Jessica Lyons

All In Her Head

She didn't choose anorexia. I know that now, but that doesn't make it any easier to watch her starve herself, and fade away into nothing.

It's like a nightmare where you see the boogeyman and you know it's going to kill her so you warn her, but she can't see it, so she doesn't believe you, and then she dies.

But anorexia's a slow suicide. And although anorexia accounts for more deaths than any other type of mental illness, she says she's okay, she says she's healthy. Her brain has shrunk and she's losing her cognitive skills.

She's says she's not like other anorexics. She's in denial. She's moody and angry and depressed a lot of the time. She thinks her mind and body are just fine. But her heart has shrunk, too, and its resting rate has fallen to 49 beats per minute (60 to 80 beats per minute is considered healthy) and she's seen doctors for problems with her kidneys, stomach and other organs.

When she's sleeping, her heart rate will fall well below the "critical" rate of 45 beats per minute, and she may not wake up again.

It's difficult not to feel angry with her because she's hurting herself and all of the people who love her. But she's not just a skinny, stubborn, vain girl who won't eat. She's sick, with a mental illness, and she didn't choose this any more than someone chooses cancer.

A few days after Christmas, she is hospitalized. She's in treatment now, although most of the time she doesn't want to be there and she insists she can get better on her own. I try to tell her that no one looks forward to chemo, either. I don't know if she hears me or not. There are millions of other women – and men – like her in the US, walking skeletons, dying to be thin.

"Why won't she just eat the sandwich?" asks Dr. Cecily FitzGerald, an emergency physician who also treats patients with eating disorders. "She can no more eat that sandwich than you can eat that shoe.

"It's important to stress that it's not about the food, because parents, spouses, loved ones – they always feel it's just about the food. It's really not about the food."

The National Association of Anorexia and Associated Disorders says the problem has reached epidemic levels in America, and affects everyone – young and old, rich and poor, women and men of all races and ethnicities. Their statistics say seven million women and one million men are sick with an eating disorder. More than 85 percent of victims report the onset of their illness by age 20.

There are still a lot of misunderstandings about the disease, however, even among health professionals. Treatment is hard to find – few states have adequate programs or services to combat anorexia nervosa and bulimia – and it's also very expensive.

Inpatient treatment can cost about $30,000 a month, and outpatient treatment, including therapy and medical monitoring, can reach $100,000 per year or more.

"The treatment should be multi-disciplinary," FitzGerald says. "Therapy, a nutritionist, and a physician. Those are the minimum requirements – you can add to that physical therapy or art therapy. You can add as much as you see fit. But the bare-bones is the therapist/psychologist, a physician and a nutritionist."

Anorexia – as all eating disorders – is a complex disease. There's not one single, simple cause, although new research has revealed that anorexia and bulimia are inherited conditions – one needs to have a genetic predisposition for them.

"But that doesn't mean that everybody who has that gene does have, or will develop, an eating disorder," says Kirstin Lyon, a marriage and family therapist in Carmel Valley who is also a certified eating disorder specialist.

So-called environmental factors can also trigger, and worsen, the disease: our society's obsession with thinness, puberty, dieting, going away to college, a traumatic world event or a more personal one, like a breakup.

"There are usually about 10 other reasons why people get eating disorders," Lyon says, "and they all come together: control issues, perfection issues, also addiction. When all these things come together, it forms this way of coping. It's not about the food."

While most people who develop anorexia do so when they hit puberty, both Lyon and FitzGerald say they see patients of all ages. They say they treat 10 girls for every one boy.

First, it looks like body dissatisfaction. "I want to go on a diet," Lyon quotes her patients. "Or food pickiness – I want to be a vegetarian."

Sometimes it's even encouraged – "dieting and exercising are good for you; thin is beautiful," or so we are told every day.

"We live in a culture where we look at anorexically thin models and call that normal, call that attractive," FitzGerald  says. "We have lost our high level of suspicion for someone who is at low weight."

By the time the disease is discovered, much damage has already been done. Hair falls out. Skin turns orange, or yellow. Teeth and gums erode. Menstruation stops. Bones become weak and brittle. The heart, kidney, liver, stomach and other organs become seriously damaged and start to shut down. The brain shrinks.

And those are only the physical repercussions. Words don't adequately describe what the disease does to her self-esteem, how badly it damages her relationships and how much it hurts the people who love her.

"Weight restoration will return most everything to normal," FitzGerald says.

About one third of anorexics recover, Lyon says. Another third may relapse and remain symptomatic. The final third are chronic.

"Their life expectancy is shorter, or they will die," Lyon says.

The ones who recover can't do it overnight. It usually takes between two and nine years. Both Lyon and FitzGerald had eating disorders. Both recovered, and want to help other people become well.

"There were so many times when I didn't want to go [to treatment]," Lyon says, "but I just had faith that things can change. If they can for me, they can for anybody."

And both Lyon and Fitzgerald rail against the unrealistic body images on TV, in magazines and on the runways.

"It's very important for all of us – parents, teachers, men and women – to be accepting of our bodies," FitzGerald says. "I think this whole obesity epidemic is really dangerous; the amount of press that obesity is getting is leading to so much press for diets and it's such a dangerous, dangerous place to go. People need to eat what they want, when they want, and stop when they are satisfied."

It's also extremely important for parents to model body acceptance for their kids, she says. "Then they aren't so susceptible to the media, to diets. It's important for parents to point out all the ways that our culture gets women to be unhappy with themselves. Don't say, 'Do these jeans make me look fat?' or, 'I can't have dessert; it will go straight to my hips.' It's that kind of stuff that children just can't hear. They need to know that they don't need thin thighs or a flat stomach to love their body."

FitzGerald talks to her daughter about airbrushing; in fact, the two have made a game out of it.

"We go through magazines and pick out where we think the model has been airbrushed. You take a woman who is already beautiful, and even the model can't achieve this level of perfection.

"Parents, teachers, babysitters, sisters, we need to all stand up and say, 'We are happy with ourselves, our bodies, the way they are.'"

I hope she makes it to that point, and someday, will be able to say she's happy with her body and really mean it. She's begun to take the first steps, at least. But right now she's angry much of the time. She's angry at her doctors and her parents because they are forcing her to eat and attend therapy sessions. I hope someday she will be able to realize that they saved her life.

My Fantasy Island

My stranded-on-a-desert-island survival kit contains sunscreen, toothpaste, mascara, my hair dryer and a lifetime subscription to Vogue. And tequila and a bottle of margarita mix.

And George Clooney's stranded on the island with me. And we have a cook, and a personal trainer. And a nice condo – beats finding shelter in a dark and damp cave.

I'm hopeful that this island has a good library, and a gym, and hell, my survival kit might as well include a laptop computer with a wireless Internet connection so that George and I can order out for dinner, when we can't stomach another wild boar, or yellowtail, or mango or whatever else our chef likes to prepare.

Of course, I'll be skinny – hello, stranded on an island here – and tan, but my skin would never look weathered, and I'll never develop skin cancer, or gray hair, or even hairy legs. I'm not sure where I will plug in my hair dryer, but I'm quite positive that I will always look really, really, ridiculously hot.

We'll be happy, on this island, George and I.

Okay, so my fantasy more closely resembles an exclusive resort in Bora Bora than a desert island – or even "Gilligan's Island," for that matter. But I'm no "Survivor" wannabe, and thankfully, neither is ABC's new hit series "Lost."

The show's premise may sound familiar: 48 characters are stranded on a remote Pacific island, and not all of them will make it through the entire season. Except on this show, the losers aren't voted off by a jury of their peers; they are picked off by a scary, possibly prehistoric monster that lives in the jungle.

And while the pilot episode's horrifying plane crash may look realistic – "hyper-real," creator J.J. Abrams called it – the inventive plot twists, the nail-biting suspense, the smart writing and the nuanced character development assure the viewer that "Lost" is most definitely not a new reality show.

The series begins when a man named Jack (Matthew Fox) wakes up in a Bamboo forest and realizes that his plane has gone down and, miraculously, he and 47 of his fellow passengers have survived with no more than a few scrapes and bruises. He's dazed and he needs stitches himself, but people need help, so Jack heads back to the scene of the crash where he organizes rescue efforts, examines other passenger's wounds, and searches the wreckage for food, water and medical supplies.

Jack's got his own secrets – as do all of the survivors – but all his fellow castaways see is Jack the heroic surgeon; he's chiseled and decisive and he almost immediately becomes their reluctant leader.

While viewers eventually learn more about the ill-fated passengers in a series of flashbacks, most of the survivors are complete strangers to one another. Some cling to the hope that they will soon be rescued, and remain on the beach, while others reason that it's safer to set up camp in the jungle, near fresh water and sheltered from the beating sun – out of sight of a passing plane or ship.

Many seize the opportunity for a fresh start. Nobody knows who they were before the crash; they can be anyone they want to be on this deserted island. But this also poses a threat to the struggling group. They don't know who to trust and, of course, looks can be deceiving. The band of strangers must learn to work together if they are to survive.

There's level-headed Kate, (Evangeline Lilly), who soon becomes Eve to Jack's Adam. She's pretty and smart but, as the viewers learn early on, she's a criminal. In flashbacks, we see a U.S. Marshall on the plane sitting beside a handcuffed Kate. What did she do?

Charlie (Dominic Monaghan) is a faded rock star and heroin junkie. Sayid (Naveen Andrews) is a strong, handsome Middle Eastern male, between the ages of 18 and 35, which makes him an immediate target of racial profiling by some survivors. We learn later that he's also a former military communications officer in the Iraqi Republican Guard.

Sawyer (Josh Holloway), a rogueish-yet-cute redneck, accuses Sayid of being a terrorist and crashing the plane. But it's Sawyer who seems to be the dangerous one. Most of the others assume Sawyer was the bad guy on the plane; he's prone to violence, and no one trusts him.

Jin (Daniel Dae Kim) and Sun (Yunjin Kim) are a traditional Korean couple who isolate themselves from the group. But wife Sun has a secret – she took English lessons back in Korea and had planned to leave her husband and escape to America. Instead, she boarded a plane with her husband.

Single dad Michael (Harold Perrineau) recently gained custody of his nine-year-old son, Walt (Malcolm David Kelley), after the death of his ex-wife. The father and son are strangers to each other.

Locke (Terry O'Quinn) is a mysterious older man – the only one who has actually seen the noisy beastie that is terrorizing the survivors. He says he's seen the soul of the island and it's magical.

And then there's Malibu Barbie brother-and-sister team Boone (Ian Somerhalder) and Shannon (Maggie Grace), who gives herself a pedicure while the others are struggling amid the fiery debris, and happily finds her bikini in the wreckage.

Of course, the themes are readily apparent – man versus man, man versus beast, man versus nature. Which is the greater threat: the harsh island or the spooky monster in the jungle? Or is it one of their companions? One is forced to wonder: will this unlikely group succeed in establishing some type of desert-island civilization, or will it spiral into "Lord of the Flies"-style chaos?

At times, it's unclear what is real and what only exists inside the survivors' heads. Even the scary beastie – perhaps it's only the incarnation of their own fears and personal demons.

Happily, the show has made it out of the forest, so to speak. About 18 million viewers tuned in to the Sept. 22 premiere, making the thriller ABC's most-watched drama debut in nine years. Subsequent episodes attracted between 16 million and 18 million viewers (blame playoff baseball for the dips), and the show's Nov. 3 episode helped ABC secure a ratings win for the night. About 18.6 million viewers watched "Lost" – up 2 million from the week before. In the age of reality TV, it's refreshing to see a show with real actors and real writers winning the network ratings wars.

And unlike reality stuck-on-an-island TV shows, the characters on "Lost" are good looking. So when they're running around, scantily clad, in the sun and surf, we don't cringe. Instead of fat, naked Richard (from "Survivor"), we get to look at a shirtless Matthew Fox – who fits into my tropical island fantasy quite well.

The Politics of Hair

A woman's hair is not a constant. It's not intended to be. For proof, look no further than the multitude of semi-permanent hair color, perms and straightening treatments, and the oh-so-cute salon shampoo boys.

Some breeds of women -- i.e. models -- have been known to change their hair from one page of Vogue to the next. Now it's Bride-of-Frankenstein frizzy, now it's stick straight. With others -- Farrah Fawcett, Jennifer Aniston and similar Hollywood types -- fans expect trend-setting hair. (Remember The Rachel?) It's part of their job descriptions. Even if adoring fans hate the 'do -- think Kerry Russell's brush with baldness -- we expect change. We expect high-profile women to remain au courant.

There is one iron-clad exception to this rule: Women in politics. Or women with husbands in politics. Run for public office and kiss goodbye the days of changing hairstyles every six weeks. We the public feel we own female politicians' hair; bad perms, bad roots, and all. Many politicians and First Ladies take the easy route, and don't change their hairstyle at all while in public office, or in the public eye. Think Madeline Albright, Condoleezza Rice, and any First Lady up though Barbara Bush. US Senator Dianne Feinstein -- who was also the first woman on the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, the first female mayor of San Francisco and the first woman elected Senator of California -- has worn the same hair cut and color for more than 30 years. Stylish, it ain't.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), on the other hand, who has been called "stylish" by Time Magazine, a "babe, and a "looker" by the White House Project, became head of the Big Dem Boss, cut off her bobbed hair and experienced a mild media-induced backlash.

On the other end of the spectrum, there's Hillary Clinton, the spokesmodel if you will for feisty politics and unabashed haircuts. During the Clinton years, mocking Hil's hair because a national pastime, and the stuff mean-spirited greeting cards were made of. A recent Time Magazine cover story, featuring an excerpt of Sen. Clinton's memoir, actually included a photo spread charting the evolution of her hair.

While male politicos don't wear the spiky faux hawks and bleached hair of the hipster generation, even Al Gore experienced some seedling resentment when he went from clean-shaven to bearded all in the course of a vacation abroad. Pundits said he looked too edgy, too brash, and, dare we say it, too European.

No one knows the politics of hair better than Karin Strasser Kauffman, a former Monterey, Calif. county supervisor who also ran for a seat in the state Assembly in '96.

We meet at a Carmel café. She's sitting outside, eating a cobb salad and sipping a glass of Chardonnay. She gives me a puzzled look as I approach the table. I assume it's the fishnet stockings. Wrong. It's my hair.

"I wasn't sure it was you," she says. "Wasn't your hair red last time I saw you?"

It was red, but that was over a year ago. Last time she saw me; it was platinum on top, almost black underneath. Now it's dark brown.

"You know," Strasser Kauffman says, "when you're elected to public office, you can't change your hair."

Isn't that as bad as dying a slow and painful death?

"It's not worth losing votes over," she says.

During her 10 years on the campaign trail, and in office, Strasser Kauffman describes her hair as "medium brown, medium length. A sophisticated bob. No bangs." She permed it to keep its height and body and she never changed her hair color. But on occasion, she'd grow longer pieces in front, or she'd flip it up, instead of under. And then the backlash -- from both women and men -- would begin.

"I'd change the style very minimally," she says. "And it was always, 'Oh, you changed your hair.'" She wrinkles her nose and curls her lip. "It was always implied, what else are you changing? Your politics? You are supposed to stay steady, stay the course, stay just as we elected you."

And today? She wears her hair short and brown, with chunky blond highlights -- and she relishes change.

Why all the fuss over female politicians' hairdos? Maybe we childlike citizens look to our elected officials as surrogate parents -- protectors who will shield us from the dangers and uncertainties in the world. If our politicians change, how can we trust anything to remain constant?

Or perhaps we associate changing hair with controversy. Compare First Ladies Hillary Clinton and Laura Bush. Clinton didn't play the traditional first-lady role. She supported her man, but she also pushed her own political agenda and campaigned for sweeping health care reforms. Laura Bush, on the other hand, is foremost a mother and wife. While Hillary set forth to overhaul the health care system in the US, Laura remains focused on literacy and education. It doesn't get more motherhood and apple pie than that.

"Nobody's against literacy," says Strasser Kauffman. "But if she suddenly tackles defense contracts or the energy policy, she's been seen in a different way."

In '04, things could get interesting. It's too bad that Carol Moseley Braun doesn't stand a chance. Her hair's cropped close to her head, it's not typically feminine, and it's the ultimate no-nonsense cut. It would be interesting to see how the public would react.

We're left only with the potential First Ladies.

Teresa Heinz Kerry, called "opinionated" by her friends and a "loose cannon" by her foes, doesn't look likely to conform to a traditional First Lady role. She's smart. She's fashionable. She's got opinions of her own and she's not afraid to share them. And she has fabulous curly hair. "This is hardly the first lady's hairdo," she recently told Elle.

Elizabeth Edwards plays it safer than Teresa Heinz Kerry. Edwards' hair looks sensible and stylish, but in a soccer mom kind of way. She's an attorney and her cause is kids.

The Boston Globe, in detailing Dr. Judith Steinberg Dean's dark hair and "simple skirt and sweater," calls her the "least packaged" of the candidates' wives, which translates to no sense of style. "I'm not a fashion plate," she admits.

Poor Gert Clark doesn't stand a chance. The General's wife's hair would undoubtedly be overshadowed by her husband's shock of white hair and high-voltage smile.

Or perhaps, by Election 2004, we will have evolved, moved from the flip to the shag, if you will. Maybe we will stop scrutinizing female politicians' 'dos and start asking the important, tough questions of men in public office: Toupee? Or not toupee?

Jessica Lyons lives in Santa Cruz, Calif., and is a staff writer for Monterey County Coast Weekly.

War Is a Family Affair

My little brother Nathan was deployed on Feb. 15 -- the day millions of people gathered in cities across the globe to protest military action in Iraq; the day before my mother's birthday.

Nath used to be a hyper little kid who always wore shorts, cowboy boots and a buzz cut. He danced the part of a duck in a ballet recital when he was 4. He was a punk in high school who played the drums in a band and wore his hair bleached and long, over his ears, like Kurt Cobain. The he became an English major -- he graduated from the University of Oregon last year. Somewhere during his college years, he lost his nose ring and found George W. Bush.

Now he's engaged to his college sweetheart, Lindsey Wolcott. His hair's shaved off again. And he's a member of the 1st Battalion, 162nd Infantry of the Oregon Army National Guard.

My brother's 22. To me, he's still a kid. He's not old enough to fight a war. The President hasn't officially called for military action against Iraq yet, but I think we're already at war. My family's countdown to war started on a Friday night in February, a week before Valentine's Day. My brother got a call on his cell phone.

"We went out to dinner at Applebee's," remembers Lindsey, Nath's fiancée. "Stupid guy told me at Applebee's. He said, 'Oh my gosh, I have some bad news,' and I just started crying in the middle of Applebee's in front of everyone."

I asked her if she knew what the news would be. "Yeah. I could tell."

I found out the following Sunday. I was sitting on the couch, wearing flannel PJs, drinking my morning coffee. I checked my email and found an automated note from The Oregonian -- a message from my dad -- telling me to check out a page on OregonLive.com. My dad's weird. He's a lawyer and a brilliant orator with a funny, dry sense of humor. But sometimes, with personal stuff, electronic communication comes easier to him than talk.

I opened the email. It was a canned message. "Dear Jessica: Dad thought you might be interested in this item from OregonLive.com." I clicked on the link before I read my dad's attached note. "In the largest call-up of an Oregon National Guard unit since World War II, about 670 soldiers of the 162nd Infantry Regiment were told to mobilize Friday," the story began.

I clicked back to the email and read the part that's supposed to make it sound like a personal note. "Dad says: Still don't know if Nate's among these. He'll find out tomorrow."

I burst into slobbery tears. At that moment, I saw faces in the front window. My friends Lou and Rachelle walked in. They were laughing and smiling. We had planned to spend the day at the beach. Their faces changed when they saw me looking like I'd just found out that my brother was going to war.

Around 5 p.m. my dad called and said that Nathan wasn't going anywhere yet. "But this is the military and that can change any minute," he said. Dad was right.

At 11:30 Sunday night the phone rang. My husband Tom and I were sleeping. I hate late-night phone calls. Except for an occasional drunk call from friends or siblings, they're never about anything good. Tom got out of bed and walked to the kitchen to answer the phone, because I'm blind without my glasses and because we both knew why the phone was ringing.

It was my dad. He sounded oddly cheerful. My mom was asleep. My dad said Nathan would ship out on Thursday. Of the 162nd Infantry, only 35 soldiers of the 2nd Battalion would be deployed. Nate was one of the lucky 35. The other 700 soldiers, he said, were "undeployable."

I didn't sleep that night. I tried to think about Nath wearing a gas mask and a chemical suit, gunning down Iraqis, but the dissonance was too great. He was so homesick for Lindsey and our family after he left for basic training last summer. And that was just South Carolina. Nath's old room in my parent's house is still decorated with Pearl Jam and Nirvana posters. His collection of Pound Puppies sit on a shelf. An old Winnie the Pooh lamp stands near his bed. A few days before he found out that he would be deployed, I asked him if he felt afraid. He said no, and joked, "I'll bring you back an ear. I'll bring you back Saddam's ear."

He's trying to be macho and tough. That's not Nath.

At first I felt terrified, but the fear paralyzed me. So I got angry. Somehow that seemed more productive. I yelled into my pillow, cursing George W. Bush. Last summer, while Jenna Bush interned at a Hollywood entertainment agency and hung out with Brad Pitt and Jennifer Aniston, my brother learned hand-to-hand combat. I know he bought the ticket. No one forced him to enlist. We all told him that his timing was tragic. But even today he says if he could go back to last March, he'd still sign up.

Still, I wondered how Congress could agree to put my brother in the line of fire. This 107th Congress includes only one member who has a child in the enlisted ranks of the military. A handful have children who are officers. How can our elected representatives agree to send troops into harm's way without knowing what horrible chemical and biological agents are out there? I'm afraid Nath will get hurt. I don't believe this is an irrational fear. The Department of Veterans Affairs estimates that between 25 and 30 percent of the 700,000 U.S. troops who served in the first Gulf War are now ill with Gulf War disease. Many veterans with symptoms like fatigue, memory loss, joint pain and paralysis say their mystery sickness stems from exposure to neurotoxins in Iraq. They worry the next group of soldiers will face a similar affliction.

A report by the Government Accounting Office in 2002 found that the military had purchased almost 800,000 defective chemical and biological warfare suits. As of July, 250,000 defective suits were still in the military's active stockpile. Even Administration hawks concede that if Saddam decides to unleash a chemical or biological attack on American forces, the loss of life would be massive.

And then I thought about the joyful little kid who used to climb up doorjambs and who wanted to name our miniature Schnauzer puppy Cuddles. I wondered if he had grown up. Monday night I was on a plane to Oregon.

Top Gun

If anything bad happens to my brother, I will blame Tom Cruise. Nath decided to enlist one night after watching the movie "Top Gun." I don't think his first instincts were noble or patriotic -- those came later. Before Sept. 11, he says, he had never thought about joining the military. But one night in March '02, when Nath was three months away from graduating, knee-deep in student loans, not knowing what he wanted to do with his life, my brother decided he was meant to be Maverick. The life of a Navy pilot sounded glamorous, and the military's offer to pay off his student debt was a relief. The next day Nathan drove to the Navy recruiting office in Eugene.

"I can't pinpoint it," he says. "I don't have a reason. I woke up one day and decided I was going to do it."

"It was really random," Lindsey says.

What did he say? "He said, 'I want to join the Navy.'"

And what did you say to him? "'Okay, sailor.' At first, it was just so random that I thought, oh, this will be fun. He kept telling me we were going to live in Hawaii, at Pearl Harbor. So I was excited at first."

Were you worried at all that he would have to go to war? "I remember we talked about it. I remember asking him if it would be likely. He said no." Lindsey says she's not worried. Not yet. Not until she finds out what Nate's mission will be.

"But I don't know if it's different for me because my dad went to war," she says. "He fought in Vietnam. He talks about it all the time. He loves it. I think it's the pride. My dad, he flew..."

"Hueys. The medevac chopper," Nath interrupts.

"He picked up dead bodies after battles, which I think would be scary," Lindsey says. "He got a big award, the Distinguished Flying Cross. And he is just so proud. He tells me everyday, 'I'm so proud of Nate and I know you're proud of him, too.'"

But are you more proud or scared? "Well, I'm sad he's going to leave, but I'm proud of him," Lindsey says.

She's less selfish than I am. I decide to try to talk him out of it. After he decided to enlist, Lindsey drove with my brother to the Navy recruiting office. He was one test question away from becoming a Navy pilot. Instead, he ended up in infantry -- a sawgunner (his job is to fire a squat automatic weapon) in the Oregon National Guard. "It will be fun," he told me last summer, before he left for basic training. "Like camping two weekends a month except that we get to hang out of helicopters and shoot guns."

Plus, it's the National Guard. So maybe he would be paid to stand around in an airport holding a rifle or looking through car trunks. Wrong again. There are now more than 150,000 reservists and National Guard members mobilized, conducting homeland security missions and preparing for war with Iraq, more than at any time since Sept. 11. On Thursday, Feb. 13, Nath went into lockdown. He had tickets to a basketball game that night.

Shipping Out

Nath left for Fort Carson, Colorado on Feb. 15 for training before he is shipped overseas. He's staying in an old hospital with heat and electricity but no hot water. The night that his battalion arrived, they unpacked their bags and then were told to pack them again. They were issued their weapons and then turned them back in. He got his anthrax inoculation and the first of six smallpox shots. He says the anthrax left a big red bump, and the smallpox itches like hell. Nath's battalion will spend the upcoming weeks shooting their weapons, preparing for nuclear, chemical and biological attacks and learning how to fight in an urban environment.

Sometime this month they'll prepare to ship out for "no more than 365 days." He doesn't know where they will be sent, or what the mission will be yet, but they've spent considerable time learning how to behave properly in an Arab country, and they've listened to lectures and seen pictures of what will happen to them should they be kidnapped by terrorists. One guy in the slide show had his kneecaps sawed off. Another was repeatedly set on fire and extinguished. Both died.

"If terrorists catch you," Nath says, "you can count on dying the most miserable, painful death imaginable. I'm not leaving the base."

Or my brother's infantry battalion may be sent to Turkey to guard an airfield or a missile base. He says it could be quite boring, so he's packing a Gameboy, a CD player and the Lord of the Rings Trilogy. He wears a silver cross on his dog tags that my parents gave him before he left for basic training. Now he also wears a crucifix my mother-in-law gave to him, and carries another one that belonged to my grandfather in his pocket.

Nath will miss a Bon Jovi concert and a planned vacation to Mexico. He'll miss Lindsey's MAT graduation and her birthday. He'll miss my sister's wedding on July 4.

I'm biased, but I think my family is special. We're very devoted to each other. My sister Suzanne lives in San Jose; when her wedding dress arrived, my mom and dad flew down for her first fitting. When my baby sister, Karen, who was 15 when she got pregnant, decided to keep her baby, my very traditional, very Catholic family rejoiced. On Valentine's Day, Karen's boyfriend Chris -- baby Elizabeth's father -- proposed. Of course, we all came home to say goodbye to Nath. On a Tuesday night, we had our last family dinner together. We ate lasagna and drank wine, and I recorded the whole thing.

My dad makes a toast "to a successful campaign, or whatever it's called." My mom makes a toast to "coming back in two weeks." My sister Suzanne says "Hasta la vista."

I ask Nath if he's scared. He says no. "There's nothing to be scared about." But Lindsey says he's lying.

You're not scared of dying? "No."

You're not scared of killing people? "No."

Do you think about killing people? "No."

Then what do you think about? "Separation."

He says he would enlist all over again. Lindsey says he's rude. I ask him why and he says he doesn't know.

"I don't know," he says. "It sucks that you have to leave -- that's the worst part, by far -- but there's a much bigger picture to it all. You're out there with people you support. And you're out there working for each other. And for the good of the nation. So it's a big deal, really. See, there's a difference between reality and idealism. That's what it is, you know? Everybody wants there to be world peace. I don't have a question in my mind about that. Everybody wants everybody to get along but that's not a reality. Everybody is always going to have different views. Everybody is not always going to get along. And once you realize that, you realize ... it's just not a reality."

So why should you be the one to fix it? "Because somebody has to."

It doesn't matter what I say.

Freedom, Fighting and Family

My brother thinks we're fighting for freedom. My dad thinks we have a moral duty to oust Saddam.

"The United States and a number of other countries have recognized that there is a murderer at large and have insisted that we must not simply stand idly by and do nothing while he plans yet other murders," my dad wrote in a guest opinion for the local daily back home, the Statesman Journal. "Today we see war protesters, but would they seriously argue that Hitler should have been left alone? Wouldn't a strong military stand, at least by 1938, have avoided the Holocaust and ultimately World War II?"

I agree that Saddam is a barbaric dictator, but please, he's not Hitler. And I don't think any of these are the reasons that my brother is being sent overseas. War should only be a final resort and I don't think we've exhausted the other options yet.

I didn't tell Nath any of this. He was leaving in two days and I didn't want to fight. It seemed useless to talk to my brother. I believe a unilateral, pre-emptive attack against Iraq is unjustifiable. That it will be a horrible, bloody fight. It's highly unlikely that Iraqis will welcome American troops with open arms as these foreign invaders try to take Baghdad. If accounts of weapons and laboratories hidden under hospitals and in crowded residential neighborhoods are true, it's likely that the U.S. will respond by heavily bombing these urban areas. Iraqi civilian casualties will be high. Thousands of American lives are at stake. The risk is too great.

I knew none of this would matter to him. I'm proud of my brother, and I admire his courage and his conviction. But I don't understand it. And I think it's naïve. I know he -- like the other 180,000 U.S. troops in the Gulf -- is doing a job and I support and appreciate him. It's the Commander-in-Chief I have a problem with.

On this tape, I can hear my niece, Elizabeth, who is now almost 3, singing an operatic version of Jingle Bells, her favorite song, and playing the piano in the background. I can picture the scene. After her impromptu recital, she put on an Army hat that belonged to her teddy bear -- Uncle Nay Nay bear, she calls it. Uncle Nate taught her how to salute and say, "Drop and give me 20." After a few tries, she got it.

Earlier in the day, our family portraits arrived. We sat for a photo session over Thanksgiving, at a historical park in Salem. My two grandmothers were there, along with my mom's sister and brother-in-law who live in Boston, the four of us kids, my husband, their fiancées, and 2-year-old Elizabeth. My mom probably ordered dozens of prints of everyone and one big 24x30 picture of the six of us to hang above the couch. She doesn't have a frame yet, but she put it on the wall anyway. We're sitting under gold-colored leaves, and we're all smiling big, toothy grins except for Nath who never opens his lips.

"It's beautiful," my mom says, folding her hands, staring up at the picture. "It's all I wanted."

I said goodbye early Thursday morning. I woke up at about 5 a.m. when I heard Lindsey's car pulling out of the driveway. She had to go home to Portland, to student-teach. Nath wouldn't leave for another hour, but I couldn't sleep.

I remembered when we were little and we had snuck out of the backyard to run away. I don't remember why. Nathan started crying because if we ran away, he wouldn't have a mom anymore.

"Don't worry," I said -- his brave, 7-year-old sister. "I'll be your mom." We never made it very far. We never packed enough.

At 6 a.m. my mom came in to wake me up. She asked me how long I'd been awake. "I don't think any of us got much sleep last night," she said. I started crying and she rubbed my head. "Be strong for Nate," she said. We all congregated in the kitchen in our pajamas, and watched Nate, wearing his fatigues, carry his bags out to his new truck. He bought it five days ago. He's mostly driven it to and from the Army headquarters in Eugene. My dad looked so tired, his eyes sad and lined, and his thin hair falling in his face.

My mom kept busy, orchestrating the deployment, moving between the truck, the kitchen and the coffee pot. Karen stared at the floor. Suzanne had flown back to San Jose the previous afternoon. Nath went down to the basement one last time and came up carrying his address book. "Alright, let's go," he said. He came over to hug me and I couldn't be strong. Neither could he.

After Nath walked out the door, Karen and I went into the front room and opened the blinds like we used to do every morning when my dad would leave before dawn to drive to work. Karen and I were smaller then, but we still fit between the end table and the window. Nath's truck drove down the hill, and we waved through the glass. He didn't see us.

Jessica Lyons is a staff writer for Coast Weekly in Monterey, California.

The Beef With Wolves

In or around 1940, Eugene Cleveland Holder shot and killed the last Mexican gray wolf in Arizona. More than 60 years later, his grandson Will Holder and wife Jan -- fourth-generation ranchers who live and raise cattle in the middle of a wolf recovery zone -- scream, throw rocks and dance around like drunks upon seeing a predator near their livestock. But they don’t shoot.

“It’s karmic justice,” says Jan Holder. “The wolf is here to stay. We’re just trying to figure out how to live with it and still be able to raise cattle.

“Whenever you see a wolf you make a lot of noise and act insane,” Holder continues. “You scream, you holler, you wave your arms. You bang pot and pans together. You throw rocks -- they don’t like that. Mainly we just act like a bunch of idiots. We’ve found out that works pretty good.”

The Holders are part of the Wolf Country Beef program in Arizona and New Mexico that teams cattle ranchers with Defenders of Wildlife, a national conservation organization well known for its efforts to restore wolf populations in the lower 48 states. Participants allow the recolonization of the gray wolf on their private lands and will not use lethal controls on coyotes, wolves and other predators. Any losses dues to wolf predation are reimbursed by Defenders.

In exchange, the meat the wolf-friendly ranchers produce bears a “Wolf Country Beef” label -- like the Holder’s organic Urban’s Natural Beef -- that identifies their product and their company as working to assist with the recovery of gray wolves. The Wolf Country beef is sold in grocery stores as the environmentally friendly choice, making red meat green. (Think dolphin-friendly tuna, and salmon-safe farmers, who agree to reduce runoff into nearby spawning grounds.)

Holder says 39 wolves currently roam the 7,000-square-mile Blue Range Recovery area in the Apache-Sitegreaves and Gila national forests of Arizona and New Mexico. Biologists hope to be tracking 100 wolves in the recovery area by 2008.

Many cattle ranchers, however, would still rather shoot first and ask questions later.

Shortly before the Defender’s first release of wolves in New Mexico, a group of opponents led by the New Mexico Cattle Growers Association filed a lawsuit in federal court seeking to stop the re-introduction, arguing that wolves would cause “irreparable harm” to the cattle. The case was thrown out in ’99.

Now, these same opponents may get some help from the Bush Administration.

Just when gray wolves are beginning to make a tentative comeback in the U.S., Interior Secretary Gale Norton is expected to weaken federal protection for wolves by the end of January, making it easier to kill wolves in the few places they survive throughout their historic range. The Bush Administration has also indicated that it will back away from a Clinton Administration proposal to initiate wolf recovery in the Northeast states.

Nina Fascione, a Defenders vice president, calls this “a precursor to de-listing,” meaning that Norton will move to have wolves removed from the list of threatened animals protected by the Endangered Species Act.

In the early 1900s, ranchers lobbied Congress to eradicate so-called “nuisance animals.” Within 40 years, the gray wolf was virtually hunted and poisoned out of existence. The gray wolf was put on the endangered species list in 1976, nearly six years after the animal was last seen in the U.S.

In recent years, Defenders of Wildlife has played a key role in reintroducing gray wolves to the Southwestern states, “but the job isn’t done yet,” says Fascione. “Of course, our ultimate goal is de-listing, but only after the job is finished.”

A coalition of more than 20 conservation and animal activism groups, including Defenders, the Wolf Recovery Foundation, Sierra Club and the Humane Society of the United States have called on Norton not to weaken federal protection for wolves.

“Where wolves have returned, their continued success must be secured through increased numbers and distribution,” says Dr. Elizabeth Stallman, a wildlife scientist with the Humane Society. “Unfortunately the Bush Administration is not taking the steps necessary to achieve these goals. Indeed, it seems they are trying to distance themselves as much as possible from wolf recovery.”

Jan Holder says she has yet to lose a cow to a wolf. The Holder’s ranch sits on the edge of Arizona’s Apache National Forest. She says they run about 500 cows in the Apache-Sitegreaves district -- down from almost 2,000 because of the state’s severe drought.
A herder -- right now, Jan’s husband, Will -- stays with the cattle 24 hours a day.

The key to predator-friendly ranching, Holder says, is teaching the cows to be afraid of wolves, coyotes and cougars, and teaching predators to be afraid of humans and dogs. This means teaching the herd to bunch up because a stray animal who has separated from the herd is more likely to be picked off by a hungry mountain lion.

The Holders have also stopped de-horning their cattle, allowing the animals to protect themselves from carnivores.

“When you see pictures of cattle in Africa, they all have horns, and they all bunch in with their heads facing outwards and their butts in the center of the ring,” Holder says. “If a predator tries to attack, all [the cows] go after it.”

Another often-overlooked benefit of predator-friendly ranching, says Holder, is that wolves play an important role in the ecosystem by preventing overgrazing. When predators threaten cattle, the cows are more likely to eat less and keep moving from food source to food source. They are also more likely to stay with the herd, and make fewer divots in the ground with their hooves.

Wolves have improved the re-introduction of some grasses on the range and are helping to end the over-grazing of the Apache-Sitegreaves forest.

“So ideally we will be producing more grass, losing less cattle and reintroducing wolves,” Holder says. “And it also keeps the cattle away from the wolves, instead of the reverse, keeping the wolves away from the cattle, which doesn’t work.”

Meanwhile Defenders and other conservation groups lobby Washington as the Administration continues to quietly roll back federal rules.

“We’re taking bets as to when it’s going to happen,” Fascione says.

Defenders and other enviros point to the National Marine Fisheries Service’s Dec. 31 decision that imported tuna caught with huge nets that encircle and drown dolphins can still be sold as "dolphin-safe," as long as onboard observers certify that no dolphins were killed or injured. The ruling was seemingly slipped under the radar while the rest of the U.S. was on holiday, preparing to ring in the New Year.

A month prior, Fascione predicted a 3:30pm, Dec. 23 wolf ruling by the Bush Administration. "Before everyone leaves for the holiday," she forecast. Luckily, she was wrong -- for now.

Jessica Lyons is a writer based in Santa Cruz, Calif.

Sister Inferior

According to the New Testament, women disciples followed Jesus and listened to his teachings, shoulder to shoulder with their male counterparts. Jesus raised one woman from the dead and saved another-a woman dragged out of her lover's bed-from death by stoning. Women accompanied Jesus to his death, standing at the foot of the cross, anointing and burying his body, discovering the empty tomb, and finally witnessing his resurrection before his male apostles did.

When I was growing up in St. Joseph's Parish and parochial school in Oregon, my mother taught CCD classes to high school and college kids. She served as a Eucharistic minister, feeding the Body and Blood of Christ to her fellow parishioners at mass and coffee and donuts to them afterwards in the church's cafeteria. She could minister to the young, the sick and the hungry. But she couldn't perform the sacraments or lead the flock.

I believe Jesus was a feminist. I'm still waiting for the Catholic Church to realize this. Now the church is acknowledging the transgressions of some of its priests, even confessing and asking for forgiveness. Maybe sexism will follow suit, and women will break through the church's ancient stained-glass ceiling.

Or maybe the priest-shortage problem-only tangentially related to the current troubles-will become so dire that the church will have to ordain women.

The first nun I try to interview to discuss these questions laughs at me, says she won't talk to me and tells me to call a priest. (I'm back in fourth grade, stinging from Sister Susan's infamous ear-lobe pinch, and from the guilt of saying something I wasn't supposed to say.)

Several more women won't return my phone calls or talk to me on the record without prior approval from the Diocese spokesman, a priest. One kind Sister wants to meet, but she's leaving town and won't return until after my deadline.

The one woman who is able to talk to me is a laywoman, Martina O'Sullivan, executive director of Catholic Charities of Monterey County, a non-profit agency that serves the poor and homeless who are facing eviction, utility shutoff, or who need money for rent or food. Catholic Charities also provides counseling and immigration services within the Diocese of Monterey's four-county area-Monterey, San Benito, Santa Cruz and San Luis Obispo. O'Sullivan's also a wife, a mother and a lifelong Catholic.

Sitting in her tidy office in Seaside, O'Sullivan proudly shows off a framed picture of her three grown daughters. She prefaces many of her statements with "I'm not a theologian; I'm just giving you this Catholic woman's perspective."

O'Sullivan believes women should be ordained, although she wouldn't want to be a priest herself. She's more satisfied living her faith at the helm of her social justice ministry than she would be at the head of the institutional church.

And while she's saddened and horrified by the sex-abuse crisis, she believes that a deeper spirituality will emerge from its ashes.

"I think what this crisis is doing is indeed offering us a chance to look at what is happening right now within the institutional church, and for the leaders of the church to say, 'Look, there have been mistakes here, but let's face those mistakes openly and make decisions about doing things differently,'" O'Sullivan says. "But I don't know that the institutional church will connect, for instance, involving a stronger role for women in the church with this crisis. It's going to take many years. It may take another something like Vatican II."

And although many organizations, such as Women's Ordination Conference and Catholic Network for Women's Equality, continue their call for ending the traditional, all-male, celibate priesthood, O'Sullivan, 54, doesn't foresee any women priests in her lifetime.

"Although clearly you've got precedents for there being a larger role for women in the Catholic Church," she says, pointing out that women have been disciples, prophets and founding sisters of religious communities. "But the church is not unlike what society has been, in that if you look at the Constitution, or the Bill of Rights, it says all men were created equal.

"I guess what we can't lose sight of is that the basis of our faith, the basis of my faith, doesn't lie in the men that are in the leadership of the institutional church or in the parishes. The real basis of my faith lies in the truth of what I believe about Jesus and God.

"The roles of men and women in the church have not been equal. That is a truth. But are you going to let that stop you from using the gift that God has given you?"

O'Sullivan hasn't. She follows Jesus' teachings of inclusion. She feeds the hungry, clothes the naked and shelters the homeless, regardless of their skin color, religious affiliation or gender. She works for justice and equality in spite of the current sex-abuse scandal and the age-old disparity between the brothers and sisters in the Church.

And that gives me hope.

May the Costume Be With You

By day, he's a mild-mannered engineering student. By night, he's Boba Fett. Or an Imperial Storm Trooper -- depending on whichever costume he finishes first.

My husband has gone over to the Dark Side.

"Loyal? Hard-working? Fully expendable?" beckons the recruitment posters for the 501st Legion. "The Empire Wants You!"

With more than 1,000 members in 21 countries worldwide, the 501st bills itself as the "premier Star Wars costuming group in the Universe." And they're looking for a few good Imperial troops, Sith Lords and Bounty Hunters. All you need is a costume and you're in, according to the Web site.

On the other side of the Star Wars battlefield, the Rebellion's looking for new recruits, too. Open to "all who choose to oppose the evil Empire," the Rebel Legion includes royalty, senators, smugglers, ground and fleet troopers -- even the noblest Jedi. A costume is the only enrollment requirement.

These days costuming fan clubs, online discussion groups and prop-building Web sites are more crowded than the Mos Eisley Cantina at happy hour.

Costume Conventions

Star Wars costume fan clubs aren't a new phenomenon. Costume parties and fan movies found their way to a galaxy near you shortly after George Lucas' original "Star Wars" trilogy hit the big screen in 1977. But they're growing in popularity as Episodes I, II and III attract a whole new generation of fans to the Star Wars Universe.

Last week's Star Wars Celebration II, the world's largest official fan convention preceding Episode II's opening this Thursday, drew an average of 24,000 people each day, May 10 to May 12, to the Indiana Convention Center. Imperial Stormtroopers -- all members of the 501st Legion -- checked badges at the doors. Inside, costumed likenesses of Princess Leia and Han Solo posed for pictures while Darth Vaders paired up with seductive Sith villainesses. About 30 real cast members signed autographs.

Online, tens of thousands of costumers mix and mingle, from the amateur -- who throws on a brown cloak and calls himself a Jedi knight -- to the Ultimate Boba Fett costume, described by Jeremy Bollach, the actor who originally played Boba Fett, as the "second best" replica he had ever seen. The best belongs to some guy in Australia.

Jonathan Skaines says he started building the ultimate Boba Fett costume in January 1997, while he was a student at the University of North Texas.

"I had a lot of free time in college," he laughs.

More than $600, and 16 tubes of epoxy later, he finished the bounty hunter helmet, armor, spiked boots and jet pack in time for Halloween. (His mom, Connie, sewed all clothing.) He also built the Ultimate Boba Fett Costume Web site, an instructional guide for other fans who want to build their own Boba Fett, and a Star Wars costuming discussion group. Running through Yahoo, it's since grown to more than 300 members.

Skaines, now a 26-year-old art director at a Dallas, Texas advertising agency, says he built Boba Fett because "he's mysterious and cool. He's the most visually dynamic. In the Star Wars Universe, he's the most intriguing."

Fellow costumers seem to think so too. A Google search pulls up nearly 600 costuming pages dedicated to the faceless bounty hunter, a cult favorite among Star Wars fans. But Skaines wouldn't call himself hard-core. His Boba Fett sits on a mannequin in his living room. He dusts it off for Halloween and the occasional comic convention. He's won back the money he spent on costuming materials by winning money prizes at conventions and Halloween costume parties.

"I feel I did help contribute my research -- what would be the best materials to use [sintra, he says]. There weren't many how-to-build-a-Boba-Fett Web sites at that time."

Now Skaines receives daily emails from fans, mostly males in their early 20s and 30s, "and the weird thing is, I've found people who are way more into it than I am. They travel long distances to go to conventions, to go to movie openings, those are the ones I'd classify as hard-core."

Raising the Stormtrooper Bar

Jeff Allen is one of those hard-core fans. Like Skaines, he built his first website in '97, a "How To Build A Stormtrooper Costume" page, to raise the quality bar for other Star Wars costuming sites. Allen was sick of searching the Web for costuming sites only to find a web page or two with five paragraphs of text and no images. 

He growls: "This really peeved me. If I had known how easy vacuum forming [a way to mold plastic] was back in my youth, I would be five years ahead."

But unlike Skaines, who wears his one Boba Fett costume on Halloween and to movie premieres, Allen's a regular on the Star Wars costuming circuit. He's been attending sci-fi conventions for 16 years, where he sometimes changes costumes thrice daily.

"You'll be wearing the rebel fleet trooper with this big, white dome on your head, and you'll look like a geek," he explains. "So after three hours of people laughing at you, you want to go change."

At last year's Dragoncon, the largest sci-fi, fantasy and comic convention in the U.S., Allen was a Star Wars biker scout in the morning and Army of Darkness' Evil Ash at night.

Allen and his Studio Creations group of fellow Star Wars geeks have built a veritable arsenal of costumes and props -- 42 to date -- but he's not done building yet. During the summer (that's sci-fi convention season), Allen sees an average of 4,500 visitors a week hitting his Definitive How-To Costume and Prop Building Web site. It's one of the most linked-to Star Wars costuming sites on the Web.

Allen vacuum formed, sculpted, plastered and sewed a Tusken Raider costume, Stormtrooper armor, Speeder bikes as seen in the February 2002 Star Wars Insider magazine and a snowtrooper costume, among others. Right now, he's working on an Interrogator Droid, an "ominous black sphere of death" sent by the evil Empire to torture Princess Leia.

"At this moment the Interrogator Droid is the centerpiece for the kitchen table," says 30-year-old Allen, an online instructional designer at the University of Georgia. "My girlfriend says she would like to eat at that table one day, but I cannot find a suitable place to store the 18-inch spherical droid."

When Fantasy Worlds Collide

He says the typical Star Wars costumer is a male, between 13 and 35, with some extra time and money to spare. And they tend to be more detailed-oriented and fanatical than other costumers.

"It's an obsession for a good many of them," he says. "I, personally, am happy to just get the costume looking like I remembered it and [get] out the door to the convention, or opening night, but many costumers will dwell on a costume for years until they have it just right. You do not get this level of fanaticism with Lord of the Rings costumers. Those costumes tend to be more free-flowing than the Star Wars costumer."

They like role-playing and the creativity that costuming allows. Costumers want to be someone else, if only for a movie premiere or a sci-fi convention.

"Most of the costumers I meet just want to delve into the fantasy worlds and get lost in there," Allen says. "Escape reality for a bit and live in their own little worlds. Some of the shyest people I know are wild as animals the moment they put on that costume and become someone else."

Like the one fan who emailed Allen wanting to create a Tusken Raider costume. The two chatted online, and the fan emailed pictures to Allen as the costume progressed.

"He had some great personal thoughts about the Tusken Raider that I never thought about. "One day out of the blue this guy starts talking about wanting to go out into the desert and live like a Tusken Raider for a week. He wanted me and maybe six other guys to join him, too. Literally live like a Tusken Raider, head wraps and all. He wanted to get the breather mask working and go out and pretend to be a Tusken Raider in the middle of the desert. I personally have no qualms living like a Tusken Raider while staying at a Ramada on the beach, but camping in the desert?"

That was one fan he had to let go.

Allen's a smart, funny, sociable guy who talks easily and confidently on the phone. He admits he's a Star Wars freak, but he sounds normal enough to me. So what makes a seemingly normal adult man don a full body suit of white Stormtrooper armor or even consider living like a Tusken Raider in the desert for a week?

"Fame and glory," Allen says, mostly serious. "It's a big high to have all these people taking pictures of you."

Masks, says my husband, Tom. "Nobody knows who's behind them. You can be whoever you want to be."

Tom's costume won't be finished in time for "Episode II." But he still has three years till "Episode III" hits the theaters May 25, 2005. And presumably three years till the Force of Star Wars Celebration III draws thousands of costumed Star Wars fans to a single convention hall. He'll be one of the Boba Fetts. I'll be a gold-bikinied Princess Leia. Or sexy bounty hunterette, Aurra Sing.

Jessica Lyons is a Santa Cruz-based freelance writer.

Jesus Was a Feminist

According to the New Testament, women disciples followed Jesus and listened to his teachings, shoulder to shoulder with their male counterparts. Jesus raised one woman from the dead and saved another -- a woman dragged out of her lover's bed -- from death by stoning.

Women accompanied Jesus to his death, standing at the foot of the cross, anointing and burying his body, discovering the empty tomb and finally witnessing his resurrection before his male apostles did.

When I was growing up in St. Joseph's Parish and parochial school in Oregon, my mother taught CCD classes to high school and college kids. She served as a Eucharistic minister, feeding the Body and Blood of Christ to her fellow parishioners at mass and coffee and donuts to them afterward in the church's cafeteria. She could minister to the young, the sick and the hungry. But she couldn't perform the sacraments or lead the flock.

I believe Jesus was a feminist. I'm still waiting for the Catholic Church to realize this. Now the church is acknowledging the transgressions of some of its priests, even confessing and asking for forgiveness. Maybe sexism will follow suit, and women will break through the church's ancient stained-glass ceiling. Or maybe the priest-shortage problem -- only tangentially related to the current troubles -- will become so dire that the church will have to ordain women.

The first nun I try to interview to discuss these questions laughs at me, says she won't talk to me and tells me to call a priest. (I'm back in fourth grade, stinging from Sister Susan's infamous ear-lobe pinch, and from the guilt of saying something I wasn't supposed to say.)

Several more women won't return my phone calls or talk to me on the record without prior approval from the Diocese spokesman, a priest. One kind Sister wants to meet, but she's leaving town and won't return until after my deadline.

The one woman who is able to talk to me is a laywoman, Martina O'Sullivan, executive director of Catholic Charities of Monterey County, a non-profit agency that serves the poor and homeless who are facing eviction, utility shutoff, or who need money for rent or food. O'Sullivan is also a wife, a mother and a lifelong Catholic.

Sitting in her tidy office, O'Sullivan proudly shows off a framed picture of her three grown daughters. She prefaces many of her statements with "I'm not a theologian; I'm just giving you this Catholic woman's perspective."

O'Sullivan believes women should be ordained, although she wouldn't want to be a priest herself. She's more satisfied living her faith at the helm of her social justice ministry than she would be at the head of the institutional church.

And while she's saddened and horrified by the sex-abuse crisis, she believes that a deeper spirituality will emerge from its ashes.

"I think what this crisis is doing is indeed offering us a chance to look at what is happening right now within the institutional church, and for the leaders of the church to say, 'Look, there have been mistakes here, but let's face those mistakes openly and make decisions about doing things differently,'" O'Sullivan says. "But I don't know that the institutional church will connect, for instance, involving a stronger role for women in the church with this crisis. It's going to take many years. It may take another something like Vatican II."

And although many organizations, such as Women's Ordination Conference and Catholic Network for Women's Equality, continue their call for ending the traditional, all-male, celibate priesthood, O'Sullivan, 54, doesn't foresee any women priests in her lifetime.

"Although clearly you've got precedents for there being a larger role for women in the Catholic Church," she says, pointing out that women have been disciples, prophets and founding sisters of religious communities. "But the church is not unlike what society has been, in that if you look at the Constitution, or the Bill of Rights, it says all men were created equal.

"I guess what we can't lose sight of is that the basis of our faith, the basis of my faith, doesn't lie in the men that are in the leadership of the institutional church or in the parishes. The real basis of my faith lies in the truth of what I believe about Jesus and God.

"The roles of men and women in the church have not been equal. That is a truth. But are you going to let that stop you from using the gift that God has given you?"

O'Sullivan hasn't. She follows Jesus' teachings of inclusion. She feeds the hungry, clothes the naked and shelters the homeless, regardless of their skin color, religious affiliation or gender. She works for justice and equality in spite of the current sex-abuse scandal and the age-old disparity between the brothers and sisters in the Church.

And that gives me hope.

Jessica Lyons is a staff writer at Coast Weekly.

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