The American Dilemma and How We Can Fix It

Posts tagged ‘hope’


When I spent my first Christmas in my new home I thought to myself, “My goodness.  These people really rush to get those Christmas lights up and try to outdo one another with their display.”

This all started on the evening of Thanksgiving and by that following Sunday, I think that perhaps ninety percent of the houses were decorated.  It was as though there was an imperative written into the HOA document that required a homeowner to decorate with displays of Christmas lights.

Obviously, I needed to get with the program.  And since I had lived in an apartment all my life, I had none of the necessary equipment to comply.  But I found that there was an ample supply of material in the stores to allow me to fulfill my obligation as a new homeowner.

Some of the displays were extremely beautiful and tasteful.  Others struck me as being a bit garish.  I enjoyed the lights – but would not have chosen to fill my lawn with air inflated snow globes.  And the one house with the fornicating elephants was just a bit over the top for me.  (Or perhaps they were a part of a chorus line that was performing the Can Can).

You couldn’t help but notice the lights as the gate opened and you drove down the entrance to this little community.  The lights on the houses provided far more illumination than the street lamps.  White and colored lights lining the eaves and the bushes and wrapped around the palm trees.  But that was then.

It was 2001.  We had just a few months earlier suffered as a nation through the worst disaster in recent American history.  Yet despite the fact that we were all still numb at the fall of the Twin Towers and were listening to the threat level under which the nation existed, we had the spirit and the optimism to put up our Christmas lights.

We still had a symbol of the season on the White House lawn that was called a Christmas tree.  It would take a few more elections for us to put an ideologue in that residence and allow his ethnic cleansing to convert this into a mere “Holiday tree.”

But we did it.  And, as bleak as life was, we managed to do it again.

The comparison of Christmas 2001 and the one this year is so clear that I wonder if this little community of homeowners is an isolated example of the nadir to which our spirits have fallen or is merely a microcosm of the entire nation.  As I drove home from church early this morning, I was struck by the absence of lights.  Perhaps only twenty percent of the homeowners had bothered putting them up at all.

The street which allows entrance to this little community was so devoid of light that the few houses where homes were decorated, seemed more to emphasize the darkness than they did to provide illumination.  I was particularly struck by this as I had just returned from a celebration of the joyous Midnight Liturgy of Christmas.

Faith has been called, “The outward and visible sign of an inward invisible grace.”  If that statement is reflected in our Christmas lights, then surely our faith has been eroded.  And by that, I refer not only to our faith in God but our faith in ourselves as individuals and in our nation.  And could it be otherwise?

We have been brain washed into thinking that government has all the answers.  Yet if we look at the facts, those who are discerning will realize that government has created many if not most of the problems.  Like a parent in denial about the bad behavior of his child who refuses to admit that his offspring is behaving in a way that is societally unacceptable, he continues to reinforce that behavior by doing the exact same things which have caused his child’s condition in the first place.

That we have incidents like Newtown, CT is not an accident.  It is merely the manifestation of a society that has abandoned principle and decency and compassion, while cloaking itself under the self-styled mantle of a new and better principle and decency and compassion.

Newtown and the other incidents like it come about because we have become a society that passes laws which are unread by those we empower to craft those laws on our behalf and who specifically exempt themselves from following them.

What care do they have that a national grocery store chain has just informed their staff that beginning January 1st, all cashiers will have their hours cut to twenty per week, to avoid the implications brought about by an act of Congress and signed into law by the President?  That doesn’t affect them.  Nor will similar announcements that are undoubtedly forthcoming from other companies.

I cannot help but see the parallel between the decline of the Roman Republic into the centralized authority of the Roman Caesar – all with the willing participation of the Roman people who accepted the modest sops and benefits they were given as sufficient payment for their votes and allegiance.

And then one day, so enervated from their abandonment of the principles that had made them a great nation, they were too weak to resist the barbarians who arrived at their gates and slaughtered them.  Like the Christmas lights in my neighborhood, theirs too had been snuffed out.

But if there is one thing that Christmas means to me it is that there is hope – that evanescent precious treasure to which too few of us today cling.  We are taught both by Dante and government that we should, “Abandon hope, all ye who enter here.”

And while the lights are now few and dim, I cling to the hope that next year, perhaps there will be one or two more houses that are lit during the Christmas season and that a few more people will remember the old values of real principle and decency and compassion.  Because that is the true message of Christmas.


As I was heading out this morning to the dog park, one of my neighbor’s who follows my blog stopped to discuss the election results.  His question was, “Now that it’s over, what will you do with your time?”  My answer was, “I’m going to keep on thinking and keep on writing.”

When I was a child, like most children, my parents tried to guide and provide me with the advice that their life lessons had taught them.  Fortunately, they were wise enough not just to say, “Do this,” or “Don’t do that.”  They took the time to explain the reason for their instructions.

But like most children, while I generally obeyed them, there were times that I occasionally would stray, not seeing the wisdom of their words, and would do exactly what my parents had instructed me not to do.  I needed to find out for myself.

Generally speaking, I found that they were correct and that my little adventure had led me into trouble.  It’s amazing how some parents are just so darn smart.  And as I got older, I continued to be astounded at how much smarter they had become since the time I was a child.

Although I try to conduct myself using common sense which was my parents’ guiding principle, I admit that even as an adult I have strayed from that well trodden and proven road.  Fortunately, these lapses are rare – but they do happen.

I suspect that the reason I do this is just to see whether or not gravity still binds us to the earth – or if on that particular day the material laws will no longer apply.  My analysis of these experiences is that what is, is and what is not, still is not.

So why is it that people regularly do things that are neither in their own best interests or in the interest of their fellow men and women?  I can think of several reasons.

1)  We’re ignorant and simply don’t know any better;

2)  We don’t care about the consequences of our actions;

3)  We believe that we’re “special” and the laws of the universe apply to all others but not to us;

4)  We have a perception that what is bad for us is actually good;

5)  We have a death wish.

In reviewing this brief list, there is both good news and bad news.  The bad news for those holding to view five is that they often achieve their goal and wind up killing themselves.  You might consider suicide bombers in that group.  Unfortunately, that often results in the deaths of innocents which is further bad news.  The good news is that once they have achieved their mission, we no longer have to worry about them.

There is good news in our first item.  After all, ignorance, or more correctly, lack of experience is our starting point when we attempt any new venture.  If our goal is to become proficient, we have, in the absence of guidance, merely to try and try again until we attain a level of competency which meets our desires.  Of course, we need to take the time to analyze our failures and to avoid repeating them by trying different routes until we find those which enable us to succeed.

It is the three attitudes in the middle which are the most troubling – at least to society.  They are all outgrowths of the individual who is un-thoughtful or selfish or both.  The example of texting while driving is an excellent example of all three of these.  Is there any hope for the individual who considers her or his behavior to be something totally within his purview and who considers none of the implications on his fellows when he acts?  Fortunately, there is.

That which might enable a person to change, does not in these cases ever come from the person himself but from an external cathartic event that is thrust upon him as a result of his behavior.

Consider the alcoholic.  He might have started as a light social drinker.  Most people don’t consider that threatening or dangerous behavior.  But he notices that having a couple of belts after work make him forget about the cares of the day and how his boss is always on his case.  So he increases his intake of alcohol to the point where he returns home buzzed almost every night.

Now he probably realizes that over time, he is doing his body, particularly his liver damage – but the effects of his drinking will not be felt for a long time.  And he realizes that passing out on the couch night after night leaves him with a sore back in the morning and a bad tasting mouth – but a little bit of mouthwash will fix the second problem and he can look forward to his time at the bar to correct the first.

And so our friend who has developed an alcohol dependency continues on his self-destructive path, until one night after a particularly festive round of drinking, he gets in his car to drive himself home to pass out, when he passes out behind the wheel and nearly kills himself when he hits a lamp post.

Reality has suddenly struck our friend an eye-opening blow.  Or at least we hope that it is one which he will realize is a blessing in disguise – and will take the steps necessary to abandon his old path and choose a new one that is both healthier for himself and for society.  Only time will tell if the individual who has had this experience will learn from it or not.  But for someone entrenched in the mindset of entitlement and selfishness – it is really the only way to hope that they will change.

And so we come to the recent election.

My forecast that Obama would win, that the Senate would remain in the hands of the Democrats and that the House would remain a Republican bastion was correct.  That was the forecast of many others as well – so I claim no special credit for my insight.  I believe that the reason for this was because a slight majority of those who voted are victims of item number four on our list – that we believe what, in the long run is bad for us is actually good – at least in the near term.

Our political leadership has built a house of sand for us.  And it is, by and large, a very attractive house when viewed from a distance.  Until we examine it and discover that the waves have begun to erode the foundation ever so slowly and that this house is beginning to list to one side.  It will not take too many more assaults by the ocean tides to cause it to start crumbling.

And when that day comes, as it inevitably will, the house will collapse, trapping those inside who put their faith in its strength to protect them.  Then those who have survived will pull themselves from the rubble and will begin to rebuild.  But this time, having learned a lesson, they will do so using stronger materials and employing better workmen.

And that is the message of hope and change.


It is with a deep sense of gratitude that I realize how fortunate I was to be born in America.  No, we haven’t always gotten things right in this country.  We tolerated slavery and we brutally took lands and the dignity of the indigenous people who were here before us.  But when the history books are written, America will still stand as the greatest beacon of freedom and opportunity that has yet emerged on planet Earth.

As a child I realized I was different from my classmates.  My dad was just a working stiff with a high school diploma.  My  classmates’ fathers were doctors with lucrative practices.  Mom got a job so that I could have a private school education and piano lessons.  My classmates’ moms were busy organizing the color co-ordination for the next cotillion.  The dining room in our rent-controlled apartment alternated as my bedroom when the Castro convertible sofa on which I slept was pulled out.  My classmates had their own bedrooms in their Park and Fifth Avenue cooperatives.  My grandmother was our cook and cleaning lady – but she had also worked for people in that capacity who had the wealth and status that my classmates’ families enjoyed.

If there was one thing that I learned from my parents and grandmother it was to believe that in America anyone could make as much or as little of herself or himself as they chose.  I have clung to that belief through many years because I have seen that it is true.  My faith in that idea has never waivered – until the last few years.

I have never been a fan of hoopla whether that takes the form of the introduction of a new fantastic product or a political convention.  It was for that reason that I only reluctantly tuned into the Republican National Convention this week.  I am glad that I did.

Listening to Condoleezza Rice describe her experience as a child in Birmingham, AL, being refused food service because she was a black child and looking at what this remarkable woman has accomplished despite her disadvantages and the prejudice with which she grew up helped restore my faith in my childhood American dream.

Listening to Sen. Marco Rubio describe how he could hear the clanking of his father’s keys as he came home late at night after working as a banquet bartender so that he could provide for his family and give them an education and the opportunity that he knew they would never have had in his native Cuba inspired me to believe that there is still hope for this great land.

But neither of these eloquent speakers is running for President of the United States.  Mitt Romney is – and while there are many things to be said for his candidacy – his ability to rouse a crowd through a stirring speech is not one of them.  He is not a Demosthenes nor is he a Ronald Reagan.

But perhaps Governor Romney has something that is even more valuable than a great ability to make speeches – and that is a basic caring about other people – a deep sense of compassion and humanity.  That was my takeaway from the testimonials that were presented by people who had known him and whom he had helped.

To me that is the most endearing and genuine quality that we need in someone who is a true leader.  That is what gives me hope – that there are still caring people in this world who practice what they preach and do so without self-adulation.  To me that is what has been lacking in America for the last four years.

In the history of humanity we have always had false prophets who eloquently made false promises.  Ultimately we have found that the rainmakers and the snake oil salesmen are peddling a worthless product.

This November we have a very clear cut choice to make.

Do we want to allow our decision for whom we vote to be determined by eloquence or by accomplishment?  It seems a very obvious choice to me – but that’s only because I will always go with substance over style.


I didn’t enjoy putting up the original post,

because stories about animal abuse truly disturb me – almost more than anything else.  But I am pleased that this sordid story has a happy ending.

Apparently the people on whose ranch the victim named, Hope was found have agreed to adopt the young dog and provide her with love and a good home.

The terrorist who abused her is still free.


As I was thinking about the meaning of Easter and preparing for it in a practical way, in other words planning the menu, I was pleased that one of the local supermarkets had collard, mustard and turnip greens on sale for only fifty cents a pound.  These simple vegetables were my introduction to “soul food”.

Although you can find almost anything here on the buffets in Las Vegas, greens have a tendency to be overcooked in the first place.  And when they sit for any length of time on a steam table they almost inevitably meet that fate.  So I prefer the ones that I make which are gently steamed and then finished with a topping of sautéed caramelized onions cooked in chopped bacon.

Although it was late January in 1972 it was a bitterly cold day when I arrived home somewhat later than usual.  I scurried to get in from the cold and the wind which was fierce – to be greeted by Tristan my Irish Setter and his companion, Josh who was a Newfoundland/Belgian Shepherd mix.  I had only a few minutes to warm up before taking them out to attend to their duties.

I sincerely hoped that Josh wouldn’t dawdle as, with the protection off his extremely dense coat, he seemed to enjoy this near zero weather.  Perhaps it was the fact that I had come home a little later than usual or that the dogs took pity on me but they both did their thing quickly and I gratefully cleaned up after them and returned home.  My fingers were still cold even though protected by heavy gloves.

After I took off my outer clothes and heated up my hands under some warm water, I began preparing their dinner and turned on the little portable television that sat on the kitchen counter, primarily for the purpose of providing some background noise.  I went about getting the kids their food and had just placed their bowls on the floor when a news flash came across the screen.

Mahalia Jackson, the Queen of Gospel Music had suddenly passed away in a suburb about fifteen miles south at the young age of sixty years.  I remember the chill that ran through me when I heard this – as though the kitchen windows had been flung wide open and the bitter cold had found its way into my apartment.

Although I had been raised in Christianity’s more liturgical traditions where services were very specifically laid out and where the rituals were well defined, from time to time I would visit other churches run by members who had come from a different tradition of the faith.  There were no small number of Southern Missionary Baptist churches on Chicago’s South Side from which I could choose.

These were the churches which were the birthplace of Gospel Music – the music over which Mahalia reigned.  So different from the Gregorian chant and the works of Mozart and Bach which I knew, these were hymns written by people who had the genetic memory of slavery firmly etched into their experience and into their minds.  They were the religious version of the more secular music known as “the blues”.

There was an honest spontaneity on the parts of the congregants to the minister as he would preach his sermon on the selection of Scripture which he had chosen – with enough “Amen-ing” to fill Carnegie Hall to the rafters.  There was a great deal of swaying in the seats as they received the Word of God and a great deal of fanning of the face – as though to disperse the Holy Spirit among all the members of the church who had come that Sunday.  And, of course, there was the music.

Mahalia sang the hymn, “Precious Lord” at the funeral service for Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.  It was written by the Father of Gospel Music, Thomas A. Dorsey after his wife died in childbirth and their newborn daughter died the day later.  I present it to you for your enrichment while wishing you a wonderful Easter.

This is the real soul food.


When I was a child I realized that I had different interests than the kids who were my classmates or whom I knew in the neighborhood.  That is not to say that they were better or worse than my friends and acquaintances  – merely that they were “different.”

I wasn’t concerned about who had the prettiest “aggie” marble.  Or who had the best collection of baseball cards or the biggest collection of dolls.  I was concerned about the meaning of my life – and I still am.

I think I was about ten when I began pondering the imponderable – “Why am I here and what does my life mean?”  (I’m still working on that).  But I took stock.  I realized that I had at least a few talents and wondered how I might utilize those to change the world.

People always found me to be physically “cute or adorable.”  But cute and adorable didn’t make me a ravishing beauty – certainly not of Hollywood stature.  So depending on my physical appearance didn’t seem to be the way to change the world.

I was “smart” – but compared to an Isaac Newton or a Leonardo da Vinci or Albert Einstein, I was pretty much “run-of-the-mill.”  So sheer genius didn’t seem to be my avenue to change the world.

Then there was politics.  But unless I were Queen of England or President of the United States – I doubted that I would have a great deal to say about changing the world.

I was an excellent pianist – but without the genius of a Vladimir Ashkenazy or an Anton Rubenstein or Alicia de la Rocha.  I believed that I would be unable to offer the world anything with my musical  semi-brilliance.

So how would I change the world?  Would my comings and goings for however short or long a time make any difference?  My ten year-old mind continued to ponder the un-ponderable and I remember becoming quite depressed.

But then, after a wonderful meal of oxtail stew that grandma had prepared, comforted with this warm and filling food I hit on an idea.  It was something that I could achieve – and as much as dinner had filled my belly – this idea filled my mind.

I could change the world! 

If I could extend kindness and courtesy, love and compassion to only two people during the course of my lifetime which would enable those two to become better people than they otherwise might be; and if those two people could do the same and the following four do the same and then the eight and then the sixteen and … well you see where this is going.  I had an opportunity to do something important.  I could change the world.

Each of us makes his mark as we go through life.  The question we must face, deep down to the roots of our being, is not whether we can change the world – but in what way shall we accomplish our task?

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