Hello from the porch of the Highlights Foundation Barn and Lodge,
Earlier this afternoon I was honored to attend and witness the marriage of a former student to her love and the beginning of their lives as formally known as husband and wife. It is amazing how differently I look at the events from periods in my life that are long past. Amazing how I felt, in some way, like my own child was coming down that aisle in the Catholic Church this afternoon. Amazing how I was not that interested in how all the other people looked or who was there, in part because I know only a couple people from either the bride’s or the groom’s families, though I expect more of them have heard of me. Not because I am famous or amazing, but because a young freshman student in a writing class allowed me some sort of entreé into her life beyond merely being a student in class. It is always beyond our immediate comprehension how people might enter or (for that matter) leave our lives. Mariah, in spite of being a business, and ultimately supply chain management, student, her work in the writing center and her work in the then named Living and Learning Community (LLC) offered continual opportunities for our lives to cross paths more extensively. Phone calls on more road trips than either can count, dinners with small groups, conference photos being sent from southern beaches and a motorcycle ride on Harleys with her father allowed Mariah to become more than merely someone in a class. That is one of the richest blessings that can happen for us as professors and mentors. So to be here this day is both joyous and humbling.
The Catholic Church in Honesdale exhibited both traditional Roman iconography, but also illustrated, as I examined the sanctuary, a strong Irish presence. Almost every stained glass window was a memorial to someone with an Irish name. The statuary in the chancel and the stations of the cross were appropriately somber and neo-classical and the painting of the apostles in the upper reaches of the nave were also impressive. As the service began and Mariah entered the sanctuary with her father, she was even more radiant and beautiful than I could have imagined, and that is saying something. The sparkle in her eyes and the radiance of her smile would have brightened the entire church without a single luminary needed. The conversation as a musical number based on 1 Corinthians 13 was sung actual added the Mariah-touch I expected to manifest itself somewhere. Her being completely silent and not adding commentary (if only between the two of them) and beaming that astounding smile would have been miraculous, but also sad, and certainly not appropriate as there was no reason for sadness.
As I write this, the sun is shining, there is a nice fall breeze, and sitting outside the venue waiting for others to arrive is calming and enjoyable. I will admit knowing so few is a bit uncomfortable, but I will manage. There was an option to stay here for the evening and I have chosen to do so. I am hoping to get some work done, and I often accomplish more when I go hide away. . . . it is about 5 hours later and the meal and the people I was sitting with were so wonderful. I am about 75 yards from the barn and the party is cranking up . . . it is sort of fun to listen to them as I sit in my little cabin and do some work. It is barely 8:00 p.m. and I am actually pretty tired. I am seriously considering taking my evening meds and going to sleep. I think I would probably be asleep in less than 15 minutes. It was really quite the wonderful day. The weather was fall like, but the sun and the breeze were just cool enough to let you know there was a season change, and with the sun and the protection of the trees, it was more than pleasant. The day has been a wonderful 12+ hours of conversations with friends and colleagues at the @APSCUFLA and then a drive from Harrisburg to Bloomsburg, a quick stop, where I saw a glimpse of another former student who stayed last night even though I was not there. Unfortunately, and quite sadly, I did not have time to wait for them to get up, and had to leave for the wedding. The drive to the northern tier of counties in Pennsylvania was quite nice. There are a hint of colors beginning, but I am afraid all the precipitation we have had might mute the fall splendor. However, as noted above, the wedding was very nice. Simple and somewhat expected in terms of scripture and music, but I say that as a former pastor and one who has been in more weddings in my life than I probably have fingers and toes . The move toward barn receptions (I think this is the third one I have come to) is really quite wonderful. I was also at a barn dinner for the Bloomsburg Theatre Ensemble about two weeks ago. Barns are such amazing structures, and even if they are new, in a relative sort of way, there is this feeling of bygone times, of history and events that made people who they are and they were the thing that keep families together. I am reminded my visiting my Uncle Melvin’s and Aunt Helen’s farm in Southeastern South Dakota. I remember going their once with a friend and loving walking around the farm with her. It is one of my favorite memories.
At this point you might wonder what the dèjá vue part of this blog is. Well, it is quite amazing. On an October day in 1991 I was driving from Lehighton, Pennsylvania to outside of Pittsburgh to participate in a Catholic wedding for a family friend, and as I drove across the state on a Friday, I listened with almost complete attention to National Public Radio and the Senate Judicial hearing with Dr. Anita Hill and then nominee for SCOTUS, Judge Clarence Thomas. Thursday and Friday of this week, I listened to almost the entire day’s hearing between the same committee, with some of the same members, and Christine Blasey Ford and the latest nominee to be accused once again of sexual improprieties (and I use this term with a complete tongue-in-cheek manner for a reason, which I hope will become clear), Brett Kavanaugh. What pushes the repeating nature of this is again, I am at a wedding in a Catholic Church that I had to drive to, and once again, I am in Pennsylvania. The numerous parallels are striking, and astoundingly, so are the responses of the Senate, the country, and what is being debated. Certainly, it was the Senator from Pennsylvania, the late Arlen Specter, who eviscerated Ms. Hill. This time, the Republicans ran for cover when it came to questioning Dr. Ford, but did their level best to poke holes in what she had alleged happened to her. My sister-in-law and I, it seems fall on the diametrically opposite sides of this debate as I found out in a FB post earlier this evening, but I think what I find most perplexing about this current debate can be spelled out in three points.
- First, the fact that Dr. Ford had spoken about the attack years ago, but chose to keep his name confidential demonstrates some class on her part. The fact that she spoke on more than once occasion in the past that her attacker was a high-powered judge, who might be elevated to the Supreme Court cannot be ignored, and finally, the fact that she came forward only after being “outted,” by whomever it was, again, illustrates that she preferred to allow it to be investigated behind close doors versus what has happened. Again, there are a number of things to be considered here, but I am merely noting this as a general point. Finally, I think her testimony was calm though emotional, respectful and questioning only when she was unsure of something, and finally, done in a way that did not seem to try to overplay anything, but try to be truthful and honest. Again, I could argue a number of things rhetorically, but will not.
- Second, I did not see the initial part of Judge Kavanaugh’ s response, and had only watched clips, but before writing this, listened to his entire statement. What I hear is a classic version of “he said/she said.” Again, stepping back a moment, who has something to lose in all of this. Dr. Ford gains nothing by coming forward, but notes she felt it was a civil duty. She, I think, would not claim she has won anything by doing this. In fact, the denouement has required her family to move from their house and now have security guards, and that was before she testified. She will forever be a footnote in the history books regarding the confirmation, or lack thereof, of Judge Kavanaugh. On the other hand, what does he have to lose? A great deal, and I do understand he has lost a great deal already. Should the now ordered FBI investigation shed light on the more than one assault of which he has been accused in a way that deems their allegations credible, he will not be confirmed and I would imagine there could be additional consequences. One of my colleagues, who has a JD, noted that Maryland has no statute of limitation on sexual assault. If Dr. Ford was 15 years old, I would imagine there are other possible complexities. Simply put, I do believe Judge Kavanaugh could lose much more than he already has. So would it be more possible for him to feel the necessity of hiding something? No brainer. Yet, there is, for me, a much more difficult issue in his response, and it is not his denial. It is the tone and the language he used to deny. His anger, his vitriol and the partisan accusations that go back 20+ years were a bit over the top. Can I understand his frustration, probably not to the degree I should, but regardless, the demeanor he exhibited in the hearing was completely unprofessional and as much below what I believe someone serving on the Supreme Court. Of course, I feel much the same about the the unprofessionalism and ridicule that often comes from the person who nominated him. So much more that could be said, but I will not.
- Third, and this is the most troubling point for me of the three. What we have witnessed in our United States Congress is also below what anyone should believe appropriate or be willing to accept from our elected leaders. I have no problem with spirited debate. I have no problem with disagreement; and finally, I have no problem with questioning the positions and ideologies of the opposition, but the manner in which it has been done over the last three decades needs to stop. For the Republicans to keep Judge Garland from even getting a hearing and then arguing a week longer to investigate when there is a serious character concern is more than disingenuous. It is unconscionable. For Lindsey Graham, for whom I have some very strong appreciation, to act as he did the other day is embarrassing. What has happened to the nomination and confirmation process of the Supreme Court will have long-term consequences that will probably last longer than I might be alive. To have so little civility or decorum among our elected leaders from the very top down only serves to tell our citizens there is no need to be civil or reasonable in their own lives. Again, common sense says something very different, but I fear for where we are headed.
The repeat of history I have experienced over the past few days does not create any sense of comfort or hope for our collective good will. Regardless of what happens with this FBI investigation, the damage done to the Congress and the Supreme Court is already being felt. If we fail to listen to yet another female, who is brave enough to come forward with nothing to gain and most everything to lose, we set back some of the progress that has been made. Yet, I do not believe we live in that same world that Professor Hill had to navigate as I was making my way across Pennsylvania almost 27 years ago to the day. We are in the different place, but we have a long ways to go. It is not easy to come out of the shadows of sexual assault. It might be even more difficult when you are a male. If you have gotten to this point of my post, I will ask you to be seated.
When I was still eighteen or maybe barely nineteen, I was stationed at Kaneohe Marine Corps Air Station. I was younger than many in my Battery, and certainly smaller. I also did not know how to drink and had minimal tolerance. The beginning of one weekend I came back to the barracks and I was more than intoxicated. I was flat out drunk. I had gotten into the shower to clean up and then go to bed. I was naked as I walked back to my bed and at one point needed to be directed toward my rack. I crawled into bed and was about 90% passed out. That is when another Marine, a Corporal, who had been selected as the Marine of the Base for his outstanding work and character, showed up by my bed. He pulled my arm up behind my back and told me if I did not get up and dressed and come with him, he would break my arm. He was both bigger and stronger, and I was not sober. I did as told and he took me out the back steps and we ended up in his car and then down by the beach across base. At that point, he forced me to perform oral sex on him and he anally raped me. He told me if I told anyone he would kill me. This happened on one or two other occasions and I worked hard to make sure I was never alone again for months. Did I think about telling someone? Yes, but he was an awarded Marine across the base, and I was not nearly as amazing. I was also new. I said nothing, but tried to figure out how to protect myself. As noted, it did happen at least one more time and perhaps a second. I am honestly not sure. Up to this point, there are only three people who have ever heard this story. Now many more will. Do I remember everything that happened? I do not. Even when I was not intoxicated. I remember being fearful; I remember being humiliated; I remember feeling shame and rage, but also feeling helpless to do anything. This happened in 1974 during the summer, but I could not tell you a specific date or time. I could tell you the person’s name because it is burned into my memory, but I choose not to do so. I could tell you I believe he was from around Chicago, but I am not 100% sure of that.
Some of you will be shocked by this revelation. The few of you who know might be shocked that I have actually admitted this in my blog, but there is a certain sense of freedom in finally saying this happened to me. Did it have consequences? Of course it did. Do I know what all of those consequences were or are? Probably not. I remember when I was first diagnosed with ulcerative colitis, I was asked if I had ever had sex with a male (this was in the early days of understanding AIDs). I did not understand the question, but I lied at the time because I was embarrassed. I could certainly say I did not have sex with a male willingly. Since then, I have been tested more than once for general reasons, and fortunately there was no such consequence of that assault. I have also learned to forgive and move on, but this admission allows that moving on to be a bit more complete. Do not feel sorry for me as I am okay, but there is so much more to our lives than people often know.
In spite of all you have read here, I am blessed to be here and alive. I am blessed to be at the wedding of my former student, Mariah. I am blessed in so many ways. I hope we might find a way to come together as a country regardless of what happens this next week and put the good of the country before our own partisanship and difficulties. I hope we can move forward and treat each person with the civility and respect they deserve. I hope we can find the good in the other rather than work to see what we can pick on and tear down so that all that is left is a shell of a human. I think on that note, I will lay my head down to sleep and pray for a better country tomorrow. What I know for the day is it has been a wonderful one to be allowed to share in the lives of so many.
Thank you as always for reading,