September 2019

Walking me down the aisle

This past Monday night, less than a week after my parents’ 65th anniversary, my Dad died after a long illness. The news that he had passed came as both a relief and a shock.

My Dad was a humble man. In his final months, he let us know he wanted to be cremated without fuss, funeral, or even the attention of an obituary. My Dad was a graduate of St. Thomas Aquinas High School in Columbus, Ohio, and his biggest life accomplishment was supporting a wife and four daughters on a bread-truck driver’s salary.

My Dad was raised in a large Italian-American family, and each of his siblings had at least one son who was a state champion wrestler. It was a point of ribbing among his siblings that my Dad didn’t have any sons to carry on the DiSabato family dynasty. My Dad took some solace when I was a high school junior and placed second in the state on a standardized test for high school English. At the academic awards ceremony where this fact was announced, my beaming Dad ran down the aisle of my high school auditorium to hug me. Finally, his branch of the DiSabato family had produced a (runner-up) state champ.

My Dad was not a good student: he often remarked that the only A’s he saw on his school papers were the ones in his last name. But he was abundantly proud of me, his youngest and most bookish daughter: the only one in my family to go to college. When the then-President of the University of Toledo congratulated my parents on my full-ride scholarship, my Dad (again) beamed. My Dad never met the President of the United States, but he had shaken hands with a University President, and that was almost as good.

My Dad was a man of simple tastes. He loved watching harness racing, “The Price Is Right,” and his beloved Cincinnati Reds. When I called him on his birthday several years ago, he said he couldn’t believe he’d lived to be so old. My paternal grandfather died of heart disease in his fifties, and my Dad had always assumed he would, too. The fact that my Dad survived open heart surgery; cancer of the colon, bladder, and prostate; and both diabetes and hypertension was a testament not only to the powers of modern medicine but also to my Dad’s stubborn and indomitable spirit.

My Dad’s final months were agonizing as his various medical ailments all caught up with him. When I visited this summer, my Dad was pale, emaciated, and bedridden, no longer interested in even watching TV. When I left to fly back to Boston, we both knew it was our final goodbye. For the past two months, my mother, sisters, and I fervently prayed for God to take Dad, please. When I heard on Tuesday morning that my Dad had passed, the news came as a sweet relief. Sometimes when a wrestling match is long and arduous, it is a mercy to tap out.

Immature Cooper's hawk

On Friday afternoon while I was out running my usual weekly errands, I saw an immature Cooper’s hawk perched on the lattice outside Eastern Bank on Commonwealth Avenue. I was at the gas station next door, so I got out of my car, took several pictures, walked over to the bank and took several more, then returned to my car to pump gas before driving away.

Immature Cooper's hawk

During the five minutes or so I was walking around a bank obviously taking pictures, not only did nobody ask what I was doing, nobody even acknowledged my presence. I had, in other words, reached peak invisibility as a Middle-Aged White Woman. Had I been a black- or brown-skinned man taking pictures outside a bank on a Friday night, how long would it have taken for someone to report my suspicious behavior?

Immature Cooper's hawk

I remember taking pictures once on a side street near MIT’s nuclear engineering labs. The buildings look unremarkable from the outside but presumably contain sensitive research inside. I was crouched on the sidewalk photographing an interestingly-angled shadow when a campus security vehicle pulled up and an officer gruffly asked through a lowered window what exactly I was doing.

Filler 'er up

I straightened up and offered some feeble explanation about noticing an interesting shadow on the sidewalk, but it was immediately clear it didn’t matter what I said. The officer simply chuckled and good-naturedly told me to Carry On, his entire demeanor changing the moment he saw I was the most (presumably) harmless of creatures, a Middle-Aged White Woman.


I know the suspicion that awaits black- and brown-skinned folks who commit the crime of birding while black. Cameras and binoculars are tools of surveillance: threatening in the “wrong” hands, but innocuous if those hands are older and whiter. In broad daylight on a Friday afternoon in suburban Boston, a sharp-clawed killer was perched in plain sight, but nobody noticed him or the presumably harmless individual who both spied and shot him. “If you see something, say something” is the motto of the age of homeland insecurity, but what happens when your preconceived notions knit a veil of blindness right over your eyes?