Posts Tagged ‘children’


A jail is nothing but gray, Sarah thought on Tuesday afternoon. She and Jim had been sitting in gray metal chairs at the gray metal table in the attorney-client interview room for a half hour without any sign of Alexa Reed. Sarah looked around to keep from being mesmerized by Jim’s gentle eyes, studying her from his seat at the end of the table. He looked good in a suit. She’d never seen him in one before. Feelings would complicate things; she couldn’t have feelings. But his eyes tempted her to have them. She needed a night with David and soon to make her forget about Jim. Hadn’t he said his wife was in Cabo this week? She’d call him after work, and see if he was free that evening.

She took in the dust-gray walls, the gray chairs and the table where they were seated, the gray door they had come through and the metal bars over the peek-hole window. A guard in a gun-metal gray uniform peering at them through the large glass security window directly in front of her completed the set. Sarah hadn’t been in a jail in a long time. Her clients were all wealthy business executives who bypassed lockup with millions of dollars worth of bail.

“I think she’s standing us up,” Jim said.

“Maybe. Trevor said she’s been curled up in a fetal position and hasn’t spoken since the preliminary hearing.”

“So she’s incompetent to stand trial.”

“I’d say yes for sure, but there’s a hearing September 3 to make that determination. I’m going to interview the psychologist who’s evaluating her as soon as I can get an appointment.”

“You’ll want me there in case he lies on the stand at the hearing.”

Despite her best judgment, Sarah’s eyes darted to his and remained fixed on their brown depths longer than she’d intended. “Yes, I will. Definitely.”

The gray metal entrance door began to slide to the right, extremely slowly, creaking as it moved. She and Jim turned toward it, thinking Alexa was about to appear. Instead, they saw only a portly fortiesh woman guard with a sour look on her face.

“Are you Sarah Knight?” she demanded. “Where’s you bar card?”

Sarah tried to stifle her annoyance, knowing a rise from her was what this nameless jail official wanted; but she’d shown her state bar identification card more times in the last half-hour than she had ever displayed it in her entire career. She was tired of dragging it out of her wallet.

But she did, and the guard scanned it for several minutes as if she thought it was counterfeit.

“And you? “ she demanded of Jim. “Where’s yours?”
Without a word, he patiently handed over both his California bar card which showed he was on inactive status as a lawyer, and his private investigator’s license. Sarah noticed he fumbled with his ex-FBI agent’s association id card for the grumpy guard’s benefit.

“You used to be an agent?”


“Then why are you working for defense lawyer scum?”

“Have to make a living.” Jim gave her a half-smile and put his credentials away.

“Well, bad news. Your client won’t get up to talk to you. She’s lying on her bunk, eyes open, saying nothing.”

“And this has gone on for some time?”

“Since they brought her back from the prelim on June 17. Somehow she eats enough to stay alive. But that’s it.”

“I’d like to go down to her cell and introduce myself,” Sarah said. “She’s never met me.”

“It’s against jail policy.”

“I can get a court order if you’d rather.”

The guard frowned at them both, delaying the moment when she’d have to admit defeat.

“You don’t have to. I’ll escort you down there.”

The interior corridors were even grayer, Sarah reflected a few minutes later as she and Jim followed the woman to Alexa’s cell. They twisted and turned through narrow hallways with the astringent smell of lemony disinfectant until they reached the tiny space Alexa Reed occupied.

Their sour guide dialed a combination lock on the door of the cell, and then used a key to complete opening it. Sarah and Jim stepped inside when it swung open, but there was barely room for both in the tiny dark space lit only by a three by three window high up on the outside wall.

She was a tiny bag of bones, Sarah reflected as she looked down at the woman in the navy blue prison scrubs curled up on the single cot. Her blonde hair was matted and uncombed, and apparently unwashed for weeks. Her large light blue eyes stared straight ahead, unfocused and distant. She was about five feet tall, Sarah guessed, and must have weighed all of ninety pounds.

She knelt by the cot. “Alexa, I’m Sarah Knight, your new attorney. And this is my investigator, Jim Mitchell. We’ve come to hear your side of things. Will you go down to the interview room with us where we can talk?”

No response. Alexa’s blue eyes remained blank and fixed on the opposite wall.

Jim leaned over and took one of Alexa’s small hands in his much larger one. Sarah couldn’t explain why she didn’t like that. She thought she saw a flicker in Alexa’s otherwise vacant blue eyes when Jim took her hand, but it might have been her imagination.

“She isn’t going to talk to you,” the hostile guard announced. “You’re going to have to leave.”

Jim let go of Alexa’s tiny fingers and stood up. He really did look good in a suit, Sarah thought once more, and then wondered why she was thinking about Jim’s looks and Alexa’s hand in his.

Sarah stood also and turned toward the door. Suddenly, on impulse, she paused and fished one of her business cards out of her brief case. She pressed it into Alexa’s unresponsive hands.

“Here’s my card, Alexa. We’re here to help you.”

* * *

That night, Sarah found herself standing in front of Jim’s olive green bungalow at seven thirty. He’d insisted on making dinner again to give them a chance to talk over the day’s events. She had called David as soon as she’d gotten back to her office, ready to cancel the evening with Jim if he was free. But his wife had unexpectedly backed down from her Cabo trip, so seeing him was out of the question. Had Tessa guessed about their relationship? That possibility nagged at Sarah as she thought of calling Jim to set up a meeting at a restaurant where she would feel more in control. But the need for confidentiality trumped her scruples about being alone with him.

He put a glass of cabernet in her hand and motioned for her to take a seat on one of the tall stools around the island in his kitchen.

“I was in the mood for burgers, although not the ones you burn over a gas grill. Feeling the French bistro vibe tonight, so I’ve made grilled onion confit and Bearnaise sauce and shoestring sweet potato fries.”

“I’ll have to work out tomorrow for sure.”

He turned from stirring the onions and gave her a once over. “I doubt that. You look very Audrey Hepburn tonight in those black skinny pants and black shirt with your hair cut short like hers. Do people ever tell you that you look like her?”

“Once in a while. When they don’t otherwise know my ‘day job.’”

“I have to admit you had me fooled that night at Trend.”

Was it really less than a week since they’d met, Sarah reflected. Why did she feel as if she’d always known him?

“That was tough today at the jail,” Jim observed, turning back to his onions.

“Yes, it was.” Sarah paused to take a long drink of her wine, wondering if she should have asked for scotch instead.

“She’s barely alive.”

“Trevor Martin warned me, but it was much worse than I’d pictured.”

“She’ll be declared incompetent to stand trial. She’s completely incapable of assisting with her defense.”

“Yeah, that’s blatantly obvious. Still, I want to interview Percy Andrews to find out what he’s going to say at that competency hearing. I’ve got an appointment with him on Friday at 9 in the morning.”

“I’ll be there with bells on.”

* * *

They ate in Jim’s small dinning room at a small antique maple table. He dialed the lights down, and lit candles in clear glass holders. Sarah wondered if he considered the evening a business or personal occasion.

“How long have you been in San Diego?” He asked as he put the plates on the table and motioned for her to take the seat opposite his.

“Since January. What about you?”

“Two years, now. It’s easier being on the opposite coast.” His eyes darkened as he spoke, but he gave her that gentle, honest smile that she found hard to resist. “Do you miss New York?”


“Why didn’t you go with a big firm here like Warwick, Thompson?”

“I thought about it. I talked to Alan Warwick. In the end, I was tired of working for someone else.”

Jim smiled. “I can understand that. Any broken hearts left behind in New York?”

“Only the ones I mentioned the other night, the dry cleaning delivery boy and the Chinese food messenger. But I doubt they miss anything but the tips. I was always generous. What about you?” Why was she picturing him holding Alexa Reed’s tiny fingers?

“I’ve tried. No luck. Still head over heels for Gail.”

Jealousy was an inappropriate emotion Alexa reminded herself as he refilled her wine glass. “What is she like?”

“Funny, smart, beautiful. Taffy hair, big blue eyes. Knockout figure. Grew up in Boston. She teaches third grade and loves it. Cody has a half-sister, Brittany, whom he adores.”

Sarah studied him across the table. A white knit shirt tonight with navy linen pants. Such a kind, gentle face. Hard to believe he hadn’t found someone else by now.

“Penny for your thoughts.”

“My hourly rate is a lot higher than that.”

“Guess I can’t afford them, then.”

“I thought you were a trust fund baby.”

He laughed. “I tend to forget about the old man’s money. I did without it all those years. Ok, I’ll pay your hourly rate if you tell me why you’re looking at me like that.”

“Like what?”

“As if you were reading my mind.”

“Now that would be a useful skill for a defense attorney. But I don’t do mind reading. I was just thinking a guy like you should have hooked up with someone by now.”

“I could say the same about you.” The tone of his voice made her tummy flutter, and she decided this conversation had to end and quickly.

“I do see someone. From time to time.”

Did he look disappointed? She wasn’t sure.

“Lucky him. What’s he like?”

“A busy important, CEO of a commercial real estate firm. His brother, who works for him, had a minor problem with the Securities and Exchange Commission last winter, just after I got here.”

“And you took care of it for him?”

“Made it all go away.”

Jim studied her in the candlelight. “There’s something you’re not telling me.”

Sara traced the circle of the bottom of her wine glass. “Now you’re reading minds.”

“I’ve interviewed hundreds of witnesses. I know when someone’s holding back.”

Her dark eyes met his, and she smiled. “You’re really good. I’ll give you credit. David Scott is very married.”

“Ah, I see.” He crossed his knife and fork on his plate in a gesture of finality before bringing his eyes back to study hers. “Then why waste your time?”

“He’s witty, well educated, and charming.” And I can’t fall in love with him. But Sarah would never say that out loud.

“Does the wife know?”

She frowned as she thought of the defunct Cabo trip. “I don’t think so.”

“But you’re not sure.”

“She was supposed to be in Cabo tonight.”

“And he was supposed to be with you?”

“But she cancelled. I don’t think it had anything to do with me and David.”

“Well, my luck that she stayed in town.” He leaned over and started to refill her glass, but she put her hand over the top.

“I’m driving, remember?”

“And I’ve got that guest room, remember? This was a tough day. You need it. Let me put the plates in the sink and then join you in the living room. I’ve learned a lot about Alexa Reed since this afternoon. I think you’re going to be interested in what I’ve found out.”

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The self-growth community, which likes to clutter my inbox with fantastic offers for $10,000 worth of free life changing bonuses if only I will divulge my e-mail, vociferously insists we must all LET GO of the Past. I sometimes wonder if the induction ceremony for an authentic, card carrying self-growth guru is to have his or her memory wiped like a malfunctioning hard drive.

Personally, I would miss my Past. Not all of it, you understand. But even the terrible, terrorizing moments taught me things that, having sweated blood and endured raw fear to learn, I would not want to forget. And aren’t we doomed to repeat the Past until we finally learn what It is trying to teach us?

The thing is, what would artists make their art out of if they didn’t have their Pasts? Sylvia Plath, without her miserable, doomed love-affair with Ted Hughes, would never have become a Great Poet. Ditto for W.B. Yeats who made a highly successful poetic career out of mourning his loss of the ever elusive Maude Gonne. And then there is the mysterious woman of Shakespeare’s sonnets. No lost love, no great sonnets. Thank goodness for the rest of us Plath, Yeats, and Shakespeare lived before the onslaught of self-growth emails insisting you can’t be Anybody until you LET Go of the Past.

And in my case, wiping my personal hard drive would be a rather long affair, since I have memories back to a very, very early age. Now, I am not one of those people who can cite chapter and verse every day of every week of my life. (I think that much recall would be boring.) But let’s just say I have some vivid and accurate recollections of certain major events before age three. And I’d miss them like I’d miss an arm or a leg if they vanished.

On the other hand, Too Much Past is the equivalent of those hoarding reality TV shows that I never watch. You know the ones, where some poor soul stills owns every McDonald’s wrapper and styrofoam Big Mac container that ever came into his or her life? The literary equivalent is poor Miss Havisham in Great Expectations.

I began to meditate upon the proper balance for The Past in my life this weekend when I finally rebelled against another Saturday and Sunday spent writing unbrief briefs and invited the sky to fall if it wanted to because I was LEAVING MY COMPUTER for the weekend. Something about rebelling against the lawyer’s code which says “real men work weekends” (note, I know I’m not a man and maybe I’m not real), always brings out the Tidy Up, Throw It Out impulse in me.

After tackling my guest room, which needed considerable tidying and spiffing, my eyes lit upon my garage floor, covered in boxes of files in pending, but not currently active cases, which were supposed to go to offsite storage weeks ago. My MiniCooper had been complaining that His garage was too full of things besides Himself. And he was right. So after bribing my Stronger-Than-Me son to move the boxes, I suddenly spied a shelf filled with old calenders dating back ten years.

When I retired from law practice and became full-time Mommy in 1986, I used to order those calenders from the Smithsonian and National Geographic that came as little coil bound books, week on one side, breathtaking photo on the other. I scribbled things like pediatrician appointments, play dates, and my few-and-far-between babysitter relief afternoons in them. But mostly I loved the ever changing artwork.

But then, the divorce settled like ash from Vesuvius over our world. My beautiful little calendars became part of my family law attorney’s files – alibis to prove what I’d been up to for the last eight years. And I had to once again put on the great grey mantle of law practice. In place of my lithe little photographic calendars, I had to order those big clunky green-striped DayTimers, six inches thick, which arrived each year with their own grey coffin of a box to store them in. Forever, apparently.

Then on Saturday afternoon I looked at those boxes as they sat on my garage shelf, neatly labeled like Old Father Time with the year of his reign on the spine, and I asked myself when was the last time I’d opened any of them. Answer: on December 31 of the year they had passed into oblivion. In fact, all the briefs’ due dates they had chronicled were long past. The cases were closed out, and I could barely remember the clients’ names. Here was my chance, I realized, to throw out a cumbersome Past that really was THE PAST. Here was a hard drive that had long needed wiping. Joyfully I seized each and every one and gleefully threw them away.

Green-Lined Day Timer

Green-Lined Day Timer

They come with their own coffins

They come with their own coffins

Smthsonian Engagement Calendar

Smthsonian Engagement Calendar

Smithsonian Calendar

Smithsonian Calendar

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A few weeks ago, I came across Gretchen Rubin’s “The Happiness Project” in Anthropologie. One of my favorite get-away-from-the-computer afternoons involves a wander through Anthro, fingering the nubby jackets, caressing the soft sweaters, and sighing over the silk blouses. And as I wander, I inevitably become endlessly enchanted by the grown-up picture books piled next to the scented candles, the adorable JellyCat stuffed animals, and the rainbow dishes in all shapes and sizes. Like most Anthro merch, I refuse to pay full price for it. Instead I text myself the name of the latest enchanting tome and rush home to buy it on Amazon for half-price.

So a few days after I encountered “The Happiness Project” my copy arrived in the regulation Amazon.com box. I suppose part of my curiosity stemmed from the title. Some posts back, I explained my Smile Project; so, I wanted to see what a Happiness Project was all about.

Enter chapter one where Ms. Rubin is sitting on a cross-town Manhattan bus, realizing she is in her thirties, is a Yale-trained lawyer turned New York Times bestselling author, happily married with two children, and SHE’S NOT HAPPY. So she decides to (1) find out what happiness is and (2) become happy. There are many things I liked about this book, but one of its chief charms is Ms. Rubin’s determination to make small changes in her daily life to capture the elusive bird of happiness. She doesn’t want to throw everything over, run away, and join a monastery or a circus. (Kind of tough for a mother of a seven year old and a one year old.)

So she undertakes a mountain of research to see what “experts” and “researchers” have to say about happiness and then sets herself certain areas to focus on each month. For example, her overall theme for January was “Boost Energy.” Her specific actions were “Go to sleep earlier,” “Exercise better,” “Toss, restore, organize,” “Tackle a nagging task,” and “Act more energetic.”

Another thing I like about this book, is Gretchen Rubin’s honesty. She realizes the only person she can change is herself, and she is scrupulously honest about the behaviors she would like to give up and the ones she would like to cultivate. Her book has inspired a wave of Happiness Projects, which she is quick to point out are personal to everyone who undertakes one.

Gretchen Rubin’s definition of happiness turned out to be “To be happy, I need to think about feeling good, feeling bad, and feeling right in an atmosphere of growth.” I agree with her about the “atmosphere of growth,” but my own definition of happiness includes “knowing from moment to moment” what I want. That is harder than it sounds, because so much of my life has been about accomplishing tasks that have to be done whether I wanted to do them or not. Self-employment and single motherhood tend to wipe out individual preferences.

But “The Happiness Project” inspired me to set yet another goal: figure out what I want on a daily basis. So now when I get up in the morning with the laundry list of “To do’s” tap dancing across my brain like the Rockettes on stage at Radio City Music Hall, I ask myself which one or ones will make me happy if I accomplish them today. If none of them rings my happiness bell, I ask, “Are there any orphan ‘I wants’ pining for my time?” My project is not as complicated as Ms. Rubin’s. I don’t like charts and gold stars and quantifying results. I just like the good feeling that comes with accomplishing at least one or more things in a day that my real self (not my lawyer self) wants to come true.

I am glad I passed “The Happiness Project” at Anthro that day. I agree with Gretchen Rubin that small, daily changes can bring real happiness.

The Happiness Project

The Happiness Project

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Last week, Anne Lamonte posted a blog on Facebook explaining her negative opinion of Mother’s Day. Anne is famous among writers for her book Bird by Bird, which reminds us that writing a book, like so many other things in life, is done one word, one sentence, one paragraph at a time. I like most of Anne’s posts, even the ones I don’t agree with. And I enjoyed this one. But she got me thinking. Did I agree with her attack on a day that is more or less sacred because it is devoted to mothers?

Now, Anne’s post is not sour grapes. She is a mother, and she was quick to point out she did not raise her son Sam to celebrate the day. In her view, she would rather have a thank you 365 days of the year in place of just one on a day that is more or less sponsored by Hallmark and See’s Candy. (She is also not a fan of Valentine’s day, either.)

In theory, I agree with her point. And, in addition to my Smile Project (which I wrote about some posts ago), I have my own personal Thank You Project, devoted to random acts of thank you. I believe the world is too full of criticism and not full enough of letting people know what they’ve done right. Hence, I strive to use the words “Thank You” as often as possible. And you get what you give. My children are quick to thank me often. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t nice to have one special day to sit down with them at brunch (which has become our traditional celebration) and enjoy their recognition for my role in their lives. I would miss Mother’s Day if it went away.

Anne also finds the day discriminatory. She reads Mother’s Day as a message to women without children that they are second class citizens. I disagree. I had my children later on in life, after years of not wanting any. And I never, ever drew a negative inference about myself on Mother’s Day during my childless years. Of course I will not deny that for a woman who wants a child and who cannot have one, the day can be painful. But so is every other day when she sees a child and longs for one of her own, yet does not become pregnant. (A dear friend went through this and after giving up entirely found herself pregnant at last!) I don’t think Mother’s Day is a message to the childless, either by choice or by chance, they are less than.

Finally, Anne faults the inevitable commercialism that any holiday that involves gift giving creates. But that, I think, is too simplistic a view of the question. While Hallmark and See’s get their share of business, along with florists, why is it wrong to send a gift on a particular day to a special person? And Mother’s Day gifts do not have to be expensive. I was always happy with the handmade artwork, the $1.99 earrings from Walmart, or the “coupons” for dishwashing and laundry folding. (I never cashed them in, by the way. They live forever in my keepsake box.)

After thinking it over, I do see Anne Lamont’s point. Some aspects of Mother’s Day can be viewed as negative. But that is true of every other holiday I can think of. New Year’s means resolutions no one keeps. Easter is only about candy and stuffed rabbits. Halloween will rot your children’s teeth (and yours, too, if you steal their candy.) Thanksgiving in devoted to gluttony. Christmas is too stressful and commercial. And children’s birthdays are too expensive and pretentious, and your birthday is depressing because you’re getting older. So should we stamp out holidays?

No, of course, not. Nothing is perfect. Holidays are bits of magic interspersed into everyday life. They allow us to believe in magic, even if for only twenty-four hours. I would miss all of them, including Mother’s Day, if they went away.

Family Portrait

Family Portrait

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You can always tell when a store is offering a promotion that benefits them, not you. A few years ago, it was Costco. They came up with their “cash back” American Express card. Now, for anyone who wanted another credit card, I’m sure it was a THRILLING DEAL. But for those of us who don’t like plastic and who have enough already, it was not attractive.

The thing is, Costco would not take no for an answer. Their AmEx “specialists” aggressively chased me across the store so many times that I finally left written complaints in BIG LETTERS on feedback cards every time I shopped. Once I went lawyer on one of them and threatened to file a complaint for a PC 422. I hadn’t the slightest intention of course, but I was tired of being chased and harassed. (And it wasn’t a PC 422, it was a PC 245, but 422 sounded more intimidating and came out of my mouth first because I was working on one of those cases.)

Eventually Costco penned up the AmEx Card hustlers (I like to think it was because I complained), and I could just avoid them. For a while.

But then they started a campaign at check out for those of us who were holdouts on the GREAT DEAL. We still had the tell tale white membership cards. Put one of those babies on the checkout conveyor belt, and your fate was sealed. You were going to get a talking to from the cashier with all the fervor of a Southern Baptist street preacher who suspected Jesus Christ was NOT your lord and savior. Finally, I paid Costco an extra $60 bucks a year for a black card that is not a credit card, but that entitles me to a paltry rewards certificate every January. It’s enough to buy a couple of good bottles of wine, and so far it has been a stake in the heart of AmEx vampires.

Having lived through the Costco AmEx campaign, I was not thrilled when some baby B-schooler created JUST 4 U at my local supermarket. I mean, the title was an instant give way. It was definitely NOT 4 ME.

The whole thing began pretty innocuously with tables just inside the entrance doors where pleasant-faced employees gave out little flyers telling us how sign up on our computers at home. Ever obedient, I did just that. But I went no farther. Why, you ask? Because the object of the exercise was to get me to decide what I wanted to buy BEFORE I went to the store, click on a bunch of e-coupons and somehow magically have these on my cell phone to be scanned at check out. Do you see where this is going, Highly Intelligent Reader? Yep. You got it. The store was sneaking up on paper coupons and trying to make them extinct.

Now back in the days when all four of us were home, I did clip coupons like paper dolls from the glossy Sunday inserts. I had one of those cute little coupon organizers with wallpaper patterns on the front that I wagged with me every weekend. In those days, I often did plan my meals for a whole week in advance, created shopping lists, and executed them (in every sense of that word.) Only problem with this activity: it killed the whole weekend, EVERY WEEKEND. (Another form of execution.)

But as my children grew up and left home bit by bit, I had little need for an elaborate food plan every week. And, as a foodie, I love to roam the aisles and Impulse Buy. I may know three things I want before I hit the supermarket, but I don’t know the other ten. It is just not fun to sit at a computer and pretend I’m putting tunes on my iPod when in fact I’m hunting for paperless coupons for the Android for things I don’t even know I want yet.

Being Southern and polite, I just decided to silently drop the whole thing. But not the supermarket. Oh, no. The employees behind the tables now began to shout at us as we entered, DEMANDING we sign up They came armed with laptops to do the deed ON THE SPOT. They pushed free cookies and coffee to waylay unsuspecting victims. (That was an easy one for me to ignore, but no mom can get a kid past a plate of free cookies.) Still even if a shopper managed to run the entrance gauntlet, he or she still had to face to the Sign Up table in back across from the meat counter. (I guess vegetarians escaped this one.) And finally, the fresh-faced cashier would smile and demand the JUST 4 U info at check out like some sort of Free Mason hand shake that if I got right, would allow me to take the food home. Masonry went extinct in my family in my father’s generation. So, faced with leaving the groceries on the counter or finding a new place to shop, I learned to cleverly hand over my store club card and say, “This is all the discount I wanted for today, thank you.” (I mean the whole club card thing is a pain, too. Why can’t they just give you the low price to begin with?)

Lately, like the AmEx herd that got bullpenned, the JUST 4 U pushers are fewer and farther between. (I think the moms complained about the free cookies.) There are still plenty of customers with cute little coupon savers at checkout, handing over wads of rainbow-hued clippings. I actually haven’t seen a single phone scanned. I’m thinking the baby B-school genius who visited this plague upon us is Looking For Another Job right now. B-school genius has learned the hard way no one is going to deprive me of the extemporaneous fun of being an Foodie Impulse Buyer. Absolutely no one.

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This has been a tough week for all of us. First the heartbreaking images from the Boston Marathon on Monday and then last night and today the death of one perpetrator and the capture of the other. Monday’s blast not only shattered the world around the marathon’s finish line, it shook all of us to our emotional core. How to believe in the essential goodness of humanity in the face of three young lives extinguished in seconds and hundreds maimed and injured? This is the place where we want to shake our fists at God and demand, “Are You There?”

The heroes who step forward in times like these are the ones who bring us redemption. Because they are willing to be selfless in the face of danger and even death, they let us go on believing that the essence of life is goodness and love. Boston and the sight of so many law enforcement officers, as well as civilians, stepping forward as heroes reminds me of a hero whom I never met and who died when I was two years younger than Martin Richard, but whose story has become an important part of my family lore. In the family I grew up in, the word “Boston” is synonymous with “Dick Horan.” Here’s why.

My father was an FBI agent. He was a very good FBI agent. That meant when something happened in the world – like Boston on Monday – our phone would ring in the middle of the night, and he would be whisked away on “indefinite assignment.” We never knew when he would be back. And once in a great while we would also admit the awful corollary: we never knew if he would be back – although it is exceedingly rare for an agent to be killed in the line of duty.

On January 17, 1950, a gang led by Joseph “Big Joe” McGinnis and Joseph “Spec” O’Keefe robbed the Brinks bank on the north end of Prince Street and Commercial Street in Boston. They arrived in Brinks’ guard uniforms and masks, went to the trouble of duplicating the bank’s keys, and made off with $1,218,211.29 in cash, and $1,557,183.83 in checks, money orders, and other securities. They divided an initial cut of the loot and put the rest away to wait for the six-year statute of limitations to run while they squabbled and fell out with each other. The FBI investigated the Great Brinks Robbery for many years and finally made arrests in January 12, 1956, just five days before the statute of limitations expired.

But my father had no inkling of that outcome when he got “the call” late one night in the winter of 1951. I was heading toward my second birthday in the coming August, and my mother was pregnant. In the 1950’s married women had children because everyone expected them to. But a more unmaternal person was never born than my mother. So she was not delighted to be left alone, although she knew it came with the territory of being my father’s wife.

Six months later, my father was still in Boston and had no idea when he would be back. It was hot, hot, southern summer in Tennessee; and my mother was uncomfortably pregnant and stuck with me, the charming child who neither napped nor slept. One particularly miserable day in mid-July, a scruffy man came to the door and asked to borrow the ladder he had seen in our open garage. Now, of course, my law enforcement wife mother should have known not to leave the door open or to say yes; but we were home, and it was hot, and she did. The man used the ladder, put it back, and then returned in the wee hours of the night and broke into garage.

Nearly eight months pregnant, my terrified mother summoned the police, who responded at once and frightened the man away. Later, Mother speculated he had seen the country ham she had brought from her father’s farm and the jars of canned goods my grandmother hand contributed and had returned to steal the food.

Calls to my father in Boston did not produce his return. I’m not sure if she asked him to come home, but I bet she did. However, the Bureau was not going to yank a top agent from a special assignment because of a domestic burglary.

Then, a week later, the doctor informed my mother my sister was going to be a breech birth. Now she really burned up the phone lines to Boston.

FBI agents work in pairs. My father’s partner was an agent named Dick Horan, then of the Boston office. Although my father did not strike up many friendships, he and Dick hit it off. That night after my mother’s call, Dick could tell my father was upset, and he insisted the two go to a movie. Now, my father hated two things in the world: sweets and movies. But he went because Dick insisted and eventually told him about my mother’s call.

In the family legend, it is Dick who went to the Special Agent in Charge and asked for the Bureau to send my father home. I suspect that is true, since I can’t picture my father, hat in hand, asking to leave. But not long after Dick dragged Dad to the movies, the SAC called him into his office and told him he was going home. To this day, I remember (and I was less than two mind you) going to the airport to get him that hot July afternoon in my best dress and hair bow. Then a few weeks after his return, my ever fickle sister turned herself around and was born head first.

On April 18, 1957, Dick Horan was killed by a fugitive on parole whom he and a team of agents were trying to arrest in Suffield, Connecticut. The rest of the agents went to the back door of the house. As Dick went down the basement steps alone, Francis Kolakowski shot him to death. I was just shy of my seventh birthday. After that, my father was ever-bitter about the subject of parole and would tell Dick’s story if the word was spoken in his presence. Understandable.

So, you see, heroes live on. I cannot count the nights my father sat around the dinner table, and in the tradition of true Southern storytellers, told Dick’s story. And today, all these years later, I am telling it to you. In the same way, night after night, someone will tell the stories of the heroes of Boston. And they, like Dick, will live in the lore of uncounted families from generation to generation. I never met Dick Horan, but I always felt as if I had. He meant a lot to my dad, who was close to few people in his life. Dick was a good man and a hero. And this week, the good men and women of Boston became heroes and redeemed us all. They gave us the hope and the courage to believe that evil is the exception and goodness is the rule.

Richard P. Horan, a hero

Richard P. Horan, a hero

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Jimmy Carter left the Southern Baptist Conference after more than sixty years. He had been a deacon and a Sunday School teacher, and he is a profoundly and sincerely religious man. But his reason for leaving the Southern Baptists: the church’s increasing rigidity over the equality of women. Relying on certain passages of scripture, the Southern Baptists insist upon a wife’s subjugation to her husband. And they no longer allow women in the ministry.

Southern Baptists are the United States’ largest Protestant denomination, with 15.9 million members. I doubt that people who have not lived in the South understand what a powerful presence they are in Southern society and culture. My own grandfather was a rigid Southern Baptist who believed in eternal damnation for setting foot in any other church. As a child, I was bundled off to Sunday School and kindergarten at the Southern Baptist church that literally sat on our doorstep. (Eventually they would buy the house I grew up in and turn it into a parking lot, an act of destruction that has always left me profoundly sad.)

I was lucky that my early contact with the mighty Southern Baptist conference had nothing to do with doctrine and everything to do with my parents not wanting to go to church themselves. They shuffled me across the street, Sunday after Sunday, and then went home to put their feet up, read the paper, and drink coffee until it was time to pick me up. The perfect example of “Do as I say, not as I do.”

Eventually, though, being Southern parents, mine were forced to decide about their children’s Religious Affiliation. Southerners have to have some sort of Religious Affiliation to use on Easter and Christmas. And to get married and buried.

Since I had not been baptized as an infant – a practice my Southern Baptist father would never have agreed to and my Methodist mother had no opinion about – I necessarily would have to be baptized as a pre-teen or teen. But the point was, I was a daughter of the South and so I had to be baptized somehow, to avoid going to hell, of course. (Hell at that point was thought to be populated by Northerners, at least unreconstructed Southerners thought so. I didn’t give it much thought since I never planned to wind up there. And it did seem to me that the Civil War had been over for quite some time.)

My parents eventually lit upon a sect of Presbyterians who conducted services as if they were Episcopalians minus kneeling, the sign of the cross, and robes on the minister. For some reason, these Presbys were taken with the beauty of the Anglican liturgy (me, too, by the way) and they adopted it as their own. My father quit being a Southern Baptist and my mother quit being a Methodist, and I got baptized and turned into a Presbyterian by having a red carnation dipped into a bowl of water and squashed on top of my head. Whew! Eternal Damnation avoided! (I fully believe God has a sense of humor because He gave me one.)

By and by, to the absolute horror of my parents, I became an Episcopalian. This required yet another baptism for technical Episcopalian reasons. In their world, water on top of the head doesn’t save you. It has to cross your forehead. So to make absolutely sure I was good and baptized for all time, the priest poured water from a silver shell over my forehead. Killed the hairdo, but now Nothing stood between me, Saint Peter, and those Pearly Gates.

At first, I wanted to be an Episcopalian so that I could walk into any Anglican communion anywhere and hear the beautiful words of the liturgy. I loved that feeling of community when the priest intoned that gorgeous subjunctive phase, “The Lord be with you.” And we answered, “And also with you.” If I went to a Presbyterian church, other than the one I grew up in, I would not hear the liturgy. Then, by and by, my first child turned out to be a daughter. And I wanted her to grow up in a church where women could be priests if they wanted to be. I couldn’t see the point of a religion that told women from the get-go, you’re not good enough.

I have admired Mr. Carter always. He is a man of integrity in a world where integrity is in short supply. And I know what a hard decision he had to make. A Southern Baptist heritage is like being bound by tentacles.

For me, I chose well. You can be anything, anyone, anybody and be an Episcopalian. We have women priests, men priests, gay priests, lesbian priests, and yes, married priests, hetero and gay. Oh, and Bishops, too, come in all varieties. We are the ones the Catholics come to when divorce makes them ineligible to be Catholics anymore. We don’t have to stand on street corners and preach (Southern Baptists did this when I was growing up) and we don’t condemn anyone else’s religion. We are pretty sure God doesn’t either. And we are absolutely sure that women are equal in this world and the next. Back in the day, the Baptist Sunday School taught me to sing this song, which doesn’t say anything about having to be a male child to gain the All Access Pass to Heaven.

Jesus loves the little children
All the children of the world
Black and yellow, red and white
They’re all precious in His sight
Jesus loves the little children of the world.

Love Comes in All Shapes and Colors

Love Comes in All Shapes and Colors

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