This post originally aired as a commentary on Tri States Public Radio. To listen, go here.
For me, planning my day is never the problem. I get up every morning determined to change the world – but only after I’ve had my coffee and listened to the news.
For the past two weeks, the top story has been Russia’s looming threat to invade the Ukraine, adding “the possibility of World War III” to the mountain of anxieties I already have. With the pandemic, the climate crisis, gun violence, greed, racism, and more, it’s a Mount Everest of despair. It feels so impossible to change anything, let alone have any influence at all, that I swing the opposite direction, figuring if we’re all gonna die, I might as well have “one hell of a good time.” And so, I help myself to the second slice of chocolate pie. I take the spontaneous trip to Cancun. I buy the $25 bottle of Cabernet instead of the $6 one and drink a glass too many. But all that’s done is pack on nine extra pounds and deplete my bank account.
Indulgence is not the answer.
I know I’m not alone in this feeling of futility to change the world. But I also know there are optimists among us who can inspire us to keep trying. Jane Goodall is one of them.
After hearing about her latest book, “The Book of Hope: A Survival Guide for Trying Times,” I ran out to buy it. Given that Jane Goodall is a naturalist, I was surprised to find it in the self-help section of the bookstore. But help is what I needed to ward off heart palpitations and further weight gain.
The book is coauthored by Douglas Abrams, who, in a series of interviews with Jane, presses the 87-year-old to answer the question: How can you still be hopeful when everything seems so dire?
She lists four reasons:
• the amazing human intellect
• the resilience of nature
• the power of young people
• the indomitable human spirit
We may have created the problems, but she believes with our intellect, we are smart enough to solve them. And that with our instinct for survival, our human spirit will drive us to not give up, even when there’s a chance we won’t succeed. Jane acknowledges that things are indeed dire, but she insists we can turn things around if we get together and act now. Every small action helps. Each of us must do our bit.
“Hope is contagious,” she says. “Your actions inspire others.”
This snowball effect makes sense, but where do we start? “It’s in nature where we can find the answers and the hope,” she explains.
The only time Jane has lost hope was when her husband died, but turning to nature helped restore it, claiming, “It was the forest that helped me most of all.” The natural world is also where she feels most connected with a Great Spiritual Power. She says it’s that power that gives her the courage and strength to keep going, to keep sharing her message and continue fighting for justice, environmental and otherwise.
I was surprised to learn that the grief we feel over climate crisis has a name – eco-grief. Jane suggests that our survival depends on confronting that grief and getting over our feelings of helplessness and hopelessness. We can find healing in nature, she reminds us, as well as wisdom, cautioning that when we lose the connection with the natural world, we lose our wisdom.
“The Book of Hope” is packed with many more of Jane’s insights and is absolutely worth reading. Equally inspiring, listen to Jane’s interview, titled “What it Means to Be Human,” on Krista Tippett’s “On Being” podcast.
This past weekend, I channeled my inner Jane Goodall, and went for a hike with three girlfriends. While walking through the forest and fields, we determined that in addition to picking up empty beer cans and other litter, which we do on all our hikes, we could plant more trees to replace the ones a local farmer recently cut down. These are the small but impactful actions we can take that add up to bigger change.
Energized by the sun, the wind in our faces, and the beauty of the landscape, we walked four miles, talking and laughing the whole way. Between the camaraderie of friends and the immersion in nature, our spirits were restored. And as a bonus, the exercise was a step toward dropping those extra nine pounds. In the words of E.B. White, our hike was “a hell of a good time.” And, best of all, it left me feeling hopeful.
Finally! It’s back! Now in paperback, and as an ebook.
If you just want to buy the book, you can get in on Amazon, IndieBound, or ask your local bookseller. If you want to hear the story of how the book came back into print, read on.
My cookbook, MS. AMERICAN PIE, originally published in hardcover in 2014, sold well at first, so well that the publisher did a second print run. But the book’s trajectory was shorter lived than anticipated, because several months after its release, I closed the Pitchfork Pie Stand and moved out of the American Gothic House.
Suicidal business move? Maybe. Good for my mental health? Definitely. Do I regret it? Sometimes. There’s so much I miss about the house, the pie stand, and the community that sprung up around it.
Anyway, the publisher was not too happy about my departure, and when the inventory sold out they wouldn’t print any more copies. “PLEASE,” I begged them, “people are still asking to buy it.” “No,” they said.
Welcome to the life of an author. Unless you are a legend like Julia Child, or your pie shop is still in business to guarantee ongoing sales, your cookbook will likely be left behind in the flour dust.
I had worked too hard on this book to let it die. So I got my text rights back from the publisher, and bought the design files from them, which included the layout, photos, illustrations, all of it. I paid way more than I will ever recoup in future book sales — I could have bought a car for less — but at least my book is back in print and once again available for purchase.
I had talked with other publishers about printing the second edition, but there were downsides to this. One, I’d give up my text rights again. Two, the book wouldn’t be out until 2022. And three, it would be printed in China, and the shipment may get stranded on a ship with all the supply-chain delays. This is why I opted tp self-publish it.
I’ve written about self-publishing before on my blog, about its advantages, about print-on-demand being better for the environment, about the satisfaction of having creative control. Yes, distribution to bookstores is a challenge, but the biggest challenge to self-publishing a full-color cookbook with a lot of photos is the cost. A self-published hardcover edition would have required me to raise the cover price from $28 to $40 — only to make 50 cents per copy. As it is, the price of the paperback is the same as the original hardcover — $28 — the lowest price allowed by the self-publishing platforms due to the sizable cut they take. My take on that is around a dollar per copy.
Clearly, I’m not in this for the money.
The feedback on the paperback version has been good. It’s got everything the hardcover has — it’s packed full with the same recipes (plus 2 new ones) — and because it’s lighter weight it’s easier to use. Also, you won’t have to wait for it — it’s available now! One customer got her copy the very next day. This means you can get my cookbook in time for Thanksgiving — and for Christmas presents. HINT!!
Thank you for encouraging me to get my book back out there. I really appreciate your support!
***** To order go to Amazon, IndieBound, or ask your local bookseller. *****
This essay originally aired on TriStates Public Radio. Go here to listen.
Bah humbug. I don’t know about you but I’m really struggling with the holidays this year. It’s a perfect storm, a trifecta of winter weather, the pandemic, and climate crisis. I mean, geez, why bother even getting out of bed? But I only allow myself to take refuge under the covers for so long until I remind myself to focus not on the problems, but on the solutions.
The solution to cold weather.
Like 20 percent of the population, I suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder. The shorter days, the gray skies, and the overall lack of light all conspire to bring me down faster than the plummeting temperatures. Over the years I’ve tried everything: vitamin D, light box therapy, antidepressants, and exercise. Exercise worked well. Too well. Two winters ago, I swam in the tropical waters of our local rec center pool and it was so helpful to my mood that I kept swimming – until I injured my shoulders. Shoulder pain or not, I’m too worried about the virus to go to a rec center this winter. The only other thing that gives me relief from sunlight deprivation is the sun itself. So I followed the migration of the monarchs who flee to the south and am spending the winter in Arizona. The sun fuels my soul. Though, unfortunately, the weather is not as warm as my body requires. The better solution would have been to go with the monarchs all the way to Mexico. But . . . the pandemic.
The solution to the pandemic.
The New York Times just ran an article titled, “The Double Whammy of Seasonal Affective Disorder in a Season of COVID.” God help me — and the millions of others who suffer from even just a mild version of SAD. If not for my fear of ending up on a ventilator, I would be spending time with my family, but I had to decline my brother’s invitation to celebrate Thanksgiving with him and his college-age kids, as that would have been like stepping into a COVID petri dish. I would be in Los Angeles right now visiting my mom to bring us both some holiday cheer, but LA is under lock-down for three weeks. Instead, I am — along with just about everyone in the world – grieving not only the loss of lives, but the loss of connection that the pandemic has bestowed. There is no gathering in groups for holiday parties for some much-needed face-to-uncovered face conversation, or even more important, hugging. There is no taking my laptop to a coffeehouse, lingering over a good meal at a restaurant, or browsing for hours in a bookstore. As humans, we require physical and social contact for our wellbeing. But life as we’ve known it is over, and this is causing tremendous grief.
But I know grief. I know what helps heal it – and that is doing nice things for others. Like making a pie for a friend who is even more depressed than you. Or buying groceries for someone who lost their job. Or donating winter coats to a coat drive. And now that the holidays are upon us, we can get an added dopamine hit by giving gifts to others. That was the case for me as I got lured into the frenzy of Black Friday and Cyber Monday deals. But then I was like, “Wait. Consumerism is bad for the environment. By buying non-essential, made-in-China things, with all the plastic and all the fossil fuels required from manufacturing all the way to delivery, I’m only contributing to the climate crisis.”
The solution to the climate crisis.
This is the ultimate source of my grief. Seasonal Affective Disorder is only seasonal so there is always an end in sight. And we are so close to getting people vaccinated against the virus, which will enable us to get control over the pandemic. But the climate? The media keeps reporting that it’s too late to fix it, making every other crisis – like racism, poverty, immigration, and political divisiveness – a moot point. Talk about depressing! My brother, who shares my current Grinch mindset, came to my rescue by recommending a book called “Drawdown: The Most Comprehensive Plan Ever Proposed to Reverse Global Warming,” edited by Paul Hawken. Instead of dwelling on the apocalypse, it offers guidance on practical things we can do to help save the planet. Too late or not, it’s a dose of hope. Another book, one for the holiday season, is “Have Yourself a Minimalist Christmas” by Meg Nordmann. She writes about ways we can give without adding to the stress on our mental state, our wallets, and, ultimately, our landfills, by finding value in “experiences over objects” and giving comestible gifts instead of material ones. I, for one, would prefer receiving a box of chocolates over anything that adds to the clutter in my house.
Meanwhile, I keep telling myself – and anyone else who’s struggling — to hang on a little longer. This is a hard patch, but it’s ultimately a blip in time. I’m going to keep getting out of bed, taking walks in the sun, wearing my mask, and recycling – while holding tight to the knowledge that this, too, shall pass.
You might also like reading these previous posts:
For pie-making help, check out my YouTube series, Stay Calm and Bake Pie
Dreaming of running your own pie shop? Looking to move from the city to the country? I mean, this pandemic is making most of us rethink our lives — and our livelihoods — so why not move to a sparsely populated area on the Continental Divide?
On the morning of May 29, I woke up to news that Minneapolis police had arrested an African-American reporter for CNN who was covering the protests resulting from the murder of George Floyd. Already outraged by Floyd’s death and the subsequent aggression of police toward peaceful protesters, this latest arrest triggered a tipping point for me, a call to action.
My neighbor Liza wrote, “I’ll make a few pies. And I can pick up ingredients for you at the store if you need.” Yes, I did need ingredients—enough butter and apples for six pies.
“7:30 a.m.,” I told her.
I also checked my messages.
“Be careful,” everyone wrote to me. “The situation is dangerous.” They spoke mostly of the protests, with a few adding the reminder that, by the way, there is still a deadly virus lurking. I had at least 200 messages repeating this same sentiment.
I came up with a list of pat responses to the cautionary notes:
Our host, Therese Kiser, a high school classmate from Iowa who has lived in Minnesota for 30 years, took us downtown to show us around. We parked and walked past destroyed buildings, some still on fire, others still smoldering, others reduced to a pile of mangled steel and rubble. We watched as residents continued to board up their businesses, with artists swooping in right behind them to paint protest statements, peace signs, and portraits of George Floyd on the boards. Some of the boards had pleas written in a scrawl of spray paint: “Please don’t burn this building, People live here.”
An organized protest had taken place at 2:00. We stumbled upon the tail end of it (though in reality, the protests are ongoing with some springing up spontaneously). The streets were closed and cars were replaced by people of all colors and ages—groups of Somali women wearing long dresses and head coverings, a middle-aged white guy on his bike wearing a Martin Luther King T-shirt, a young girl with purple hair in a shirt with the words “WE ARE ALL EQUAL” in bold letters. Almost everyone, including us, was wearing a mask. Many were holding up homemade signs made from cardboard scraps that read: Black Lives Matter. Justice for George. No justice, No Peace. RIP George Floyd. And the most gut-wrenching one, I Can’t Breathe.
The peaceful and inspirational energy was more contagious than the coronavirus, as the next thing I knew I was taking a knee and holding up a fist shouting, “One love!” Being there—right there in this moment with this crowd willing to risk the potential consequences, from tear gas to COVID-19—boosted my faith in humanity to see so many people uniting for change.
Rachel knows the power of pie, how the alchemy of ingredients as basic as flour, butter, sugar and fruit can spread joy. Which is why I called her first thing Friday morning, after realizing that I had to “do something.”
Rachel supported my idea to come up and hand out free pie and offered her shop as a base. Her generosity did not surprise me, but I also did not take it for granted. “I don’t want this to interfere or take away from your business,” I insisted.
Just over 24 hours later, on Sunday morning, less than 48 hours after deciding to make the trek north, I showed up at her door—which had been shattered the night before, so it, along with the other windows, was boarded up. The beginnings of an elegant mural already adorned the boards, the design based around the words, “George Floyd, Father, Son, Beautiful Spirit.”
“I put out a call to artists on Instagram,” she said. Of course she did. That is Rachel, a gentle, caring soul who embodies the healing values not only of pie but also of public art.
We had discussed other possible places for handing out pie. Maybe it would be safer if we were outside a church, we had mused. But being at Pie and Mighty would prove to be an ideal location, just far enough removed from the fast-growing crowd down the street to be manageable, and close enough to serve the foot traffic, a steady stream of mourners taking bouquets of flowers to place at the memorial, tired cleanup crews, and families with their kids in tow to educate them on why racism must stop.
Without even assigning roles everyone contributed in giving of themselves, and in making things run smoothly. Tina was outside holding the “Free Pie” sign over her head for the entire three hours—except for the 10 minutes she left to get paper plates when we ran out. Marie kept the table tidy, while Sarah and Desra shuttled slices out from the kitchen as fast as I could cut them. Sarah’s Fit Bit probably logged another five miles. And Therese, who knows how to engage the public, given she’s a city council member in her suburb, took the time to draw out people’s stories.
I gleaned snippets of conversation taking place, and heard countless times, “Thank you for being here. Thank you for doing this.” Black, Latinx, Asian, Caucasian, short, tall, skinny, chubby, scruffy, coiffed, toddlers, teenagers, moms, dads, same-sex couples . . . pie was served to anyone who wanted a piece. Pie knows no cultural boundaries. Pie does not discriminate.
Likewise, with offerings of apple, cherry, rhubarb, peach, peach crumble, pecan, pumpkin, chocolate cream, and combinations thereof, like cherry-rhubarb, strawberry-rhubarb, and mixed berry—our selection of pies was equally diverse. There was something for everyone.
An older woman who was with her husband was so moved by the free pie, she had tears in her eyes. But mostly, people’s faces lit up at the sight of all those slices lined up on the gingham tablecloth and they smiled. While enjoying the flaky crust melting in their mouths and the sweetness on the their tongues, they could forget about the trauma the world is experiencing, even if just for those few precious minutes. Pie is a salve that way.
Showing up for a protest is not for everyone. Sending money is good, but often doesn’t feel like it’s enough. A physical task, like making pie, offers a sense of purpose—and a few hours’ respite from the news.
Read about Rose McGee who gave out free sweet potato pies in Minneapolis this week.
“This is the sacred dessert of Black culture,” McGee told HuffPost. At a time when many people feel hopeless and exhausted, these particular pies offer much more than physical sustenance. “They link us to our history, they soothe our souls and they renew us for the work ahead,” she said.
I love what she is doing, her efforts to heal extend beyond pie, and I hope to meet her one day.
If you are interested in organizing your own pie giveaway, here are some tips:
3. Promote your event through social media, email, etc. Tell everyone to spread the word. Include details like time, place, and the reason/cause for your giveaway.
You may also want to read this post from 2107: What To Do With All That Privilege
Reading the news this morning provoked the same reaction I had after the Sandy Hook shooting — I cannot just sit here and feel outraged; I NEED TO DO SOMETHING!
This is why I’m on my way to Minneapolis to coordinate a pie giveaway on SUNDAY.
Why pie? Because sharing pie is sharing peace, comfort, kindness, love, inclusivity, generosity.
Pie is also about building community. And to accomplish this effort we need pies! A lot of pies! While I wish we could gather together and bake as a group, the coronavirus prevents us from doing that. Instead, we can bake pies from the safety of our own homes. Giving away pie is a small thing we can do but it’s a positive thing — baking pies will get you away from the news and into the kitchen to make something to share with others. It’s a win-win and a salve for the soul.
For those of you in the Minneapolis/St Paul area who want to donate pies (or help hand out free slices), we have 2 designated pie drop-off locations.
PIE DROP-OFF LOCATIONS:
PIE AND MIGHTY, 3553 CHICAGO AVENUE SOUTH
Drop-off hours are Saturday 9AM to 2PM.
EDEN PRAIRIE DROP-OFF LOCATION: 9416 Clubhouse Road, Eden Prairie, MN
Anything you want to do to help is appreciated. The word from my friends in the area is that the atmosphere is turning more positive, that there are many people out and about, some offering food, others helping with cleanup, many paying respects at the George Floyd memorial site.
When baking, please note that pie dishes will not be returned (disposable aluminum dishes work well). Refrigeration is not available so no cream or custard pies. (Fruit pies, like apple, travel best.) And please have your pie covered when dropping it off (tin foil, plastic wrap, a box.)
Donated MASKS would also be appreciated as we can hand them out to people who don’t have them along with slices of pie.
PLEASE SHARE THIS POST. And please let me know if you have any suggestions or ideas to help make this effort the most generous and helpful it can be. Every little thing, every homemade pie, helps make the world a better place. Thank you!
#BlackLivesMatter #JusticeforGeorgeFloyd #Pieequalspeace #Pieislove #Baketheworldabetterplace
Iowa is considered the Heartland of America. Zoom in a little closer, to the southeast corner where the Iowa, Illinois and Missouri borders meet, and you will find Camp Doug(h). Previously known to Doug’s friends as Camp Doug, the (h) was added when Beth moved as a nod to her baking.
|Beth Howard and Doug Seyb|
Camp Doug(h) is part of a 1,000-acre Century Farm, owned and operated by the Seyb Family for over 100 years. It is a fully operational working farm with corn, soybeans, wheat, alfalfa, cattle, and pigs. Here, they still do many things the old-fashioned way, like baling hay into square bales and stacking them in the barn loft. There are planted fields of crops that grow taller than your head in rich, black soil. There are forests of cedar, maple, oak, hedge, and birch. There are ponds and creeks noisy with croaking frogs, pastures filled with cows peacefully grazing, and skies, free from light pollution, so black at night it’s easy to see shooting stars—and hear hooting owls. Iowa is understatedly picturesque and it’s not all flat! The landscape and its gently rolling hills are what inspired Grant Wood’s famous works of art.
|Sleep in a 100-year-old farmhouse!|
|Cuddle baby pigs!|
Come see for yourself during a farm immersion hosted by farmer Doug Seyb and author Beth Howard.
There are two farmhouses on the property with accommodations, including 2 guest rooms in Doug and Beth’s house and a bunkhouse-style set up in what was Doug’s parents’ house.
To give you the best, most immersive experience, we are starting out with only 4 participants per session, though we can go up to 8 in the future.
All meals are provided—including wine, whisky, coffee and espresso drinks—except for the 2 nights we go out for dinner. (Our local spots are cheap and casual. You’d be amazed at how far $10 will go!) While our growing season is too short to do 100% farm to table, the food we prepare will include as many ingredients from the farm as possible.
|Eat farm-to-table meals outdoors by candlelight!|
Spots are limited, so reserve yours now.
Quilting (make your own pillow cover)
Artisan bread making (make rustic-style crusty wholegrain bread)
Rug weaving (make your own hand-woven rug)
|Do goat yoga!|
EXERCISE AND ACTIVITIES
Hiking in Shimek Forest and other nearby reserves
Kayaking and canoeing on Des Moines River and Skunk
River (weather permitting)
Yoga (Here’s your chance to try goat yoga! Or piglet yoga!)
Biking (mountain bikes and beach cruisers available)
Swim in the ponds
Walks around the farm fields and trails
Wildflower walk (April—June)
Mushroom picking (April)
Arrowhead and artifact hunting
|Dive into the pond!|
|Feed the goats!|
|Sit by the fire!|
Cuddle with baby pigs
Tour the farm on a side-by-side (think 4WD golf cart)
Feed the cows
Ride on a tractor or combine
Feed the goats
|Ride a bike and pick rhubarb for pie!|
FARM TO TABLE MEALS (*must love meat!)
Farm fresh eggs (from our neighbors)
Fish (blue gill from our ponds)
Garden produce (when in season, canned when not)
S’mores around the bonfire
SHOPPING AND SIGHTSEEING
Visit to the American Gothic House (have your photo taken in costumes in front of the house featured in Grant Wood’s iconic painting)
Drive through the Villages of Van Buren County (bucolic scenery in authentic, non-touristy Amish country)
Shop at the Dutchman’s Store (an old-fashioned general store run by Mennonites)
Taste cheese at Milton Creamery (a small cheese factory run by Mennonites)
Eat at a rural tavern and eat a plate-size pork tenderloin sandwich (an Iowa specialty)
Watch the barges go through the locks on the Mississippi River (in winter, watch bald eagles fishing)
Listen to live Americana folk music (we have a variety of rural venues)
|Help herd cattle!|
Hannibal, Missouri (visit Mark Twain’s birthplace)
Saint Louis, Missouri (The Arch, good BBQ, and major league baseball)
Fairfield, Iowa (Home of Transcendental Meditation/Maharishi University)
Iowa City, Iowa (UNESCO City of Literature)
OUR CLOSEST AIRPORTS
Cedar Rapids, Iowa (CID) – 1-1/2 hours
Moline, Illinois (MLI) – 2 hours
Des Moines, Iowa (DSM) – 2-1/2 hours
St. Louis, Missouri (STL) – 3 hours
For more details and to book your stay, contact us here.
And the winners of the three Ms. American Pie cookbooks are….
1. Larry’s Photos
2. Karen Wirima
3. Jane Adams
Winners, please email me with your contact details. beth (at) theworldneedsmorepie (dot) com
And if you didn’t win, I’ll do another giveaway in a few months. But you can always buy the book — available everywhere online and in stores at Barnes & Noble, and many other booksellers nationwide.
Original contest post is here: http://theworldneedsmorepie.blogspot.com/2015/03/win-copy-of-ms-american-pie.html
To celebrate National Pi Day, which was 2 days ago, and, well, “just because,” we’re giving away THREE copies of my cookbook, “Ms. American Pie.” And it’s ridiculously easy to win. Just write your name in the comment field below. Cut off time for entering is Friday, March 20 at Noon PT (3PM ET). Check back on Friday at 2PM PT/5PM ET and we’ll have the 3 winners posted.
|A peek inside the book…and when you get the book you
get a peek inside the American Gothic House
|The book is full of easy recipes. Really easy.
Even I can make them!
|World’s easiest pie to make: Coconut Custard.
Recipe is on page 125 of my cookbook.
|The world needs more pie. Make enough for everyone.|
|If pie makes people happy, then pie cookbooks
make people REALLY happy.
|Blueberry crumble baby. Okay, so maybe a little brown,
but pie is not about perfection!
|More happy people — made happier by making their own pie.
I’m teaching classes again — now in Los Angeles.
Click on this link for details.
|Of course the best part, besides sharing your homemade pie,
is getting to enjoy a slice yourself!
Death is not a fun or festive topic to bring up at the holidays, but death—and sometimes tragedy—does not elude us regardless of the season.
Two years ago I drove my RV to Newtown, Connecticut to make and deliver homemade pies to the grieving community after the tragic shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School. Twenty-six people in the school, most of them around the tender age of six, were killed by a lone—and lonely—mentally ill gunman.
The story rocked the nation—distressed by the senseless loss of innocence. It was so blatantly wrong. So deeply troubling. It was impossible for me to sit with the sadness, the outrage and the overwhelming compassion, so much so that I got up from my desk, loaded up my pie-making supplies in the RV, and headed 1,000 miles east from Iowa to Newtown. I spent a full week away—several days in Flanders, New Jersey, where my friend Janice had organized what ended up being 60 volunteers in her neighborhood, and then several days in Newtown, where we handed out apple pie to a community hungry for comfort and support. Our gesture was in the form of food, food made with heart containing the intangible ingredient of love. It felt good to help. To not just read about it and sit alone with feelings of frustration, but to get involved, to actually do something.
It’s exactly two years later and I just moved from Iowa to Redondo Beach, California, so I could be nearer to my parents. (It is also very nice to be nearer to the beach.) I just settled into an apartment about 15 minutes away from theirs.
On Wednesday night, December 17, I spent the evening with my parents at their place. (I never turn down my mom’s cooking so I’m eating there nearly every night.) I was driving home after dinner around 10PM and my route along Pacific Coast Highway was blocked off by police cars, their emergency lights flashing red and blue in the darkness. I followed the other cars around that section of the three-block detour, but managed to catch a glimpse of the police scene. It appeared to be a car accident. Three cars were wedged together, their metal hoods buckled, in the middle of the highway. A team was surrounding it, measuring and documenting. I noted the Channel 5 news truck parked to the side. I continued on to my place, turned on the lights in my living room, and called my mom to let her know I made it home safely (a courtesy ingrained from the time I got my drivers license.) “Turn on the news to Channel 5, mom,” I told her. “There was an accident on PCH and it must have been bad.”
She called back a few minutes later. It was worse than bad. A 56-year-old woman, apparently intoxicated, ran a red light, drove around some stopped cars, and mowed down 12 people in a crosswalk who were just leaving a Christmas concert at St. James Catholic Church. The woman kept driving and only stopped when she plowed head-on into another car. All 12, plus the drunk driver and the driver of the car she hit, were injured. Or dead.
My heart crumpled into what felt like a wad of wrapping paper as I heard the news. Those poor people. Families coming out of a church Christmas concert. The definition of innocence—and the instant loss of it. It felt like Newtown all over again. Only this time a car was the weapon. Two of the people killed were grandmothers. One was a 36-year-old mother. The next day that mother’s six-year-old boy died from his injuries. He never had a chance. The child had been pinned under the tires of one of the cars. Some of the others injured are still in the hospital, several in serious condition.
Mine wasn’t the only heart to break over this story. The tragedy made international news, news that I was following closely, refreshing my news app every hour to see if anything more was known, anything that would help make sense of this otherwise mind-bending senselessness. Just how drunk was this woman? Did she have a driving record? How could this have happened? More importantly, how does a community recover? And what could I do to help? Make pie?
I was back at my parents for dinner last night, a Sunday. The topic of the tragedy came up again, what the media is calling the “Christmas concert crash.” I hadn’t told my mom how deeply I was still feeling for these Redondo Beach residents and their loss, and how I was wondering why it was still bothering me so much. Was it because it was in my own new neighborhood? Or because I came upon the site just two hours after it happened? Were the departed souls still at the scene and I was feeling their presence? Was it the knowledge from my own tragic losses of my late husband 5 years ago and my daughter-like dog, Daisy, only 5 weeks ago?
I wish I didn’t know what grief feels like, but I do. Which is why when grief strikes others in that sudden and unexpected way, my compassion escalates, soars. I have to be mindful not to take on others’ pain as if it were my own.
My mom goes to church at St. James, where the tragedy happened. She had been to noon mass yesterday and gave us the recap over dinner last night. “Father Francis’s eyes were very red. He looked so tired,” she started off. “He must be under so much stress. His sermon was very good. He talked about what happened. There had been a thousand people at the Christmas concert that night.”
I put my fork down, swallowed my bite of ravioli, and told her, “I noticed on my way over here that the shrine of flowers is gone. I thought that was very strange that they would remove it.” I was referring to the sidewalk in front of the church where mourners had left bouquets of flowers and teddy bears and candles. Collections of mementos like these serve as a public sympathy card and the bigger the pile of flowers and bears—the more signatures squeezed onto the card, so to speak—the more people care. (Newtown had so many flowers and teddy bears they had to hire moving trucks and warehouse space.)
“No, it’s still there. They had to move it,” my mom said. “It got so big it was blocking the sidewalk and people were having to stand in the street. With all the traffic it was too dangerous. They moved all the flowers to the church steps so people would also have a place to sit. The priest talked about it. He told a story about a florist who delivered a professional flower arrangement someone had sent. She wasn’t sure where to leave it as she had never been asked to deliver flowers to a street before. She was really choked up by it and Father Francis had to console her. He was already consoling all his parishioners, and he was grieving himself, but he gave the florist a hug.” My mom smiled warmly as she retold the story.
“I keep thinking about the woman driver,” I said. “I can’t believe she pleaded not-guilty.” The arraignment had been on Friday. “Why couldn’t she have said ‘Yes, I caused this. I am so very, very sorry. I accept the consequences of my actions.’ Why couldn’t she just be honest?”
Why can’t people admit fault? Why was her lawyer telling her not to speak? Instead he spoke for her, shooting poison arrows at empty excuses like, ‘Her brakes might have failed’ and ‘Her prescription medication might have been off.” Why do we have a legal system that doesn’t allow for integrity? If she could have simply said, “I’m sorry,” wouldn’t that help everyone in the aftermath? Wouldn’t that allow the families of the victims to move forward in their grieving process instead of being dragged down with legal battles? Wouldn’t the driver then be able to also move forward with her own life, a life that no matter how she pleads is forever changed. Whether in prison or free, she will carry the burden of ending four lives and altering the lives of countless others in that irreversible act, that one disastrous moment. At least one can hope she is cognizant enough to recognize how far-reaching and fatal the situation.
As if reading my ongoing thoughts, my mom continued, “Father Francis also preached about forgiveness. He even mentioned the driver by name: Margo.”
Forgiveness. Yes. Bad things happen. This Christmas carol crash happened. Sandy Hook happened. Marcus’s ill-formed heart causing a ruptured aorta happened. Daisy’s coyote attack happened. But the priest is right. The only path to compassion, the only real way to heal, is to forgive. And to accept that death, no matter how untimely or how tragic, will always, always, always be a part of life.
I’m going to drive over to St. James Church this afternoon (before I go over to my parents for dinner.) I’m bringing flowers and candles. My offerings may be less impactful or nourishing than the 250 apple pies we delivered to Newtown, but nothing could be greater or more well meaning than the prayer of love and forgiveness in my heart.
NOTE: St. James Church has set up a victims fund for the families. Click here to help: https://donations.la-archdiocese.org/sjvf/