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Archive for the ‘hope’ Category

One of the worst parts about being single again at my age is the serious shortage in available, decent men. I guess I got too comfortable as a married woman and didn’t notice that all the really good guys were being snatched up off the market. But in the time since my husband left, I have found pretty much every possible representative of odd men that are still left on the singles scene. My married and relationshiped friends laugh when I make jokes about creating patches to represent these various different categories of men and wear the badges like a Girl Scout uniform. So, as a representative for single girls everywhere, I’m willing to proudly wear the Red Badges of Shame:

The Rebound Guy – this is the one who comes swooping in and says he knows exactly what you’re going through, he’ll be there for you, wants to rebuild your damaged ego, etc. I am a big enough girl to admit having fallen for that huge mistake – my rebound guy was over 20 years older than me and seriously resembles the cartoon character Shrek – without the sense of humor or lovable charm! Yeah, I’m real proud of this one.

The “You Were Better in My Head” Guy – this was the guy that ended up being so not worth the hype. My particular version of this guy had been the subject of some serious x-rated fantasies for me in the last year of my marriage as things were falling apart. It could have been terribly awkward if the husband had ever found out, since this fantasy-maker was a mutual friend of ours and in the fire service with us. Too bad he ended up being a MAJOR disappointment compared to all the fantasies I had built up in my head….

The Momma’s Boy – this guy couldn’t decide what to wear without consulting his mother. I was actually surprised, the few times we went out to dinner, that he didn’t either ask her to join us or have to call her for guidance on what to eat. And the worst part was that I was actually disappointed when this one dumped me. We won’t even ponder why I waited around long enough to get dumped.

The Pimp – yep, that’s right, he was a real, honest-to-God pimp – in his past, or so he promised me. And he considered it a compliment to me when he said I could have been his house mother. Gee, thanks, I don’t even get to be a ‘service provider’, I just get to babysit and cook for them. Really??

The ‘I Can’t Believe You Dumped Me for HER’ Guy – this is the guy that you see out with the next girl and you literally think to yourself ‘really, THAT girl’s better than me?’!  I went out with a guy once who is in law enforcement and who blew me off for someone he met through work – and NOT on the free side of the bars if you get my general drift. That’ll take a chunk out of a girl’s ego – of course, my husband left me for a woman who is going bald and has a mustache so there wasn’t much ego left but still….

The Control Freak – this is the guy that can’t be bothered to squeeze you into his schedule if it’s inconvenient but he damn well wants to know where you are and who you’re with. And, if you mention that you have guy friends and that you’re spending time with them, be prepared for the Control Freak to go batcrap crazy. You’ve been warned.

The “Are You SURE You’re Not Gay?” Guy – this guy was classy, educated, well-spoken and always dressed well. All in all, way too perfect to have been interested in me. I still haven’t figured out yet if he really is a gay man or just out of my league…

The Merry Widower – this one actually called me for emotional support on the night of his wife’s funeral. His need to ‘talk’ to someone lasted only as long as it took me to fall hard for his wounded, emotionally vulnerable self – and then he was moving on, getting engaged and pregnant within a year. Wow, shame on me, that’s all I can say….

The Baby Daddy – we all know them and love them, the men who just seem destined to be dads. Normally, I am a sucker for a guy with kids, who spends time with them, loves them, and supports them. This particular individual, though, has *4* children – with *4* different women. There is something charming about a loving dad – there is something not so charming about a serial sperm donor.

The Hillbilly – miles beyond the normal redneck man (who we all know I happen to love), the Hillbilly is in a class all by his double-wide-trailered self. This is the guy that thinks “hey, wanna see the deer hide still stuck in the front bumper of my station wagon ’cause I ran him down last month?” is an actual pickup line.

The Loser – this guy lives with his parents (in the basement, the attic, whatever) and doesn’t really seem to be bothered by it. Normally, when an adult child has to move home for some reason, there is a sense of discomfort and unease on the part of the adult child – they don’t really WANT to be there. But with this guy, he’s quite content to let Mom & Dad foot the bills, do the laundry, cook the meals and keep the house.

The Second Date Guy – this particularly charming individual got pissed off at me when I wouldn’t sleep with him on the second date. I will politely refrain from using the phrase Trailer Trash …but suffice it to say, I don’t give this one high marks for class or chivalry.

The Possessor – this guy is the one who wants to know where you are, what you’re doing, and who you’re with at every moment. He needs constant reassurance that you’re interested and wants to know when you will be calling him, seeing him, or texting him. It’s a sad day when I date a man who is a bigger girl than I am!

The One Who Is Just Waiting For Something Better – this charmer is the one who basically tells you he’s just passing the time with you. He checks his texts constantly while out with you, hoping that a better offer has come along. While he gets points for being honest and upfront, he will someday realize that telling a girl straight out that she will be only a booty call is somewhat insulting.

The Emotionally Unavailable One – this is the one that, no matter how hard you try to establish an emotional connection, you just can’t rip through the walls he’s built up. I couldn’t even get a straight answer from this guy on WHY he had built up these walls – it was like trying to ram my head into the proverbial brick wall.

The Egotist – this is the guy that never once asks you a single question about yourself or listens to anything you have to say. He’s too busy telling you about his history, his life, his hobbies, his job, his taste in food, etc. You could stand naked in the corner and whistle Dixie and it wouldn’t interrupt the soliloquy about HIM.

The Friend – this is perhaps the biggest mistake we as newly-single women can make! If he was a friend either from your previous single life or worse yet from your married days do NOT try to have a relationship with him! It will be awkward when things don’t work out and then you’ve potentially ruined a friendship that has survived the test of time. Or, even if you can salvage the friendship, you will always feel a certain resentment when you see him with the next girl.

The Wounded Soul – this guy is the easiest to fall for, especially if you’re like me – a sucker with a big heart. It’s like adopting a homeless puppy – they’re so vulnerable and needy and you can help them and make their lives better. The downfall is that you can either end up with the dog that will one day turn on you inexplicably and bite you in the ass OR you end up with the one who just acts like he’s waiting for you to kick him in the teeth because some woman in the past has done just that. Either way, you can’t win and it won’t be a healthy relationship.

And all of these charmers are the ones I actually went out with – this doesn’t include the variety of men that are still out there, just waiting for me. Oh, come on girls, you know we’ve ALL been out with these guys – I cannot possibly be the only one to have discovered some of these ‘treasures’! In a rare flash of uncharacteristic optimism, I am going to HOPE that I might one day start a relationship with Mr. Perfect. This is the guy that is, in so many ways, the anthithesis of the men that are normally attracted to me – he’s intelligent, kind, educated, well-spoken, with a good job and a sense of decency – and he actually reads books and uses his brain for matters other than sex or fire trucks. He will be able to tolerate me and my quirky ways, he will treat me well, and he will be normal…and then maybe I can throw away the collection of badges? Oh, Mr. Perfect, here I am, ready and waiting….

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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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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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This time of year, you can’t travel 5 feet in a store or mall without seeing a vision of Santa Claus. He has become the commercial face of a holiday that was originally supposed to be a birthday celebration for our Lord. I don’t, in general, have a problem with Santa – I think he represents all the magic and wonder of believing in the spirit of Christmas.

I, however, would like to remind myself of the “Reason for the Season,” the true meaning behind Christmas – the arrival of our Lord in the form of a small, innocent, human child who would pay dearly for our sins and who was the fulfillment of a prophecy for a Savior. I think that I have always, in forming my religious beliefs, used that small baby as the foundation for what I believe – not a wrathful vengeful God but one who would deliver a loving Messiah in a dirty stable surrounded by animals and wrapped in cloths.

Every time I think of the Christmas story (which, just as an aside, is told in an amazingly touching fashion by Linus in the Charlie Brown Christmas), I see in my head the nativity set. Growing up, my church had a set that would start as a simple stable and, each week throughout the advent season, would add a different element to the story until Christmas Eve when the babe would appear in the manger. Those simple statues created the most meaningful memories I have of the nativity story – statues that brought a magical story to life and reminded us WHY we celebrate that night!

We also had a nativity set at the house (which survives to this day) and I now have one for my home. I leave mine up year-round, though, perched serenely on top of my grandmother’s piano, reminding me daily of my duties and my privileges of being a Christian.

I think the nativity set is a dying breed of Christmas decoration. No longer can you find it on the shelves of most stores – you have to look for a specialty store. And, while I am glad that collectible companies are jumping on the spiritual bandwagon , do we really need a Disney Mickey & Minnie nativity set?

But, for me, those figures of wisemen, angels, shepherds, and the holy family (regardless of how they are dressed, what color they are, or how garishly they are decorated) will always represent what Christmas is about – a loving family, a loving God, a loving tradition!

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What movie defines your holiday traditions? What cinematic adventure is a must in your family Christmas season? We all have them, even the Scrooges and Grinches in the group.

Maybe a few tears are shed when George Bailey hears the bell ring in “It’s A Wonderful Life” or Scrooge discovers the Christmas spirit in “A Christmas Carol.” Maybe you can’t help but laugh at Cousin Eddie in “National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation” or at Buddy the Elf’s antics in “Elf.” Maybe the sweet innocence of Cindy Lou Who in “How the Grinch Stole Christmas” or Susan in “Miracle on 34th Street” inspires you to just believe for a while. Or perhaps the classic songs of “White Christmas” or the iconic moments of Ralphie’s life in “A Christmas Story” bring back the nostalgia of Christmases past.

Whatever your favorites are, the holiday movies create special times for us. The most important part of these movies is the family time together that they create. Friends and family gathered around a screen laughing, crying, and creating traditions and happy holiday memories!

I’m happy to report that we have introduced my godson, Bryce, to the joys of Christmas movies last year – we had a pizza dinner and watched MY favorite – “A Christmas Story.” What a wonderful memory I will take away from this difficult holiday season – and all because Ralphie was willing to don the pink bunny suit just one more time to make a little boy giggle.

I wish you all a few laughs and a few tears courtesy of Hollywood as we near Christmas Day. May George Bailey inspire you, may Scrooge not be you, may Buddy remind you of the childish joy of the season….

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If you look at the top of almost any Christmas tree, you’ll probably see either a star or an angel. Both are important, integral, and co-mingled elements of the nativity story – both are needed to signal the tremendous miracle that occurred 2,000 years ago. And yet I find the angels are among us every day…

The star atop the tree symbolizes the Star of Bethlehem, leading shepherds and kings alike to the Baby Jesus. How wonderful it is that a bright blazing symbol still sits atop our trees, reminding us of the way back to Jesus. My parents’ tree has had the same blue and silver foil star for at least the last 30 years so, when I started my own tree tradition here in Maryland, I selected a star to sit atop the tree.

But, now that I have gotten older, I am going to add an angel to sit prominently near the top. I don’t know why but I have always been fascinated most by the angelic element of the Christmas story.

I’d like to believe that I have angels all around me, guiding me through this tricky world. I know some of you out there must be thinking I’ve lost my mind and will next be talking about ghosts and voodoo priestesses – but I absolutely believe in angels! I think that the people we’ve lost, loved ones and friends, keep an eye on us and help to protect and shield us. And, I am SURE that someone up there is helping me navigate.

One of my all-time favorite Christmas movies is It’s A Wonderful Life. George Bailey’s guardian angel, Clarence, shows him how valuable he is to the world, to his family, to his friends, and to his town. How amazing is a God that can send an emissary to prove our worth to ourselves!

So many of us have lost someone we truly loved – and I ‘d like to believe that God simply needed them in heaven more than we do. He needs their help as friends for those in heaven and as angels for us on earth.

So, I will add an angel to my Christmas tree, as a tip of the hat to my angels up there who are guiding me!

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