The American Dilemma and How We Can Fix It

Posts tagged ‘GRATITUDE’

THE CHALLENGES OF A MODERN CHRISTMAS

In our small apartment in New York there was very little room for extraneous things like Christmas trees – but somehow we managed to have one every year.  It was certainly nothing like the mammoth that appeared in Rockefeller Center, but it was fresh and new and smelled piney.

Mom had embroidered a beautiful tree skirt replete with cherubs and Wise Men and candles and there were several boxes which I presumed contained the gifts that the Magi had brought to the baby Jesus.  In addition to being decorative it was very functional.  It collected the pine needles which began dropping from the tree due to the low humidity in the apartment.

Of course, one of the great traditions was trimming the tree.  We had a small supply of ornaments which had been used for years.  And then there were some wonderful lights.  My favorite were the ones that contained oil and which  bubbled when the contents had been heated by the electric current.  They were probably dangerous and have no doubt been outlawed by some government agency in the interest of the public good.

The best part of our tree’s decorations were the Christmas cards which were strung with red or green yarn and placed strategically to fill in the gaps where there were no ornaments or lights.  There were a lot of cards as people seemed to enjoy sending them just as much as we enjoyed receiving them.  And the cards were beautiful and mostly religious in their theme.

Over the years I’ve noticed that the number of cards I have received has declined substantially.  I don’t think that this is attributable either to the demise of some of those who included me on their Christmas card list or that I’ve managed to irritate a lot of people.  No, I still get a lot of cards – but most of them are sent electronically and reside on my computer.  Most of these contain the ever so banal wish, “Season’s Greetings,” and a number are animated.  One person whose mental health I have questioned sent one last year that included fornicating reindeer.  Well, I guess it’s the thought that counts.

So as I looked at my tree, I couldn’t help feel that it was a little bit bare – devoid of the usual Christmas cards that I had enjoyed in years past.  And I tried to find a way to correct this deficiency.  Then it occurred to me.  Since I had a lot of electronic cards on my hard drive, all I needed to do was pull the laptop from my office and put it on my tree.  So I removed the star from the top of the tree and attempted to replace it with the computer.  This created a few problems.

Even a small laptop is weighty and was more than the top branches could support, so I tried to prop it up by supporting it with several brooms.  While this worked, it didn’t have quite the aesthetic look I was trying to achieve.  Furthermore, I found that even with this makeshift solution it was very difficult for me to do any work on the laptop while standing on a stool.  The pressure of my fingers typing tended to cause the laptop to shift and I was concerned that the laptop and perhaps the tree itself might topple over.  So I came up with a solution to this conundrum.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York has wonderful Christmas cards.  They always put together a collection of various images from years past and box them for sale.  And as it is close to the end of the season for Christmas cards, I was able to order four boxes of wonderful religious cards at a discount which I should be receiving next week.

What I intend to do is send myself one from each of the people who sent me an electronic card and write a wonderful and warm Christmas greeting from each of them.  When they’re delivered, I’ll pull out the needle and the yarn and place them on the tree, just as my family did when I was a child.

And now that I’ve resolved this challenge to the outward displays of Christmas, I can turn my attention back to its essence.  That there was a child born who changed the world and who gave us a message which each of us is expected to observe.  That we are to conduct our lives in Peace and with Love for our fellow men and women.

THE OLD COUPLE AND THE CHRISTMAS LIGHTS

It was probably three years ago last spring that I first noticed them.  They were an old couple in their late 70’s, walking hand in hand down the street – out for their evening stroll.  It was early evening as Gracie and I drove by on the way to the dog park and I remember an involuntary smile coming over my face as I saw this little expression of their affection for each other.

Although I’ve only seen them while driving, I feel as though I know them well.  Their faces, heavily creased by their years speak volumes about the lives they have led.  I am certain that they come from eastern Europe because they have the sad look of those who have spent most of their lives in a totalitarian state.  Perhaps they are from a former Soviet Socialist Republic, Ukraine or Georgia.

I’ve met many people over the years who escaped from the grip of communist regimes, from Russia, Poland, Czechoslovakia and Latvia.  They are grateful for their freedom.  But the years that they spent being told how to live and what to think are so deeply ingrained that their new found freedom does not seem to be able to completely overcome these early formative memories.  It always shows in their eyes.

One day I saw Vladimir, or so I’ve named him, walking without his wife whom I’d named Olga.  As I drove by my heart missed a beat as I worried whether Olga were ill or had passed away.  And then I didn’t see either of them for more than a month.  If I knew where they lived I would have stopped by to see if there were anything that I could do for them.

Fortunately, a few weeks later I saw them once again walking down the street, hand in hand.  I remember breathing a sigh of relief.  All was well.  There they were, with that same slightly tired look on their weather worn faces.

When I first moved to Las Vegas I was amazed at the gusto with which people decorated their homes in honor of the Holidays.  The Thanksgiving leftovers had barely been put away when my neighbors’ front lawns were filled with step ladders and plastic inflatable penguins and reindeers and strips of light were being put up on the eaves of the houses.

There was little in all this which suggested Christmas – no crèches or angels or wise men – but to each his own.  There was at least a spirit of celebration.  But I’ve noticed that over the last few years that has changed.  And I see on the faces of my neighbors fewer smiles and more visages that resemble those borne by my old couple, faces filled with care and tiredness.

While in years past virtually everyone made an attempt to decorate his home with some sort of display, it is amazing that as I pulled into the gate this evening I was struck by how dark the neighborhood looked.  The only lights came from the street lamps.  I doubt this is in deference to any sort of political correctness which sucks out the joy from all celebrations unless they are found on the approved list.

No, I suspect that this lack of enthusiasm reflects the sense of malaise that emanates from Washington.  That a majority of us now believe that we are led by a man whom we do not believe is honest and that even more of us believe to be incompetent and that we are coming to believe we have lost our direction and, in large measure, have lost a sense of hope.

While the war on Christmas continues unabated in our school programs and in our public displays, those of us who still believe in the miracle of humility – which is the essence of the Holy Day – can look for the old couple in our own neighborhoods, holding hands as they slowly walk down the street and remember that as long as there is one person who is grateful for the holiday we call Christmas, hope is still alive and can still work miracles – if we are willing to receive them.

A LONG TIME AGO

The signs which jutted from the sidewalk used to say, “’No Spitting; No Littering’” and those that appeared on blank brick walls read, “Post No Bills.”  Those were the evils that used to concern society fifty or sixty years ago.  Most people, even kids, carried pocket handkerchiefs to avoid breaking the admonition of that first sign, and graffiti had not yet been elevated as a form of self-expression, anger and creativity.

We had a “Walk Into” rather than a “Drive Thru” mentality in those days.  If we wanted to make a deposit at our bank or credit union or order food on the run, we had to deal with a person inside a business establishment.  Perhaps that constant interaction made us a little more civil than we might have been or have become.

When our mothers called us in from play, we might have stalled to finish our game of hopscotch or jacks, but we generally heeded the second summons, “Come in here now.”  We knew that if there were a third call it would contain the words, “Wait until your father comes home.”  There was a dad in most of our houses whom we loved, respected and understood was the supreme commander – able and willing to mete out punishment if we broke the rules.

Although few of us eagerly embraced the idea of going to school, almost all of us graduated from high school.  And we knew how to find Australia and South America on the map; we could write a coherent sentence; and we had learned to add, subtract, multiply and divide.  Almost everyone knew what the three branches of government were and could recite the presidents who had served the country in the order of their terms in office.

You had to do a little planning in those days.  If you needed ingredients for a family Sunday dinner, you couldn’t make a dash to the grocer at the last minute because the grocer was closed.  Almost all businesses were closed.  Sunday was a day that was set aside for God and family.  Perhaps all of us did not “Honor the Sabbath” but we certainly recognized it when it came around.

We knew those who had served in our military because they were just about the only ones who sported tattoos.  These were normally etched in a dark, drab color and a heart which bore the word “Mom” seemed to be a predominant theme.  The only other time we ran into body ink was when Ringling Brothers, Barnum and Bailey Circus came to town and we would gawk at “The Tattooed Lady” and wonder why she had done that to herself.  But we understood that it was a job requirement.

Our parents and teachers used to ask us, “What do you want to be when you grow up?”  That was in an age when children had every expectation of growing up rather than being the victim of either parental abuse or a drive by shooting.  The death of a child was indeed a tragedy that everyone mourned and not just another statistic that we would soon forget.

And when we did grow up we were pretty well equipped by our families and our schools to be productive members of society.  Whether we followed a path that led us to being prelates or stock brokers; doctors or bus drivers; proprietors of small stores which made cookies and fudge or sold hammers and chisels, we all did our best to make our lives and our children’s lives a little better than what we had received from our parents and grandparents.  And at the end of the day, most of us could be proud of our modest accomplishments.

It was a time in America when “Sir” and “Ma’am” and “Please” and “Thank You” were an integral part of our conversation.  And when Aunt Nellie in Iowa remembered our birthday with a card and enclosed a five dollar bill, we would immediately sit down to write a note expressing our appreciation for her thoughtfulness and affix a five cent stamp to send it on its way.

It was a simpler time in America and throughout the world.  We were fortunate if, during our lives, we had earned the respect of a few people who became real friends.  But the number of those could often be counted on one hand, not in the hundreds of thousands.  The only social media we had was ourselves and the way that we dealt with our fellow men and women.  Our lives were the medium and our actions were the message.

The America that I described had its problems – no doubt.  But there seemed to be an innate camaraderie which we all somehow understood.  There were political, religious, racial differences on which we often focused.  But underlying it all, most of us recognized that whatever our differences, our strength came from the fact that we were all on the same team.  And that gave us the ability to dream dreams and make them come true.

But that was a different, a kinder, gentler America.  And that was a long time ago.

THE REAL THANKSGIVING

The final assembly at school before the Thanksgiving Holiday had concluded.  As in previous years, we students put on a presentation about the Pilgrims and that first day they recognized for solemn Thanksgiving.  And they had much for which to be thankful – mostly at the hands of their neighbors the Native Americans who had rescued them from likely starvation.  This program, which our parents attended, always concluded with the following hymn:

It never occurred to me that Thanksgiving day had not been celebrated continuously since the Pilgrims arrived in 1620.  I also was unaware that the Pilgrims when they had first arrived on these shores were primarily responsible for their own dire situation.

When they first arrived in the New World, the Pilgrims adopted a communal way of governance – “To each according to his needs.”  Sadly, even five centuries ago, there were some who did the work and others who benefited from the labor of their fellows.  It was only when the “communal land” was divided up and allocated to each family that the young colony began to prosper – as people took responsibility for themselves.  That is a lesson that does not fit well into the present political, statist mindset.  Nor does the fact that it is to a loving God that we are addressing ourselves with our songs of thankfulness.

Since George Washington first proclaimed his statement of thanksgiving and President Lincoln designated a day of National Thanksgiving as an official holiday, the fact that it was to a Divine provenance that we as a people were to offer our thanks was a clear and constant theme.  That was recognized in our school program and no one whether Christian or Jew, agnostic or atheist seemed to object.  At least I never heard from those who might have.

My family also recognized this in our small Thanksgiving ritual dinner by inviting those who had no families of their own to share our meal and be a part of our family.  Before Dad would begin carving the turkey, he would express his gratitude for the blessings he had received and would invite everyone around the table to do the same if they chose to do so.  Only when the last person had spoken would we begin to eat.

In my own way I tried to carry on some variation of this tradition.  For many years a number of us from the church in Chicago where I was a parishioner would wake up early and by four o’clock in the morning we would be working to prepare a complete traditional Thanksgiving meal that we would would serve to almost two hundred homeless people at a local shelter.  When the last person had been served her or his plate, we would sit down with them and join them for this special meal.

But it was a sad realization that while we had fed these people for one day, we had done very little to change their lives.  And it was difficult to hold on to a sense of Thanksgiving as we looked out over this ragtag, unwashed group of people, many of whom were recovering from their evening sedative of cheap whiskey or bad wine.

If there were any sense of hope it came from the few who turned to us and with sad but grateful eyes said, “Thank you,” as they left to return to their cardboard shelters – insufficient protection against the biting, blowing cold winds.  But in the back of our minds we knew the fate that they had chosen, willingly or not, and knew that there was a warm apartment and a comfortable bed waiting for each of us.

It seems to me that over the years we have done everything within our power to secularize, anesthetize and sterilize Thanksgiving.  It might better be described as a “Day of Carbohydrates and Gluttony, enhanced by a thorough immersion in football and concluded with a bout of  mindless midnight spending at the mall.”  Although I would be remiss not to note that in their attempt to suck the lucre out of the consumer’s purses and wallets, stores are opening even earlier than usual.

Given our abandonment of principle and our attempt to turn the sacred into the profane, it does not surprise me that a group of atheists, unmindful of the basis on which America was founded, have selected the Friday following Thanksgiving to launch a billboard campaign, boasting their credo, “Good without God.”  I should suggest that for the sake of consistency, they should have spelled God with a lower case “g.”

The great thing about living in America is that everyone is entitled to his opinion – and I am delighted that this atheist contingent have the ability to offer theirs.  I take no offense at their ministrations.  But, in the spirit of American fairness, I do expect the same courtesy that they receive from me and others who have a religious mindset when it comes to expressing ourselves and our beliefs.

Now if that were to come to pass, that would truly be a reason for Thanksgiving.

DEFENDING YOUR LIFE

On this Veteran’s Day, all Americans should offer a prayer of gratitude for those brave men and women who have given of themselves by serving in our armed forces.  They are the defenders of our country and fulfill one of the most fundamental Constitutional responsibilities conferred by the Founding Fathers on the Federal government – the protection of the nation from foreign intruders.

Many have fallen in the task.  Many more have returned home shattered in body or mind by their service.  Most have never heard those of us who have not served say so much as, “Thank you for your service.”  Almost all of us take them and their role in protecting the nation for granted, and that is a terrible shame.

As a child growing up I had an image of the armed forces that was pretty much formed by television.  Phil Silvers as Sgt. Bilko, Jim Nabors as Gomer Pyle and, of course, the indomitable Ernest Borgnine and Tim Conway in “McHale’s Navy” presented us with a light-hearted look at our men in uniform.  Perhaps we needed to laugh to distract us from the serious business in which they were actually involved.

Several days ago I saw an interview with R. Lee Ermey, better known as “Gunny” who is a retired Marine turned actor.  You might remember him for his portrayal as the hard-nosed DI from the 1987 movie, “Full Metal Jacket,” the story of a platoon’s training during the Vietnam War.

The interviewer asked him, “What do you consider the biggest problem that America is facing?”   Ermey responded, “There are too many people who are willing to sit around and collect a paycheck from the government rather than go out and earn one on their own.”  He’s on to something there.

One of the most touted “benefits” of Obamacare is that people will supposedly be able to have their insurance “subsidized,” that is if they don’t make too much or too little money.  Those who are doing well and contributing to the economy will get nothing.  Those who do nothing and feed at the public trough will get Medicaid – which provides next to nothing.

Our politicians in Washington talk about subsidies as though they were the children of Israel, wandering around the desert and a merciful God miraculously provides them with manna.  But we all know the truth – that is that subsidies are merely a way for those who do not have to get something from those who have earned what they have.  It would be fairer to refer to this as a tax rather than a subsidy.  And, of course, if the “tax” is insufficient to cover the subsidies we will just put the deficit on our National Credit Card balance.

Ermey was a fortunate man.  He recounted that when he finished his time in the Marine Corps he was sitting around the house when his father said, “If you plan on sitting on your duff you’re mistaken.  Go out and earn your keep.”  And he did.  As he explained it, he got a “lousy” job and then got a second one that was just as bad.  But he had the dignity of working and paying his own way.  And those lousy jobs led to better ones and then others that were still better.

It’s been forty years since we ended conscripted military service.  During that time the number of Americans on some form of public assistance has skyrocketed.  Some of those who receive supplemental food assistance and are the beneficiaries of other welfare programs have become enrolled as a result of the lackluster economy.  For others it is the inevitable result of family tradition.

Perhaps it’s time that we re-thought our position on having an all-volunteer armed forces.  Instead of encouraging a life of indolence, would we not be doing them and society as a whole a favor by going to our eighteen year old welfare recipients and telling them, we want you to, “Be – All that you can be.”  The discipline and skills that they would learn in a military environment would serve them well for the rest of their lives.  And the taxpayers would actually get a return on their investment.

Who knows, the mere suggestion of having to spend a few years in the armed forces might actually get a few of them “off their duffs” and out in the workplace.  And that would be a good thing in and of itself.  Whether that actually happens will, of course, be up to Congress and the Commander in Chief.

Since there is such a high correlation between welfare recipients and crime, particularly in our inner cities, we might just transform some of these young men from their present direction of threatening your life to defending it.  And for that, all of America would be grateful.

A MATTER OF DISHONOR

During the 1960’s as a college student, I became involved in the anti-Vietnam war movement.  My view of the war changed from one of indifference to opposition as President Johnson expanded our involvement and more of our young men were killed in action.  This opposition was directed toward our government’s policy – never to those who had enlisted or were conscripted into this war.

When I first began working to end the United States’ engagement in southeast Asia, mine was a minority opinion.  But as more of our fathers and sons and brothers fell in battle, what had started as a movement of college students spread throughout the country.  The protest marches soon included mothers and fathers and grandmothers and the American people en masse demanded the war end.  And those in Washington heard their voices and we brought our troops home.

Unfortunately, the antipathy to this war became so great that it carried over to those who had served in it.  Those who would now be called members of the ultra-left treated those returning soldiers with scorn and disrespect.  They did everything they could to shame them for exercising their consciences and doing what they viewed as their duty.  It’s amazing that a movement that for many of us was a plea for peace could be so mis-interpreted by some as a vehicle for them to exhibit anger and hatred.

I offer this backdrop to you because today the ultra-left is thoroughly in charge in Washington.  And it shouldn’t surprise any of us who lived through Vietnam that the same attitudes and tactics that they exhibited fifty years ago are still part and parcel of their playbooks today.  The goal is to enforce their philosophy on everyone and convert them to their way of thinking – irrespective of the tactics that they feel they must employ to achieve that end.  To them, the end always justifies the means.

That brings us to the question of how our CIC, President Obama and his administration is dealing with the partial government shutdown.  Are they simply trying to deal with the reduction of less than one fifth of government by efficiently trying to manage resources, or are they trying to make a statement by taking actions which seek to score political points?  I believe the latter conclusion is inescapable if a person reviews the evidence.

Perhaps the most egregious of the President’s actions are the closing of the WW II Memorial and the refusal to pay for the families of five of our soldiers and marines who died this weekend in Afghanistan to attend their return home at Dover Air Force Base.

The Administration spent limited resources to erect barriers to prevent World War II veterans who flew to Washington on honor flights to view the memorial erected in their honor.  The veterans, in their eighties and in wheelchairs broke down the barricades to this open air memorial in order to view it.  Fortunately, those in the Park Service who are responsible for maintaining the memorial did not stand in their way and, reportedly, some of those encouraged them to do so.

What must be the view by those veterans of a CIC who attempts to prevent them from viewing a memorial that was established to honor them for their service?  If you’ve seen any of the interviews with those vets, you know the answer to that question.  And they’re not part of the 37% of Americans who give the President a favorable rating.

Then there are the four servicemen and one servicewoman whose remains were brought home yesterday.  Their families, who would normally be flown at government expense to attend their return, had to have their trips funded by a private not-for-profit organization.  The excuse by DOD Secretary Hagel was that despite the fact that the Congress passed a bill to make sure that funds were available for this purpose, the law presumably was deficient the way it was written according to DOD lawyers.  Both the Secretary and the President expressed “outrage” at this situation.

Well, how outraged can the two of them really be?  Frankly, it’s hard for me to picture Sec. Hagel being outraged at anything.  He barely has a pulse – and his level of competency might be in the single digits.  Why, when he learned about his legal department’s concerns didn’t he bring this immediately to the CIC’s attention?  Or did he?  That is one of the burning questions that is, at this moment, unanswered.  Supposedly the Pentagon knew and warned this might occur four days before the partial government shutdown occurred.

The problem could have been corrected immediately by President Obama with a pen stroke on an Executive Order.  The President is familiar with this process.  He has used it 19 times to amend Obamacare.  Perhaps it was the overriding agenda of this administration to try to embarrass its opposition that was the primary motivation for allowing this to happen.

Politics is a dirty business.  But  someone needs to explain to Obama that he no longer is running for office.  If he continues to dishonor those who have paid the ultimate sacrifice, he might find that he will have one last political battle.  That will be running from the reputation and legacy he has created.

OUR VETERANS GIVE US INSIGHT INTO HOW GOVERNMENT “HEALTHCARE” WILL WORK

When I was a kid I was involved in a school project.  We made lanyards which we sent to those who were returning veterans from the Korean War (or Police Action if you prefer).  Our small school made and sent hundreds of these as Christmas presents to our returning soldiers, many of whom had been severely wounded and were being treated at Walter Reed Army Hospital.

I remember that all of us who volunteered (which incidentally was 100% of my class) felt really good about doing this.  We were too young to have a really clear understanding of all that was involved in the word “war” but we were told by our teachers that soldiers were people who fought and sometimes died to protect our country from its enemies.  The lanyards that we made were meant to show those who had fought and been wounded that we appreciated their sacrifices.

When I worked on my lanyards I remember that I wanted them to be perfect.  The amount of tension that I applied in twisting and braiding had to be precise because this was going to someone special – someone whom I did not know and would never meet.  I wanted to have as much pride in my work as they had shown in theirs.

Walter Reed Army Hospital is still a major source of treatment for those who have returned from our wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.  It treats many of those who are the most severely wounded – double and triple amputees.  The course of treatment, because of the severity of the injuries, sometimes takes two years or more.

Most of these soldiers are housed in Building 62 of the hospital and get their meals at the “Warrior Café” within that building.  But the café has been closed – due to “legal issues” and now these soldiers have to wheel themselves to the next closest eating facility – one half mile away in the complex.  A one mile round trip three times a day for people in a wheel chair or who have to walk there on prosthetic limbs.

After protests from the families of these soldier-patients about the burden this creates, the hospital administration, notwithstanding the “legal issues” surrounding the eating facility, have decided to reopen the café.  Good decision.

If this is the way we treat those who have made tremendous sacrifice for the country, what might the average person expect when government controls our healthcare?

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