Monday, October 12, 2020

Helping Hands for Ja'briel


In 2014, I was fortunate to connect with Ms. Ja'briel Walthour, a transgender woman from Hinesville, GA - near my home in Statesboro, GA where I serve as a Unitarian Universalist Minister.  (Note: I also serve half-time at the Unitarian Universalists of Coastal Georgia in Brunswick, GA.)  Her story was so compelling that I used it for an assignment to write a graphic story (some would call it a "comic book story") for a class I was taking.  I invited Ms. Walthour to our congregation to speak and we were awed with her courage and commitment to being her authentic self and helping others in southeast Georgia to better understand transgender people.  This year (2020), I reconnected with Ms. Walthour as I was preparing a sermon about how we could be better allies for transgender people.  It was during our conversations before the sermon, that I learned that Ms. Walthour was saving money for her gender confirmation surgery and was about half-way there.  In my online service on October 11 (National Coming Out Day) to my two congregations and visitors from the UU congregation of Outer Banks, I shared my graphic story about Ms. Walthour and shared that she was saving money for her surgery.  Since then I've had communication with folks who want to contribute.  I'm having to facilitate an avenue for that purpose.

If you wish to share a contribution, you may send (tax-deductible) contributions to the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Statesboro at PO Box 2453, Statesboro, GA 30459 with "Helping Hands for Ja'briel" in the subject line.  Unless you prefer to remain anonymous, we will share with Ms. Walthour about your contribution so that she can thank you.  When we have saved enough to complete her goal for her surgery, we will sent the money to the outstanding surgeon that has agreed to work with her. She has also given me permission to share her name and address so that you can send a check directly to her if you prefer.  

Ms. Ja'Briel Walthour
PO Box #402
Allenhurst, Georgia 31301

I'm am including the story that I wrote below which was based on the story that Ms Walthour shared with me about her journey.  She continues to do well and looks forward to her gender confirmation surgery.  Thanks for any help you can provide.  

Monday, June 29, 2020

Treat Racism Like COVID 19

In our nation and communities, we have been called to do our best to explore what we can do about racism as well as COVID-19.  How do we diminish and halt the spread of these two viruses?  I recently saw this sign that provides information relevant to both.  This simple home-made sign provides four guidelines for both. These are listed below with some additional exploration.

1.       Assume you have it.  COVID-19 is often asymptomatic.  You may have no idea that you have it, but you still are doing things to spread it or not prevent it from spreading. Similarly, no one wants to be called a racist!  But if you grew up as a white person in this country with countless systems of white supremacy, it would be exceedingly difficult not to have developed some biases.  We should assume that we HAVE been affected, even if we have black friends and family members, or if we grew up in the liberal Northeast.  We all have been affected (or perhaps infected).  So, we all have to take an honest look at ourselves and our communities and work deliberately to make a difference.

2.       Listen to experts about it.  There are immunologists and public health professionals who have been studying corona viruses and pandemics for years.  Sadly, many of these folks and their programs were cut by this administration.  Yet, there are other experts who are providing information.  We should all be following at least the CDC guidelines.  It is true that this is a NOVEL corona virus – so there are still things they do not know, and they may need to shift their guidelines. Nevertheless, we need to be listening to them, not our cousins, or politicians who want to wish it away.  Similarly, there are many folks who have been studying racism and white supremacy for a long time.  Scholars like WEB Du Bois have left us with much information about this history.  And much is currently being written by black, white, and brown scholars who are trying to help us.  Even if you are not a reader, there are many fine films and documentaries you can watch.  Listen to these folks.  Follow the leadership of black and brown people who have lived their lives extremely affected by racism.  And read books and articles by white allies who are working to change themselves and others.  

3.       Don’t spread it.  In terms of the COVID 19, we KNOW how to slow the spread.  I am not going to share these recommendations with you.  You already KNOW.  But why are so many not following guidelines.  All the knowledge in the world does not help if we refuse to wear a mask, etc.  Also, our silence with others is detrimental.  You may be silent with others you know are probably spreading it by their actions, but you decide not to speak up; not to cause hard feelings, etc.  This does not help.  Similarly, your silence regarding racism and white supremacy is detrimental and does nothing to stop the spread.  There are ways we can work with society – with LOVE – and help ourselves and others to not spread – and hopefully eliminate systemic racism and white supremacy.

4.       Be willing to change your life to end it.  No one likes to live like we have had to live since COVID 19 forced us to adjust our lives dramatically.  But I think most of us felt that it would be a short-term thing and we would not have to really change our lives.  Now I know there are things I will not return to doing.  I am not going to shake hands anymore – and I hope that is okay.  And I am willing to change much more.  I know you are as well.  But when it comes to racism, there are many who do not want to change their lives.  White supremacy has worked well for most white folks – even if they are low income.  We all have lots of privileges and power.  Some say, “it’s not a zero-sum thing, others just need to have the same privileges.”  But for others to have the same, there indeed are things we need to be willing to let go of.  Are we really willing to do this?  I hope so.  I think for most folks to dramatically change their lives, it takes something like religious conversion.  I do not mean adopting a different theology. I mean something that you accept with all your mind, body, and soul.  My hope is that we WILL make these commitments as individuals, as a community, and as a nation.  May it be so!

Thursday, January 2, 2020

A Eulogy for Fred Page III

A Eulogy for my son Fred
Jane Page

      How does one write a eulogy for her son?  With sorrow, humbleness, deep appreciation for this privilege, and a tremendous amount of love for him, love given to me from him, and love expressed by many of you.  This eulogy may not be perfect.  I may leave out things that should have been included.  But that’s okay.  Fred was a forgiving soul – and so, I will just do my best.

      There are high levels of oxytocin (sometimes called the love hormone) after childbirth – and - at least for a while- you forget all the pain of childbirth and feel the wonderful rush of extreme love and happiness for your newborn.  That is what I experienced on March 15, 1973.  Here was this little person – who was SO very special.  Of course, that chemical rush doesn’t last – but the marvel and wonder of the life of Fred Page, III has remained.

      We have just recently celebrated Christmas, and the incarnation of divine love into humanity.  It is my belief that Jesus was not the only one that received this incarnation of love.  I think it’s within us all.  But some of us – seem to be able to draw on it more, experience it more, share it more.  Fred Page was one of those people.

      As his first wife Michelle reminded me, Fred never met a stranger.  You could be a stranger one moment – and his good friend soon afterwards.  And he knew and loved so many people.  Fred would literally give you the shirt off his back.  In fact, sometimes that became a problem.  When he had his own body shop business, if it was a small job – he would just do it for free.  And I would say, “Fred – you have to charge folks for your expertise.”  And he would just shake his head and say – “it wasn’t that hard Mama, - I hated to charge them.”

      And because Fred could fix almost anything – (which he learned to do by watching his granddaddy) – we all tended to call on him whenever we needed any help for fixing something.  I know we did it and Christie said they did the same thing at their house.  Something goes wrong and we say, “Well – we will just wait on Fred to come over and he will fix it.”  He was SO smart!  He learned how to do things by observing – just like my dad did.

      When Fred was in elementary school, we discovered that one thing wasn’t so easy for him – and that was reading.  Fred was dyslexic.  So school was very hard because so much depends on reading.  Have you ever thought about that?  In societies of old, where reading wasn’t necessary, Fred would have been considered one of the smartest people around.  But in our society, if you can’t read – you are labeled, and often feel the ridicule of others.

      But Fred did his best, and every night I would help him with his reading and read all his assignments to him.  When he got to high school, he talked of quitting because he just wanted to go work for his Granddaddy at the Pontiac Place.  He said – “I’d rather just go work.”  And I said – “well, you may not want this high school diploma, but we’ve worked too hard and come this far, and you need to stick it out and get it for me.”  So, he said – “Okay, Mama – I will do it for you.”  We were proud on his graduation day – and I think he was glad he stuck it out as well.  As time went on, Fred did get better and better with his reading.  And with that, observing closely as his granddaddy had taught him – and being able more recently to google how to do stuff on YouTube, he was able to continue to learn how to do many things.

      Fred’s friends were not just his age mates.  He made friends with people of all ages.  When he was in middle school, he had the opportunity to be a ball boy for the Georgia Southern Eagles, and this was in their heyday!  He made close friends with the coaches, the players, and especially the managers and trainers – who took him on as one of them.  As a family, we followed the Eagles everywhere so Fred could be on the field with them.

      In 1985, we were thrilled to make in the playoffs, so we rode the with managers and trainers and cheerleaders and some of the scout team members on a the VERY old worn out Eagle bus (a 1954 model) to the playoff game at the University of Northern Iowa.  The bus broke down several times in a blizzard on the way – but we made it.  And they WON!  We didn’t think we could afford to go to the playoff game at RENO – but the managers and trainers and coaches said they would look after Fred if we let him go.  So, we did let him get on that plane with them.  I later heard that he got quite an education there by observing all the goings on.  Oh well, we might not have made the best decision on that one – but he was thrilled.  We did all make the trip to Tacoma, Washington where we won that first National Championship.  And Fred was dancing with the players in the locker room after the game.  Erk Russell took a special liking to Fred – and he had the privilege of carrying Erk’s headphones – following him around all over the sidelines.  And he learned some stuff from Erk as well, like how even the person at the top – stays out in the rain to put the equipment away.  So – though he had trouble with learning some things during his school years, he learned many more valuable lessons that were good for him throughout his life.

      In addition to his love for his many friends, Fred loved his family.  Before his Page grandparents died, we could rely on Fred to help us with them, though he was pretty young to be in that kind of situation.  He was just dependable for things like helping with sick folks.  So, his dad or I would take him with us when we went over to care for them.  And he was so kind to them and did not complain about having to spend his time with sick, old folks.

      And how he did love his Granddaddy JG and Granny Chris.  They were like another set of parents to him – except – I have to admit – better parents than his dad and me.  He was SO devoted to them and they to him, as well.  I wasn’t jealous of their relationship – and I don’t think their other family members were either.  We all just knew that there seemed to be some kind of natural bond there that is hard to explain.  Fred recently took Mama on Daddy’s birthday – like he had so many times before – out to his gravesite.  And he shared once again that he wanted to be buried by his granddaddy.  We were hoping that would be a long time in the future, but we will honor those wishes today.

      Now, even though Fred gave and received much love in his life, it wasn’t an easy life.  As most of you know, Fred struggled with a terrible addiction to meth.  I think it started because he wanted to work so hard and found out he could just work – day and night – with this drug.

      But of course, it may start out that way, but then it moves to a place of devastation.  The addiction put all of us and Fred through some hell.  But Fred was able to overcome and have lots of good years before he would slip again – and again cause pain for himself and others.  I was so appreciative of his relationship with his second wife, Suzanne, who seemed to be able to keep him safely away from anything that would cause him to slip.  But even she was not able to do that perfectly, especially if things were rough for Fred for whatever reason.  Suzanne asked me to read these words:

      I cannot begin to put all of my feelings into words. The day I met Fred, my heart skipped a beat and I wasn’t sure what that meant at the time. I soon realized I had fallen in love with a man that I can tell you was loving, loved God and his family, caring, kind, handsome, brilliant, hard-working creative and dependable…the list goes son. Fred would always put others ahead of himself and I was quick to remind him that he needed to look after Fred too. I would soon marry and send many years with the love of my life and my best friend. Although we were living separate lives, we remained soulmates in our hearts, and understood each other like no one else, even during ups and downs. I hope I brought as much joy to his life as he brought to mine. My heart and life will never be the same without his presence, as I will miss and love him always and forever. RIP. Love Always, Suzanne

      He had a slip again in November of 2018 when he ran into old friends who were still on that path at a convenience store in Statesboro.  But this time, he vowed not to let it take him down.  He went into treatment immediately and remained clean and sober since then.

      And he tried to make sure others could do that as well.  I received a phone call from someone close to me who told me how much Fred had meant to their family recently.  Her brother had a pretty bad slip with his addiction as well about three months ago – so bad that he almost died.  Fred had been told about it by the authorities and called to give this sister a head’s up and extend his love.  She told me that after that, Fred checked in repeatedly with her and the brother, encouraging him and reinforcing the need to stay sober and be there for his family members.  And it meant the world to them to have Fred give this support.  Now I just happen to know of this because this sister told me.  But I am sure there were countless others that Fred encouraged, time and time again.

      While in treatment, the doctors told Fred that he not only needed to give up the drug, he needed to give up his work.  The granite installation and heavy lifting was taking its toll on his body.  He loved his co-workers and Mr. Tace at Multi-Stone and they loved him like family – but he would need to find other work that would be easier physically and without any toxic dust or fumes, like paint and body work and some of his former kinds of work had been.  So here he was – in mid-life – having to start all over with learning to do something that was not the kind of work that he had been so accustomed to in life.  He was fortunate through his former brother-in-law, Bill Jackson, to find work with the Elite Medical Center in Pooler.  It was a completely different kind of work.  And it would take much study and learning to become a medical technician and do this work.  He put himself into it whole heartedly.  I received a message from the COO of the company that I’d like to read to you.

Hi Ms. Page.
I am very sorry for your loss. Fred has become one of my best friends. Over the past 6 months Fred has accomplished incredible things with our company. He was the hardest worker in the company. He came to work around 7am and didn’t usually leave until 6pm. 

All of our patients loved Fred. In fact, I don’t know anyone who didn’t like Fred. He was just that type of friend you want. Not many people know what Fred accomplished this past year. He was the best technician in our company by far. I was even going to use him to train other medical clinics how to implement acoustic wave and Prp therapy. Fred mastered the science on these therapies. I wouldn’t have traded Fred for any other Technician. He was the best. He also learned HRT, Lab testing and much more. Fred learned how to read and interpret complicated lab testing as it related to our business. Fred would listen to every word and then used it to increase his expertise. Not many people know, but Fred had acquired as much knowledge in our medical field as most Doctors. David and I were going to make Fred the Office Manager and manage the Savannah office while we went and opened new locations. Fred loved his job and finally found something that not only did he enjoy, but it was a business he excelled in. Fred was a big part of our success and was a big part of our future. It is sad that Fred is not here because he was about to make it bigtime. He will be tremendously missed by me and all of our employees. I thought you would like to know how much your son had become a success and that he was on his way to big things. 

If there is anything I could for you and your family, please do not hesitate to contact me. Please know you and your family are in my thoughts.
Dane Woodruff

I’m so grateful for that very positive affirmation of Fred’s hard work and love.

      Fred made friends not just in person – but online.  He loved to share funny meme’s and funny stories online with friends and family.  He also was a member of an online Bible Study Group.  These folks lived all over the South – and just got together in person once in a while.  But he loved them all – especially his friend Jackie Helton.  And he was devoted to that Bible Study – often saying – I have to go back home now because I have to get online and not miss my Bible Study.  Again, these folks tell me that Fred was full of love and would do anything for them.

      I’ve heard from his co-workers from Multi-Stone (like James Sawyer) and elsewhere who say the same thing.  Many of them think of Fred as their best friend – and “like a brother.”

      Of course, Fred’s real brother John was such a treasure to him.  John moved to Ellabell, Georgia and invited Fred to come live with him since it would be much closer to his work in Pooler than the place he was living in Glynn County.  And Fred moved his dogs Rufus and Suzie Q there with him, and they shared that home and it meant so much to him and to John to have that time together.  Now when they were children, they didn’t always get along.  But as adults – you couldn’t ask for a more loving relationship than John’s and Fred’s.  I am so grateful that John moved back to Georgia and could be with Fred.  They loved one another SO dearly.

      After moving to Ellabell, Fred also found a church nearby that he started attending.  Although he had his online church, I was so glad he found the Black Creek Holy Church of God – and Pastor Stan and his family and church members.  He immediately fell in love with them and they with him.  That’s the way it was with Fred – so easy for him to love others and so easy for them to love him.  He told me he especially loved the music at the church – and I’m so glad that we can share in music today.

      Fred was a man of faith who was not afraid to die.  He loved all of us, and was enjoying being with his grandmother, his parents, aunts and uncles, close friends, his brothers, and of course his sons JD and Thomas, and those precious grandchildren -Alayna and Alec.  He would have wanted to be with us longer.  But he also so dearly loved his granddaddy and he looked forward to one day going to heaven to be with him.

      So, we mourn the loss of Fred today.  He is no longer here in a bodily presence.  But I fully believe that the love that we share with others lives on and on.  It’s the one thing that death cannot take away.  Fred’s love will remain with us forever – as will our love for Fred.  I’d like to close by having you sing this little song with me for Fred.  I’ll sing a line then you sing it after me.
“Listen, listen, listen to our heart song” (they repeat)
“We will never forget you, we will always love you.” (they repeat)
Sing it one more time with me – You sing each line twice.  The first line is: “listen, listen, listen to our heart song” and the second line is:  “We will never forget you – we will always love you.”
(Sing again).

So May it Be.  Amen.