June 24, 2010


Bishop Gabino Zavala

June 3, 2010


I am very happy that we have a chance to have this conversation about what makes for a faithful
Catholic media organization. I think this is a crucial question for the Church in North America in this time of unprecedented changes in media and telecommunications. It seems every
month there is a new website or technology that appears. No one can keep
up with everything. Not even we bishops, known as we are for our
technical expertise!

All joking aside, I want to say very clearly that we bishops do not
approach this conversation as if we have "the answer" to the
question of what it means to be a faithful Catholic media organization.
Rather, we are looking forward to a positive, constructive exchange of
ideas. We expect to learn from you and your expertise as people immersed
daily in the realm of media. Nor do we expect that there is a
"one-size-fits-all" answer. But we do believe there is much to be
learned by exploring the question together.

"Faithful" Catholic Media - What It Is Not

To sharpen our focus, let me start by saying what a faithful Catholic
media is not. Today's secular media culture is often competitive and can have little regard for the damage done to people's lives and reputations. There is a tendency to be mean-spirited and engage in
personal attacks.
Many times the secular media present only a
superficial rendering of a story, often choosing what is sensationalist
over in-depth reporting.

While I think we can all agree that we do not want to see any of these
qualities in our own publications, programs or Web sites, I think we
have to admit that at times they are present. Avoiding them requires
ongoing vigilance, since secular media and its influence are vast.

I also do not think that we should go to the other extreme and simply say that faithful Catholic media organizations are those who engage in
apologetics to defend bishops at all costs.
That is too simplistic and does not respect the intelligence of Catholics in North America. They
deserve a Catholic media that takes a more nuanced perspective.

Lastly, I do not believe that faithful Catholic media organizations should present themselves as speaking for the Magisterium. Only the Magisterium can speak for the Magisterium. While this sounds
self-evident, it bears saying because there appear to be some
organizations who do not see this point.

Elements of a "Faithful" Catholic Media

I want to now shift to talking about the elements of a faithful
Catholic media organization. As I said at the beginning of the talk,
there is not a "one-size-fits-all" formula and I cannot give a
comprehensive list of characteristics. But there certainly are elements
worth pointing out.

Let's begin with the idea that faithful Catholic media organizations work from a perspective of being part of the Catholic community, not
outside it.
This carries two assumptions:

First, Catholic media should work from a Catholic perspective, not the so-called "objective" perspective of the secular media (and of
course we know that secular media are not objective anyway). I believe
that it is crucial to have media with a distinctly Catholic voice that
offers the unique Catholic perspective on the world and humanity.

Second, Catholic media has a responsibility to the larger Catholic community. Two useful words here are "loyalty" and "service." As I said before, I am not suggesting that Catholic media should engage
purely in apologetics. Rather, I think that faithful Catholic media
organizations are loyal in that they wish to see the Church succeed and care about its health and well-being. Their service to the Church is to report the TRUTH, because the truth does set us free. Their loyalty is their care about the Church's well-being, from its most
vulnerable members to the community as a whole.
So I am suggesting that the faithful Catholic media organization is one that both reports the truth
and does so with an eye to how that reporting can best serve the

At their core, Catholic media organizations have two main roles to play
in our Church: to inform and to teach.

To Inform: This is the most basic and obvious role - keeping Catholics
informed about local and global events in the Church - and many of you
already do this very well. There are so many wonderful stories in our
large, diverse Church, stories that only Catholic media can cover. As
you cover these stories, I want to encourage you to move beyond just
reporting news. Rather, I would hope that you would situate your
reporting within Peter 3:15 and report within a context of how to give

Teach: Catholic media has a second, unique role of teaching and helping
Catholics to deepen their understanding of their faith and how it is
lived out in the world. To do this requires that Catholic media be
staffed by people who are theologically trained and able to use media to effectively teach.
As bishops we are concerned that this is not always the case. And so we must challenge Catholic media to make this
investment. And we bishops must be willing to help with this as well. I
hope that our conversation today and tomorrow will identify ways in
which we can collaborate in this area.

Catholic Media - Tackling Difficult Subjects

Of course, sometimes the truth that must be reported is not easy. We
are all aware that we are living in challenging times for the Church. So
what is the role of the faithful Catholic media organization in the
context of scandal and other difficult and divisive stories?

I believe that we cannot be afraid to name the truth of what is
happening. Our Catholic people are intelligent and they want and
appreciate getting the "straight scoop." However, there are several
things that we bishops are looking for when Catholic media tell
difficult stories.

The first is to adopt a basic principle of "Speak the truth in
love." Speak the truth out of a love for the Church, and a love for the people of God. There also has to be a place for mercy.
All too often, secular media seems to seek the destruction of individuals when they are caught in a mistake. This is not what our Lord taught us. And
so this is something Catholic media can teach the secular media - how to
report divisive or scandalous stories in a spirit of love and mercy. To
do this, we have to have a "nose for grace" and a conviction that
God turns everything to the good. So even in the midst of dark and
depressing stories Catholic media can be asking, "What is the potential for good in all of this?"

Second, Catholic media should always proceed with humility and civility. The humility comes from the realization that none of us have all the facts of a story. There are always other perspectives beyond our
own. Committing to civility means moving away from positions of
attacking or being defensive so that genuine dialogue and exchange can
take place. It is OK to point out when mistakes are made. As humans, all
of us make mistakes. But I think that when Catholic media point out
mistakes, it must be done with fairness and civility.

Third, we hope that Catholic media will always work to present Church
teaching fairly and accurately.
It is fair to present multiple opinions
on a topic. But we hope that Catholic media would present the Church's
position accurately.

What Makes Catholic Media Unique

I deeply believe Catholic media has a unique role to play in our Church
and as a witness in our secular society. In particular, I want to
emphasize three unique and vital roles for Catholic media.

First, in a world with a plethora of media outlets, many of whom are
delivering news and commentary about the Church, the role for Catholic
media has never been more important. We need a Catholic media that can
help Catholics (and everyone) understand what is happening in our world and our church from a Catholic perspective. The more information and data there is out there, the greater the need for interpretation - how
do we make sense of it all? What does this mean, to be holding one's
iPhone in one hand and the Gospel in the other? How does the information
in one device mesh with what has been handed down in our faith? And this
is a vital role that only Catholic media can fulfill.

The second unique role for Catholic media is to model a civil and
respectful media.
As I said earlier, secular media often falls into a
trap of being cynical, disrespectful and sensationalist. Whatever is
rudest or most sensational is what they often gravitate to. Catholic
media can model what a civil, substantive media can and should be.
Civil, substantive media pursues and presents stories of substance and depth that enrich all of our lives. This is very important in today's
media culture.

As I talked with brother bishops in preparation for this presentation,
there was consistent agreement that one aspect that is most alarming to
us about media is when it becomes unchristian and hurtful to
individuals. For example, we are particularly concerned about blogs that engage in attacks and hurtful, judgmental language. We are very troubled by blogs and other elements of media that assume the role of Magisterium and judge others in the Church. Such actions shatter the communion of
the Church that we hold so precious.

The third unique role for Catholic media is to provide bishops with
guidance about how to best engage with media organizations. You are much more practiced in this area than we are. And so we need your help.

I know we are not always the best students in this area, but we need your
input and guidance. Let's talk about how we bishops can do a better job
of letting you help us in the area of media.

Relationship with Secular Media

I also want to take a moment to discuss Catholic media's relationship
with secular media. The time has passed when the Church could either
ignore the secular media or expect that the secular media would give the
Church the benefit of the doubt. So it is crucial that we as a Church
recognize that we have to engage and educate the secular media.
Otherwise, we will continue to be saddled with depictions of our Church
in the popular press that are inaccurate and unflattering. And these in
turn influence many Catholics, especially those who are not currently
participating in our Church.

We bishops have a key role in improving the Church's relations with the
secular media. But so do you. Catholic media can help educate the
secular media about our Church and its realities. We have such a rich
tradition that it is difficult for non-Catholics to grasp it.
So there is a great need to help secular media better understand our Church, in the hopes they will be able to more accurately report on it.

As their media colleagues, Catholic media is an excellent position to
provide this education for secular media. To do this will require
cultivating relationships with the secular media. And then taking
additional steps to educate them about Catholic issues and provide
useful background and depth on Catholic stories. Of course, there is no
guarantee of success in this effort. But we bishops believe it is one
that is well worth taking on.

What Catholic Media Should Expect from Bishops

In this talk I have identified some hopes and expectations that we
bishops have of Catholic media. But you also have a right to have
expectations of us as bishops. It is essential that we strengthen our
collaboration - and good collaboration requires efforts on both sides.

Sadly, the reality of the current economic times means that we bishops
are not in a position to offer increased financial support to Catholic
media. But there are three things that you have a right to ask of us:

Spirit of Collaboration: You have a right to expect that we bishops and
our diocesan offices should view your organizations as collaborators,
rather than as outsiders.

Access and Support: We bishops recognize the value of Catholic media,
and should be doing everything we can to help you succeed. That means
providing access to both the people and the information that you need to
get your questions answered when you are working on a story.

Quick Response: The world of media moves at an incredible speed and we
bishops need to recognize that. Often you are working on a deadline.
Providing a response to your request after your deadlines is often of
little help, so we must learn to respond quickly.

Conclusion and Questions that we bring to the conversation

As I said at the outset, we bishops do not have all the answers. We are
here for a dialogue and as learners as much as teachers. I hope you have
found the ideas I presented to be helpful. And now we want to hear from

I have four questions that we bishops would like to hear your thoughts
on. They are:

How can Catholic media in North America (US and Canada) best serve our Catholic faithful? What are the particular challenges we should be
looking at?

How can Catholic media maintain its integrity as journalists? What are
the journalistic standards for a Catholic who also sees himself/herself
as having a vocation as a media professional in the Church? Or one who
is operating as a media professional?

How do these issues change when looked at in the context of the 21st
century media environment, with Internet and bloggers? What other issues
arise? What does it mean to be a universal church in a global
communication environment?

When does an organization cease being a Catholic news organization?
What are the boundaries between being a Catholic news organization and a
Catholic public relations agency?

June 23, 2010


(Please excuse the lack of proper ski terminology. I only went skiing once.)

One winter when I was 13 years old and my brother was 14, we took a family trip to New Hampshire. To ski. Because my brother really wanted to. He had been on a few ski trips already with school and friends and was dying for more. He promised he would teach me how to ski. My Dad, an avid outdoorsman and sports enthusiast, had never, however, in his long life, skied, and was wary of its potential dangers involving bone protrusions and close encounters with trees. But he agreed to take us despite.

Dad did all the worrying for the whole family. My mother never worried. She cared, but she never worried. We called my father “Disaster Dad” because he would always imagine the worst case scenarios of even the most innocent activities, and rattle off statistics that would make an EMT cringe. My brother took to leaving the house with a cheery: “Back in a bodycast, Dad!”

So there we were in North Conway, NH, home of Mount Cranmore, a welcoming, innocuous, tiny bump of a mountain in the summertime, with lethargic little red electric sleighs that carted you up the mount for a breathtaking view of other tiny mountain bumps. Many years later, flying out to Southern California, I was flabbergasted by the size of the mountains (which the plane was flying almost level with) and felt like a total Back East small-state yokel.

But when the snow flew, Mount Cranmore might as well have been one of the Himalayan peaks. A formidable, looming white challenge, daring you to conquer its craggy, slippery heights. Our first day skiing (and MY last), my Dad stayed at the motel because he was too worried, and my mother came with us because she never worried. My brother got me all situated with my rental skis, boots, poles. My brother, Ralph, took me to the “bunny hill” I think it was called, where both small children and first-time adults could practice their downhill technique. Technique! Right!

Ralph tried to teach me how to “herring bone” it up the hill, basically walking duck foot with your skis on to give you traction, but I found it too exhausting. So I removed my skis and trudged up the hill in my ski boots—tres uncomfortable!—and when we finally reached the top, I dropped a ski. It skittered (with admirable technique) all the way down to the bottom of the hill. Back down the hill I huffed, getting shin splints on my shin splints from the unyielding molded plastic of my ski boots. When I reached my brother again at the top of the bunnyhill, the soles of my boots were encrusted with ice that had to be chipped off before we could fasten my skis on.

Ralph tried to teach me how to turn. For you skiing uninitiates, “turning” is the most important thing to learn. Remember that. If you don’t master turning, you will be reduced to “bombing.” Bombing down the mountainside against your will and against all laws of inertia and sanity. Turning—from side to side—is a piece of cake when you’re going at slow speeds, but next to impossible when going fast. At least it was for me. I was either born without the muscles to accomplish this feat, or they had atrophied from hours of sitting in my beanbag chair reading. “Turning” is also how you stop, similar to ice skating, only in ice skating it’s called a “hockey stop,” which is much easier to execute because the skating rink is not on a 45 degree incline. Another option is the “snow plow” stop which involves maneuvering your skis into a pigeon-toed position and bearing down. Theoretically, you will come to a screeching halt. Untheoretically, you will do a cold, gritty face-plant on the crest of the newfallen snow.

When you fall wearing skis, which for me was very frequently, your legs do terribly unnatural things that would make Gumby balk. All I can say is: Man, those skis are LONG.
After only 15 minutes of Jack and Jill—I was the only one taking the tumbles—my brother decided it was time we hit the Big Kid slopes. We started with a medium slope that featured a lift called the T-bar which alone required some serious skills to get on and stay on. It was a series of spaced out vertical pipes with tiny round seats at the bottom of them which the pipe attached to right through the center of the seat. Now you neophytes need to know that ski lifts don’t stop for any reason. They are going up that mountain with or without you. Come hell or highwater. The universe doesn’t care? Well, the universe must be a ski lift.

Ralph told me how I was to position my fanny, or rather wrap my legs around the flying saucer-like seat from behind as it came by. That wasn’t the hard part, though. The hard part was sitting down properly, or rather NOT sitting down, because if you actually sat down, the whole vertical pipe would swoop forward violently and dump you on your back in the middle of the track in order for the skier behind you to pierce you with their long skis and/or ski right over you. The object of the T-bar was to brace your knees in a slight crouching position, hang on to the pipe with your hands at face level, and let the seat drag you to the upper altitudes by the back of your thighs. Whoever designed this lift deserved a SADISTIC ENGINEER OF THE YEAR AWARD.

So, of course, I sat down on the T-bar. I mean, it just defied logic and reason and thermodynamics that you wouldn’t sit on this thing. SWOOP! The pipe lurched forward and upward and shook its contents onto the ground. Everyone waiting in line sent up collective groan. “SWIFT!” was an insult we used back in the day when someone committed a particularly moronic stunt. The Suzee Chaffee lookalike skier behind me kept screaming: “Get off the track! Get off the track!” as her skis pierced my armpits.

In all honesty, there IS a way to stop the lift, because someone, somewhere was monitoring it, perhaps from a camouflaged duck blind, and a speaker strung up in the pines bellowed: “GET OFF THE TRACK!” and stopped the T-bar. Easier said than done, pal! The Shanghai Contortionist Triplets, the Bolshoi Ballet AND Gumby now had nothing on me. I think at this point, my brother may have helped slide me to the side, much like one removes a disabled car from the middle of the highway to the shoulder. There may have even been some clapping involved.

After successfully riding the T-bar to the top of the bigger slope, I felt a sense of accomplishment. I was on the top of the world. Literally. But, alas, pride comes before the fall. Literally. I pushed off. I was weaving nicely, smoothly from side to side, actually “turning” my skis 180 degrees from one direction to another, switchblading back and forth across the downward course. This was a cinch! But I was also picking up speed, and was soon completely out of control. Unable to turn. Bombing. “LOOK OUT!” I shrieked to everyone in my way. “Everyone” wisely moved. Except the two little nine-year-olds. Just standing there in the middle of the slope, chewing the fat. “LOOK OUT!” Through my tearing eyes I could see a look of utter joint disgust shooting my way from the two immobile snow princesses.“I CAN’T STOP!”Like it says on the hypochondriac’s tombstone: “I told you I was sick.” Well, I told those ski brats.

WHIZZ! I sliced over the backs of their skis. At this point I was going SO fast and was SO seized with terror, that I had to stop myself the third way that one can stop on skis: wiping out. Basically, you just sit down. Going 100mph. Rumpety-bumpety-bumpety-bump. (You don’t stop immediately.) My head was bobbing like a buoy as IT skied down the slopes. My knit hat was left at the feet of Jasmine and Ariel. I was pretty far away from them by the time I came to a complete halt. “ARE YOU GOING TO BUY US NEW SKIS?!!” Jasmine shouted down to me. By the way they were dressed--suited up in Olympian Alpine gear--it was clear that Mommy and Daddy did not need ME to contribute a cent to anything involving their royal highnesses. I crawled upslope on all fours to retrieve my hat.

I proceeded down the slope again, determined to master “the turn.” Nothing doing. I began bombing straight down the mountain like a bat out of hell. “LOOK OUT!” There, approaching fast, was a huge, landscaped pile of New Hampshire granite boulders. Right at the bottom of the course. It didn’t hear me. It was probably designed by the same guy who did the T-bar and who was probably laughing himself sick right now in the ski lodge watching the hi-jinx wrought by his creations. I did what any non-self-respecting ski newbie would do. I wiped out. Again. A middle-aged gent must have had the same idea a bit earlier. He lounged there like some kind of slopekill, covered in those little ice-encrusted snow lintballs. “IS THIS YOUR FIRST DAY SKIING??!!” he inquired far too jovially. I decided against sarcasm. A simple “yes” would do. “ISN’T THIS GREAT??!!” he gushed.

Now my brother, although proficient at “turning,” PREFERS to bomb. I can still see him, a tiny dot at the top of the medium slope, barreling straight down the mountain, poles suspended in the air on either side (never touching down), his open jacket flapping like a manta ray, a look of sheer speed-demon glee on his face, bypassing everyone, skirting the Scenic Boulders, and then managing to stop on a dime.

I T-barred to the top of the slope again with renewed resolve. By this time, a small slalom contest was going on to the left of the slope. Kids the age of Jasmine and Ariel—wearing numbers on their backs-- were whipping around the flags like experts. You guessed it. I couldn’t hold the turning. And instead of bombing straight down the mountain this time, my skis veered to the left like they had a mind of their own. I was heading toward the slalom course. I wasn’t worried about the humiliation of crashing the slalom course. I was worried about the hospitalization of impaling myself on one of the red picket fence spikes that bordered the far side of the slalom course. MUST. TURN. SELF. AROUND. NOW. With Herculean effort, I managed to turn a little to the right. Which meant back ONTO the slalom course. But the stubborn skis wanted to go left again. And so they did. The result was that I was actually DOING the slalom course. Like, skiing around every four flags or so.“WILL THE GIRL IN THE BLUE JACKET PLEASE GET OFF THE SLALOM COURSE!!” boomed the speakers in the pines. I was concentrating too hard to even holler “LOOK OUT!” and had no choice but to finish the slalom. The little underaged athletes sniggered.

By now my corduroy Levis were covered with snow from wiping out. The snow was turning to water and the water was turning to ice water and the ice water was turning into ice against my skin. My brother looked truly sorry for my misery. “C’mon, Helena, we’ll just do the other slope once. You’ll love it!” I knew what I would really love was the ski lodge. It was just steps away. (About 10 regular steps, about 110 steps with ski boots on.) A warm fire, warm cocoa…. “We’ve come all this way. You don’t wanna miss this, do you?” Ralph was speaking to my inner Happy Hollister, my inner Trixie Belden, my inner Charlie’s Angels, none of which were ever very active (except for Farrah’s flip). “Well, OK.” I mustered my anemic sense of adventure and followed him to the…chair lift. We were going to the top of the mountain. But what did I know? No alarm bells went off in my head. I was trusting him. And ironically, he was trusting me! My brother has always assumed that people are as a great as he is. As adventurous as he is. As fearless as he is. As honest as he is. As kind as he is. As resourceful as he is. As smart as he is. He thinks the Sunday New York Times crossword puzzle is easy. He’s a Master Mechanic. He has never missed a day of work in 23 years, not even when he had the chickenpox (as an adult). He just put a sign on the door: “Chickenpox inside. Enter at your own risk.” He really thought I was about to have fun.

On the way up, I still wasn’t getting alarmed because I’m not great with depth perception or perspective. I couldn’t tell that the slopes below us were WAY steeper than Bunny Hill and Scenic Boulder Slope. Ralph was preparing me for how to get off the chair lift. How hard could it be, I thought? I had tamed the wild T-bar! Getting ON the chairlift was a breeze, it just scooped you up by the butt. I didn’t have to do anything! But what goes up must come down. Sometimes the hard way. He told me to scoot to the edge of the chair, look down, keep my skis pointing straight ahead, and when he said, “Go!” to stand up and push off. Child’s play!

The moment arrived. “Go!” he commanded. I looked down. It was not level ground. There were two icy ruts for your skis that immediately hurtled you down a sizeable, cliff-like drop. Ralph shot to the bottom. I froze, still perched on the edge of the chair. The chair began to lift back up in the air. “Go!” Ralph urged from what was beginning to look like a snowy little Whoville down below. By now the lift had completely passed over the cliff and was heading to the turnaround to go back down the mountain. Although I knew nothing about skiing, I instinctively knew there was an incredible shame attached to going back down the ski lift because you were CHICKEN. I was caught between a rock and a hard place. “Go!” sang the little Whos in unison who had gathered around my brother, craning their necks skyward. So…I did. I literally just dropped myself out of the sky. And landed sprawled on my back like…well…like a swastika. Gumby was FORCED into retirement. I did not land on snow but on ice. That kind of unfrozen, refrozen, unfrozen, refrozen ice that is harder than ice. I momentarily had the wind knocked out of me and all went black. I heard a girl exclaim: “SHE KILLED HERSELF!”

When I came to, my brother look VERY concerned for my misery, and I began cursing him out. Not that I used curse WORDS, because I was a good Irish Catholic girl from cultured Belmont, Masschusetts, and cursing was not part of my personal code. But I spoke LIKE I was cursing. I don’t remember what I said, but I was ticked. And I don’t get easily ticked. And then I got more ticked because I realized we were on the TOP of the mountain and the only signs were for the “EXPERT--BLACK DIAMOND--COWABUNGA —ONLY SWISS PEOPLE NEED APPLY” SLOPES. That was the only way down! I could endure the shame of stopping the T-bar, crashing the slalom and wiping out, but NOT the shame of taking the chairlift DOWN. I still had some pride.

My poor brother. He stayed with me all the way down: Go a few yards, wipe out, chew Ralph out, repeat. He was truly penitent. I stormed off to the lodge and stayed there for the rest of the day with my Mom, shivering in my wet Levis and getting chilblains on my chilblains. My mother, who never worried, didn’t ask me what I learned from the experience, but I asked myself. Here’s what I came up with:

1. I will never go skiing again.
2. You can’t be good at everything
3. I don’t like speed that doesn’t involve a gas pedal.
4. In spite of everything, the mountains were GORGEOUS.
5. I’m still a snowbaby. Just not a breakneck speeding snowbaby.
6. Skiing is a spectator sport best enjoyed during the Winter Olympics.
7. Bonne Belle wild cherry lip balm is very comforting at times like these.
8. Get a snowsuit for all snow-related activities.
9. It made a great story.
10. Life is all about the stories.

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June 22, 2010


Can we all just take a step back for a minute, take a deep breath, and MARVEL at what Hollywood can do??? OK—time's up.

I would tie "Toy Story 3" with "Diary of a Wimpy Kid" for best flick of 2010, but I still like "Wimpy Kid" a little more because it's real people and although we're not as cute as CGI dolls, stuffed animals and Fisher Price toys, I still like us better. I can't get that scene in "Wimpy Kid" of the mean older brother telling the spooky Halloween story to his younger brother out of my head. Genius. Also, "Wimpy Kid" was a PERFECT movie. Like a Nadia Komenich of movies. Or a Stella Kim Yu-na. " (Search for my review of DOWK on this blog.)

I don't think these kids' movies are great BECAUSE they're kids' movies or because they're innocent or squeaky clean or anything. They're just super-duper high quality. Massively entertaining for adults also. "Toy Story 3"—which I did not witness in 3-D*--is not a "perfect" movie: especially the over-the-top melodramatic ending which never ends. But it was very funny and suspenseful. The incredibly creepy "big baby" doll and hellfire of the dump may be extremely scary for extremely little ones. (3D glasses should come with flaps for impressionable wee moviegoers.)

There's no need to have seen the first two "Toy Story" movies to understand anything at all in "Toy Story 3." I would love to compare the technical advances since them, though! Buzz Lightyears away from each other, I'm sure! Speaking of Buzz Lightyear, my nephew—who had his own beloved BL action figure and never tired of lisping: "To infinity and beyond!"—is now a street legal (just got his driver's license), strapping 16 year old, so it's been a while since the other two installments! Andy himself, the toys' "boy," is 17.

A really great feature of "Toy Story 3" is its ability to get squarely inside a child's head and remind us exactly what it felt like to be a child, and how children play and dream and imagine and act their play out in total unfetteredness. For those of us without kids who don't get to relive our childhood with our progeny, "Toy Story 3" is a blast from the past in this regard. Oh yeah!—I used to make up those rushed, rambling stories, too!

Lots of theological reflections to be made. Even though the toys are unplayed with** and feel useless at this point (Andy is going off to college), Woody—Andy's favorite toy--is content to stay in the attic if that's his lot, and "be there" for Andy, however and whenever Andy might need him. (Or Andy's children someday!) I couldn't help thinking of a Chicago priest who had been a terrific pastor in several Chicago parishes. Toward the end of his life he spent many years in a nursing home, forgotten. For sure, the many families he helped along the way remembered him fondly, but people are busy, people and priests move and get transferred, people lose touch with each other. One grateful parishioner, however, always went to see him and this is what the priest said: "You know what? They are still my people and they still need me. I'm going to offer all my physical and spiritual pain and suffering for them. I'm still their priest." Wow. No identity crisis there. True love stays. True love sticks. Seen or unseen. Appreciated or unappreciated. "Your life is hidden now with Christ in God," Colossians 3:3.

There's a fantastic Christian "love your enemy/save your enemy" scene toward the end which is NOT reciprocated by the enemy. And there's no bitterness about that. It was done in the gratuitous spirit of the famous "Do It Anyway" poem. Another lesson is that enemies CAN become friends, but they have to want to. It's their choice.

Theology of the Body? There's lots of true love: Barbie and Ken, Jessie and Buzz, Mr. & Mrs. Potato Head, a pair of dinosaurs…. Seriously, there is plenty of sacrificial heroism, but even better is the point that we BELONG to someone (and to each other). Woody alone of all the toys truly penetrates and lives this. He urges the toys to look at their feet where "their boy" printed his name, "Andy." (Baptism, anyone?) "Whether we live or die, we are the Lord's," Romans 14:8. The teddy-bear-gone-bad Mr. Lotso (he was abandoned by his girl) says: "No owner, no heartbreak." He has opted out of love.

You must stay till the very end of the "Afterword" mini-movie during the credits, which showcases Buzz Lightyear like you've never seen him before. All I'm gonna say is that it involves the Gypsy Kings.

I could definitely go for a round of "Toy Story 4."


--Where's Bo Peep??? She's gotta come back. Woody needs a girlfriend.

--The music is fantastic, hilarious and really aids the storytelling.

--Mr. Taco Head!!! Ha ha ha ha.

--Ken's fashion show!!!

--Chuckles, the clown!!!

--The monkey!!!

--"TS3" begins and ends with EPIC sequences!

--The voice acting is soooo well cast.

--Tons of great lines.

--Mr. Lotso speaks for nihilism: "We're all just trash!" (God doesn't make trash, Mr. Lotso!)
"Where's your kid [God] now?" (Certainly not working through you, Mr. Lotso! And what about that Golden Rule, Mr. Lotso? How about being the change you want to see, dude? How about being that miracle? How about a little gratitude? How about spotting the toys in a bit of a pickle? How about returning the favor? How about some common plushie [human] decency? How about the milk of plushie [human] kindness? Huh? Huh?!)

--Dinosaur: "I hate all this uncertainty!"

--"Holy moly guacamole!"

--Great line (reminds one of death). Woody reminds the toys that they "always knew the day would come" when Andy would no longer play with them…. Toys: "Yeah, but now it's here."

--Toys love to play!

--Besides playing, toys have the vocation of "being there." The ministry of presence! Wow! Pause for theological reflection….

--I saw an animated show some time ago where some teddy bears would come to life when humans weren't around like the toys in "Toy Story." They called it "going teddy" when they would freeze and go lifeless. So, in a nun community that I lived in, we used to say "I'm going teddy" when we were going to bed. And you needed to know this because….?

--Computers/technology as part of our everyday lives and that of kids' lives is rather organically woven in. Felt very natural. Seemed to be in a sort of proper place alongside kids' unplugged lives. Or maybe we should call "unplugged" life "regular life" and then distinguish/make the contrast with "plugged-in life."

--Attics are wonderful, magical places. Even if we didn't get to see Andy's attic. My toys are not my treasures that I can't part with, though. It's my childrens' books. I still have every single one of them. And they were legion. I think I got my first bookcase in first grade (5 long shelves).

--The animation is so lifelike at times that it looks like real filming: Mom pulling out the driveway, looking over the garbageman's shoulder…. Spooky. To quote another movie: "More human than the humans."

--"TS3" started with a long short in an old-fashioned 1950's style animation (are you confused yet?) of two big blobby cartoon creatures, one with a film of daytime running across his body, the other with night running across his body. Totally clever. It's very Theology of the Body, starting with the beauties of Nature corresponding to bodily functions: waterfall—well you can guess; ducks—laughter; moon—belly button; sheep—sleep; wind in trees—yawn. The only words were a radio speech about not being afraid of the new and that the best things in life are MYSTERIOUS. It appropriately ends on the figure of a woman. It's a celebration of life, God-made and man-made (Las Vegas!). You just have to see it. It's called "Day and Night." Ends with a dance as does "TS3."

--Lately, I've been in this weird mode where I think of a Bible passage for, like, EVERYTHING. It's probably our Google, hyperlink, Twitter, follow-the-link, instant references, multi-tasking, info/resources at our fingertips, fragmented media habits that's doing it to me, but it's also kinda cool.

--Don't want to be a spoiler, but:

“I will exalt you, O LORD, for you lifted me out of the depths and did not let my enemies gloat over me.”Psalm 30:1-3

“He lifted me out of the slimy pit, out of the mud and mire; he set my feet on a rock and gave me a firm place to stand.”Psalm 40:1-3

*I’m convinced I’m in the category of the 56% of Americans who have troubles even seeing 3-D—I’ve never been able to do those hidden pictures in magazines where you put the page up to your nose and slowly pull the magazine away, and 3-D movies are pretty much a big blur for me even though I’m wearing the glasses--and I KNOW I’m a member of the even vaster (I hope) army who dislikes 3-D all together and wants it to go away all together. http://hd.engadget.com/2010/05/20/having-problems-seeing-3d-the-american-optometric-association-w/

**This also reminds me of St. Therese who told the Child Jesus that He could treat her like a toy ball. If He didn't want to use her anymore, He could just throw her in the corner and that would be fine. I told Jesus--in no uncertain terms--that He must never, ever do that to me.

June 19, 2010


Is there such a thing as being too safe? I think so. Americans have to be the most coddled, mamby-pamby, timorous ninnies on the planet. I came to this conclusion in the cupola of
St. Peter's Basilica in Rome, or, more exactly, on the way up to the cupola of St. Peter's Basilica. Let me explain. I am under 40, in reasonably good shape, and within 10 lbs of my ideal weight. I opted to ride the elevator halfway up to the dome and then take the stairs the rest of the way (your only option after the elevator ride). Well. I still would have done it, but it would have been nice to know what I was in for. The stairs are one-way, single-file, as twisty as a curly fry, and there's a heck of a lot of them. Once you start, you can't really stop because there are people behind you. You could, I suppose, turn around and descend, squeezing by everyone on the way, but, oh, the shame of it. It would be like going back down on a ski lift because you can't hack a slope.

As you climb the stairs, the air gets kind of thin, you have no idea what's ahead (visibility=100% plaster), how much longer it will be, and, worst of all for claustrophobes like me, the walls begin to close in the higher you go. No, it is not an optical illusion: the wall and ceiling curves more and more until you are leaning sideways in what must be some advanced yoga position, lifting your huffing frame by your hip and lower back muscles, step by step. You begin hoping that since they have a Vatican gift shop on the roof, maybe they have a Vatican chiropractor's office in the cupola.
The sister I made the holy trek with was not in as good shape as myself. She is over 40 and not within 30 lbs of her ideal weight. She also refused to take her winter coat off which didn't help matters. At a certain juncture, she sat on the stairs (regardless of the shame), sweat profusing down her pasty face. "Are you OK?" I asked. She groaned in reply: "I'd better be. Even if I wasn't, how would the paramedics ever get me out of here?"

When we finally made it to the summit, it was certainly worth it. In addition to the graffiti in every tongue known to homo sapiens, the view was astounding. Not that we were now "safe." The observatory ledge was as narrow as the stairs, with an exquisite, delicate, skimpy iron railing. It had to be the world's most ideal site for a lover's leap or suicide launch pad. One false step and you could find yourself crashing through the Vatican gift shop skylight, or joining the array of apostles and saints on the colonnade below--a martyr of High Renaissance architecture. And the rain was making everything as slippery as a water slide. As I perused the Vatican Gardens, the Tiber, and far, far beyond, all I could think of--as a good American--was: man, they could be sued blind, dumb and stupid for not even having a sign to warn tourists of the dangers! There was no: "Persons with heart conditions, respiratory difficulties, fear of heights, major obesity, fallen arches (or whatever) should consult their doctor before proceeding." There was no: "The one, holy, Roman, Catholic, apostolic Church is not responsible for the misfortunes that may befall you on the journey you are about to undertake--signed, Cardinal Aspetta Minuto, substituto." Not even an: "Enter at your own risk!" I had to know why not. So, like a good American, I used my good old American common sense: Maybe, just maybe, "they" thought we were grown up enough to make our own safety decisions! Maybe, just maybe, "they" thought adults were responsible for themselves and their own actions! Maybe, just maybe, even if someone did sue, the case would get tied up so long in draconic, laissez-faire, different-headed, inefficient Roman courts (or get laughed out of them) that it wouldn't be worth the while. Hmm. Maybe the litigious American system was the screwy one! I actually felt honored that "they" thought I had a brain in my head and could figure out (at some point, at least) whether or not I could take on the cupola challenge! I felt empowered, respected, mature. The more I thought about it, the more I liked Europe. They were downright reckless over here!

The USA might be safer--but is it? We eat plastic, nutrient-free, genetically-modified food; kill every microscopic organism good or bad with pesticides, antibiotic, mouthwash and Purelle. Our cows may not be mad, but they are hormone-filled. If our children exhibit vital signs they're diagnosed hyperactive and pumped full of drugs. We clog our armpit pores with chemicals, virtually injecting them into our lymph nodes and wonder why we get breast cancer. You know I could go on with a list of our bizarre behavior. Europeans eat real food, fully engage their surroundings (we need only think of St. Peter's cupola and Roman drivers), practice moderate-to-minimal hygiene, show their emotions, and eliminate toxins from their bodies by--imagine this--sweating where we were born to sweat! Real food, real risks, real B.O., real living!

I began remembering the good old days in America (the 70's) when toys were unregulated and could cause serious bodily harm (real bows and arrows, real hotplates to melt plastic, etc.). Seatbelts were optional and riding on tailgates was a treat for kids. The good old days when you took your chances getting out of bed every morning, and took responsibility for those chances. Now it's the great American blame game: McDonald's sued for hot coffee burns (the customer held the cup with her thighs--"duh" doesn't even begin to express it). Twenty-eight billion dollars awarded to a woman with lung cancer from tobacco king Philip Morris because--who woulda thunk it?--smoking kills! What can one (terminally ill) person do with all that money anyway?

Is it just me or does anyone else feel like they're living in a bubble? Safety measures have become tyrannical in this country. "They" are trying to make us afraid! Fear is good for the economy! Once we succumb to total paranoia (for our own good), "they" can paternally take care of us, control us, that is, tell us what to buy to be safe, or even better, require us to buy to be safe! Safety is big business! (Being a bit of a conspiracy theorist myself, I believe that germs are an invention of Madison Avenue.)

I would like to take this time to thank the custodians of the Patrimony of St. Peter for the lack of signage at St. Peter's cupola--a true monument to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Forever in peace may it not wave.

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Sr. Frances Aurelia, fsp (aka Sr. Mary Cottontail)

I have never been a fan of rabbits. They have always seemed too nervous, quiet and boring to me. I also associate rabbits with pain, mostly after reading Watership Down, and just knowing that rabbits are basically, well, prey. So when an orphaned brown bunny landed on our Los Angeles rooftop patio (I mean, was adopted and put there by a bleeding-heart superior), I was non-thrilled. However, another sister I live with is a charter member of the rabbit fan club, had kept bunnies before, and possessed voluminous knowledge of them, which she proceeded to download into my cranium.

First off, rabbits are not rodents. Have you ever noticed how elderly people seem to have a fixation with, and horror of rodents? To them, anything that looks like a rodent IS (e.g., a Chihuahua), and all rodents are really rats in disguise. My theory about this is that the elderly generation is closer to the farming generations, and rodents were a Big Threat in days of yore (like getting into the silo and infecting cows with rabies). Also, the farming generations that tried to “do better” for themselves by moving to urbia and suburbia had to prove they weren’t yokels, which meant keeping their dwellings (and fingernails) meticulously clean, minding their table manners, etc. Rats in the house became a Big Threat to their new image, and as an initiation and pledge of allegiance to polite society, they had to rant and rail against all rodents. But that's just my theory.

Rabbits belong to the Lewis Carroll-sounding order of “lagomorphs,” and--like Tigger in Winnie the Pooh--“they’re the only ones!” If you really study their odd little forms, they look like some early phase of an evolving horse. Anyhow, it works for them. I once heard a sermon on rabbits by a priest who raises them. He said they are the holiest animals because they never commit incest, and if they and their surroundings are not kept extremely clean, they will die of filth. However, there is one utterly grotesque aspect of being a rabbit, and that is cecotropes. Rabbits have two kinds of poop: edible and inedible. The cecotropes are the edible poops that they eat right out of the dispenser. Oh boy. Not only are they edible, they contain necessary B-complex vitamins and protein for the lagomorphs’ diet. At least it’s convenient (for the bunnies) and saves on buying pet vitamins (for the humans).

Fallacy #2: Not all bunnies like carrots! Some just prefer greens, apples and, you guessed it, cecotropes. Like cats, domestic bunnies use a litter box, are constantly cleaning themselves, and are very curious. Like dogs, they are very affectionate; can be trained to “come,” “sit up and beg”; and they like to run around and play. Like cats and dogs, they like to be petted. Like chimpanzees, they like to be groomed, and the more you participate in the grooming process, the more you will bond and the more they will think of you as a fellow lagomorph.

However, all I ever saw was "Shoelaces”--as our bunny was previously named (wonder if it had something to do with nibbling)--lying around in the shade: drowsy, wiggling his nose, and dissipating heat through his ears. (Like good crepuscular animals, bunnies are most active at dawn and dusk.)

One night when Sr. Mary Cottontail, the bunny expert, was away for a few days and I was babysitting Shoelaces (aka Cinnabun, Buns of Steel, Honeybun, Pasquale and Colombo--each nun has her own name for him)--I decided to let the poor animal out of his cage to run around the patio. I was warned against this by Sr. Cottontail because: a) he won’t want to go back in b) he’ll eat all of Sr. Thecla’s succulent plants c) if I try to pick him up and don’t hold his powerful hind legs properly, he could kick and break his back (we are not making this up). But fools rush in, and in spite of these dire possibilities, I unlatched Shoelaces’ cage door. It was worth every risk to see the little frisker thumping and leaping for sheer joy. Being prey, he kept to the patio walls behind the rows of potted plants, and raced back and forth like a pack of hounds were after him. When it was time for him to go back in his cage, I tried unsuccessfully to get near enough to pick him up. Nothing doing. So I gave up and went over to cover the parakeets’ cages for the night (a much easier, predictable and satisfying task). Suddenly, there in the moonlight, Shoelaces came over and started running tight little circles around me, first this way and then that (a sign of affection, Sr. M.C. later informed me). When I would bend down to grab him, he would do his Lucky Charms sideways jig-kick and hop off. As I pursued him around the patio, he would dart out from nowhere and run between my feet, tripping me. Nervous, quiet and boring, eh?

Didn't he know I meant business? Didn't he know that I was too jaded for this mischievousness? Like a little child befriending a giant, grumpy ogre, Shoelaces kept at it until he had a playmate. Satisfied, he meekly submitted to a nose rub (when you don't rub in the right place, rabbits nudge-adjust your hand), and then bounced back into his cage on his own.

The moral is: Don’t judge a book by its cover. When you think you have someone/something all figured out (including yourself): Go figure. When you think you’ve simplified life, it comes back a hundredfold in all its incredible complexity. When you think you're completely sold out to cynicism and routine, life has more surprises up its sleeve. And every time you think you’re immune to shock or serendipity, God sends an amazing, splendiferous lagomorph.

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Do you like to talk?
Do you chew with your mouth open?
Do you have a cold?
Do you have strep throat?
Do you have a contagious disease?
Do you have diarrhea?
Do you have verbal diarrhea?
Are you going to sleep as soon as you sit down? Are you a deep sleeper? Are you going to descend into a deep sleep in the aisle seat? Have you taken any drugs to help you sleep? Will you be able to be roused when others in your row have to go to the bathroom?
Have you taught your child the words "softly," "decibel," and "I'm right next to you"?
Are you chatty?
Do you have ants in your pants?
Do you have ants in your pants and are going to keep slamming your back against your seat ensuring that the passenger behind you can't eat, read, write, or engage in any other non-seismic activities?
Are you also going to shake the seat next to you with your body slams? Just how many seats can you enervate with one body slam?
Are you loquacious?
Are you going to put your seat all the way back for the duration of the flight so that the laptop user behind you will have a black-and-blue pelvis and something worse than carpal tunnel syndrome as they attempt to type from within their chest cavities?
Are you on standby for first class?
If you don't get put in first class, will you still behave as though you ARE in first class: calling the flight attendant every two minutes, asking for special vintages of wine, talking loudly on your cell phone to Japan during takeoff and landing?
Can you read body language such as, "person reading," "person busy," "person is not laughing at my jokes," "person doesn't feel like talking," "person doesn't feel like listening," "person is not listening"?
What is your understanding of the term "personal space"?
Do enjoy sun glare at 30,000 feet?
Are you garrulous?
Do you snore? Do you have a deviated septum? Do you snort while you sleep? Chortle? Drool? Lean? Lean dramatically?
Do you have chronic cough, wheeze, bronchitis, asthma, emphysema, catarrh, black lung?
Do you cover your mouth when you cough? When you sneeze?
Are you sick?
Are you talkative?
Did you have garlic for lunch?
Do you have halitosis?
Rephrase this sentence in your own words: "Please allow those with connecting flights to disembark the aircraft first."

In the following situation, what would you do? There are two of you in a row. There is one pillow and one blanket. Would you:

a) take the pillow and blanket for yourself
b) sit on them for extra padding
c) throw them on the floor to get them out of the way
d) throw them on the floor, remove your shoes and use them as a footrest
e) other

Can you follow basic instructions?
Can you read?
Are you comfortable "opening up" to perfect strangers?
Are you basically an inconsiderate, obnoxious, selfish person?
Do you have any empathy at all for your fellow human beings?

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June 18, 2010


--You lower your stepercize step one level.
--You lighten your exercise weights one pound.
--You ratchet your workout level down one.
--You notice how disrespectful young people are.
--You have nothing to lose.
--You go out of the house looking frumpy.
--People in their 20’s look like kids.
--Police, firefighters and pilots look like kids.
--It's no longer about should or shouldn't. It's must.
--You don’t doubt as much. You know.
--You return to self.
--You return to self from whatever you thought you were or were trying to be.
--You re-visit and re-examine your childhood, adolescence, your 20’s.
--Dreams begin to usurp reality or visa-versa (depending on how you've lived your life
so far).
--You have to get everything out of your system.
--Everything repressed MUST be dealt with now.
--You're no longer ashamed of who you are. You’re just you.
--You begin to number your days.
--Your knees creak.
--You’re sure.
--You’re desperate.
--You go for broke.
--You risk.
--Your creative, artsy side comes out. On the warpath.
--You actually admit you are going to be old some day.
--You can actually imagine yourself old.
--You actually plan for old age. Seriously.
--You don't care about A LOT of things.
--Frolicking looks ridiculous.
--So you frolic.
--Because you don't care.
--You stop worrying.
--Your tongue gets looser, but not as loose as old fogeydom.
--You've paid some dues.
--You say: Enough.
--You decide to let go of your sicknesses.
--You must let go of your sicknesses.
--You decide to let go of a lot of things.
--You must let go of a lot of things.
--You decide to grow up.
--You decide to never grow up.
--You decide to stop hating yourself.
--You decide to enjoy life.
--You decide to forego enjoying life for a good cause.
--You reprioritize EVERYTHING.
--You can hear your knees.
--You don't do the miraculous any more.
--You don't do the impossible any more.
--You don't do the ridiculous any more.
--Absolutely everything changes and there's nothing you can do about it.
--You wonder if you should still go through the motions.
--You have a great urge to:
run away.
--You've leveled off.
--You've learned all your life skills.
--You're past your peak, at the summit, and not yet there all at the same time.
--You've proved yourself to yourself (and that's all that counts).
--Your patience runs out (for some things).
--You've got lots of patience (for other things).
--You're not apologetic.
--You become merciful.
--You become merciful without excusing yourself or others.
--You know many "long stories."
--You are old enough to be a lot of people's mother/father.
--Your life flashes before you frequently (a foretaste of “instant recall” and death).
--You kick off your shoes (heedless of corn pads, moleskin and bunion bumpers).
--You let your (graying) hair down.
--You settle in and set out at the same time.
--Someone important to you has died.
--One or both of your parents will die soon.
--You don't let your chain be yanked.
--You don’t suffer fools (except yourself).
--You're nobody's fool (except your own).
--You celebrate (a little) more.
--You begin guessing how old people are.
--You get nervous when the subject of age comes up in mixed company (people in their 20’s).
--You begin lying about your age.
--You begin lying about your birthdate.
--You scrutinize other people’s wrinkles.
--You scrutinize your own wrinkles.
--This is it.
--The real supersedes the abstract.
--You make your peace with a lot of things.
--You make your peace with a lot of people.
--You make your peace with life.
--You make your peace with death.
--You make your peace with God.
--You can't do the curly handlebars on your 10-speed anymore.
--You begin taking aspirin and red wine every day (but not together).
--You educate yourself about things like estrogen replacement and Medicare.
--You skim your parents’ AARP literature. But you’re just skimming.
--You redo the rungs in the ladder that you skipped (the summer school of middle age).
--EVERYTHING catches up to you.
--You are tempted to substitute the infinite object of your infinite desire with the finite.
--You begin to see ways out and ways in.
--You stop banging your head against the wall.
--You accept “can’t” about certain things and focus on what you're good at.
--Your knees talk to you.
--You remember all the TV shows and ad jingles from your childhood in surreal living detail (and have heated arguments with other pathetic forty year olds about them).
--You know who Ruth Buzzy is.
--You can fill in the blank: "Oh Fab, we're glad, they put more _______ in you!"
--David Cassidy was once a dominant figure in your life.
--You know what "Wacky Packs" were. And what Zarex was.
--You are given to reminiscing.
--It's now or never.
--You can SEE old age and death from your house.
--You look at all your books and think: I will never read all of these before I die. (You once thought you would.)
--You think "before I die" a lot.
--Gray-haired people are actually attractive.
--Gray-haired people have “character.”
--You have gray in your eyebrows.
--You begin to admit you "hate" certain things.
--You can't fake ANYTHING any more.
--You're getting free, freer than you've ever been.
--You're not afraid of much.
--You're at the end of the line.
--You're not afraid to put all your eggs in one basket. And you don't care if they break.
--You are more like your parents than you've ever been, and you don’t even mind.
--You are in shock at your childhood friends’ deteriorated appearances and wonder: “Do I look like that?!”
--You’re changing gears.
--Your knees are Rice Krispies: snap, crackle, pop.
--You start to see both sides.
--You can get waffle-y because you start to see both sides.
--You mellow without fighting.
--You have less trouble envisioning old people when they were younger.
--You have to consciously let go of a bunch of psychological, material, and spiritual ballast or you’ll never grow up.
--You have to consciously let go of a bunch of psychological, material and spiritual ballast or you’ll hurt yourself.
--You travel lighter (and it feels great!)
--“We’re like river stones, always being moved on.” (Ann Wilson of Heart)
--You used to listen to Heart.
--You still listen to Heart because try as you might to pretend you prefer something else, you prefer classic rock.
--You know that 70’s women rocked.
--You know that classic rock is the REAL rock.
--You are mentally preparing for death, tying up loose ends.
--Your “outer man is decaying” and you know it.
--“Moving on” doesn’t come automatically: you have to help it.
--You trust God.
--More than ever.
--You’re closer than ever to God.
--Your only new experiences in life are of your body falling apart.
--And it’s permanent.
--It’s all downhill, a slow descent: “A long goodbye.” (Anthony Hopkins)
--“Saving face” takes on a whole new meaning. It’s the one part of your body you can’t hide so you spend the most time and money trying to salvage what’s left of it.
--You wish you used more sunblock before. (So you wouldn’t be using what feels like leather polish now.)
--You wish you listened to a lot more good advice before.
--If you’re a woman, your voice gets lower.
--If you’re a man, you get in touch with your estrogen.
--If you’re a woman, you get in touch with your testosterone.
--If you’re a woman, you grow a mustache and beard.
--Whether you’re a man or woman, you have “hair problems.”
--Your hair problems involve either Rogaine or Nair.
--You have “posterior problems.”
--Your posterior problems involve either prunes or Preparation H.
--You ask yourself:
What must I do before I die?
What will I not regret at the point of death?
What is God going to ask me about when I croak?
What did I do with my life?
If the answer is the same to all four questions, you’re blessed.
--It’s your last chance for everything.
--You have just enough brain cells and physical strength left for your last chances.
--You know that youth is wasted on the young and retirement is wasted on the retired: what YOU would do with all that energy and time!
--You play for keeps.
--This is your only semi-autonomous period of life—your only time out of Pampers and Depends, between Huggies and Attends.
--You come up for air.
--Big gulps of it.
--Many things fall into silence.
--You have accomplished many tasks.
--If you were to die now, you wouldn’t “die young.”
--You’re dying and you feel your dying.
--No matter what way you slice it, there’s no way you’re young or cute anymore.
--No one’s looking at you anymore.
--You’re not even looking at you anymore. (Except to apply leather polish.)
--No one’s looking TO you for anything except maintenance-type roles.
--You’re too old to be hip, too young to be sage.
--You’re invisible.
--It’s a relief, an advantage and a disadvantage.
--Your speech is becoming hopelessly outdated because you are becoming hopelessly outdated.
--You have random flashbacks of random forgotten memories.
--You watch every move of celebrities your age. How long will they stay on top? How long before they are irrelevant has-beens? When they fall, you fall.
--Dressing yourself becomes a quandary. You don’t want to dress too young or too matronly/patronly.
--You take all kinds of laughable potions like liquid glucosamine and flaxseed oil.
--You now know what bittersweet means.
--You now know that life is bittersweet.
--You savor everything.
--You’re grateful for everything.
--Nobody prepared you for this.
--Some people even lied.
--You certainly are not going to prepare anybody for this.
--Don’t be “disgusted at 40” that your dreams haven’t come true (yet).
--Don’t hold onto things like you were 32.
--Don’t go over old ground like you were 33.
--Don’t make your point/presence felt like you were 34.
--If you refuse/resist to do 40, it can be very, very ugly for you and those around you.
--The stages of life are for a reason.
--“If you refuse to be 40, you will be intellectually sterile for the rest of your life.”
(Leo Tolstoy)
--Your knees blow out.

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Recently I stayed at an award-winning Bed and Breakfast in Montreal. My friend made the accommodations. Unfortunately, she was confused about the interactive nature of B & B’s. We were looking for some place quiet, private and out of the way, and she thought she had found just the ticket. Even though we were both on vacation, I needed to write and she needed to study for a work exam. Her now ex-friend, Brenna, highly recommended a place: let’s call it “Chez Bachelor.”

When we arrived in the bustling city neighborhood where “Chez Bachelor” was located, we realized we had not achieved the “out of the way” part. My friend, Cheryl, whispered: “I hope he doesn’t have a dog,” and rang the bell. “Yip, yip, yip, yip, yip, yip, yip!” answered the occupant. (The stereotype is true: all B & B’s are required to have dogs.) OK, Frou Frou, a toy poodle, was exceptionally cute, I’ll give her that, but she was still a dog. The Bachelor, on the heels of Frou Frou, gave us a warm* welcome in near-flawless English, but immediately informed us that we couldn’t park our car in front of his house.
“Then where do we park?” asked Cheryl, used to nothing but valet parking.
“You see that car down there?” squinting and pointing three uphill blocks away. “And you have to move it to the other side of the street after 9AM tomorrow morning.”
The Bachelor began inventorizing our belongings as he helped us unload: “So, you have a special IBM laptop? And a digital video camera?”
The Bachelor was omnipresent, so Cheryl and I had precious little opportunity to even exchange panicked glances. At one point she was able to hiss to me: “He was wearing a suit and tie on his website”--a far cry from the T-shirt and beer gut we were now treated to.
Once inside the funkily remodeled old house, we were briefed. We were instructed that we could empty our cooler only into “our side” of the fridge (a hole the size of three grapefruits) because the rest of the fridge was “his side.”
The “home cinema” advertised on the website turned out to be a 20-inch TV located in the Bachelor’s basement living quarters, with the full run of his violent video collection.
“But you can’t use it tonight, ladies. Tonight is boys’ night!” The Bachelor was having some buddies over to watch the hockey game. Incidentally, the “cinema” was located directly under Cheryl’s bedroom. “Oh, and don’t be alarmed if you hear some noise early in the morning. That’s just the construction on the back of the house.” Sure enough, Cheryl snapped up her window shade and came nose to nose with a backhoe. “So keep your windows shut so the dirt won’t get inside.”
The Bachelor didn’t offer, so I asked for our room keys, which turned out to be faulty skeleton keys that sometimes worked after five minutes of fiddling in the hack-job keyholes. My room was monikered the “Julliard Room” after a French comic book artist whose art adorned the walls. Cheryl’s room was “Mother Nature,” we’re not sure why, maybe because of the backhoe, or maybe because her bathroom had no shower, only a broken whirlpool.
*read: touchy-feely
After the tour, we sat for a few minutes in the living room making nice. The Bachelor noticed I took a shining to Frou Frou and hinted that she liked to sleep in my bed. I told him I only like dogs during the day. He told us we could use his computer—and I quote-- “in case we wanted to email our family and friends and tell them that the guy’s not a jerk.” I pierced my own tongue. When we inquired how he knew English so well, he told us he owed it all to Captain Kangaroo and English TV from the States. We were then treated to a rapid-fire recitation of 70’s breakfast cereal jingles. Like a broken record, and in an uncannily perfect cartoon voice, The Bachelor got stuck on: “I go for Cocoa Puffs! Go for Cocoa Puffs!” Cheryl asked where she could plug in her laptop into the internet and was told he only had dial-up and she couldn’t plug in because she would knock out his business phone. So much for her exam.

The Bachelor’s mastery of the English double-entendre in Cheryl’s direction was so proficient that, in an effort to drum up some respect in her direction, I told him she was a senior analyst with IBM. He was impressed, but in a backfiring sort of way. A female geek? What a turn-on! He stepped-up his doublespeak. The Bachelor’s rating rose to 82 on my infallible creep-o-meter.

Breakfast was mandatory and at 8AM sharp. The solitary menu item: crepe suzettes.
“What are you doing tomorrow?” asked The Bachelor, but before we could respond, he had planned our day. “It’s going to be a beautiful day tomorrow, so you must go to the Botanical Gardens tomorrow, not Friday when it’s going to rain.” (Did we say anything even remotely regarding a taste for horticulture?) By now The Bachelor had discovered that I was from L.A. and doing some screenwriting. He called his cousin, a local TV producer, and handed me the phone. The Bachelor’s Cousin tried to set up an appointment with me. I got his phone number and left it vague.
“Oh, and one last thing: Television Quebecois will be here tomorrow morning also. They’re doing a feature on B & B’s.”
I don’t know about Cheryl, but I had “What About Bob?” interview-wrecking fantasies in my head. It could be payback time.

In a desperate attempt to get out of the Bachelor-zone and regroup, we asked for recommendations for supper. He gave us a card for a bistro: “La Potion Magique: Amour, Passion, Fraicheur.” Mon Dieu, what do they serve, aphrodisiacs? We thanked him and high-tailed it to a cafeteria where we planned our escape. We asked the waiter about reasonably-priced hotels downtown. It turns out the hotels are rated more by the loudness of the streets they’re on. He was more familiar with the noisy bar-infested streets. Maybe Montreal just isn’t for the first part of R & R. We decided to give the B & B a go for one night.

When we returned to “Chez Bachelor,” Cheryl asked Frou Frou’s owner if he could turn on the AC in her room. He followed her into her bedroom and had a hard time finding his way out. Finally, Cheryl told him off, accusing him of misleading us to believe it would be quiet here and we would have the whole house to ourselves and now there was the hockey game and construction going on, etc., etc. I listened through my locked door, fingers hovering over the keypad of my cell phone: neuf, une, une. “Don’t provoke him when we have to spend the night here!” I thought, trembling. The Bachelor defended himself: “Well, I don’t know if you’ve ever owned a house, but you can’t predict when workmen will actually show up. Besides, you’re just thinking of the bad things and getting yourself all upset.” Then he commanded: “Think positively!” After he retreated to his cellar lair, I poked my head out of my door to examine his permit from Tourisme Quebec that was hanging on the wall: 2000-2001. It had expired! I called my mother in Boston and left a mysterious message: “Ma, here’s my address…. If I don’t call you at 8AM tomorrow morning, you call me, OK? I just want you to know I love you.”

Needless to say we had a restless night in the award-winning establishment, waking up at every sound. (Just what were the awards for, anyway?) Maybe it was the crepe suzettes, but even they couldn’t redeem this situation.

As promised, Cheryl was jolted into a 7AM morning by the construction guys’ chainsaws, but the breakfast conversation was the last straw. The Bachelor told us that before running the B & B he used to work for the government in a department where a lot of ex-prisoners work. Then he began telling us about one of his favorite movies: a Belgian film about “a serial killer who kills with no remorse….” His voice trailed off and his eyes glassed over. I choked on my last suzette and Cheryl’s cafĂ© au lait went up her nose.

Maybe our fears were exaggerated and everything was just a coincidence, but the creep-o-meter was on orange alert. Wild horses and toy poodles couldn’t make us brave another night at Chez. Who knows when The Bachelor would snap? Maybe he was just biding his time, making us relax because we made it through the first twenty-four hours. Maybe he was planning a fate worse than death: We would be sold into slavery or have our organs trafficked.

Being a nun often comes in handy. The old “Mother Superior said…” tactic still holds great sway. After spending the day out, we blew into “Chez Bachelor” in a whirlwind and began packing.
Me: “An emergency came up! We just got a call from…(theme from “Jaws”)…Mother Superior!” (Little do most know that today, Mother Superior is often younger, more jolly, kind and carefree than her subjects.)
Bachelor: (gasps) “What’s wrong?”
Cheryl: “There’s been a misunderstanding about Sister’s vacation time. She’s been recalled back to the convent immediately.”

Not even The Bachelor will question a statement like that. We loaded the car by ourselves in jig time (leaving our fridge-food behind), gladly paid for our unused rooms, waved au revoir, and sped out of our non-parking spot into the dark, never so grateful that Motel 6 was leaving the light on for us.

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Dear Morning People,

Good Day. I, the undersigned, a Non-Morning Person, am writing to you on behalf of all Non-Morning People (NMP’s) across the globe--whatever time zone they suffer in--to tell you: We’re not gonna take it any more!!!

You Morning People are living in the past, in some idyllic bygone era where people rose and set with the sun. Well, if I may borrow an expression of yours: Wake up and smell the coffee! Why do people who live in concrete metropolises follow an agrarian timetable? Huh? Ever hear of the Industrial Revolution? How about the Computer Age? Why do you think we have electricity and lightbulbs? So we can create our own sunlight--when we want it and for however long we want it. Don’t think we have been fooled by your callous compromise, your patronizing piffle, your crumb of concession: Daylight Savings Time. Daylight Savings Time is a poor excuse for fulfilling your God-given mandate to “subdue the earth.” We know who you want to subdue. As a matter of fact, you make us actually lose a whole hour of sleep each year. Who knows, you guys are probably responsible for global warming, crop circles and breast cancer too. (Never trust anyone who gets up before the solar system.)

You see, I believe there are more of us than there are of you. I propose a worldwide census be taken of the number of MP’s versus NMP’s. It is time for the silent majority to stand up and be counted! “I am sleeping, hear me snore, in numbers too big to ignore!” will be our anthem. The plan is simple. The census could be taken by the underdogs, the NMP’s, at 6AM every morning. (The sacrifice will be well worth it, pavement pounders!) All we need to do is see who’s up. I mean really up. I mean working-in-the-garden-power-walking-up. (Bedraggled flannel at the end of a leash doesn’t qualify.) Ah, that would be some reckoning. When you find out how few you really are, MP’s, you will tremble and come crawling to us begging for mercy, begging us not to put you in neighborhood compounds where the streetlights never go out and alarmclocks beep incessantly and all they ever serve is breakfast and everything is just sunny, sunny, sunny.

To add insult to injury, you--the morning oligarchy--not only impose your dictatorial horariums on us, but you even mock us as we attempt to comply with them. Don’t tell me you have never tittered, nay, guffawed at some poor, bleary, mole-like NMP stumbling through his/her morning routine, babbling incoherently. Don’t tell me you haven’t asked them Important Questions or started Deep Intellectual Conversations with them at ungodly hours--i.e., 9AM--just to enjoy their stupor. We NMP’s never get to retaliate because just when our enzymes, endorphins and eyelids start kicking in--about 10:30PM--you MP’s yawn and slink away to your lairs where I am sure you clandestinely bumble--much like we do in the AM--only you’re out of sight behind locked doors and in nightlight-lit bathrooms. You don’t have to face 1,000-watt bulbs, breakfast tables, halogen lamps, traffic jams, UV rays and business meetings when you’re not at your friskiest. Oh no, fuzzy wuzzy slippers and the cushy wushy privacy of bedrooms for weary and beleaguered MP’s, and we feel sorry for you because you’re “exhausted.” Well, how do you think we feel at 10:30AM? We’re roadkill too! Ah, but he who laughs last laughs best! What if we installed hidden infrared, nightvision cameras in your homes and then ran “America’s Funniest Morning People at Night” on national TV? Don’t dare us.

The difference between you and us is that when your heads are pounding and the room is spinning like you have vertigo, when momentary amnesia and Alzheimer’s strike, when you feel like someone with a hangover who just got hit by a Mac truck, you get to go to bed. We have to face the world. And to mollify your woes, you have Nyquil and Sealy Posturepedic. For us, nothing works, not coffee, not cold water, not even the cheerful, hearty banter of MP’s. Our natural state is sleep, and we are only awake with great effort. (Caffeine and gastrointestinal discomfort can help too.) Actually, we are beginning to wonder if MP’s shouldn’t be the subject of an investigation by the FBI or CIA. Rumors circulate that you are all really aliens that don’t need sleep and are just faking it. You plan to take over the planet by extreme sleep deprivation of its inhabitants. Maybe our rights can be protected by a SPCNMP (Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Non-Morning People).

Look, we take the view that humans are nocturnal, at least our segment of the population. And what’s so terrible about that?

Some Famous Night People:
the Shadow
her pumpkin
the Great Pumpkin
Mr. Hyde
the Sandman

Some Famous Night Animals:

You Morning People think there’s something noble, holy and virtuous about actually getting out of bed before high noon, as is evidenced by your smarmy little maxims: “Early to bed, early to rise....” and “The early bird gets the worm.” Well, you know what? Sunrises are overrated. And you know what else? We’re the ones who actually greet the morning, not you. I’ll bet most of you have never seen a shooting star, a lunar eclipse, the aurora borealis, the Halebop Comet, or the U.S.S.Enterprise shimmering in the night sky. Well, neither have we, but what are your chances even? We may be too catatonic to watch your informative morning news shows, but you’re all a bunch of stiffs when we’re watching our informative late night talk shows. I’ll bet you’ve never seen colorbars on so many channels at one time, or a flock of sheep herded into a live studio audience and then out onto the streets of New York City and into a cab!

Whether you believe it or not, we are perky conversationalists too. You just never hear us because by the time we have progressed from our morning zombie silence to our afternoon grizzly growls to our effervescent evening eloquence, you’re asleep and we have to keep our voices down.

In conclusion, I say to all you Non-Morning People: We have just begun to fight! Don’t shoot until you get the red out of your eyes! We live in the Morning People’s world, but we will live free or die! Resistance is not futile! Never surrender!

To all Morning People of Good Will I offer this Ultimatum: Back off us Non-Morning People or we will be forced to create our own time zone, perhaps in Greenland. And if you really get our dandruff up, you leave us no other alternative than to drop out of the workforce for six months of the year and hibernate--no, make that: “at the least provocation we will go into hibernation.”

Trucefully yours,

Sr. Helena Burns, FSP, NMP

“He who blesses his neighbor with a loud voice,
rising early in the morning,
will be counted as cursing.”
--Proverbs 27:14

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