League Baseball’s scouts, talented women players were recruited from all over America and Canada. Sixty women were chosen to play on four teams, which included 15 players, a manager/coach, a business manager and a female chaperone. Sadly, it was believed that each team needed to have a notable male sports figure to coach the teams in order to increase interest in the league so 4 men were chosen to ‘lead’ these new teams.

The women selected for Wrigley’s league were paid between $45 and $85 a week, for which they were expected to be skilled on the field and adhere to strict moral and personal standards off the field. Stiff codes of conduct were imposed and femininity was a high priority – the scenes in A League of Their Own showing deportment lessons and table manner classes are not fictionalized. After their daily ball practices, the teams were requested to attend evening charm school classes. Etiquette, personal hygiene, manners, and dress codes were as much a part of this experience as stolen bases, runs batted in, and pitching styles. With the assistance of Mrs. Wrigley, a new uniform was designed to highlight the delicate

AAPGBL player at work

females of these teams – no longer could they wear the trousers that had become custom for women in baseball. Fashioned after figure-skating, field hockey and women’s tennis costumes, these short-skirted tunics showed off the assets of each player. Thankfully, a pair of satin shorts and knee-high baseball socks were allowed to preserve the modesty of the players and a practical sun-blocking baseball cap completed the ensemble.

These new teams were well-received in their sponsoring cities and by the time the Racine Belles won their first World Championship in 1943, enthusiasm was high. The drastic changes in the roles of women in and out of the home (caused by the war) made for an environment much more suited to accepting women on the baseball diamond. Additionally, a trip to the ball park was an easy, inexpensive luxury in the age of food stamps, gas rationing, and long work weeks. Patriotism abounded at these games, including the opening ceremonies in which the teams formed a giant V (for victory) down the baselines followed by the Star-Spangled Banner. The players also spent time off the field visiting hospitals and veterans homes and playing exhibition games to raise funds for the Red Cross. How could a normal, red-blooded American resist the appeal of this new league?

Things began to decline when the league expanded to larger markets for the 1944 season. The media and the fandom in these larger cities were not as inclined to accept and celebrate the female league – often, they were considered only a brief side note to the daily sports reports. The larger

Rockford Peaches (1944)

stadiums put a distance between the players and the fans and removed the ability for most of the female players to be able to hit the ball over the fences for those exciting home runs. Larger cities, too, offered a more diverse set of opportunities for entertainment and people didn’t need to go to the ballpark. But, with some restructuring of the league and its ownership, the league rallied to keep afloat. And, despite the myth, when the war ended in 1945, the AAGPBL was still swinging. Junior Leagues for girls hoping to move up in the ranks were formed; spring training seasons were organized in Mississippi, Florida, and Cuba; two more teams were added and a 4-team minor league system was set up. The league peaked in attendance in the 1948 season and several notable players attracted fans across the country, including Sophie Kurys who set the stolen base record for the AAGPBL with 201 stolen bases in 203 attempts, a record that remains unequalled in baseball history (note: Ricky Henderson is second in stolen bases with only 130). When the league voted to decentralize management, publicity/promotion, and player recruitment, it was the beginning of the end. Other forms of entertainment and increasing personal wealth lured fans from the poorly organized and advertised games; additionally, the advent of televised Major League Baseball games in the early 1950s made it more comfortable to sit at home and watch the game. Revenues began to fall and several teams folded due to simple lack of money. But, during its run the AAGPBL gave over 600 women athletes the opportunity to play professional baseball on a scale never seen before or since!

With the collapse of the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League in the 1950s and the accompanying return to a more restrictive view of a woman’s proper sphere, women’s opportunities in baseball again declined in the postwar years. In 1952, Eleanor Engle signed a contract with the minor league Harrisburg Senators but before she could take the field, MLB commissioner Ford Frick banned women from playing on any major or minor league team, stating that women (and the accompanying attention and publicity) would distract from the game – and Engle’s contract was then quickly voided by team officials. Frick’s ban stands in effect to this day.

As an interesting side note to the AAGPBL story, black women were barred from playing and subsequently found room for their talents on men’s

Connie Morgan getting batting advice from Jackie Robinson (1953)

teams in the Negro Leagues. Three women played for the Indianapolis Clowns in the 1950s, including Connie Morgan of Philadelphia, who played second base for two years. Hilda Bolden Shorter, who grew up in Darby, Pennsylvania, inherited ownership of the Negro league Philadelphia Stars from her father Ed Bolden in 1950 and remained at the helm of the club until 1952. Several of these women, like Toni Stone, Connie Morgan, and Mamie “Peanuts” Johnson, would end their careers with statistics that shamed their male counterparts.

Women’s opportunities in baseball did not increase significantly until after passage of Title IX in 1972, which required schools that received federal funding to provide equal opportunities, including athletic opportunities, to both sexes. The women’s rights movement of the 1970s also influenced younger girls who wanted to play baseball, and in 1974, following numerous suits, Little League opened its fields to girls under court order.

Slowly, women also found positions in the media, management, and umpiring of the game. In 1967 Bernice Gera, who was born in Ernest, Pennsylvania, and grew up participating in sports of all kinds, decided to attend the Florida Baseball Umpire School, and she became the first

Bernice Gera, circa 1972

woman to complete the course. Gera tried for a number of years to break into organized baseball, but it was clear that her gender stood in the way. After taking her case to court, she umpired one game before calling it quits—it was too hard to fight for every game. Major League Baseball opened its clubhouses to female reporters in 1970 but the harassment was endless, including one female reporter who received a dead rat in the mail. In 1977, Mary Shane became the first woman employed on a daily basis to do play-by-play for the Milwaukee Brewers, hired by the famous Bill Veeck. In 1979 Commissioner Bowie Kuhn, continuing his controversial rulings, threw the women out of the clubhouses, thereby removing their ability to compete with their male counterparts. But they haven’t kept us out for long – in 2005 Suzyn Waldman with the New York Yankees became the first full-time female television commentator.

Although organized baseball officially banned women players from major and minor league teams, the women of the 1960s and 70s didn’t let this stand in their way. In 1974, with the passage of Title IX, girls could finally play baseball in their schools, in Little League, and on college teams. Umpire positions, opened up by trailblazers like Bernice Gera, Christine Wren, and Pam Postema, keep women behind home plate as well. Women in the owner’s chairs, like Effa Manley (Neward Eagles), Hilda Bolden Shorter (Philadelphia Stars), Jean Yawkey (Boston Red Sox), Jackie Autry (Anaheim Angels) and Joan Kroc (San Diego Padres) and Marge Schott (Cincinnati Reds) have allowed women to call the shots in management and financing of their teams as well. Joan Payson, as 10% owner of the New York Giants, was the only stockholder to vote against the move to San Francisco. She became majority owner of the expansion Mets in 1962 and in 1969 she became the first female owner to win the world championship and, upon her passing, left the team to her daughter and granddaughters to continue the legacy.

Opportunities for women to play professionally, however, remained scarce. Finally, in 1994 (exactly 40 years after the AAGBL folded), the Colorado Silver Bullets formed and lasted four seasons as a professional team. Women came from all over to join the club, which played men’s

Colorado Silver Bullets circa 1995

college, amateur, and semi-pro teams. But, since there was no league for these women to play in, their competition base was limited only to the men’s teams that were willing to play against them.

In the last 20 years, the American Women’s Baseball Association (AWBA), American Women’s Baseball League (AWBL), and Women’s National Adult Baseball Association (WNABA) have been organized in an effort to create an organized united baseball system for women. A Women’s World Series was played in 2001 in Toronto with teams from the USA, Australia, Canada and Japan competing. In 2003, women’s baseball became an official sport in the Amateur Athletic union, the first time a national organization sanctioned and supported women’s baseball. In 2004, John Kovach, the director of the Great Lakes Women’s Baseball League, worked out a deal with Little League to develop girls’ Little League baseball programs around the country. And in 2009, Justine Siegal became the first female coach of a men’s professional team with the Cleveland Indians.

While many male baseball fans may think that the game enjoyed a period of testosterone tranquility or man-cave solitude in its ‘good old days,’ women have been involved in the game since its very beginnings. Individual women, women’s teams, and whole women’s leagues have contributed a tremendous amount to the creation, evolution, and expansion of America’s game. We, as fans of that game, cannot afford to forget that women deserve the right to be a part of America’s pastime. The history of baseball is rich with the stories of the brave females who have helped to build the game, who have proven that baseball is not and cannot be the exclusive playgrounds for the boys of summer. And while we have not yet been as successful in breaking down the barriers as some other groups of minorities, we women are ready and waiting for our chance to shine on the diamond!

 

To learn more about women in baseball, check out:

Sue Macy’s  A Whole New Ball Game

Merrie Fidler’s The Origin and History of the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League

The All American Pro Girls Professional Baseball League

 More than a Man’s Game: Pennsylvania’s Women Play Ball

Society for American Baseball Research

Gai Berlage’s Women in Baseball 

Susan E. Johnson’s When Women Played Hardball

Deidre Silva’s It Takes More Than Balls: The Savvy Girls’ Guide to Understanding and Enjoying Baseball

Marilyn Cohen’s No Girls in the Clubhouse: The Exclusion of Women from Baseball

Jean Hastings Ardell’s Breaking Into Baseball: Women and the National Pastime

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When I was a kid, my older brother went off to college in Washington, DC, a far cry from the small town where we had grown up in upstate New York. My parents, being the educational types that they were, insisted that while we were down visiting him on Parents’ Weekend, Easter, etc. that we tour the city and discover the history of our nation’s capital. But this was a big, scary, urban environment for my sheltered 12-year old self! Once, when trying to cross busy Connecticut Avenue, my brother (now the experienced urban dweller) gave me this sage piece of wisdom about crossing the street: “Don’t make eye contact, they won’t hurt you.” I’m not sure WHY this psychology works like it does – but he was most assuredly right. Not once did my sorry teenage self get splattered by a cab in DC and, in the years since and with the travelling I have done at home and abroad, the eye contact avoidance has prevented me from ever getting hit in the street.

Sadly, I came to a startling realization this week – I think I took my brother’s advice a little too much to heart. I rarely make eye contact with anyone anymore – at all, in any situation, PERIOD. Somewhere along the line, apparently I twisted my brother’s words to avoid all eye contact in order to prevent getting hurt. In a painful flash of self-awareness (when questioned on what color a friend’s eyes are), I realized that I just don’t look people in the eye ever. I never intended to transfer the street-crossing wisdom into my relations with all human beings – I didn’t even realize I was doing it.

I’m not sure if I have always had this problem… I would like to think that, at some point in my past, I was bold and confident enough to look people in the eye and share myself with them. I would hate to think that I have always been this much of a milquetoast. But, in all reality, I am guessing that I have always been like this – afraid to establish a connection, subconsciously putting myself in the submissive role. In the world of dogs, eye contact is how they establish dominance in a pack – the ones that stand straight and can face down enemies are the top of the pecking order, the ones that bow down and look down are low in the pack. I have been, without realizing it, announcing my submissiveness to the world with every conversation. No wonder I was easily tagged by a self-confident, aggressive, bully of a husband – he knew, by my eyes, that I would never be able to stand up to him.

So now that I have realized that I have been keeping myself aloof from others by denying that eye contact – and meekly placing myself in the submissive position – I vow that I will change that. I don’t want to keep myself distant from other human beings any more; I am no longer the weak, fearful person I used to be! I want to create those human connections, those important relationships, by looking people in the eye, sharing who I am with them. Yes, I do understand that this will also allow them to see my vulnerabilities, opening myself up to getting hit by those proverbial cars in the street, but I think it will also help me to develop a stronger connection to others and to myself…

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In putting together my post for MLK Day 2012, I have spent the week pondering the oft-ignored import of it as a national holiday. It is more than an excuse for stores to have more post-Christmas sales or a reason for kids and teachers to enjoy a day off. It is not just a token federal holiday intended to appease the minority voters. In 1983, when President Ronald Reagan signed the national holiday into law, he was acknowledging the important work that Dr. King did in bringing equality to all citizens, a fundamental belief on which this country was built.

Back in January 2009, the day before the inauguration of Barack Obama, the first American president of ‘color’ (or however the heck you state that in a politically correct manner), Mr. Rick Warren, popular minister of the 22,000-member Saddleback Church, gave the keynote address at the annual birthday service for the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in Atlanta.

The whole thought of Rick Warren speaking on Dr. King’s day made me absolutely sick. I support Mr. Warren’s intent to bring God into the national conversation, to make religion a part of everyday lives. I admire his chutzpah in forcing political leaders and celebrities to discuss and confront issues of faith. And I admire a religious leader who calls for Christians worldwide to confront the global problems of AIDS, extreme poverty, climate change and disease in third world countries.

But I do not and cannot support his call for the social, political, and religious exclusion of those he (as a flawed human being, just like the rest of us) deems unworthy. In my own personal formulation of Christian behavior, I cannot condone the messages of intolerance and judgement that seem to be very much a part of his very fundamental Christian beliefs. For all of you fundamentalists out there, put away the poison pens – I just don’t happen to have the same world view as many of those churches. My own personal framework of beliefs is much more liberal, that is all. I would like to think that I will be judged by my Father, not by a human being who runs a superchurch and holds sway with newscasters.

I have written before about my mixed-race marriage, on my stance on gay marriage and about the importance of diversity in our world. Dr. King’s work alone has inspired 3 of my posts, all hoping for a more equal, just world. Obviously, I am very much a student of the lessons that Dr. King taught about equality, justice, and freedom. I have also been struggling with a major crisis of faith since the collapse of my marriage – yes, I am divorced and therefore subject to Rev. Warren’s derision – and have been doing a lot of soul-searching about the meaning of God’s forgiveness and what it means to be a Christian in the modern world.

Jesus himself healed blind men and lepers, kept company with prostitutes, beggars, and thieves. If our Lord was able to treat those people as equals, with the right to be treated respectfully, why can’t we do that? What makes any one human being feel that he is better than anyone else, good enough to judge others?

Would our Lord truly think it appropriate that any church (purportedly operating in His name) run websites, online chat rooms, television interviews and major media campaigns to ostracize these people? This church’s scope of national publicity is astounding – and very upsetting to those of us who happen to believe that God loves all.  Reverend Warren, and many others like him, teach lessons that include the exclusion and vilification of  homosexuality, divorce, abortion, sex outside of marriage, and a variety of other behaviors. I am not arguing that those behaviors are or aren’t morally, Biblically, or ethically wrong – I am arguing that we as human beings and children of God have the right to NOT be publicly ostracized for our actions. As my friend Pastor Drew has told me a number of times, Jesus went to the cross for the forgiveness of our sins, big and small.

In reading back on MLK Day 2009, it turns out that I was not the only one opposed to Revered Warren’s participation in the King’s Center’s events – that day, about 100 protesters with signs reading “No bigotry in MLK’s church” and “We still have a dream” gathered outside of Dr. King’s former pulpit. I think there were much more appropriate selections that could have been made for the keynote address – perhaps one of the thousands of civil rights protesters that had marched in Selma or took their turns as Freedom Riders; perhaps one of the millions of black Americans that have lived in a world much different than their ancestors because of Dr. King’s work; perhaps one of the many celebrities that actually knew Dr. King personally. So many other, better, less offensive choices!  I was so disenchanted with The King’s Center’s choice in speakers in 2009 that I actually put pen to paper and wrote a personal letter to Mr. Dexter Scott King. In thinking about my article on Dr. King for MLK Day this year, I got to thinking about that letter. I want to share it with you now because I still (after 3 years) feel so strongly on the topic – Mr. Dexter Scott King may not have been affected by my words but maybe someone out there in the great internet cosmos might be:

19 January 2009

Dexter Scott King, Chairman

The King Center

449 Auburn Avenue NE

Atlanta, GA 30312

To the honorable Mr. King and the board of directors for the King Center;

I am writing to you today to express my incredible disappointment with the King Center’s choice for Rev. Rick Warren as the keynote speaker for their annual celebration of Dr. King’s birthday in 2009. How unfortunate that a man who actively campaigns against gay marriage and a woman’s right to choose was chosen to commemorate a man who gave his life to protect our rights.

Although I personally do not condone abortion, I firmly believe that all humans have the right to choose what is medically best for their body. And while I cannot say that I have done scholarly research on Dr. King’s spiritual and political beliefs on matrimony, I would like to believe that he would have supported any human’s civil right to enjoy the equal opportunity to be legally married. Fifty years ago, I myself would have been in a marriage that was considered socially and legally inappropriate – I am a white woman married to a black man. I owe Dr. King a personal debt of gratitude for the efforts that allowed me to publicly declare my love for whomever I choose. How then, in Dr. King’s  honor, can the King Center overlook one man’s actions to block the civil rights of any human being and select him as their keynote speaker?

Does Mr. Warren not realize the incredible hypocrisy it took to stand on the pulpit of Dr. King’s church and speak about Dr. King’s struggle for equality – and then return to his activities to prevent equalities for entire populations of American citizens?

I am disappointed in the King Center for having made this choice. With so many notable and active people in America struggling for racial, social, ethnic, educational, and economic equality, I believe there were many others who would have and could have made a more effective and less divisive impact. I suggest you take the time to listen to Colin Powell’s speech that he gave in Minnesota yesterday – what a truly remarkable tribute that was!

On this most auspicious occasion, as we stand on the eve of inaugurating our first United States President of color, what a true shame that the keynote speaker for the King Center was one who regularly preaches exclusion and intolerance under the cloak of fundamentalist morality!

I have a very deep and very sincere respect for Dr. and Mrs. King and the legacies that they have left behind. I can only hope that their hard work will continue through the efforts of the King Center. Thank you for what you do to keep the King memory alive.

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There are very few times any more that I truly miss being married. Let’s face it – I didn’t have the ideal marital situation. Neither of us was really in it with the right expectations and its a part of my history that I usually try to put aside, to forget as best I can. Yet there are times when, like brief flashes of lightning that jolt my world and cause an almost physical pain, that I realize what I am missing. I feel, more and more as time passes, that I have past my expiration date, that I had my one chance to be married and I screwed it up. And that makes me really sad. Not sad for the man that I lost (because, let’s face it, he has definitely turned into an A-1 dillweed!) but sad for the fact that I may never have a marriage, that lifelong connection to a loved one, again.

I was raised in a home with 2 happily married parents – an oddity even in my growing up years. More and more of my friends’ parents divorced as I got older and, by the time I was in high school, I began to realize how special a lasting marriage truly is. My mom and dad are partners in ever sense of the word. I’m sure they suffer through the rough times and the typical spousal frustrations of any marriage – but they have stuck together for over 40 years. If one forgets something, the other will remember – if one falls down, the other one picks them up and helps them keep going – if one has a tough time, the other one is there to hold their hand and promise to support them. I envy them their marriage, their partnership, their team.

There was a movie on tv today that I hadn’t seen in years – “Shall We Dance?” – with Richard Gere and J-Lo. This movie, which centers around a man frustrated with his humdrum life and looking for something to challenge him, has one of the best definitions of marriage I think I’ve ever heard:

”We need a witness to our lives. There’s a billion people on the planet, what does any one life really mean? But in a marriage, you’re promising to care about everything. The good things, the bad things, the terrible things, the mundane things, all of it, all of the time, every day. You’re saying ‘Your life will not go unnoticed because I will notice it. Your life will not go unwitnessed because I will be your witness’.”

It’s funny, I liked this quote so much that I had it printed in our bulletins for our wedding way back in the day. We all know that I love my quotes – been stealing other peoples’ wisdom for years – and I really liked this one from the moment I heard it. Back then, I was so naively optimistic about being married and being in love. Now this quote seems to ring with a certain irony.

I’ve lost my witness, the only person that could testify to my life, so now I wonder if that was it for me, my one chance. I know that I have friends and family that love me – but they all have their own spouses and children whose lives need witnessing. Who will be a witness to my life, to love me unconditionally through good days and bad? Who will help me pass the time on this planet, into old age and into the grave? Why has God chosen for me to go through life without a partner? Who will be the witness to my life…?

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As I have grown older and witnessed the vast inequities in our world, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. has become a hero of mine, the voice in my subconscious always urging love, tolerance, peace, nonviolence, and diversity. I have written before on the inspiration that Dr. King has given me in my personal life but today I write about the inspiration that I pray every day he will give to all corners of our society.

On the great day in which he delivered the famous “I Have A Dream” speech, he was speaking specifically on the topic of the racial crisis facing this country. But when Dr. King speaks of rights, promisory notes, and dreams of equality, he was not only talking about equality for black and white but also men and women, gay and straight, rich and poor, young and old, Christian and Muslim. His words painted a canvas of freedom and justice – and almost 50 years later, while we have made amazing progress, that painting is still unfinished.

I am always amazed when I hear Dr. King speak of his hope for a world where blacks and whites can eat together at the same table. Considering that I was married to a black man (and I’m so white, I’m neon), the world has come a long way! In Dr. King’s time, in some areas of the country, I would have been arrested (or worse!) for being with a black man – nowadays it’s not so uncommon and certainly not prosecutable. So many of my friends are of different colors, ethnicities, and backgrounds that it makes the violent and disciminatory realities of Dr. King’s world seem unbelievable. Our world is so much more diverse and tolerant than I’m sure anyone of that era could have ever imagined. And yet, even the most idealistic and naive amongst us can see that there is still progress to be made. There are still inequalities in this world to be solved, injustices to be made right, and discrimination to be overcome.

I, too, have a dream that someday this world will be full of people who treat each other with love, kindness, and fairness. I have a dream that someday physical attributes will not be the ruler by which people are measured – that someday, we will consider ‘pretty’ to be in someone’s soul. I have a dream that skin color, economic status, gender, religious belief or sexual orientation will not be factors in how we judge people – that we will love them regardless of these factors and be influenced only by ‘the contents of their characters’. Dr. King has taught me a lot about the kind of person I want to be and I am sure that I will continue to learn from his words and his actions.

So, I invite you all, on today of all days, to take some time out of your life to view the video of this great orator from August 28, 1963 – and maybe say a prayer for peace and equality and love in the world.

“I say to you today, my friends, so even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream.

I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: “We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal.”

I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood.

I have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi, a state sweltering with the heat of injustice, sweltering with the heat of oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice.

I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.

I have a dream today.

I have a dream that one day, down in Alabama, with its vicious racists, with its governor having his lips dripping with the words of interposition and nullification; one day right there in Alabama, little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers.

I have a dream today.

I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight, and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together.

This is our hope. This is the faith that I go back to the South with. With this faith we will be able to hew out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope. With this faith we will be able to transform the jangling discords of our nation into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood. With this faith we will be able to work together, to pray together, to struggle together, to go to jail together, to stand up for freedom together, knowing that we will be free one day.

This will be the day when all of God’s children will be able to sing with a new meaning, “My country, ’tis of thee, sweet land of liberty, of thee I sing. Land where my fathers died, land of the pilgrim’s pride, from every mountainside, let freedom ring.”

And if America is to be a great nation this must become true. So let freedom ring from the prodigious hilltops of New Hampshire. Let freedom ring from the mighty mountains of New York. Let freedom ring from the heightening Alleghenies of Pennsylvania!

Let freedom ring from the snowcapped Rockies of Colorado!

Let freedom ring from the curvaceous slopes of California!

But not only that; let freedom ring from Stone Mountain of Georgia!

Let freedom ring from Lookout Mountain of Tennessee!

Let freedom ring from every hill and molehill of Mississippi. From every mountainside, let freedom ring.

And when this happens, when we allow freedom to ring, when we let it ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God’s children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual, “Free at last! free at last! thank God Almighty, we are free at last!”

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Exactly three months ago today, I was sitting in the OR having my guts rearranged like some freaky science experiment. I have been doing a lot of thinking about that today – first because I had to go and give my 17 vials of blood for post-op testing (have to be sure I’m getting enough nutrients) and also because as a historian I just can’t miss an opportunity to ponder the past. It has been an interesting ride since the surgery, to say the very least. Eating is now a daily chore, a source of fuel but rarely of enjoyment – which, I guess, is a good thing considering how much I relied on food as comfort and love pre-surgery.

One of the most interesting things that I have learned on my new journey towards becoming thin and healthy is that the bariatric surgery community is its own unique subculture, full of people who can openly share experiences that others won’t understand. The community even has its own distinct language. Vocabulary words like “pouch” (the new stomach formation) and “nut” (short for nutritionist) and “sliders” (foods that go down too easily and can cause overeating or lapses into old food habits) are just some of the new lexicon.

One of my favorite new phrases is “food porn.” I think this one actually should take off in the world at large, since every person I know has one or two food items that they would enjoy seeing made in a television show or a recipe online.  It goes beyond a lukewarm “hey, I really like that _____ (fill in the food name here)” into a lustful, passionate, “oh my god I must have that NOW” sort of feeling.  It’s the food that causes you to want to lick the television screen if you see a commercial for it.

Interestingly, I was very concerned before my surgery that this kind of food porn (especially with sweets – pies, cakes, cookies, etc.) would drive me absolutely insane. In the first few weeks after my surgery, during my recovery period at home when, at first I couldn’t drive (drugs were too good) and then later when there were few non-food events that I wanted to attend, food commercials and cooking shows DID drive me towards distraction – but NOT for the sweets. I could have cared less for all the wonderful Halloween candy commercials or Thanksgiving dessert shows. It was the protein sources that were and are the biggest cause of stress for. Outback Steakhouse commercials, for example, are especially painful. Sure, the other ‘junk’ I used to eat (donuts, pizza, mozzarella sticks) occasionally appear before me like the evil temptors that they are – but its the images of chicken, beef, and pork that haunt my days and nights.

In my usual contrary way, though, the Food Porn is what has kept me sane through the last 3 months. Nowadays, when I am feeling especially low, I will turn on a cooking show or desperately search the internet for a recipe. I don’t know if this is so I can pretend that I live a normal life again or if its simply some for of masochistic torture for my stomach. Whatever the psychology behind it, looking at food pictures and recipes fills some sort of need and keeps me from being one super-cranky bitch. So all of you who have to deal with me on a daily basis should really thank your lucky stars for the Food Network and those recipe websites!

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