Hold It All

Month: November, 2015

Leah and Wangari

In this morning’s class, we read the passages below from Wangari Maathai’s memoir, Unbowed. Leah then spoke about her country of Kenya and answered our many questions. She told us that when she was a girl, she planted a tree and so was part of Wangari’s Green Belt Movement. Wangari inspired her then, and Leah inspired us today.

Before the Europeans arrived, the peoples of Kenya did not look at trees and see timber, or at elephants and see commercial ivory stock, or at cheetahs and see beautiful skins for sale. But when Kenya was colonized and we encountered Europeans, with their knowledge, technology, understanding, religion, and culture—all of it new—we converted our values into a cash economy like theirs. Everything was now perceived as having monetary value. As we were to learn, if you can sell it, you can forget about protecting it. Using this analysis, we integrated the question of culture into our seminars and eventually wondered whether culture was the missing link in Africa’s development.

When I left the United States, I was taking back to Kenya five and a half years of higher education, as well as a belief that I should work hard, help the poor, and watch out for the weak and vulnerable. I knew that I wanted to teach in a university and share what I had learned about biology. I wanted to see my family and to start a family of my own.

It is fair to say that America transformed me: It made me into the person I am today. It taught me not to waste any opportunity and to do what can be done—and that there is a lot to do. The spirit of freedom and possibility that America nurtured in me made me want to foster the same in Kenya, and it was in this spirit that I returned home.

After the women had planted seedlings on their own farms, I suggested that they go to surrounding areas and convince others to plant trees. This was a breakthrough, because it was now communities empowering one another for their own needs and benefit. In this way, step by step, the process replicated itself several thousand times. As women and communities increased their efforts, we encouraged them to plant seedlings in rows of at least a thousand trees to form green “belts” that would restore to the earth its cloth of green. This is how the name Green Belt Movement began to be used. Not only did the “belts” hold the soil in place and provide shade and windbreaks but they also re-created habitat and enhanced the beauty of the landscape.

By now, nearly two thousand women’s groups were managing nurseries and planting and tending trees and more than a thousand green belts were being run by schools and students. Together, we had planted several million trees. Eventually, the Green Belt Movement would help establish more than six thousand nurseries, managed by six hundred community-based networks; involve several hundred thousand women, and many men, in its activities; and, by the early years of the twenty-first century, have planted more than thirty million trees in Kenya alone.Those of us who witness the degraded state of the environment and the suffering that comes with it cannot afford to be complacent. We continue to be restless. If we really carry the burden, we are driven to action. We cannot tire or give up. We owe it to the present and future generations of all species to rise up and walk!


Raw, Humbling, Challenging by Meg Buckley

I am drawn to the Mev Puleo scholarship because it has been something that has weighed on my heart ever since hearing of its existence. I stumbled across The Book of Mev this past summer, and was immediately captivated and enthralled by the life of a woman with such a zest for life and a passion for others. Her dedication to the poor in Latin America ignited an interest and a desire in me. I firmly believe that God calls us to the places that make us uncomfortable; I desire an experience that will shatter my boundaries, break my heart, and change me in ways I have yet to imagine. I long for a wider worldview, something outside the constraints of my own current experience and understanding. I want to experience God, experience God’s people, in a way that is raw, uncomfortable, challenging, and, perhaps most importantly, life changing.

I intend on pursing a career in public health, but the study of theology is what drives the passion I have for the field and is the lens through which I understand myself, others, and the world. The study of theology impacts how I experience and articulate my faith. God-talk is what I truly love. It creates the thoughts that churn in my mind, the questions and conversations that spark my soul with friends and mentors, and what I would dedicate my life to if I could become an eternal student.

In the words of Dorothy Day, “it is people who are important, not the masses.” In the world of public health, it is sometimes a struggle to see humanity in the statistics. I believe that an immersion experience such as this would open my eyes and my heart to the experience of others. I remember a line from The Book of Mev where she discusses being drawn to a life of theological study or photojournalism. Jon Sobrino expresses to her how the world not only needs liberated theologians, but also needs liberated accountants, architects, and writers. That is how I see the Mev Puleo Scholarship impacting my life plans. I want it to radicalize how I think, how I interact, how I love, and how I serve. As a liberated public health professional, or wherever my path takes me, it is the poor and the marginalized that I want to have at the heart of my decisions and actions. I want to live the rest of my life as a woman for and with others. The Mev Puleo Scholarship offers an experience that is raw, humbling, and challenging, and I hope an experience such as this is one that could challenge and deepen my theology and faith, as well as revolutionize my understanding of poverty, of humanity, and of love.


–Meg is a Puleo Scholar who lived in Nicaragua this past summer.

Share the Wealth with Emma Shaw

Death is not the antithesis of life but rather the teacher of life. It has been my true honor to accompany individuals and families as they face the fear, pain, peace, and inevitability of saying goodbye. I look forward to sharing stories of the challenges faced as a hospice social worker, the insights I’ve gained, and ultimately the death (and life) lessons that I hold so dear. Holding hands at the end of life has offered a road-map of a good death and ultimately, how I aspire to live. Join me for stories of absurdity, anguish, reconciliation, and peace.

My work with hospice began at the age of 18 as a volunteer, just one year after my grandmother died on hospice services. Dying individuals accompanied me as I earned my Bachelor’s degree in Religious Studies and Spanish. I spent my first 6 years after college serving the homeless in a community-based medical respite facility in Washington, D.C. When internal and external resources began to run low, I re-fueled with around the world travel and my Master of Social Work degree from Washington University. I have been working at Seasons Hospice for the past 2.5 years. Read the rest of this entry »

Where Is She Now?


Alegria scanned

Alegria; Pará, Brazil; 1989

We Are Broken

At last, a little quiet and stillness.  Judy Gallagher and her daughter Sarah brought over the evening’s delicious  dinner. With a candle I had lit, Mev and I sat at the table, she in her wheel chair, and I in one of the rickety chairs I had brought with me from Louisville to New York, Cambridge to Berkeley, Oakland to St. Louis.

I knew Mev did not have her speech machine with her; I didn’t want to go into the bedroom to get it.  I had a negative appreciation for that contraption.  I wanted to see how much we could communicate without it.

I said the grace:  “We give thanks this Thanksgiving Eve, for our love, for our families, for our friends who share their food and time with us.  I give special thanks for all the love you have given me this year, Mev. I love you, I really do.”

She smiled, but I could tell she was exhausted.  There were days she craved company, and the tumor was too much for the two of us.  So at lunch that day, 12 people had come over to share Chinese carryout from the Silk Road restaurant.  Then John Kavanaugh came over and played guitar to lull Mev into her afternoon nap.  Her father was then working on a wheelchair to put a special neck backing on it and so make Mev more comfortable.  Also, that afternoon, a couple of the Sisters came by from Visitation Academy.

It was quiet now, though. Most folks in the neighborhood had left to join their extended families in the county or out of town altogether.  Our next-door neighbors, Sharon and Danny, had left for Ohio after our lunch.

Mev poked at her food. She was still trying to eat with her left hand.  I began to feed her when the dressing dribbled out of her mouth down her chin.  After I brought the spoon to her mouth, Mev backed up the wheelchair from the table, and started moaning.  I asked, “What is it, Mev? Are you in pain?”  I couldn’t make out the look on her face, and she started to scream.  I worried that her medication was all messed up again.  I asked her if she needed morphine.  She replied with a scream that garbled, “Yeah,” but I wasn’t sure.  She started to slowly move her wheelchair in a circle around the kitchen – “Uhhhh … Ahhhhhhh … Arrrggghhhhh … Uhhhhhhhhhh” — and her voice became more insistent and fearful.  I literally pulled at my hair for a second, before I decided to call the Hospice nurse on duty, with the hope that she could tell me what was happening.

I got a new nurse, one I had not spoken to before.  She told me to make sure Mev was comfortable and to go ahead and give her another decadron.   This reassured me, for I just wanted her to stop wildly gesticulating.

As I hung up the phone, Mev circled her wheelchair in the kitchen three more times and then peed on herself.  “Was that it?  You needed to go into the bathroom? Oh, but why. . .” I began to say, but then censored myself.  I was about to point out to her, “Why didn’t you just point to the sentence in the speech book?” when I remembered a recent time that Mev had screamed viciously  at her mother, who had suggested the same commonsensical strategy at one indeciperhable time.

It was taxing to take off Mev’s clothes, move her out of the wheelchair and clean up the urine, so I called Cathy Nolan, who lived upstairs.  She wasn’t at home, and I left a message asking her to come down as soon as she got that message, if she arrived in the next several minutes.  After I had gotten her dried, Mev started to scream again, this time from the top of her lungs.  It went right through me, but now I was utterly clueless about what to do. Her earlier discomfort had evidently been that she needed to urinate, but for some reason she couldn’t get that across to me, and I couldn’t guess it.  I thought maybe she wanted to lie down and be more comfortable, so I wheeled her back into the bedroom.  As her screaming continued, I lost control.  There she was, naked, and I placed her on the bed, and threw the blankets off in a fit of bewilderment, and started my own screaming refrain to her incomprehensible agonies:  “What does it mean?  What does it mean?”  Again, I yanked at my hair.

Just then, Mev crapped in the bed, and I felt broken beyond repair.  My screaming stopped as I looked at her quivering and sobbing, and I started weeping.  Cathy then arrived and started to comfort Mev, as I was moaning, “I can’t keep doing this.”  Cathy got ahold of one of her community members, Mary Beth, and asked her to come assist me.  A few minutes later, she arrived and held me in the hallway as I babbled, “I can’t live alone with my wife  anymore.  I can’t manage this.”  She soothed me as Cathy took care of Mev, calming her down and cleaning her up.  How the two of us slept that night is a mystery to me.

from Crisis/3 (Community/4) in Mark Chmiel, The Book of Mev

For L.K. Lapinski

When I was in high school I asked myself at one point: “Why do I care if my high school’s team wins the football game? I don’t know anybody on the team, they have nothing to do with me… why am I here and applaud? It does not make any sense.” But the point is, it does make sense: It’s a way of building up irrational attitudes of submission to authority and group cohesion behind leadership elements. In fact it’s training in irrational jingoism. That’s also a feature of competitive sports.

–Noam Chomsky

01 Oct 1972, Boston, Massachusetts, USA --- American writer, educator, and linguist Noam Chomsky, at home in Boston. Also know for his political activism he was an early and outspoken critic of U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War having written . --- Image by © JP Laffont/Sygma/Corbis

“I refuse to give academics more importance than being a human being responding to other human beings in need”

Cook School of Business, Saint Louis University, where I read (with several SLU undergrads) from Dear Layla Welcome to Palestine for the Social Justice and Advocacy Series; Friday afternoon 30 October 2015

2015-10-30 14.28.06


When Grades Are Less than Everything

Tanya made a decision the second week of her first semester in law school:
After being an A student since the age of six
She decided that it wasn’t necessary to get honors

Sure she was smart
But that decision freed up several hours a week
She could do other things than be locked in the law library Read the rest of this entry »