Posts Tagged ‘Religion’

Blackberry for a eulogy

December 26, 2009

“Standing at the pulpit, looking down at the tiny handheld device, that blackberry screen looked like a postage stamp and the letters of Meg’s words looked like scrimshaw scratches on a 200-year-old tusk.”

It’s not easy to read a eulogy from a blackberry, but I did it when I had to do it.  Recently, my younger sister Kathy Fulton died and then her daughter’s family held a beautiful service at Saint Anthony’s church in Falmouth, Massachusetts.  (Thank you, Freitas Family!).  Our  cousin, Meg Schwemmer, had a long friendship with Kathy, but was unable to attend the services, due to her work at the college where she is employed.  So Meg wrote a letter to represent her feelings.

Her letter was heartfelt and well written.  Kathy’s daughter decided to have it read at the service.  Unfortunately, I didn’t really “get it” that I would be the one to read it, so I had given away my printed copies of the letter to friends and relatives at the wake.  I arrived at the church to discover that I was to read the letter that I no longer had in my possession.

The only tool available was my Blackberry.  I moved to google’s gmail app.  I found the email with the letter attached.  I launched the attachment.  There was the letter staring up at me from the tiny window. When called,  I walked to the pulpit, breaking all the protocols by neglecting to genuflect in front of the twice life-size painting of Our Lady of Fatima.  I thought to myself, “If god actually exists, this church will tumble and fall down upon us all, because a non-theist is standing here  on his home turf!”  Oh well,  both the church and I are standing today – for whatever that’s worth.

imagin reading from a blackberry screenStanding at the pulpit, looking down at the tiny handheld device, that blackberry screen looked like a postage stamp and the letters of Meg’s words looked like scrimshaw scratches on a 200 year old tusk.  Why couldn’t I have a mail-enabled kindle-sized screen!?!

Luckily I had read it over several times, so I just did the best I could.  At one point, a tear fell on the screen and I had to brush it away with the edge of my shirtsleeve to continue. This proves that it’s possible to read a eulogy from a blackberry, although it’s difficult, not kidding about that.  May you never have to utter a sentence that contains both of these words: blackberry and eulogy.

Here is the text of Meg’s letter:

December 8, 2009

Although I can’t be there with all of you today, I hope you’ll allow me to share a few thoughts about my dear cousin, friend, and near-sister Kathie. Qualities that drew me into Kathie’s World were her sense of humor and ironic view of life. I grew up knowing that type of humor in my Mother. Also, Kathie had a funny way of combining cynicism and romanticism. Her inner adolescent was never far from the surface. How could I not be totally disarmed by someone who believed that the only reason she and Steven Tyler weren’t close friends – or maybe more than close – was that they hadn’t yet met in a grocery store or restaurant? She always seemed to believe that winning the lottery was only a day away – and you know that she would have shared every last dime with all of you! She took the greatest pleasure in being generous when she could be. Even when she had a dreadful day, full of pain, she never failed to ask, “And how are you, Dear?”

Like many good Irish-folk, Kathie could nurse a grudge, but she also savored and celebrated every kindness. I think Kathie often looked at the world as an outsider. It seemed like a lot of the movies she recommended to me over the years were about people who didn’t fit in but triumphed and found happiness in the end. One was “Shallow Hal”, which she told me about in great detail. Just this Thanksgiving she gave an enthusiastic thumbs-up to “The Incredible Mr. Limpet” with Don Knotts. I thought it was going to be corny, but I watched it anyway. She was right, it was quite touching.

As recently as two weeks ago, Kathie was unwilling to think in terms of her condition being permanent, much less terminal. The miracle of getting better was elusive, but it was right around the bend. That particular miracle was not to be. And yet there are miracles all around us. The fact that our planet, of all the planets in the universe, holds life in such abundance and amazing variety is a miracle. The fact that we have an inborn capacity to know and share love is a miracle. All that is fine in our world comes from love. I don’t mean romantic love; I mean the roll up your sleeves and get messy love. The kind that involves caring and listening and understanding and reaching out and overlooking foolishness, crankiness, and human weakness. The kind that shares the laughter and the tears as well. Maybe the miracle isn’t saving the earthly life of our friend Kathie. Maybe the miracle is family and friends around her bedside, and bringing everyone together at a time when the need for love and understanding is so very evident. Miracles happen every day when we are sharing our love with all the people and causes in our lives. I know for certain that she felt Tenaya and Michael’s little Hannah is a miracle. Kathie fought hard to be here long enough to get to hold her Granddaughter!

We are surely going to miss her! While my hands were usually doing some task or other while we were talking – she often teased me about that – my mind needed those frequent visits to Kathie’s World. Somehow, even when she was needy, she gave more than she took because she was so grateful, always.

I love each of you for all the ways you showed Kathie love during her life. You all enriched her time on earth in countless special ways. I celebrate that I had Kathie in my life, and I wish I could be there to witness the love that you are showing one another today because she loved you and you loved her. I know you’ll be okay because you have each other and that common bond. God bless you all!

Love, Meg

It’s ironic that I would be called on to read that letter, because I was the most distant of brothers for the last 10 year or so.  When I realized that she was losing the battle to metabolic syndrome, which would lead her inevitably to diabetes, we had a falling out. I tried to point out to her that constant drinking of soda pop would kill her.  She disregarded my words.  I told her that change could be difficult, but the taste of change was sweet.  She declined. My heart went cold; I knew it was only a matter of time between that moment and her death.  I specifically asserted that diabetes was preventable.  The gulf between us was a wide as the solar system.

All I can say to you is, please, please, drink water and balance your food intake. I’m tired of watching my relatives die of adult onset diabetes.  And the devil’s dance continues even now.  My cousins and my niece are still drinking soda today.  There’s plenty of evidence that metabolic syndrome usually precedes diabetes. Sadly, it seems not to matter what I say.  Maybe by chance some reader will stumble upon this blog entry and will benefit from the information.

thanks for reading.



March 8, 2009
Proud Member of Adrienne's Army

Proud Member of Adrienne's Army

“Adrienne’s Army,” you ask?

There is an interesting quality of human understanding, that we can often underestimate the impact of small things we do.  That is not to say that every little choice you make turns out to be significant. Life is not so simple! It’s that you are unlikely to know -in advance- which one of your action-choices will have a big impact on the other people with whom you interact.

This is why courtesy is so important. YOU or I are unable to estimate in advance the impact of our actions.   So, small positive choices are the way to go! Help others without expectation of gain.

And the details are…

About a year ago, we had been in touch with our neighbor, Adrienne Smith, because she was sick, doing some babysitting for her.  Little did we know then that the sickness would send Adrienne into life-threatening coma resulting from the total collapse of her immune system under attack from a variation of strep, a result of what started as a strep throat. Within hours an army of volunteers and well-wishers were stepping up to serve in various ways.  Friends, relatives and acquaintances took thousands of small actions, food, visits, child-care, love & attention, prayers – each according to their understanding and ability. Jim’s mom prepared a list of contacts with phone numbers; people cooperated and collaborated.  Grandmothers and grandfathers dropped everything to be there, stay with the kids, and provide support.  They communicated not just by phone & face-to-face, but texting & email, churches formed “prayer groups” and members of yoga centers meditated,  creating a world wide web of well-wishers.  Meanwhile, at the South Shore Hospital in Weymouth, Massachusetts, Doctors Jon Pehrson and Alice Coombs were coordinating powerful practices of medical science to keep Adrienne alive against what can truly be described as staggering odds.  Amazingly, Adrienne’s employer Oxfam America supported her, specifically Ray Offenheiser and senior staff, during the entire illness; praise them & consider them for your future social action partnerships! Together this spontaneously assembled group of people in action became Adrienne’s Army.

The outcome of all the efforts is that Adrienne returned to life & home.  After reflecting on the situation, she made us all aware that an impromptu army had sprung up to defend her home, hearth and the hospital space in which her incredible life and death drama unfolded.

Adrienne has started talking “write a book” about that drama and about the shared experience of hundreds of helpers. No one knows what’s inside the book “Adrienne’s Army” yet, but we already know the outline of the wonderful story.  Two of our culture’s master story tellers, Tolkien and C.S.Lewis, pointed out that great drama has the elements of life, death and resurrection.  Adrienne’s story has all of those elements, potentially a best-seller and a  movie to follow.  Great stories take the listener to the despair’s depths and soaring heights before the dénouement.  And Adrienne’s story has that and also happens to have a happy ending!

Jim Smith, Adrienne’s husband, threw a surprise party to celebrate her one-year-at-home; invitations were handled by the evite web site under Event: Adrienne’s Army Celebration.  Lori Murphy,  of the Bryantville Deli, another neighbor, provided the food for the celebration.  Please post your party photos at evite!    My comment is that we are seeing the new digital tools being utilized, along with the older social tools, to empower a new, powerful, dynamic method of people helping each other.  Imagine a world in which armies emerge spontaneously, and appropriately, to lend a hand when someone has a true need,   flashing into existence when needed.  Could that be why people love digital space? Because it enables them to do respond quickly to needs?

Grandmother Peace Drum: Conflict and pepper spray

April 6, 2008

She noticed that his blood was puddled on the floor. I watched her put her right hand down on the hard wooden floor, wet with his blood, and then deliberately rub her hand around on the little, red puddle. She paused and then rubbed both hands together. She went to the drum and rubbed the blood off her hands and onto the drum skin.


I went to see the Grandmother Drum for Peace event, with my wife, and a friend.

The location was a public school gymnasium in Weymouth on April 4, 2008, 7:00 – 10:00 PM, at Chapman Middle School 1051 Commercial St., East Weymouth, Massachusetts . I found information about the drum at

art or religion, please choose


Drum? An amazing drum it was. We are talking about a hypnotic sound ritual from a 7 foot diameter wooden drum that weighs hundreds of pounds, a true giant in the world of drums.

The audience paid just inside the door. The cashiers at the door wrapped a yellow tyvek band around the wrist of each person that paid.

yellow tyvek wrist bands

Once inside the attendees walked to the far side of the gymnasium, in the corner near the wall with the Jaguar symbol.. The event took place in a corner of the gym, using only one set of seats, and about one quarter of the floor space. The tone was calm. Many people in the audience brought a drum or two with them. Some people bought drums from a table near the entrance. It was a very relaxed scene, lots of children and grandmothers, and some men, in a mostly feminine audience of about 150 people. Definitely a family-and-friends type of audience. People were passing around rattles, brightly colored plastic eggs containing garden seeds and dried corn. Children were shaking them, experimenting with the sounds.

There had been advertising on a local radio station, WATD-FM. Some internet publicity preceded the event also. On a web page at, I discovered this information: “White Eagle Medicine Woman (Suraj Holzwarth) is the director and Drum Keeper of the International GrandMother Drum Peace Project. She is an international renowned shaman, seer and performance artist of Seneca and Celtic descent. Her CDs include Journey of the Heart and songlines of the Soul. She is the director and co-producer of the newly released documentary film Grandmother Drum: Awakening the Global Heart. She is also the founder and director of The Whirling Rainbow Foundation and the Rainbow Fire Dream Institute in Palmer, Alaska.” She performed in a beautiful white costume, and, in one part of the prayerperformance, posed in a beautiful, white eagle mask. She was accompanied by a young woman who sang, and also danced. The name of the dancer/singer was announced, but I didn’t write it down, so I’m unable to report that. I do have some pictures in my cell phone, which are low quality shot from the top bleacher seat. There were at least two photographers at the event with good cameras.

SurajEverything was spiritual and calm, people singing, kids shaking plastic rattles, the picture of peace and harmony – until the end of the intermission.
drum and local Native Americans
I was standing about 8 feet from the Grandmother Peace Drum on the opposite side from White Eagle Medicine Woman. I was in the “rattle” section, holding 2 maracas that my friend brought. Between my position and Suraj Holzwarth stood the massive drum, with corn meal sprinkled on it, and also scattered on the floor.
When she started talking again, she was interrupted by a group of 6 young people, who had marched quickly into the middle of the floor next to the drum, confronted her, and started shouting. Events happened fast so I’m not sure of the precision of my memory; there were 3 men and 3 women. I guessed their ages as between 20 and 40, certainly younger than most of the adults in the room. They claimed to be Wampanoag, and their leader, the foremost of them, demanded to know who gave this lady (self-admittedly only a part-blood Seneca) permission to be here? And they were angry, shouting because they were offended by this “mockery of their sacred rituals.” They specifically didn’t like the sale of tickets to a Sacred Ritual.

He shouted, “What if someone was making a mockery of a Christian ceremony?” Bam!

White Eagle Mask

The leader of the Wampanoag protesters had marched in carrying a substantial, thick, walking stick; to emphasize each of his points, he began slamming the stick down onto the gymnasium floor. Bam! Bam! Bam! White Eagle Medicine Woman had a bigger ceremonial stick, with a black rubber cap at the bottom, but she was not using it. However, he used his with enthusiasm.

“Who ARE you?” Bam!

“Who gave you permission to be here and do this?” Bam!

“Mockery!” Bam!

Men in the audience started moving inward, towards the action; women and kids began backing up, moving away, their faces showing that they were uncomfortable. Most of the really young children were oblivious, not understanding the confrontation. A few children, however, were grasping it and responding fearfully.

Meanwhile, White Eagle Medicine Woman was not escalating, acting reasonably, plainly wanting them to sit down and talk. Her walk-in opponents, however, didn’t want any of that reasonable stuff. A bunch of people standing around became frightened and frustrated, so they start banging furiously on drums and shaking the rattles that they brought, originally intending to drum for peace. That hope was abandoned; they were drumming to drown out the shouting and the angry words. The volume level went through the roof.

The only cop on duty was a middle-aged woman, about 64 inches tall by my estimate. At the explosion of shouting and drumming, she came running out of the back room where she’d been hanging out with someone. If she had been at the front entrance, perhaps this story would be different. She ran directly to the young men and got in their faces, which provoked an immediate, further escalation of shouting and waving of arms. I could see that the leader of the Wampanoag protesters had veins standing out on his temples. He was visibly enraged. The guy behind him wore a tee-shirt, with the arms torn off, and the words “Homeland Security” silk-screened in large letters on the chest. That was a wry comment on current American politics, viewed through the eyes of a Native American. The male protesters were not in ceremonial clothing. They were in street clothes.

The cop and the chief protester were suddenly engaged physically, when he decided to try to destroy the 7 foot wide buffalo skin drum head. Whack, whack, whack! He gave 3 hard strikes with the stick he carried. Suddenly, the policewoman and he were wrestling, shoving, grappling. They came around the drum towards me, with him putting a head lock on her. Then their positions were reversed, she was attacking him. Nearby men were reaching in, to impede her opponent. I saw that she had a device in her right hand, not a gun. They were struggling right in front of me, literally three or four feet away. I could see them clearly.

I heard myself shouting reflexively at him, at the top of my voice, “What are you doing????”

He turned and saw the pepper spray device aimed at him and he put out his left arm to stop it. Her hand with the pepper spray in it wobbled around in a circle, spraying people standing close by. Suddenly, I was tasting pepper, my lips were burning and I exhaled hard, instinctively, to keep that stuff out of my lungs. I backed up, putting my hands up in front of me. At that point the protester was down but kicking. Men were grabbing him. I saw her right hand come around and spray directly at his face from above. He twisted his head avoiding it, but most of the liquid hit him on the cheek and neck. I saw it glistening, dripping on his skin. I stepped further back, moving away from the biting smell, looking around for my wife. I began thinking about how we could leave the building safely after this nasty turn of events.

Having stepped back, looking for the exit, I saw that some policemen had run into the gymnasium. They had Mr. Homeland Security face down on the floor between the drum and the left-most exit door. The young Wampanoag women were shouting at those policemen. The women protesters were not striking out, only shouting. The police had physical control of the protesters at this point.

White Eagle Medicine Woman came over to the spot on the gym floor near me where the policewoman had subdued her opponent. White Eagle Medicine Woman knelt down in front of him and tried to talk to him. There was a lot of noise, so I guess that very little communication, if any, happened. The police picked him up and started force walking him towards the exit doors.

She noticed that his blood was on the floor. I watched her put her right hand down on the hard wooden floor, wet with his blood, and then deliberately rub her right hand around on the little red puddle. Then she paused and rubbed both hands together. She went to the drum and rubbed the blood off her hands and onto the drum skin. Her actions were eerily calm, slow and deliberate, in great contrast to the commotion and noise around us. She was not speaking.

The police woman got everyone’s attention by shouting loudly, no microphone needed. She said that if there was anyone here in the gym that was unwelcome, they should leave now. Her emphasis plainly said that greater police response would have been forthcoming against anyone silly enough to take violent actions.

My wife and I walked over to the far left corner where my friend was standing with the PA sound man, Ken. We talked a little bit about leaving. Before we could get it together to do that, everyone in the audience was making a big circle on the floor, holding hands. The drum was then surrounded, in the center of a fifty foot wide circle of about one hundred silent people, both adults and children.

White Eagle Medicine Woman started talking, using the melee as a teaching opportunity. I found myself disagreeing with some of what she said, but everyone in the gym was listening intently. She said that we were witnessing the pain of the Wampanoag, and that it’s not about us. They – Indians – don’t hate us. But the turn of events showed how deep is the suffering of the Native Americans, especially those that are looking backwards “seven generations.” She said that the night’s events were about them expressing pain and frustration that had its roots in the horrible history that American Indians endured. She said that she had been challenged before, more than once, by medicine men and chiefs who don’t view her drum, and her rituals as authentic. She talked about being confronted by an aborigine fighter in Australia (I’m not making this up). She said that she had been “incested from age two to age five.” Because of that experience, she had been an angry person herself for a long time. She used to be a “flaming lesbian feminist” – her words. She said that we – all of us – must stop looking back at all the damage done historically.

She said it is now time for all of us to recognize that we are all one people, and we need concentrate on Peace. She said the 1000 year period of peace that had been prophesied is starting now. She said we need to honor and support women and also make sure that no child is ever hurt. She says we’ve been breaking those 2 basic rules, causing much needless human suffering.

Then, White Eagle Medicine Woman asked one of her “sisters” to talk, so Ken’s mike ended up in the hands of one of the other Indian ladies that had been there all night. She talked a lot, making a sort of weak apology for the behavior of the protesters (now long gone, having all been removed by the police team). She asked us to view the protestor’s behavior in the context of their life experience. I found myself listening without sympathy. My lips were stinging; the skin above my lips was stinging. I left and went into the men’s room and attempted to wash my face with soap and water. Unfortunately, that did not work. The stinging sensation spread around my mouth. What I didn’t realize was that the pepper spray was on the skin of my right hand and I’d been smearing it around on my face. Yuck.

When we got home, all my clothes had to go in the washing machine. They smelled like pepper spray. I showered and washed up thoroughly. Then my wife noticed that she had a bruise in the corner of her left eye, and it was puffy. It did not progress, but we were somewhat worried. We speculated that she may have been struck by a small chunk of wood flying away from the clubbing of the drum.

The three of us had a lively discussion on the way home. That’s a separate story for another day.

Truth is stranger than fiction.

Thanks for reading

Jay Fulton

Written April 4th and 5th, 2008

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