The American Dilemma and How We Can Fix It

Posts tagged ‘GRATITUDE’

THEY WHO SERVE AND PROTECT

We’ve all heard that the police are here to serve and protect us.  I want to devote this post to the first of those two missions.

Have you ever needed to return something you purchased to a store?  You changed your mind, it’s too big or too small or it doesn’t go with your chartreuse shoes the way you thought it would.  And there you are, annoyed because you have to waste your time going back to the store, waiting in line with all the rest of the customers who are as annoyed as you because they’re doing the same thing.

Then you get to the desk and find a young lady who is thinking that it’s only another two and a half hours until she can get lunch and she’s had a morning filled with nasty customers who believe that she is responsible because their purchase doesn’t go with their chartreuse shoes.  But you’re confident in your ability to expedite this entire process.  You’re going to be pushy and cranky and demand a refund – no store credit will be acceptable to you.

It’s an immovable object and irresistible force kind of thing.

I would be willing to bet that many of the people who work in customer service entered that line of work because they are “people persons.”  Or at least they once were.  But as they listen to never ending complaints, especially when they are expressed without the civility of a “Please” or “Thank You,” well, it does takes its toll on the human spirit.  Illegitimi non carborundum be damned.  And who are the perpetrators of this destruction of the human spirit?  They are nice, everyday, “normal” people like you and me.

Now let’s consider the police and their mission to serve the public.  On the light end of things, we have those who are assigned to traffic duty.  I’ve known quite a few people who were caught committing a moving violation.  When they’ve explained this experience it is generally done by using rather salty language, thoroughly interspersed with expletives.  I have yet to hear someone describe their arrest by saying, “You know, I had the best morning.  The nicest policeman, an Officer Friendly, pulled me over for doing 65 mph in a 40 mph zone.  I am so grateful to him that he reminded me that by travelling at that speed I was endangering other motorists, pedestrians and myself.  I’m certainly going to take this to heart and stay within the speed limit in the future.”

The prudent motorist while awaiting the arrival of his ticket and the return of his registration and license is probably not cursing out the arresting office aloud.  But I am sure many of those in that circumstance aren’t thinking about buying tickets to the Policeman’s Ball either.  And I’m sure the body language is sufficient for the officer to pick up on their antipathy toward him or her.  And they get that every day, every time they stop another abusive motorist.

But as I said, that’s the light end of the job.  Take those who work in drug details or are assigned to a unit that specializes in trying to track down those who rape children or commit murder.  Dealing with that sort of depravity on a daily basis has to take a toll on a person’s spirit and humanity.  I know that’s a job that I couldn’t handle for very long.

Has any member of the police force ever made a mistake – one perhaps that resulted in an innocent person’s death?  Of course.  We all make mistakes – or there would be no need for a police force or a court system or jails.  But the current narrative that the police are some sort of occupying force whose goal is to beat the citizenry into submission – well, I just don’t see that.

To those who do work on our police forces, I am grateful that they have accepted the responsibility to serve the public generally and me in particular.  And I wish them well and offer a heartfelt, “Thank you.”  Perhaps if more of us took a moment to say those two words to the people we meet, we could help reduce the hostility that seems to have enslaved so many of us.  It’s worth a try, don’t you think?

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WHO SERVE AND PROTECT

We’ve all heard that the police are here to serve and protect us.  I want to devote this post to the first of those two missions.

Have you ever needed to return something you purchased to a store?  You changed your mind, it’s too big or too small or it doesn’t go with your chartreuse shoes the way you thought it would.  And there you are, annoyed because you have to waste your time going back to the store, waiting in line with all the rest of the customers who are as annoyed as you because they’re doing the same thing.

Then you get to the desk and find a young lady who is thinking that it’s only another two and a half hours until she can get lunch and she’s had a morning filled with nasty customers who believe that she is responsible because their purchase doesn’t go with their chartreuse shoes.  But you’re confident in your ability to expedite this entire process.  You’re going to be pushy and cranky and demand a refund – no store credit will be acceptable to you.

It’s an immovable object and irresistible force kind of thing.

I would be willing to bet that many of the people who work in customer service entered that line of work because they are “people persons.”  Or at least they once were.  But as they listen to never ending complaints, especially when they are expressed without the civility of a “Please” or “Thank You,” well, it does takes its toll on the human spirit.  Illegitimi non carborundum be damned.  And who are the perpetrators of this destruction of the human spirit?  They are nice, everyday, “normal” people like you and me.

Now let’s consider the police and their mission to serve the public.  On the light end of things, we have those who are assigned to traffic duty.  I’ve known quite a few people who were caught committing a moving violation.  When they’ve explained this experience it is generally done by using rather salty language, thoroughly interspersed with expletives.  I have yet to hear someone describe their arrest by saying, “You know, I had the best morning.  The nicest policeman, an Officer Friendly, pulled me over for doing 65 mph in a 40 mph zone.  I am so grateful to him that he reminded me that by travelling at that speed I was endangering other motorists, pedestrians and myself.  I’m certainly going to take this to heart and stay within the speed limit in the future.”

The prudent motorist while awaiting the arrival of his ticket and the return of his registration and license is probably not cursing out the arresting office aloud.  But I am sure many of those in that circumstance aren’t thinking about buying tickets to the Policeman’s Ball either.  And I’m sure the body language is sufficient for the officer to pick up on their antipathy toward him or her.  And they get that every day, every time they stop another abusive motorist.

But as I said, that’s the light end of the job.  Take those who work in drug details or are assigned to a unit that specializes in trying to track down those who rape children or commit murder.  Dealing with that sort of depravity on a daily basis has to take a toll on a person’s spirit and humanity.  I know that’s a job that I couldn’t handle for very long.

Has any member of the police force ever made a mistake – one perhaps that resulted in an innocent person’s death?  Of course.  We all make mistakes – or there would be no need for a police force or a court system or jails.  But the current narrative that the police are some sort of occupying force whose goal is to beat the citizenry into submission – well, I just don’t see that.

To those who do work on our police forces, I am grateful that they have accepted the responsibility to serve the public generally and me in particular.  And I wish them well and offer a heartfelt, “Thank you.”  Perhaps if more of us took a moment to say those two words to the people we meet, we could help reduce the hostility that seems to have enslaved so many of us.  It’s worth a try, don’t you think?

THE ATHEIST CASE FOR NIXMAS

Have you ever noticed that in the season prior to Christmas, people seem to be just a little bit nicer to each other than usual?  It’s something I’ve observed year after year – and I wistfully hope that the spirit of the season would continue throughout the entire year.  Sadly, it seems to evaporate as soon as the party noisemakers are blown and the last glass of champagne is consumed.

On a fundamental level, the story of Jesus’ birth should stir at least a twinge of emotion in all of us, whether or not you believe that He was born as Savior to redeem mankind from the sins with which we bind ourselves.  After all, here is a humble family who find refuge for the Nativity in a barn, surrounded by farm animals.  Nothing fancy, nothing splashy, nothing that would portend any great events yet to come.  Perhaps that, if nothing more, is the reason that many of us take the time to reflect on the beauty and mystery that is life – and causes us to be a little more generous, a bit more compassionate and just a smidgen more caring for our fellow men – at least for a few weeks.

Then, of course, those of us who are fortunate enough to have a roof over our head can enjoy the camaraderie of sharing meals with family and friends.  The smells of the season, whether those come from the cookies baking in the oven or the incense of the Midnight Vigil and celebration of the Liturgy of the Nativity, appeal to our sense of smell and the decorations and light displays excite our vision.  At least that is the case for some of us.

Then there are those who profess atheism as their religion of choice, while denying that they have any religious convictions.  Not to engage in a debate on the subject which might embroil us in little more than a semantic conversation, let’s stipulate that an atheist, at least in America, is entitled to hold and express her convictions just as are Jews, Muslims, Baha’i’s, Buddhists, Christians or anyone of any other religious conviction.  If an atheist wants her position to be respected, it seems natural that they would respect the positions of others whose views might differ from their own.  But that doesn’t seem to be the case, as the following billboards demonstrate:

 

 

 

American atheists generally direct their anti-religious message towards those of the their fellow citizens who are Christians, reserving their antipathy to members of other faiths with generalized derision in the belief in any God.  So why do those who believe that Jesus is Lord deserve their special attention?  This has puzzled me for many years so I thought that I would do a little research into the subject.

Samaritans Purse is a name with which you might have recently become familiar because of the recent Ebola outbreak in West Africa.  They have sent and paid for the cost of providing medical practitioners to the area to help those who were ravaged by the disease – all because of the contributions they received from those who support their work.  Perhaps our atheist friends believe that they have simply not done enough.

We are all familiar with the bell ringer volunteers that the Salvation Army puts in front of our stores during the Christmas season.  During the Great Depression, the Salvation Army was the only charitable organization that freely gave out food to those in need.  In 2013, the Salvation Army provided assistance to 30 million Americans with services that ranged from providing food to individuals and families in need, veterans services, half-way houses, prison ministries and services to the elderly and shut ins.  Although my atheist friends must think I’m crazy, I never hesitate to drop a few dollars in those red kettles every time I pass by one.

I grew up with “Make Room For Daddy” and adored Danny Thomas who founded St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital.  Thomas loved kids and showed this by establishing this incredible hospital which is totally dependent on donations for its continued works as it does not charge any family for any of the services it provides to the children who come there to be treated for their complex and costly medical conditions.  Although Danny Thomas was a Maronite Catholic, St. Jude does not restrict its practice of free treatment to Catholic children in need but accepts all children as patients irrespective or religion or race.

Catholic Charities is probably the largest and best funded of all Christian charitable services.  It provides assistance by operating shelters for the homeless and abused women, services to immigrants including teaching English, nutrition through the Meals on Wheels program, companion programs for the elderly, just to name some of their activities.  Catholic Charities provides assistance to over 40 million Americans per year.

Despite these obvious good works, the atheists in American society continue their campaign to turn Christmas into Nixmas and spend their money putting up billboards and filing lawsuits, demanding that symbols of Christianity be removed from public display.  Personally, I think the money could be better spent – but that’s just one person’s opinion.

As I try to keep an open mind, should any of my readers who holds an atheist view of life be kind enough to provide me with the name of an atheist organization that actually spends its donations helping children, providing housing for the homeless, feeds the hungry or offers free medical treatment for those in need, I will be happy to make a contribution to their good work.  But irrespective of whether I hear from anyone with that information, let me take a moment to wish all readers, religious or otherwise, a Merry and Blessed Christmas, and a heart filled with charity.

THE CHANGE PURSE

It was a Christmas present from my mother to hers.  Perhaps you might not consider it to be a gift of significance, a mere change purse and, for that matter, one that looked like the one that Grandma had in service for a decade, but you would be misinformed.  There was no “accessory” that was more important to Grandma than this little black leather purse with the silver-like top and clasp.  It was at the center of her managing her finances – a matter that she took with the utmost seriousness.

Grocery shopping was an almost daily routine in Grandma’s life.  She reasoned, “Why would I stock up on produce which will only lose its freshness in the refrigerator if I can buy something daily at the produce stands?”  Of course, like most businesses then, the stands were closed on Sunday so Saturdays were particularly busy.  Most people who had the time seemed to share Grandma’s view on buying lettuce, tomatoes and cantaloupes.  It was a part of their daily lives.

When Grandma went to the store she would, of course, take her purse containing her little bit of monetary treasure.  The change purse, sometimes bulging with coins and sometimes quite slim, was always at the bottom of the purse, usually with a few other items placed on top of it, perhaps so that a potential purse snatcher might miss it in case he made a dash and grab.  The outer part of the purse had a zippered compartment in which the few bills that Grandma would take with her were carefully folded, the larger denominations, never more than a twenty, were nestled, secured inside the smaller bills.

When the clerk told her the total of her purchases, Grandma would reach in her purse, unbury the change purse from its hiding place, open the clasp and begin counting out change.  It was always better to try to pay for as much of the purchase with coins before having to resort to using paper.  Those bills were hard to come by.  But I wondered, “Where did all the money that filled that change purse come from in the first place?”  And then one day I found the answer.

On the third of each month, or the fourth if the third fell on a Sunday, a little group of our apartment building’s residents would assemble near the mail boxes in the downstairs hallway.  Our mailman, Mr. Shapiro, right on schedule, would appear promptly at nine thirty to distribute the mail to the forty boxes.  The group, including Grandma had two characteristics in common.  They all had gray (or very little) hair and they all were awaiting the arrival of their monthly social security checks.  Since we lived in one of the “A” apartments, our mail was deposited early on in this process which was a good thing since then Grandma could collect it and return to the chores she had set for himself to accomplish that day.

But how did that one piece of paper turn into all those coins and the green money with the pictures of presidents and other important people?  That was my first lesson in banking and finance.

Grandma bought all the groceries for our family of four and paid for them out of her social security check – a check that was for a little more than one hundred fifty dollars a month.  The Saturday after she received her check, she and I would make our way to Fourth Federal Savings and Loan Association to cash it.  Despite the fact that there was a bank just a few blocks away, she went to Fourth Federal because they paid an extra one quarter percent interest per year (four and one quarter percent) and because they credited all deposits which were made by the tenth of the month as if they had been made on the first.  Ten days of extra interest and a higher rate.  Despite her third grade formal education, Grandma understood the basics of economics and interest.

She had been one of the earlier depositors with Fourth Federal and owned Account number 1093-4.  The four signified that her current passbook was the fourth one they had issued for her account, the other ones having been filled with earlier transactions.  She still had these old books and showed them to me.  The first two had been handwritten but Fourth Federal had moved into the modern age of technology and had since implemented a system where these transactions were printed by a machine at each bank teller’s work station.  What would they think of next?

There were two things I noticed when I looked at these passbooks.  The first was that ever since Grandma made her initial ten dollar deposit, she had never made a withdrawal.  The only entries were additional deposits and interest that had posted to her account.  Month after month and year after year she had continued to add to her account without fail.  This stemmed from her belief that if you didn’t have the money to buy something you did without and her second belief, probably stemming from earlier hard times and doing without a lot of things that she would have liked to have bought her daughters or herself, that this little nest egg was inviolable.

When we got to the S & L, Grandma reached in her purse to pull out her check and endorsed it.  She carefully entered the amount on the line that said “Checks.”  She then pulled out her change purse, unzipped the pocket containing the bills, pulled them out and counted them.  These were “leftovers” from last month.  That month she had saved twenty-two dollars after paying all her expenses.  She subtracted that and the twenty dollars she saved each month and requested her cash back in the amount of one hundred eight dollars.

The teller, a middle aged woman who had been with the S & L since they opened asked how she would like her cash.  Two twenties, four tens, two fives and eighteen singles.  Eight of those singles would be set aside for a two dollar a week donation to be placed in the collection plate at church.

When Grandma received her money, she held it in her hand and we returned to the little desk that had the deposit and withdrawal slips on it.  She pulled the twenty-two dollars from the side pocket of her change purse and sandwiched those bills in with her withdrawal, making sure that all the bills faced in the same direction before zipping them back in the pocket and burying this little hoard in the bottom of her purse.  We then began immediately for home without stopping since this was far too much money for a person to carry on herself at one time.

But before we left the S & L, Mr. Bohanek, the president stopped by to say hello to us.  He was a ruddy faced, sandy haired man with tortoise shell glasses who always enjoyed speaking with his depositors.  He and the loan committee decided to whom their institution would make loans, long before there were such things as credit scores.  Instead, they based their decisions on a person’s character and credibility.  They must have been good judges of those as rarely did they make a loan on which the borrower failed to make repayment.  Perhaps that also was a statement about how people treated their financial responsibilities in those days.

When we returned home, Grandma put her purse on the little desk in our apartment’s foyer.  She removed the change purse, unzipped the side and pulled out all but twenty five dollars from the pocket.  That would be more than enough to buy the groceries for the week.  The rest went into a yellowed business size envelope that she had used for many years to house the remainder until it was needed.  That envelope went back into the secret compartment in the desk.  And then the change purse went back into the bottom of her purse where it would rest until her next shopping trip.  She used this change purse for the next eleven years until her death.

I still have that worn black leather change purse.  It is a relic of a simpler time, a time when people had a different attitude toward life.  It was a time when we appreciated the simple things and were grateful for the gifts we had received in loving friends and families.  It was a time when simple things were more than enough to keep us happy, believing that if we had enough simple things they could grow into great things and the future would be bright.  It was a time when security meant having a little black leather change purse, bulging with coins with a few bills neatly folded in a little zipped up pocket on the side.  It was a very good time to live in America.

PEAS ARE ROUND AND THEY COME IN A CAN

Geraldine was a friend whom I knew for more than twenty-five years.  We both enjoyed cooking and would have dinner at least once a week at each other’s apartments.  Geraldine was of Irish ancestry, and while she and I were both only children, her mom was the eldest of seven.

Geraldine’s mom, Moira found herself the head of the family at the young age of sixteen.  Her father owned a warehouse and Geraldine and her siblings all began working there after school when they were ten years old.  Her dad passed away when Moira was fourteen and her mother died two years later.  Suddenly, Moira had not only the responsibility of raising six brothers and sisters but had to run the family business.  Without either hesitation or choice she took on this unexpected responsibility.

Moira’s family and warehouse were on the south side of Chicago, an area that was, at that time, filled with first and second generation Irish immigrants.  In the 1920’s there were no large grocery stores but only little neighborhood food shops.  At that time, one of the conveniences that had been invented to help out the housewife was that fruits and vegetables were available in cans which could be stocked in a family’s pantry for use when needed.

This greatly simplified Moira’s life as she could turn to one of her brothers, hand him a grocery list and instruct him to pick up what the family would need for the coming week, thus eliminating her need to go grocery shopping herself and allowing more time to run the warehouse and to cook dinner for the large clan.  Naturally, when she got married, many of the habits which she had acquired as a child followed her and it was in that environment that Geraldine was born and raised.

It was a beautiful early summer Saturday when Geraldine and I decided to take an excursion to Wisconsin.  We were thinking about going to the Wisconsin Dells but there appeared to be quite a few others who had the same idea and we really didn’t want to find ourselves in a large group of people – so instead we just decided to take a drive through the Wisconsin countryside.

On our way back to Chicago we came across a large farm stand, filled with all kinds of in season fruits and vegetables.  They looked far fresher than what we found at our local stores and so we decided to stock up with some fresh from the field produce to enjoy back home.

I was delighted to find fresh peas in the pod.  I hadn’t seen them for years and they brought back one of my favorite childhood memories, helping Grandma shuck these into the large mixing bowl and then chewing on the pods to extract some of their sweetness.  I quickly filled a medium sized brown paper bag with these delectable goodies and put them with my other selections.

When we returned home we decided to make dinner together.  We unloaded our fruits and veggies and I asked Geraldine if she could give me a large bowl so that I could start shucking the peas.  She found one quickly and I emptied my bag of peas into the kitchen sink.  Geraldine looked at this harvest of sweet goodness and asked me, “What are those?”

That statement set me back just a bit.  I thought she was kidding me.  But I answered, “Those are peas.”

She looked at me, put her hands on her hips and with the air of an adult speaking in the tone of one admonishing a child for telling a fib said, “Don’t be ridiculous.  Peas are round and they come in a can.”

As I was turning my compost pile this morning, enjoying the fresh smell which had come into being because of food scraps, shredded paper, coffee grounds and garden waste, I thought of this story.  Geraldine and I grew up at a time when a person still could pick fresh produce from a roadside stand rather than buy it pre-packaged in styrofoam and wrapped with plastic.

We grew up at a time when the hanging scale, inaccurate as it probably was, served the purpose of allowing the grocer to compute the charge for an item and write the amount due on its brown paper bag with a black crayon.  We grew up at a time when there were no stickers applied to each peach or apple which can only be removed by those who have long finger nails.  We grew up at a time when you could tell the difference between a carrot and a stalk of celery by taste rather than appearance.

If, despite the availability of fresh produce when Geraldine grew up, she was surprised to find that peas actually grew in pods before they were processed, just imagine the confusion that younger generations must experience when confronted with fresh fruits and vegetables.  Perhaps that explains why so many think that the height of gourmet eating is a burger and fries.  I would not want to be the first to confront them with reality and dissuade them from their opinions.  And I certainly wouldn’t want to dispel them from their belief, if they have one at all, that “Peas are round and they come in a can.”

NATIVITY

A Merry and Blessed Christmas to all!

WHAT AMERICA CAN LEARN FROM A CHINESE ORCHESTRA

There is too much anger in today’s America.  Too much anger, far too much envy and not nearly enough music.  If we took more time to listen to music we would have less time to argue our ideological positions and perhaps in listening to music we would learn to listen to each other.

We are a disparate people.  We come from different countries and cultures, we are of different races and we hold different beliefs about God or His absence.  Some of us are better looking than others and some have more money than others.  Some of us are generous and others are stingy.  Some of us are gifted athletically and others of us would rather spectate.  And some of us have had the generous benefit of having music in our lives and learned to be grateful for that blessing.  I know that music has helped me to learn to listen – not merely to the notes but to those who make the music sing.

The music which is familiar to us in the West is based on a simple diatonic scale  – far less complex than the pentatonic scale used in Oriental cultures.  That is the reason that if we listen to Chinese or Japanese music it sounds discordant to the untrained Western ear.

What is really remarkable is the number of Oriental musicians who have received training in western musicology and have become virtuosi of their respective instruments.  In order for them to achieve this they had to put aside the music with which they grew up and change their thinking and their hearing.  That is no small achievement – requiring one step beyond what we in the West must do.

Many motivational speakers use athletic examples to convey the concept of co-operation to those who have come to their seminars.  But an even better example, although not as familiar to most of us, is an orchestra.  There are no referees to make bad calls; no time outs available and no intentional fouls.  The musicians must work together in harmony, every note that they play determining whether the performance will be a successful interpretation of the score.  And at the end of the performance, the credit or criticism will fall on one person – their leader, the conductor.

An orchestra is both an example of personal involvement and humility.  Eliminate the violins or the French horns and the piece has become something less than what the composer intended.  Yet no instrument alone conveys the beauty that was written.  It is only their working together in harmony that leaves the performer and the audience with an enriching experience.

Music like the visual arts is in some respects a very personal experience.  The beauty that Van Gogh conveyed in his painting “The Starry Night” may evoke different feelings from different people who view the work.  And so it is with music.

The Intermezzo from Pietro Mascagni’s “Cavalleria Rusticana” always stirs me to think of being inside a warm and cozy home, the fireplace calmly burning as I look through the window, watching the snow blanketing the landscape and weighing heavily on the branches of the pine trees.

This performance was given by the Evergreen Symphony Orchestra of Taiwan and was conducted by their first music director, Lim Kek-tjiang.  Should you question the statement that “Music hath power to sooth the savage breast” note the smile on Lim’s face as he leads his orchestra in the main harmonic theme of the piece – about one and a half minutes into the performance.  That is the power of music.

We are fortunate to live in a land of such great abundance.  And yet there are so many of us who cry they don’t have enough.  As Auntie Mame put it, “Life’s a banquet – and most poor suckers are starving to death.”  Perhaps that’s because too many of us don’t take the time either to smell the roses – or to stop and listen to the music.

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