Sunday, May 20, 2018

If Now Now, Then When? Part 2


"If I am not for myself, who will be for me? And when I am for myself, what am 'I'? And if not now, when?" -   Hillel the Elder

This was the question I asked after the Sandy Hook massacre. If 20 small children – practically babies and six adults could be shot down by an active shooter who was mentally unstable but was able to get access to his mother’s guns – shouldn’t we do something about gun control?  If the innocent faces of those children were not enough for a grieving nation to act with a Democratic President and Congress, then when would be the right time? 

It seemed like a slam dunk to get guns out of the hands of the wrong people-to
get stronger background checks – to limit the age that a person could get a gun.  But even as that Christmas in 2012 seemed less merry because there were now 20 more angels in heaven but not on earth to open their presents and six less adults to offer holiday cheer as we as a nation failed again to pass any real gun control measures.  The pull of the NRA was just too great and their campaign contributions too grand.  The misguided voices of their members too strong to weaken the will and effectively castrate any politician that wanted to stand up to them.  It was a heart-breaking Christmas that year but unimaginable in the grief for the families that would never tuck their babies in a night, never to hear “I love you Mommy and Daddy!”  

Am I laying it on too f*cking thick?!! Goddamn right I am – because I hate these senseless shootings – it makes me shake with anger and yet we keep allowing this happen time and time again.   According to Gun Violence Archive, there have been at least 241 school shootings nationwide since Sandy Hook. In those episodes, 450 people were shot, 149 of whom were killed – these numbers include the Santé Fe and Clayton shootings which occurred on May 18th. 

So, when are we going to wake up and decide that the five million members of the NRA do not speak for the 326 million people who live in the United States?  Moreover, they apparently don’t speak for most gun owners.  According to recent estimates, one in three people are gun owners which puts the total number at about 75 million.  With 5 million members, the NRA represents just 6.6% of gun owners.  Many of those people who have firearms in their house feel that the NRA is way off base.  So why do politicians continue to cow-tow to them? 

In Georgia, our own Lt. Governor Casey Cagle punished Delta Airlines because they were not going to honor the NRA discount anymore after the Parkland shooting.   Cagle’s response was to take away the tax benefits that Delta receives until they reinstated the discount.  This was a brilliant move because Atlanta was on the short list of cities that Amazon would use for their second headquarters.  But since that little stunt as a bow to the NRA and the punishment for not extending the discount – Georgia has probably lost an employer who could bring thousands of jobs to the state.

Sure – they throw money at candidates and gave 21 million to the Trump campaign but it is selling your soul out to stop keeping reasonable gun laws in force like reversing the ban assault weapons which went into effect in 1994 under President Clinton but was reversed under George W. Bush in 2004. More common-sense measures like banning bump stocks which turn semi-automatic weapons to automatic and was used in the Las Vegas shooting last year have withered because of NRA opposition depending on which way the wind blows (initially they did support the ban).  Now Oliver North, that paragon of virtue who in the 1980’s sold illegal weapons to the Iranians and then gave the funds to the
Contras in Nicaragua and is a former FOX commentator is the new NRA President.  He seems perfect because the guy’s reputation for being a scumbag is pretty solidified.

As a mother, I hate that in the back of my mind as I send my 17-year-old to school is the silent prayer that I will see her home safely.  She’s not a police officer or a soldier where something like an attack might be part of a day’s work – she’s a f*cking high school student. She’s going to school with other children and teachers who don’t get paid enough to teach much less get training to take down an active shooter.

I used to work security at a synagogue in Atlanta and with the world being what it is and with a school on the premises – we would discuss active shooter drills.  We even did one with a police officer dressed as a sniper and discussed how to react.  As much as I thought I was prepared when he came into the office with a ski mask – instead of getting out as fast as I could – I cowered under my desk and was marked “dead.”  It taught me a good lesson – don’t under any circumstance get yourself in a place where you can’t get out.  One good video that I have reviewed which is called Run, Hide, Fight and is used by several law enforcement agencies to train people how to try to save themselves in an active shooter situation.  Click here to look at the video.   It gives you some sound advice how to survive something so horrific.

One of the things that has bothered me when I hear about these shootings is that there didn’t seem to be a plan much past putting the school on lockdown.   The kids are being trained to hide under their desks which as I found out made me a sitting duck.   The teachers need to be trained if they cannot safely get the kids out of the classroom to a safe space, how to block the door and arm themselves with mace or scissors and fight like hell to keep the perpetrator out. It’s not something that might come naturally but just like a fire drill – once you practice it a few times – it becomes second nature.  In the Virginia Tech shooting, the students who blocked the doors had the highest survival rate.  Even something as simple as a door wedge can keep someone from entering a room and save lives.

It’s a given that our national law makers will probably make a good show of saying we need responsible gun laws and how this should never happen again until sadly it happens again.   Perhaps over the summer, schools can do for themselves what lawmakers won’t do – address the problem head on and have a strategic plan.   In the confusion of the shooting in Parkland and other shootings, first responders wasted valuable time trying to find the perpetrator.   Why not install active shooter sensors that can detect gunfire and pinpoint where the perpetrator is during the shooting spree?  These systems can also alert the teachers and principals where the shooter is so they can plan escapes accordingly in real time.  

My prayer is that the schools in the Atlanta area as well as all across this nation end the school year without any more shootings.  But in the tragic aftermath of these shootings, we need to work together to find a solution.  Yes, better mental health services would help.  But as our President tried to weakly defend his stance at the NRA convention with false stats about stabbings in Europe, it’s not just about mental health – it’s the ease in which people in this country can get a gun either legally or by taking a parent’s or friends firearm. My daughter Amber and I took part in March for our Lives and it was a very powerful event.   There were all types of people and all ages – from toddlers to people in their 80’s and it was amazing that it was over 20,000 people in the streets of downtown Atlanta.  What struck me was that there were so few anti-protesters in favor of gun rights –  I saw two people.  I really think that going into the mid-terms – momentum is on our side.    What I observed is that for these new voters GOP = NRA and it might spell trouble for Republicans who don’t take a tougher stand on the NRA. 

It should be obvious that banning bump stocks, automatic and semi-automatic would lower these casualties – but sometimes obvious does not win and paranoia can make any reasonable argument seem like an enemy’s dictate.  Maybe mandatory smart guns would stop kids from are taking their parents’ weapons and turning them on schoolmates -maybe not - but it’s worth a try. Something needs to be done besides “our thoughts and prayers” because prayer without action means nothing.

But as I asked five and a half years ago after Sandy Hook, are we going look our collective paranoia in the face and decide to limit who can get guns?   How do we end this madness or are we just going to continue with the status quo until every city has an incident.   How do we look our children in the face and say “Yes, this is a safe place to live” when our innocents are being coldly struck down. We need to change the conversation and offer concrete solutions that can be acted on.  If not now, then when?

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

The Journey

The news finally broke that Barbara Bush had passed away.  It was not surprising – the press had reported days earlier that she had decided to forgo any more medical intervention and live out her last days on her own terms in her own home.  Even up to a few hours before the announcement there were stories that she was still talking as best she could to well wishers and sipping bourbon waiting for her own inevitable journey.  The news stations already had her obituary reeled cued up – just as I’m sure they have her husband’s ready to go as well when the time comes. 

I started to cry when I heard.  I had always liked her even if I did not agree with her family’s politics.   More than that, it stung because my own mother had passed at age 90 barely six months ago.  I had the sad knowledge of the preparation but knew that everyone who needed to be there was, even if George H. might not have been able to comprehend what was going on. 
I understood how important that last birthday was for both her and George – how it must feel to know that it would be your last one.  


My mother requested a special birthday for her 90th  and we obliged.  All my brothers and sisters were there – all five of us along with grandchildren and great-grand children who called my mother “G-G” for Great Grandmother.   She ate slowly as Parkinson’s had taken its toll over the last seven years.  Her caregivers were there to wish her well.  As best as we could guess – she knew people were there and she had a great time.  This was the second time in 16 years since my father’s funeral that all five Cody kids had been together.  The time before that had been at my mother’s 89th birthday – another milestone to celebrate.
 

For years now at Christmas, I made a point of getting our home-movies transferred to a
digital format and putting it on DVD so my mother could watch the memories she had chronicled so lovingly.  I sat with her after both her 89th and 90th birthday and we watched the home movies but with songs that I had dropped in like the Jackson 5’s I Want You Back or Johnny Cashes’ I Walk the Line since back then there was no audio to capture.  We stayed up late – past midnight when my kids had gone to bed – to watch my mother’s younger visage pushing strollers as a new mother of a young daughter and a toddler son.  We watched later as my mother and dad were in a financial position to go to Puerto Rico and  Mexico leaving their young brood in the capable hands of our maid Etta.  Going on vacation without your kids?  Unheard of in this age of helicopter parents and yet my parents were married almost 50 years until death did literally do them part when my father passed away in 2002 just a day after his 81st birthday and months shy of their half century milestone.  There must be something to not being around your kids 24-7 and just being a couple to insure your marriage's longevity.


Barbara and George H. Bush had been married for 73 years when she passed – the longest married presidential couple in history.  Of course, many of our presidents from the previous centuries did not live to see 73 much less have a marriage that lasted so long – but it’s a tribute to Bushes and my parents that they stuck with each other through thick and thin – no matter what.  Back when they were married – getting a divorce was a stigma and literally for better or worse so you had to figure it out.  That’s what made the Greatest Generation great – the ability to focus and not be distracted by an arrant Tweet or Facebook rant.  I remember seeing Betty White on SNL when she hosted. She thanked all the people on Facebook that had campaigned for her to be on the show and then said, “I’ve seen Facebook and frankly it looks like a big waste of time.”  She got a huge laugh from the very people who put her there.

I loved that Barbara took control of her passing – deciding to go into that good night with a few sips of bourbon and her husband nearby even if he probably didn’t understand what was going on.  He, like my mother, is in the end stages of Parkinson’s.  He’ll ask repeatedly where his wife is and there will be the constant painful explanation that she’s gone.  He will seem to comprehend it and then ask again an hour later with no memory of the explanation.  

These are the rituals that the sons and daughters of elderly parents must endure.  My sister Kathy was a rock the whole time my mother was up in Tallahassee after she was diagnosed.  She was the key caretaker for Mom, coordinating healthcare workers, schedules all while at one point battling stage 3 colon cancer (she is now happily cancer free).  Her dedication to my mother was heroic and she took ownership of Mom’s care.  Most of what the rest of us could do seemed inadequate and the responsibility was overwhelming.  I knew because we had taken care of Max’s dad who had suffered a stroke decades before and moved in with us after Max’s mother Joan died of a brain tumor when we had been married less than two years.  He was under our roof, so we had to get up in the middle of the night and help him to the bathroom, eat, bath and shave.  I knew hard it was to see a strong vibrant woman become someone who depended on the kindness of strangers to help her do life’s bare necessities.  She would ask me and Kathy – “I always exercised and took care of myself – how did this happen?”  We’d listen and tell her no one knew why.

I understood how you had to have the same conversation repeatedly and how you learned to hide your frustration because as much as you want to believe that they might be “out of it” they can sense when your nerves were becoming frayed.  George, Max’s dad, could sense that so I learned to try to hide it as best I could. 

I feel for the Bush family because their force of mother nature is no more, and their father can’t comprehend the loss.   At least my father went when he was still in full control of his faculties – it was quick – he sat in his favorite chair fell asleep and basically didn’t wake up.  My mother found him and called the EMTs but by the time they arrived it was too late.  The last time I saw my dad was over the Christmas holidays that year and the last thing I said to him on the phone was “I love you!” so I was lucky that I had no regrets in that department. 

So when we got the call that Mom might have about 48 hours at best, me we hurried down – praying we would get there in time.  We prayed my brother Steve would get there as well by bus from Miami and he did.  We made sure my mother was never alone and were told to watch for changes in her breathing.  Our 24-hour vigils sometimes included calls to come in and see Mom because we were sure this was it – but for many times that weekend – Mom was not ready to go.   She was not really conscious but I think she heard us.   She smiled when we sang her favorite song – “Almost Heaven – West Virginia,” by John Denver.  It was therapeutic to do a sing-along with a young hospice caretaker who probably saw this all the time but still managed to sing without a hint of sorrow – it was more like rejoicing.   My mother smiled with her eyes closed and even tried to mouth some of the words.  

Later that day, I pulled up the recording that we did the night before Danielle was born in 2000 which was a recorded rendition of The Night Before Christmas.  It was my dad, mom, Max and me reading the book and reminiscing with Amber who was four at the time.  It was a joyous time and looking back I was so happy I had captured the sound of that night – we’d have it always.  In fact when my niece and her husband Julio heard it, they couldn’t believe it was her – the voice was so strong and sure – it was the mother I knew.
 
We got Mom’s arrangements in order the day before she passed and it all seemed to surreal. Maybe it was because you had 12 people sleeping in Mom’s house which could only really sleep 4 people comfortably and we were sleep deprived even though we took shifts throughout the night.  I worried how my kids would do seeing their grandmother pass away and being in the room was optional – I was also not sure about my own reaction.  But even as we knew Mom would pass soon, everyone stayed positive – any squabbles that might have been brewing were brushed aside for the sake of my mother which is what she would have wanted.

On day three, it seemed like Mom still had lessons to teach us and she was not ready to yet.  The Sibs had been in such a good place after her birthday that having us spend another day together might have been part of her plan.  As the afternoon wore on- my niece Beth sat by her bed as Max, the girls and I took a walk.  When we got back – we watched a little of the 4th quarter of the FSU football game which was close but the Noles lost.  My sister Kathy and her husband Sal had gone back to their home to let out the dogs and were about five minutes away.  Beth came out to tell us that Grandma’s breathing had changed and after numerous false alarms this time it seemed like the time had come but Kathy and Sal were not with us.  I prayed she would get back in time.  My mother’s breathing started to falter and still no sign and Kathy and Sal.   Our large group started to filter into the room and I kept an eye out for my kids knowing that they had my blessing not to be there if the spirit did not move them – just being near would be good enough but they stood steadfast with the rest of us. 

I remember the left artery in her neck kept pumping wildly and it seemed rather surreal that she was going.  My mother, my jogging buddy, my mentor, my cheerleader – the person who encouraged me to “write your book,” she was leaving this earth in spirit.  Maybe the mom I’d known had been gone for a while but as she was passing I remembered how warm her hand was as we watched home movies to the beat of “We are Family” by the Pointer Sisters. 

Kathy rushed in and told her to “Go towards the light, Mom!” which I thought was strange because of course that’s where she was going to be with Dad, her older sister Elyse, her baby sister Ruth, her parents, and all her ancestors – they were just waiting on the other side – I was pretty sure if it.   Betty White’s mother once told her, “Death is that great secret and when it’s your time, you’ll finally know the secret.”  It was that pearl of wisdom and oddly enough not a bible verse that gave me comfort.

We called the funeral home to pick Mom up which is another part of the whole funeral business that just seems strange.  While we were waiting, we changed Mom’s clothes, picked out the ones for her to wear for the final journey and we decided to do her make-up.  Not in an over-the-top “Let’s make her look really alive!” way but more as a tribute because my mother would have wanted to feel like she looked nice.  This was another surreal moment as I picked out foundation and eye shadow to put on my mother’s now lifeless face.  I wondered if I would freak out but again this non-sequitur seemed to come and go and my mind somehow grasped it.  It was Sal’s idea to toast Mom before she went into the hearse.  

We all got a drink, for me and Amber who is 21 it was a very light wine cooler while other’s got wine, beer and the younger kids got a soda. We stood around the bed that had been the monument of vigils and toasted my newly deceased mother who was in a new outfit and fresh make-up.  It was very Irish as we told stories about Mom and the funny things she used to do and we laughed together as a family which is what she would have wanted.  My sister Sharon even quipped, “She must have thought – ‘Well the Noles lost again, I might as well go.’” There was laughter but make no mistake there was heartbreak as the reality set in.  The tears flowed in the hours, days, weeks and even months later - which is normal.  Someone who brought you up, nurtured you, hugged you, cheered you on and believed in you when the world didn't was gone - in a better place no longer limited by their physical maladies but gone to you now on this earth plane. The hole in your heart seems gaping but as time goes on it will seem less painful but losses by others can pull it open again. 

The death of another 90 something has triggered these fresh memories – and I feel for the Bush Family – I cry for their loss.  It sucks to lose someone you love but at least she was coherent to the end- making her own decision to die at home like my mother.  That’s a blessing to live 92 years and have the legacy of children, grandchildren and great grandchildren.   I’d like to think that no matter what your political affiliation – you can offer sympathy for a family’s loss  and offer empathy.  These are not empathetic times that’s for sure – but if nothing else, a grand woman’s passing should invoke respect, love and the awe of the gift we call life.   No one’s journey is ever the same but each journey is remarkable and recognizing that should bring us closer as human beings no matter which side of the political spectrum you sit on.

Friday, January 20, 2017

The March of Time

The last time I blogged for A View from a Blond it was pretty close to the election when it looked like Hillary Clinton would be our first female president.  I was optimistic, but scared.  It seemed then that this country was more divided now than when I was five when the Vietnam War was something you heard about every day.   You saw young soldiers bloody on TV in a war zone– not fake blood – not something staged but the real thing brought to you in living color. 

You also saw demonstrators marching against the war– who also got bloody in the streets – red fluid hemorrhaging out of real people trying to express their outrage at a system they felt was unfair.   There were two sides - the Hawks – the people who were pro-war and the Doves – those that wanted peace.  Their tug of war seemed impossible to reconcile.

The people who were caught in the middle – the young people who went to war and came back shattered or not at all were the ones that sacrificed the most.  In the end, we lost Vietnam and frankly never should have been there.  From 1961 to 1975, over 58,000 soldiers were killed.  Just to put that in perspective –in the Iraq War/Afghanistan Wars from 2001 to 2014 – we’d lost over 7,000 soldiers (Stats via Wikipedia).  For families that have lost a father, son, brother, cousin, sister, mother, wife – these numbers just compound the pain of losing someone you love and the only solace is that there are families out there who have felt that pain on a personal level.  Sure we can say the obligatory “Thank you for the ultimate sacrifice,” but without experiencing that pain first hand it just seems hollow.  How a wife or husband or a parent copes with the loss of their loved one – those things can’t be measured in a debate on whether to increase or decrease spending on a military action.  Yet the people who declare war –rarely see combat first hand.  Launching those first salvos can have repercussions that last decades if not centuries and the innocent always get hurt in the crossfire.  

The weekend after the election – my family and I went to Sweetwater Creek State Park which includes the ruins of the New Manchester Manufacturing Company that was a cotton mill which ran during the Civil War.  The ruins were both sad and exceptional in capturing a time gone by when factories were powered by rushing water.   During General William T. Sherman’s siege of Atlanta, the factory was burned in July 1864 as a way to cripple and punish the South for the indolence of secession.   That part seemed pretty cut and dried to me – the South had its ass handed to them because it wanted to preserve slavery.  It got what it deserved.  I learned that the factory at that point was being run by mostly women and children who were just trying to earn a living to keep a roof over their heads while their fathers, brothers and husbands fought out of a misguided sense of loyalty for a cause that benefitted the white aristocracy.  The mill workers were poor, did not own slaves and many were actually Union sympathizers. 

General Sherman deemed them traitors because the cloth was going to the Confederacy and had the factory burned.  He told his generals to forcibly relocate the 500 women and children at both the Manchester and Roswell Mills to Indiana.   These poor souls had just a few minutes to pack what they could carry, were put on carriages or made to “march” to Marietta where trains would take them to Nashville, then Louisville and finally Indiana.  Unfortunately, Sherman’s sense that they would find work in the Northern cities was extremely misguided.  The cities were overrun with refugees and many of the women and children died of hunger and exposure.  Few of the women came back to Atlanta or found out the fates of their husbands, sons, fathers or brothers.   It was a classic guilt by region – they were Southerners and they brought on their own destruction.  Never mind that they did not own slaves and once they were sent up North, there were not enough resources to help them in the “refugee camps.”  Their peril was fueled by Sherman’s “March to the Sea” in which he burned and pillaged along the way from Atlanta to Savannah.  

It’s easy to demonize people based on where they live because that makes having to face the more complicated issue of why they feel the way they do more daunting.  Dismiss them all as imbeciles, terrorists or racists and you save yourself the time of looking at a complicated issue that is multi-faceted.  That in spite of where they live whether it’s the American South or the Middle East– they might actually have a completely different point of view than what is the assumed outlook for that region – i.e. – maybe they are not racists or terrorists.    

Politics like war is never that completely cut and dried.  It would be too easy to cast one side as the ultimate villain and one side as the ultimate hero – there are shades of gray on both sides (Christian Grey not withstanding).   This is where we are now with politics in America.   Eight years ago, we inaugurated at new president – a black man who was young, had a beautiful wife and two amazing little girls.  It seemed like anything was possible and that this man with the kind smile would pull us out of a very bad recession and give people universal healthcare.  His predecessor had served eight years, but the first four were contested with hanging chads, an appeal to the Supreme Court who declared him the winner of the delegates of Florida after weeks of uncertainty.  There was a peaceful transfer of power even if for many like me – it did not turn out in our favor.  He was re-elected with a more decisive margin in 2004.   But for eight years, the disappointment of the year 2000 still stung.  Then 2008 brought not only a Democrat but a black man as President and it seemed that American had finally arrived as the land of opportunity and anything was possible.   The dream of Martin Luther King, Jr. had finally come true.

Watching President Obama take the oath that day – I could hear the
echoes of the “I Have a Dream” speech by Dr. King which was part of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom in August 1963.   For a shining moment – the dream had been realized and many white liberals like me wanted to think that racism had finally been concurred.   Sadly, the election did not always bring out the best in America and racial tensions continued to swell throughout President Obama’s eight years even when he again won a decisive victory in 2012.

The reality of a white majority was fading and states like Georgia now have counties like DeKalb that are minority majorities.   The difficult conversations about race between black and white America have been stifled by political correctness.  Rather than have an open discussion about frustrations about this shift in culture -  many were driven underground where groups of people who could feed their own prejudice and anger fueled the divide.     

Inequities in urban areas were also not being openly discussed and tensions would boil over when yet another unarmed black man was killed at the hands of a white officer or a person on a neighborhood watch.  There would be more marches by Black Americans that would be peaceful or marred by violence by people who just wanted to detract from the central message of inclusiveness and their frustration with a system that seemed rigged no matter who was president. 

So here we are eight years after a black man took the oath to a man who is a billionaire and has no experience governing.  A man who has made racist and sexist comments and freely admits grabbing women by the genitalia to assert his power over them.   He won but not just on the strength of the angry white guy vote (although that was a huge factor) but by white women that didn’t want to vote for a woman – either because they didn’t trust her or just frankly didn’t want to see a woman as president.    Sadly women not supporting each other has been a reality since the fight for suffrage and the Equal Rights Amendment. 

Which brings me to the marches that are happening all around our nation
the day after the inauguration and why I’m marching.   I’ve done plenty of Pride Parades, walked in the MLK parade with my church and supported other groups financially that wanted to protest the social ills that I thought needed correcting.  I’m upset at the prospect of a Trump Presidency and his use of Twitter as a bully-pulpit.   I worry for the women like me who are in the workplace and face the real possibility of discrimination, sexual assault or harassment (all of which I have experienced).  I fear for American Muslims, for race relations, the LBGTQ community, the arts, education, the environment – the list sadly keeps going on.   My presence at the Atlanta march is a testament to the fact that I don't agree with the new administration and I'm exercising my right to peacefully demonstrate with others who share the same viewpoint.  I also hope that those people who I know that support Trump can respect my right to march and might actually ask me about my experience.

Sometimes a post in Pantsuit Nation on Facebook just doesn’t have the power that standing around with thousands of like-minded people can.  If anything good can come out of a Trump presidency is that it’s getting more people engaged in a process that includes marches, going to local council meetings, calling your representatives and letting your voice be heard in person.   It’s getting young people to take a more active role in their government.  

The last time in my lifetime that the country felt this divided was over Vietnam and 100 years prior to that it was the Civil War - a war that to date has had more deaths and causalities then all the rest of our wars from the 1770’s to the 2010’s put together.  Over 750,000 people died in that war – 2% of the American population.  To put that in today’s context – that would be over 6,000,000 people.   That war left the entire country physically and mentally devastated.   The Union managed to stay together but the price of human lives and suffering was a scar that took decades to heal.  

So as the fissures that feel like they have divided the foundation of our country keep growing - keep in mind that we’re all Americans and that our finest hours have happened when adversity has stricken but served only bring us closer together.  December 7th brought our parents and grandparents into World War II to stop Japan and Germany from their tyranny.  D-Day brought rejoicing.  The Kennedy Assassination shook people on both sides of the isle and made everyone examine their own mortality.  9/11 had people like me crying in the streets, but were comforted by strangers who didn’t ask if I was a liberal or conservative – just someone who needed compassion and a hug because we were all hurting.

In doing my research for a documentary on the Civil War, I ran across a
passage from Ulysses S. Grant’s memoirs in which he talks about Robert E. Lee’s surrender at Appomattox Courthouse. General Lee was the proud Southern General who was literally fighting to his last man and realized that the end was near -he could not sacrifice anymore souls for such a lost cause.  Grant showed up in a working uniform which contrasted with Lee's formal one.  They started to talk to one another – not as enemies but as human beings.  “We soon fell into a conversation about old army times…Our conversation grew so pleasant that I almost forgot the object of our meeting.”  Grant was very respectful of Lee who was actually Lincoln’s first choice to lead the Union Armies.  You got the feeling that if they had not been on opposite sides of the war they might have been friends.  Grant even offered Lee’s starving army access to his rations.  He did not gloat in his victory but gave him a dignified exit because now they were once again Americans.   It was the very definition of compassion.

It’s vital at this point in our democracy that we try reach across the divide which now feels like the Grand Canyon to talk to people whose viewpoint is not necessarily our own – to listen to what we have in common like how much a baby's laughter makes us smile, bringing up our children in the digital age, dealing with aging parents and not what separates us.  The next four years are going to be a challenge – no matter who was going to be president.  The challenge now is to march forward together and do our level best not to fall apart. 

Sunday, November 6, 2016

1968 - Frightened at Five - Film at 11



I was walking with my daughter taking our morning constitutional on a brisk fall morning.  The leaves were starting to turn and the sky was a calm blue.  I tried to keep my mind focused on the positive – the beauty around me and how blessed I am to have my sweet children and a loving husband.  But for some reason I felt panicked.   I felt lost even though I knew exactly where I was.  I started to think about the election and the twinges of panic started to build – that helpless feeling I used to get in my parent’s living room when I was five waiting for dinner and seeing very disturbing images from Vietnam on the evening news with Walter Cronkite. 
 
At five, I wondered how adults could watch such a show – a show at that young age that I knew was real and not pretend.  The newscasters would talk about the war and good kind men like Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy Jr. would try to make the world a better place.  I liked both those men – they were dads and with big families like mine.   But sitting in the living room holding my Barbies, the world which should have seemed ordered became very unpredictable. 


I would see and hear terrible stories about the IRA (Irish Republican Army) who creating acts of terror in the name of my culture and religion and innocent people were being killed in the crossfire.  I was afraid that somehow because I was in this country and those things were happening in Northern Ireland that people would think my family was part of those acts just because we were Irish and Catholic.  I would imagine it’s the same terror an American Muslim child feels when something bad happens in the name of Islam either in this country or other places. They feel that they will be blamed because they share that same religion but like me would never raise a hand to hurt another human being but the stigma of being part of group that was actively trying to bring down the status quo in a very violent way is there.

I was afraid that my older brothers would be drafted into a hell hole that would not allow them to leave alive or if they survived they would not be the same people that I loved.  My mother threatened to send them to Canada if they were drafted which put my father who was a veteran of World War II in a bind because in his heart of hearts he knew that he could not send his sons over there.  Luckily, the war ended before they were old enough to be drafted. 

As adults we seem to forget that current events can leave its mark on our children and the terror that I felt in 1968 when the world seemed so upside-down is probably the same that our kids feel now with an election that is filled with frightening predictions no matter who is elected, a year of mass shootings, talk of deportations, race riots and the threat of armed insurrections after election day. 
 
For instance, I remember my older sister Kathy was having a slumber party the night that Bobby Kennedy was shot.   My child-like mind loved that the girls were going to play games and my younger sister Sharon and I got to have M&Ms in Dixie cups in our room just like the teenage girls.  Then the news came through and I distinctly remember seeing a brick wall and police sirens and red lights.  My mother was crying because another Kennedy had been shot and it brought back the memories of November 1963 which was also the year I was born.  The next morning the girls in the slumber party awoke to the news that Bobby Kennedy had died at 4:44 am.  


The day before my 5th birthday on April 4, 1968 – Martin Luther King was shot and killed.  Ironically Robert Kennedy was the voice of reason in Indianapolis when he had the terrible job of announcing the passing of MLK to a crowd that was not aware that he had been shot.   His words were pure eloquence and helped keep that town from rioting when so many cities were plunged into chaos in those days after the assassination – here are some excerpts from that speech:

“For those of you who are black and are tempted to fill with -- be filled with hatred and mistrust of the injustice of such an act, against all white people, I would only say that I can also feel in my own heart the same kind of feeling. I had a member of my family killed, and he was killed by a white man.
 
But we have to make an effort in the United States. We have to make an effort to understand, to get beyond, or go beyond these rather difficult times.
My favorite poem, my -- my favorite poet was Aeschylus. And he once wrote:
Even in our sleep, pain which cannot forget falls drop by drop upon the heart, until, in our own despair, against our will, comes wisdom through the awful grace of God.
 
What we need in the United States is not division; what we need in the United States is not hatred; what we need in the United States is not violence and lawlessness, but is love, and wisdom, and compassion toward one another, and a feeling of justice toward those who still suffer within our country, whether they be white or whether they be black.

We can do well in this country. We will have difficult times. We've had difficult times in the past, but we -- and we will have difficult times in the future. It is not the end of violence; it is not the end of lawlessness; and it's not the end of disorder.

But the vast majority of white people and the vast majority of black people in this country want to live together, want to improve the quality of our life, and want justice for all human beings that abide in our land.

And let's dedicate ourselves to what the Greeks wrote so many years ago: to tame the savageness of man and make gentle the life of this world. Let us dedicate ourselves to that, and say a prayer for our country and for our people.”

1968 saw too many good people cut down their prime – not just the Kings and
the Kennedys but fathers in Vietnam who would not live to see their child’s next birthday1968 was the most expensive year in the Vietnam war with the US spending $77.4 billion ($527 billion by today’s standards) on the war. The year also became the deadliest of the Vietnam War for America and its allies with 27,915 South Vietnamese (ARVN) soldiers killed and the Americans suffering 16,592 killed compared to around two hundred thousand of the communist forces killed.  Compare that to 4,486 U.S. soldiers who died in Iraq and 2,345 U.S. soldiers who died in Afghanistan during our current conflicts.
 
As adults I think we assume that our children don’t pick-up on the world around them outside of their school, after-school activities and latest shows on the Disney Channel and Nickelodeon.  We try to protect them from the bad things that go on outside, but they do pick-up on what is going on- with all the wall-to-wall coverage and the inevitable election they are seeing our anxiety no matter which side of the isle you sit on.  I knew my parents were upset about the things with the war, gun violence and race relations.   It was tough trying to reconcile why anyone would think sending young men to the dangerous jungles of a foreign land to fight people we didn’t need to have a fight with. The sights of Vietnam from the news are still locked in my memory and the terror of those images as a five year old is stored and accessibly managed from the safe distance of 48 years hence and the assurance of my parents that everything would be okay even when they had no idea if it would be.  But that’s what American’s do – we pull it together and get it done when we need to and many times we’re there for each other – that’s our baseline.   

Our country has endured a Revolutionary War and the redux in the War of 1812,  the Civil War, WWI, WWII, the Korean War, the McCarthy Hearings, Civil Rights, Vietnam War, Watergate, Dessert Storm, Hanging Chads, 9/11, the War on Terror and any number of mass shootings – and somehow we managed to work together and get through it.  I remember crying in the aftermath of 9/11 outside a building and having a stranger give me a hug- I didn’t even have to say why – it was just understood.   Yet here we are 15 years later and the vision of American could not be more far apart between the Trump and Hillary supporters.

Just as much as I want to put on my game face and tell my kids that it will all be okay – I’m not entirely convinced it will be.  I remember people worried that the election of a black man would cause racists go to nuts and there would be carnage in the streets – but there wasn’t. 
A co-worker of mine at the time told her husband to get their boys from school  because now that there was a man of color in the White House the black kids wouldn’t listen to their white teachers and there would be gang fights everywhere in the suburbs.  Of course that didn’t happen (although race relations has been dealt several set-backs over the last few years.)

The transfer of power during the election of 2000 was a perfect example of how our democracy works.  It didn’t work out in my political favor but there were not riots or calls for an armed overthrow of the government.

But even as I despair about the divisions here in the US, I see hope in an unlikely place like Vietnam.  It’s now an international tourist destination – beautiful and a foodie haven.  Recently Anthony Bourdain went there and not only visited some wonderful restaurants but showed how US Vietnam vets where making peace and getting closure.  John McCain - a man  who was captured and a prisoner for five years in Hanoi - was instrumental in getting relations normalized between the US.  In fact the Vietnamese people in their 20’s and 30’s have never even known war – that’s how far that country has come.  When I saw that on CNN – I cried because if a country that lost so much over 40 years ago can move on – so can we.
 

So considering all we’ve been through America – are we up to the task of this election?  Can we look past diatribes and demagoguery to make a rational choice for president?   Are the next four years going to be nothing but each party blocking the progress of the other?  Will our children be able to sleep knowing that the adults have it under control? These questions have been keeping me up at night and there are no easy answers – I wish there were.   My optimism has dimmed but maybe we’ll rise above the pettiness of this election and forge a new path and show the world we’re better than what they’ve been seeing on CNN and FOX .  That’s my prayer and the thing I’d tell that frightened five-year old both now and back in 1968.