The Back Story – 03.04.16

Our little guy is now a week old.

And in our Seattle household, ‘All Quiet On The Western Front’, has morphed into just the name of an old movie.

Meanwhile, I got to musing more:

According to the Kerala Syrian Christian inheritance practices, (again to repeat myself with that word by making it sound like we’re some kind of chosen people!), Thampi, being the youngest of 2 sons of Achayan (his dad), had inherited the family house.

So if our nuclear family had been making India our home for the last half century, Mekhala being the youngest of 3 girls with no brothers, would have inherited our Pallipad house. To make it more cumbersome, prior to their marriage, David would’ve had to agree to this set-up, because this would mean he would give up the same rights from his family.

And Will being the only son of Mekhala, youngest or not, would be poised to inherit it subsequently.

So how fitting is it that Will is named after the original owners of the house, P. (Panackal) A. (Abraham) Eapen: Achayan, Will’s great grandfather, and also Achayan’s grandfather. Achayan’s name, in conformance with the custom, was naturally from his grandfather Abraham Eapen.

So Will and his great, great, great, grandfathers. That’s three ‘greats’. They Make up the substance of this story. life has turned full circle.

God answers prayers. If not always, at some point. If not now, some day when you’re not looking.

And what I would give to see Achayan’s face right now.

Achayan was an only child of his parents.

When we ended up with 6 daughters between his only 2 sons, Achayan used to say half-jokingly, that all the desperate prayers of valli-amachy (his mother) pleading with God to grant her at least one girl, were finally answered in the form of 6 girls years later, but with no boys in the mix.

I have no clue why Amachy didn’t beg for another boy, you know, as in ‘an heir and a spare’ as they say in the British Kingdom, but she wanted a daughter.

The family lore is that Amachy, who was from Thalavadi Amprayil family, once went to the Edathua ‘perunal’, which was right next door, and did a ‘nercha’, but kept it an ‘open secret’, because ‘good’ MarThomas were not permitted to participate in ‘nercha’. I think she pledged a few chicks to the palli or something.

Achayan had 2 daughters who ended up with 4 sons between them, but they didn’t ‘count’(!), as you all well know why.

I’m not certain how many of our progeny are cognizant of the fact that we come from such a methodically configured culture.

And there would be rancor if anyone tried to break the mold. And mostly no one did.

Say what you will about the apparent male chauvinism involved in all this – I’d rather call it patriarchy – but what it did also, was to create an order, at a time when we needed to keep it all together.

The second, third, and beyond, generations would undoubtedly benefit from being conscious of our past, no matter how far removed they are from it.

Past can always inform the future. For better or for worse.

So now ‘Back To The Future’:

When we had Mekhala, after having 2 girls, and Thampi’s brother having had 2 girls (then another one later), everyone including my parents were anticipating the ‘answers to all their prayers’ in the form of a boy, as an inheritor of the family name, the house, and the so-called wealth. Achayan used to call our Pallipad house Mekhala’s.

What transpired next: so Mekhala was born 11 days past her due date. When no easy phone service from the US was available back home, the whole universe – which meant the family and a whole lot of neighbors – were anxiously awaiting the news to hear if the ‘heir apparent’ had arrived.

And on February 20th, the whole village awoke to see the telegram guy bicycling towards the Kochupurackal house, and within moments, as cousin Kunjachayan’s daughter Susy was seen running away from the house in tears, and our beloved Kuttan asking helplessly ‘thampi thampuranu pinnem oru pennano?’, word spread like wildfire that ‘poor’ hapless Kochupurackal Babychayan had another girl grandbaby. Milling around the house courtyard, they sympathized as best as they could, with Achayan and Amachy. “vidhiya, babychaya, kochame – entho cheyyana”.

Valli-amachy gave away too many chicks. 🙂

By the way, all 3 of our daughters have heard this story more times they can count, so don’t feel bad about breaking this to them gently. I was also one of the souls who shed tears that February day.

Years later, would I change a thing about that girl baby or any part of experience? The answer is: emphatically no, no way on earth.

And little did anyone imagine their prayers will be answered in the form of one Will Stephen Fentin.

Call it a willful Will or God’s will.

I felt really compelled to share this as a post-script to my posting from last week.

While doing so, I was also imagining David, Mekhala, Laila, Nora and Will, living in our Pallipad house – which no longer exists, not even one brick of it.

Regardless, it was fun picturing them living next door to Pandarathil Thankachayan (a relative), Percattu Kunjumon, Krishnan, Venu, et al.

The best was visualizing Kunjipennu drawing water from the well, and Thomachen, the vegetable vendor haggling over the price of one-day-too-old achinga.

And imagine, these things didn’t happen in Harappa and Mohenjo-Daro, the ancient sites of the Indus Valley Civilization, it was just some 30 plus years ago, and it happened in that watery dip called Kerala’s Upper Kuttanad.

From Travancore to Seattle. From deep Southern India to the Northwestern United States. I found it hard to wrap my head around it.

Anyway, thank you for indulging me, and allowing me to reminisce. I had fun. I’m sure some of you stopped reading long ago, like at the half-way mark. 🙂

————-

And further with the movies theme, as sweet Will was taking his sweet time last week, contemplating when to come out head first to say hello! to the world, he granted ample time for Ammi to teach his big sister (all of 6 years old) how to make yogurt at home, who was fascinated it could even be done, and also to see ‘Trumbo’ and ‘The Martian’. Go see it.

Very fondly,

mercy

The Kentucky Clerk And The US Constitution

The Kentucky clerk is back in the news, which is unfortunate for her and for us.

The media come up with these catch names for the characters of their stories, such as ‘Kennedy cousin’, ‘Arizona shooter’, the NY prison worker, and so on, in lieu of their real names. If i said, Kim Davis, you’ll say, Kim who? so, she’s now refusing to claim the licenses are being issued by her office, thus making it invalid or something like it.

Now, i do appreciate this woman’s Christian fervor. I really do. But it seems that she missed a pertinent part of her high school civics class. It must have been the day she was out with the flu, or else she’d have clearly known that the US constitution is the supreme law of the land. Any religious governance is subservient to that. Her church’s cannons cannot supersede what the Supremes have decided. She doesn’t have to like it, she just has to obey.

This brings me to a number of years ago, to the day i proudly appeared for the interview process, as part of my application to become a US citizen. As many, or all of you may know, there is a guide book you can study, to ace the interview. My husband had gone through the process a few years prior, but when the time came, in my know-it-all fashion :), I declared I didn’t need this book. ‘hah! I know all about US history, geography and the political process.’ He kept urging me to at least read the book once to be aware of what kind of questions will be asked. Sad to admit, I’m not typically known for my obedience 😦 , so I went to Boston’s Government Center, without so much as ever glancing at the book. Frankly, in my own defense, I expected questions of the sort, ‘who was our first president’, ‘where is the US capital’, etc.

So, this guy who was interviewing me, assessed rather early in the game, that I was being a ‘smart alec’ and proceeded to one-up me, and started asking ‘secondary’ questions to, I’m sure, trip me up.

He asked: what is the constitution?

Me: it is the law of the land.

Interviewer: what kind of law?

I was thinking to myself, (but didn’t say it out loud): is there more than one kind?

Interviewer: what is the qualifying part of it?

Me: silence. what?

I was miffed. We’re allowed one or two (max) wrong answers, and he was determined to catch me on this one. And, to his delight, I simply didn’t know. Then he ‘smart-aleced’ me back and said: you should know, it is the ‘supreme’ law of the land. He almost gave me a mischievous look that seemed to suggest that I failed. But then he found some mercy(!) deep in his inner being and let me go. He may as well not have wanted to deal with me one more time. 🙂

So for the law: the word ‘supreme’ covers it all. I had known the gist of that even before, but this episode with the astute government clerk, who didn’t want to let me off the hook that easily, cemented it for me, and it has stuck. The courts will always try to stay out of thorny situations, but if someone decided to bring a lawsuit, the rulings will have to side with the law.

Which brings me to a more current story. Recently, a Muslim woman filed a lawsuit against a budget airline, that she couldn’t and wouldn’t serve alcohol to passengers in flight, because it was against her religion. Oh, brother. An obvious option for her in this case would have been to step aside from that job, and find something else to do. But, why choose the obvious option when you can pick the more contentious one, right?

This is America after all. Home of the brave, and land of the free money. God bless America.

So, she went to court to make the airline bend policy for her. Alas for us, airlines operate on minimum staff (for better or for worse), and if one purposely won’t perform her part of the job description, what is the option they’re left with?

I then found it astonishing, that the same folks who’re unhappy with the Kentucky clerk are the ones who thought the flight attendant had a case. No harm in a little double standard. right?! Freedom to practice one’s religion. The first amendment.

I know the government is not the same as a private employer, but the emotions, that precipitate out of these polarizing situations, are the same. I’m principally opposed to the death penalty. Only a God who created us in His image has the right to take it away. But do I think the courts should make it illegal based on the pope’s exhortations? Probably not. However, the High Court’s clerks are welcome to comb through the law books to find some loophole by which the justices can put it in place. By all means, yes, and please do.

But Exodus 20:13 (Ahimsa), should not be the basis for the law. It can only, but certainly, guide our core values and our conscience.

Similarly, abortion is like adultery. bad, bad, bad. wrong, wrong, wrong. We should never commit it. But should we legislate it and make it illegal? I think not.

Hope you’re enjoying the wall-to-wall coverage of the Bishop of Rome. A twenty-first century man who resembles a first century Carpenter from Nazareth. may God go with him.

Happy Saturday… mercy

Border Insecurity and The Donald

Kunju,

Well, this one is tricky. Now, don’t just move to the conclusion that I’m a Trump fan.

It happened like this. when the media first reported that Trump may run for the 2016 election, I was like, ‘here we go again’. Remember, he had made the same attempt four years ago. Then when he actually announced, I went, ‘you’re kidding, right’?

At the juncture where, what he said to Megyn Kelly and about her, and especially what Megyn said what he had said to some apprentice contestant, all came out, is when I found it all beyond offensive, and rolled up the welcome mat from under him. He somehow didn’t slip.

If he had said those tired, old lines to anyone in my company, he’s the one who’d be ‘fired’.

Then it was like, wait a minute … to, well, now.

His first pronouncement about illegals and the way the media got on his case, I remember thinking, ‘he didn’t mean all immigrants, come on guys, he was talking about illegals’. To me, the terms ‘undocumented immigrants’ (a term coined by the NY Times) and ‘illegal immigrants’ are the same. It only means that they crossed the border illegally to come here.

Now, someone is going to yell at me and say, we’re all immigrants, America is made up of immigrants, the first pilgrims were illegals, blah, blah, blah. It creates a good sound bite, but we all know that that’s not what we’re talking about here.

Just take the case of Mexico.

Now, no one from Washington has called and asked me to be part of a ‘think tank’ to find solutions to our border insecurity, but I’ll offer my valuable (or laughable?) ideas on how to stem the flow of illegals.

First, why don’t we export the American governing systems of free enterprise, law and order, and democracy, to Mexico, so that this country with enormous amounts of natural resources (human and earth), can become the envy of the Western Hemisphere? I’m well aware of the studied notion that, people similar to animals in the wild, go where the food supply is. In which case, why don’t we help them find food where they are? Like, teaching to fish, instead of giving fish, so to speak?

Second, dismantle ‘the Department of Customs and Border Protection’, and let people come and go as they please, kind of like, when I go to Connecticut and back. On my return, I’m greeted with a ‘Welcome to Massachusetts’ sign every time. 🙂

What’s the point of paying the feds top salaries to man the operation, and then claiming it to be inhumane, when they actually do their jobs? It’d be a blessing if we don’t have to stand in line after a 24-hour flight from kochi, anyway. kudos to the feds, once I got fined $25.00 for bringing in $2.00 worth of curry leaves. 😦 All the more reason to get rid of it. 🙂

Third,  don’t laugh, we can make Mexico our fifty-first state.

That way, no one will have to jump the ‘Trump Wall’. I know it sounds preposterous, but it is no more so, than providing for ‘anchor babies’ for life. The last two states were annexed in my lifetime. I remember when it went from 48 to 50. What’s one more? 🙂

Now, somebody has decided ‘anchor babies’ is a bad word. Oh, brother! This is how Trump gets traction.

Anyway, back to our friend, Mister Trump.

What’s so abominable about saying we should first hire ‘American’ citizens for American jobs, before we invite foreign nationals? Isn’t it the job of the president to take care of his citizens before he does the same for the rest of the world? He’s our president, not our pastor.

It costs an arm, and a leg, and then a house, and then some, (and no kidding!) to college-educate children in this country, in any discipline.

When all is done, and the kids and their sorry parents are out of exorbitant amounts of cash, they’re competing in the marketplace with young adults who did university for 1000 rupees, and who can then afford to take jobs at a lesser pay. See the vicious cycle? We’re talking about our kids here.

What about Sundar Pichai, Satya Nadella, and the parents of Vivek Murthy? you say. Oh, May be, we can make a special visa category for South Indian Brahmins, there is some sort of a pattern here, don’t you think? 🙂

Also, perhaps we can consider temporarily employing the folks on California’s unemployment payrolls, to pick grapes, so that the grapes don’t rot in the sun as somebody lamented?

Really, Trump is echoing commonly-felt concerns. People are tired of the P-C-ness, which is a just nicer word for disingenuousness, bordering on fakery. Vilifying Capitalism on the one hand, and allowing other nationals to seek jobs here on the other, is an extreme form of this. Claiming our democracy is not well-functioning, and then wanting to offer asylum to war-zone refugees is another.

It’s a novelty when a politician speaks the truth. Trump tells it like it is, in his world view. Folks are flocking to him for this reason and nothing else. In the end, they may not even vote for him.

Citizens are silenced into keeping mum for fear of being called heartless, homophobic, xenophobic, racist, nationalistic, un-Christian, and what not, by the dominant media, and the land that gave us the precious ‘right to freedom of expression’ is gradually chipping away at our ‘freedom to express’. The free press is stifling free speech. Not a good plan.

I don’t think Jesus would approve of all this name-calling.

As Christians, I realize we’re mandated to see that the least fortunate among us are taken care of, but somehow, I don’t think that includes rich Chinese women who give birth here to anchor their babies to the soil.

I would have said that ‘the Donald’ has the chance of a snowball in hell, to even get the party’s nomination, let alone win the national election, but, If he does, I’ll be concerned about how it appears to the world, to have a bellicose leader in the pattern of Hugo Chaves, as the leader of the free world. Even in death, Hugo is remembered for having said, ‘death to America’, and not for the free heating oil he provided to the needy of Dorchester, Massachusetts. When he died, president Obama eulogized him, by saying he’s glad Hugo has gone on to meet his Maker, and it couldn’t have happened any sooner, or something to that effect. Oh brother!

Nate silver is predicting that Donald won’t make it to the finish line. we’ll see. win or lose, he’ll have started ‘the Conversation’.

Regards to Susy and Happy Monday evening.

‘Time to buy’… and don’t sell…:)

mercy

Castle Island – Boston Harbour

This brings me to my ongoing quest to be a ‘blogger’ with a worldwide audience(!), and the effort to be your ‘trip adviser’ for one day.

For the past three weeks, we had the awesome pleasure of six little persons visiting us from three different states, in the forms of Sophia, Lily, Liam, Mia, Laila, and Nora.

They accompanied us to a few local spots, one of them ‘castle island’, right in the Boston harbour. most notable to me, because in the more than 4 decades of our existence in Boston, we’ve never been to this place. At first pass, it’s a just very nice beach with a distinctive New England flavor.

However, although it’s called an island, it’s not ferried, which makes it for a quicker reach. It also means, I can leave home without my Dramamine. It’s connected to the (in)famous Southie by a causeway. I wonder if Sri Raman, his ‘annan kunju’, and Hanuman provided the prototype for its architecture!

The island beach is formed into many alcoves, offers long walk paths along the edge of the water, a shaded area with park benches, a well-furbished kiddie playground, a shack called Sullivan’s that serves classic American fare, including that must-have summer treat – lobster rolls. And listen to this, lots of free parking. Do we know of any Massachusetts beach that doesn’t charge a parking fee?

On a good day, it’s a half hour drive from our house. Just veg-out there in a beach chair, with a good book (i recommend reza aslan’s ‘Life And Times Of Jesus Of Nazareth’), and watch and listen to the jets roaring right overhead one per minute. you can almost touch the landing gear on them.

although one of our former governors bragged that the water in the Boston harbor is good enough for drinking, i’d advise against it.

so, take a trek out there. we still have a whole month left. and if you do make it, i’d love to hear about it, and while there, please say hello to Matt Damon and Ben affleck for me.

Happy sunday afternoon..

Anitha’s Step – One For The Ages

“All things are according to God’s plan and decision; and God chose us to be his own people in union with Christ because of His own purpose, based on what He had decided from the very beginning.” Ephesians 1:11

Happy 2015!

Last Sunday was an ordinary day at the Carmel Marthoma Church of Boston. except that it wasn’t.
It was an extra-ordinary day.
Although it happened to fittingly coincide with the final day of a long-planned and well-organized youth conference, that’s not what set it apart.

For the first time in the Malankara Marthoma Syrian Church’s 180-year history, just as the service got under way, a twenty three-year-old young lady named Anitha Oommen, gingerly climbed up the short steps of the Carmel church’s madhbaha, to serve as a ‘deacon’, and swiftly rode into history books.

A job reserved only for the male members of the church has now suddenly become available to the other half, or as some would say, the ‘better half’, of the members.

Eve may have come after Adam, but now occupies equal space and place. The curtain did tear into two.

What may have been a ‘small step’ for the petite anitha, was a ‘giant leap’ for our church populace, the institution itself.

Close to some teen years younger than our youngest daughter, this youth leader with a ready smile my two shy granddaughters took an instant liking to, at a church summer bible school, Anitha has now become a trailblazer.

A woman ‘kapiyar’ in a MarThoma palli!

Although never one to fit the definition of a ‘feminist’ by any stretch, and as one who is always happy to be in the care of my husband, the picture of ‘Anitha’s Step’, that was posted on Facebook by some well-wisher, surprised me with a lump in my throat.
I’m translating that ‘lumpy’ sentiment into prose.

This stratospherical achievement must have been the work of many, many peoples’ thoughts and imaginations, deliberate contemplations and deep-felt prayers, and perhaps some legwork, that spanned months or years, but even the Almighty would give the first credit to our Geevarghese mar Thoedosius thirumeni, the episcopa of the diocese of North America and Europe for the Marthoma church.

It took the divine confluence of a prophetic priest who made the leap, an eager, willing woman who took the step, and the members of a progressive parish that stepped up, to arrive at this momentous mile-marker. at the right time and the right place. all willing to answer ‘The Call’.

To call thirumeni a visionary is akin to saying, Neil Armstrong must have been a good engineering student at Purdue University. An understatement and stating the obvious. Our church, and particularly our diocese have been fortunate for the last 7 years to have thirumeni as our high priest. His superior intellect and his far-reaching vision were gifts to us.

And I’m so glad he ‘ran out of excuses’ (to quote thirumeni himself) for the persistent question of our youth, ‘why can’t girls do all the things in church, as the boys?’

Coming from arguably the most patriarchal culture in the world, it would’ve been easier instead for thirumeni, to hang onto the argument that it is our ‘tradition’ and therefore valid. and thirumeni admitted that was the only rationale he could offer in the end, and it wasn’t enough. Not for a body of Christ.

In addition to all else, during his sabbatical as our bishop, thirumeni opened my eyes to certain profound biblical truths:
this ‘pretend bible know-it-all’ learned for the first time:
– one, Jesus’ words on the cross ‘woman, behold your son; son, here’s your mother’ were the ‘seeding’ of the first ‘church’, an entity where people who are not blood-related taking care of each other as family.
– Two, Jesus’ words ‘I Am The Way’ is not meant to be just a doctrinal mandate or dogma by which to exclude others, but rather, what Jesus commanded us to do is to: ‘follow me, do and behave as I do, follow my exact way’.

thank you, thirumeni.

and anitha, you go girl! How did you end up with one of my favourite last names?!

Marco, the Mechanic

“God will put his angels in charge of you to protect you where ever you go.” Psalm 91:11

It was last Thursday. February 13, 2014. My Dad’s birthday. He would have turned 98.

Heavy snow was predicted for Massachusetts, starting at mid-afternoon. The forecasters were slightly off, and it started to come down as of noon. Around 1.00pm, Bill, the nicest boss I’ve ever had came up to me and said, ‘Merc, finish what you are doing and try to head home’. I did just that at 1.30pm.

By 2.00pm, I’m on route 128, that well-known thoroughfare that loops around Boston, and by now, the snow is at a steady clip of 2-3 inches per hour. Visibility was reduced to next to zero. I was rolling along at a snail’s pace in the right middle lane, and suddenly my wiper blades stopped working. And I mean, completely ceased.

The snow is now piling up on my car’s all sides, my slow ride became a crawl, I simply couldn’t see an inch ahead, and I finally came to a full stop, right in the middle of one of the busiest highways in the nation. Even the side windows were caked up with the wet slush. Every few seconds, I’d roll down the windows to see the sides of the road. Each time, the interior of my ‘Camry’ would get spilled and filled with a lot of the white powder.

At this point, the obvious alternative I had was to go to the right lane, then try to exit. I couldn’t. I couldn’t tell if I was in the right lane and going into a ditch. Call me stupid, I decided the better option was to stay where I was. I put the hazard lights on, put the car into park.

I was afraid to get out and clean the blades. Again, I strategically decided getting rear-ended with me sitting in the car belted, was a slightly better option than getting hit standing on its side. You pick!

I used my cell (those who know me well, would know that this is a rarity) to call 911. The dispatcher said she’d send the state police and a tow truck but needed to know my location. I couldn’t tell her, because it was virtually impossible to see the highway signs. I said, ‘somewhere past Burlington and Bedford on 128 south’.

As I was sitting there panicked and slightly out of my element, a truck stopped by to ask if I needed help. I responded, that the police were on their way, thanked him much the same.

As minutes passed, however, there was no sign of either the police or the said tow truck.
I tried the defogger at full speed/low speed, hot and then cold, up then down, none made any impression on the stubborn wiper blades. They simply wouldn’t budge.

Then: after what seemed a very long time, another truck drove by, came to a full stop right next to me, on the driver side. Its passenger side window was rolled down. ‘The driver’ asked me what was wrong. I explained.

Then: he literally got out of his car, walked over to mine. (You have to imagine this scenario, of 2 vehicles at dead stops in the middle of 128 in a raging snow storm, to get a feel for the situation). This gentleman examined my car, the blades, and gave it a ‘good clean’, asked me to restart the engine and to turn on the wipers once again.
They were now working.

As soon as he touched my car, somehow I ‘felt’ he would ‘fix’ it, and I pleaded, ‘before you go, you have to give me your name and number’. He pretended not to hear me. I appealed to him again. At my repeated insistence, he said, ‘it’s Marco’, that’s all you need to know.’ he continued, ‘I’m a mechanic, that’s how I know these things.’
I thanked him profusely, he got back into his truck, waited until I had driven a good distance, and then off he went into the mushy mess.

Meanwhile, there was a flurry of phone calls going back and forth to my husband. His reaction to the whole thing will not go out in print here.

This past December during Advent, our Seena Kochama gave a devotional message about the appearance of ‘real angels’ in our every-day lives. Subsequently in January, Reverend James did a study on a similar topic. Both messages were referencing the ‘Annunciation to Mary’, as according to the Gospel of Luke. Both times, I listened with great interest.
In the latter gathering, our friends, Monachen and Lilly, gave a testimony about one of their encounters with an ‘angel’, about a man who spotted some car trouble they were having on a highway, guided and followed them into a parking lot at an exit, proceeded to repair whatever was ailing their car with the tools in his car, and when asked what they could ‘do for him’, answered ‘just follow Jesus, that’ll be enough’.
I remember sitting in that study session, wishing an angel of the Lord would appear to me.

I was overwhelmed by my circumstantial ‘angel’, enough I was narrating the story to Alex, my co-worker, whom I call ‘the best Christian I know’, (he really is), a non-church-goer at that. I asked Alex what I could ‘do for God’ for this ‘angel visit’. Alex said, ‘Nothing. Just thank Him from the bottom of your heart, He doesn’t need anything from you, He already has everything’.
And added, ‘but maybe you can say a prayer for Marco.’

So here goes.
Dear and all-powerful God! Please take care of Marco and his children forever, and then in eternity.
Thank you, Papaji. I guess your job is not done yet. I’m sure you know that.

This is my testimony for 2014.