One of the takeaways of this election this is that we’ve all siloed ourselves away in our self-selected Facebook feeds. We listen to most our news and hang out primarily with those who think and talk like us. One piece of any healing will be opening up those feeds and doing the messy work of communicating with people who have strongly different opinions. That means really respecting the worldview people are sharing (and that’s as hard for me as for anyone) and listening through to emotions and life experiences that have brought people into our lives. Basic listening tips apply: try not to judge or accuse or name call. If someone with less privilege tells you they’re scared, consider they might have a valid concern and don’t interrupt or tell them they’re being alarmist.
But all this also means apologizing and forgiving each other and being okay with a high level of messiness. It’s not easy and it won’t always work. We will not always have our opinion prevail and that’s okay. We are all in this together.
Websites are starting to talk about a Donald Trump presidential cabinet and the names highlight a curiosity of this election: many of the principle insiders come from Northeast Corridor states that voted for Hillary Clinton. Rudolph Giuliani and Chris Christie, are, like the whole Trump family, metro New Yorkers and as far as I know Newt Gingrich lives in northern Virginia.
I’ve lived in Chris Christie’s New Jersey since he was elected governor and I find it really hard to believe he’s suddenly going to have a strong interest in the Midwestern red states that gave Trump the win. You can point to VP-elect Mike Pence of Indiana, but as far as I can tell he was only brought on for strategic reasons and is not part of the Trump circle.
What really can Trump do to bring back the good paying jobs that disappeared decades ago? Our economy has been shifting regardless of which party occupies the Oval Office. There’s sops and pork to be doled out, but the national economy has been centralizing in the big coastal cities that our new political leaders call home (the same would have been true with a Clinton presidency). What if Trump’s election is the ultimate prank: red states selling their vote to a New York developer who will mostly continue to develop the New York-to-DC corridor?
The most popular post on my blog, year after year (and now decade after decade), is a 2005 piece on baby names: Unpopular Baby Names: Avoiding the Jacobs, Emilys and Madisons. We used the techniques listed to aid in our attempt to give our own kids classic names that wouldn’t be overused among their peers. The 2015 numbers are out from the Social Security Administration. How did we do? The charts below shows the respective rankings from 2015 to the year they were born.
The names of our two “babies” — Gregory, 5, and Laura, 4, are both less popular now than they were the year we named them. Yea! They’re both in the low 300s – viable names but far from overused.
Francis, now 10, was dropping in popularity and dropping into the low 600s. With that trend, we actually worried about the name becoming too unpopular. But an uptick started in 2010 and became pronounced in 2013 when an Argentinian named Jorge Mario Bergoglio decided to start calling himself Francis. The name is now in the high 400s.
The popularity of our eldest son’s name, Theodore (“I’m Theo!, don’t call me Theodore!”), started off in the low 300s was holding steady within a 20-point range for years until around 2009. In 2015 it cracked the top 100. It’s only at 99 but clearly something’s happening. Equally disturbing, “Theo” wasn’t even on the top 1000 until 2010, when it snuck in at position 918. Since then it’s leap 100 spots a year. It’s currently at 408 with no sign of slowing.
And for those of you looking to spot trends: did we just call our names early? Maybe “Francis” isn’t a slow climb but is about the go shooting for the top 100 in two years time. Maybe “Gregory” and “Laura” will be all the rage for mothers come 2020. Yikes!
My mother died a few days ago. While I’m overwhelmed with the messages of prayers and condolences, at least at some level it feels like cheating to accept them too fully. This isn’t a new condition. This is just the final moment of a slow-motion death.
A little over five years ago my mother was formally diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. It was quite brave of her to get the testing done when she did. This had always been her most-feared scenario for aging. Growing up, we had befriended an active elderly neighbor who had gently died in her sleep after a minor slip on some ice. My mom thought that was the best exit ever. She swore Mrs. Goldsmith had come to her in a dream the next night to congratulate herself, saying “See, I told you I was lucky!” For years afterwards, my mother convinced herself that she would go in a similarly elegant way.
My mom, Liz, must have sensed that Alzheimer’s was a possibility when she scheduled that doctor’s visit. The news didn’t come as much of a surprise to us family. I had been joking for years that my mom seemed to have only twenty stories that she kept on rotation. After she read a study that crossword puzzles keep your brain sharp as we age, she became an obsessive crossword puzzler; when the Sudoku craze hit, she was right on top of it. She had bravely bought her first house in her late 60s. How proud she was. At the time she let us all know, repeatedly, that she would be leaving it “in a box.” Caulking trim, replacing windows, and troubleshooting a mud room leak that defied a dozen contractors became her occupation, along with volunteering and watching grandkids. But by 2010, she must have known she wasn’t going to have Mrs. Goldsmith’s luck. It was time to adjust.
When she called to tell me the diagnosis, she couldn’t even use the A-word. She told me her “brain was dying” and that the doctor was putting her on Aricept. A quick Google search confirmed this was an Alzheimer’s drug and a call with the doctor later that afternoon helped map out the road ahead.
Alzheimer’s is a slow-motion death. She’s been disappearing from us for a long while. Regular outings became less frequent till we couldn’t even take her out to a nearby restaurant for her birthday. As words disappeared and speech began faltering, I’d show her recent kid photos on my phone and tell stories to fill the emptying space. Eventually she stopped showing interest even in this. On my last regular visit with her, I brought the kids and we had lots of fun taking pictures. Mom kept pointing out at the phone’s display as if it were a mirror. But conversation was too disjointed and after a few minutes, my kids started wandering in ever widening circles looking for interesting buttons and alarms to touch and pull and I had to round them up to leave.
In the past few weeks her forgetfulness has extended to eating and swallowing. Intervention would only buy a little more time until she forgot how to breathe. Alzheimer’s is a one way trip.
On my last few visits she was mostly sleeping. She’s was calm, preternaturally calm. Lying on her back, pale and peaceful, she looked as if she might already be a body resting in a casket. Only the slight rise of sheets as she breathed gave away the news that she was still with us, if barely. I felt awkward just sitting there. Some people are good in these kinds of situations, but I self-consciously struggle. With little chance of interaction, I struck on the idea of reading from a favorite book of poems that she had read to me on countless nights as a child. “Up into the cherry tree, who should climb but little me?” I don’t know if she heard me or pictured the cherry tree in her haze, but it was a way for us to be together.
The slow-motion nature of Alzheimer’s means she slept a lot until she didn’t. For reasons that go deep into biography, she was a wonderfully friendly person who didn’t have a lot of close friends anymore. It seems peculiar that one can walk upon the earth for so many decades and only have a dozen or so people notice your departure. But then maybe that’s the norm for those who live deep into their eighties. Most of us will leave life with the same kind of quiet ripples with which we entered.
Becky Thomas Ankeny’s message at George Fox Chapel yesterday is beautiful litany of God’s call to all people. It is especially meant for those who grew up in a religious culture/church who told you that you cannot minister.
George Fox University Chapel — GFU Chapel
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On Tuesday, Dec 28 my lovely wife Julie gave birth to our third son. After some dithering back and forth (we’re methodical about baby names) we picked Gregory. Everyone is happy and healthy. Vital stats: 20 inches, 7 pounds 9 oz. The brothers are adjusting well, though Theo’s first response to my phone call telling him it was a boy was “oh no, another one of those.”
That’s 5yo Francis (aka “little big brother”) and 7yo Theo (“big big brother”) meeting their new sibling at the hospital. More pics in the Gregory! and Gregory in the Hospital sets on Flickr.
As you can see, we’ve basically bred triplets spaced over three years apart. As further evidence, here’s Theo and Francis in their first pics (links to their announcement posts):
As I mentioned, we’re methodical about names. When we were faced with Baby #2 I put together the “Fallen Baby Names Chart” – classic names that had fallen out of trendy use. It’s based on the current ranking of the top names of 1900. “Gregory” doesn’t appear on our chart because it was almost unused until a sudden appearance in the mid-1940s (see chart, right). Yes, that would be the time when a handsome young actor named Gregory Peck became famous. It peaked in 1962, the year of Peck’s Academy Award for To Kill a Mockingbird and has been dropping rapidly ever since. Last year less than one in a thousand newborn boys were Gregory’s. While we recognize Peck’s influence in the name’s Twentieth Century popularity, Julie is thinking more of Gregory of Nyssa [edited, I originally linked to another early Gregory]. Peck’s parents were Catholic (paternal relatives helped lead the Irish Easter Rising) and were presumably thinking of the Catholic saint when they gave him Gregory for a middle name (he dropped his first name Eldred for the movies).
In early December 2009, I got a call from a prospective client who wanted me to build a website for her husband’s home improvement business. The catch? She wanted it to be a surprise Christmas present! She started collecting pictures from his clients and I went to work with a simple but expandable WordPress site. Reports are that Brad was thrilled! See it live: http://www.bradleywinkler.com/