Life is the Answer

As a young nurse I worked on the pediatric/adolescent unit at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York City. Death then was common; cancer treatment has advanced a great deal since the Seventies. The experience taught me valuable life lessons: that I am mortal, that life is precious and must be treasured and lived well, and that young people are resilient and amazing. In time I worked as a hospice nurse and began to understand death as a part of life. My faith provides me with the strength to embrace all of life, including death. But death by suicide - especially the death by suicide of young people - is tragic to me. I know I will always react with a broken heart when I hear of a young life lost.


I'd like to share an online response to recent suicides. Noted writer and media pundit Dan Savage founded the It Gets Better Project in September 2010 as a unique way for supporters everywhere to tell LGBT Youth that — it gets better ( I quote from the website: 


"Justin Aeberg. Billy Lucas. Cody Barker. Asher Brown. Seth Walsh. Raymond Chase. Tyler Clementi. All the names of American teenagers who in recent months have taken their own lives after being bullied in school.


For too long, LGBT youth have been forced to struggle through their formative years suffering from bullies in their schools, churches and homes — and with no support system to provide them any help. is a place where young people who are gay, lesbian, bi, or trans can see with their own eyes how love and happiness can be a reality in their future. It’s a place where LGBT adults can share the stories of their lives, and straight allies can add their names in solidarity and help spread our message of hope."


I'd also like to recommend a new music video by Season Nine American Idol  contestant Todrick Hall ( Hall wrote the song to support the It Gets Better project; the video and lyrics are moving and on target. "I heard about all of the recent suicides, and I knew that I had to do something," Hall told BlackVoices. "God put this song on my heart, and I put it down on paper."


If you know a young person who is being bullied for any reason, show your love and support him or her. Model acceptance. Remind teens by your words and your actions that they are not alone. Our Real Talk Performers are working on a play about bullying called "Labels". The final lines, performed eloquently by our lead actor James MacKinney, state: The most important things are simple. We're all different. We can rise above the labels assigned to us. We're not alone. We can learn and grow stronger. We're alive and is the right choice!


Posted by Mary Jo in Real Life
Faith, Food and Family

Sunday morning. It's fitting that I start this blog on a Sunday morning. I grew up in an Italian-American household where Sunday was the most important day of the week; a day of rest, worship, family, food, contemplation, and renewal. As a nurse I've worked more Sundays than I can count but I always tried to retain a sense of sacred on that day.


My childhood Sundays revolved around church and food. My mother was awake at 6 AM making tomato sauce (in our family we called it 'gravy' like they did on the Sopranos). Church was at 10:30, "dinner" was at noon. Not 12:01 or 12:05, but 12:00 on the dot! My papa was an immigrant; he moved from his native Italy as a 14 year old and never looked back. He always said he'd return to Naples when they built a bridge! My mother was one of 11 children born to immigrant parents; her first three siblings were born in Italy. I was raised a patriotic, proud American with rich Italian traditions that I've passed on to my children.


My parents only spoke Italian when they didn't want me to understand what they were saying (consequently my knowledge of Italian is a little weird). The constants in my life were faith, family and food - each equally important every day.  We prayed, we supported one another, and we cooked. The cooking part was not only tasty and fulfilling, it was also fun. I was always part of preparing the meal. I learned to knead fresh bread as a preschooler (although my piece of dough was always a tad dirty my mom baked it). My father's garden was larger than our small house and he taught me how to select fresh basil, the ripest tomatoes, and the best lettuce when I was so small I came only to his knee. Picture Tony Soprano - my papa was a big man, although incredibly gentle. My fondest memories of him are in his garden. He knew how to coax huge tomatoes from tiny seeds he brought from Italy. He could graft sweet cherries on a sour cherry tree. He nurtured -  his garden, his family, his church community, and me.


I share a tiny window into my own heritage this morning because culture is on my mind. Our Adolescent Advisory Board has its first meeting this Tuesday, October 12th; our focus this year will be bullying. I want to explore culture and diversity with these fine young people in the hope that knowing about others will help avoid the hate that is the root of bullying.


I believe that every encounter with an adolescent is a cross-cultural experience. By that I mean that walking into teen culture is no different than traveling to another country. How do we learn about other cultures? By listening with respect to someone from that culture. I don't like charts that describe the traits of people in different cultures; such efforts, though well-intentioned, typically draw on stereotypes and generalizations. My papa taught me that we need to bring everyone to the table to eat. We don't learn about people while watching them from the other side of the room...if we break bread together we begin to share lives. I believe in bringing all people to the table; hence our over ten year old Adolescent Advisory Board. If I want to learn about the needs of young people I need to listen to teens. I don't believe in a committee of people gathering together to ascertain the needs of others. If the goal is solving a community's problems you need to listen to people from that community with respect - make them part of the solution, put the leaders in that community in charge.


We're all in this together. Have a blessed Sunday.

Posted by Mary Jo in Real Life