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Monday, September 18, 2017

Jeff Bain Conkin

Jeff Bain Conkin, husband of Kelly, father of Asher and Carter, elder and musician in our church,  a PhD in history from Notre Dame, employee in IT at Notre Dame, and friend of many, suddenly passed away a week ago Friday afternoon at 4 pm in his home.  It has been a week of many tears and questions and plans and hugs.

The phone rang at suppertime last Friday and we ignored it lest it be another robo-call.  Later Jim went to the phone to see if he could get in a few holes of golf and heard the voice mail signal.  He called Eric, our elder at church, knowing it was probably bad news and it was.  In shock, he came into the family room and told me it was Jeff and he was gone.  We sat in disbelief--and Jim did not go golfing.

I texted Chris, our pastor, to say I was praying for her too because I knew she would have to be in the midst of it all.  She texted back with her thanks.  And then shortly after that, she asked me to get meals started for the family.  Joanne called and said she would bring breakfast; I said we would do lunch.  I then passed it on to Mary who is in charge of meals at church.  I was so glad I did because with many, many offers it got to be a complicated undertaking.

Early Saturday morning, I went to Martin's and bought a large sub--of which they had many for game day at Notre Dame.  We added brownies, fruit, carrot sticks, and a potato salad and brought it all over to the house at 12:30.  Little Asher, age 5, came up to us and said, "You go to my church."  Later, as he was bouncing all over the room and under the blanket on a make-shift cot, he said, "My daddy died."  Those words haunted me all day.

I prayed and prayed, "God, be with Kelly."  As I did, I thought of Denise who would care about Kelly a lot but not yet having made the commitment to join our church, might not be on the elder list to call.  I didn't want to have her hear about it on Sunday morning so I contacted her.  She was so appreciative.  I thought about how prayer works.  In this case, I could do nothing more for Kelly but did God put Denise into my mind?

Sunday's church school was changed into a time of support for each other.  The worship service was changed also into a time of lament, not only for Jeff, but also for the horrific hurricanes experienced this week.  Chris had a short meditation in which she admitted to "being shaken to her core."  She spoke of Jesus calming the seas and raising Lazarus but not Jeff.  Yet Jesus was in the boat and he wept--and then he died as the ultimate gift of being one with us. Joel's congregational prayer was so meaningful--also full of lament and questions.  He mentioned that there was no drummer this morning--Jeff's role.  He expressed the guilt we all felt when we laughed or smiled in spite of this tragedy.  He was so bold as to refer to two "unstable men" on either side of the world threatening nuclear war. There were many hugs and tears and tissues in each row ready for use.

David asked me to play the organ for the service.  There was just one congregational hymn for organ  but I had to find music for before and after the service.  I did so with care--choosing strong hymns but not sentimental ones.  I could not play "It is well with my soul"  for now. "For All the Saints" was an easy choice for the postlude.  The idea came to me to ask the guitar players to join on the two Taize songs I had chosen and even without any practice, that worked out so well.  "Oh Lord, Hear My Prayer, Oh Lord, Hear My Prayer" and "In God Alone, My Soul Can Find Rest and Peace."   The timing, which had concerned me, was perfect because the family began walking in at that point and then I could play "Great is Thy Faithfulness."

We had gone to the visitation in the afternoon in spite of my hesitation to see the open casket which I avoided.   Kelly was alone in a chair at the time we walked in and she greeted us with great sobs and hugs.  We just held her and loved her.  Somehow, she was so gracious as to tell us, "Jeff loved you guys." A few hours later, Kelly was strong enough to give a profound and emotional and theological eulogy for her husband.  She ended with recounting a letter he had written to her when they spent a year apart during their engagement 12 years previously in which  he told her to stop worrying about their next "Good-bye" but instead think of their "Glorious Hello."

The church was packed with friends and family.  It was strange to look out over our sanctuary filled with folks dressed in dark clothing. Cars were parked on the grass and at the school next door.  That in itself was a tribute to Jeff and Kelly.

Now life goes on.  There is a fund to help with finances without the primary income for this young family.  Kelly will have to go back to work as a therapist.  How can she help others when her own world has fallen apart?  Her family is far away.  We will be her church family as we have been.  I wish I had known Jeff better; I do feel as if I know Kelly better having had a few one on one conversations with her--initiated by both of us at different times.

David posted this on Facebook after the service and it made me weep once again when I read it Friday:

Today I heard a eulogy given by a distraught wife that knocked the socks off everyone in the (very full) room. I saw a lot of people who haven't been around all together in the sanctuary to celebrate the life of this man. I listened to a Roman Catholic priest say "Amen!" multiple times as our female pastor delivered an excellent, profound, and personal meditation. I listened to amazing voices lead us through "Shepherd me, O God," and the congregation responding with an outstanding communal voice, and my dear friend playing Taize' songs on organ with guitar accompanist - it was excellent. Jeff's work wasn't done. Tonight he accomplished a great deal of kingdom building.
The Body of Christ is an amazing thing. Tonight we saw a wonderful part of it in the midst of a tragic situation. We mourn together. Together we will work through this. Together we have the ability to support Kelly and the boys. Together.

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Feminist Theory, Part II

Our lives and thoughts right now are consumed with the tragic death of a young friend of ours from church.  I can't write about that yet.  I can't begin to process it, let alone thinking of his wife and family processing it.

Another friend had the congregational prayer and among many hard things, he mentioned our feeling guilty when we laughed at something this weekend.  I know exactly what he meant.

But I am in a writing mood so I will write with some amusement about the Feminist Theory class again.

No, I am not a "Smick."  What is a Smick?   This is a self-described term for a St. Mary's chick. It's OK to call yourself a Smick but not so OK if others do.  Apparently, the alumna are not fond of the term.

Yes, I am "woke."  Or I would like to think I am woke--politically aware.  Apparently this term, which not all the ladies knew, has been applied to the women of color in the class.  The stereotype is that they are more "woke" than others.

 I think I was woke today when I told Karie after class that I thought the "guilty" in the Central Park Jogger case had been exonerated years after the 1991 article we read today.  I googled it later and yes they had--which probably only adds to the racism of that particular retelling of that tragedy.

Three of the four young ladies of color in the class speak up more than anyone else.  Is this because of their "woke"-ness?  Or just their own personalities?  One refers to herself as "mixed."  I never liked that term and still don't.  I do however find hearing about their experiences a very interesting part of the class.  The most outspoken of the three told us that when asked by other St. Mary's women, "No, she cannot and will not introduce others to the ND football players, No she cannot teach someone else how to twerk, and No, this is not the night that you are going to f... a black girl for the first time."  So, yes, she is a victim of stereotyping!

I enter into the discussion only if I really feel I have something to contribute or need clarification.  I try to sit in different places so that no one group gets subject to my always being in their group discusssions. Karie says I am being disruptive in that respect!  I have noted that at least in the warmer weather I was the only student without a fancy water bottle.

It has been fun to watch my friend Karie, aka Professor Cross Riddle, in action.  She runs the class well.  She accepts student comments and furthers them. She praises and applauds the student discussion leaders.   Her presentations clarify our reading material.  She ends the class positively with thanks for a good discussion.  She clearly finds the material compelling and important for social justice, and not just of academic interest.

These St. Mary's women have impressed me with their interest, enthusiasm, and ability to present their ideas to others.  I feel very "privileged" (and not just as a white, educated woman!) to be able to sit in on this class. One suggestion made today to further "intersectionality" was to have converstions with others who were not of your race or for that matter, sexuality.  This class is giving me the opportunity to listen to women who are definitely not of my age group, some not of my race, and sexuality unknown thus far at least.

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Feminist Theory--Fall Term 2017

Yesterday I attended my first Feminist Theory class at St. Mary's College taught by our friend Karie Cross Riddle.    Karie completed her PhD in political theory and peace studies this year and is doing a post-doc at Notre Dame.  Teaching this class is her assigned work for the year.

I had attended Karie's dissertation defense and was intrigued by the ideas and vocabulary.  She said it would be fine if I sat in on the class.

The first assignment was daunting--an obtuse but classic essay by Nancy Hartsock from 1983 entitled "The Feminist Standpoint:  Developing the Ground for a Specifically Feminine Historical Materialism."  The title itself contained vocabulary that I had to look up--plus words in the reading like "epistemological" and "ontological" and Marxist terms like commodities, subsistence, dialectic, use-goods, etc.  I read the article, then tried to read some background material defining these terms, and then read the article again with a bit more understanding.  I tried to tell myself that the19-21 year old St. Mary's women probably were struggling with the reading as well.

And they were!  That was clearly expressed by several of them.  But, as I had hoped, Karie helped to clarify what Hartsock was getting at and why she was doing so.  I was glad I had prepared the "reflection" because even if I didn't have to hand it in for a grade, I needed to have something to say in our small group discussion.

I will summarize as Karie did:

A feminist standpoint is an understanding of life and societal relations from a women's point of view taking in women's life experiences and responsibilities.   This helps us to understand patriarchal relationships, makes visible the sexual division of labor, and mitigates inhuman social relations.

Takeaways:  Knowledge is socially situated.  Marginalized groups are more aware of problems and able to raise questions.  Research focused on power relations should begin with the marginalized.

I enjoyed the class and I enjoyed the adventure of the whole experience.  Seeing Karie in action was a delight and made me proud!   After years of my being an educator, it was fun to see how she organized the class and involved the students.  And I enjoyed seeing and hearing St. Mary's women in action.

Thursday, August 24, 2017

50 Years!

When my grandparents celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary, they seemed really old.  My own parents never had that opportunity.  Jim's parents celebrated theirs with a traditional open house in their church basement.  It's hard to believe that we too are really that old!

 Our celebration started at Ocean Grove, New Jersey with 14 of us.  We lived together and ate together and played together for a week and it was wonderful.   On Wednesday evening, after our family photos were finished, Michael brought out a bottle of Dom Perignon and Laura toasted us with phrases including a "strong marrige" and "strong children and grandchildren" reminiscent of Michael's dad's toast at their wedding--a memorable one!

Today is the day.  Jim is golfing; I did my library volunteer work both at the Francis branch and at church.  I came home to two beautiful bouquets of flowers, one from Jim and one from John and Lois.  I wrote out a card to Jim--from my stash. (We usually don't keep Hallmark in business.) In a few hours we will go out to eat at Tabor Hill Restaurant, always a nice ride into the country, a lovely view of the vineyards, and a good meal.

I posted a wedding photo on Facebook last year for our 49th.  I am not going to post anything this year.  I have sent this photo and statement to a few friends--all of whom are married. ..." to have and to hold from this day forward, for better for worse, for richer for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, till death us do part, according to God's holy ordinance; and thereto I plight thee my troth."  Many of my friends are single and not always by choice.  I don't feel like gloating in any way.  I am thankful we were able to keep those vows.

One more celebration to go.  I ordered two cakes from Martin's that will feed 120 people at our church picnic on Sunday.  The writing will say "Celebrate 50 years with Us.  Jim and Mary."  We somewhat reluctantly gave permission for a trivia type quiz on each table and will see how that turns out.  We hope we can celebrate many more years together!

Saturday, August 19, 2017

Ocean Grove Part III

A good aspect of a week together is the small groupings that occur naturally.  Dan and R went for a walk, Jeff entertained A, M and J jumped the waves and rode their boogie board together.  Jeff and Dan had a good game of Scrabble, I played Ninja with J, and Katie, Laura and I went shopping at the nearby outlet mall.

Before we came, I tried to think of activities that everyone could do together.  The "Who is this beautiful baby?" activity was a big hit.  Thursday I organized a scavenger hunt in town.  S, R, and J helped me write the lists of eleven items each.  Dan, Katie, and M were their respective partners in finding things like a named statue or a blue house around the town, photographing it to give proof and returning within 45 minutes.  There was much excitement on the part of the three littler ones and the older ones really made it fun for everyone.

A theme of the week is "Where is A?" or "Who has A?"  He has learned to open the doors and the gate and he has strong opinions about food and bedtime.  He chats a lot and is pretty cute which is a very good thing!

 Each of the younger grandchildren  enjoys his or her own thing--R pretending, J writing, S on his screens, and A digging in the dirt. (Who needs beach sand?)  The older ones were patient about being away from home and friends for a week.

Beach time depends on the weather.  We have been able to get down there at least once a day.  That means crossing the street--what a great location Strandvue has been.  The waves have been large--large enough to knock me right over on Friday.  I did try the boogie boards on Thursday and rode a few waves in--not far.

Thursday was lobster, salmon and shirmp kabobs.  A feast every night!

 Friday night was taco night followed by an ice cream cake decorated for the ocean stay--and then followed by a fireworks show--lightning over the water.


More beach time today.  One last grilling meal and trying to finish what was left in the refrigerator--one last ice cream trip--and then a walk around the tabernacle to hear the Beach Boys in concert--just a song or two.

Sunday--The beaches are closed as always on Sunday morning.

We hope to be home by early afternoon on Monday.  It's been a great week thanks to all 12 of our very dear children, their spouses, and our grandchildren.  What a great way to celebrate our 50th anniversary!

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Ocean Grove Part II

All 14 of us under one roof--three storeys, six beds, a sofa bed, two blow-up mattresses--and we all fit in.  Meals-breakfast and lunch--are scattered.  Supper has been on the 1400 foot deck with ocean breezes and a great view of the busy strand. Strandvue was built in 1880.  The kitchen is very modern; the main floor has lovely stained glass windows and wooden trim.  The stairs are very creaky and it gets a bit shabbier as you go up the steps.  The bathrooms are modern, there is ample parking which is not a given in Ocean Grove, and the location couldn't be better.  There is no central air conditioning but we use our room unit briefly at night and then open windows and enjoy the breeze.

What did we do today?  Another early morning walk with A to the bakery, a Scrabble game with J and Jim, a walk with Dan and R, two loads of laundry,  pulled pork for lunch a day late, and time to read and nap. At 5:30 we had a photography session on the beach with Jessica whose gently put us in our places with a "Would you mind...?"  A threw a two year old tantrum because he did not want to wear a white shirt and then would not give up his pacifier.   Otherwise, the rest of us were mostly cooperative!

After the photography session, Michael brought out the Don Perignon 2006 champagne, and Laura toasted Grandpa and Grandma, also known as Mom and Dad, also known as Jim and Mary.  It was lovely and brought tears to my eyes.

We picked up pizza for supper--Dan suggeted kale and sausage which I enjoyed-and then Jim and I went to the Wednesday organ recital with Gordon Tuuk.  It was informal and fun and ended in a rousing riff on the Star-Spangled Banner complete with lights flashing on the American flag.  Tuuk got a standing ovation when we all caught on that it was the National Anthem.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Ocean Grove Part I

We were on the road by 9:30 am Saturday and had an easy ride to Bedford, Pennsylvania arriving around 5 pm.  For years we have passed the Jean Bonnet Tavern along the Turnpike and I was curious!  So this year, I made a reservation and we drove a few miles along the Lincoln Highway for a wonderful dinner in an inn that had been there for 250 years.  My crabcake sandwich was the very best ever!  Afterwards we drove to town and enjoyed seeing the historic houses and churches.

Sunday: I really wanted to go to church after a somewhat stressful week.  Jim stayed at the motel, communing with RH Charles and one of his 1887 sermons.  I went to the Bedford Lutheran Church where I was warmly welcomed and felt God's word to me in liturgy, sermon, and the Eucharist.
Bedford Lutheran Church

We were the first ones to arrive at the Strandvue, our ocean front "cottage" with its 1880 marker.  We claimed the third floor turret room with its privacy and view.  The others arrived within the hour and we had a great spaghetti supper followed by the traditional Day's Ice Cream trip.

Katie's tomato salad
Monday: Before going to bed we used an hour of A/C with a noisy window unit and then we opened the windows to get the ocean breeze.  By morning it was almost cold.  We took S and A out for a very early breakfast treat and then the rest of the day was full of kid play,  reading, great eating, and some beach time.  We had a pretty hectic trip to Shop-Rite with a broken shopping cart with R riding and a sleeping A in the car and the difficulties of finding anything in a huge grocery store where there were shelves of Kosher meat and I wanted a pork roast for pulled pork.

Michael fixed a delicious steak dinner which we ate outside on the deck.  We made our nightly trip for ice cream.

I had prepared 14 numbered baby photos before we came, one of each of us copied in black and white. Everyone tried to decide who was who.  It was great fun making the choices and great fun reading the results.  The two moms, Laura and Susan, had perfect scores.  The dads--not so much. Jeff, our mathematician, had figured out the plurality scores, and they were correct except in the case of the three Conway boys whose baby photos were pretty similar!

Laura presented us with the Shutterfly albums she had made with photos of "Jim and Mary" from high school days to the present time.  A wonderful gift!

A the escape artist
Tuesday:   Another early morning trip to the downtown bakery this time with J and A.  We had to wait for it to open but it was worth the wait.

 It rained much of the day so Michael took the kids to a movie.  Jeff and Susan had to go back to Princeton for the second of their rabies shots (that's another story!).  There was plenty of quiet time until it came time to do supper and it was clear my effort at pulled pork was not going to be ready even after hours in the crock pot.  So we headed back to Shop-Rite, bought burgers and hot dogs, and went to work.

Dan arrived on the 6:16 train and we were all together for supper and ice cream.
Almost everyone at Day's for ice cream