The American Dilemma and How We Can Fix It

Archive for the ‘culture’ Category

AMERICAN EXCEPTIONALISM

The recent Putin put down in his N. Y. Times “op-ed” descrying the phrase “American exceptionalism” certainly has some basis if you read or watch what the media regularly report.  It is hard to refute that argument if your focus is on mass shootings, Hollywood celeb shenanigans or the person whom we have elected as the CEO of the country, President Obama.

If you look at our stagnant economy, those who are willing to sit on their duffs and collect a government stipend, the shootings that go on regularly in our inner cities and the government’s inability to deal with realistic spending or to develop programs that actually have a positive effect, there is nothing in any of these to contradict the Commissar in Charge’s allegations.

So what happened to American exceptionalism – or did it ever actually exist?  Well, it did exist and still does – though the examples are far fewer than could be found if we go back a generation or more.  In some respect, the achievements of previous generations have contributed to our current effete society.  They did great things and handed them down to us and we have taken their sacrifices and their hard work for granted and now have a mindset that we are “entitled” to what we have and yet we want even more.

There are, however, still examples of the honesty, generosity and selflessness that were once a part of America.  They are too few and they are too under-reported but they exist nevertheless.  In this week’s news, absorbed as we are with Syria and the budget, two stories emerged – and at their center are two professional athletes who have shone the bright light of gratitude and responsibility on us and provided examples that we should all heed.

You might have heard about former New England Patriot’s player, Brian Holloway whose vacant farm house was the scene for a party held by 300 teens who, over several days, trashed the place while taking drugs, drinking and urinating in the building.  Holloway now lives in Florida and is a motivational speaker.  Before discussing his response to this episode I would like to share a personal experience with respect to home invasion.

Many years ago I decided to refurbish the wooden window frames in my condo.  One of my neighbors was a designer and gave me the name of a crew that had done similar work in her apartment.  So I hired the group and they began the project.

It happened that during the course of this project the anniversary of my grandmother’s death occurred.  One of the things that she had passed along was a small collection of silver dollars and four old quarters.  They had no great numismatic value but were invaluable as memorabilia.  The four quarters were the last paycheck my grandfather had brought home before his death – a day’s wages; and the fourteen Morgan dollars  were the totality of their savings.  Grandma vowed never to spend these.

So here was a young woman who in 1921 found a second job to support her two daughters and to further supplement her meager income took in other peoples’ laundry.  There were no social safety nets other than what might be gleaned from friends and family.  Somehow she made it, never amassing a fortune but despite her lowly jobs and lack of a formal education was able to pay the bills and make sure that her daughters went to college.

When I went to look at these coins I found they were missing.  I cannot describe the sense of emptiness that came over me when I made this discovery.  One of the workmen had also stolen some small pieces of jewelry, but the police found those in a pawn shop.  The coins were never recovered.

I can only imagine how Mr. Holloway felt when he went to his empty farmhouse and saw the destruction that these 300 teenagers had caused.  If it were me, as calm as my demeanor normally is, I think I would have been overcome with a great sense of outrage and would have been looking for justice and even revenge.

But Mr. Holloway rose above that venality.  He started a website and posted the pictures that these cretin teens had themselves posted on Facebook, extolling their own malfeasance.  His goal was to bring them to accountability through public shaming.  As of this writing, only one of those has come to him and admitted his participation in the orgy.  But he has heard from several parents who are threatening law suits for exposing their miscreant children for what they are.  With that sort of parental response, it is not hard to understand why these kids behaved as they did.

I sympathize with Mr. Holloway for his loss.  As he pointed out, everything can be repaired or replaced.  And I laud him for his efforts to hold the kids who were involved accountable – despite the obvious lack of positive parental supervision or direction.  To my mind, Mr. Holloway is a true example of an American who is exceptional.

The second gentleman who deserves recognition is Boston Red Sox pitcher, Jon Lester.  He is a survivor of non-Hodgkin lymphoma cancer.  He struggled against this disease and overcame it.  And he is concerned that not enough attention is being paid to pediatric cancer research.  So in conjunction with Pediatric Research Foundation Board member Rob Quish, he has established the “NVRQT” charity, which stands for “Never Quit” to raise money for research.

Mr. Lester has also taken time to meet with children who are either undergoing cancer therapy or who have finished their program, to encourage them to fight against their disease.  He talks to them about his own experience in battling the disease and offers them the hope that can only come from a fellow survivor.

In an interview he spoke about his role as a professional athlete.  He recognizes that there are, “Some who simply pay baseball because that’s what they want to do.  But others realize that we are role models for youngsters and we have to accept and embrace that responsibility.”

Kudos to Mr. Lester for providing all of us with a positive example and best wishes to him that he remains cancer free.

Most of us will never be recognized for doing the right thing.  But it is, to my thinking, that doing the right thing needs no recognition because it is its own reward.  That is, of course, an old-fashioned idea.  But it is that philosophy which was fundamental to those who came before us and because of whom the term “American exceptionalism” came into being.  For providing us with their example, we should all be grateful and take their sacrifices to heart and say, “Thank you.”

THAT’S ENTERTAINMENT

If it weren’t so sad, it would be laughable.  We descry the violence in our society and our world.  The horrors of gassing civilians in Syria; the number of murders in our inner cities; the general disregard and disrespect for others in our self-centered culture.  And we find the causes to be plentiful.

There’s the breakdown of the traditional home where traditional values at least had the possibility of being taught to our children.  And then there’s the violence that they learn through our media, video games and the movies.  And we wring our hands and wonder why did our little darling go and punch out the neighbor kid just because he was wearing more expensive athletic shoes.

We are an acquisitive society and used to be a competitive one as well.  Keeping up with the Joneses was a well-known phrase and an acceptable form of behavior.  We have been told, and it is true, that the consumer drives the economy in the United States – at least two thirds of it.  So we invent new ways to suck the money out of consumers’ pockets and into the coffers of whatever company has created the latest diversion to amuse our citizens.  Of course, there are a lot of old and tried creations that have been re-invented or more highly glamorized which serve the purpose as well.

On Saturday, September 14th Floyd Mayweather won his latest pugilistic bout.  He was well paid for the effort – a reported $41.5 million.  Even after paying his agent and Uncle Sam, that will leave him with a tidy sum.   Good for him.  That’s entrepreneurship at its finest.

Mr. Mayweather has a talent and he is monetizing his abilities.  The fact is, however, that it is a violent skill which he has mastered.  But if it were not for the rest of us who pay to watch two human beings beat each other up, Pay Per View would not have been able to record its single biggest take for any sporting event.  It’s obvious that we do not condemn violence when we pay money to enjoy the thrill of watching it.

The same statement may be made with regard to the biggest single and, perhaps most violent sport which demands and gets infinitely more of our dollars than boxing – that is NFL football.  That it is violent is inherently obvious from the league’s recent agreement to set aside $675 million to compensate players who have suffered head traumas and brain injuries from their years of participation in the sport.

If football were a prescription drug, with the number of serious “side effects” that it causes among the patient population, the FDA would withdraw its use and further dispensation.  But there is too much, far too much money generated by football ever to consider such an option.  And so, perhaps it is true, that money is indeed the root of all evil.

I wonder if those who are rightfully saddened at the events of Columbine, or Newtown or Aurora have ever considered whether they should withhold their dollars from a sport that has resulted in hundreds of serious injuries that would simply have been avoided if the game didn’t exist.  Or, given the fact that they want to raise their children in a less violent society, they have forbidden their children either to watch football or, more to the personal safety of those children, forbidden them to participate in the game at their schools.  Probably not.

In some ways, watching violent sports is a voyeuristic way for us to release some of our inner hostilities and frustrations.  Most of us handle that fairly well and that is all there is to it.  But there are those who are the exception to the rule and whose inner psyche actually feeds off this violence.  It’s hard not to wonder whether, like those famous video games and violent movies, the game does not contribute to a need to vent feelings of violence by some viewers on those with whom they share our society.

Of course, that speculation is rhetorical in nature.  If it were proven that there is a direct correlation between watching a boxing match or football game and violent behavior, that study would be suppressed before it ever made its way into the light of day.  There is simply too much money involved to allow that sort of statement be aired.  Even our over-regulatory nanny government would keep its hands off because where there is money involved, politicians’ major concern is that they are the recipients of as much of it as possible.

If you consider this year’s unfortunate record of the number of NFL players who have been arrested for violations ranging from DUI to murder, it should cause us to ask the question, “Why are so many well-paid athletes getting themselves into trouble?”  In part, the answer goes back to money.  Take a kid out of the ghetto – and that represents the background of nearly half the players in the league – raised in a violent atmosphere – and suddenly reward them with incredibly large incomes and it is not surprising that they do not know how to handle their instantaneous new wealth.

Further consider that football, a “macho sport,” recruits those who are unafraid of risking their bodies in pursuit of moving the sticks along the sidelines.  These are tough guys on the field and they were probably the toughest guys in the hood when they grew up – which is how they survived long enough to play for the big bucks.  If they hadn’t made the NFL cut, they would most likely have had a career either running a gang back home or at least providing the muscle for it.  Should we then be surprised that so many of these men find themselves at cross purposes with the law?

The rules of basic courtesy and civility have either not been taught or have been ignored by a significant number of those who come from generations that succeeded mine.  Not that all of us Baby Boomers were always attentive to them.  But having no standards of basic civility quickly leads to outright disdain for others and from there it’s anyone’s guess what might happen next.  Well, we don’t really have to guess.  The newspapers and internet are chock full of the newsworthy reports of a morally decaying society.

Mom will have collected the football jerseys that the family wore on Sunday and gotten them ready for the laundry so they can be worn next week.  She and dad will give no thought to what those represent – other than their making a statement about the player and the team that they love and support.  It’s all in keeping with the celebration of the all-American pass time, Sunday’s newest god.

And the violence will continue throughout the country – a hundred or so new murders this week, thousands of cars being stolen and homes being burglarized.  The cycle will continue because, unwittingly, we tacitly endorse it – perhaps without realizing what our actions imply.  And the cost – well the ultimate cost is a society which will go from disarray to collapse as the prevalence of anger creeps into more of our hearts and as we become more inured to hearing and reading about it and perhaps being victimized by it ourselves.

That’s the cost of living in our modern world.  That’s the price of entertainment.

DARWIN AND PROGRESSIVE THOUGHT

If you are “young”, by that I mean forty years old or less, you have probably not read Charles Darwin’s signature work, “On The Origin Of Species”.  It was published in 1859 and was a record of his observations on how mankind and other species then living on planet earth had evolved from lower, less successful forms of life.

The work flew in the face of people of religious belief who held the view that mankind was Divinely created and was put upon this Earth, as is.  We had not descended from monkeys or anything else as Darwin claimed.

Darwin’s book was extremely controversial and Hollywood made a movie about it, “Inherit The Wind”. This was the story of the Scopes trial, in which a Tennessee school teacher taught Darwin’s theory to his High School students in violation of the laws of the state.

The movie was extremely well done and the cast included such Hollywood greats as Frederic March and Spencer Tracey playing the prosecuting and defense attorneys, respectively and Dick York, best remembered as Samantha’s husband on “Bewitched” playing the role of Bertram T. Cates, the movie’s version of John Thomas Scopes, the teacher who had been brought before the bar of justice.

Central to Darwin’s observations was the fact that weaker, less successful species either died off or evolved in order to withstand the brutalities of nature.  Some species were victims and others were their predators. The mere act of survival was paramount to everything else. There would be some logic in that on which we all might agree. After all, you cannot write a “Declaration of Independence” or “The Minute Waltz” or accomplish anything else if you have been killed by a stronger opponent.

The initial verdict in the Scopes trial was that the defendnant was guilty.  (That conviction was ultimately overturned on a technicality).    When the matter was finally resolved legally, it was loudly applauded as a victory for science. Those of a religious mindset were stunned that God’s Word had been legally nullified.  The case was tried in 1925.

In the nearly 90 years since the Scopes trial was heard and adjudicated,  those who are “progressives” (some of whom may actually have heard of this case or read Darwin’s underlying work) have labored hard to replace religion with science. Their efforts have not gone unrewarded. But there is a subtext to Darwin’s thesis that, ”successful species evolve to maintain their continuation.” It is the manner in which they accomplish that primary goal of survival. 

If you have ever watched Animal Planet, the Discovery Channel, or read an issue of “National Geographic Magazine” you know that in any herd of animals, those who are weak or old, frail or young, are often sacrificed by the collective so that the strong may breed and pass on their superior genes to future generations. The weak and less efficient in the heard truly play a role in the collective’s well-being – as victims.

Is there a corollary between the survival techniques of other animals and mankind?  Are not those whose lives are dependent on government “entitlement” programs our weak and frail, our old and young? Would not many of these perish were it not for the beneficence of the collective?

But what if in our “brave new world” the majority were to view them as too plentiful in number and decided to cull the herd? This would certainly be rational Darwinian practice. They would be fed to the herd’s predators with no thought for the individual’s interests – keeping in mind only the objective of the collective.

When the last of the weak had been devoured, the collective might notice something that we have seen repeat itself throughout history. Their old enemies, and perhaps some new ones, will still be circling the fringes of the heard, waiting for their opportunity to fulfill their own mission of survival and looking for the weakest members among those who remain. The question that the herd must then address is, whom shall we select next as our sacrificial victims?

TURNABOUT

Planned Parenthood of Texas is upset.  The state has cut them off from being further funded at the taxpayers’ expense.  In the finest of recent American tradition they have done the only logical thing.  They are suing and their day in court will soon arrive.

The legislatures of Texas have approved measures which deprive any organization which offers abortion services from further state funding.  Apparently, that is a manifestation of the will of the Texans who empowered these individuals to write laws on their behalf.  And Gov. Rick Perry has signed those acts into law.

It is difficult for me to understand why Planned Parenthood has a problem with this concept.  After all, they were strong advocates of the Obama administration from whom we are hearing that “the people has spoke”, to quote the late Mayor Richard J. Daley of Chicago.  Nevertheless, there seems to be a bit of dichotomous thinking going on – as it usually does when whiney liberals don’t get their way.

Let’s think back to the imposition of government, via the ACA, which requires that all employers provide health insurance that includes payment for birth control, abortifacients and abortions.  Any number of religious organizations, the Roman Catholic Church in particular, opposed that requirement as it insisted that they discard centuries old convictions in order to be compliant with a law which they believe is morally repugnant.

The religionists of this country took a stand based on something that most of us consider both imprudent and impractical – Divine Law.

Now our friends at Planned Parenthood have an opportunity – a business opportunity.  As they are not encumbered with such ridiculously antiquated notions as “right and wrong” – they have merely to surrender a bit of immoral principle in their own personal interests – those being of a business sort.

Stop providing abortions in your clinics and I have no doubt that the Republic of Texas will be happy to fund you so that you may carry on your business of protecting the health of women there.

Turnabout.  It’s an iron mistress.

DODGING A BULLET

As I write this it’s early morning PST on the winter solstice, December 21, 2012.  From a personal standpoint I view this as Gracie’s sixth birthday rather than the Mayan Apocalypse.

Of course, I guess whatever the Mayans had in mind – if they indeed had anything in mind – still has the rest of the day to play out and we won’t really be safe until it’s turned December 22nd everywhere on the globe.  That is assuming that the predicted date was computed correctly.

Did those making the calculations adjust from the Julian to the Gregorian calendar, as one example where we might have gone wrong?  Did we start our computation using the correct day – there’s another possibility.  But I know with certainty, that there is something definite about December 21st.  In the western Church’s calendar, it is the Feast of St. Thomas the Apostle.

Whether or not you’re religious, you probably have heard of him through the phrase, “Doubting Thomas.”  He was the disciple who, when told of Christ’s Resurrection didn’t believe it was true.

“Except I shall see in his hands the print of the nails, and put my finger into the print of the nails, and thrust my hand into his side, I will not believe.”    John 20:25 (KJV)

Thomas was one of those whom we might describe as an empiricist.  He lacked faith and needed to see for himself – and I guess in a certain sense, I have to join with his philosophical view as it comes in our rush to craft yet another law which will further control our lives.

A week after the tragedy in Newtown, CT we are busily working in Washington to fix our problem of violence by restricting gun ownership and the type of weapons that Americans may own.  As a non-owner of weaponry, this is a theoretical event for me – nonetheless I think it is an important one for all of us, because it speaks to our allowing emotion rather than reason to drive our actions.  And I have said repeatedly in these posts that when emotion prevails it is often closely followed by chaos.

If we could pass a law which would eliminate murder in our society I would be the first in line to support it.  Oh, wait, we already have one.  “Thou shall not kill.”  We as a species have been consistently ignoring that since God handed it to Moses on Mt. Sinai.  We have simply found better, faster and more lethal ways to disregard it. 

We have celebrated a culture of violence, exposing our children to all that is vulgar and brutal in our video games and in our movie theaters and on our televisions – and we wonder why children and young adults commit the types of atrocities that Adam Lanza perpetrated on the citizens of a small town in Connecticut.

We have abandoned the two parent family with a spiraling birth rate among unwed mothers and justify that because some of our Hollywood celebrities and sports heroes don’t bother with that staid old institution called marriage.  If it’s good enough for them whom we idolize, why shouldn’t it be just as good for us?

When those of us who object to their behavior as being unprincipled go to watch a movie in which they star or a professional sports game in which they play, we have sullied ourselves and undermined our own right to criticize all that is wrong in our society.  Because we have endorsed the problem and not acted to implement the solution.  And that solution is really quite simple. 

Like Caesar’s wife, each of us needs to accept accountability for her or his actions and try, as best we can, to be mindful that we should always be “above reproach.”  At the very least, we should be thinking about our actions, both as to how they effect our own lives as well as the lives of others with whom we share a place in society. There’s been a lot of “doing” in our society but not a whole lot of thinking.

We have geared our lives to revolve around which pop-culture activities will provide the greatest immediate sensual gratification and we run with that one.  No further value need be inherent in it other than “it pleasures me now.” 

Perhaps that was what ran through Adam Lanza’s mind when he murdered those children, his mother and the other adults in Newtown, CT.  “If it feels good, just do it.”

The cries of outrage are being heard all around the country and all around the globe over Newtown.  And those cries should be heard because they are the sound of pain and anguish.  Pain is the body’s way of telling us that something is wrong. 

But passing another law regulating guns will not silence the rifles or the assault weapons or the pistols.  Those weapons do not fire themselves.  It takes us to pick them up and use them.

If we continue to ignore the narrow path of decency and morality and stay on our present course, in some small but very real way, each of us was that deranged person in Newtown, CT.  And each of us helped pulled the trigger.

AMERI-CAN (BUT WILL WE)?

A few days ago I saw a lawn sign in my neighborhood.  It read, “It’s not an election.  It’s an emergency.”  I couldn’t agree more with the sentiment that sign expressed.

I have had the opportunity to speak with many of my fellow citizens about how they determine who deserves their vote for President of the United States.  Many of those had a single issue which they cited as the basis for their selection.  Some of them were focused on economic issues, others on social issues.  I’m sure that you can fill in the blanks as to the specifics.

Generally speaking, I think that voting on the basis of only one issue to the exclusion of everything else is naïve and self-serving.  And it is with some amount of chagrin that I admit that is how I made my decision to cast my vote.

My single issue was this:  “How do I assess the integrity of the candidates running for office?”

The question of a candidate’s race should not be an issue – but unfortunately it is for many voters.  Were it not that President Obama is perceived as a black man, I am confident in saying that he would be defeated in this election by a margin which would rival the late Sen. George McGovern’s trouncing in 1972 when he received only 17 electoral votes and failed to carry his home state of South Dakota.

And I find that remarkable because the two men were so tremendously different.  If you remember Sen. McGovern, he was a voice of principle, descrying the War in Vietnam at a time when it enjoyed the popular support of most Americans.  His opposition to the war was in large measure reflected in the poor showing he made in the election.  But McGovern stood by what he believed – much to his credit.

By contrast, I don’t view President Obama as a man who has his anchor attached to any principle or set of them.  I have seen him vacillate on so many issues that it is hard to know where he stands at any given moment.  The only thing that he now promises us is that if re-elected, he is going to continue on the same course he has already plotted.  But where has that course led us if not to the brink of the abyss?

Based on his record, had President Obama been Captain of the Titanic, there would have been no survivors.

This is not a recent change – one due to the onerous burden of being President.  It is reflective of his political career as an Illinois State Senator and as a member of the U. S. Senate.  It is a record of mediocrity and indifference and perhaps is a continuation of his scholastic achievements as well.  Would that be the reason that his transcripts are such a well-guarded secret?

And mediocrity is the credo to which he asks us to rally and support with our votes.  Is that all we want?  Is that what you want – to be average?  Or do you have the vision to be exceptional – or at least to make the attempt and be able to say at the end of the day, “Well, I gave it a shot.”

But the biggest problem I see with the President’s lack of integrity, is that America is rapidly becoming a country where those who try to make a real difference and make something of themselves, helping others along the way, are looked down upon and scorned – particularly if they succeed.  That may be Mitt Romney’s greatest flaw in the minds of those who are determined to enforce the “average” on all of us.

The men who founded this country were anything but average.  They were thinkers and they were people who applied the sound principles of common sense to their decisions.  They were guided in their judgments by what they believed to be in the best interests of this new country that they had founded.  And what they founded became an example of what could be achieved when people with different interests and backgrounds banded together to support a common cause.

Mitt Romney is not flawless.  None of us is.  But since I had only two realistic choices from which to select I opted to vote for him, I might add, with  enthusiasm.  His track record speaks on its own.

He was inclusive and able to work with members of both parties as Governor of Massachusetts – and we need inclusion in America.  He brings strong values about family to the table – and we need a good example for our far too many single-parent homes.  He has exhibited personal generosity and commitment to those he met who were in need.  In essence, I think he is a decent human being – and I would prefer having someone of that caliber in the White House.

I began writing this blog in October, 2011, long before we knew who would be the candidate to oppose President Obama.  Three years into the President’s term it was apparent to me that virtually anyone else would have done better.  An additional year has done nothing but entrench me further in that opinion.

I am sorry to make that statement because I want whoever is President to succeed, not so that we may praise him for his genius, but because I want America and its people to succeed.  I am not willing to accept “mediocrity as the norm”.  I think higher of myself – and I think better of you.

Ameri-can – but will we?  We’ll see how many people committed to the principles which established the greatest nation on earth are still living here on November 6th.

SUNDAYS WITH SARAH

I called my friend, Sarah on Friday to wish her a Happy Birthday.  It was the 90th time that she got to celebrate this event.

Sarah and I have been friends from the first time that  we met.  She is one of the most delightful and fun people I know.  Well, actually, she is more like two of the most delightful and fun people I know.

It’s almost as though she is a female version of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.  On the one hand, she is refined, genteel and delicate in the way I pictured Elizabeth Barrett Browning.  But when she gets started on one subject – politics – she transforms into a gruff version of Ruth Gordon complete with the salty language that would embarrass the most hardened merchant seaman.

Sarah and her younger sister were born in Munich, Germany.  Her father was the Cantor at their Synagogue but he earned his living as a diamond cutter.  As a result, both the girls received an extensive exposure to classical music – something which Sarah and I shared and loved.

In 1934, seeing the storm clouds arise in his country, Sarah’s father moved his family to Antwerp.  But after four years in Belgium, the Nazis signed the “negotiated agreement” which annexed Czechoslovakia’s Sudetenland and he feared, quite correctly, that this was merely the start of something far bigger on Hitler’s part.  Her father, Saul had a friend who owned a  wholesale jewelry business in Chicago and offered him a job – so the family left Europe and moved to the Midwest.

The family settled in Chicago’s Hyde Park.  At the time, a significant percentage of the population in this neighborhood was Jewish – in part because many of them were professors at the University of Chicago.  And directly abutting Hyde Park on the north was Kenwood, a neighborhood that was filled with 10 and 12 bedroom mansions.  K.A.M. Isaiah Israel Temple, Chicago’s oldest synagogue was located there and had a congregation of people who tended to be politically conservative.

But the large Jewish population on Chicago’s south side began moving north, particularly when the “Gold Coast” area became more fashionable.  Unlike some of their fellow religionists, Sarah’s parents stayed in Hyde Park and it was there that I met her 30 years ago.

I was working as the “precinct captain”  of my own precinct, making sure that every Republican vote got to the polls and was voted (if not necessarily counted) on election day that year.  Of course, this was volunteer work and was far from taxing.  Of the four hundred registered voters in the precinct, there were only about 20 who identified themselves as being Republicans.  By comparison to other precincts in Chicago, that was actually a pretty decent showing.

The Republican voters in Chicago’s 5th Ward fell into one of only several categories.

The first were older conservative Jewish voters who had not migrated to the north side, preferring the almost suburban and wonderfully inter-racially mixed neighborhood to the near-ghetto atmosphere which had been crafted by the nouveau-successful about 10 miles north.

The second were professors and students at the University of Chicago’s School of Business.

The third, (and they were few in number) were students at the University’s School of Divinity who had experienced a close, personal encounter with God.  As I said, there weren’t many who fell into this last category.

Sarah was a member of the first group and was the stalwart who rounded up the 10 Republicans in her building so that I could drive those who were too frail to walk to the polls and, when they had finished voting, drive them back to their apartment.

That was how Sarah and I met.  But there was something insightful and interesting in this wonderful lady, substantially older than I, that caused us to become close friends.  In part, it was the Sunday crossword puzzle.

Sarah loved to do the crossword in the Chicago Tribune (and I later was able to talk her into doing the Quote Acrostic as well).  But when she would get stuck on a clue, she would call me, knowing that I always was able to complete the puzzle, and ask me to give her a helping hand with it.  As the years went by we maintained this ritual of speaking at least every Sunday.

I would, if I had plans for Sunday afternoon after church, start on the puzzle early so that I was prepared for our conversation.  We continued to do this for 20 years – until I moved to Las Vegas where I found it impossible to get the Chicago Tribune.

Over the years I noticed that these conversations became longer and longer as Sarah had more difficulty with the puzzles.  A one hour conversation to complete the puzzle became somewhat standard.  At first I would simply create an alternate clue to the one that was given in the puzzle to try to help her out.  But as time went by, my assistance became more direct.  “Okay, Sarah, the next letter you’re missing is a vowel.”

I could see myself, thirty or forty years down the road, hoping that I had a friend who would similarly be able to help me out as my memory faded and although these conversations were a little boring for me, I tried to put myself in her place and realize that there was nothing more special than being able to help out a friend.

Despite her advanced age, Sarah is still vibrant and active – but annoyed that she now has to rely on the use of a cane to get around.  She still takes her mile long walk every day, although I suspect it takes her longer to finish it than when I first met her.  And she is still politically attuned – and incorrect.

I have been sending her copies of my posts as I write them, and she is probably my most severe critic.  She thinks that I’m far too polite in my comments about the President.  I know because she has told me so in no uncertain terms.

As I said, when she gets on the subject of politics she is expressive in a downright earthy way.

On my most recent call congratulating her on her birthday, she said, “What the hell is wrong with you?  You’ve got brains.  Why don’t you talk about that SOB (she used one word implying an illegitimate birth status) in the White House and tell people that he’s the biggest piece of sh*t that we’ve ever elected?  Look how he’s abandoning Israel.”

“What the hell is wrong with all these liberal Jews?  Don’t they remember what the holocaust was all about?  Don’t they remember what happened when they tried to find excuses about why Hitler wasn’t so bad?  Don’t they remember that 6 million off us died in that SOB’s gas chambers – only because he couldn’t find the rest of us and kill us too?”

“This guy is just as dangerous as Hitler – it’s just that people are too stupid to see that.”

As I said, Sarah has some pretty deep feelings when it comes to politics.

I don’t think that I’m going to mail this particular post to Sarah.  But I know that she will appreciate the cartoon.  (I owe credit to Rick and his blog “Billericapolitics.org” for it).  So I guess I’ll just make a copy of the cartoon and send it to her in the packet I’ve already assembled.

I’ll find out Sunday if she enjoyed it when we have our weekly call.

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