Military, obits, true crime

Rest in peace, Colin Powell…

Yesterday, the news reported that General Colin Powell died at age 84. He’d been suffering from multiple myeloma and Parkinson’s Disease, and then he got COVID-19, even though he was fully vaccinated. Multiple myeloma is a type of cancer that affects the body’s immune response by making plasma cells go haywire. So even though General Powell was vaccinated against COVID-19, the disease process made the vaccine less effective for him. Add in the Parkinson’s Disease and his advanced age, and it makes sense that he passed.

I’ve seen a number of people lamenting that Colin Powell died, with some blaming unvaccinated people. While I think any regular reader of this blog knows that I am for the vaccines, I don’t think it’s productive to blame the unvaccinated. The truth is, he was battling some serious illnesses even before COVID-19 struck. He was also 84 years old. Even if COVID never existed, his time was probably drawing short. I just hope his passing was peaceful.

General Powell lived a full lifespan, and he made great use of his time. Besides being a highly respected Army officer, Powell was also the United States’ first Black Secretary of State. And he had a long, loving, and enduring marriage to his wife, Alma, as well as loving relationships with his children, grandchildren, and friends. Personally, I think he was a great man, but even great men have to die someday. It’s just life.

Hearing about General Powell’s death reminded me of a very old friend of mine who died at age 21. Her name was Lisa Bryant, and at the time of her death, it had been years since our last visit. Lisa and I both lived on Mildenhall Air Force Base in Suffolk, England, back in the late 1970s. My dad was the base engineer there, and her dad was an Army officer who had gotten a special assignment at Mildenhall (or maybe Lakenheath– I’m not sure). Lisa had an older brother who was my sister’s age.

The Bryants were a Black family, but other than that, they weren’t all that different… or, at least it hadn’t seemed so to me at the time. I just remember that Lisa and I used to play together and attended the neighborhood birthday parties. Somewhere in my storage back in Texas, I have pictures from my fifth birthday party, and Lisa is there.

When our fathers were transferred, our families both moved to Fairfax County in Virginia. I remember going to Lisa’s house for another birthday party in Virginia. After that, we lost touch, mainly because my parents only lasted two years in Fairfax before they decided to move to Gloucester County and open their own business.

I never saw Lisa again, but if we had stayed in Fairfax, I would have definitely known who she was and probably would have known her well. She graduated from James W. Robinson Secondary School, the same school where one of my sisters and two of my cousins got their high school diplomas. My aunt also taught math there for years. Lisa was a big woman on campus in high school, having been homecoming queen for the class of ’89 and making top grades. Although we were born in the same year, she was a year ahead of me in school. If we had stayed in Fairfax, I would have gone to the same high school.

After she graduated high school, Lisa went to Princeton University. She was there on a ROTC scholarship, so she was required to fulfill a commitment to the Army post graduation. Lisa did big things at Princeton, too. She recruited students from the Washington, DC area and founded the cheerleading team. She graduated summa cum laude, and joined Delta Sigma Theta sorority. From what I read at the time of her death, Lisa meant to do her time in the Army and leave the service for a civilian career. She had big plans for her life. Sadly, she never had the chance.

Colin Powell was a close friend of Lisa’s father’s. They knew each other from their Army days. I remember reading that Powell had attended her wake, and his wife, Alma, went to Lisa’s closed casket funeral. The reason her casket was closed was because Lisa was murdered at Fort Bragg. She had gone there for a brief training course before she was to move to Germany for her first assignment. On the evening of July 9th, 1993, she had gone to a bar that was adjacent to her dormitory. That’s where she met Ervin Graves, who was a staff sergeant and ROTC instructor.

Graves had reportedly asked Lisa to dance with him. She said no, which was entirely appropriate. Not only was she an officer, while Graves was a non-commissioned officer, but she also had a boyfriend. Graves was also a married man. When Graves persisted in trying to get Lisa to dance with him, she decided to go back to her dorm. Graves was staying in the same dorm.

Lisa called her boyfriend, who was in California. She’d used the pay phone, because she didn’t want to bother her roommate. While she was on the phone, Graves attacked her, marching her to his dorm room where he meant to rape her. She managed to break away from him as he was attempting to restrain her. He responded by shooting her four times in the face with a 357 Magnum he inexplicably had with him in the dorm. She died in the hallway of her dormitory, right in front of the door to Graves’ dorm room.

Prior to the murder, Ervin Graves had been an exemplary soldier. He’d been a member of the Old Guard, where he had participated in presidential inaugurations, led parades, and been part of many ceremonies, both solemn and festive. His family was reportedly shocked that he was accused of a crime. His wife and sons were devastated. And Lisa’s family, especially her parents, were also extremely devastated. It had been many years since I had last seen Lisa, but even I was totally shocked when I heard about her death. She was a woman who was going to go places.

My mom called me at college to tell me about Lisa’s murder. I didn’t find out about it until a couple of months after it happened. People Magazine, which I used to read religiously, ran a story about Lisa. I remember later reading that Colin Powell and his wife were there to comfort the Bryants in their time of need. That always stuck with me, especially since Powell was such a powerful and famous man. But before he was an important man, he was also primarily a soldier, and when one of his brothers needed him, he was there.

In an article I read about Colin Powell’s death, Washington Post reporter, editor, and author, Bob Woodward, wrote that he’d spoken to General Powell in July. Powell reportedly said, “Don’t feel sorry for me, for God’s sakes! I’m [84] years old,” said Powell, who died Monday. “I haven’t lost a day of life fighting these two diseases. I’m in good shape.”

Even up to the end of his life, Powell remained personable and friendly to Bob Woodward, even though his wife didn’t like him speaking to Woodward. He offered his thoughts on President Biden’s decision to remove U.S. troops from Afghanistan. Powell wisely noted that we had to get out of Afghanistan eventually, and that with the massive drawdown of troops in recent years, it needed to be done expeditiously.

When Woodward asked who was the greatest man, woman, or person Powell had ever known, his response was immediate. He said, “It’s Alma Powell. She was with me the whole time. We’ve been married 58 years. And she put up with a lot. She took care of the kids when I was, you know, running around. And she was always there for me and she’d tell me, ‘That’s not a good idea.’ She was usually right.”

I know not everyone approved or appreciated Colin Powell’s politics or even his leadership, but I think of him as one of the good ones… While he had been a Republican throughout his career, he was not a Trump style Republican. He didn’t approve of Trump’s tactics. And when Woodward told Powell that one of his journalism students had asked, “What does the truth accomplish?”, Powell’s response was:

“This is scary… You just scared the hell out of me if this is what our kids are saying and thinking. Where are they getting it from? Media?”

I tend to agree with Powell. It IS scary that so many people are willing to overlook the importance of the truth, or the need to have good and decent– humane– people in power. Colin Powell was basically an honest man with integrity and strength, and he deeply loved and was loved by many. My heart goes out to his family, especially his wife, Alma, as they mourn their great loss. I’m sure the Bryant family is mourning, too… but maybe if there is a place after life, General Powell is with Lisa now.

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musings, psychology

Thanks (but no thanks) for the tips, and excuse me for living…

I haven’t had too much trauma being “socially isolated” over the past year and a half. I’ve come to realize that I find a lot of people really annoying. And, sad to say, a lot of people find ME annoying or in need of criticism, too, and have no compunction about telling me so. Sometimes, even when I’m being nice, someone feels the need to offer “constructive criticism” that I never asked for. It is annoying, but I try really hard not to be a bitch about it if I can help it. On the other hand, other people make me really appreciate my dogs. Dogs don’t feel the need to criticize others for being themselves.

Today, I was reading a post I wrote as a tribute to a person I used to know. She died in 2016. I remembered her to be a very lovely person who was always nice to me and super friendly. Below is my tribute to Naomi. It’s proof that I’m not a totally mean and cranky person all the time.

Remembering Naomi

A couple of nights ago, as I was sitting all alone in my house, I remembered a woman I used to work with about thirty years ago.  Her name was Naomi.  We both worked in the German (Rhinefeld) section at Busch Gardens in Williamsburg, Virginia.  I was in high school and she was a mother and wife.

I used to work in this building. And yes, we had the same music from 1989-92. I could probably sing it all from memory.

I didn’t work with Naomi directly.  I worked in the ice cream shop and she worked in the deli.  Naomi was what was known as a Level B supervisor.  That meant she was kind of akin to the boss of the Level A supervisors.  Level A supervisors were basically peons who had basic managerial powers over even bigger peons like me.

I was at the bottom of the barrel at Busch Gardens.  I worked there for four summers and never once got a promotion.  It was before I realized that I work best alone.  I was also very depressed and anxious at that time, and I admittedly had a horrible attitude, although I was often praised for being a hard worker and very reliable.

Despite my interpersonal demons with some other supervisor types at Busch Gardens, I always liked Naomi.  She was British, very friendly and kind, and always pleasant to be around.  I remember I’d come into the deli to drop off my purse and such.  That was where the lockers were.  There we were in our ugly fake lederhosen, looking rather ridiculous, but there to “put on a show” for paying customers.  She’d always say, “Hello, pretty lady!” in a cheerful tone of voice.  I remember she always made me smile, especially when she described the disgusting non-dairy topping we used on all of the desserts.  It was basically made of beef fat.  She described it as “dead cows” on the chocolate pudding.

Naomi was fun to work with and had a good sense of humor, yet she was quite assertive.  I remember one time, Naomi complained to Busch Gardens’ upper management about one of the bigwigs, an Italian guy named Frank who was verbally abusive.  He’d come barging into the deli and start hurling around criticisms and insults in a way that was very upsetting to the young people working there.  Naomi’s complaint got Frank sent to an anger management course.

Who knew that one day, I’d end up living in Germany for years?

I remember congratulating Naomi on her assertiveness and good leadership and she laughed and said, “They probably put him up in a luxury hotel and gave him an expense account.”  She’s probably right, but it was still pretty cool that she had the guts to complain, and Busch Gardens management actually did something.  She was a good boss, and I think, a good friend.  I even remember Naomi wrote a piece for Busch Gardens’ company newsletter.  It was about how her daughters had worked at Busch Gardens and she had decided to try it herself, to great success.

When I knew Naomi best, she was probably about the age I am right now.  That was thirty years ago, and I learned the other night that Naomi died in October 2016 at the age of 77.  She was a year younger than my mom is.  I don’t know how or why Naomi died.  I gathered from prowling around Facebook that she’d had some kind of medical crisis that was very serious, but didn’t initially trigger a death knell.  The crisis appeared to have happened over a year before she succumbed.  Whatever it was was clearly very serious.  It looked like she never recovered her health.

I quit working at Busch Gardens in 1992.  It was a good time for me to quit, because in my next job as the cook at a summer camp, I did get to be a supervisor of sorts… and I did get to make a lot of my own decisions and work independently.  I found it a less frustrating and less annoying job.  Best of all, I didn’t have to wear dirndls or fake “lederhosen” outfits of blouses with ugly suspenders sewn onto them, black tennis shoes, knee socks, or culottes that gave me constant wedgies.

Some enterprising chap did a walkthrough of Busch Gardens. When I worked there, Ireland didn’t yet exist. Where Ireland now is, there was a medieval town called Hastings. Yeah, it’s kind of schmaltzy, but I liked working there. Makes me appreciate the real Europe more.

I never forgot Naomi, though, or many of the other people I worked with.  I did find a lot of friends at Busch Gardens, many of whom I sometimes interact with on social media.

I do have one more memory of Naomi.  This one is more recent.

About twenty years ago, I was living with my parents in Gloucester, Virginia.  I was suffering from clinical depression and getting treatment for it from a therapist and a psychiatrist.  I also took voice lessons.  I find that, for me, singing is good for relieving depression.

One day, I arrived at Eastern Virginia School for the Performing Arts (EVSPA), which is where I was taking my voice lessons.  I happened to run into Naomi there.  She was directing a group of young people.  I overheard her talking about them doing a show.  I want to say it was Godspell.

I never knew Naomi was into the theater.  I was never really into the theater myself, although I’ve been known to sing show tunes, especially when I was taking lessons at EVSPA.  I don’t know if Naomi remembered me, but I do remember saying hello to her.  She looked much the same as she had when we’d worked together, and she was just as friendly and cool.  I remember being surprised to see her, since I never knew she was an actress.  I’m sure she never knew I am a musician.

I don’t know why she popped into my head the other night, but I looked up Naomi and discovered that she’d actually done a lot of good for young people in Williamsburg, Virginia.  She started a theater group called Backstage Productions.  It was open to all comers.  I have a feeling that Naomi’s vision was tremendously important to a lot of people at a tender age, looking for something constructive they could do… a place where they’d be welcome to try something new.

I wish I’d had the chance to know Naomi beyond working with her at Busch Gardens.  I’m glad I met her, though, and that her memory touched me enough to look her up a couple of days ago.  I’m not happy she died, but at least she died having done something amazing for countless people, from the youngsters who were able to perform with Backstage Productions to all of the people who watched their performances.  And that doesn’t even take into account people like me, who were touched by having the chance to work with her while wearing hideous fake lederhosen at Busch Gardens.

On another note, it occurs to me that the last thirty years have flown by… I probably should be more productive myself.  I tried being productive on SingSnap yesterday.  I decided to do some singing rather than open a bottle of wine, which is what I was somewhat tempted to do.  I try not to drink when Bill isn’t home, and he’s been away all week.  It’s been a sober few days, which hasn’t hurt me at all.  But I do get bored and lonely… and sometimes I succumb to temptation.  Drinking helps pass the time.  But it also gives me dry skin, hangovers, upset stomach, depression and anxiety.

Last night, I didn’t succumb to the temptation to open a bottle of wine, but I was feeling a little self-conscious because I can easily hear people outside my window.  I’m sure they can hear me, too, and wonder what the hell is going on in my house.  I can pull down the Rolladen, which gives me the illusion of more privacy, but I know the sound still escapes.  

I did a few songs, including a religious one.  I’m not a very religious person myself, but I like the song “His Eye Is On The Sparrow” (even if this particular arrangement is a tad schmaltzy).  So I decided to do it last night…  Of course, someone felt the need to offer me unsolicited tips about my “bravado” (vibrato?), which I will admit, kind of annoyed me.  It’s karaoke, not American Idol.  Besides, while my efforts may not have been perfect– and they never are– they’re just fine for my purposes.  The better person in me realizes that the commenter probably meant well… and maybe thought she was being helpful.

But anyway… I dedicate this to Naomi.  I have a feeling she’d be encouraging and kind about it.  I don’t know what happens after a person dies… maybe her soul can hear these things.  At least I know my soul can still connect with hers.

END

Above, you see I linked to a “dedication” to Naomi. I sang “His Eye Is On The Sparrow.” I had forgotten that I sang that song for Naomi, so I just clicked the link to check it out. Sure enough, I got some comments from people, which I mentioned in the original post. Most were very nice. But I also got a comment from someone who complimented me, but also wanted to play “voice teacher” on a karaoke site. She said she wanted to hear “more bravado” (vibrato?). Then she instructed me to use my diaphragm more. I suppose she meant I should “support” more with my diaphragm. I have a feeling she’s not an expert.

As I wrote in my original post, I’m sure the lady was trying to be helpful, but I must admit her comments were a bit irritating. If I had asked for advice, that would be one thing. But I hadn’t asked for any tips… and it’s just a karaoke site, anyway. She’s also making a lot of assumptions. What if I’m not someone with healthy lungs?

I’m not going to listen to the recording because, if I am honest, I don’t enjoy listening to my own stuff that much. I find myself criticizing it and wanting to redo it. But it’s entirely possible that I was emotional when I recorded that song. Or… what is more likely is that I didn’t go full out because it would have blown out the recorder. Sometimes, if I get too powerful, the sound cuts out. It’s frustrating, and after multiple redos, you just want to get on with it.

It strikes me, though, that if we were at a bar doing karaoke, I would not get a “do over”. No one would expect perfection. We would all just clap, right? But if you put up recordings on a karaoke site, you might get an unsolicited “lesson” from someone whose counsel and opinions you never sought.

So what does this have to do with today’s title? I just wanted to comment on people who are annoyed by me… and people who annoy me. I’m beginning to think that I’m just not cut out for interacting with others. Some people have the most amazing “people skills”. They are fun to be with and popular. And then there are people like me…

I was going to write a post today about an incident that occurred in the early 90s. I was in a choir and, back then, I was kind of loud and obnoxious. I wasn’t trying to annoy people, but I know I did. And some of them were not at all bashful about telling me so. I remember one guy, who had just made up a song about punching a guy for making him “feel like shit”, yelling at me because he found me “rude” and “obnoxious”. Remembering that song he made up about violence, I couldn’t help but realize it was the pot calling the kettle black.

Other times, people have criticized me for being who I am. Some have outright had the nerve to tell me to my face that I should change who I am to suit them. I remember it made me feel awful, especially since so few of those people ever took the time to get to know me. I’m actually a pretty good person most of the time.

Of course, as I’ve gotten older, I realize that I used to be more outspoken than I am now. And I am not entirely innocent, either. There have been people in my past who got on my nerves. I used to be less kind than I am now. Nowadays, I find myself not wanting to try to connect to people anymore. So many of them turn out to be disappointing… or I disappoint them in some way. I just want to be who I am. And I want to be able to sing a song on a karaoke site, dedicated to a long lost friend, without someone turning it into an unsolicited teaching moment.

The older I get, the less tolerance I have for other people’s opinions about me. I have much less patience for unsolicited advice and verbal abuse. As a matter of fact, one way to permanently get on my grudge list is through verbal abuse. I really can’t take it anymore… and so, that leads me to be kind of socially anxious. I don’t want to try to connect to people, because I feel like it will eventually lead to somewhere unpleasant for both parties.

I think age makes a lot of people set in their ways. I am no exception. I annoy people, and they annoy me… It’s a blessing that I don’t have to deal with people very much anymore. A lot of them make me sad.

I do have fond memories of Naomi, though. She was a very kind lady and, I can see, that she left quite a mark on the world. I’m sure people still miss her very much.

Standard
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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religion, videos, YouTube

A Christian diet cult crashes and burns…

Until last week, I had never heard of Gwen Shamblin Lara, or her husband, former Tarzan actor, Joe Lara. I didn’t know anything about their “church”, either– Remnant Fellowship— located in Brentwood, Tennessee. The couple came into my consciousness a few days ago, when news reports broke about how their 40 year old Cessna 501 airplane crashed into Percy Priest Lake in Smyrna, Tennessee, just east of Nashville. They had been headed for Palm Beach, Florida, home of many wealthy people and white Christians.

I didn’t initially pay much attention to the news about the crash. I had heard that Gwen Shamblin Lara’s ministry focused on breaking people out of addictions– particularly food addictions. I had noticed Gwen’s crazy high hair, and realized that she reminded me a bit of the late Jan Crouch, who famously had big pink hair and was seen on Trinity Broadcasting Network with her late husband, Paul. Those factors alone should have attracted me like a magnet to Gwen’s story. But I didn’t learn much about her until yesterday, when I caught Katie Joy’s videos about the Remnant Fellowship. I was pretty gobsmacked by them.

What’s with the hair?
Kudos to Katie Joy for dishing on this couple.

If you are interested in learning more about Gwen and Joe, I highly recommend watching Katie Joy’s videos from Without a Crystal Ball. I know a lot of people seem to have a problem with Katie Joy, but I think she did a good job covering this story. I watched and listened with some shock and disgust as I learned more about this couple, who claimed to be Christians, yet lived in extreme opulence and evidently promoted abuse and eating disordered behaviors.

In one clip Katie Joy provides, the skeletal looking Gwen is wearing a tank dress that is clearly at least a size too big for her. She stands with her hands in the air, the dress shifted to one side and the strap falling off her shoulder. Her voice is thick with a southern accent as she commends one mom for spanking her child. Another mom, Sonya Smith of Mableton, Georgia, followed Gwen’s advice to punish her son, locking him in his room with a Bible for days (starts at 8:20 in the second video). Gwen commends Sonya Smith for not “spoiling” her child.

In 2007, Sonya Smith, and her husband, Joseph, ultimately went on trial for the 2003 death of their eight year old son, Josef. In October 2003, Josef Smith passed out without ever regaining consciousness as the family had gathered in their kitchen to participate in a prayer session over the Internet. When Josef collapsed, father Joseph touched him, noting that the boy was “warm to the touch” but sweaty. He thought Josef was overheating, so he carried him outside to the carport and laid him down on the concrete. When that didn’t help cool off Josef, the family called 911 and Josef was brought into the dining room. Paramedics first encountered the child there; he wasn’t breathing and was without a pulse. They took him to a hospital, where he was determined brain dead. A day later, he was dead.

Medical examiners determined that Josef Smith had died having suffered extreme abuse from his parents. The police stated that the child was frequently locked in a closet and forced to pray to a picture of Jesus. His parents admitted to striking him with a glue stick, although they didn’t think the punishment was abusive. See the featured photo for an example of what a glue stick looks like. The ones in the photo are about a half inch in diameter and 12 inches long, but they come in different sizes and colors. Before I started learning more about fundie Christians, I had never heard of people spanking their kids with glue sticks. I always thought of them as being much smaller and in a plastic push up tube. Even the hot glue sticks I’ve seen were a lot shorter than the ones used by fundies to discipline their kids.

I always thought the “rod” was the gospel, not an actual rod…

Many devout Christians are particularly enamored of the Bible verse about sparing the rod and spoiling the child and take it very literally. I’m not sure if Gwen and Joe were fans of Michael and Debi Pearl’s controversial book, To Train Up A Child, but that book is infamous for its strong emphasis on corporal punishment for the purpose of “training children” to be obedient Christians. It goes as far as advising parents what implements they should use for spankings. It sounds to me like the Remnant Fellowship, which, like the LDS church, claims to be the “one true church”, might be in favor of the Pearls’ teachings about breaking children’s wills to turn them into good little Christian robots.

If you listen to Katie Joy’s video, at around 9:19, you hear Gwen Shamblin Lara preaching about not spoiling children and being sure to “spank” them to show love. But then you look at how she lived. She and her husband had a huge mansion decked out with gilded furniture, and they owned their own airplane… which ultimately led to their demise. And here she is telling her followers not to “spoil” their children, when she herself appears to be very pampered, living a lavish lifestyle on donations from her flock. Ultimately, her privileged lifestyle led to her early death, didn’t it? What a hypocrite!

Sonya and Joseph Smith became members of Gwen Shamblin Lara’s church in 2000. The Remnant Fellowship Church is an offshoot of Gwen’s “Weigh Down Workshop”, which is a diet program she started in 1996. The church is known for its focus on saving souls from Hell and reforming people with addictions to drugs, alcohol, and food. However, according to Katie Joy’s expose, this church’s methods are extremely controlling and abusive and many people have been harmed by it. The Smiths’ case led to authorities raiding and investigating the Remnant Fellowship Church in 2004; the church supported the Smiths in their legal fight.

As for the Smiths, according to Wikipedia, they were “each charged with four counts of murder, five counts of first-degree cruelty to children, three counts of aggravated assault and two counts of false imprisonment.” On February 12, 2007, which would have been Josef’s 12th birthday, a jury found them guilty on eleven counts: “one count each of felony murder, reckless conduct, false imprisonment; three counts of aggravated assault, and four counts of cruelty to children (two specifically pertaining to glue sticks and others to unknown objects).” On March 27, 2007, Joseph and Sonya Smith were each sentenced to life plus thirty years– the maximum allowed by Georgia law. The case was appealed to the Georgia Supreme Court in 2010, but the original convictions and sentences were upheld. In February 2011, a petition was filed with the United States Supreme Court, asking the justices to review the decisions made by Georgia’s lower courts. The petition was denied.

I would not wish a plane crash on anyone. I’m sure the crash was horrific for everyone on board. Katie Joy said that the aircraft basically “broke” and there’s debris everywhere with no chance whatsoever of any survivors. However, after listening to Gwen Shamblin Lara speak and hearing about Josef Smith’s very sad case, I kind of feel relieved that Gwen will no longer be around to spread her particular brand of “the gospel”.

I’m sure the Remnant Fellowship won’t be going away, but at least now more people know about it and the potential dangers it poses to innocent people. It’s not hard to fall into abusive situations… whether they be abusive relationships with other people or abusive organizations like religious groups or cults. These systems thrive on attracting people who are weakened because they are in trouble. People with financial or health problems… people with low self-esteem or addictions… people who are desperately looking for a way out of a bad situation– these are all examples of folks who might be lured into joining falling into abuse. Sometimes, those situations lead to terrible tragedies involving innocent people like Josef Smith, or plane crashes that kill innocent people, like those who were onboard the private Cessna aircraft with Gwen and Joe.

As I wrote in yesterday’s post about culty churches, Shamblin Lara’s followers were required to close themselves off from other influences. They weren’t allowed to read anything not produced by Gwen or listen to music not made by Gwen’s son, Michael Shamblin. That raises some red flags, right? Gwen also says that her followers should not use antidepressants and they should disconnect from their families. More culty red flags!

For more information about this “cult” of starvation, check out Jen’s Fundie Fridays’ YouTube channel and its lengthy expose of Gwen Shamblin Lara’s “church” and weight loss program that combines religion with anorexic behaviors. This video below was made about a year ago. I wonder if Jan will do another video soon, now that Gwen and Joe are dancing with whatever they found in the great beyond after their plane crashed into Percy Priest Lake.

That hair on Gwen… wow. I like Jen’s style. She has a great sense of humor.

In the above video, I see clips from Gwen’s videos and they all depict her living the perfect, romanticized life, complete with music from Shrek (really?). All of the people are dressed to the nines and there are romantic gazebos and depictions of perfect family living… but that’s all it is. It’s just a facade– a highly staged, manipulated, fantastic facade– that sadly roped in enough followers for the Laras to be able to afford this very anti-Christlike church they promote. It’s obvious that Gwen was idolized by her followers, which is pretty much not what the Bible promotes, right? Idolatry is specifically forbidden, according to the Bible. See below, where it’s spelled out…

Yup… Idolatry is not Christian.

In yet another example of idol worship, Gwen Shamblin Lara even compared herself to Michael Jackson, claiming she was persecuted. But I think it’s fair to say that the criticism she got was warranted. People died following her… a child died! His parents are now in prison for the rest of their lives. She promoted pro-ana ideas, which are extremely dangerous, especially for people who already have tendencies to fall into eating disorders. And frankly, I think her hair was a crime against nature. So, while I don’t rejoice in the death of Gwen and Joe, I am glad that their toxic brand of “Christianity” has been dealt a serious blow. If the church continues, I hope it is run by people who are less dangerous and hypocritical… and culty.

Anyway… a week ago, I had never heard of Gwen Shamblin Lara. And now that I’ve fallen down the rabbit hole, I’m glad I didn’t find her until she was dead. What a toxic load of shit her church is. I thought Teddi Mellencamp’s diet program was abusive and predatory. At least Teddi Mellencamp doesn’t marry dieting with religion. She just charges a lot of money to bully her customers into starving themselves down to a more “acceptable” size.

And she has more normal hair, too. Of course, her weight loss program is also pretty fucked up and dangerous.

In other news… I was successful in getting my second shot yesterday. So far, I feel okay. My arm is a bit sore and I’m a little tired, but otherwise, no sweat. Bill suffered a lot more from his second shot than I have so far. But I hesitate to celebrate too much, since I have heard that the side effects can come on within a day or two. I may be down for the count tomorrow or over the weekend. We shall see. I’m just glad it’s done.

Edited to add: Fundie Fridays posted a new video about a half hour ago (as of June 5, 2021 3:30pm Central European Summer Time)

Very newsy! This video is done by James instead of Jen.
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memories, obits

“Christ on the cross! Who are we waiting for?”

I’ve been waiting for today for weeks. Sometime tonight or perhaps tomorrow morning, Bill will come home from his latest business trip. I’ve really missed him. I always miss him when he goes away, but this time has been more difficult than usual. I was feeling like I just might make it without any major catastrophes last night, when I got a private message from the very first Armenian language teacher I had when I was in the Peace Corps. She was looking for information about one of the Volunteers who had served with me. I put her on the right track; she had forgotten the Volunteer’s name and site location.

This particular teacher, name of Armine, was brand new to the Peace Corps when my group arrived in the wee hours of June 2, 1995. I always really liked her. She was tiny, had a high pitched voice, and a wonderful sense of humor. We used to laugh a lot in our classes. I was among her very first four Peace Corps students, and she taught me for four weeks, until we all rotated to new teachers.

We were the third group of Volunteers to serve in the Republic of Armenia, and in those days, things were still pretty rough over there. I remember being completely exhausted upon arrival in Armenia. We had gathered in Washington, DC for staging, which lasted a night and all day May 31st. Then, we boarded a United Airlines flight to Paris. We spent all day in Paris– in my case, the day was spent in horrible Charles de Gaulle airport, because I didn’t know how to get to the city and hadn’t made any friends on the flight. That was my first flight in many years, although I did live in England when I was very young. It was also my first overseas experience without my parents.

My parents were definitely over the kid thing by the time I arrived, so they would take vacations and leave me at home with my older sisters or a house sitter. I remember they went all over the place… to Barbados, the Bahamas, Europe, Morocco (to visit my sister when she was in the Peace Corps), and to several places in the States. Given the way I was when I was a teenager, it actually might have been better that they didn’t take me with them. But not traveling so much when I was growing up had left me very inexperienced when I joined the Peace Corps. I was 22 years old… about to turn 23 in 1995. You’d think the first overseas trip I’d take as an adult, I’d go to a place like France or Germany. That’s what a sane person would do. But no… I joined the Peace Corps, and it forever changed me in countless ways.

As Armine and I were chatting last night, she asked me if I’d heard the tragic news about one of my former colleagues, Matt Jensen. I hadn’t, because I wasn’t one of the popular people when I was a Volunteer, and am not in any of the Facebook groups. She told me that Matt died the other night in a terrible hit and run accident. He had been trying to cross a busy intersection against the traffic light, in the wee hours of the morning. A black Rolls Royce struck him, and he was later found by police, gravely injured. He was rushed to a hospital, but his injuries were so severe that he could not be saved.

A3 in 1995… we were still in training.

I thought about the calendar and realized that he had just celebrated his 58th birthday. I remember how, when we were in the Peace Corps, I once made him a birthday cake. In storage, I have two photo albums full of Peace Corps photos, including a picture of Matt hugging the cake I made for him for his 34th birthday in 1997, just a few months before we finished our service and left Armenia. Although he had originally been assigned to a different area when we were Volunteers, he came to live in Yerevan for a good portion of our second year. Matt was a master’s level teacher in the TEFL (teaching English as a Foreign Language) program and, for some reason, he had come to the capital, where I was assigned, and temporarily lived with my friend, Ginny.

I got to be friends with Ginny because all of the Peace Corps teachers were required to have side projects. Ginny, who was a business Volunteer, was working with the USDA to develop products made with dried Armenian produce. I was a good cook, so I was recruited to help Ginny develop recipes that could help farmers market the produce internationally. That project was a lot of fun, and led to us hanging out a lot during her first year of service and my second. Ginny and Matt were unlikely roommates. Matt was about 14 years younger than she was and very liberal. Ginny was from Missouri and kind of country. I remember they had a few fights. But because they were roommates, I got a chance to know Matt better than I otherwise might have, and we became friends… at least during that time.

Matt was unique in that he was in his mid 30s during our time in Armenia. Most of the people in our group were either just out of college, or were older folks living out a lifelong ambition. Matt was also unique in that it was his second time as a Volunteer. He had served in Senegal in the 1980s, right after he finished his years at Hartwick College. He was always very outspoken during our training, and a leader in everything. He was also a talented artist, having designed the t-shirt we had made for our training group. I remember when we had our swearing in, I was in a skit we put on for our host families. Matt had recruited me to play a woman named թագուհի (t’aguhi– it means queen). I sang my lines, opera style, in Armenian as Matt and several other freshly sworn in Volunteers put on a comedy sketch about two women who meet at a hair salon and find out they love the same man.

I remember during our close of service training, he famously announced that if any of us saw him headed to a Peace Corps recruiting office, we should tell the recruiter that he was “not well”. We all had a good laugh at that, because by the time our service was ending, a lot of us were getting a bit antsy about the next big thing in life. For me, it was to be a month long train trip through Europe. I had planned it thinking I might not ever have the chance to come back… little did I know what the future would hold, huh?

After we left the Peace Corps, Matt and I eventually lost touch. I never forgot about him, though. That would have been impossible. Matt was the kind of person who completely defied being forgotten. I even thought of him yesterday morning, before I knew what had happened. I heard his voice in my head, which isn’t unusual for me. I often rehash memories of people long after they’ve left my life. But, for many reasons, Matt was especially memorable.

Personality wise, Matt was kind of like a much younger and male Bea Arthur crossed with George Carlin– maybe if Bea and George had ever had a son together, he’d be kind of like Matt was. Then there was his towering height. He was of Danish and Swedish stock, and he stood at 6 feet 4 inches. He had blond hair and blue eyes and a heavily Yankee-accented, gravelly voice that quickly betrayed his Connecticut roots. At one point, he’d let his hair grow long, and he looked like a regal Viking. I used to enjoy mimicking him, because his voice had so much character. He was often profane, which I admired a lot, and he was very witty, which I admired even more. To this day, I still sometimes say things that I heard him say first. I still say them because they make me laugh, even after many years. And when I say them, I say them the way he used to, because it’s even funnier that way.

Matt was a great teacher, very artistic, and a natural leader. His students all loved him. However, he could also be cranky and impatient. It was the kind of impatience one might expect from a no-nonsense New Yorker. For instance, one time we were walking somewhere together, and there was a woman ahead of us who was moving kind of slowly. Matt blurted out, “Oh, come on! Walk like you mean it!” Naturally, I busted out laughing, because it was just so unexpected and hilarious… and rude!

Another time in May 1996, our group was on a bus, headed for mid-service training. It was summertime, and hotter than Hell outside. We were parked in Yerevan, waiting for some people to get on the bus so we could make our way to Lake Sevan. I didn’t enjoy trainings that much, particularly during that middle point of my service. I didn’t know it then, but at that time, I was suffering a pretty severe bout of clinical depression, and was feeling kind of persecuted and paranoid. Anyway, there we were on the bus, feeling uncomfortable in the heat. Everyone was quiet, waiting for the lone person who was due to join us. Suddenly, Matt blurted out with his characteristic New York bluntness, “CHRIST on the cross!! WHO are we waiting for? Let’s just leave ’em!”

Matt is in this picture, taken just a few months before we finished our service.

Once again, I just about died laughing, because it was just such an irreverent, blasphemous, and obnoxious thing to say! I turned around to look at him and we both cracked up. It was exactly how I was feeling, too… kind of cranky and irreverent and totally over it. That point in time was a low point in my Peace Corps career. I was having a hard time with my service and giving serious thought to quitting, although I knew if I quit, my parents would probably disown me… or, at least that’s what I was thinking at the time. Remember, I was legitimately mentally ill then.

I’m glad I didn’t quit the Peace Corps, although I do have some regrets about those days. I was very young and naive, and I did things back then that I would not do today… and behaved in ways then, that I wouldn’t today. In those days, I was also a proud Republican voter, which is especially embarrassing– although at least in the 90s, there was no one like Donald Trump representing the party so openly. Sometimes, those memories are cringeworthy for me. But then I remember some of the good times, and times I spent hanging out with Matt were among the best.

When Matt was in Yerevan, living with Ginny, I would come over and we’d often have dinner. One night, he cooked cabbage. I have never been one for eating a lot of cabbage because it makes me fart like a whirlwind. But I do remember having cabbage with Matt, and now I think of him whenever someone tries to serve it to me. He hadn’t used a lot of salt, explaining that his mother had high blood pressure and wasn’t allowed to cook with a lot of salt. He’d learned not to use it, either. It was a very windy night at my house that evening.

As he did with a lot of subjects, Matt used to talk about food with a lot of excitement. He’d get animated over anything, even lentils and dill. That was another thing about him that I can’t forget. He was an incredibly energetic, charismatic, and enthusiastic person, when the mood suited him. I remember he loved to dance and had even taken lessons. I can’t dance at all, but I do remember him twirling me around the dance floor at some of our Peace Corps parties. I remember, even as I clumsily stumbled around with Matt, who was so much taller, lighter on his feet, and a confident leader on the dance floor, I felt pretty and had so much fun.

Ararat as viewed from a window at my school in Yerevan.

Matt Jensen even influenced me to make a music purchase once. One of the last times I saw him alive was in January 1998, a few months after we came home from our service. I went to his sparsely appointed apartment in Washington, DC and spent the night. I remember on the way to his place, we were talking about Mariah Carey’s latest single, “Butterfly”, which he didn’t like at all. He was hilariously going off about the lyrics, which he found inane. I remember the tone of our conversation– it was very sarcastic and hysterically funny. I had to agree with him about Mariah’s song. When we got to his place, he immediately pointed out the bathroom, because he knew I’d need to pee. I don’t remember a whole lot more about that evening, except that he had ABBA’s box set. He played it while we talked. I have always liked ABBA, but was more of a casual fan. I later ended up buying the box set myself, and every time I hear it, I remember how much Matt liked ABBA.

I also remember having a funny conversation with him about Kathie Lee Gifford. For some reason, I was telling him about how she had done some kind of mother’s day variety show special. I want to say she had some guest stars with her– I seem to remember Cindy Williams was among them. And Matt said his mother, who was quite elderly, had seen Kathie Lee Gifford on television and was describing it to him. I will never forget hearing his highly characterized New York accent as he imitated what his mother said about Kathie Lee’s show… “It was SICKENING!” Again… I laughed my substantial ass off at that– just the very disgusted, yet hilarious tone he used that really drove home the point. I could easily picture a female version of Matt saying that.

Matt went back to Armenia during the summer of 1998 to be the TEFL trainer for that year’s group of Peace Corps TEFL trainees. We traded letters and gossip for awhile, but then eventually lost touch. I think the last time I saw him alive was at the Peace Corps office in Washington, DC. I was with another former Volunteer, a guy named Albert. Albert and I were both headed to graduate school in the fall of 1999. He was going to New York University, and I was going to be off to the University of South Carolina. We went into the career center, and Matt just happened to be there, too. We had kind of an awkward exchange; Matt told me to enjoy being represented by Strom Thurmond, and that was the last time I ever saw Matt.

Incidentally, I have a weird habit of either running into people I used to know, or strangers who know people I know. One time, I went to the Peace Corps office in Washington, DC and ran into a guy who had been a Volunteer in Bulgaria. My friend and fellow Volunteer, Elaine, and I stayed with him in Sofia for about a week. No, we didn’t know him before we stayed with him– she just called him up and he graciously let us crash. And a couple of years later, I ran into him, completely by chance, in Washington, DC… the same way Albert and I ran into Matt by chance.

Years later, I saw Matt on Facebook, but I never felt comfortable friending him. I don’t exactly remember why we quit writing to each other. The late 1990s were a rough time for me. I lost touch with a lot of people at that point and went through some hard times. I finally got better when I got treatment for my depression and anxiety, but I’m afraid that people probably remember me for being a bit crazy back then. I’m still a bit crazy, but not like I used to be. I’m also a lot more mature. I wish I could have been friendlier with Matt in his last days. I think he might have enjoyed knowing that I finally came over to the liberal side and voted all blue last November. Matt was a very devout Democrat, and I remember when we were in the Peace Corps, he used to wear a Barbara Boxer t-shirt and pick on the lone staunch Republican in our group, a guy named Frank.

Not long ago, I ran into Matt on Facebook. We were involved in a Peace Corps related exchange, probably involving a mutual friend, but I don’t remember what it was about. He wrote, “I always liked you.” That made me feel good. I’m so glad that is the last thing he ever said to me, because it almost gave me closure. If I’m honest, there were times when he wasn’t nice. He had a short temper and could be grumpy and even kind of mean, when the mood struck him. But overall, he was just a larger than life kind of person, both literally and figuratively. He was a wonderful and gifted teacher, a warm friend, and he really loved his work and was dedicated to doing it well. Based on the comments left by the people who knew him more recently, I can see that he touched a lot of lives and has left his unique and indelible mark on so many hearts… especially young and impressionable ones.

Godspeed, Matt. I’ll never forget you. Thank you for making me laugh so many times… especially when I needed it the most. You have inspired me, and so many others, in so many ways. In that way, you’ll always live on.

I felt like singing this for Matt.

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