A Sad Story

September 27, 2011 by · 8 Comments
Filed under: Life, Religion, Youth 

Last night I was watching an anime (You’re Under Arrest season 3 – the story of a traffic patrol shift in a Tokyo district) episode that featured the story of a high school girl who died while crossing the street against the light, hurrying to tell the guy that she had admired from afar of her interest.  One of the traffic police who stars in the series found her diary near the accident scene, and later learned that the boy also liked her.

This brought to mind a story from my own past, which I don’t think I’ve ever told here.  My memory of events 26 years ago is fuzzy, so some dates or events may be wrong.

In December of 1984, my youth pastor asked me to consider attending an overnight retreat for youth from the presbytery (at the time I was in Tenafly, so this was Palisades Presbytery).  At this retreat the youth were led through a program about leadership development with the purpose of meeting and evaluating each other and then in the morning – choosing the Youth Advisory Delegates to the General Assembly, Synod, and Presbytery Council.  One youth was allowed from each church; there were about 15 or 20 of us at the retreat.  At the time I was a high school junior, and recently elected to be ordained as a Deacon in late January.

At the retreat I met many wonderful people.  One of the earlier activities was taking and evaluating and understanding the Myers-Briggs Temperament Test.  This was the first of many times that I took this test, and I ended up being an INFP.  Later in the evening, some of us spent time chatting and bonding and discovered that we were all INFP’s – and I’ve since found that INFP’s tend to find each other at events like this, drawn together.

One of these INFP’s was Jessica Berg.  Jessica was a year older than me, a senior from Ridgewood, NJ.  She was an Elder serving on their session at the time.  She and I just clicked – that kind of natural friendship where you feel like you’ve been friends all of your lives.  We bonded that evening over laughter and late night discussions with others.

In the morning we had elections for the positions.  First we elected a YAD and Alternate to the General Assembly (national) meeting.  A girl from another church was chosen as the YAD, and Jessica came in second.  I remember her being devastated.  She was given the option to step aside from the Alternate position to stand for Synod YAD, but chose to stay as Alternate.  The second election was for the Synod (regional) YAD, who ended up being me.   In some ways, these months were the start of my journey that has me at Princeton Seminary today.

In January, my youth pastor arranged an overnight retreat for our youth group and the Ridgewood youth group at our church.  (I suspect some match-making here, but I could be wrong.)  We had a great evening, and I found myself being very interested in Jessica.  I had her phone number.  It took me a long time to get up the courage to call her and ask her out.  For a while it was “I’ll call tomorrow”.

Finally I decided early in the week to call and ask her out on a Wednesday evening.  Earlier in the week was out because I was busy with one thing or another (probably Stage Crew, music, or church).

Wednesday evening rolled around.  It was around 5:30pm in the evening (I think).  I was in the basement playing with the computer, when my father called me upstairs.  My youth pastor was in the kitchen, still dressed up in a suit (he lived at the Associate Pastor’s manse around the corner from our house).  He told me that Jessica had died on Tuesday, January 22, 1985.  I had read the newspaper that Wednesday, but completely missed the story at the top of the Local section with her picture.  Jessica had been driving to choir practice and was killed when her car was struck by a train at at railroad crossing.

I was numb.  I don’t think I reacted correctly to this news.  According to my memory I was not sad, not in a crying heap.  I was just quiet.

On the following Sunday, I was ordained as a Deacon.  That evening Jessica’s memorial service was held at her church.  At that age, I was not ready to handle death well (indeed, I chose to skip my grandmother’s out-of-state funeral later), and I didn’t attend – choosing to go to my own youth group instead (volleyball with the local Catholic church group).  I still regret this decision.

Ultimately I went on to attend the Synod meeting, which continued my heavy involvement in the church.  In June, the presbytery meeting was held at my church and I attended in order to see the report of the YAD who went to General Assembly, and to prepare for my attendance at Synod in June.  (Ironically, during that meeting I ended up having dinner at the table of the General Assembly Moderator.)  Also during the meeting there was a report from the presbytery folks about youth programs.  Pictures of the retreat to choose YADs were shown, including some of me and some of Jessica.  And one of me and Jessica, with her wearing a silly hat that I brought to the retreat that looked like a bear’s head.  I still have that hat.

Sometimes I wonder what would have happened if I’d called sooner.  Jessica was pretty clearly on a seminary/ministry trajectory.  She planned to attend Rutgers that fall; at the time I did not know that I would start at Rutgers a year later.

About a year later when I was at Rutgers I met another member of the Ridgewood High School class of 1985.  She showed me her yearbook, and the page tribute to Jessica.  This friend from my floor at Rutgers ultimately introduced me to my wife Carolyn, right about the time that I saw the yearbook.

For a long time, every January 22nd I would remember and say a prayer for Jessica.  As the years have gone by I have forgotten a time or two.  But I’ve never forgotten her.  And to a tiny degree, she is a part of my faith journey that has led me to seminary.

Be at peace, Jessica.  You are not forgotten.

Five Odd Facts About Me

January 15, 2007 by · 3 Comments
Filed under: Life 

I’ve self-tagged, after reading Russell’s (no relation) post about “Five odd facts that most people wouldn’t know”.

My audience is so diverse that I’ll have to lean heavily on the “most people” phrase in that request – somebody who reads this could know any of these.  So, without further ado, here are 5 Odd Facts that most people don’t know about me.

  1. I was born in St. Louis, MO. Most people associate me with New Jersey, which makes perfect sense to me since I live here now and have done so since I was 9 years old (even attending college at Rutgers).  However, I was born in St. Louis and grew up in St. Louis and University City, MO.  Dad moved us east for a job.  I still consider myself a midwesterner at heart, though the truth is that I’ve likely been too contaminated by NJ to fit in out there.
  2. I’ve never successfully passed a swimming test that involved the crawl stroke. For some reason, I can’t do the breathing the way they want me to do it.  That meant that as a Middle School-age kid, I wasn’t able to pass the test that let me into the deep end (I had to wait until I turned 13 and was automatically eligible).  Ditto for the canoe test at camp – I had to wait until I was a staff member.
  3. In high school I was an accomplished percussionist. I was in Jr. High All-Region Orchestra, Sr. High All-Region Band and Orchestra, and Sr. High All-State Band (twice) and Orchestra (once).  This was playing either tympani or traps (anything that isn’t tympani, snare, or keyboard-based instruments like xylophone).  Somewhere along the way I decided that I didn’t like the competitive nature of music – some of the other musicians were real jerks using their bad attitude towards others as “competitive edge”.  In college I did one year in marching band and two in pep band.  I ended up leaving the marching band because I took one of my wrong turns – pledging the band fraternity.  I quit shortly before I was made a full member and after that nobody from the frat would talk to me ever (I tried to start conversations and was met with stony silence, every time.  Mature, eh?).  I haven’t played seriously since, though I have recently indicated to the church choir that I’d be happy to help out if they needed a percussion instrument played some time.
  4. That scratch on the hood of the blue 1984 Oldsmobile Firenza station wagon was caused when a friend that I was teaching to drive accidentally drove up a tree. I’m not sure I’ve ever told Mom and Dad about this one.  I was going into my sophomore year in college, and my parents and sister (brother was staying at college that summer, I think) went on vacation.  I stayed home to work.  That weekend, my friend from high school Jessica Meyerson (now a very well-educated academic, I think) came to stay in the otherwise empty house with me (she was living with her father in Manhattan).  She never got her driver’s license at age 17, and I offered to teach her.  We took the car up to the quiet residential area of Englewood Cliffs and I set out to teach her.  At one point, she turned too far to the right and headed for the curb.  I shouted “BRAKE” and she hit the gas harder.  She ended up driving up and over a 10 foot evergreen tree, pushing it to the ground.  Luckily the back wheels stayed on the ground.  We backed the car off the tree.  The only damage was a scratch on the hood, lots of pine needles all over the place, and a smushed tree.  The lesson was over.  Jessica left her NYC address and phone and ended up paying just about her entire summer wages to replace the tree.  We drove home and spent the rest of the afternoon washing and vacuuming the car.  My uncle worked at the auto plant where the car was built, so lucky for me he had sent some touch up paint.  I’m pretty sure that Mom and Dad don’t even know that she stayed for the weekend! (Oh shush.  Nothing happened.)
  5. I am at least 1/4 Swedish. My maternal grandmother is 100% Swedish and she was a first-generation Swedish-American.  I remember that every time she came to visit for a major holiday, she brought Vort Limpa bread for all of us.  Apparently, the blond blue-eyed genes didn’t come along for the ride.

Chemical Spill Near My Office

November 19, 2004 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Current Affairs 

This is taking place 2 buildings away right now.  The spill occurred at 9:45am – or about 2 1/2 hours ago.  The road into our industrial development is closed to incoming traffic – anybody from here who leaves is stuck.

I took a walk next door to the post office and bought some stamps.  There is a single news chopper hovering overhead, and a news SUV was parked at the post office.  (The post office is probably screwed up as well – nobody can get in or out.)

I’ll update if there’s more news.

UPDATE 12:40pm – The link above has a better story now.  Apparently they’ve opened the road again.

Counting Sheep at Bedtime

November 9, 2004 by · 1 Comment
Filed under: Can't Make This Up, Life, Travel 

So, I’m lying in bed last night reading before going to sleep.  I still have the police scanner on.

I hear:

“Station 40, respond to the Turnpike mile marker xx.x northbound on an overturned vehicle with possible entrapment.  Use caution for sheep running around on the highway.”

And suddenly my head pops up.  They repeat the dispatch identically.

The story:
Newsday Story

You can’t make this stuff up.

Kill the Wabbit, accidentally

August 17, 2004 by · 1 Comment
Filed under: Life 

I have to confess – I accidentally killed a baby bunny last night.

We have a couple of rabbits living on the property – they were here when the land was a horse farm and moved back after our house and the rest of the neighborhood were built in 1995-96. We’ve lived in harmony with them ever since – my wife even puts an upside-down frisbee in the garden to catch water for them and the birds.

I was cutting the lawn last night. I had cut it the previous Saturday (9 days earlier), but the rainy week made it grow very quickly. I would have cut it over the weekend rather than on a Monday, but on Saturday I had too many family obligations and on Sunday we had Tropical Storm Charley. The grass was very long.

In the front yard, I noticed the big rabbit inching towards the lawn as I cut in an inward spiral. Unfortunately, I was in the way and she didn’t get into the lawn.

Suddenly, I ran close to a rabbit hole and 4 or 5 little bunnies came flying out of the hole. They scattered in the lawn and bushes near the house. I stomped around in the tall grass to flush them away from the uncut lawn, but didn’t find any.

A few circuits later, I was mowing when suddenly one of the bunnies ran out from under the lawnmower! He had done too good a job of hiding. He escaped. I looked around again and scared away another one hiding in the uncut grass.

Finally, I finished the main lawn and moved onto the part between the sidewalk and street. The Mama rabbit was still sitting in that grass, so I moved out to the street and scared her back onto the main lawn. Then, I started cutting.

I was about 1/2 way done with this section when a baby bunny came flying out of the lawnmower. This one wasn’t so lucky – he was bleeding heavily and clearly mangled. I stopped the lawnmower and went to the garage to find a way to put him out of his misery. After that was done, the bunny was bagged up for the trash and my wife went and got out the hose to clean the sidewalk while I finished mowing.

I mowed slowly for the last bit of lawn. After I was done, I went across the street to scare the baby bunny out from under a car where it had fled. Then I went inside, got some baby carrots, and spread them out near the hole. It was the least I could do.

I feel terrible about it. I think I did everything that I could to avoid this tragedy short of raking the lawn, but I still feel bad that it had to happen.