memories, nostalgia, tragedies, Virginia

German road signs that make me fall down rabbit holes…

A few days ago, when Bill and I were heading home from our trip to the Black Forest, I looked up and noticed a road sign for a town called Hirschberg. Google tells me that Hirschberg is a town in the northwestern part of the German state of Baden-Württemberg (as well as a place in Thuringia). I’ve never been there, and before Monday, I had never noticed that sign. But seeing the name of that town brought back some very old memories from my hometown of Gloucester, Virginia.

This is something I’ve noticed in Europe and the United Kingdom. A lot of the place names here, and in my home state of Virginia, come from surnames. A lot of places in Virginia, especially, are named after places in older establishments. Take, for instance, the town of Kilmarnock, Virginia. It shares that name with a place in Scotland. I guess people from Scotland settled the town in Virginia and named it after their original hometown across the pond. I have to agree, having been to both places, the landscapes are kind of similar.

In any case, when I saw the name Hirschberg, I was immediately reminded of a tragic story from my childhood, over 40 years ago. The date was March 23, 1981. I was eight years old, and a third grader at Botetourt Elementary School. In March 1981, I had only lived in Gloucester for about nine months. My parents bought their business, The Corner Cottage, in the spring of 1980 and we moved to Gloucester on June 21st of that year, the day after my 8th birthday. I experienced quite a culture shock in Gloucester, because we had come from Fairfax, Virginia, which is a MUCH more populated place. And we’d only been in Fairfax for two years; prior to that, we lived on Mildenhall Air Force Base in Suffolk, England. In 1981, I still felt kind of like a foreigner in the United States, having spent three of my conscious years abroad. I wasn’t fitting in very well in Gloucester and, truth be told, I hated it there.

My next sister, Sarah, was sixteen years old on March 23, 1981. She was soon going to be 17 years old, and she attended eleventh grade at Gloucester High School. I would graduate from there myself in 1990. In 1981, 1990 seemed like a million years away. And in 2022, 1990 seems like it was yesterday.

In 1981, the principal at GHS was Mr. Donald W. Hirschberg. I didn’t know anything at all about him, but I do remember Sarah talking about her life at GHS. She probably mentioned the principal, too. She seemed so grown up to me at that time. I remember she was studying French and was even allowed to come to Botetourt to “teach” French to some of the gifted kids. At the time, one of my friends was one of Sarah’s “pupils”.

I don’t think Sarah was at Botetourt on Monday, March 23, 1981, though. That was a day that is still remembered by a lot of my peers because it was the day that Mr. Hirschberg’s wife, Nancy, and their twelve year old daughter, Julie, would die in a horrific car accident. I’m not absolutely certain, but I think another child also died in that crash. I make that assumption because I found a Facebook post about the accident that mentioned another girl who died. Strangely, I don’t remember hearing as much about her.

I was still very new to Gloucester in 1981, so I never had the pleasure of meeting Julie. She was three years older than me, and went to what was then called Gloucester Middle School and later became an elementary school (after I had finished GMS myself). I do remember the accident, though. It happened at a time when Gloucester had very few traffic lights. I know it’s a cliche, but in 1981, that county was still very much covered in farmland. We had a McDonald’s and a Pizza Hut that served the whole county. Gloucester Courthouse, which is about a mile or two from where I lived, had really disgusting water that tasted like sulfur. Our house had well water, which was only marginally better. I remember turning on the taps and seeing rusty water.

I’m not totally sure where the fatal intersection was, but I know I drove past it many times. Route 17 runs from north to south through Gloucester. It’s the main artery through the county, and it’s virtually impossible to avoid driving on it if you’re traveling through Gloucester. I actually think the intersection was one very close to my home. For years, there was nothing but a stop sign there, where people would wait as traffic coming down Route 17 barreled down the highway. Since 1981, the farmland has been turned into a huge Walmart complex. People probably don’t zoom past that intersection anymore, because it’s now heavily moderated by traffic lights. If that wasn’t the intersection, then it was one not far from there, and I would have passed it many times over the 19 years Gloucester was my actual home.

So there I was on Monday, October 3, 2022, speeding down the Autobahn, suddenly remembering Gloucester in the early 80s. I saw that sign for the town of Hirschberg in Germany, and it made me think of twelve year old Julie… a girl I never knew, but heard a lot about when I was growing up. Knowing how Gloucester was in the 80s, I feel very sure we would have probably met at some point. Back then, Gloucester was the kind of place where most people knew each other. I don’t think it’s like that anymore, though. I do still know a lot of people who live there, as a number of my classmates either never left or have returned with their own families.

I got curious about Mr. Hirschberg, too. So I looked him up, and discovered that he died in 1998. He had moved to Poquoson, a city not far from Gloucester, and remarried a woman with the same first name as his late first wife’s. Mr. Hirschberg, at age 61, wasn’t that old when he passed. I wonder if he never got over the grief of that terrible accident. People on Facebook were still discussing it as recently as 2011, with some saying they would never forget that night. A few said it was the first tragedy of their lives, and the first funeral they ever attended. Some said that they still think of Julie and the other girl who died every time they go through that intersection.

I think about the fact that Julie was just three years older than me, and it appears that she was a very popular girl with a lot of promise. She was involved in many community activities and probably would have gone on to live a very productive life. It amazes me that her life ended the way it did– so suddenly, tragically, and randomly, it seems. It could have been any one of us who met that fate. I wonder what she would think about me– someone who never met her, but was one of her contemporaries– thinking and writing about her 41 years after her death, reading about her on the Internet, which didn’t even really exist for regular people back in 1981. I wonder what she would think about people in the “You grew up in Gloucester” Facebook group, still remembering her in 2011 and posting about that dreadful day in March 1981. Julie never experienced Facebook, but I bet she’d know it well if she had lived to see adulthood. I never knew Julie, but I knew a lot of her friends, and they still miss her so many years later. That amazes me.

I haven’t been to Gloucester since 2010, when my mom finally sold the house I grew up in. I was astonished by how different Gloucester was then. It was weird to walk through the house and see things I hadn’t seen since we moved in back in 1980. Our house was old, and kind of weird, so there was a big plumbing pipe coming up through the floor in the tiny room that had served as my bedroom in the early 80s. It had been covered by my twin sized bed for many years. Now it was laid bare, looking as strange as it did in 1980. Even our house is very different now than it was in 1980. My parents doubled its size in 1984, when they added on a new kitchen and a knitting and needlepoint “shop” for my mom to run. My dad had a new custom picture framing “shop” built in 1997, knocking down the weird building that was erected there some decades before. Now, it’s owned by the lady my dad hired in 1989 to help him frame pictures.

Isn’t it funny how the most random things can cause a person to fall down a rabbit hole of memories? Or, at least that’s how it happens for me. I used to wish I was born in 1968, so I could be closer in age to my sisters and have more of a relationship with them. But now I’m glad I was born when I was. I think it was the right time. I don’t know why my mind takes me on these tangential rides, but I have a feeling someone else out there still remembers Julie. I’ll probably be “visited” here by people from Gloucester, who can recall the spring of 1981, too. I am not a Gloucester native, but I know a lot of people are, and they have long memories.

I was pretty fortunate to grow up in Gloucester, even though I hated it in the 80s. My sisters were all Air Force brats, so they were moved constantly. I don’t know if they really feel like they have a “hometown” like I do. They’ve settled in different places, but their childhoods were nomadic. I used to be envious of them, but then I became an Army wife and experienced that lifestyle myself. I think it would have been hard for me as a child. It’s hard as an adult. It’s nice to know that there is a place where people remember me, even if no one in my family lives there anymore. I’m glad to have some roots… although I doubt I’ll be moving back there. I don’t think I fit there anymore. It’s like the old Neil Diamond song, “I Am… I Said”, when he sings:

Well I’m New York City born and raised
But nowadays
I’m lost between two shores
L.A.’s fine, but it ain’t home
New York’s home
But it ain’t mine no more

Yeah. I can relate to that.

Just because it’s a great song that still works in 2022.
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book reviews, healthcare, law, politicians, politics

Today, in the United States of Gilead…

Special thanks to my friend “Naphtalia” (not her real name) for today’s featured photo!

It’s another very warm morning in Germany. I kind of hate this time of year in Germany, because while it rarely gets as hot here as it does in my native Virginia or God forsaken Texas, air conditioning is a rarity. That makes for some uncomfortable days when it’s high summer, even with all the shades pulled down and a couple of portable air conditioners. I never run both ACs at the same time, either, because I don’t want to run up a big electric bill. They do electric bills differently here, though. Instead of charging different amounts based on monthly use, they do a yearly average and adjust at the end of the year. But still, I don’t want to be an energy hog, if I can help it.

Bill just bought oil for our house, to get us through the winter. This year, it cost about $1000 more than it did last year, thanks to Putin’s war against Ukraine. Fortunately, we’re able to afford it pretty easily. We stay in Germany largely because Bill makes really good money over here, but also because the lifestyle is much nicer, people are saner and less violent, and it’s cool to be able to drive to so many countries. That doesn’t mean I don’t think of home often, though. Missing my uncle’s funeral the other day was another reminder that I’ve been gone a long time, and I’ve seen a lot of beloved relatives for the last time. The United States is my home, but it doesn’t feel much like home anymore. People seem to be absolutely batshit nuts.

Still, I was delighted to read about Kansas yesterday, and voters’ decisions to vote for allowing abortion access. I think that was a rude wake up call for the more sensible Republicans out there. They overplayed their hand, and they will probably pay for it with some really tough elections. I have read about some scary elections results in Arizona, though, and apparently the Trump loyalists, drunk on the stolen election Kool-Aid rhetoric, are leading the way to Gilead inspired insanity. Not surprisingly, reasonable Republican, Rusty Bowers, who heroically testified in the January 6th sessions, was defeated by his Trump supporting opponent. I watched Bowers speak about January 6th again, the other day, and noticed that he was almost moved to tears. I was almost moved to tears listening to him, even though I don’t like his politics or religious beliefs. Bowers is a man of integrity, and those types are rapidly leaving the Republican Party.

I don’t think people realize that the power mad conservatives want to enslave them… keep them disenfranchised and begging for jobs that don’t pay enough. Keeping people pregnant, especially if they aren’t financially or health wise prepared for pregnancy, is certainly a big part of keeping them poor. The abortion bans are already proving dangerous for people who legitimately need to terminate pregnancies for health reasons, that they should be allowed to keep private. Personally, I am less concerned about no access to abortion than I am that politicians will soon push an agenda that makes healthcare privacy a thing of the past.

Health information is a very powerful asset, and getting people comfortable with the idea of giving up their confidentiality when it comes to health matters is a big step toward keeping them down. I don’t believe these folks will stop with denying abortion and contraception access. They would like to tear apart legal privacy protections for the citizenry, so they promote bullshit about the “sanctity of life” as a reason to deny abortions to people who want or need them, while idiots like Colorado legislator Lauren Boebert crow about their ridiculous gun control theories. Yesterday, I watched a video about how she claims people in Venezuela are eating dogs because they can’t have guns. Seriously!

Well worth watching, if only because the guy who made this video is awesome. Lauren’s personal assets don’t include having a functioning brain.

I read last night that extremely pro-life Indiana Representative Jackie Walorski, just two weeks shy of her 59th birthday, died in a car crash. Two of her staffers died with her. I didn’t know anything about Walorski until last night, when I saw the article from Reuters. I went to her Facebook page, where she had just recently posted about visiting a “crisis pregnancy center” in Indiana. Crisis pregnancy centers are places where a pro-life agenda is pushed. The goal is to get the person considering abortion to change their minds, sometimes by the unethical use of misinformation or religious dogma.

The comments were pretty bananas, as people squabbled over their respective political views. One guy was especially disgusting toward the pro-choice women who were commenting. Only a few realized, at that point, that Ms. Walorski is no longer among the living and won’t be pushing her pro-life agenda anymore. I only hope that whoever replaces her is more moderate in their views. Like a lot of people, I am tired of being held hostage by politicians who think their religious beliefs have any place in making laws that affect everyone. On the other hand, I see some really ugly comments about her sudden death, including the one below…

No matter what I might think about Jackie Walorski’s politics, I’m sure she had many loved ones. This is not any better than the awful things conservatives say to liberals.
Ouch.

I don’t cheer for Jackie Walorski’s sudden death, but I really hope with all my heart that whomever takes her place will have more heart and sense for moderation. The country is being torn apart by extremism, and it will lead to even more very ugly things in the future, if something isn’t done soon.

Last night, I finished reading Black Beauty to Bill, and once again, I was shocked by how relevant that book is, even today. It was written in 1877, but it addresses animal rights, politics, and religion, and how politics and religion can turn people into insufferable assholes. Here are just a couple of quotes from the book, one of which I recently shared a few days ago.

“Your master never taught you a truer thing,” said John; “there is no religion without love, and people may talk as much as they like about their religion, but if it does not teach them to be good and kind to man and beast it is all a sham—all a sham, James, and it won’t stand when things come to be turned inside out.”

Sewell, Anna. Black Beauty (p. 46). True Sign Publishing House. Kindle Edition.

“Well, a man who gets rich by that trade may be all very well in some ways, but he is blind as to what workingmen want; I could not in my conscience send him up to make the laws. I dare say they’ll be angry, but every man must do what he thinks to be the best for his country.

Sewell, Anna. Black Beauty (p. 142). True Sign Publishing House. Kindle Edition.

“My boy, I hope you will always defend your sister, and give anybody who insults her a good thrashing—that is as it should be; but mind, I won’t have any election blackguarding on my premises. There are as many ‘blue’ blackguards as there are ‘orange’, and as many white as there are purple, or any other color, and I won’t have any of my family mixed up with it. Even women and children are ready to quarrel for the sake of a color, and not one in ten of them knows what it is about.

“Why, father, I thought blue was for Liberty.” “My boy, Liberty does not come from colors, they only show party, and all the liberty you can get out of them is, liberty to get drunk at other people’s expense, liberty to ride to the poll in a dirty old cab, liberty to abuse anyone that does not wear your color, and to shout yourself hoarse at what you only half-understand—that’s your liberty!”

“Oh, father, you are laughing.”

“No, Harry, I am serious, and I am ashamed to see how men go on who ought to know better. An election is a very serious thing; at least it ought to be, and every man ought to vote according to his conscience, and let his neighbor do the same.

Sewell, Anna. Black Beauty (p. 143). True Sign Publishing House. Kindle Edition.

I announced to some Facebook friends that I was reading Black Beauty to Bill, and one of them, a British lady who used to teach school in Britain, said it would have him in tears. Sure enough, it did. Black Beauty has a happy ending, but it really is a very good book that tugs at the heartstrings, and it’s surprisingly relevant today, on many levels. I’m glad I read it again as an adult (it was never meant to be children’s literature), and I’m so glad I shared it with Bill. He loved it, and never would have read it on his own. It’s a great book for animal lovers– especially horse lovers– but I think everyone should read it. Anna Sewell was very wise. Her book promotes common sense and compassion, not just toward animals, but also toward human beings. And it’s a reminder that things were bananas in the 19th century, too.

Anyway… it’s going to be another steamy day in Germany, and I’m in the middle of changing the sheets, and will soon be vacuuming, which is not my favorite thing to do. So I guess I’ll end this post and get on with it. Let’s hope for better news in the coming days.

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family, obits, tragedies

April brings new life… and for some, the end of life.

Happy Easter, everybody. We have gorgeous spring weather so far today. I don’t plan to do much, since everything is closed, anyway. For a country with so many atheists, Germany sure does go nuts over religious holidays. Everything closes over Easter, from Good Friday until Easter Monday, although things are open on the intervening Saturday. This year, I didn’t plan ahead well enough. We ran out of dog food for Arran and contact lenses for me, after tomorrow. Fortunately, the stuff we need will probably be here on Tuesday. I hope I managed to sock away an extra pair of contacts in my luggage so I will be able to see before the delivery gets here. I wish I’d had my eyes lasered years ago.

Historically, for me, anyway, April tends to be a “cruel” month, even though it’s also usually very beautiful. So far, this year, April has been punctuated by grief… not necessarily for me, personally, but for people I know or am related to.

It started with a guy I knew in high school. I had a lot of classes with him, but we didn’t run in the same circles. I never knew until I read his obituary that he taught special education at our high school for some time. He eventually left that job, but then had brain cancer. That’s what killed him on March 31st, just a couple of weeks after his 50th birthday. On April 1st, a lot of people were posting about him on Facebook, writing about what a kind person he was. That made me wish I’d known him better, but he was more popular than I was, and people in my high school mostly thought of me as a weird person. So the cute, popular guys never talked to me. I’m probably less weird now… or, maybe they admit that they’re weird, too.

The next person to go was my cousin’s lovely wife. My cousin and his wife were married in 1984, when I was 12 years old. I wasn’t at the wedding, because it took place in Georgia, and I lived in Virginia. My cousin and his wife were a beautiful couple, but very religious and politically conservative, as are most of my Georgia based relatives (and I have quite a few). I was briefly among the Georgia folks myself, but we had to move to North Carolina after about 18 months of living there. I was sad to go. I enjoyed Georgia.

My cousin and his wife had three gorgeous daughters who are the epitome of “southern belles”. They’re a very close-knit family. When my cousin’s wife was diagnosed with cancer last spring, and the cancer then spread to her brain, the whole family got t-shirts made and wore them to support her before she went into surgery. They took pictures wearing the t-shirts and holding up signs with Bible verses and slogans. We heard that she had done fairly well with the surgery. Then, there was not much news at all.

I was a little surprised to read that she had passed away last week, since I hadn’t known that her illness had progressed so much. I mean, I know something about chronic illnesses such as cancer, and when I heard about her initial diagnosis, I figured she might not have much time. But her daughters appeared to be having the time of their lives, which is what I’m sure she wanted for them. My cousin’s eldest daughter posted a gender reveal video for the baby she’s expecting. Then, she announced her mother’s death. I didn’t know she was so ill, so I didn’t know she was near death. Last week’s news of her death came as a shock to me.

I knew her middle daughter planned to get married on April 16th. That daughter shared a photo of her hand holding her mother’s hand. I could only see the hand in the photo, but it was pretty obvious just from that photo of her hand that my cousin’s wife was very, very sick. Her skin was yellow and mottled with purplish red splotches, even around her fingernails, which were lined with the same red. I guess it was bruising of some kind.

She was a very beautiful woman who was much beloved by family and friends. She was also very religious and had strong faith in Christianity. Although I am nowhere near as religious as she was, I like to think of her joining those who went before her, to include my aunt and uncle, and my cousin, who was her sister-in-law, as well as all of the other people who were in her life I never knew. I’m sorry she had to miss her daughter’s wedding yesterday, but her daughter did say she thought her mom would have the best view… I hope she’s right. It looks like her daughter had a beautiful wedding, at least.

And finally, the third death was that of one of Bill’s friends from high school. I never met this man myself, but Bill has talked about him throughout our almost twenty years of marriage. Bill was kind of a shy introverted type when he was a teenager, and he went to a public high school in Houston where there were a lot of wealthy kids. Bill wasn’t wealthy, but he did have an interest in the military. He joined JROTC and made some friends, which unfortunately included his ex wife. But one of the guys he met was a guy named Mark who was a year older than he was. Mark was kind to Bill. He had a great sense of humor and a talent for art. Bill really liked him a lot, especially in the days when he wasn’t very confident about himself.

The years passed, and Bill lost touch with his friend… but then along came Facebook, and Bill reconnected with him. They didn’t communicate much on Facebook, mainly because Bill barely uses it and never posts. One of Bill’s other classmates, a guy who friended me for some reason, announced Mark’s sudden death yesterday. Apparently, Mark, who was divorced, had no children, and had recently lost his father (his mom died many years ago), decided to commit suicide on Good Friday.

Mark’s Facebook posts left no indication whatsoever that he was planning to kill himself. On Friday, he just posted “Guys, it’s been a slice”, accompanied by a collage with pictures of him at different stages of life. I told Bill that his high school friend had announced Mark’s death. Bill looked him up and read all of the posts by people who were devastated by Mark’s decision. So many people asked why he hadn’t reached out to them for help. A couple of people wrote that there was nothing they could have done… which is probably true in a case like this. Mark never left a clue of what he was planning. Unfortunately, it sounds like people will always wonder what drove him to make this decision, although a lot of people knew he had “demons”. But then, don’t we all?

It seems unconscionable that in this season of renewal– with flowers blooming and babies being born– some people have died before their time. All three of these people, who touched my life before they passed, were folks who might have been considered too young to die. While all three deaths could be considered very sad and tragic, I am especially sad for Mark. The other two had family with them when they passed, but Mark apparently died alone, and probably violently. As awful as it is for him, it’s even worse for whoever had to find him and whoever will be cleaning up the aftermath of Mark’s decision. I don’t know the exact method he used to kill himself, but he did own quite a few firearms. Bill told me that he owned some Russian pistols that he highly prized. So, it’s likely that one of his guns was the tool he used to end his life “on his terms”, as one of his friends put it.

I try not to look at suicide as a moral failing. I see it as more of a fatal response to depression, which is a real illness. Depression can be deadly. Maybe Mark could have been helped if he had reached out for help, but there really is no way to tell. And, in fact, there may have been something else going on that we didn’t know about… and will never know of. At least it looks like he had some good times during his last week. Many friends wrote about how they saw him this week. I wonder if Mark thought about how they would feel after he died… having spent time with him having lunch or drinking beer… and then finding out that he was planning to kill himself.

I didn’t know Mark, but I was there last night as Bill teared up over the news of his death. It just goes to show that everyone affects other people… even people they’ve never met in person. But as someone who has experienced depression and has felt suicidal, I understand that things might have seemed hopeless and pointless, and maybe he felt helpless to change anything. And one more talk with a friend or a doctor might have felt futile. So he made a decision that impacted a lot of people he never even knew.

This morning, Bill told me that he used to envy his friends. At one time, their lives seemed better than his was. I asked him what he thought of that notion today. He said, “I prefer my life.” I’m glad to hear that, especially since younger daughter shared an adorable video of her little daughter yesterday. What a blessing it is that Bill can get to know his grandchildren, even if it is just on video. Seeing her so happy and energetic gives me hope for the future. I’m glad I can be part of Bill’s future, especially as he awaits the birth of his second grandson in a couple of months.

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bad TV, obits, religion, Trump

Another one bites the dust…

Yet another song from my childhood that has great relevance today… It will always remind me of roller skating, though.

This morning, Bill is working from home. He got a Moderna booster shot yesterday afternoon. By the evening, he had chills and was feeling kind of rotten. By 4:00am, he had a headache and a fever. Today, he’s a bit tired, but the fever is down. Since he and a bunch of his colleagues got their boosters this week, a lot of them are teleworking. I expect I’ll be boosted soon, since today marks six months since I got my last shot. I don’t look forward to feeling rotten, although I didn’t feel terrible after the initial vaccines. Maybe I’ll get lucky and not have a bad reaction.

Some people still aren’t on the vaccination bandwagon. Some people still think COVID-19 is a hoax– some kind of world domination scheme intended to enslave the population. Well… I think that thinking is a special kind of stupid. But some people are stubborn and they have to learn the hard way. Enter Marcus Lamb, the latest Christian “media mogul” who has “gone home to be with the Lord”. Yep… Mr. Lamb, who was 64 years old, was a COVID-19 conspiracy theorist and vaccine skeptic. And now, he has no more worries about his health. In fact, he HAS NO HEALTH anymore. He’s DEAD. Another one bites the dust!

Marcus Lamb was a founder of Daystar, the second largest Christian television network in the world. From the beginning of the pandemic, Lamb and his cronies focused heavily on the virus, calling it a “satanic attack” and denouncing vaccines. Daystar reaches 2 billion people worldwide, and according to Michelle Boorstein, a reporter with the Washington Post, appeals to the masses with “a fluid, modern, charismatic faith, more about general good vs. evil, miraculous healings and religious freedom than any specific denominational theology.”

Earlier in the pandemic, Lamb invited many vaccine skeptics to promote their conspiracy theories on his network. They hosted daily interviews with these pro-religion/anti-science folks, during which they discussed how vaccines were being pushed by “hidden satanic forces” and “stealing Christians’ freedoms”. I just want to ask Lamb and his buddies– what the hell good is “freedom” if you’re dead?

Now, in fairness to Marcus Lamb, he did reportedly suffer from diabetes. Diabetes can worsen COVID infection. Lamb also had other risk factors that were likely to make his illness more severe. Mr. Lamb was over 60 and male. And it’s obvious that he was hanging out with other people and ignoring safety protocols. I would be very surprised if anyone working at Daystar was taking precautions against contracting COVID-19. Clearly, they had the “answers”, right? Maybe not, since according to Lamb’s wife, Joni, Marcus Lamb got “COVID pneumonia”, which helped lead him to his untimely death.

In a Facebook Live video, Joni explains why and how Marcus Lamb died. Apparently, his heart gave out while he was in the hospital, receiving oxygen. Joni explains:

“We were trying to treat the covid and pneumonia with the different protocols we use, including the ones we talk about on Daystar,” she said on the show. “We used those — I myself used them and had breezed through covid.”

His blood sugar spiked and he needed oxygen, she said. “He 100 percent believed in everything we talk about here on Daystar, things that help so many people around the world with early protocol treatments for covid,” she said. “We still stand by those, obviously.”

I watched some of the people on the above Facebook Live video who spoke about Marcus Lamb. They all appeared to be genuinely grief stricken that he’s dead. And maybe they take comfort in the belief that Lamb will be a lamb of God, up in Heaven with all of the other Christian wingnuts who have been promoting anti-vaxxer and government conspiracy bullshit. I just don’t know what it will take to convince people that this is not a joke. COVID-19 is killing people, and while faith and hope is all well and good, God gave us science for a reason. Obviously Lamb was a believer in medicine, since he went to the hospital for care. So why wasn’t he a believer in vaccines?

What really disturbs me about the case of Marcus Lamb and the other so-called Christian media moguls who have gotten sick with COVID-19 and died, is that there are so many people who watch and listen to what they say and do. Many lonely, sick, or elderly people who are isolated watch programs on Daystar or similar networks. And they are influenced by these people who give them hope, or at least a narrative that they agree with and can use to bolster their false beliefs against science.

According to the Washington Post article I linked, “White evangelical Christians resist coronavirus vaccines at higher rates than other religious groups in the United States, a phenomenon experts say is bound up in politics, skepticism about government and the consumption of alternative media and unfounded conspiracy claims about vaccine dangers.” When I think about the kinds of people who watch Daystar and its ilk, I think Daystar was giving evangelical Christians exactly what they wanted. And they were doing it, not because it’s the best thing for their followers, but because it brought in more money and power.

Not surprisingly, Lamb was a Trump supporter. Last year, Lamb appeared in a photo with Trump, at an “Evangelicals for Trump” rally. Honestly, anyone who calls themselves God fearing Christians, but support Donald Trump– who is about as un-Christlike as a person can get– has missed the point entirely. I mean, supporting Trump and being “Christian” is kind of contradictory behavior, isn’t it? And yet, a lot of people are doing it, and ignoring the facts. I don’t understand and can’t abide it, but hey, at least it’s obviously hastening their chances to find out if Heaven is real.

I am not a big fan of televangelists. At most, I am kind of fascinated by their nerve. So many so-called religious leaders are really more interested in power and money than they are promoting God. As I wrote yesterday, organized religion has ruined many people, and many families. So many people have killed or died over religion. So many families have been ruined over clashes in religious beliefs or lack thereof. But I don’t equate religion with a belief in a higher power. The fact is, I don’t think of myself as a very religious person, but I do have a belief in God. I don’t know why I do, but I do. That, to me, isn’t the same as being “religious”.

Daystar has faced some controversies, too, as have many “prosperity gospel ministries”, which promote the idea that in order to get God’s favor, one must give money. And of course, the televangelists promote the idea that they are the ones who should benefit from the largesse of hopeful followers of Christ. They promise that you give them money, you will be blessed. But so often, it turns out all that happens is that the people who donate their “grocery money” only get poorer. It’s sad that so many people who follow “false prophet” televangelists and corrupt “leaders” like Donald Trump never see that they are working against their own interests.

But anyway… condolences to Marcus Lamb’s friends and family members. Truly, I am sorry to hear about Lamb’s death. I can see that he had some people in his life who are sad that he’s gone, and I don’t want to discount their pain and grief at losing him. I take heart in the realization that maybe some people will learn from Lamb’s sudden passing.

Now to get on with my day… gotta do the vacuuming, practice guitar, and walk the dogs, since the sun actually peeked out from behind the clouds for a few minutes. Hope everyone has a nice Thursday.

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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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