Two Bits of Common Sense Eclipse Safety for Kids

I live on the pending eclipse path, so How To Keep Your Kids From Going Blind is suddenly a topic around here.

First thing to know: The hazard of the eclipse is if you look at the sun.  There aren’t deadly Eclipse Rays that come out and attack while you are napping in your hammock in the shade.  The trouble, of course, is thats it’s really unusual to see the sun get all blocked up by the moon, and so people who would otherwise never stare at the sun might suddenly take an interest.  Staring at the sun is always bad for you.

(Your pets, in contrast, probably aren’t going to take up astronomy as a hobby on Monday afternoon, unless I suppose that’s something you’ve caught them at before.  My pets never stare at the sun. They mostly stare at the back door.  And meat.  If there’s a Meat Eclipse, my dog will be watching that one closely.)

So anyway, back to your kids.

#1 Practice Using Your Safety Glasses Ahead of Time

You got yourself NASA-approved glasses, of course, and you’ve read all about sun-viewing safety.  Now practice.  You do not want to be in the middle of a very short once-in-a-lifetime event and your kids are like “I can’t make mine work!”  “I can’t see!” “These itch!”  Practice.

#2 Not All Children Can Be Trusted to Wear Their Safety Glasses

If your child is not mature enough to be counted on, skip the viewing altogether.  Just don’t go there.  If your child is young enough to be oblivious you don’t even have to tell them there’s a viewing option.  You can just let your young children know that the sun is going to be covered up by the moon, so it’s going to get dark outside in the middle of the day, which is nifty.

They’ll of course want to see it get dark (but they won’t want to go bed).  So pick a room with a window that doesn’t face towards the sun during your eclipse time of day.  Set the kids up so they can watch it get dark out that window. Stream the eclipse on your computer so that they can compare the progress of the eclipse with conditions outside.

For more info: NASA has all your eclipse enjoyment science needs covered hereFood, drink, and lounge chairs you’ll have to sort out for yourself.

File:Antoinecaronq571Getty.jpg

Artwork courtesy of Wikimedia [Public Domain]

Location Notes – Traveling with Kids in France

After a busy week in metro-Paris with excellent WiFi but limited free time, we returned to connectivity-purgatory in Strasbourg.  I started this post while I waited for the laundry to dry, because the local laundromat had way better internet access than our hotel did, but apparently we don’t generate enough dirty laundry to support my blogging habit.  I’m now home and finishing up these comments, and then over the next few weeks I’ll do some more photo-blogging of the epic vacation.

Meanwhile, here are some quick notes on the types of places we’ve stayed, and what’s been good for kids, and how the logistics all worked out:

Location #1 – Rental house in a large village outside of Colmar.  The house was beautiful but fragile.  That was fine for our older kids, but with little ones look for something durable.  There was a courtyard, but it contained a fish pond and a barn with farm machinery — lovely spot for grown-ups, not great very young people.  The village was quiet and equipped with basics like a bakery and a playground, so for older kids who could roam at will, it was super.

Being out in the countryside was ideal for visiting around the region, because we didn’t have to fight in-town traffic getting in and out.  If your goal is to see sights outside of a metro area, I think looking for a village location is the way to go.

Location #2 – Apartment in downtown Chamonix.  I had no idea how much I would love Chamonix and the surrounding area!  In addition to being stunningly beautiful (because: Alps), the people, mostly tourists and expats, are the most content visitors I’ve seen anywhere.  Our little apartment was perfect for us, because it let us be right in the middle of everything, but again it would have been rough with small children.   If you need space for your kids to run around, get a house at the edge of town or in one of the many villages up and down the valley.  However, parking in Chamonix is tight, so if you mostly want to be in the town itself, stay in town.

Note that the underground parking garage that came with our apartment, typical, is not suited to anything larger than a modest sedan.  If you are traveling with a larger vehicle, discuss the parking situation with your landlord or hotel-owner before you make reservations.

Location #3 – Bed and breakfast at the edge of the suburban train lines outside of Paris.  I have mixed opinions about my decision to not stay in the city when visiting the city.  What I loved: The restful, friendly, calm, beautiful location in the countryside.  Our hosts had games for kids to play in the small-but-beautiful garden, there was room to stretch out, and overall I think for our kids it was the better choice.  However, I did not anticipate how hard it would be to get the kids up and out in the morning to catch a train, we ran into various logistical challenges, and commuting does reduce the amount of time you have in the city.  On the other hand, passing through the burbs and being on a commuter line is a cultural education in itself, and one I’m glad we had.

It was definitely less stressful for me to never have to drive in Paris, and to be able to pick my preferred train station along the RER line.  I’d say that an apartment in the city would work better if either:

  • Your kids are calm and quiet and do well hanging out in a small indoor space together.
  • You have enough adults to take the crazy youngsters out as-needed.

Look for a place near a playground and bakery if you’re going to stay in town with kids.

A couple notes about Paris:

1. I’d forgotten how BIG the city is.  Getting from sight to sight, or realizing you need to go find lunch, or a toilet, takes a ton of time.  If visiting many sights is your big priority, stay in town and allow a lot of time in town.

2. The big museums were absolutely packed with people  Security lines were long, so coming and going was not an option.  The Louvre and Musee d’Orsay were both well worth the hassle (for us), but we skipped lower-priority attractions because a person can only stand in so many lines.  Lesser known sites were not a problem at all.

Location #4 – Hotel in downtown Strasbourg.  We booked the “family” room at a small hotel (not a chain) near the train station.  It had two twins pushed together to make a king-sized bed on the floor, and then a set of bunk beds.  This is a bit of a cultural difference, I think: American hotels will overlook the part where your family crams itself into a single hotel room with a pile of sleeping bags for the kids; European hotels expect you to match the official sleeping capacity, but they offer extra beds so you can do that.

Strasbourg was the right sized city for us.  I could set the boy (age 17) free to wander at will without concerns about him getting lost — if you hit a canal, you’re leaving downtown, very simple system.  The downtown area is mostly pedestrian-only, and contains all the tourist things (stores, restaurants, markets, museums, old beautiful buildings) within a walkable distance.

Our location near the train station was handy for departure day, because I could turn in the car the evening before, and then we could just walk our mountain of luggage down the block.  It was, however, not a quiet location at night.  Given that the A/C system is called “Open Your Windows and Turn on a Fan,” let’s just say that we know an awful lot about what happens at night in a bustling European metropolis.

The big downside to a hotel, though, is that there is zero cooking to be done.  Unlike American hotels, where a coffee maker is standard in every room and a mini-fridge is very easy to come by, there is nothing, whatsoever, in terms of provision for eating in your room.  Breakfast is simple enough to put together (see “French bakery”), but lunch and dinner got expensive, even with trying to favor places that weren’t that expensive.

It was, however, much simpler to check out of the hotel on departure day than to clean and vacate an apartment.

If I had to do it again, I’d get an apartment for most of the Strasbourg leg (or whereever), and just book a hotel room next to the train station or airport for departure day.

City vs. Countryside Touring

I was confirmed in my decision to separate the countryside and city legs of the Alsace trip, because yes, driving in a European city, even a small one, is not fun.  It’s complicated and time-intensive and depends on a knowledge of the city that you as a visitor just aren’t going to possess.  If you want to get out into the rural areas, though, you do need a vehicle.  If you’re doing something like staying in Paris and you just want to make a one day trip to Versailles, no problem — transit is set up to accommodate that.  But otherwise, know that you need a car out of the city, do not want a car in the city, and you don’t just hop in the car and zip off.

There are, however, a load of options for renting vehicles.   So if you booked an in-city vacation and find yourself getting restless, ask around for ideas on how to escape for a bit.

Two children walking down a tree-lined alley in a Paris park.

 

What It Takes Not to Be a Nazi

Fourth of July a fellow on a bicycle saw me photographing the parish war memorial in Sigolsheim.  He asked me where I was from, and I told him the US, and he proceeded to thank me for coming.  Periodically throughout the conversation he thanked me again, and before leaving he repeated merci about seven times.  There was a reason for that, which I’ll get to.

A typical way of inscribing a war memorial in France is to write Mort Pour La France, but in Alsace that’s not usually the case, for the obvious reason.  A Nos Morts is the common alternative that glosses over the whole question of whom you died for, and gets to the point: You died.  Here’s the memorial outside the parish church in Uffholtz, A Ses Enfants Victime de Guerre:

Uffhotz War Memorial

Here’s Sigolsheim, in two parts.  You’ll notice WWII was disproportionately bloodier than WWI for Sigolsheim, including a significant number of civilian deaths:

Sigholsheim War Memorial 1

Sigolsheim War Memorial 2

That’s because the Nazis dug in and held hard, and a giant set of battles were held in the village itself, which you can read about in extensive detail here.  When German empires decide to assert themselves, annexing Alsace is the default method.  (And why not throw in Lorraine while you’re at it?)   This is the reason that headquartering European postwar peace initiatives in Strasbourg is so symbolically important.

Persuading the Third Reich to retreat from Alsace was bloody-difficult, and American soldiers played a major part in that work, which is half the reason the fellow on the bicycle was so profuse in his thanks for my coming to visit and taking an interest in the local history.

Here’s the village of Kayserberg’s thank-you plaque:

Kaysersberg Allies LIberation Memorial

The American flag flies above Sigolsheim at this war memorial:

US War Memorial Sigolsheim

Everything in red on this map of the the Allies’ Alsatian offensive is American forces:

Map of the Allied Offensive to Retake Alsace

American soldiers aren’t buried at the Sigolsheim memorial (there are American war cemeteries elsewhere).  There is a cemetery, though, for the French forces killed in battle in the immediate vicinity:

French war cemetery Sigolsheim

You’ll notice in the picture above that most of the graves are crosses, and a few are not.  Here’s a detail of the rounded-rectangle gravestone in the bottom right:
Detail of Jewish headstone

It would obviously not be kosher (pun intended) to use a cross to mark the grave of a Jewish soldier.   It is not only American and native-born French soldiers, however, who were instrumental in liberating Alsace.   The Zouave soldiers buried at the Sigolsheim war cemetery have grave markers like this:

Detail of Muslim headstone

In other words, if you’re grateful France is free, don’t just thank an American — thank a Muslim.  Ah, but how much did those Muslim soldiers contribute?  About like this:

As the video shows, the cemetery is built on a hill in a half-circle, and the graves are laid out in four equal sections.  The two flanking sections are Muslim graves, and the center two sections are mixed Christian and Jewish graves.  History is complicated.

Whether the fellow on the bicycle would have thanked me so profusely if I were a North African tourist I couldn’t say.  I’m not one.  What we do get mistaken for in Alsace is German tourists.  We look the part and come by it honestly, if distantly.  German tourists come up and ask us directions, in German, which doesn’t get them very far.  Locals either attempt to speak German with us or else apologize that they have no German (neither do we — how about French?).

So here are a couple of my cute German kids walking towards the gate out of the KL-Natzweiler Concentration Camp, up near the village of Struthof in the Vosges mountains:

Walking towards the gate - KL-Natzweiler (Struthof) concentration camp

People who didn’t walk out might have died here in the cell block:

Cell block, Natzweiler-Struthof

At which point they would have been incinerated in this crematorium:
Crematorium Natzweiler - Struthof

When we talk about concentration camps and the evil of the Nazi regime, the usual thing is to tell kids, “If you were Jewish . . .”

Struthof, as KL-Natzweiler is often called locally, is different, in that it was chiefly used not for eugenic purposes but for those who resisted the Nazi regime.  Thus more to the point for our nice German boy in the photo above: Let’s talk about the draft.

His great-grandfathers were all about his age (17) at the start of World War II.  They had the luxury of being second- or third- or more-generation Americans, and they all volunteered and served in the War for the US.  It was not a difficult decision.  They were the age your brother is now, I told the girls.

Had he been seventeen and American, the boy would have signed up too, I’m fairly certain.  But what if he had been seventeen and German — which, after a week of being mistaken for a German tourist (or an Alsatian local), is not at all a stretch of the imagination?  He would have had to decide between going into the Nazi army, or going to Struthof.

Which is why a guy on a bicycle, about my age, resident of a nearby village, passing by on July 4th evening outside the war memorial in Sigolsheim couldn’t stop thanking me for being an American who came to Alsace.  He saw I was interested in history, and started suggesting sites.  “Do you know there’s a US war memorial up on the hill?” he said.

Yes.  Just came from there, actually.

“And have you seen the three castles down by Eguisheim?”

Yes.  And the other one, and some other ones . . .

“Let’s see, so maybe you should go to –”

“Well actually,” I tell him, “we only have a few more days here.  We’re going to try to go to Mont Sainte Odile and to–” I try to remember the name —  “Struthof–?”

He stops.  “Oh.  Struthof.  That’s hard.”

I know.

But you can’t really appreciate the significance of the war unless you know the whole story.

“The concentration camp,” he says.  “Struthof.”

“Yes.”

“My grandfather was there.”

White flowers with red centers.detail of white blossom with magenta-red center.

Flowers at the Sigolsheim war memorial, in bloom on July 4th.

French Culture – Marriage, Family Life, and Sexuality – Interesting Links

My latest at the National Catholic Register touches on some interesting bits of French culture where marriage is concerned.   I didn’t have room in a short essay to create an annotated bibliography, and anyway I stumbled on more interesting stuff than I’ll ever write about.  Here’s a list of assorted links of potential interest to select readers, with a few comments at the bottom related to my essay topic.

In talking about cultural contrasts, here’s an article on France’s military-run brothel system, dating from World War I.  Here’s a short history of the United States’ approach to the problem of venereal diseases during the same period.  The differences are striking.

This Google preview of Fathers, Families, and the State in France, 1914-1945  has some history of the role of paternity during that time period.

 

All kinds of interesting parental-rights cases from the European Court of Human Rights are summarized here (in English).

On the question of legitmacy: Children Born Outside Marriage in France and their Parents. Recognitions and Legitimations since 1965.  Text is in English, and loaded with statistics concerning changes in practice over time.

Here’s a research paper exploring the range of issues in how biological versus social paternity is handled across Europe.  It is useful as an introduction to the kinds of issues that are in play, and how different countries have dealt with them.

Some Wikimedia articles that highlight the way French law handles questions of maternity and paternity:

A more academic discussion of the question of genetic testing legislation in Europe is here.  The European Journal of Human Genetics discusses the legal situation in Western Europe here.

Wikimedia’s English-language summary of the history of posthumous marriage is here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Posthumous_marriage. Note there is a slight error, it is Article 171 that gives us the pertinent law.  The related topic of proxy-marriage is discussed here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Proxy_marriage.

There’s a bit on the case law concerning posthumous marriage in Europe if you scroll down to paragragh 247 of Le Couple et la Convention Européenne des Droits de l’Homme .  Google translate struggles a bit on this one.  The French Code Civil (in French) is here.

On the topic of posthumous marriage, the only Church document, at all, which I could find was this: http://www.radiovaticana.va/Afr_bulletin/14_05_14.html.  The relevant part is here, boldface mine:

D. AUX CHEFS DE FAMILLE
24 – Chers chefs de famille, votre place n’est plus à démontrer, et votre responsabilité est capitale. L’impact de votre action peut être positif ou négatif, selon que vous agissez conformément ou non à la volonté de Dieu. Il vous donne de prendre soin des personnes qu’il vous confie. Votre mission est à la fois honorable et complexe. C’est sur vous que repose la cohésion de la famille, en matière de dot, de gestion d’héritage et de conflits, de traitement des veuves, des veufs et des orphelins. Dans cet ordre d’idées, à la lumière de la tradition et de l’Evangile, nous dénonçons la pratique illégale qui consiste à demander une dot trop élevée. Respectez ce que prévoit le code de la famille (art. 140). Nous condamnons la pratique du mariage posthume (versement de la dot lors du décès de la conjointe). Appliquez-vous avec courage, avec toute votre force, à accomplir dignement votre mission de chef de famille.

Nous vous assurons, de notre soutien, de notre proximité, de notre prière et de notre bénédiction.

The context is not (at all whatsoever) the French civil law on posthumous marriage.  Rather, the bishops are condemning the practice of asking too high of a dowry, and therefore also the practice of “posthumous marriage” as a vehicle for receiving the payment of the dowry when the bride has died.

By way of comparison on the topic of the French civil code’s practice of posthumous marriage, here’s the Code of Canon Law on the topic of “radical sanation,” which is something completely different.  It’s of interest because it shares the concept of “going back in time and fixing things” where marriage is concerned.  And that’s it — no other connection between the two.

 

File:Zingende boerenfamilie Rijksmuseum SK-A-376.jpeg "Singing Peasant Family"

I searched on “French Family” and the results came up Dutch.  Thanks Wikimedia!

The Makings of a Psychiatric Service Dog – Meet Frank and Josef

I’ve long been interested in service dogs, but something new to me is the idea of a psychiatric service dog.  You may have heard of “emotional support animals,” companion animals that help a person stay calm and cope with challenging situations just by being around in a general way.  You might think of it as passive support.

A psychiatric service dog, in contrast, is trained to perform specific tasks that actively help the handler through PTSD, anxiety, or other crisis episodes.  The dog actively monitors the handler’s well-being, and takes action to intervene or assist when needed.

Now a dear friend of mine is in the process of seeing if he and his dog have what it takes to be formally trained as a psychiatric support dog team — and all signs are very promising.

 

This is Josef Hathaway:

Image contains: 1 person, sunglasses, hat and closeup

Josef being himself.  Photo by Mary Hathaway, used with permission. 

He’s creative and insightful and a natural problem-solver.  His father John writes:

Josef was asking about getting an outside cat. Mary facetiously suggested, about an hour before Mass, that he catch one of the feral cats that prowl our yard. A bit later, we’re in our room getting ready and hear a loud crash! I thought another tree had fallen. We heard the girls, but no Joe.

Josef?!” Mary called.

“Yes?!” called a voice from below our feet.

“What are you doing?”

“You said I could trap a cat!” He was in the basement, pulling out the old dog cages.

“I also suggested you clean your room!”

“Yeah, but that’s boring!”

He’s funny and playful and loving.  This is a story Mary tells about Joseph and one of his three sisters:

Josef (menacingly): Gianna, you’re about to have a HEART ATTACK!

Me: Josef!

I turn around, and he proceeds to attack her by throwing paper hearts at her. (Phew.) LOL

Josef also has high functioning autism (Asperger’s) with a mood disorder, for which he receives professional treatment supervised by a psychologist specializing in his diagnoses.  At home, his parents provide the structure, diet, behavioral interventions, medical care, and family life adaptations designed by his care team for his situation.

One thing that helps him is time spent with animals.   Josef volunteered for about seven months in the puppy room at the  CSRA Humane Society.  The decision to adopt Frank the dog, though, was inspired by another Frank:

Dean Koontz (dog aficionado) led me to Frank Redman, who recommended we get Josef a lab, and we ended up adopting a lab already named Frank, rescued from Hurricane Matthew. That’s his back story. The SPCA brought him over from Charleston to their shelter during the hurricane.

When the family adopted Frank the dog, they were looking for a good companion who enjoyed chasing balls.  They had no idea how attuned he would be to the moods of the members of his adopted pack.  With no training at all, Frank has already started actively working as a psychiatric service dog.

Mary shares an example of way the Frank helps Josef calm down from a panic attack:

Josef had another panic attack.

Fifteen minutes before “Contractors for Christ” [coming to help the family with yard maintenance] showed up…he locked himself in his bedroom (John has now removed the door handle), and he was sobbing.

Frank came back and started barking at the door. John was able to get in, and Frank kept jumping up on Josef (kindly–not vicious) and barking at him and pawing at his hands so he would have to stop hurting himself.

Josef then went and closed himself in the closet, and then Frank barked at the door, I opened it, and he again came in and sat down with Josef and barked at him gently to calm down.

Josef was pretty stirred up–he gets anxious about anyone coming over, even if it’s someone he’s known for a while–so, he was still not 100%. But, thanks to Frank, he calmed down, thankfully.

Here’s an example of how attuned Frank is to Josef’s mood, and how quickly he intervenes to help:

Josef just talked to Frank Redman via Skype, and Josef joked that he was scared of something and fake whimpered. Frank came bolting into the room and started licking his hand.

This is all raw talent.  The Hathaways are arranging to consult with a professional psychiatric service dog trainer, to determine if Frank and Josef are candidates for training as a team.

Frank, black Labrador retriever, resting on the couch with Josef.

Photo of Frank and Josef, copyright John & Mary Hathaway, used with permission.

The Unbearable Sameness of “Cool”

When you study buzzwords or fad words from each generation, very few stand the test of time. “Groovy”? “Hep”? “Tight”? “Gnarly”? (Really?) Nope. All of them – gone from our lexicon. However, one has stood strong for at least 3 generations. That is “cool”.

I don’t know why this specific word has lasted for so long, but I think I understand why what the word represents has endured. The idea is that you not only fit in, but that you fit in very nicely. Cool is comfortable. It fills that 3rd level of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. It means we are accepted and maybe even respected by the tribe.

Long ago, ‘cool’ meant being different in some sort of interesting way. The ‘differentness’ is what made the person (or the action) ‘cool’. However, ‘cool’ wasn’t usually associated with virtue or engaging in something ‘good’ or particularly healthy or virtuous. And that’s the downside – the dark side – of ‘cool’. It was never about becoming fully alive. It was never about growing as a person or being the best version of oneself. It was typically about wearing masks and aspiring to something that wasn’t worth the effort.

That differentness imbued with a general lack of goodness or virtue has become sameness. When you look around these days, ‘cool’ is about blending and conformity. Challenging traditional values was once considered ‘cool’. Now, if you don’t challenge them and conform to the ‘new normal’, you’re likely to be marginalized with visceral enthusiasm. Wearing underwear on the outside of one’s clothing (or in place of outer garments) used to be reserved for Superman. (Probably not the impression he was trying to give, though.) Now, if you leave anything to others’ imagination, you’re prudish. Getting a tattoo was once a unique thing to do. Now, it’s not a matter of getting a tattoo to express individuality – it’s that you’re kind of strange if you don’t get one. (This is not a judgment on tattoos, by the way – just saying that they hold no inherent ‘goodness’ or value.)

This new definition of ‘cool’ doesn’t just lack virtue, though – it’s not even cool. It’s now about fitting the beautiful diversity of what every single person brings to the table into a very small box – and a boring box of sameness, to boot.

But perhaps herein lies opportunity to rekindle ‘cool’ in a whole new way – a way that makes goodness and virtue desirable as something ‘different’. Recall those words from 1 Corinthians 12 where St. Paul says, “For the body does not consist of one member but of many. If the foot should say, ‘Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,’ that would not make it any less a part of the body. And if the ear should say, ‘Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,’ that would not make it any less a part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would be the hearing? If the whole body were an ear, where would be the sense of smell? But as it is, God arranged the organs in the body, each one of them, as he chose. If all were a single organ, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, yet one body.’”

There is a reason each of us is different. We all have unique talents which aren’t always appreciated by others, but that shouldn’t stop us from fully developing them for the good of mankind and for the glory of God. We’re meant to strive for goodness and virtue. Becoming more virtuous means becoming more like God. Anything else is disordered and a waste of our efforts. It’s just not ‘cool’ (in this new sense, of course).

Dare to be different. Dare to be the best you imaginable. Dare to let others see God through your actions. How cool would that be?

Vincent married up more than a quarter century ago and is a proud father of 5 wonderful daughters. He teaches business classes at a college in Greenville, SC, but thrives on discussing controversial topics, especially as they relate to Church teachings on sexual morality.

Lent Days 10-15: No Silence

Monday evening SuperHusband walks in the door and he’s got a business call, important.  The children know what that means.  Time for quiet in the house.

They are finishing up the evening clean-up, but thoughtfully withdraw from the kitchen so their dear father won’t be disturbed by the clatter of dishes being washed.  Two children, surveying the mess in their bedroom, decide the old sheets of bubble wrap need to be tossed.  Immediately.  Which means bubbles need to be popped, immediately.

Well aware their father is on the phone, they cross the hall to the bathroom, shut the door, and start jumping on those bubbles.

Children never cleaned so vigorously.

I knock and open and thank them for their consideration, but explain that one mustn’t pop bubble wrap at all while someone is taking an important phone call just meters away.

***

And that summarizes the State of Lent, Days 10-15.  FYI the reason for the radio silence here was not a fit of holiness but a significant computer problem which required the services of Senior IT Guy, who was out of town.  Seems to be fixed now and we are back on track.  Perhaps Lent is likewise. We’ll see.

Trappist monk, back to the photographer, sitting at his desk attending to spiritual reading.

Photo by Daniel Tibi (Own work) [CC BY 2.0 de], via Wikimedia Commons.  If you enter the search term “Trappist” in Wikimedia, most of the results are for beer.

Why Annulments Matter

From this morning’s Gospel:

He [Jesus] said to them, “Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her; and if she divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery.”

One of the reasons I think that people get upset about the question of divorce, remarriage, and Holy Communion is that they don’t understand what’s happening.  I’d like to look today at the question of what an annulment is, and I want to do so by way of an analogy.  Like all analogies, it is imperfect.  Still, I think it sheds light on the overall situation.

An Otherwise Decent Guy Gets Into a Mess

Imagine you’re a young man in your twenties.  Like many young people, you were a tad promiscuous during college, something you shouldn’t have done, but, well, you did.  One Saturday morning you answer the door and one of your college girlfriends is standing there, with a darling little boy at her side.  He’s the spitting image of his mother.

Your ex-girlfriend explains that the boy is probably yours. She apologizes for not informing you sooner, and appeals to your better self and asks you to do the right thing.  The boy needs his father to be in his life.

A Decent Guy Becomes a Stand-up Guy

After you recover from the shock if it all, you do exactly what she was hoping: You agree that of course you will do your best to be a good father to any child of yours.

This isn’t going to be easy.  There are good reasons you and the boy’s mother stopped dating each other.  There will be lots of complications to work through.  You are now going to have to devote a massive amount of time and income and emotional reserve to the rearing of this boy.  You’ll have to reorganize your career and personal plans to make sure you can give this boy the attention from you that he deserves. It’s not easy to be a parent, and it’s even harder when you aren’t married to your child’s mother.

But you are a decent human being, and the least you can do in this world is be a good father to your own child.  It’s not something you have to think about.  Of course you’ll do it, you tell her.

Except There’s This Other Guy

There’s one hitch though: Neither of you are 100% sure you’re the father.

The dates all work out, but honestly? She was a tad promiscuous herself.  There’s at least one other college friend who might be the father instead.

Your ex-girlfriend thinks it’s more likely that you are the father, which is why she came to you first.  She asks you to take a paternity test, which will clear up all doubt.  You agree that’s a good idea.

Why Does Paternity Matter?

Let’s review two important facts:

  • It’s quite likely you are the father.
  • You have every intention of being the best father you can to this little boy, if he is in fact your son.

But still, it’s important in this complicated situation to ascertain paternity if possible.  Why?  Two reasons:

  • It’s important because the boy has a right to be reared by his own father, if possible.  There are many situations in which, unfortunately, a child cannot be raised by his own biological parents.  But if it is possible, he and his parents will both rightly want that to happen.
  • Likewise it’s important because the responsibilities of a man towards his own child are significantly different than his responsibilities towards children in general.

You’re a stand-up guy.  If the boy isn’t yours, you’ll still wish him and his mother well, and you’ll do all the things that any decent man does to help the children of his community.  But it would not be fair to you to expect you to rear a child to whom you have no particular connection, and it also would not be fair to the boy and his real father.

The two of them deserve the opportunity to be father and son, if that is possible.  It would be an injustice for you to step in and presume the rights that properly belong to some other man.

What’s a Marriage Tribunal?

A marriage tribunal is something like a paternity test.  A paternity test attempts to answer the question: Am I the father of this child?  A marriage tribunal attempts to answer the question: Am I married to this person we’ve assumed until now was my spouse?

As with paternity tests, we don’t examine the validity of marriages except in difficult circumstances — situations where there is reasonable doubt.  If you are separated or divorced, the question might reasonably come up.  Whatever circumstances led to the separation might hint that no valid marriage was ever contracted in the first place.

Like a paternity test, the purpose of a marriage tribunal isn’t to give you the answer you want, its purpose is to give you the truth: Do I have a solemn and irrevocable bond with this other person, or do I not?

 

File:Biertan house for divorcing people.jpg

Photo: The Beirtan house for divorcing people, via Wikimedia.  The photographer’s description explains: “This small building stands next to the church of Biertan (Birthälm). There was the habit to close there for two weeks the couples that wanted to divorce. Inside there was only a bed and the necessary to eat. It actually worked because in 400 years only one couple eventually decided to break up.”  By Alessio Damato [GFDL, CC-BY-SA-3.0, CC BY-SA 2.5-2.0-1.0].

 

 

Authority in Marriage, a Free Retreat, and The Feast of the Chair of St. Peter

Working backward through the title, we begin with some thoughts on the feast of the Chair St. Peter, as written several years ago in anticipation of today’s feast.  Jesus has just given the eat-my-flesh ultimatum, and as others are leaving, our Lord asks Peter if he’s going, too.  Peter’s response is one of my two favorite St. Peter quotes:

“To whom should we go, Lord? You alone have the words of everlasting life.”

. . . He doesn’t say, “Goodness, no, Lord! We know what you really have planned, and it all makes perfect sense.” He doesn’t even say, “Well, your forearm looks like it might be palatable enough, if I could call dibs.” Peter doesn’t have an argument. He cannot make the case that what Jesus is telling him he must do is perfectly reasonable. What Jesus is telling him to do is perfectly unreasonable. . .

Peter’s answer? Well. I don’t know how this can possibly work. I don’t understand it and it doesn’t make sense. But I know you, and I know what you have done so far. I know you can forgive sins. I know you can open the very gates of Heaven. Where exactly else am I going to go? You’re all I’ve got.

Um, I don’t really have any place better to be, Lord, so I guess I’ll stay.

This is an excerpt from the free Lord You Know I Love You retreat. (You can find out my other favorite quote by clicking through and scrolling to p. 7.)   The retreat is suited for use on your own or in a group, and comes with a pile of suggestions for how to adapt it for different situations.  Two ways to use it this time of year:

  1. Use it over the next week to reflect on what you’d like to undertake for Lent.
  2. Use it during Lent to reflect on where you need to grow in your faith over the next year.

Both versatile and free. That and my other free downloads can all be found here.

And finally, at Mass this morning, Father brought up in passing the topic of authority in the home.  He was using the example of a father’s authority over his household as a way to explain to the children the idea of the pope’s authority.

People get upset about this idea.  I think they are not paying close attention.

Here is something you must understand about marriage: No man becomes the head of his household until his would-be wife appoints him to that position.  Likewise, every man who heads the family home has on hand for advice, admonishment, and loyal opposition the woman he chose for that work.   This is not despotism.  Marriage is the purest democracy we’ve got.

In celebration of the Met making its collection available online for download, enjoy these Cypresses [public domain].  Details about the painting are here, including related works of interest and loads of other good stuff.  Bless these guys, amen.

Learning to Appreciate the Big Things in Life

So the reason I vanished from the internet like I’d been kidnapped in broad daylight is that I had to quick plan a massive trip to Europe.  (I know!)  A different day, I will write more about the how-to’s of pulling off that feat; for now just know that yes, it consumed my every free minute from the moment the opportunity opened up until the transport, lodging, and insurance were firmly established.

You understand, because you, too, have something you want to do that, if you were suddenly given the chance, you’d drop everything and make it happen.  I want to talk about what it takes to make that thing happen for you.

The One Big Thing

I think “bucket lists” are nonsense.  Life isn’t like that.  My list of priorities looks like this:

  1. God.
  2. My vocation as a wife and mother.
  3. Everything else.

#1 and #2 are inseparably intertwined — doing one means doing the other, always.  #3 is composed of all the other things that might be important, but that when push comes to shove you can pout all you want, I’m not available to do that thing you think I should be doing, if it interferes with #1 and #2.

Still, there’s a pile of good stuff behind door #3, including a long list of, “It would sure be nice if . . .” items.  It would sure be nice to have a bigger, prettier house.  It would sure be nice to visit New England.  It would sure be nice to take the kids to Mount Vernon (God-willing, that’s next summer).  The One Big Thing also sits behind door #3, but in a different corner of the Everything Else room.

We have a friend whose One Big Thing was to invest in a large, well-appointed home for his eventual wife and children.  It was so important to him that he started saving up for that house while he was still in college.   It’s not that he would have felt like he’d failed in life, or “missed out,” or that his happiness depended on having that house.  It was just important enough to him that he was willing to sacrifice a lot of other good things in order to make it happen if he could.  (And he did.)

You have some things like that.  Things that maybe are achievable or maybe they aren’t, but if you do get the chance, you’d be willing to set aside a lot of other good stuff in order to make your One Big Thing happen.

The Things We Set Aside

So I’ve been thinking about taking my kids on this trip since I was sixteen years old.

(Yes, that’s right: I wasn’t dating anybody, I hadn’t yet met the man I’d eventually marry, it would be another decade before the first child was even born.  I was sixteen years old and walking along a misty tree-lined alley leading up to a historic French chateau, and I knew that one day I wanted to share that moment’s experience with my future children.)

Everybody has a different financial picture, so this isn’t a talk about how if you just do what I do you can have your big thing.  But I want to make it clear that there’s a long list of good, worthwhile things we’re forgoing to make the One Big Thing happen.  On that list:

  • All superfluous purchases.  I was going to bring home flowers for Valentine’s day, but I need that $2.99 to be in the bank this summer.
  • A laptop that works.  My trusty Surface Pro has given it up, and thus one of the reasons I don’t write as much lately is that I don’t have a computer I can take to another room when the family’s all home, and I do have to jockey for time on the shared machines.  So basically I’ve made the decision that something I really love, writing, is just not going to happen as much as I’d like, for a while.
  • A new-used car.  Our minivan has 170,000 miles on it.  The doors either don’t lock or don’t open or sometimes both.  The paint job is Green and Black Cheetah because we’ve filled in with primer where the original finish is rusting out.  There is no interior carpet anymore, just bare metal with strategically-placed rubber mats.  We’d been planning to upgrade to something conceived this millennium, but my mechanical engineer tells me we can get that baby to 200K, no problem.  So that’s what we’ll be doing.
  • Living room furniture.  When we updated the circa-1985 paint in the living room and hallways this Christmas, we donated our couch and recliner, from the same era and in the same general condition, to other worthy recipients.  What’s there instead?  Lawn chairs.  Really nice ones, yes: They’re the ones we got from Lowe’s on clearance and had previously been using to kit the screen porch.  They just got promoted to a full-time, permanent gig as Chief Living Room Furniture.
  • More house space.  Eventually that minivan is going to need to be replaced.  Good thing we just painted, because this family of six is going to be squeezed into the three-bedroom ranch for a long time to come.

I mention that last one not because it’s a big deal (I know larger families living in smaller houses), but because to a lot of people, a spacious home is their One Big Thing.

You just have to know yourself and know what trade-offs fit the kind of person you are.  No matter how rich you are, you can’t have everything you’re able to want.  We all have to prioritize, and give up some good things in order to have other good things that are more important to us.

Seizing the Day

I’m not omnipotent nor omniscient, and neither are you.  There’s no telling what will happen between now and the end of June.  Perhaps our plans all come to naught.  One of the ways you know you’ve hit your One Big Thing is because you can honestly say to yourself: Even if this doesn’t work out, I have to try it, because I will always regret not having taken my chance when it came.

[Tip: If you are making a significant financial investment in anything, get that investment insured.  You can insure a house, a car, a boat, a musical instrument, and yes, even a trip.]

In our case, what happened is that we were thinking about taking a much more reasonable, but still-ambitious, stateside family trip.  That was another thing we’ve always wanted to do and here we were: The kids were at the ideal age, my health was finally decent again, there was a slot when we could take the time off and make it happen.

So we talked about a variety of other, much more sane choices.  Then one day I came to my senses.  I told my husband: I would rather not go anywhere this summer, and save up for as long as it takes to make my One Big Thing happen.

And he briefly set aside all reason and scruples and determined that he really, really loves me, and that maybe we should talk about this.  I pointed out that I’ve been talking about doing this trip since as long as he’s known me, and also there has not been a single time in the past decade when I was physically able to make it happen.  Our son graduates high school next year.  If I wanted to do it, now was literally the only time.

So I did it.  Trip is booked.

File:1138357639 3c5c483074 o Haut Koenigsbourg CC by Fr Antunes.jpg

This is where we’re going.  Photo by Fr_Antunes (Flickr) [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons. And no I won’t be live-blogging it, because: I don’t have a working laptop.  That’s fine.  My One Big Thing wasn’t “taking the internet on this trip,” it was, “taking my kids on this trip.”  I don’t recall ever giving birth to a computer, thanks.