Modern Love with David Hlavsa

For reasons that are probably obvious to readers of Anchor and Flares, David Hlavsa’s book, Walking Distance: Pilgrimage, Parenthood, Grief and Home Repairs (Michigan University Press, 2015) found a place in my heart. Now, Hlavsa’s New York Times essay, “My First Son, A Pure Memory,” is featured in this week’s ‘Modern Love’ podcast.

Emmy-nominated actor Sterling K. Brown does a beautiful reading of the essay, followed by interviews with NYT editor Dan Jones and with David and his wife Lisa.

Walking Distance was chosen as the Gold Winner for Family & Relationships in Foreword Reviews’ 2015 INDIEFAB Book of the Year Awards, and as a Finalist in the Next Generation Indie Book Awards 2016. It’s available through Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and at independent bookstores.

I Love Dallas

I am here with three Maine troopers, a sheriff’s deputy from Knox County and at least once municipal officer from Saco. When the members of our party introduce ourselves to Dallas police officers, they say “Maine!” in wonder, then thank us, with heartbreaking, humbling sincerity.

We were shown around the scene of the shooting by the Texas Highway Patrolmen and officers from neighboring agencies who were providing scene security so their brothers and sisters from the DPD could attend the ceremonies. It is smaller than I thought it would be, even weirdly intimate—there are the pillars we saw on television, chunks of concrete removed by the shooter’s weapon, small pings marking the places where police officers’ sidearms returned fire, right over there is the 7-11, where Officer Mike Smith was gunned down. Shattered windows and a small bulge in the building’s skin show where the bomb went off. There’s crime scene tape lying around on the sidewalk, and I have to restrain myself from gathering it up to take with me, as a kind of relic.

Four funeral services in as many days, with each of the dead receiving the temporary resurrection a memorial service can provide: we get to hear the stories, see the family pictures and share the same space with the widows, mothers, fathers, siblings, comrades and the little kids gazing wide-eyed at the sudden, surrounding sea of police officers (five thousand or so at a rough estimate at each of the funerals I attended) from all over the country.

I am trying really hard not to be angry. Trying not to snap when a relative eagerly asks, “Did you get to see Obama speak?”

“I got to hear Chief Brown speak,” I reply.

I got to hear Officer Krohl’s girlfriend speak. One of Krohl’s nicknames was BWG —Big White Guy. His girlfriend is small, and Latina. “He ignored prejudice to love me,” she said. “And now hate has taken him away from me.”

No one expressed the anger that I feel. This is more than okay—it’s inspiring; every cop and pastor (Republican Christians all, of course) expressed forgiveness, empathy, the desire to understand and to love.

After the services, we lined up in rows outside the churches, in our thousands. I don’t know what the others thought about as they stood in silence, at parade rest.

I thought about how much I love these people—all of them. And how unutterably proud I am to be allowed to stand beside them. We stand for as long as forty minutes, however long it takes for the family to emerge from the church. The buglers play “Taps.” There is an amplified sound of radio static, then the dispatcher’s voice is calling out the unit number. “Car Four One One…Car Four One One…” All of us, in our thousands, are waiting, illogically, for the answering voice. It does not come.Attachment-5390CB6D-1652-487D-8860-B0D57B164254Attachment-C80BA69C-4209-4EBE-A187-8D23C9C9E0D2

What My Daughter Said

This is the speech my daughter gave at the Maine Law Enforcement Officer’s Memorial last month!

“Good morning,

My name is Anne Griffith. I am the youngest of four children of Maine Warden Chaplain Kate Braestrup and fallen Maine State Trooper Drew Griffith.

It is a privilege to stand with you, and honor my father today. On behalf of the families of the fallen, I thank you all for being here.

As the youngest of Drew’s children, I was three years old when my dad died, too young to form clear memories.

I did not have much of a chance to experience him as a father, and my memories of him are vague and uncertain.

What I had, growing up, were stories — stories of his intelligence, his kindness, and his humor— told to me by those who had known him well: my mother, and my siblings of course, my family…and my blue family, too. Law enforcement officers who worked with Dad supported us, shared our sadness and kept us close over the years, caring for him by caring for us. They, too, gave me my father in stories.

And so, two decades later I am still a part of that blue family.

In 2014 I worked as a Reserve Patrol Officer. During this time, I thought often of my dad. I got a glimpse of him—his sorrows and satisfactions— through performing the tasks that he performed; I placed handcuffs on offenders while they fought me.

I performed CPR on two victims… and could not save them.

I helped in preventing the suicide of a mentally ill woman.

For the past year, I have worked as an Investigative Analyst for the Computer Crimes Unit. During this time I have assisted in a variety of cases from child pornography possession to child molestation offenses.

Because of the nature of my work for the Unit, I can definitively point to particular cases and know for certain that I made a difference in the outcome of the investigation. There is a satisfaction in this that my father felt…and I have felt it, too.

I know there is no greater sense of honor and purpose than participating in the protection of innocent human lives. This is what my father died doing.

Besides working with an incredible team, I am fortunate to work closely with those who knew and loved my father- Lt. Glenn Lang who helped to carry his casket, Sgt. Laurie Northrup who once told me her last conversation with my dad was of how much he loved his wife and children; Computer Analyst Andrea Donovan, who worked as a State Police Dispatcher and heard my Dad sign on 10-8, and sign off 10-7.

I am able to know my father through them, just as they are able to know him through me.

April 15, 2016 marked the 20th Anniversary of my father’s line of duty death.

To mark the day, I went for a run.
A sergeant of the Maine State Police K9 Unit, and a recently graduated State Trooper ran with me, in the area where I grew up—and Dad’s patrol area.

We ended up at Marshall Point Lighthouse in Port Clyde, where a bench dedicated in my father’s name is placed. The sky was clear blue and the air was crisp with salt from the nearby ocean.
Neither the sergeant nor the brand-new trooper had ever shaken my father’s hand, or laughed at his jokes. Still, they are his family, they are his brothers. They ran with him by running with me.

The law enforcement family is large; it crosses state lines and international borders. Though my siblings and I lost our father, we did not lose our connection to his legacy, nor the family he became a part of when he joined the Maine State Police in 1986. I know who my father was because I know you—his brothers and sisters in uniform, intelligent, good-humored and kind—who continue to serve and protect the people of Maine and of the United States. In honoring my father today, I honor you.

Thank you. “

Twenty Years

Tomorrow, it will have been twenty years since my first husband, Trooper James A. (“Drew”) Griffith of the Maine State Police was killed in the line of duty. This is the last picture ever taken of him.

DrewpictureIt appeared in the local newspaper to illustrate a story about the Maine State Police’s pilot project in community policing: Drew was going to be the first Trooper to try it out.

A friend cut the picture out of the paper and brought it to me at church in case I hadn’t seen it. I hadn’t—and throughout the sermon I kept taking it out of my pocket, unfolding it and looking at it, then putting it away again. He was, I thought, so handsome and looked so happy.

That evening, I pasted the clipping into our photo album and then—uncharacteristically—I wrote a prayer around it. “Dear God, take care of him.”

The next morning, he was killed instantly when his cruiser was struck broadside by a fully-loaded box truck.

I suppose I could have said that God did not answer my prayer. Or that there is no God. But I believe in God-is-Love, and God-is-Love is who I prayed to, that night and ever afterward.

God-is-Love came flying down the roads, blue lights flashing, to bring Drew’s comrades to the scene of his accident; God was present in the tender hands of the paramedic (a neighbor and friend) who felt my husband’s last heartbeats; God was there in the prayers of the truck driver who could have been defensive but instead took on more than his share of responsibility for the tragedy and let it break his sweet, good heart.

God was baked into every casserole brought by my neighbors and steeped into every cup of Tension Tamer tea my friends and I shared. God was in the funeral home, where Mr. Moss, three troopers and Mom helped me get Drew dressed and ready for his funeral. God was the strength in the arms of Drew’s pallbearers, the crispness of their last salutes, the grace with which they folded his flag into a tidy triangle of stars, God was the governor slipping off his suit jacket, draping my youngest in it because she looked chilly, before handing that flag to me.

God-is-love took good care of Drew, and has taken good care of Drew’s children. God has brought me safe thus far, and God will lead me home.

Kate’s Dates and Appearances…Summer 2016

Sunday, June 12th Unitarian Churches of West Paris and Norway, Maine Sermon
Sunday, June 26th United Christian Church of Lincolnville, Maine Sermon
Sunday, July 17th First Universalist Church of Rockland, Maine Sermon
Sunday, July 24th Unitarian Church, Great Barrington, MA. Sermon
Sunday, July 31 North Chapel, Woodstock, Vt. Sermon
Sunday, August 14th Hancock Point Chapel, Hancock, Maine Sermon
Sunday, September 25th United Christian Church of Lincolnville, Maine Sermon

Check out Kate’s new Moth Radio Hour story at too!

My Tribe

This is going to be a little schmaltzy. Can’t help it.

Together with about 400 police officers, I’m attending a seminar put on by the Concerns of Police Survivors, an organization begun and operated by the widows, parents and adult children of fallen officers. (Bless them, they’ve been keeping me glued together ever since my first husband died in 1996!) They provide many services to survivors, and excellent training for law enforcement officers in law enforcement wellness and trauma.

As the flags are borne in by the color guard , times being what they are, I can’t help but notice that, unlike so many of my usual liberal haunts (my denomination, to name just one), the hands placed devoutly over all those hearts are of as many possible human skin tones as the most enthusiastic multiculturalist SJW could possibly desire. Speaking in every American accent you can imagine (and a few I couldn’t place) we are saying the the pledge in unison…one nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.

Officer Jason Collins of the St. Louis police department, the first three-time winner of their Medal of Valor (and a sweetheart!) is here.


So is Orange County (Florida) Deputy Curtis Barnes, who was shot in the right arm by a trio of car thieves in 2007, returned fire with his left hand and apprehended two of the three before back-up arrived. Barnes is the guy on the right in this picture—splendid man.

curtis barnes
curtis barnes
Also present; a lot of terrific, humane and funny veteran officers giving presentations on PTSR/PTSD, line of duty death, fatal force encounters and (times being what they are) how to cope with a negative social and political environment and intense scrutiny. (If you haven’t seen this video, of an anti-police activist going through shoot/don’t shoot scenarios it’s pretty good.)

On the plane home to Maine, I’ll read the scribbled notes in my notebook: “Try to make a positive difference in someone’s life on every call for service…” “Compassion is the DNA of our profession…” “Chaplains—you don’t push, you don’t pull, you don’t proselytize…””An estimated 15-18% of police officers have PTSD…” “suicide is the #1 killer of police officers…” “a Harvard Medical School study found that most police officers average only four hours of sleep per night…” police officers should be trained to minimize failures of kindness…”

This is my tribe: tall, short, straight, gay, teetotalers, drinkers, all religions including none, Democrats, Republicans and fierce Independents, sheriffs’ deputies, troopers, game wardens, chaplains, small town officers, big city officers

All of us watching the slides click past, image after image of the faces of the law enforcement officers who have been killed in the line of duty thus far in 2015.

Liquori Tate.Police-Officer-Liquori-Tate-webPolice-Officer-Liquori-Tate-web

Miguel Perez-Rios. Policia-de-Puerto-Rico-agente-caido-Miguel-Perez-Rios-Foto-via-Policia-de-Puerto-Rico-2


Rosemary Vela.


Steven Martin Sandberg. Investigator-Steven-Sandberg-web

Aren’t they beautiful? There are 109 altogether… so far.

We’ll be seeing their wives, husbands, children, parents in Washington, DC in May, to welcome them into the club no one wants to belong to. For now, the faces click past and Topeka Kansas Officer Jayme Green gets up with a guitar slung across the breast of his dress uniform. He strums and sings the song he wrote for his own fallen comrades. It’s called Sacrifice and it’s a killer.

They’re the finest. That’s all. Just the finest.

Appearances and Apparitions

Sunday, October 18th, 2015— Sermon Lincolvnille United Christian Church, Lincolnville, Maine 9:30 am
Saturday, October 24th, 2015—Sermon, First Unitarian Church of Rochester, NY 220 S. Winton Road 4:30 pm
Sunday, October 25th, 2015—Sermon, First Unitarian Church of Rochester, NY 9:00 and 11:00 am
Sunday, October 25th, 2015—reading and signing, 3:00 pm
Sunday, November 22nd, 2015— Sermon, Lincolnville United Christian Church, Lincolnville, Maine 9:30 am
Sunday, December 13th, 2015—Sermon, First Church of Boston, 66 Marlborough St. 11:00 am

Note: it is possible to hear the sermons Kate has preached at First Church in Boston by going to their website and scrolling down through the archives of what are, we admit, a whole lot of other pretty spiffy sermons offered by some fine preachers. If you are in the Boston area and want to listen in on the day-of, Emerson Radio WERS 88.9 FM carries the service live on Sundays.


Doubting Faith

Doubting Faith

This year, as a spiritual discipline, I decided to make a deliberate effort to think about things and engage the world from a radically different perspective. In my case, as a liberal, I am trying to see the world through the eyes of conservatives. This project leads me to read books I never would have read, seek out information I didn’t know existed, and participate in conversations with people I previously assumed weren’t worth talking to on subjects I assumed were no longer open to discussion.
This has been a fascinating and humbling experience. Among other things, I have begun to doubt former certainties, and find new ways and new reasons to have faith.

Not long ago, my youngest daughter Woolie and I were crossing a street together. I stepped off the curb into the crosswalk, and leaned out so I could see beyond the line of parked cars. As I did so, I reached back, to keep my darling daughter from walking before I could be sure it was safe.
My daughter was 21 years old. She was a police officer. She was wearing a uniform and carrying a gun.

In the Gospels, there are three kinds of people—-well, four, if you count Jesus himself. There are the ones who believe without evidence. There are those who see the evidence and then believe. There are those who see evidence—-irrefutable evidence!—- and still don’t believe; who instead despair.
And then there is the one who actually knows. Remember eloi, eloi, lamas sabachthani?—- there were moments before his death where Jesus himself had a little trouble believing without seeing. By the time of the story of Doubting Thomas, however, he knew what he needed to know in order to have no doubts at all.

Thomas, I think, need not be our symbol merely of doubt. Doubt is human, and it’s important and necessary, lest we all get suckered into wasting our time and energy attempting to save the world by the wrong methods.
Doubt is a needed prophylaxis against credulity, since credulity—-mindless belief—-is not what Jesus asks of us. Credulity is not faith.
But there is a temptation that Thomas was in danger of falling prey to—- the temptation to despair.

Not long ago, I heard a very well-educated, highly- intellectual guy named Andrew Harvey, give a talk entitled Transformative Action in Dangerous Times.
The professor had an English accent, which made him sound even more intellectual—-wish I could imitate it, but I can’t—-and he was very passionate.
“We are now,” he said. “Living in Dangerous Times. A self-conscious conspiracy between corporations, politicians and the media are deliberately producing an unprecedented global cataclysm,” with wars, famine and the extinction of the snow leopard.
“We must stop denying the truth of this catastrophe, stop clinging to our comforts, utterly transform ourselves in body, mind and heart!” and then we’ll help the poor and presumably the snow leopard too.
The professor sounded intelligent, as I say, and passionate but not especially optimistic. Makes sense: the chances are extremely good that we won’t utterly transform ourselves in body, mind and heart, and so the poor and the snow leopard, and all of us really, are doomed.
It is actually a lot more fun to give a fire-and-brimstone sort of sermon than a “things aren’t all that bad” sermon.
“We are all sinners in the hands of an angry God!” really wakes up the folk in the back pews. “ God is gazing down upon the seething cauldron of sin that is Lincolnville, Maine and surely He will send the fire this time?”
Maybe it’s just the human attraction to melodrama that makes despair so tempting?
Or maybe it’s that, if the world is about to end, we might as well fly to Jerusalem or Davos or Aspen and party with the other pessimists?

You may be more familiar with religious predictions of apocalypse, but secular apocalyptics, are at least as common.
The secular apocalyptic will see a plastic grocery bag caught in a tree, or a traffic jam on I-95 and grimly declare that there are too many people using too little birth control and too many fossil fuels ….the end is near.
The secular apocalyptic will, however, be offended if you point out the similarities between her point of view, and that of the preacher who thinks same-sex marriage is what will provoke God to send the fire this time.
The secular apocalyptic after all, is rational and well-educated. She is drawing her conclusions from history, from science, from facts. And so she, of course, is right.

In 1968, a very smart, rational, educated guy named Paul Erlich, a professor of biology at Stanford University, wrote the following about the state of the world:
“The battle to feed all of humanity is over. In the 1970s, the world will undergo famines—-hundreds of millions of people are going to starve to death in spite of any crash programs embarked upon now.” He made this prediction in a book called The Population Bomb.
Another book, written around the same time by William and Paul Paddock agreed—- “By 1975, a disaster of unprecedented magnitude will face the world. Famines, greater than any in history, will ravage the undeveloped nations. The swelling population is blotting up the earth’s food and, they confidently added, “Our technology will be unable to increase food production in time to avert the deaths of tens of millions of people by starvation.”
I was about six years old when these books were published. My parents read them, along with a whole lot of other Americans—-they were big hits, best-sellers.
For the young people here—-Caleb, I’m talking to you—- perhaps I should explain that no, the world didn’t experience mass starvation in the decades between my birth and yours. Our technology was, it turned out, more than able to increase food production in time to avert disaster.
In fact, the percentage of people living on the edge of starvation has fallen by 80 percent since 1970. When I was a kid, more than one in four people around the world lived on a dollar a day or less—-the standard, adjusted-for-inflation measure of starvation-level poverty. Today, only about one in twenty live on that little.
As the economist Arthur C. Brooks declares, “This is the greatest anti-poverty achievement in world history.”

Yet 86% of Americans surveyed think global poverty is getting worse, not better. Until very recently, I was one of those Americans, even though the evidence, like Woolie’s uniform, was available for me to see, Google or go visit. More than two-thirds of us—-again, I include myself—— do not believe it is possible to substantially reduce extreme poverty in the world in the next few decades—-even though, in the past thirty years, we’ve been doing just that. Oddly enough, the well-educated are no exception.

I would like for us—-everyone here—- to be the exception. I want to inoculate myself, you, our children and our grandchildren against the temptation to despair.
Self-centeredness and self-indulgence are tempting enough without adding in the notion that any effort made on behalf of others is doomed to failure, and any gifts of service are meaningless.
Maybe there would be some excuse for giving up hope if the world really was coming to an end, but it isn’t. The world is not getting worse, it’s getting better, and it is getting better through the hard working lives of all those “excess” human beings the secular apocalyptics will tell us the world would be better off without.

Good news! We need not—-indeed, should not—-gaze upon those teeming masses in Africa or India or New Jersey or wherever masses teem these days and despair. Human beings are not the end of the world. In all our billions, we are the ones Jesus gave his life to save, and despite his doubts he was not foolish or wrong to do so.

Resurrected, Jesus, no longer doubtful and definitely not despairing, gazed upon the evidence of us, and smiled and blessed us.

Who are we to do otherwise?

September—All Maine!

Thursday, September 10 7 p.m.—Camden Library, reading and book signing
Friday, September 11, 10 a.m.—Skidompha Library (Damariscotta, Maine) talk and book signing
Sunday, September 13, 9:30 a.m.—Lincolnville Community Church service
Thursday, September 17, 6:30 p.m.—Gray Library, reading and book signing
Sunday, September 20, 10:00 a.m.—First Universalist Church of Rockland service
Tuesday, September 22, 6:00 p.m.—Yarn Sellar, York, reading and book signing

Grace in a Brighter Season

A new book—ANCHOR & FLARES! Was launched on Tuesday, with an excellent party thrown at Belfast’s Left Bank Books.

Friends, family and, most touchingly, a couple of folk whom I first encountered in the midst of tragedy, as the chaplain called when someone they could not bear to lose was lost to them.

A sudden loss isolates a moment from the flow of time. Though time resumes (unwelcome resumption!) the memory of that moment and all that it contained remains inscribed within ones mind, the hard bright line that separates “before” and “after.”

Present at the scene of an accident, a suicide, or homicide I represent God’s love and the human love that waits just beyond the horizon of a tragic hour, familiar arms outstretched. it is my privilege to serve as a proxy for the ones who love and don’t yet know, to be with the bereaved on behalf of those too far away to hold and console.

And I am there as an embodied promise: love not just was but is. “Soon, soon, your friends and family will arrive, bringing food to share with shared grief and then you will hear your lost beloved’s name, sounding as it sounds only when spoken by a mouth familiar with its shape. You will be with the ones who can remember him—literally, re-member, with their stories bringing the lost one back into membership among those who knew and loved him. All the strangers— game wardens, paramedics, volunteers, and the chaplain—will clear the scene, once you are with the two or three or more who, when gathered, really can provide the sense of Presence that you need.

At the scene of a tragedy, I am not enough and I know it. I depend very heavily upon grace.

And here was grace! WinterChaplain

On Tuesday evening, there were the mourners, the first moment of their grieving having flowed into a year, two years, three years. Somehow my presence at the scene of their loss was not just recalled, but had been translated into a wider sense of shared community; ah yes! Kate Braestrup! I know her. She was with me on that day.

How good it was to see these lovely souls again; upright, smiling and willing to seek out the chaplain who had been there as the hard bright line was drawn, and by their presence invite me to step across it with them so we could be together here and now.