The American Dilemma and How We Can Fix It

Archive for the ‘death’ Category

GET A LIFE

Perhaps I’m wrong, but the first time I recall hearing the phrase, “Get a life” was back in the ‘70’s.  At that time it meant that an individual was not “living up to potential” (a phrase from the ‘50’s).  In 2013 it has taken on a totally different meaning.

On Friday, August 16, 2013 a twenty-two year old Australian man, Christopher Lane lost his life in Oklahoma as he was out jogging while on a visit to his girl friend and her family. Three teenagers shot him in the back and killed him.

When the oldest of the three assailants who were arrested was asked why they had done this, the 17 year old said, “We were bored and decided to kill somebody – for the fun of it.”

It’s hard to make sense of an accident that results in the loss of life.  It’s simply impossible for me to make sense of something like this.  It’s beyond my understanding to comprehend the kind of a mind that considers another life so trivial that it can be snuffed out to remediate boredom.  This taxes my feelings about civility and charity toward others and giving a person a second chance.  I know that is a failing on my part.

There is no need to foment the issue of racism which has already been brought to the boiling point by the media.  And I know that in this case Al Sharpton and other racists will be totally silent.  Nor is there any need to bring up the “stand your ground” laws and whether those deter or encourage crime.  Chris Lane was white, unarmed and the victim and, like Trayvon Martin, nothing will bring him back to life.

But it is time to ask some serious questions. “Why have the news media barely paid attention to this murder?  Does it not meet their profile of the violent racist agenda that whites have for our black brothers?  Is that the same reason that the incidences of black on black violence are so frequently glossed over by them?”

Until those in the media fulfill their responsibilities of providing news that is even, balanced and complete, we will have more Trayvon Martins and more Chris Lanes.  Perhaps, in some of those cases, the only ones who will mourn them will be their friends and family.  There will be no organized marches to avenge the deaths of those slaughtered.

But if the editors of our papers and those who produce our news programs don’t themselves, “get a life,” we will continue to live in a society where three bored teenagers, just for fun, will continue to take them.

ROBBING THE CRADLE; HASTENING THE GRAVE

For people of my generation, if someone spoke of a person’s “robbing the cradle” that phrase meant that a man or woman married someone who was significantly their junior in age.  That was before Roe v. Wade.

Words, phrases and attitudes have changed in the forty years since the Supreme Court declared abortion to be legal.  The thrust of this post is not going to be an examination of the morality, immorality or amorality of that decision and the consequences we have seen as a result of it.  There is more than sufficient material on that topic which has already been published.

Rather, I thought I would examine one possible outcome for our society as our attitudes toward human life and death have evolved as a result of the decision.  But before we peer into a possible future, it might be useful if we used the guidance of history to review how we have gotten to our present state of mind.

With Roe v. Wade we redefined human life.  We declared pregnancy to be a “sickness” and insurance companies were mandated to cover pregnant women for the condition as they would “any other illness”.  Thus, a woman was empowered to “take control of her body” in the matter of her pregnancy in much the same way that she was able to purchase aspirin for a headache.

Gone were the days when an unwed, pregnant mother-to-be was whisked off to a geographically distant relative on some pretext of helping an “aging family member” until the time of her giving birth to her offspring.  Now science and society had created an alternative to deal with the problem or, should I say, the “illness”.

We had, by legally defining a fetus as a “non-person,” been able to hold our heads high and repeat those famous words that “All Men are created equal.”  Since a fetus was not a man (or woman) it was not entitled to those rights or privileges any more than your ordinary house cockroach.

In the ensuing years, having started down the path that says that the ultimate concern should be for the potential mother’s health, (that is both a physical and mental matter), we have gradually been able to extend our original definition of non-humanness through the advances which science has made.

Now a fetus who may have Downs Syndrome or Cystic Fibrosis or may simply be the wrong gender can be identified.  In the interest of the mother’s mental health, this unwanted child may be terminated because it doesn’t fit into either its parent’s view of what is best for her or what society deems best for itself.

It should be clear from our history that mankind is a “discriminating” lot.  If it were otherwise, we would not have felt the necessity to  create an Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, to cite one obvious example, nor would the KKK ever have had any membership.

So given our history of discriminating against others, now that we have the ability to discriminate against “non-others” as many think of human embryos, let’s picture how this attitude might play out were a despotic government to come to power.

In this future, women who rejoiced in having the “right to choose” might no longer have that right if the State didn’t consider them to be suitable breeding material.  Those who were required to donate sperm would be carefully screened for the physical and mental characteristics that the State deemed desirable.  Those of both sexes who did not meet the State’s defined criteria would be sterilized to limit population.

The State and the State alone would determine what and who was of value.  All those who did not contribute to its own well-being would be eradicated.  This, of course, would be most noticeable among the population of the elderly as they were systematically decimated either through neglect or by means of euthanasia.  End Of Life Panels would have the final word on who would receive and who would be denied medical treatment – all in an effort to make ours a beneficent and utopian society.

This is, of course, an imaginary future and could never actually happen – at least not in America.  We are a noble people dedicated to a great purpose.

I wonder if that was what the guards said to themselves as they pulled the lever, releasing the gas in the showers of the death camps as they purged their society of several hundred more whom the State had declared undesirables.

DEAR JOHN

The world may not have ended on December 21, 2012 – but we did lose a great citizen.  I received a call this morning that a good friend, John Hamilton had passed away at the age of 72.

You don’t know who he was – but you should.  He was someone who was an example for all of us – a kind, righteous man.  He happened to be black – but that is not something that should be all that important to us.  It was not all that important to him.

I heard the news from his sister, Delia who is the person who introduced me to John at a Christmas party which she hosted many years ago.  I was immediately struck with his warmth and genuine kindness at that party and we became good friends over many years.

John sold insurance for a livelihood.  That’s a tough gig – but he handled it well.  He never made millions of dollars, but he worked long hard hours to support himself.  He was an immaculate dresser – which brings me to how I got to know him the best.

I was having coffee on a Saturday morning when the phone rang.  It was John.   The reason for his call was that he wanted to buy a new suit and wondered if I would be kind enough to help him pick it out.

Frankly, that surprised me. As John always dressed impeccably, I had always assumed that he had an eye for fashion.  But it turned out that his sister helped him pick out his wardrobe and she had gone to California to work on her Master’s Degree in anthropology.

The reason he asked for my assistance was that he was color blind.  I had known John at this point for at least five years and neither he nor his sister had ever mentioned this.

John had a disability.  But he found a way to cope with that.  As I came to learn, he numbered every article of his clothing so that he could co-ordinate his outfits.  He took pride in his appearance and in himself. 

He didn’t cry or moan about his red green confusion.  He dealt with it and found a way to work around it.

John was one of the small minority of the black community who rejected the Obama administration in the last election.  He held to higher standards.  He was an individualist.

You’ll remember that he asked my help selecting a new suit.  When we arrived at the store where he did most of his clothes shopping, he asked the salesman why the buttons of one that we had selected had the letters PC inscribed on them.  Of course, this was decades before we had heard of Political Correctness.

The salesman, thinking this would be a good selling point said, “This suit was created by the famous French designer, Pierre Cardin.  When you wear this suit, those in the know will know that you have excellent taste.”

John paused for a moment.

“So when I wear this suit, I will be advertising Mr. Cardin’s business.  Will I be receiving royalty checks from him for promoting his enterprise?”

The salesman laughed, obviously thinking that John was joking.  He was deadly serious.

John went on, “It seems to me that if you do something to benefit a commercial venture you should get compensated for it.  And since Mr. Cardin apparently doesn’t share that view, I’ll take the suit – but only if you replace the buttons with plain ones that are appropriate to the material.”

And that’s what the tailor in the store did.

Over the years, John and I had many conversations about the “mob mentality” in clothing as it reflected on the lack of individuality in our society.  Think about all the clothing and accessories which you or your friends own which are emblazoned with a company logo or name, items that were purchased in an effort to look trendy and chic.

Inanimate objects do not empower us.  Only we have the ability to do that for ourselves, with the help of family and friends.  John knew that.  And he lived that.

Delia requested that I deliver the eulogy at his funeral.  I consider it a great privilege that I was asked to do so.  Since I learned of his death I have been trying to put together some thoughts that reflect on his life.

Maybe I will talk about the man I knew who loved kids and cats and dogs.  The man who held the door open for the person behind him and who always allowed ladies off the elevator before him, stretching out his arm to make sure that the door didn’t close unexpectedly.

I will always remember his beaming smile and his hearty laugh.  I will always remember how he would swoop down to comfort a child who had skinned her knee while she and a friend were playing hopscotch.  

John was a kind man and a gentleman. You couldn’t help but notice as he was so proficient at his craft – having practiced it every day of his life.  And with his passing, there is one fewer of that dying breed who are left to shine their light upon us. 

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.

THREE DAYS

I doubt that very many of those who dressed up in costume and partied hearty on Halloween have a real sense of what the day was all about.  The term we now use is a corruption of the original phrase which is All Hallows Eve – the night which used to be observed with prayer and vigil before The Feast of All Saints, November 1st.

Remembering those who had set examples of goodness and virtue for us on All Saints Day was so important to the minds of the Church’s theologians, that it was incorporated into the calendar as a Day of Obligation, when the faithful were required to attend a liturgy in commemoration of those who had gone before us and were now enshrined in heaven.

But there is a third day in this sequence, November 2nd which commemorates all who have died, the Feast of All Souls.  In the liturgy, at least as it used to be structured, the names of those who had passed and whose loved ones wanted to remember them, would be read during the service.  The liturgy was offered specifically on their behalf, as well as all those who had died and who were no longer remembered by anyone.

And that brings me to sharing a story with you:.

There was a very average man who lived some while ago.  He was average in every way.  He was of average height, average looks, average intelligence and had an average job.  He was a nice enough chap, but there was nothing about him which caused him to stand out in a crowd.

One day it happened that he was introduced to a young lady who was anything but average.  She was beautiful, charming, witty, extremely bright and was a gourmet cook as well.  Although smitten by her, he didn’t feel that he was the sort of person in whom she would ever take an interest.  But he was wrong.  She loved his company.

Well this average man and this charming lady began seeing each other.  He adored their time together – as apparently so did she.  And after months and many dates had gone by, he finally got up the nerve to ask her to marry him – holding his breath for fear the she would reject his proposal.  But much to his delight she accepted and they were wed.

Every day our average man was inspired to enjoy his day at work because he knew that his beautiful and loving wife would be home to receive him at day’s end, one of her wonderful meals waiting for him.  He couldn’t believe what a fortunate man he was to have found such an incredible companion.    When he experienced a bump in the road, his wife was always by his side to help pick him up.  And when he was enjoying good fortune, sharing it with her made it even better.

And so they lived their lives together for twenty-five years.  Their only disappointment was that they never had children – but they had each other and that seemed to be enough for both of them.

One day when he returned him, our average man found his beautiful wife dead on the sofa of their home.  Apparently without any warning, she had suffered a fatal heart attack and passed away.  As you can imagine, he was beside himself with grief at the shock of her death.  And he was filled with anger.

He was angry at his wife, on whom he so depended, for dying.  He was angry at the neighbors who came by to try to comfort him.  He was angry at the world.  And he was angry at God.  He was angry in a very un-average way.

The day before his wife’s funeral, he was sitting in the funeral home from which she was to be buried, alone – or so he thought – with the coffin containing her remains.  Seeing his wife’s corpse in the casket brought on a great wave of anger and he directed this at God.

“How could you have taken her from me?  She was so young.  It’s just not fair that you did this to her and to me.  What will I do now without her?  She was my love and my life.  I don’t know how I can go on.”

Much to his surprise, he heard a voice.  Whether it was in the room or his head he wasn’t sure.  But it was the voice of Wisdom.  He believed it was the voice of God speaking to him.

“Look at yourself and listen to what you are saying.  You know that you have always been an average man and you received an exceptional gift in your wife from Me.  You didn’t have any reason either to expect or hope for such a wonderful companion – yet I made you this extraordinary present and during the years you had together you were always happy.”

“But I didn’t give her to you to own.  No person has the right to believe that he or she owns another.  Rather, I made you a loan.  And as with all loans, in My own way I decided that the term of the loan had concluded and I called it in – a loan for which you provided no collateral and had no reason to expect would be made to you in the first place.”

“Therefore, do not turn to Me in anger but in gratitude, since you enjoyed your wonderful wife for the many years you had together.  There are those on earth who have never known that sort of love for even one fleeting moment of their lives.  It is for them that you should shed your tears – not for yourself.” 

Moral:  Please write your own and, if you like, share it with us.

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.

A TALE OF TWO PEOPLE

There are probably no more devastating words that a woman can hear than these four – “You have breast cancer.”

Elizabeth Edwards, the late wife of former Senator John Edwards heard those words.  She also found out that her husband was having an extra-marital affair.  We know that with any disease, a positive mental attitude is essential if a person has a chance of recovery.  Finding out your husband has been unfaithful certainly doesn’t support that kind of mental condition.  Elizabeth Edwards succumbed to her disease and died.

Ann Romney, wife of Republican Presidential Candidate Mitt Romney also heard those words.  Unlike Mrs. Edwards, she had the support of a loving family and a devoted husband.  Today Ann Romney is on the campaign trail, hoping to do her part to restore America by helping her husband in his attempt to get us back to the old-time values and sound economic principles which he believes in and represents.  She is a survivor of this dreadful illness and we wish her and all those others who have been diagnosed with the condition, the very best of luck and a long life.

Mr. Edwards is a member of the Democratic Party – the party that bills itself as having a lot of concern for “the little guy.”  Apparently, that concern doesn’t extend itself to “the little woman.”

Or maybe Mr. Edwards is merely a victim of IIFGJDI – a modern re-invention, brought back to life from the 60’s when it originated.  If you’ve forgotten, the acronym stands for, “If It Feels Good Just Do It.”

Mr. Romney apparently just doesn’t get it.  He has fuddy-duddy old-time values – family, fidelity, work in order to achieve a better life for your kids, stuff like that.  And there is perhaps one more that I should mention.  Apparently, he believes that, “Charity begins at home.”

And that’s a tale of two people.

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