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A first proof of a project on the Poco No. 0 press rescued from the trash.

I can get lost in the type. Surrounded by drawers and drawers of letterpress type, metal, wood, very large to very small. It feels comforting to be around, like visiting long lost friends. And I get to spend some time nearly every day just hanging out with my type friends getting to know them better.

It feels comforting to be around, like visiting long lost friends.

My thoughts wander as I look at the individual letters that once made up a story. It’s like they’re destined to be reborn, found again to make a new story. But for now, the pile of type is pied, jumbled. And I wonder about that word – pied. Did that mean that the Pied Piper of Hamelin was “jumbled” too? Turns out “no,” not exactly.

In the story, however, the Pied Piper wore a very colorful costume and pied was referring to the multiple colors. But I like the idea that perhaps he was a bit “colorful” in his thinking, too. As in the stories lost in the pile of pied, aka jumbled, type. And here I was, playing the role of the Printer’s Devil, sorting through the pile of tiny pieces of type, first by size, and then by typefaces, with some of the metal type tossed into the hell box for melting if too rough a condition to use. Once the second round of sorting is done, then finding a home for the more complete sets of type will be necessary. And that job usually comes with having to clean and probably restore the warped bottom of one of the last drawers still available to fill.

Could they have been the whispered prayers of a grieving soul? Might the words they make be the silent voice of strength in the face of adversity?

What some may see as tedium, I find meditative. As each tiny letter appears before me, I admire the details, the design decisions made in their creation, the changes from one letter to the next in different typefaces, even among the same size. This afternoon it was 6 point to 18 point type. The majority was at the smallest size and fascinated me with the differing heights and widths of the capital letters from different typefaces even as they measured the same physical size.

I wondered… what could have been written with these tiny letters? Was it the fine print of a contract? Could they have been the whispered prayers of a grieving soul? Might the words they make be the silent voice of strength in the face of adversity? These thoughts wander through my mind like wisps of smoke as I pick up small handfuls of the pied type, blowing off the dusty fragments of nesting material from mice who’d made their way into the typecases in an abandoned printshop long before the cases made their way here, to my little corner of letterpress heaven.

A small batch of pied type ready to be sorted. Previously, I had sorted through bags of new type that had fallen from their original boxes.

The letterpress studio has been a longtime coming. I think about how it has been a whirlwind of activity ever since early May when my younger daughter told me she was thinking about selling her Charles Brand etching press, the one that I bought her the Spring after her dad passed away. The seller was an old professor of hers in Ann Arbor and we’d settled on a price. But then a few days later he came back asking for more, apparently having gotten a higher offer. It was a poor business practice but I wanted her to have the press that would allow her to do what she’d been thriving with in college, and in her work for mentor Endi Paskovic, with woodcut printing.

The letterpress studio has been a longtime coming. I think about how it has been a whirlwind of activity ever since early May when my younger daughter told me she was thinking about selling her Charles Brand etching press, the one that I bought her the Spring after her dad passed away.

When we finally settled on a price and went to pick it up, with Steve’s help and that of several of my daughter’s friends, I stood with the seller and was chatting about printing and letterpress since we had printed my older daughter’s wedding invitations on our own little Kelsey 6×10. He pointed out the pieces to a printing press scattered across his garage floor, a very large 12×18 Chandler & Price platen press that he had brought from California long ago and now was doing a full restoration after his divorce. Do you want it? he asked. For free… since you were buying the other press, he said.

The 2500 lb. press made its way home, with lots of help and an extra trip to Ann Arbor since the combined weight with the Charles Brand would have been too much for the box trailer we were using. That was nearly 8 years ago. The C&P is still here… and so is my now husband, Steve who is more determined then ever to finish assembling the press, especially now that it has an honored place in the newly reorganized studio. Once the Charles Brand was set to sell, and my daughter’s flat files removed from precious floor space in the studio, things changed quickly.

A Vandercook #4 proofing press was in an estate sale south of us, an unusual opportunity that I couldn’t pass up. But a weekend before the sale started I called the estate sale manager to ask questions. After a little back and forth, he asked me to come down to look over the printing stuff to give him some advice since his own knowledge of it was far more limited than even my own.

We drove down in the pouring rain in the Tesla on Monday, driving dirt roads when I’d mistakenly thought it would be safer to stay off the highways. By the time we got there, nearly 2 hours later, we spent time going through everything, putting items that belonged together, describing the purpose of some of the items, and generally noting the condition of many of the pieces. I asked about the Vandercook’s sale price, and he said he’d asked an expert to provide an valuation. He said he was told it would be worth around $9-12,000. I laughed nervously saying that was too rich for my blood. But I left him with a lower offer I thought I could manage. Still he said no, that he was going to auction it off. We drove back in the rain, this time taking the highways and got home in less than an hour.

The next morning, after all the rain, Steve discovered quite a mess in the basement of the Gallery House, a building we renovated next door to use as an extra studio/gallery space. The sump pump had failed and there was now at least two inches of water throughout the basement. It was quite a chore to get a pump running in order to drain as much water as possible. Mopping up the mess that was left took care of most of the rest of the water.

After some reflection on needs vs dreams, I convinced myself that spending thousands on a printing press was just not going to happen and the money would be better spent cleaning out the mess at home.

Then there was the chore of emptying as much of the soaking wet boxes that had not been set up off the floor. There was also the stack of uprights for the custom cherry library from Dad’s office in Florida that my late husband Keith had made. In a rush to get them out of the garage, they had been put directly in the plastic that covered the pea rock of the Michigan basement. That meant the first three or four pieces – 12-15” wide by as much as 10’ high – were soaked, warped and water stained. As I looked around the mess, not knowing if it would dry out before getting moldy, I began to think I was going to have to spend a lot of money to hire someone to unload the mess from the basement. We were finding it too painful for two old people with bad backs working in the 4’10” Michigan basement. After some reflection on needs vs dreams, I convinced myself that spending thousands on a printing press was just not going to happen and the money would be better spent cleaning out the mess at home.

The following Sunday was the last day of the estate sale so I weakened and called to see what was left. The Vandercook was still there. But so was an 8×12 Chandler & Price platen press, almost identical to another one we had bought very cheap at an auction a couple years before. The one we had, however, was missing a gear and Steve was willing to make one. But here was a press we could strip for parts since we believed it was no good as a press, having become rusty from sitting under a leak in the basement under the front porch of the house.

Thinking we were going for parts, we headed down there with some tools to buy the press and take the gear with us, and perhaps buy a few other goodies that we might be able to use that were now selling cheap on the last day. Having failed at selling the Vandercook, the estate sale manager asked me if I was still interested and I explained that things had changed at home due to the basement flood and I could no longer afford my original offer. While we were disassembling the C&P, I overheard him talking to the family representative on the phone, telling her that “she wasn’t interested in the press anymore” which I took to believe that he had been depending on selling it to me to make up for the lack of a higher priced sale.

We headed home in the Tesla with a full carload of iron and various letterpress pieces parts and began making plans to come back later for the last pieces of the C&P.

As it turned out, Steve had forgotten to bring a Johnson pry bar to get apart the last pieces of the C&P. And the C&P itself turned out to be in much better condition than we’d thought, the rust turning out to be only superficial.

We were still there after 3 pm when the sale was supposed to end but weren’t able to get it apart. So I asked the estate sale manager if we could come back the following weekend to get it. “No problem. They’re not selling this place anytime soon.” And the Vandercook, along with everything that was still left, would be sold at auction using an app for the estate sales. So we headed home in the Tesla with a full carload of iron and various letterpress pieces parts and began making plans to come back later for the last pieces of the C&P.

A couple days later I got a text: “When you’re ready to pick up the rest of the press, text Janet” along with her number. I thought maybe Janet was his employee, but soon learned that she was the family member, and that she’d fired the estate sales guy. I called her the next day and also learned that he’d never told her we had already bought and paid for the C&P. She had started getting estimates for getting it removed (the platen alone weighed over 400 lbs.) by a guy who was going to torch it to cut it apart! In a room dripping with leaked oil and solvents!

Janet also told me that the Vandercook was still available and I could have it for a price that was far less than my original offer to the estate sales guy! Another Vandercook #4 had been in an online auction I was following that same week and my mind was blown as the price of that one soared to a final price of over $15,000.

Even so, I told her my concerns about having to pay a fortune for movers get it out of the basement. I knew, at over 1140 lbs, this was something far too big for the two of us to do on our own. We set a date to come back for the C&P and I said I’d let her know then. We went yet again, this time bringing the truck to pick up what was left of the C&P.

Our trip yielded many more items, and a new negotiation for the Vandercook, finally settling for a total price of under $1000 that included a bunch of other items big and small. Once again, we made plans for a return trip, this time with my favorite mover.

In the end, we brought home far more than I’d ever guessed. But the one thing was certain: Norman – the original owner of the press and builder of that home where it lived in its basement – wanted the press to go home with us. It cost me $1500 including a generous tip for the movers for the day. But they carried up the those basement stairs a lot more than that press, including the 400 lb. platen and frame for the C&P, a Hammond Glider Saw, another letterpress-specialty saw, a giant composing cabinet that had to be disassembled, several hundred pounds of metal “furniture” and leads, and miscellaneous stuff too numerous to remember.

It needs rollers and a bit more cleaning and adjusting, but the Vandercook No. 4 is settling into its new home very nicely.

I reflect upon these events as I sort through the bags of pied type, the case of dusty mouse-ridden type from earlier acquisitions, and the newly rearranged shop around me, light streaming in as the presses stand like soldiers waiting for orders.

  • The original restored Kelsey 6×10 – purchased by Keith to print wedding invitations for our oldest daughter. This one started it all.
  • The 12×18 C&P that was given to us when buying the etching press.
  • The Potter proofing press I bought at auction.
  • The Poco proofing press Steve found on FaceBook Marketplace that someone was going to throw away… picked up at the end of the driveway.
  • The 5×7 Kelsey that Steve bought me from a local auction as a present.
  • The 8×12 Oldstyle C&P that we bought at a small town auction which also came with a second much larger 12×18 C&P that we’ve since decided sell for parts.
  • The Vandercook #0 that was buried among piles of other stuff the guy with the two C&Ps was trying to sell.
  • The 8×12 New style C&P we bought at the May sale for $50 just to get the gear we needed.
  • The Vandercook #4 that I’d walked away from, at least twice. And yet it still managed to find its way to our home.

These presses are my creative army preparing for the work ahead, telling stories, sharing typographic expressions, and maybe open up new voices, new thoughts expressed in printed form.

These presses are my creative army preparing for the work ahead, telling stories, sharing typographic expressions, and maybe open up new voices, new thoughts expressed in printed form.

I think that maybe we’re a bit of a pied bunch ourselves: me, Steve and the presses. A bit mixed up. We’re all a bit colorful in our own histories. Whatever it turns out to be, I understand now that all of these presses have found their way home to the pied piper of printing. And together we’ll see what colorful stories we’ll print in the future.

I’m lost in my thoughts, sorting tiny pieces of metal type, cleaning the typecases, as sunlight brightens the room from the three walls of windows that filter it into it as I work.

Blessed. That’s how I’m feeling. Surrounded by antique type, printing presses and cabinets, I’m in my happy place, dreaming of the poetry, creative typography, and other items I’d print in this room. Imagining artist friends, old and new, also working in the space, as our creative spirits feed each other.

My mind drifts to conversations, recent events. Mercury and Jupiter in retrograde and I seem immune. But others in the family haven’t been so lucky. Challenges posed by one thing after another keep coming, some more serious than other. They weigh on my mind as each new issue flows through my thoughts like heavy clouds.

From one side of the family, Steve was managing an upset with one of his grown children who seemed to be having a bit of an emotional breakdown on a sad journey. An offer to come help with a project the following day led to an angry response that his help was needed “now” and a meltdown of personal attacks that were more of a cry of someone feeling like their world was out of control and the lashing out was a sign of despair.

Like the virus that has been plaguing the globe, the anger spread, inflicted on siblings. And then it continued to spread. Swirling from one family member to another, feeding on insecurities and bottled up pain.

But it didn’t end there. Like the virus that has been plaguing the globe, the anger spread, inflicted on siblings. And then it continued to spread. Swirling from one family member to another, feeding on insecurities and bottled up pain. Another who had not yet been vaccinated, flatly refusing to be, siting some Q-Anon type conspiracy misinformation, texted another to “mind his own damn business.”

The storm

All of these things were swirling through my head as I quietly sorted type and cleaned the cases in the studio. A dangerous thunderstorm had hit just last Tuesday afternoon… It came up so fast and I had an impending sense of urgency so I went out and told Steve he needed to send our teenage helper home, having just gotten his license. The helper had left barely 5 minutes and the storm came up too fast. Rain blew horizontally, swirling around corners, winds whipping the trees large and small like a forest of rag dolls. The world looked like layers of grey, accented by the whips of rain-soaked brushes between the fields and forests.

I took a short video as the rains and winds came across the fields and slammed the world around me. But I took cover when it came across the upper covered deck sideways. The time stamp on the video was 1:49 pm. And then it was over.

A video of the storm just as it started, trees whipped around violently as the rain slashed across sideways. It was over in ten minutes.

At 1:59 pm, the time stamp on the first photos I took, we saw the destruction. A huge box elder tree with a gaping yawning mouth lined in red where the smaller trunk split from the main one, had fallen across our fence on the east side, and much of it also landed alongside the house, missing a newly installed exterior lamp post by inches – and the house – by only a few feet.

On the west side, a huge maple on the neighbor’s side of the fence had lost a major limb hit by lightning with many extending branches landed across that fence. It also missed the shop windows by only inches. I’d seen the lightning flash and had immediately begun to count. But I didn’t get to “1” before the thunderous crash. Now we knew what it was based on the blackened trunk where the large limb had been severed and veins of burnt bark ran up the tree trunk.

In the backyard, several trees, already weakened from the water that formed a pond whenever it rained, had been blown over, propped up by neighboring trees. Branches and debris were all over, leaves plastered to the house, cottonwood leaves and branches from a tree in the far backyard were found in the front yard.

And yet, as I looked at it all, and as Steve and I walked through the mess, figuring out what we needed to do to keep the dogs safe until the fence could be repaired, once the trees were removed… I felt blessed.

And yet, as I looked at it all, and as Steve and I walked through the mess, figuring out what we needed to do to keep the dogs safe until the fence could be repaired, once the trees were removed… I felt blessed.

It could have been so much worse. The one tree could have hit the house, it certainly could have reached it if blown in a slightly more northerly direction. The maple could have hit the shop more directly, smashing windows and poking holes into the letterpress studio holding our precious type and printing presses. But none of that had happened. I felt like we were in a protected bubble that had kept us and our home safe.

Now we wait for the tree guys to come in the next week or two to cut and clear the downed trees. Another blessing. I told Steve that he should not have to deal with this giant mess. That we had the funds to cover it. I’d spoken to our insurance advisor who told me what the break-even point was for filing a claim, or not. Based on that information we decided to cover it ourselves. Now we wait. And it doesn’t bother me at all. The broken limbs and leaves all around my view are a real reminder of how well we’d faired. We didn’t lose power – at least not long enough for the generator to even kick on.

Meditating on anger

As I rearranged some of the funny advertising cuts, illustrations, and halftones in the cases – ones I’d like to play with in my own art vs. ones I’d likely never use – other thoughts went rolling through my hive mind. Anger and stress, depression and flaring tempers have been fed by more than divorce and is fed as much by the pain of pandemic politics and fear for the health of those we love. Yet, how could someone send a text to their grown offspring saying “your stuff is on the porch, taco dinners at 6, don’t bother showing up.” There is so much to dissect from this statement, especially within the already divisive pain caused by misinformation about the veracity and threat of COVID19.

My mind went to how one handles anger, revenge and spite. Maybe it’s because I’ve matured. Or maybe I’ve found that responding in anger or spite is a no-win game. There is nothing to be gained by it. Have I gotten angry, lost my temper? Yes. And it wasn’t something that served me. I didn’t feel better about it. Just the opposite. I felt awful. It didn’t bring me peace. It took a lot of painful work to try and heal the rifts it caused.

I’ve been wronged terribly and in very painful and even expensive ways. Yet I see no point in being spiteful, or seeking revenge. …Each person’s spirit will face their own path, their own hard lessons.

And it’s been awhile. I’ve been wronged terribly and in very painful and even expensive ways. Yet I see no point in being spiteful, or seeking revenge. I believe that each person’s spirit will face their own path, their own hard lessons. All I can do is attempt to do my part to support growth, not harm. And to separate myself from those who only offer selfish toxicity rather than love.

As I gathered the metal type borders to move to their new location in another typecase, I tried to also gather my thoughts on how someone could so intentionally hurt a person they loved. I couldn’t do that. As angry as I might be with someone who I thought had hurt me through their actions or words, if we had love between us, I couldn’t hurt them back.

I’ve since learned to try and listen – and think – about what and why they were saying and doing what they were. Was I missing something? Were they also hurt? Were they trying to help me with something? Perhaps I needed to understand more from their perspective and not just be caught up with my own hurt feelings and ego. This is how my brain works these days. I live by the Four Agreements (Don Miguel Ruiz) and it has been instrumental in how I’ve addressed conflicts for many years.

A story from before times

It wasn’t always that way. I remember a time not long after we were first married that my dear first husband Keith had done something to upset me. I don’t even remember what it was. But I was really upset as I washed a glass Pyrex lasagna pan in the sink. He kept at it, picking at the wound that I felt was being inflicted. I held the pan up as if I was going to smash it against the edge of the sink and stopped. I didn’t want the glass to hit him. I didn’t want to hurt him. I just wanted him to know how upset I was. I looked down and saw the rag rug I was standing on and, with both hands, I threw the pan down flat onto it hard.

The glass flew off in all directions and I stood there dumbfounded. I’d forgotten it was a concrete floor underneath the rug at my feet. Keith was shocked as well. But he quick regained his composure, taking me by the elbow and walking me into the living room to sit on the sofa. “I’ll clean this up,” I remember him saying. And he did, as I sat there with tears streaming down my cheeks. I’d ruined a perfectly good lasagna pan, and now there was glass everywhere, even three feet up in the pots of the hanging houseplants in front of the far window of the kitchen.

Keith knew how to push my buttons. There was a bit of a cruel streak in him. But I soon learned that I could push back. That he loved me. I just needed to not push with cruelty but with love. And sometimes he just needed space. It took many years for us to find balance. And it seemed like we were just starting to really find our groove after nearly 30 years of marriage.

He’d learned that bravado and machismo can have consequences for the one you love and I paid the price.

He cared for me when I broke my back and wrist. Guilt played a role. He’d learned that bravado and machismo can have consequences for the one you love and I paid the price.

He was so proud of me when I was accepted into the doctoral program. “My wife’s gonna be Doctor Fulmer,” he’d tell everyone.

We danced at our oldest daughter’s wedding, and I knew dancing was not something he liked to do. Yet he did it. For me. And for our daughter. I will forever treasure that moment, captured in a photo, where we were looking into each other’s eyes and saying “How did we get here?” How did we get old enough to have a married daughter? We did well!

All the heartaches of the past had been just bumps in the road on the way to our next chapter in life as true empty nesters. Just one more year to get the youngest graduated from college and we were on our own again. Blessings were upon us, for sure. And then… and then…

Worry when life’s good

Is it no wonder that I now look at Steve with worry and occasional bouts of melancholy, worried that our time together will be unexpectedly brief? I worry for his health. I worry for his strength. I hear him say such and such an activity “takes the life out of ya” and I think – “not too soon, I hope.” Sometimes I think we’re on borrowed time. Perhaps it’s the blessings I feel, their abundance and good fortune. I worry that, like those days over ten years ago, that within a year or two it’ll all be crushed and my heart will be broken once again.

And in a most prescient way, I feel it, that doom. And I try and chase it away. Thankful of the sounds of the antique riding lawnmower he drives by my studio as I continue my sorting. He smiles in a cheerful shy way as if to say “I’m just having fun with my old toys.” And I smile back at him, not wanting to ruin his fun by mentioning the exhaust that pulls into my studio from the fans I have running. So I go and open a few extra windows to help air it out.

It is also the silence that brings me a feeling of dread. A feeling that I have imagined my life with him, and that I am actually living alone in this giant house. It’s a feeling that I must be out of my mind for having imagined this whole life with this sweet man who brought me love when I needed it most. Together we healed each other and I wonder sometimes if my sanity is undermined and that I have dreamed it all up.

Sometimes I think we’re on borrowed time. … I worry that, like those days over ten years ago, that within a year or two it’ll all be crushed and my heart will be broken once again.

And then he smiles and gives me a hug. And I wonder… if this is my reality, who am I to question it. I just cannot wrap my head around inflicting pain on those you love. There’s enough pain in the world… and in life… already. Count your blessings, spread love, not pain.

I go back to my typecases and admire the mix of order and disorder. There are stories here, yet to be uncovered.


Revised from a diary entry dated July 3, 2021.

Warning: This post includes a reference to my own political views. If any criticism of the recently removed occupant of the White House, aka #45, will upset you, please go elsewhere for your reading. That is, unless you are truly interested in learning about the pain this has caused within families and would like to try and heal that rift. Thank you. – MJF

I often wonder how our conversations would have gone if my Dad were here to have seen how the past 10 months have panned out. We had come to agree not to speak politics, especially at the dinner table. I still remember the day more than four years ago when he asked me why I was screaming when he kept dismissing my concerns about then candidate tRump. I told Dad it was because he terrified me. I could feel the evil he, tRump, was projecting, the cold heartless disregard for others, the narcissistic boasting of lies that his speech pattern revealed, unable to string together a coherent thought while weaving in complete and utter nonsense soaked up by his base who somehow thought being tough meant beating up the opposition. All critical thinking having been abdicated in exchange for a toxic masculinity in what became the cult of the schoolyard bully of tRump.

Mom and Dad in happier healthier times. Summer 2010 visiting the Detroit Zoo as part of a family celebration of their 50th Anniversary.

I remember tearfully and loudly exclaiming how could Dad even consider following him after the toxic expressions of anti-semitism, the admiration of dictators and despots, the complete disregard for human decency and process. My dad dismissively waived off my concerns saying it was just his candidate being boastful, that it would never get that bad. And maybe, I hoped do, too. That the checks and balances of government, and that the fourth estate would be enough. But then came COVID19. And he became so adept at the flippant lies that the cultish base he dog-whistled to had finally been fully brainwashed. And the evil we saw spread in its rabid attack on democracy had reached its peak.

Dad passed away May 1st, 2020 after a brief and ugly battle with cancer, and full of the awful indignities that go with it. And I did my daughterly duties and cared for him, cleaning him up, feeding and bathing him when his body turned against him. As his body began to degrade around him, I remember Dad asking me “What happens after you die?” And it crushed me. Raised Jewish, there is no hell or purgatory. But there is guilt. I chose not to add to his pain. Instead, I asked him questions that were meant to help him reflect and guide him to his own conclusions. He was in a room filled with books that explored this very thing…my mother, who had passed away nearly four years earlier, was a voracious reader of all things spiritual. Yet he had never picked up a single one of these books except to place them on the shelf. So, after a few bits of back and forth that didn’t seem to satisfy him, I simply responded “You’ll be with mom once again.”

The writer of the article linked below is hoping to find his lost (to the cult of tRump) parents long before they die. I hope he is successful.

https://qr.ae/pNlwHD

Since you left us…

Photos of me and Keith, on the left by Flint Journal reporter in early 2000s;
on the right in 2011 at daughter’s wedding.

It’s been 8 years since you left us, 8 years since you departed this earth. It’s been 8 years since my heart broke so hard I never thought I could recover, and 8 years since feeling the pain of saying goodbye begin to fade, and 8 years of learning to love and grow and embrace love once again. 

Keith, it’s been 8 years since I promised to go on, to keep this dream space that sometimes brought with it nightmares of cruelty by outside forces, and 8 years that I look back and see how much it has changed due to that tenacious hold on the dream.

It’s been 8 years since the sharp pain of your departure, Keith, and of my growing recognition of the many blessings that followed. It’s been 8 years since I promised to complete my educational goals, and 8 years of learning that, with the support of loved ones, family and friends, I must believe that I will always end up where I am most needed as long as I don’t give up. 

It’s been 8 years since our small family grew even smaller, and 8 years of watching it grow exponentially, even as old ones have left us, and young ones have been born to us. It’s been 8 years since you departed only 54 years young, and 8 years older that I have become. 

It’s been 8 years of knowing that you are never far from me in spirit, because when I call out I am embraced by a feeling of deep love and support. And it’s been 8 years of wisdom I’ve gained since you left this earth, knowing that life is fleeting, and it is best to celebrate each morning as I wake to live another day, and each evening as I lay my head upon the pillow knowing I am surrounded by love in both spirit and earthly worlds. 

———————————————————————-

[Dear Reader – I know it’s been awhile since I wrote. Thank you for your patience. During this past year, I started a temporary new role at the college which has kept me very busy. This was made even more so by the pandemic which shut us down for in-person classes in March. And the year in this new role was also deeply challenged by the loss of my colleague, supervisor, mentor from cancer. • To top it off, my 81-yr-old dad who was living with me also passed away from pancreatic cancer. Although in his case it was mercifully quick, it was so very heartbreaking to see him go through it as I tried my best to support him. Family also made a difference, being there for his last week as we prepared our goodbyes. • So now, as things begin to stabilize, I find myself awakened on this 8th anniversary of another deep loss, and I count my blessings even as the world is in turmoil around me. – mjf]

For those of us who were conscious and attentive during the fateful events of 9/11/2001, it is hard to fathom that there is nearly an entire generation who have grown up without the emotional connection to the tragedies of that day. For them, there is no “before” and “after” 9/11. But for the rest of us, myself included, much of life is measured in those terms.

I find it happens with life-changing events. We measure life “before” and life “after – the death of a loved one, a major life move like moving overseas – and back again, before children and after their arrival. These are all very personal ways of looking at our individual lives, how we break down time into consumable bits.

But when it comes to the events of 9/11, this is not just personal, this is one that we share. We remember what it was like to go to an airport and travel by air before 9/11. And we know what has changed. TSA didn’t exist before and we didn’t worry about bringing a bottle of water through the boarding checkpoints (since there were no high-tech security checkpoints back then).

Before 9/11, we didn’t concern ourselves with what books we purchased or checked out of a library. But post-9/11, with the advent of the Patriot Act, under Section 215, a library could be subpoenaed to provide details of what books someone checked out in the name of national security.

Yesterday, on the college campus where I work, I sat among administrators, staff, and a few faculty, to honor the 18th anniversary of nation-changing event. Like the annual ministrations of Yom HaShoah, a day of remembrance of the Holocaust, we shared the same message – we shall not forget. But we’re not just remembering the horrific events of that day. We remember the heroes, the selfless demonstrations of human connections, the sharing of kindness, love, and support to our fellow citizens, regardless of color, creed, religion, age, gender, or nationality. We were all just humans that day who needed each other for the silent support of kindness.

Remnant of one of the twin towers on campusAs we sat there facing a remnant of one of the structural members of one of the two World Trade Center towers, a large American flag hanging from the extension ladder of a city fire truck, we listened. With us were new cadets being trained as police officers, and our own college police department.

And as we heard the words being spoken, the sound of sirens started. A tingling went up my spine, a memory connecting viscerally to my reaction from the original moment that brought us here. The sirens got louder and I realized it was a true emergency, perhaps another life-changing event for someone in the community. As the sirens reached their peak and began to quiet as they passed by our campus, I thought of how apt their occurrence was. Marking that moment in time when life is measured as before… and after, forever branded in our hearts and minds.

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