Grief is not a checklist

By Emily Steinhardt 

Emily Steinhardt and her father, Chris Steinhardt posing together when Emily was a toddler. Photo courtesy of Emily Steinhardt

I lost my dad in the beginning of March and the grieving process has been a lot different from what I expected.

When my dad was diagnosed with cancer in November 2016, I expected my reaction to be like those that happen in the movies. I expected there to be tears and lots of feelings of denial. Instead, I responded with, “Ok, so how do we go from here?”

My parents raised me to be an independent individual. I have been doing my own laundry since I was 12. We are also very busy people; my life always seems to be moving. When I have downtime, I usually never know what to do with it.

So when my dad was diagnosed with stage four signet cell colon cancer, life didn’t stop.

I am transferring from DCCC in the fall to study musical theatre. To get into these programs, I needed to audition. I completed all 12 of my school auditions while my dad was on the couch at home, too sick to move.

Before the audition for my dream school, my dad was rushed to the hospital.

My parents signed hospice paperwork the night before my last audition.

He died the next week.

Throughout this entire process I haven’t been responding in the way society taught me I should. And that has been worrying me.

Is there something wrong with me? Am I insensitive? Did I not truly love my dad since I haven’t been a complete mess since he died?

The answer to all of these questions is “no,” but that doesn’t mean I feel any better about how I’ve been responding to all that’s happened.

I have been living with the reality that my dad was going to die for 18 months. I looked up the survival statistics for his type of cancer as soon as he was diagnosed. He passed much quicker than anybody expected, but at least I knew it was coming.

I have come to understand that there is no one proper way to grieve. Everyone grieves in a different way and many people acknowledge this when talking to someone who is going through the process, yet I’ve noticed that even though friends have said this to me, it still feels like they expect me to go through some sort of checklist of feelings.

For me, this process is not about big moments, it’s about little moments.

When I bought clothes from where I will be going to school next year it sucked seeing the “DAD” shirts. Move in day, when everyone’s mom and dad are helping them, will definitely be difficult.

So will graduating from college, when I hopefully make my broadway debut, and walking down the aisle on my wedding day. All the little moments are going to suck.

Humans are complicated. Loss is complicated. Grief is complicated.

People going through that process should not be held accountable to society’s checklist.

Contact Emily Steinhardt at

Body modification: have we gone too far?

By Emily Steinhardt

Some women are forgoing the traditional engagement ring, opting instead to get a dermal piercing in their ring finger. Photo courtesy of Flickr

Dermal engagement rings.

I saw a story on Snapchat the other day that the newest piercing trend is to have your ring finger pierced when you get engaged as opposed to receiving the traditional ring.

Body modification means to deliberately alter ones body, including practices such as ear piercing, nose jobs, and body building.

Humans have been modifying their bodies for at least 10 thousand years, which is when the art of tattoos is said to have originated. But are we going too far?

I don’t understand why or how some of these trends start.

Who suddenly thinks to themselves “I think that I should get my finger pierced.”

Why would you want to do that?

The process includes using a dermal punch to remove a small circle of flesh from the finger, then a small dermal anchor is inserted into the hole before a small base secures the dermal anchor in place.

The piercing is just an infection waiting to happen. Think about everything you use your hands for.

The amount of dirt and germs that would come into contact with the piercing as it heals is concerning, and frankly, disgusting.

Also, what happens if your marriage doesn’t last? 40 to 50 percent of marriages in the United States end in divorce. When you remove the piercing there will forever be a scar where the piercing was.

Additionally, your body naturally rejects foreign objects over time. Thus, if your marriage does last, you’re going to need to get your finger re-pierced repeatedly.

The average price of an engagement ring has passed six thousand dollars, so I can understand that a dermal piercing is not nearly as expensive as the traditional choice of jewelry. But, is it really worth paying $70 to $100 for something your body will eventually reject?

I understand that everyone is entitled to their body and owning your choices has it’s merit.

If you decide to go the non-traditional route, whatever the reason may be, it is your choice. Confidence is key to making anything work.

But you will not catch me with a dermal piercing anytime soon.

Contact Emily Steinhardt at

A Mindfulness Weekend at Blue Cliff

By Comfort Queh

Students learn the benefits of meditation and mindfulness from the monks and sisters at Blue Cliff Monastery in Pine Bush, NY. Photo by Comfort Queh

It stands in the middle of Mindfulness Road, surrounded by trees on 80 acres of land in Pine Bush, NY. Tu Vien Bich Nham, also known as Blue Cliff Monastery, is a place where mindfulness is taught with every step and breathe that we take. It’s an ongoing practice in the daily life of residents and visitors.

Mindfulness is when we are aware and present with ourselves and our surrounding. To be mindful, we must learn to bring our mind, body, and surrounding into harmony.

Being mindful leads to a level of concentration that helps us understand how we think and respond to things happening around us.

I participated in daily mindfulness this weekend at the monastery with the monks and sisters of Blue Cliff, as well as other students from DCCC and Burlington Community College. The two and a half days at the retreat were eye-opening and healing.

The moment my feet touched the 80 acres of land, a sense of peace and serenity overcame my body. The quietness and stillness of everything allowed me to be in touch with myself and my surroundings.

We were first greeted by Sister The Nghiem, which means Sister True Vow, who showed us to our rooms and informed us about the day’s schedule.

After settling into my rooms, I volunteered to participate in a working meditation in the garden with a few other students.

The thought of working might not sound relaxing, but it was. We joined the sisters in the garden to help. Along with three other students, I worked with Sister Diamond, who was in charge of gathering soil and wheeling it back to the garden.

I would have never imagined that the first time I got to garden would have been at a monastery, in chilly weather, with a group of nuns, faculty and students I did not know.

As we worked, we shared information about our lives and connected with each other by listening and relating to each other’s stories.

Sister Diamond shared with us that she has been a nun for a year and half. She listened attentively to everything we had to say.

As we talked, the bells of mindfulness rang, stopping us in the middle of our conversation. I brought my focus back to my breathing and my surroundings as I stood still for a moment, dropping everything I was doing.

The bell of mindfulness rang throughout the day to remind us of this practice, which is inherent to monastic life.

After working meditation, we enjoyed a small break, snacking on fruit, granola bars, and smoothies as we continued to chat with one another.

After gardening, we were invited to partake in deep relaxation meditation in the Sisters’ Meditation Hall. As I entered, the tranquil smell of incense pierced my nose; two rows of brown pillows and cushions were spread on the floor in the hall.

Sister True Vow and Sister Diamond led us through our meditation. As I lay there, I shut my eyes, allowing Sister True Vow’s voice to lead me into a deep sleep as she sang soothing songs.

The next activity following meditation was dinner, but it was not just any ordinary dinner. Meal time at the monastery is a unique experience. I had never experienced anything like it until this weekend.

Breakfast, lunch, and dinner at the monastery occur in silence. At the start of every meal we were invited by a monk or sister to a buffet style table filled with vegan dishes to serve ourselves at the sound of a bell. After we filled our plate with coconut rice, vegetable stew, or vegetable mix in vegetable, we remained seated until everybody else was able to get food.

When everyone was seated, a monk or a sister recited “The Five Contemplations” before eating our meal. During one of these meals Brother Emptiness recited, “This food is a gift of the earth, the sky, numerous living beings, and much hard and loving work…”

Before his fingers touched the bell leading us into our meal, he concluded, “We accept this food so that we may nurture our brotherhood and sisterhood, build our Sangha, and nourish our ideal of serving all living beings.”

Then, at the sound of the bell, we began to eat in silence without voices echoing or the sound of technology to distract us as we ate. I was focused on savoring every taste of every bite.

The idea of eating in silence with no disruption of any type gave me the chills. I didn’t think I would enjoy it as much as I did. I admit it was a bit foreign for me and a bit challenging, but it was insightful.

It felt as though I was having a conversation with my food with every bite I took. The silence lasted for about 20 minutes; then the bell rang to break the silence, allowing us to speak to each other.

On Saturday and Sunday morning we started at 6 a.m. sharp with 45 minutes of sitting meditation in the Great Togetherness Meditation Hall.

Meditation is an art of its own depending on the person entering mindfully. For me, it was very difficult to allow my body and mind to create.

It wasn’t until Saturday night when I participated in “Pebble Meditation,” a meditation done by movements and music that I was able to learn the craft of meditation.

Each stage of movements guided us to imagine ourselves as a flower, mountain, water, and the space in between us.

At first I struggled to let go and allow my body to be free with the music but eventually, I allowed my eyes to close and the music to take over my body, and I begin to move with every image called out.

After Pebble Meditation, we sat in a circle sharing how we felt about the meditation. A classmate shared that it was easy for her to imagine herself as water because the calmness and stillness of water reminded her of herself.

To end the weekend, the monastery has an event call Dharma Talk, when people from all over are invited to the monastery for a day of mindfulness.

During this day, visitors get a chance to partake in walking meditation and meal meditation, as well as an opportunity to ask the monks and sisters questions that may pertain to their life when practicing mindfulness.

Sunday evening while packing to return back home to the “real world,” I found myself feeling a bit nervous. I worried that I wouldn’t be able to cultivate the sense of peace and stillness that I had experienced throughout the weekend.

But if I had learned anything from the practice of walking meditation, it’s that every step I take can bring me into the moment. Recognizing each moment brings me back to a place where I am able to smile and feel free; with this thought I know I can cultivate peace whenever I am present.

Contact Comfort Queh at

Setting our sights on gun reform

By Emily Steinhardt

Gun control.

These two words are causing a huge debate in America right now.

The mass shooting in Parkland, Fla. that killed 17 high school students woke up a sleeping giant. The debate on guns has been brewing for a long time and finally boiled over the edge of the pot.

I don’t own a gun, and I’ve never owned a gun, so it’s never been something I’ve thought about, but suddenly I was wondering, “Where do I stand on the issue?”

Here’s what I came up with.

We’re never going to get anywhere with this issue if we don’t have respect first.

People who own guns think that those who don’t own guns look down on them and want to destroy their culture.

If people who don’t own guns tell such people that they and their guns are despicable, the divide only grows.

Marches and angry tweets about guns are not going to make the problem go away. We need to trust and respect each other first before we can make any sort of compromise on guns and gun control.

That being said, action does need to be taken.

If people would like to have guns, that’s not a problem with me.

Maybe someone owns a gun because it makes them feel safer. A lot of people use them for hunting and as a means to get food on the table. I get that.

We can’t ban guns because no matter how hard we try, the wrong people will still be able to get their hands on them.

We do, however, need to figure out a better system to control guns in our country.

Why is it that an 18-year-old, who can’t legally buy alcohol, can walk into a gun stores and legally make a purchase?

Why is it that people can buy guns online? How do we know the people buying the gun are who they say they are?

Why is it ok for civilians to own active military grade weapons?

It’s not.

Many people I’ve talked to keep comparing guns to cars.

“Cars can kill people too, but we still drive them don’t we?”

Yes, cars can kill people. But you don’t get a license to drive a car unless you pass several tests.

In Pennsylvania, you need to get this license renewed every four years, and if you show bad behavior behind the wheel, you can have your license revoked for a period of time or permanently.

After saying all of this, the question remains: Is gun control the answer to this problem?

I don’t have the answer to that question. But I do know that no one will get an answer if we keep demonizing people on both sides of the debate.

Some of the greatest moments in this country’s history have come from people banding together to come up with a solution.

This issue isn’t going to be solved overnight, but it would go a hell of a lot quicker if we could respect each other and work together.

Contact Emily Steinhardt at

Pennsylvania ends racial bias in politics

By Victoria LaVelle

Pennsylvania’s Delaware County U.S. congressional district boundaries have been redrawn in time for the May 15 primary, as a result of a recent Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruling. Image courtesy of The Unified Judicial System of Pennsylvania

In a landmark decision, Pennsylvania’s Supreme Court struck down the congressional districting maps and declared them to be “clearly, plainly, and palpably unconstitutional.”

Pennsylvania’s high court had examined the state’s 18 congressional districts and concluded that the maps geographical lines were artistically drawn by state Republicans lawmakers to favor their own political majority, otherwise known as “gerrymandering.”

The benchmark 5-2 vote was immediately met with scrutiny and concern from many of the state’s Republican legislators.

Despite a court order, which granted Republican lawmakers the duty and privilege to remap their own districts again, some Republicans called for the impeachment of all five Democrats on the states Supreme Court who deemed the previous maps unconstitutional.

The federal government stipulates that districts must have nearly equal populations and must not discriminate on the basis of race or ethnicity.

Because the previously rejected congressional district boundaries have always been drawn to comply with the U.S. Constitution, some Republicans have argued that the issue is obsolete.

Pennsylvania’s Republican lawmakers have filed a lawsuit to be heard by the U.S. Supreme Court next month in an attempt to block recent alterations to the state’s congressional remapping. Harrisburg’s Republicans are concerned the recent changes will create confusion for Pennsylvania voters accustomed to the previously assigned districts and who may be unaware that all of Delaware County is now District 5, according to Michael Rader, chief of staff for Pennsylvania State Senator Tom McGarrigle. (R., Chester, Delaware) who represents the 26th District.

It’s a standard practice for congressional districts to be redrawn every 10 years as data from the U.S. Census report becomes readily available and examined by state lawmakers.

The main objective is to gather census statistics regarding registered voters and political affiliations every decade to redraw new district lines and extend borders to maintain a level and equally balanced political playing field for both Republicans and Democrats alike.

However, in the past three election cycles Republicans have won 13 of Pennsylvania’s 18 U.S. congressional seats despite Pennsylvania’s nearly equal numbers of Democrat and Republican voters alike.

Delaware County was dwarfed into three separate congressional districts by the states Republican legislators in 2011. Consequently, the irregular shaped districting gained the national spotlight and became known as the most gerrymandered district in the nation’s history.

Gerrymandering has occurred for different agendas and in many forms. A common practice in the 60’s known as “racial gerrymandering” was utilized as a process that spread minority voters thin, spanning them across as many districts as possible.

At the height of the civil rights movement, racial gerrymandering was embraced by southern state legislatures to severely limit the power of the black vote. Few in numbers, the odds were deliberately stacked against them.

The courts prohibited the racially biased practice in 1965 and ordered states to remap districting unbiased to African-American voters wanting to elect candidates of their choice.

In hindsight, the court’s goodwill solution that granted African-Americans voters a more balanced political power is now being utilized to deprive them of it. The increasing number of congressional districts nationwide being “over packed” beyond the threshold with minority voters skyrocketed after the 2011 census-redistricting.

As the 2018 midterm elections approach, Democrats are sounding the alarm over an alarming defect that lies in the geographic lines drawn around congressional districts enabling state legislatures to blueprint their own precincts. In broader terms, states are granting politicians permission to cherry pick their own voters, instead of the process being the other way around.

American Democracy means “we the people” selecting our politicians and not vice-versa as it currently stands in the bulk of the nation’s Congressional districts. Gerrymandering undermines the vision layout by the founding fathers, and violates the rights slated in the U.S. Constitution

Dubbed as a “great communicator,” even the iconic former President Ronald Reagan denounced the practice of gerrymandering and advocated for fair and equal redistricting and elections nationwide during both of his presidential terms.

Bipartisan politics are key to the success of American democracy. Our elected officials who win elections are more likely to get things accomplished if they are held accountable as lawmakers by their constituents.

So the state legislators responsible for drawing new boundaries should follow the same process as that which determines how they are elected.

District lines for state officials are clear and clean cut because they are drawn on a bi-partisan method. The legislative power of the Commonwealth is vested in the Pennsylvania General Assembly, which includes 50 members elected to the state Senate and 203 members to the Pennsylvania House of Representatives.

Pennsylvania Senate districts are referred to as state legislative districts. Article II, Section 17 of the Pennsylvania Constitution mandates that these districts be drawn by a five-member commission. Four of these are the majority and minority leaders of the PA House and Senate. These four then select a fifth member to serve as the commission chair. If the four cannot agree, then the Pennsylvania Supreme Court appoints a chair.

Under these guidelines, state officials are elected by the people which is the way democracy is meant to be. This method of redistricting should serve as the golden standard and protégé for any future congressional districting plans.

Pennsylvania State Senate District 26 in Delaware County is regarded as one of the state’s most honorable seats held by McGarrigle. Elected into the state legislature in 2014, he has withstood years of success despite gains from Democratic voter registration due to strong constituent service records and the strong backing from local unions.

Rader explained that McGarrigle is open to improving the complex redistricting efforts following each census.

“Though the new congressional maps don’t pertain to McGarrigle’s election,” Rader said. “Any and all matters that pertain to the best interests of Senator McGarrigle’s constituents is his priority.”

Since the election of President Donald Trump in 2016, the political divide in the nation has deepened. Trumps entire campaign shouted strong messages that accused our general elections of being corrupt and rigged, yet look who’s sitting at the realm promoting the continued practice of gerrymandering today.

“Hope Republicans in the Great State of Pennsylvania challenge the newly issued Congressional Map,” Trump tweeted. “All the way to the Supreme Court, if necessary. Your original 2011 map was correct! Don’t let the Dems take elections away from you so that they can raise taxes & waste money!”

Despite Trump’s tweets, the wave of Democratic candidates running for seats in the U.S. Senate and Congress is at an all-time historic high.

Knowing that the election process is being “unrigged” is a reason for everyone to get out there and vote on Nov. 6th.

Contact Victoria Lavelle at