Former Founder?

May 18, 2017

From this morning’s top-of-the-hour national news about the passing of Roger Ailes, one thing has become awkwardly evident to me: The reporters at ABC Radio have no actual understanding of the proper usage of the word “former.”

All morning, they were identifying Ailes as the “former founder and chairman of Fox News,” which made me go pawing through my utility cabinet in search of duct tape – to prevent I.C.E. (imminent cranial explosion).

I’m guessing a few folks are scratching their respective heads and wondering, “What’s wrong with that?” Well, once you’ve been established as the founder of something, that particular designation can never be taken away – so Ailes could not possibly have been the news organization’s “former founder.”

How might this have been remedied? Well, for starters, ABC News could employ writers with a more-precise grasp of the English language. Beyond that, I’d recommend phrasing the sentence so the adjective “former” modified “chairman.” The correct way to identify Ailes (who resigned last year) would be “founder and former chairman of Fox News.” His designation as former chairman of Fox News had no bearing whatsoever on his status as its founder.

On a personal note, this obvious gaffe brought back memories from my nearly ten years as board secretary for the Connecticut Authors and Publishers Association. In emails, at monthly meetings and in what came to be known as the unofficial “Blue Minutes” from those meetings, we’d often refer to founder Brian Jud as CAPA’s “former founder” – with his full understanding that we were being intentionally goofy with that title.

However, to earnestly call someone the “former founder” of anything shows a basic lack of awareness. It’s akin to referring to someone as a “former graduate” of a college (and yes, I’ve heard that phrase so often my dentist is planning to fit me for a dental guard so I don’t grind my teeth into piles of enamel dust). Either you’re a graduate of an institution or you’re not – you can’t suddenly become no longer a graduate. There’s no need for an adjective. Still, if you must use one, consider “past.”

Think I’m making too much of this whole “former” issue? Go ahead and refer to a retired member of the U.S. Marine Corps as a “former Marine.” I will assume no responsibility whatsoever for your resulting injuries.

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Reflections on Two Years Since Mom’s Death

April 25, 2017

Tomorrow will be two years since Mom died. She’d languished in the nasty clutches of Alzheimer’s disease for a little more than eleven years and I’d be lying if I didn’t admit her eventual passing was as much a relief as it was wrenching.

Through the ensuing weeks, I was fortunate to have many family members, friends and, yes, even clients, around to support me. My husband and I relocated from Connecticut to Tennessee a year and a half earlier, so I wasn’t even nearby when she passed away… and it took us two days of driving to get back there. Along the way, I kept in touch with family and friends via email and text. I also found myself borne up on the prayers and support of dozens of Facebook friends. Aside from a few moments that stand out in my memory, much of our time there is a blur.

At the wake, we saw streams of people – many of whose faces I recognized but whose names I don’t recall. It was a steady flow of friends, neighbors, coworkers, clients, Dad’s coworkers, a state Senator, the daughter of one of my brother’s colleagues (from a job twenty years earlier), my husband’s former business partner, his office manager, our former pastor, our favorite waiter from our favorite Chinese restaurant (yes, really!)… UNICO members, my parents’ longtime friends and even their longtime friends’ grown children.

Afterward, Cousin Maria invited everyone back to her house, where she’d amassed a feast that could have fed 50 people. Socializing was the last thing I wanted to do, but I went because it afforded me a way to reconnect with family after being so long away. What a blessing that was! It was a little like being in a beehive – a constant buzz of activity – surrounded by people who’d known and loved me my entire life. And there’s something oddly comforting about being amid people who all have the same nose. Then there was the food. Oh, the food! Pasta, meatballs, chicken… every manner of Italian food, on platters piled teeteringly high with assorted deliciousness. Did I mention that Maria must have, in a former lifetime, been an Army cook?

If you asked Maria why she did that, she’d probably say, “We’re Italian. We feed people.” But it was more than that – what she did was a tremendous ministry to our family. She reached out and took a tangible step to help when we were immobilized by grief.

If you’re on the periphery of a loved one’s grieving process, there are concrete ways to help. There’s always a plethora of hugs and the obligatory “I’m so sorry” murmurings. And everyone says, “Let me know if there’s anything I can do.” Trouble is,  grieving folks are so numb at this point, they can barely think of what they might need, let alone conceive of articulating it – or reaching out to ask someone to help.

Fortunately, Jodi Whitsitt (a recently widowed mother of three) has provided a baker’s dozen of specific, real-world ways to help a grief-stricken loved one.

What are some of the ways you reach out to the newly bereaved in your life? Please share in the Comments section below.


The Ubiquitous @

March 7, 2016

Aside from its obvious email application, how many of us have ever really considered the “at” symbol – @? It’s been around for centuries, yet it was largely ignored by all but those in the math or accounting arenas much of that time. For years, this unassuming character languished above the 2 on our typewriter keyboards, snubbed by virtually all except folks who included it in their grawlixes.

With the advent of electronic communication surfaced the ingenuity of one Ray Tomlinson, an American computer engineer (who, incidentally, passed away over the weekend at the age of 74). In 1971, Tomlinson drew the humble @ into the spotlight as a central figure of his recently developed “electronic mail” system.

Of course, you can also use the @ symbol to send electronic roses to your sweetheart… —-^–^-<@ – but you’ll have to kind of squint and look sideways to make it look like a long-stemmed rose with thorns.

As for what the ubiquitous @ is called in other languages, check out this article. Personally, I prefer the Armenian ishnik and the Danish snabela. What about you? What’s your favorite other-language moniker for @?


A Remembrance… and a Revelation of Sorts

September 11, 2011

I still remember precisely where I was when it happened – the morning our world changed forever. I was standing at a table, over by a window in Father Maco Hall (the old cafeteria of the former St. Ann Middle School in New Britain, Connecticut), with several other members of the parish’s Stewardship Committee. We were cutting out brightly colored felt hands and bold lettering for our new banner, destined to hang in the back of the church. It would read, “We are the body of Christ… many hands, one heart.”

As on so many mornings before, we had gathered to work on one project or another after daily Mass; we were all also members of the parish’s Good Shepherd Funeral Choir. All the others were retirees; I was the only 30-something in the bunch, but despite the age difference, these women had become my spiritual sisters and we truly enjoyed one another’s company. That day, we had assembled to work on the banner before the first of two funerals at which we would sing that morning.

Spirits ran high that bright September Tuesday. It was a perfect, glorious day and we were filled with enthusiasm for the project on which we were companionably working. We teased and joked as we worked, enjoying both the creative endeavor and the camaraderie we shared.

“Who’s got the scissors?” one would ask. “Oh, that would be me; I’m hogging them,” another would reply. “Who drew these letters, anyway?” someone else piped up. “That would be Sister Ellen,” a fourth replied, adding, “She did them freehand.” “Wow, she’s really talented…” the chatter continued.

And then it happened.

Mary, one of the women from the parish office, hurried up the five slate-grey stairs to report that a small plane – most likely a single-engine Cessna – had struck one of the World Trade Center towers in New York City.

I can still see the faces of my friends – Lois, Ann and “Buddy Grace” – as we stared at Mary and then each other. We murmured nearly silent prayers for the safety of those on board the aircraft and those in the building where the little plane had struck… and then we resumed our work – a bit less gaily now, our spirits tempered by the sobering news of what must surely have been a terrible accident.

But then it happened again.

Mary rushed back to the steps – and this time she didn’t even climb the steps to deliver the news. “Another plane just hit the other tower!”

No accident. We dropped our scissors and ran. Down the stairs and across the hard slate floor to the office. Someone rolled in a television set perched atop one of those high, wheeled A/V carts left over from the St. Ann Middle School days (back when I was a 7th grader there) and tuned it to one of the local news channels. It didn’t matter which one; they were all covering the story.

We stood, rooted to the worn carpeting, eyes locked on the awfulness unfolding in ghastly color, as the solemn voice of the anchor – doing his best not to sound frantic – related what he knew.

Just before 9:30, we trooped numbly out of the office and made our way across the street, taking our place in the choir area and prepared to sing hopeful hymns of resurrection, while our hearts were struck with horror at what we’d seen unfolding on the 22-inch screen moments before.

After the funeral, we returned – like lemmings headed seaward – to the office. Sandy and Mary’s stricken faces told us something unspeakably wrong had occurred in our absence. A third plane had struck – its target was the Pentagon. And yet another had gone down, this one somewhere in Pennsylvania. But the news got worse still: Both towers had fallen. We watched in silent shock as footage of the alternately burning and then crumbling towers filled the television screen, again and again. And now the bottom of the television screen was alive with a news crawl, providing snippets of updated news, augmenting the terrible reports the anchor was delivering. Vast, almost incomprehensible, numbers of possible victims: fifty thousand people routinely populated those two buildings on a daily basis. How many had gotten out alive? How many thousands more were perishing within?

Too soon (and yet, in a way, not soon enough) it was time to go back to the church for the 11:00 funeral. I don’t remember whose funeral it was; nor do I recall a thing the priest said… all I can remember was a terrible feeling of cold emptiness. But then, partway through the Mass, as we sang, I felt a warm rush flow through me and a pure, perfect sense of calm settled over me. I don’t know how I knew, but I realized at that second, it was the Holy Spirit offering consolation and peace. It was the greatest source of comfort I felt that day or in the days that followed.

Driving home that afternoon – it was about 1 when I finally left the parish center – it felt strange to be on the road on such a perfectly beautiful day and suddenly feel unsafe. I can’t have been the only one worrying whether a car or truck near me on the highway, in another act of terrorism, might abruptly explode. Here I was, surrounded by cars, and yet I felt so vastly and inexplicably alone.

When I got home, I remember gazing up into the clear blueness of an otherwise perfect Tuesday afternoon and neither seeing nor hearing a single jet. We live almost directly along an air route from New York to Bradley International; it seemed there was always a plane overhead. Until that day. Nothing. Nothing but eerily freakish silence.

That night, needing to reconnect spiritually and mourn the loss of thousands of my countrymen, I rejoined my parish family for a citywide prayer service. Christians and Jews, Muslims and Sikhs, Buddhists and Hindus gathered for the 7 p.m. prayer and remembrance event. St. Ann Church was packed so closely, people stood along both side aisles or crammed in the back of the church and surged out into the vestibule. The pastor even opened up the old organ loft to accommodate the overflow. And again, in the midst of that sense of emptiness and loss that enveloped me during the service, I felt that whoosh of peace – that reassurance from the Almighty – that He had everything under control. Right there was where I was meant to be just then – amid fellow Americans of faith, turning to God in a time of unspeakable horror, seeking oneness and peace.

My wish for you this September 11th is that you find that oneness – and that all the world may come to understand that same comfort, consolation and peace – the peace that found me all those years ago.