fashion, Military, royals

Meghan’s red dress…

A few days ago, I noticed articles about Meghan Markle and Prince Harry attending the 2021 Salute to Freedom Gala in New York City. Meghan wore a bright red Carolina Herrera gown and slightly darker red Giuseppe Zanotti slingback heels. She also wore a poppy, which is customary among British people to commemorate Remembrance Day. The poppy was kind of obscured by the dress, which was the same color as the flower. Prince Harry wore a tuxedo, with four medals pinned to his jacket, and a poppy on his lapel.

I don’t know much about what this event was about, other than to recognize veterans. I’m not sure what the dress code was supposed to be, although I have been to a several military balls in my day. I’ve seen the kinds of dresses that are typically worn to them. Was this like a military ball or was it just a formal occasion? I can’t really tell, although based on the photos in the link, it looks like it was a fundraising dinner with speakers and probably a receiving line.

I will say, however, that personally, I’m not a fan of Meghan’s red dress. I mean, that color red does look good on her, and it’s a beautiful dress on its own. I even like the neckline, though not necessarily on Meghan Markle. I just think the dress was inappropriate, given the occasion. As Tom Cruise (yuck) might say, “she wasn’t wearing the dress; it was wearing her.” I read that Tom Cruise once said that to Katie Holmes when they were married, and she would choose dresses for the events they attended. In any case, I’m no fan of Cruise’s, but I think that comment makes sense in this situation.

Yeah… this screen shot kind of shows the fit of the gown… I like the color, although I think she should have chosen something more subdued for this event. I don’t like the style on Meghan.

I realize I’m kind of a hypocrite. I say this, even though I’ve certainly worn a few unflattering dresses in my day. The difference is, I don’t have access to stylists, nor do I have Meghan’s money, or even a figure even remotely like hers. I’m also not someone who is of interest to the paparazzi. Indeed, the vast majority of military spouses in the United States don’t have what Meghan has. Many of them were probably orbiting the intense red glow cast by Meghan’s red dress. She probably stood out like a beacon or maybe a traffic flare. I’m not sure that glowing like a beacon was appropriate on this occasion.

I would expect to see a gown like that at a show biz event, not a military event. If this was a “show biz” event, rather than a military event, then maybe I stand corrected. Even if it was a show biz engagement, I just don’t think that dress was the best choice for Meghan. Other people have commented on the way the dress fit, and that it looked like maybe it wasn’t the right size. I don’t know about the sizing, but the dress did seem to overwhelm her, except at the back, where she spilled over a little bit.

Many people liked the dress. A lot of other people, myself included, found it to be garish and rather tasteless, given the apparent purpose behind the event. Were they remembering fallen British military heroes, as one is supposed to do on Remembrance Day? Or were they honoring veterans who are still living, as one does on Veteran’s Day (Memorial Day is for our fallen American troops)? Either way, it seems to me the focus should have been on the veterans, not a big, red, designer dress.

That being said… I’m not here to say Meghan can’t or shouldn’t wear whatever she wants to wear. She’s free to make whatever fashion statements she wants. She’s an American, and she lives in America now, with her royal British husband, whose spent his whole life being taught about protocol. However, if the event was supposed to honor veterans, it seems to me that Meghan’s dress, with its tremendously low cut neckline, extremely bright color, massive train, and high slit up the front, was a bit unbecoming, too revealing, and overly showy, particularly for a event meant to honor veterans. Just my opinion.

Some people are wondering why Harry was asked to hand out medals in the first place. Personally, I don’t mind that Harry was at the event. He is a veteran, even if he served the United Kingdom, rather than the United States. A lot of us Americans would have been Brits if our ancestors hadn’t moved to America, like Harry has. But I can see that a lot of veterans and their families are wondering why an American veteran couldn’t have done what Harry was doing.

I find it interesting that Meghan and Harry have repeatedly complained about intrusive press, even to the point of moving out of England, and yet they constantly seem to do things that put them in the news. Meghan’s dress was definitely an eyebrow raiser, and of course people are going to talk about it, including the press. The dress got a lot of reactions, which seem to be very mixed. Some people thought it was stunning. Others thought it was a stunning disaster.

Maybe my comments seem harsh to some readers, although I’m definitely not as harsh as Jesus Enrique Rosas, the Body Language Guy, is. Check out this video…

He is definitely not a Meghan fan. He refers to her dress as “king sized drapes.”

Nor am I as harsh as River is…

River calls Meghan a Scarlet Pimpernel…

The Body Language Guy, Jesus Enrique Rosas, did another recent video about Meghan’s fashion choices and body language. In this video, he refers to the “marshmallow on Meghan’s head.” I have to admit, that comment cracked me up a bit.

Interesting video. I don’t think I’ll ever think of that hat in the same way.

Anyway… it’s Monday, and Bill is out of town. He went to Poland for the week. I am sitting here, the day before our 19th wedding anniversary, staring at Meghan’s red dress, wishing she’d chosen something else to wear. And I say this as someone who has a large collection of knit nightgowns, which I wear most of the time, unless we’re going out somewhere. Even then, half the time I don’t wear makeup. But at least I don’t attract attention to myself… except for when I open my mouth and say something completely shocking. My days of wearing shocking clothes are mostly over now.

It’ll be interesting to see if the Facebook fashion game, Covet, has a challenge involving Meghan and her red scare gown. I’m trying to stay neutral about Meghan Markle, but I have to admit, the more I see of her, the less I like her. She makes my “high conflict person/narcissist” alarms go off. But I’m trying to reserve judgment for a bit longer… because I do think that anyone marrying a British royal will have a tough time of it. I just don’t think she tells the truth, and she seems to come off as a bit clingy. Ever since I heard her claim that she didn’t know much about Prince Harry, I’ve thought she was full of shit. I don’t believe that claim for a second.

But fortunately, it’s not my marriage, nor is it my business… it’s just an observation as a veteran’s wife, and someone who’s married to a guy who was married to a “high conflict person/narcissist”. Fortunately, everyone still has a right to have their own opinions.

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politics

New York is going to close some prisons, and some people aren’t happy about it…

I had quite a busy day yesterday, updating my travel blog. I’m not even halfway through our vacation, so I suspect I have a few more days of intensive travel writing and video production ahead of me. Travel blogging is fun, and I really enjoy looking at the photos I take when we travel. On the other hand, when I upload a lot of photos, my Internet invariably craps out, wasting time and frustrating me as I have to repeat tasks.

Writing on this blog is less frustrating, because I don’t use as many pictures… and also, I feel like I can be more authentic on this blog, because most of what I write is about how I feel, rather than what I’ve seen and experienced. Regular readers of my blog may know that I’m not a big fan of prison. In fact, the older I get, and the more I read up on the subject of criminal justice, the more I think we have too many prisons and way too many incarcerated people in the United States. I’ve actually felt this way for a long time, even before I started watching Jessica Kent’s excellent and informative YouTube videos.

According to the Federal Bureau of Prisons, a whole lot of people are in prison due to drug offenses. While sometimes people on drugs do terrible things to themselves and to other people, quite a lot of drug offenders are non-violent. Some states are starting to realize that putting people behind bars for drug offenses isn’t always the best idea. In New York State, lawmakers have been dismantling the strict anti drug laws that were passed in the 1970s. Consequently, their prisons are gradually emptying. Over his almost 11 years in office, former Governor Andrew M. Cuomo shut down 18 prisons in New York. His successor, Governor Kathy Hochul, is following Cuomo’s lead, and has plans to close six more prisons.

Republicans, in particular, are unhappy about the decision to close prisons, even though New York’s prison population is at its lowest since 1984, and there are several facilities that aren’t even close to full capacity. Again, this is because of criminal justice reforms and decriminalization of the use of certain drugs, like marijuana. You’d think Republicans, who so often speak of being the “law and order people”, would be glad to see a decline in people going to prison, especially since there’s a monetary and societal cost to locking people up. For one thing, a person with a prison record has a harder time finding work or housing. People who can’t find work or housing are more likely to turn to crime as a means of survival. Or they might try to access welfare, which we all know Republicans aren’t too keen on. They’re all about protecting life, as long as the life is that of the unborn. But once a person is born, a lot of them don’t really give a shit, do they?

In any case, some Republicans in New York are against closing the prisons because they provide jobs in rural communities where places to work are lacking. Some also mention that they’re worried about safety and the increase in crime. But… the New York Times article I linked mentions that there are a lot of empty cells in New York. Those cells cost money to maintain. And consolidation is a great way to save money. According to the article, if those six prisons are closed, taxpayers could save $142 million. Of course, there’s also money to be made in the prison industry. For profit prisons do exist, and there are companies that produce products for prisons, which then get sold to inmates for rip off prices. I’m sure some Republicans don’t want to see prisons closed for that reason. And let’s not forget that inmates also often work for pennies on the hour, which also is a money maker for some people.

Personally, I find it disturbing that so many people in the United States, the supposed “land of the free”, are locked up in jails and prisons. According to PrisonPolicy.org, which admittedly has an anti-mass incarceration agenda, one out of every five prisoners in the world is incarcerated in the United States. That same source reports that less than 5 percent of the world’s population live in the United States, but about 20 percent of the world’s incarcerated are in the United States.

I noticed a lot of people commenting that it’s wrong for New York to close the prisons because they think the crime rate with increase. More than one person compared closing the prisons to the decision to deinstitutionalize people with mental illnesses. But, the difference is, a lot of people who wind up incarcerated aren’t there because they’re a danger to themselves or society. They’re there for non violent offenses, as a means of filling the local coffers or allowing politicians to make names for themselves as being “tough on crime.”

Some politicians and elected law enforcement officials– Joe Arpaio, former sheriff of Maricopa County in Arizona comes to mind— get off on being inhumane to prisoners to show how “tough” they are on crime. They save money by serving barely edible food, forcing prisoners to live in shitty or squalid conditions, and humiliating them by making them wear pink underwear. Then, when the person is inevitably released after having been abused and traumatized, that person is expected to function on the right side of the law and go out and get a job. But, as recidivism rates show us, a whole lot of people wind up back behind bars once they’ve been in the first time. Shouldn’t the goal in a decent society be to help people choose a life without committing crimes?

I’ve also noticed that a lot of people, especially in the United States, have this attitude that jail or prison is the only way to punish someone who has broken the law. I recall how so many people were calling for Felicity Huffman and Lori Loughlin, rich, white actresses who committed mail fraud, to sit in prison for years. The actresses got short prison stints instead. So many people seemed disappointed about that. I guess it’s because they saw what the actresses did as the height of white privilege. But how does it serve society for two non violent offenders to sit in a prison cell for years on end? Huffman and Loughlin will surely recover from their time in the jug, but people of more average means have a harder time doing that. Locking people up doesn’t just affect the person who ends up in prison. It also affects their families, friends, employers, and anyone else who depends on them for any reason.

There’s something really grotesque about the idea of people whose livelihoods depend on locking up other people. I know prisons are necessary for those who commit violent offenses and are a real danger to others. I do think we should have prisons for people who can’t safely function in society. But we shouldn’t be wanting to lock people up simply so people in rural communities can continue to make a living. It’s a violation of human rights. And the fact that the United States is a wealthy, western country with so many people behind bars is concerning. We should want to do better than that. Besides, having a prison in a community isn’t exactly a draw for community growth, is it?

So… count me among those who is happy that Governor Hochul wishes to close six prisons in New York. I hope it happens, and she saves taxpayers money, and families anguish. Those who are working in the prisons can do what Republicans often tell people in trouble to do… They can pull themselves up by their bootstraps and find another line of work. Seriously… that’s what they tell the down and out and disenfranchised, don’t they? Maybe Governor Hochul can find a way to repurpose those facilities so that they can be of a positive use to the communities they serve. And people who work in the prisons can find work in the repurposed facilities, which will hopefully focus more on rehabilitation and compassion, rather than warehousing human beings, mistreating them, and ripping them off through slave labor and their commissary accounts.

I think the United States criminal justice system needs a massive overhaul. From abusive and corrupt police officers who have tainted the reputations of all cops, to inhumane and unfair prisons that make people worse instead of correcting their behaviors, to locally run police departments that depend on ripping off people through issuing extortionate traffic tickets in order to pay salaries… The goal should be on fairness and creating a better society, not enslaving, abusing, and extorting money on citizens so that people will have work to do.

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book reviews, true crime

Repost: My review of They Always Call Us Ladies by Jean Harris…

This will be the last repost of today, an as/is Epinions book review I wrote of They Always Call Us Ladies, by Jean Harris. It was written in October 2005. The paragraph immediately below is an introduction I wrote when I reposted this review on my original blog, on January 21, 2015.

Here’s yet another interesting review of a book written by a woman who committed murder.  In this case, the perpetrator was Jean Harris, former head of The Madeira School in McClean, Virginia.  She shot her lover, Dr. Herman Turnover, creator of the Scarsdale Diet, dead when she found out he was being unfaithful to her.  Well educated and well employed, Jean Harris was the last person anyone would have ever expected would end up behind bars.  In 1992, Harris was released from prison on compassionate grounds.  She died of natural causes in an assisted living center on December 23, 2012.  She was 89 years old.

A very unlikely voice from behind bars…

Jean Harris, author of the 1988 book They Always Call Us Ladies is probably the last person anyone would have ever guessed would have ever spent time in prison. Harris, who is a graduate of Smith College, had spent her whole life educating people, even working as the headmistress of the exclusive and very expensive Madeira School for girls in toney Great Falls, Virginia. But in March of 1980, the 15 year relationship she had with Dr. Herman Tarnower, creator of the Scarsdale Diet, came to an end. She fell into despair and decided to visit Dr. Tarnower in New York. Unfortunately, she brought a gun with her, allegedly planning to kill herself that night. She ended up killing her lover instead and wound up sentenced to 15 years to life in prison. 

Much has come to light about Jean Harris’s case. In fact, just last week, my husband Bill and I caught a special on Court TV about Jean Harris. She is now out of prison, having been released in 1993 after thirteen years behind bars. Her book, They Always Call Us Ladies, was written four years prior to her release from behind the walls of Bedford Hills Correctional Facility for Women in Bedford Hills, New York. As I read this book, I got the feeling that Jean Harris was trying to make the best of her situation, as hard as it was for her. In many ways, They Always Call Us Ladies is an eye-opening book. In other ways, it leaves some questions unanswered.  

I don’t remember exactly when or where it was that I picked up Jean Harris’s book. I do remember that I got it at a second hand bookstore, probably about ten or eleven years ago. I was lured by the subtitle: Stories From Prison. I didn’t even have an idea who Jean Harris was when I purchased this book. I suppose I was looking for lurid details. At the time, I lacked an appreciation for books that weren’t long on action. I remember trying to read They Always Call Us Ladies and setting it aside after only a few pages or so. I was disappointed because I felt like I didn’t get what I had been looking for.  

I picked up Jean Harris’s book again last week after I saw the special about her on television. This time, when I started reading it, I was able to keep going. And now, I have a great deal of respect and admiration for Jean Harris, the convicted murderer.  They Always Call Us Ladies is a remarkable book that goes far beyond just “prison stories”. Jean Harris also tries to educate her audience about the history of her prison and the importance of prison reform. Clearly intelligent and articulate, Harris offers readers some valuable insight into what it’s like to be in prison and puts a human face on the ladies with whom she did time. She points out that no one is ever called a “girl” in her prison; instead, they are all called ladies. But despite the overtures of gentility, prison life is hard and Jean Harris effectively drives home that point. 

At the time Jean Harris wrote They Always Call Us Ladies, she was more than halfway to her first opportunity for parole. She focused a lot of time and energy toward helping the other inmates, especially those with children who were born in prison. The fact that she actively spent much of her time helping and getting to know her fellow inmates is clearly evident as she relates more stories about the “ladies” around her than herself. It’s not surprising that Harris is empathetic to the other ladies. She explains how and why some of the other prisoners ended up in prison and why a few of them came back again and again. They were simply unequipped for life on the outside of the prison’s walls. At the same time, Harris injects her own opinions about what she sees. Although she is sometimes disapproving toward the lifestyles of the ladies with whom she is serving time, she is always supportive of them as human beings. I got the feeling that she took a fond motherly or grandmotherly interest in the other prisoners and they, in return, took a similar interest in her. 

One thing that did strike me about They Always Call Us Ladies was that, although Harris makes it clear that her life was hard, I got the feeling that the prison she was in was very progressive. The prison had a children’s center, where new moms could keep their babies for a year. If the mother was going to be paroled within eighteen months of giving birth, officials would allow the mothers to keep the child until the mom got out. Harris explains that Bedford Hills was the only American prison that was allowing new mothers to keep their babies at all. She then points out that in Europe, prisons are much more accommodating. I got the feeling that she much preferred the European way of doing things. It’s not that I blame her for liking the European way better, but I did notice that Harris doesn’t really explain the differences between the European and American cultures. Just as some people view imprisonment as strictly punishment, other people see it as a chance for rehabilitation. I got the impression that Harris is more for rehabilitation than punishment and evidently that’s the way the Europeans feel about prisons, too. 

Another thing that stuck out at me as I read They Always Call Us Ladies is that it must have been a HUGE culture shock for Jean Harris to be in prison. She is nothing like the other ladies she writes about and, I suspect, that Jean Harris never had much of a criminal mind. In fact, I think it was a tragic turn of events that led her to prison in the first place. Because she is so much a fish out of water, she gives her readers a rare and different glimpse of life on the inside of a prison. She doesn’t seem like she belongs there.  

Jean Harris does include some examples of dialogs she heard in prison, even writing them in dialect. She explains the racism that she witnessed in prison, mostly directed at her fellow inmates. She comes across as almost detached. I had heard on a few occasions that homosexuality is rampant in prisons and Jean Harris doesn’t dispute this fact; in fact, she offers statistics on homosexuality in prisons. She also doesn’t give any indication as to whether or not she engaged in homosexual conduct. She seems especially detached from this issue as it personally pertains to her, even though she addresses it regarding other prisoners. 

Harris’s memoir does include some foul language, but it’s used in the context of quoting other people. She never uses it herself and doesn’t condone its use in other people. In fact, in one passage, she writes disapprovingly that those who must use the word “sh*t” in place of every noun have a serious deficiency in their vocabularies. As I read They Always Call Us Ladies, I was continually reminded that Jean Harris is first and foremost a teacher, not because she actually wrote those words, but because of her actions and her writing style. I do believe that Harris must have been a great asset to her students, despite the fact that she later wound up in prison. 

My comments on They Always Call Us Ladies so far have been overwhelmingly positive. For the most part, I did really enjoy reading this book, even though it’s been sitting on my shelf unread for years. Despite my positive comments, however, this is not a perfect book. For one thing, Harris writes a lot about legislation circa 1988. For an historical point of view, this is a good thing. I get the feeling, though, that Harris didn’t mean for her book to be read years down the line; she meant for it to be read when it was hot off the presses. Consequently, her references to “now” and 1988 drive home just how dated this book is. For another thing, anyone who is looking for information about what got Harris put in prison will be disappointed.  For that story, you’d have to read one of her other books. 

Because she doesn’t really discuss her crime, I almost got the feeling that she didn’t think she belonged in prison. I got the feeling that even though she was in prison, she wasn’t of it. And while at times her writing drifts very slightly into self pity, she never really gave me the impression that she felt like she deserved to be in prison, even though she did kill a man. Again, I don’t believe that Jean Harris initially set out to kill Tarnower. That doesn’t change the fact that she did kill him. Yet, there are times in this book that she seems to take a detached, almost superior position over the inmates about whom she writes. On the other hand, I have no idea what prison must have been like for Jean Harris. Maybe taking this position offers her a defense mechanism– a way to protect herself from the reality of her situation. The last, but not necessarily negative, comment I want to make is that this book is challenging reading. Even though I enjoyed reading They Always Call Us Ladies, I didn’t find it the kind of book that I could finish in a matter of hours.

They Always Call Us Ladies appears to be out of print. If my review has enticed you to seek it out, be warned that you may have some trouble finding it. Nevertheless, I will recommend it to a wide audience because I think it is an impressive and enlightening book. If you have any interest in prison reform or history and want to read an eloquent, true account from someone who’s seen prison firsthand, I definitely would encourage you to read this book if you get the chance.  

As an Amazon Associate, I get a small commission from Amazon on sales made through my site.

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love, memories, obits

One last toast to a man whose bright light will never really extinguish…

Last night, I sat in front of my computer with Bill and a German beer. I tuned into Zoom, an application I had only used once before last night. The first time I used Zoom, it was for a wine tasting. Last night’s Zoom meeting was for a much more sober purpose. We were there to remember our dear friend, Matt Jensen. Most of us in on the Zoom call knew Matt because he served with Peace Corps/Armenia from 1995-97. But Matt was also widely known in other circles worldwide. He was also a Peace Corps Volunteer in Senegal in the 1980s, and most recently, he was a beloved teacher at P.S. 110, an elementary school in the Greenpoint area of Brooklyn.

It was in Brooklyn where Matt lost his life just after midnight on May 18, 2021. He was just trying to cross the street– a wide boulevard well known for being dangerous to pedestrians. He had just celebrated his birthday with friends and was on his way home. He’d almost reached home when he was struck and killed by a speeding car on McGuinness Boulevard, the driver having apparently not noticed that they’d hit him and left him for dead!

Apparently, there were no witnesses or surveillance cameras to capture a photo of the person who killed this man with such a huge heart and bright spirit. Based on debris found at that the site where Matt was found, police surmise that he was hit by a black Rolls Royce. He was someone who had devoted his life to helping others– especially through teaching. He was a very gifted teacher, and I learned last night that the young children at the school where he taught practically worshiped him, even if they weren’t in his class. He knew everyone, and they all knew him. He was a very tall guy with incredible energy, so he was hard to miss, even without that vibrant personality and charisma that defined him.

Geoff, the organizer of the memorial, had asked me to sing a song. It always cracks me up that no one ever asks me to speak at memorials or weddings. I usually get asked to sing a song written by someone else. Even at my own father’s memorial, I wasn’t asked to speak. I was asked to sing– and my mom even told me which song she wanted me to perform. I was happy to do it, although my college minor in speech has gone to waste.

Just as I had for my mom when my father died, I sent Geoff a couple of recordings I had made, and he really liked my version of “Imagine”, sort of done Eva Cassidy style. I sing it in her key and with her mood, but more in the straightforward fashion that John Lennon sang it. I guess you could say it’s really “my” style, though heavily influenced by others. I was glad to have Bill with me, as he had graciously downloaded Zoom yesterday so we could figure out the technical aspects of the application. I wanted to make sure we did the music sharing part right. I’m glad to say that it went off well, except that I was very emotional and almost started crying in the middle of it.

Last night, I learned that besides Matt, our Peace Corps community has also recently lost two others– Loretta Land, who was an amazing senior Volunteer who had joined the Peace Corps at age 62– and Don Flumerfelt, who was in the group before mine. Loretta died in January of this year and Don passed in 2019. I had recently been in touch with Loretta, but she kind of dropped off of Facebook. I wondered about her. I can’t say I was surprised about the news that she’d passed, but I am so glad we did get to chat a bit last year. I wasn’t as close to Don, but I do remember spending a great afternoon in Yerevan, making business English conversation recordings for him. I also remember that he was very inventive and had built a shower for another Volunteer.

We also lost an Armenian friend, Ashot, the drummer for a local band in Vanadzor called Snack. Vanadzor was where Matt was originally assigned to work). Snack was an Armenian band, but one of the Volunteers also played with them, so they often performed at our parties. In storage, I have a cassette tape of their music, which always reminds me of so many fun times in Armenia. Ashot would have been turning 49 today, but he passed away of a heart attack in his bed on Thursday of last week. Ashot was also, for a time, married to Rose, a Vanadzor based Volunteer from my group. They shared a son. She was also in attendance last night. Some of the guys would have performed last night, but since Ashot was buried yesterday, it wasn’t possible.

At 7:00pm Germany time, I joined about 25 other people on the Zoom call. I felt so honored to be among them, even if I wasn’t close to Matt in recent years. It was great to see so many familiar faces of people I knew in the 1990s, back when I was trying to make my own mark in the world. To be honest, I left the Peace Corps as an angry person. There were many complex reasons for my anger, and some of them had absolutely nothing to do with my service. But, suffice to say, I was ready to go home in August 1997, thinking that maybe things would get better. What ended up happening for me, personally, was a bit of a nervous breakdown. Ultimately, the “breakdown” wasn’t a bad thing, because it forced me to reset my life and make some changes, to include taking voice lessons that helped me sing last night’s song. But I worried about what people in that group remembered about me, as I was a bit of a mess in the 90s. I was determined not to make an ass of myself. 😉

There were several returned Volunteers from my group, as well as the former country director, the former TEFL director, several Armenians, people who had known Matt through the American University of Armenia, and a woman who knew Matt in Brooklyn. We were also joined by Matt’s cousin, John. I had never met John before, but I immediately liked him. I could tell that losing Matt has been devastating for him. I can’t even fathom how much pain he and Matt’s friends and loved ones felt when they got the terrible news that he’d been killed. I was glad to hear that Matt’s brother is taking good care of Matt’s beloved cats, Katie and Olive.

The participants in the Zoom meeting were scattered around the world. I’m in Germany, but we also had a couple of folks from Armenia, someone in Sweden, someone in Russia, someone in Belize, and a number of folks on the East and West coasts of the United States. It’s amazing to think of how far and wide Matt’s light has spread… and there were so many loving sentiments and stories shared.

One of Matt’s former students, Hoveek, really touched my heart as he spoke about how much Matt had impressed him. When we were in Armenia, it was just a few years after the fall of the Soviet Union. It was a time when there weren’t a lot of Americans there. And Hoveek was immediately moved by this man who was not at all like the people he knew. He spoke movingly about how he observed the way Matt dressed, and how when they visited the Peace Corps office in Yerevan, Hoveek saw the magazines about America and met others. Matt helped Hoveek get a job working for the Peace Corps. I could easily see and hear how much love and gratitude this man had for Matt. It was an honor to hear what he had to say… and really, just to be a part of the large group of people who got to know Matt and were touched by his spirit.

I learned that Matt wrote letters to so many people and had connections to folks in very high places. I think, if he had lived longer, he might have even delved into politics. He loved to talk politics and wasn’t afraid to speak out… but even in death, he will make a difference. There was a huge memorial for him in New York, and some very high ranking people vowed to finally do something about McGuinness Boulevard, a dangerous street that has claimed other people’s lives over the years. If they make that boulevard safer for others, then Matt’s death will have done a great service to so many people… again, a way of sharing that light and affecting others for good.

But I think the most profound commentary I heard regarding last night’s memorial came from my own husband, Bill. Bill never had the chance to meet Matt, but he’s heard me talk about him over the years. My memories of Matt are mostly about some of the hilarious things he said, but also his wild dance skills. Matt loved to dance, and had taken lessons. I don’t dance all that well, but I do like to spin around the dance floor with men with rhythm. I learned last night that Matt would dance with anyone! I have told Bill many stories about Matt over the years, but until last night, all Bill knew about Matt came from my limited perspective.

Thanks to our Zoom meeting memorial, Bill had the chance to hear about Matt from others who knew him through different channels. So, this morning, when I asked Bill what he thought about the memorial, his comments came from a totally different perspective. This was the post I wrote for the Peace Corps Armenia Reunion Facebook group:

My husband, Bill, was sitting in the Zoom meeting with me last night. I just asked him what he thought of the memorial, and he said it was interesting to hear all about Matt from someone other than me. Not having met Matt in person, he was struck by how personal Matt was in his dealings with others. He noticed we didn’t just gush about the positive things, but we mentioned his many quirks, too. And he loved that Matt wrote letters, since letter writing is such a lost art. He said he could tell that teaching was truly Matt’s calling.

And then Bill said, “It made me wish that the person who killed Matt could be there to see and hear just how many people have been affected worldwide by his death, and the profound loss and grief caused by that one careless act. Especially among the kids he taught.”

It really drives home how much we all affect each other, even if it doesn’t always seem like it. My husband never even met Matt, and yet he has been affected by him through me, and now by all of the people who spoke so lovingly about him last night. I take some comfort in knowing that there are so many people worldwide that he taught. Every single one of them has the potential to share his vibrant light with everyone they know, too. In that way, he’ll never truly be gone from the world.

When I think about that, it makes me realize that we all have so much potential… and most of us affect people in ways we’ll never know. We’re all connected. Not to be corny, but Matt’s life was a little like the proverbial “candle in the wind”. It glowed bright and cast warmth and light to so many… and then it was suddenly snuffed out by the careless actions of someone driving a Rolls Royce. Such a bizarre way for a man like Matt to die… it was as if Kurt Vonnegut conjured it for a novel! But in the end, his death may end up saving lives, as local activists continue to demand that something is finally done about that unsafe crossing.

Every person has the potential to share something unforgettable and good. Matt Jensen shared his light generously with people far and wide, and because he cared and shared so very much, that generosity is still perpetuating through people who will never, ever forget him.

Bill never met Matt, but Matt still affected Bill. Imagine what those young students in Brooklyn will do as they grow up. Maybe one or two of them will be inspired to teach. Maybe a few will decide to join the Peace Corps. Maybe one or two will learn to dance, or become fans of ABBA, or travel the world. Or maybe they will simply tell their friends and family about this tall, blond, monarchy obsessed ABBA fan who taught them so much , helped them learn English, made them laugh… or made them a memorable meal with beets and cabbage, or a delicious pound cake!

Matt was a thoughtful, kind, and loving person to the very end, and he always thought of others. Upon hearing of Prince Philip’s death in April, Matt wrote letters of condolences to Queen Elizabeth II and Princess Anne. Princess Anne wrote back before Matt died, but I think I heard that Her Majesty the Queen also responded, but her letter arrived after Matt’s death. I like to think that Matt knows how many people loved him and will remember him, sharing his light to infinite numbers of people around the world. And I hope he’s up there in the great beyond, sharing a toast with Loretta, Don, and Ashot… and anyone else beyond the bar who was touched by Armenia and knows how much Armenians love making toasts!

I’m so grateful that I was able to share my memories with other people… and in some small way, honor Matt with one of my own gifts. Maybe I can share my light the way Matt did with whatever time I have left. The most important thing Matt taught me is that no one is promised the next minute. So I hope this post inspires you to share yourself… because I promise, you matter to someone. And you probably matter to many more people than you will ever know.

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poor judgment

A fatal mistake…

22 year old Sydney Monfries was just a month from her graduation from Fordham University in New York, when she and some friends decided to make the forbidden climb up the bell tower that overlooks Fordham’s Rose Hill campus. It was a rite of passage for many students at Fordham University to ascend the steep, spiral stairs and look out over the Bronx, often while drinking alcohol, who reportedly would steal up the stairs in the wee hours of the morning. Sadly, that forbidden climb up the tower in Keating Hall would be Sydney’s last mistake. She fell through an opening in a landing and plummeted to the ground, where she was seriously injured. Police found her unconscious at about 3:00am. Monfries was rushed to St. Barnabas Hospital, where she died Sunday evening.

I read Sydney Monfries’ tragic story in The New York Times this morning while enjoying a bowl of ripe berries and fresh coffee prepared for me by my loving husband and safety geek, Bill. I was telling him about Monfries’ decision to trespass in the bell tower, which led to her death. Then, I read the comments. As usual, they were interesting.

The first one I read was something along the lines of “play stupid games, win stupid prizes.” After a few wholly sympathetic comments, someone left this one: “It’s hard to feel bad for someone who needed a better view of NYC for an Instagram photo.
Stupidity has its harsh rewards.”

Naturally, that comment, while technically correct, provoked a number of angry responses. The author of the “insensitive” comment was defensive. An interesting discussion ensued.

Apparently, the commenter who had no sympathy for Sydney Monfries, has “issues” of her own.

Sydney Monfries was a beautiful young woman, full of promise and clearly not lacking in loved ones. She had her whole life ahead of her, and it looked like it was slated to be a good one. Unfortunately, she made a grave mistake and it cost her her life. Does this mean that her grieving loved ones don’t deserve compassion? I don’t think so. I’m sure that Ms. Monfries has many friends and family members who are absolutely horrified and devastated by her sudden departure. Monfries and her friends made an error in judgment. People do that. Even the smartest people mess up sometimes. I’m sure they were all just looking for a wonderful time and a story they could pass to their grandchildren someday.

On the other hand, I can sort of see the point of those who are saying things like “play stupid games, win stupid prizes.” I wouldn’t put it that way myself, but the way I see it, climbing the tower, when it’s clear that the tower is off limits, was a foolish thing to do. It’s not unlike walking along railroad tracks or trying to do unauthorized photo shoots in dangerous places. Sometimes, you are rewarded with stunning pictures and memorable stories. Sometimes, you wind up seriously injured or killed. Sydney Monfries took a risk that cost her her life. I only hope people pay attention and learn from it… and perhaps Fordham University does more to make sure other students don’t try the same thing, even if it is a rite of passage. Obviously, it’s not safe. Sydney Monfries has proven it.

Sydney Monfries no longer cares about what people will say or think about her. She’s gone now. The people who need comfort are those who are left behind. I do hope they refrain from reading the comments on news articles or social media. I even hope they don’t read this blog post if it will cause them more pain.

A 2013 article in the Fordam Ram, Fordham University’s newspaper, explains the allure of the forbidden tower, which is usually locked. When the door to the tower is left slightly ajar, it tempts daring students who want to have this ultimate, epic experience afforded to few people. I think, even in the wake of this horrible accident, university officials are going to have to be vigilant. People are always tempted by forbidden fruit. Fordham also has “forbidden tunnels” that students have tried to access with varying degrees of success. The tunnels, no doubt like the tower, are off limits for insurance reasons. Supposedly, getting caught in either place leads to expulsion if you’re lucky, death if you’re not.

This was so much fun! I’d love to do it again, even though it could be dangerous for the stupid…

One thing I’ve noticed and appreciated in Europe is that most people are expected to have good sense. There are fewer barriers here. A few years ago, Bill and I visited the Starkenberger beer pool in Austria, where, for five hours, we were allowed to rent a former fermenting vat filled with hot beer wort. We were turned loose, with no one supervising us as we swam in the beery water, completely naked with access to all the beer we wanted. There was water and alcohol involved, but we had no minders or lifeguards on duty. It was awesome, and we had a blast! That would never happen in the United States because the liability would be too much. I’m sure anyplace in the USA that tried to offer an unsupervised “beer pool” would never get insurance coverage. But it’s doable here. People are pretty “sue happy” over here, but common sense is still expected.

I can understand why people want to get an “amazing view” of campus, but there’s a reason why the tower is locked. Still, even the morning after that horrible accident, a young man and his father who were touring the campus were spotted tugging on the locked door of the tower. They had no doubt heard about Sydney Monfries’ accident, but they were still tempted by that tower. Some people just never get it.

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