Archive for December, 2015


Captain Herbert Johnson Memorial Post Office…

Late Chicago Fire Department Capt. Herbert “Herbie” Johnson was a larger-than-life figure still remembered for his enormous heart — and his many opinions — by the Southwest Side community that he called home.

Johnson’s friends and family gathered Sunday outside the U.S. post office in the Mount Greenwood community for a ceremony at which the building was renamed in honor of Johnson, who died in November 2012 at age 54 while battling a fire in a two-story house in Chicago’s Englewood community.

“I now look forward to getting my mail every day from Herbie’s post office,” his wife, Susan Johnson, said Sunday.

Whenever she passes the building in the future, she will tell her grandchildren that it is named in honor of their grandfather, she told attendees at the ceremony.

Johnson died while leading his team in a lifesaving mission into the heat and smoke of a burning building, said O’Shea, who was good friends with Johnson. He said the firefighter was the “heart and soul of the Chicago Fire Department.”

“He was a fiercely loyal person who enjoyed setting you straight when he didn’t agree with you,” O’Shea said. “In my case, that happened somewhat frequently.

“I could count on him for anything, especially a laugh,” O’Shea said.

Chicago lost a hero, and the Mount Greenwood community lost “one of our greatest,” O’Shea said.

O’Shea told attendees they should thank a police officer, firefighter or paramedic when they see them on the street.

Herbie Johnson almost annually drove the fire truck down Western Avenue for the South Side Irish St. Patrick’s Day Parade, and also was known to cook for various charity events and offer his time at a camp for young burn victims, according to Lipinski.

“Renaming this post office ensures that Capt. Herbie Johnson, his family, and the sacrifices of all first responders will always be remembered and appreciated, and will hopefully serve as a powerful source of inspiration in the community,” Lipinski said.

Nick Swedberg is a freelance reporter for the Daily Southtown.

Nick Swedberg
Daily Southtown


when words fail…

Everyone who has ever worn the badge, or had a family member who wears one, knows the ultimate sacrifice might be asked of them. We know that in an instant, any assignment can turn into danger, then death, then unending sorrow. Brotherhood binds us together. Today, members of Chicago’s BRAVEST and Chicago’s FINEST stood side by side to bring our brother, Chicago Firefighter Daniel Capuano — home. When one falls – his brothers bring him home.

We were joined at the private internment by pipers and drummers from across North America to honor FF Capuano through music.

When words fail, music speaks…

From — It sounds from our TV speakers as cameras pan across scenes of unimaginable destruction. It fills gaps between radio news reports of lives lost in the thousands and economic pain to come.  We retreat from stress by playing it on our stereos and pianos. We sing it in our churches and synagogues and showers.

We have no companion dearer, in these difficult days after the terrorist attacks in our Nation and abroad — than music.

Barber’s “Adagio for Strings” calms our nerves.  Copland’s “Fanfare for the Common Man” stirs our nobility and resolve. The Beatles’ “All You Need is Love” and John Newton’s “Amazing Grace” reconciles our grief.  Music is hardly the “universal language” of cliche. What speaks to one person may confound or even annoy another. But in very personal ways, we respond to it on deep emotional levels, in places words can’t seem to go.

“For so many people, music is a source of comfort,” says Dallas Symphony Orchestra music director Andrew Litton. “It’s amazing how putting on your favorite song, or whatever, can so often make you feel instantly better or take you out of whatever mood you’re in.”

It matters not whether the music is high art or a barroom ditty. The tune of “The Star-Spangled Banner” was originally a drinking song. “God Bless America” began life in Irving Berlin’s Ziegfield-style revue, “Yap, Yip, Yaphank.”

The poetry of “The Star-Spangled Banner” is pretty purple, as is that of “The Battle Hymn of the Republic.” The former’s tune, covering an octave and a half, is notoriously unsingable; the latter’s is almost a self-parody of dotted and drumbeat rhythms. “Extraordinary,” Noel Coward wrote, “how potent cheap music is.”

Patriotic songs have put plenty of lumps in our throats and tears in our eyes the past two weeks. With visions of passenger jets slamming into the World Trade Center burned into our retinas, Francis Scott Key’s “bombs bursting in air” have taken on tragic new immediacy. No one alive today will ever again sing “America the Beautiful” without wincing at the line “Thine alabaster cities gleam, undimmed by human tears.”

Unprecedented in human history, terrorist attacks leave us feeling defiled and vulnerable. Fearful and angry and frustrated, we face a shadowy enemy. Words, whether threatening or consoling, fail us.  In times like these, even those who recognize no deity find in music–to co-opt a line from the Psalmist–“a very present help in trouble.”

The Dallas Symphony Orchestra last weekend was one of doubtless dozens playing Barber’s “Adagio for Strings.” Broadcast on national radio at the deaths of Presidents Franklin D. Roosevelt and John F. Kennedy, this solemn essay in floating melody, building to an impassioned climax, then relaxing as in benediction, has become our de facto national threnody.

The ethereal Adagietto from Mahler’s Fifth Symphony has also surfaced here and there. So has Elgar’s noble Nimrod, from the Enigma Variations. The New York Philharmonic on Thursday replaced its originally scheduled season-opening program with Brahms’ German Requiem, the composer’s warm-hearted memorial to his mother.

Like most of us, Darren Keith Woods, the new general director of Fort Worth Opera, spent much of Sept. 11 watching TV. He worried about friends in New York.

“Finally, I had to turn off the TV,” he says, “and I put on the Barber Adagio for Strings, and I just cried my eyes out. It was so cathartic.

“Music always imbues me with hope. I have to have it at the end of the day, when my brain is just crazy. That was just the perfect piece for me.”

Laurie Shulman, program annotator for the Dallas and Fort Worth symphonies and other concert series, says she relieves anger and frustration by running a few miles. “But when I’m dealing with grief or sadness, I take much more comfort sitting down at the piano and playing Brahms.”

Clearly, music can communicate emotion from one person to another. But by the usual standards of transmission, melody, harmony and rhythm are wildly imperfect. For all the analytical studies of Heinrich Schenker and other theorists, we’re hard-pressed to agree on the denotation, let alone connotation, of so much as a single phrase.

Music is no more a “universal language” than Urdu. Hip-hop and Hindu ragas are as incomprehensible to me as a Gabriel Faure piano quintet is likely to be to a Zulu tribesman. We can learn new musical languages, just as we can learn new verbal tongues, but we rarely venture far beyond formative experiences.

And, as with speech, musical languages have dialects that challenge comprehension. There are people who thrill to Renaissance choral music who wouldn’t be caught dead at a performance of La boheme, Beethoven lovers who can’t abide Brahms.

Still, even music outside our routines can grab us and move us. With churches lately filled with people who usually sleep in on Sunday mornings, we’ve been reminded of the enormous power–alas, now rarely experienced–of communal singing.

The words have been as different as a mighty fortress and amazing grace and we shall overcome. The tunes have ranged from stern Lutheran chorales to rural folk tunes to African-American spirituals. In whatever guise, congregational singing can bind us together across regional, racial and religious divides.

“For most people, community singing provides more solace than merely listening to someone else sing,” says Kenneth Hart, director of the sacred-music program at Southern Methodist University’s Perkins School of Theology.

Hart also points out that TV often focused on hymn-singing in coverage of religious services in the days after the terrorist attacks.

“These people like (network news anchors) Ted Koppel and Peter Jennings, people who are seasoned and in some sense hardened by enormous experience, people who have seen it all, when they talked about the services, the first thing they mentioned was the hymns. They were amazed not from the esthetic point of view, but from the emotional.”

Clearly, music touches us on a level quite different from language. Maybe it’s a more primitive level, because babies “sing”–produce rising and falling inflections of tone–before they speak.

Scientific studies have demonstrated physiological effects of tone and rhythm–on heartbeats and respiration, brain waves and hormonal activity. Western music, at any rate, tends to be based on tension and release; Freud was not alone in relating it to sex. Some anthropologists have posited a physical need for music.

What’s undeniable is that music opens a portal between our inner and outer selves. It can be a means of expressing, however vaguely, our own feelings, and it can give access to our emotions.

A piece of music can acquire associations very different from what its composer intended. Used in Luchino Visconti’s film of Death in Venice and by Leonard Bernstein as a memorial to the slain Robert F. Kennedy, the Mahler Adagietto has acquired funereal associations. But recent scholarship has revealed that it was composed as a love letter to Mahler’s young wife, Alma. Barber’s Adagio, originally the slow movement of his String Quartet, was inspired by nothing more traumatic than a poetic image of a stream growing into a great river.

Music’s ambiguity may be its greatest strength. “The real power of music,” wrote philosopher Suzanne Langer, “lies in the fact that it can be true to the life of feeling in a way that language cannot; for its significant forms have that ambivalence of content which words cannot have.”

In her book Feeling and Form, Langer proposed that, at its basis, music is “virtual time.” It is a parallel universe in which we can both lose and find ourselves. And in time of trouble, it can be–as the Psalmist wrote of his Hebrew god–a “shield and buckler.”

Noting television’s startling juxtaposition last week of scenes of terrorist devastation with the consoling cadences of a performance of the Brahms German Requiem, New York Times music critic Bernard Holland wrote, “Art is our small, fragile claim to control over our lives. Terrorism offered us only uncertainty. Brahms brought the chill of uncertainty soothed by the knowledge of an outcome.”

And he concluded, “Music is a form of protective gear against sudden violent death. It is thin and penetrable, but it may be all we have.”

#335 ‪#‎Brotherhood‬


Firefighter Daniel Capuano at rest…

Our heartfelt condolences to the family, friends and co-workers of Chicago Firefighter Daniel Capuano who was killed in the line of duty on 14 December 2015.  The voice on the fire radio was calm, but the words couldn’t have been more urgent.  “Emergency, emergency,” the fire official said at a warehouse fire on the Far South Side early Monday. “Mayday, mayday.  We got a fireman down, fell through a hole in the floor. Get an ambulance to the front of the building.” Inside the warehouse at 92nd Street and Baltimore Avenue, Daniel Capuano and other firefighters had been searching through thick smoke for the source of a fire on the second floor when Capuano fell down an elevator shaft to the basement around 2:40 a.m., according to Fire Commissioner Jose Santiago.

In the Chicago Fire Department, the alarm 3-3-5 signifies the company has returned home to quarters.  The bell now rings for Firefighter Daniel Capuano.  #335

Firefighter’s Prayer
Author Unknown

When I am called to duty, God,
wherever flames may rage,
give me strength to save a life,
whatever be its age.
Help me embrace a little child
before it is too late,
or save an older person from
the horror of that fate.
Enable me to be alert,
and hear the weakest shout,
quickly and efficiently
to put the fire out.
I want to fill my calling,
to give the best in me,
to guard my friend and neighbor,
and protect his property.
And if according to Your will
I must answer death’s call,
bless with your protecting hand,
my family one and all.


police chaplains proud to protect their own…

Police chaplains proud to protect their own — from the Chicago Tribune.  When Chicago Archbishop Blase Cupich called together religious leaders last week to pray for justice in Chicago, one of his priests made a conscious choice not to attend. Doing so, he believed, would betray the flock he serves and protects.

Chicago Police Chaplain Dan Brandt says the furor that has erupted over the video of the shooting of Laquan McDonald and the clergy-led protests calling for the resignation of Mayor Rahm Emanuel are “anything but Judeo-Christian in nature.” The skeptical eye that Chicago police now face is unwarranted and unjust, he says.

He believes that Jason Van Dyke, the officer who shot McDonald 16 times, was simply doing his job.

“You’re trained to shoot until the threat is gone,” Brandt, an archdiocesan priest, said in an interview. “I propose that Van Dyke was a hero. How many lives were saved by him stopping that armed offender from getting any farther, from doing more damage than he already had done?”

While Brandt concedes that he’s expressing “a pretty unpopular opinion,” he and other police chaplains insist that Chicagoans shouldn’t lose sight of what officers face every day. The clergy who counsel, comfort and console Chicago’s law enforcement want the public to pause a moment and consider those who keep their city safe.

“They’re the face of normalcy, decency and order rather than chaos,” Brandt said.

On Wednesday, after an impassioned apology from the mayor, protesters streamed through Chicago’s Loop calling for his resignation. A line of police officers at Michigan Avenue and Randolph Street allowed the group to march down the Magnificent Mile, similar to demonstrations the day after Thanksgiving.

“I feel terrible for the young man who lost his life. And I feel terrible for the police officer who may or may not have lost a great part of the rest of his life,” he said.

Kerkeres has responded to two police-involved shootings since he started volunteering as a chaplain in 2010. One officer, on the same day of the incident, called for the sacrament of confession and asked Kerkeres to pray with him for the victim.

Officers go through cycles of guilt even when suspects give them no choice but to pull the trigger, Kerkeres said.

“Both police officers were devastated,” he said of the two shootings. “There was absolutely no doubt that the police were completely in their authority to fire their weapons. Even so, when you’re a decent human being built from good moral fibers, that’s a tough thing to do. … It’s a long road ahead even when it’s justified.”

Rabbi Moshe Wolf, who has volunteered as a police chaplain for more than two decades, said protesters have a right to voice their concerns, but he says the protests over the last two weeks weren’t entirely peaceful.

“When you hurt people’s businesses and you go out and cause damage to others, are you really helping your cause?” he asked. “Are you helping your cause if you send a policeman to the hospital?”

Chaplains say they see firsthand the toll the job takes on police day after day. From pulling passengers out of wrecked cars and moderating hostage situations to chasing armed suspects and retrieving human body parts from a lagoon, they say Chicago police officers in just the past couple of months have performed bravely in many life-threatening incidents and been confronted with truly disturbing images.

In Chicago, chaplains are notified after every police-involved shooting. In addition to spiritual guidance, officers are offered employee assistance, professional counseling and peer support groups. They also must attend a daylong class, offered monthly. There, they share their story with others and address any post-traumatic stress they might suffer. Brandt commands their attention for two hours.

“There’s one thing I want them to take away,” Brandt said. “They did what God put them in that situation to do. They did what they were trained to do. They did what they swore to do — to protect innocent life. They are good in God’s eyes.”

Since the release of the McDonald video, questions about deep-seated issues such as a code of silence among officers, union contract restrictions, a failure to properly investigate shootings and a reluctance among prosecutors to charge police, illustrate a system that has failed to hold police accountable.

But Kerkeres, whose brother is a Chicago police officer, said there is a danger in blaming one officer’s alleged wrongdoing on systemic problems. The public tends to cast blanket blame on the entire force, he said.

“We tend to all want to be the judges,” he said. “That’s not a good thing to do.”

Likewise, Wolf said it’s not fair for one or two incidents to take away the pride that comes from the policing profession. The officer deserves his day in court, he said.

“As in any other profession, certain things do come up that you need to let the legal system or the system as it is deal with,” he said. “I think it’s unfair to paint the profession as a broken wheel that needs to be fixed.”

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