April Come She Will

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In the America of today, it may be difficult to remember to do this, but I still celebrate the arrival of Spring and the month of April. It has always been that intensely anticipated pivotal turning point in the seasons where Winter is finally vanquished, and the green shoots of the tulips and early petals of the forsythia plants alert our souls to the renewal of creation.

There is no question that, this time around, the arrival of April comes with some bitter medicine to swallow. Our nation and our world have been turned upside down with fear and dread at the outbreak of a vicious viral crisis. As April arrives, every human being on Earth is affected in one way or another. Yet, the lure of warm weather and the sweet scent of flowers and new-mown grass has, at the very least, reminded us that all things, both pleasant and disturbing, continue on their relentless path of the cycles and rhythms of life.

I was reminded of a song from Paul Simon, of Simon and Garfunkel, called April Come She Will. It is based on an old English nursery rhyme called The Cuckoo. For those of a certain age, myself included, you may remember this song from their collection: The Sounds of Silence, released in 1966. I have included the lyrics of the song as well as a video from YouTube of the duo performing the song live in Central Park in New York City. In the USA, this city has been the most seriously attacked by this virus, and perhaps needs, more than most places, to stay strong and look ahead with the fundamental hope and resilience of the American spirit. We have all been forced to step back, think twice, take care of one another, remember our shared heritage and embrace the effort required to reclaim our lives from day to day.

April, come she will

When streams are ripe and swelled with rain.

May, she will stay

Resting in my arms again.

June she’ll change her tune

In restless walks she’ll prowl the night.

July, she will fly

And give no warning to her flight.

August, die she must

The autumn winds blow chilly and cold.

September, I remember

A love once new has now grown old.

America in Hibernation, The World in Retreat

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This is strange. How is it that, just as the delicious sweetness of Spring is descending on us, our nation and the world are withdrawing and retreating into hibernation, curling into a protective cocoon against a viral ‘winter’ of sickness and disease?

Just as most of you wonder and worry about the uncertainty of the future, I too am dismayed by recent events, and the worldwide reaction to how an invisible and determined force can so rapidly rewrite the paths of our lives. It is not what you might think of as a traditional foe that we face, but rather an intangible mixture of fear and concern that we cannot control our lives in the manner in which we are so accustomed.

Part of me feels strongly that the human pendulum has swung far too much into the negative to properly and judiciously maintain a wise life-balance. Perhaps it is not really so surprising given the nature of the human condition, but I cannot help wondering if we have given in too easily to the mania of the moment. On the other hand, I am none to eager to sit amongst a crowded movie theater audience in the darkness, secretly worrying if the fellow moviegoer a few seats away has just sneezed or coughed a few droplets of danger my way. Those constant admonitions from the medical experts seem to make a lot of sense from that perspective. So in honesty, I also feel strongly that much of the caution is warranted but it really is kind of depressing.

As usual, when jarring events like this happen, it triggers a wide variety of thoughts in my mind about what such events or crises say about all of us, our nation, our world and the way in which we live. And it occurred to me how so much of the human condition on this planet has transformed it into a 24×7 world. This has typically been a gradual transformation, but now it has been greatly accelerated in the last 75 years or so by a number of cataclysmic changes. When World War II finally came to an end, we ended up in a world where technology and science produced a frighteningly lethal device that could literally destroy the entire planet, and every living thing on it, in essentially a matter of minutes.

Eventually, the human race was able to leverage the scientific knowledge that came from the efforts to produce such a device into, among other things,  a much more positive and life-saving series of inventions and tools and abilities. New ways of doing things, new labor-saving machines, new vistas of medicine and technology began to transform our human society and bring large scale efficiencies to bear against manufacturing, medical procedures, agriculture and communication. Space flight became possible and we actually, for the first time in human history, were able to ‘see’ ourselves and our entire planet from afar, inspiring  Joni Mitchell in one of her songs to call the Earth ‘that marbled bowling ball’. It was a magnificent sight.

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A bit more recently, the phenomenon of the interconnected communication network, or Internet, was the proverbial ‘pouring’ of gasoline onto a fire. This sealed our fate in a manner of speaking. Initially intended to serve as a tool for sharing knowledge among scientists and information system professionals, it has obviously migrated into far more than anyone ever really envisioned. Its’ commercialization and mass marketing to basically every human being on Earth has brought many wonderful developments to our front door, but like so many other new wonders, it has also brought things like a hyperventilating mass hysteria to the front door as well.

You may be familiar with the author Henning Mankell, who has written several novels about a character named Kurt Wallander who is a police detective in Ystad, Sweden. The novels became extremely popular in Europe and eventually America, and there have been some television shows adapted from those novels. I particularly recommend the Wallander series in which actor Kenneth Branagh performed in the lead role. It is great entertainment (and you can watch it at home!).  Wallander is very adept at solving murders, mainly via his intense and relentless personality. So relentless in fact that he ignores food and sleep and the effects on his health.  In one episode he pushes himself so blindly that he ends up in the hospital from a diabetic collapse. Afterwards, he is forced into rethinking and reassessing his life and his life style.

I bring all of this for your consideration to potentially equate what happened to the fictional Wallander character to where the world is now, forced into rethinking and reassessing how we live. This virus and the fear and sickness it has brought has caused the literal  shutdown of so many things that we normally take for granted. All over the world a dangerous element has arisen that has caused the world to confront its’ own societal collapse. Over time, we have pushed ourselves and our world so blindly that we are now in the midst of being forced to severely slow down and stop and rethink our own lives. It may be a great opportunity to take advantage of reverting back, at least a little, to a simpler, less frenetic, more human approach to life and begin to remember what truly is important: Each other!

 

The Amazing Lyle Mays: The Beauty and Mystery of Music

For most of us, life is full of unexpected and sometimes surreal twists and turns. In the same way, these changes in path and experiences are both large and small, both pleasing and disturbing, and also both trivial and dramatically significant.  We are never quite sure of what to expect next.

I experienced this phenomenon once again very recently. I was at home, browsing the newspaper while listening to some of my favorite music from Pat Metheny and Lyle Mays, specifically from the collection: As Falls Wichita, So Falls Wichita Falls. Incredibly, I came across a small article reporting the death of Lyle Mays on 2/10/20. I must say that my heart was immediately and involuntarily filled with instant sadness and shock. I have been a listener and follower of Metheny and Mays for many, many years. Their music has been a constant theme and a reassuring thread for most of my adult life.

Fortunately, I have had the opportunity on multiple occasions to hear their music performed live, although only once did I have the opportunity to see and hear the Pat Metheny Group with Lyle Mays as the keyboardist, along with Steve Rodby, and I believe Antonio Sanchez. The music that was created and performed while these musicians were together, particularly the recordings with Paul Wertico and Pedro Aznar is, to me, the very best that was produced within the broad Pat Metheny repertoire. I will never forget that first live concert, which was in 2002 at the Tower Theater in Upper Darby, Pa. I had listened to so much of their music that I was certain that I would know a LOT of their songs, many of which I hoped to hear them perform that night. The collection: Speaking of Now, was the most recent LP they had produced, which I hadn’t listened to yet.

Again, incredibly, I didn’t recognize any of the music they played since they decided to perform Speaking of Now in it’s entirety. It didn’t matter. It was absolutely fantastic!! I jumped for joy at the end, as they came out for an encore and did First Circle which was really my absolute favorite at the time and the one song I REALLY wanted to hear.

The surreal twist I referred to came just a few days after reading about Lyle’s passing. I received in the mail the new Pat Metheny CD: From This Place. I forgot that I had purchased it in a pre-sale several weeks ago. As any Metheny fan knows, Pat has performed and recorded with dozens of fellow musicians, formed new bands and taken his music down a wide variety of paths. The same is true for Lyle Mays, by the way.

I was struck by the strange dichotomy, the odd juxtaposition of these two events. Here I experienced two wildly different moments: An eager anticipation of new, fresh music from my absolute favorite artist, Pat Metheny, and then a terrible dashing of my fervent hope that Metheny and Mays would collaborate, and more importantly, tour together again someday.

I am not sure if you would agree with me on this thought but I feel it is absolutely true: To me, the beauty and mystery of the music created by Metheny/Mays is the exact same tour de force of the quality and necessary collaborations of Lennon/McCartney, the dominant creative force of The Beatles. I say this because I really believe that the best music created by both sets of collaborators came into existence precisely BECAUSE they wrote the music together. I do not imply that the individual music created by Lennon or McCartney is not also beautiful and well worth listening to, nor do I feel that the music created individually by Metheny or Mays is less beautiful. In fact, I would say that the solo productions of both Metheny and Mays demonstrate and confirm the incredible talent of both. To me though, the best of each was brought out and created when they shared the creative process.

Whether or not you are familiar with Lyle Mays or Pat Metheny, I added here some links to give you an idea of the beauty and mystery of the music from both an individual and a collaborative perspective. The first is a song called: September Fifteenth from the collection: As Falls Wichita, So Falls Wichita Falls. Here is where you can hear the subtle beauty of how these two incredible musicians complemented one another.

 

Another example of this same idea is the song: Too Soon Tomorrow from the collection: Imaginary Day

 

Finally, to acknowledge the wonderful talent and happy soul of Lyle Mays, I add this link to a YouTube selection from a live performance that embraces all the variety and musical intrigue contained within a musical genius. Fortunately for us, there are so many wonderful musical pieces to hold on to and enjoy that make Lyle’s passing just a little less painful. He truly spoke the language of the beauty and mystery of music.

 

 

Sacredly Obligatory Upon All

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George Washington (Gibbs-Channing-Avery Portrait) by Gilbert Stuart (Photo by Francis G. Mayer/Corbis/VCG via Getty Images)

I was conversing with a friend recently who inquired about my thoughts on the political circus in Washington D.C. around presidential impeachment in the U.S. House of Representatives and the presidential trial in the U.S. Senate. No doubt this is a source of debate and contention throughout the nation, just as it has been since the election of the current administration. And although this is only the third President in our nation’s history to actually suffer indictment, also known as impeachment, the debate and contention in the 21st century is as old and familiar as the nation itself.

The use of the political trigger word  ‘Washington D.C.’  got me thinking about the great person whom the U.S. Capitol city is named after: George Washington, the first Chief Executive of the United States of America.

Probably, hopefully……the vast majority by far of our nation’s citizens know about George Washington and his mantle of  ‘Father of Our Country’,  and have a basic awareness of his role in the founding of our nation. I recall my own gradual learning more about President Washington during my early school years and the very rudimentary study of U.S. History in high school. It is truly a shame that the classroom subjects of  ‘History’ as well as ‘Civics’ was looked upon with boredom and disdain by myself and I believe most students. However, the real reason for that is the absolutely boring manner in which this fascinating  subject matter was presented, typically rote memorization of names and calendar dates of significant events such as July 4, 1776 etc.

It took a very long time, and a surprising, accidental discovery for me, to realize the true value and importance of digging deeper into the rich history of America, particularly the Revolutionary era and in the lives and work of incredible people like George Washington. This man in particular is the real reason, on so many levels, that our nation came into existence, and has survived and literally thrived, so far well into the 21st century. Now we have reached this moment in time where the American people are once again faced with resolving a crisis, whose seeds have the potential to do serious damage to the republic.

This is where the words of President George Washington, in his farewell address to the nation in September 1796, after eight years of serving as the first President, truly demonstrate the value of his life, his works, and his words, most remarkably his prescience concerning the challenges to come for our nascent and fledgling nation.

I have included here a link to his full farewell address so that one can read the entire text, but one part of his address that rings so importantly today concerns the need to adhere to the rule of law. The U.S. Constitution, which enshrined in our laws the office of Chief Executive, established the rule of law that Washington so sincerely and earnestly implored all of our citizens, no matter their station, to honor and respect.

Sensible of this momentous truth, you have improved upon your first essay, by the adoption of a constitution of government better calculated than your former for an intimate union, and for the efficacious management of your common concerns. This government, the offspring of our own choice, uninfluenced and unawed, adopted upon full investigation and mature deliberation, completely free in its principles, in the distribution of its powers, uniting security with energy, and containing within itself a provision for its own amendment, has a just claim to your confidence and your support.

“Respect for its authority, compliance with its laws, acquiescence in its measures, are duties enjoined by the fundamental maxims of true liberty. The basis of our political systems is the right of the people to make and to alter their constitutions of government. But the Constitution which at any time exists, till changed by an explicit and authentic act of the whole people, is sacredly obligatory upon all. The very idea of the power and the right of the people to establish government presupposes the duty of every individual to obey the established government.”

These are powerful words that have acted and continue to act as a bastion of strength in ensuring that ALL people, particularly our elected leaders in whom we entrust with our freedom and security, take on and embrace the sacred obligation that President George Washington so elegantly and forcefully taught us to embrace as well.

I urge you to read President Washington’s farewell address in full because it is full of wise, coherent and highly relevant insight to the past, present and future understanding and maintaining of our freedom and democracy.

I believe that if we as a nation continue to honor and respect the law, the Constitution, as well as each other, even the contentious, partisan and seemingly intractable issue of impeachment will be resolved in a manner that would surely please and reassure the Father of Our Country, George Washington!

 

The Fragile Threads of Memory

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A fellow author and blogger I follow has written and posted numerous insightful essays regarding the purpose, the function, and the interaction and intersection of the mysterious processes of the human brain, the ‘mind’ if you will.

I have found that these essays often evoke a frenzy of emotions, thoughts, decision-making and  re-evaluations of decision-making moments and times in my life. Another very revealing reaction to his writings is the deluge of memories that flood my own mind, cascading and flowing in a furious river of thought. These memories often have literally nothing to do with the focus of the particular essay I am reading, but rather are the offspring of a broader, more fundamental realization triggered by the words in the essay itself.

To a lesser degree, I have experienced floating down this same river of memories when I re-read my own writings and view the photographs and contemplate the thoughts expressed in what I have tried to convey in my words.

I am no psychologist or expert on the workings of the human mind, but I do share the ability in all of us to ‘remember’. What puzzles me is the extremely fragile nature of the memories that are evoked. At times, the memory is exact and has a clarity that does not diminish, even when the moments remembered occurred half a century ago or more. Far more often though, the memory is fuzzy, incomplete, and sometimes even contains parts that I must conclude are imagined, since they cannot be corroborated to my satisfaction. I tend to consider those particular memories as  ‘threads’, a tenuous fiber of connection to something that happened, someone I knew, something I did, or perhaps should have done. Despite their fragility and almost ephemeral nature, I KNOW that they are just as real as any unclouded memory or thought.

The fragility of memory also intrigues me since, in many instances the SAME memory, or sequence of memories I experience, are triggered by DIFFERENT sources, different events, different people, and even different moments in time.  For me personally, there has been a fair amount of time of life thus far, so my trove of memories spans multiple decades. This is one of the more satisfying aspects of aging.

I find that I enjoy remembering.

I have found a great deal of happiness looking at photographs, re-reading books, listening to a wide variety of music and even making some of my own. Music has its’ own fantastical and mysterious ability to generate a torrent of memories. Such memories are often sweetening and tainted simultaneously. They evoke their own level of fragility and transience.

There have been, of course, certain events in my life that simply cannot be labeled as having provided ‘happy’  memories. This is true for all of us. Over the course of time however, I have uncovered a latent ability to take advantage of the fragility of the threads of memory and, without discarding the sadness, to strengthen and clarify the invaluable shards of memories shared with those we love in the here and now, and even more so with those we have known and loved in our own fragile lives. These human threads of memory will always be ‘remembered’.

 

A Kinder, Gentler Man

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Not long after the November 2016 national election, in which Donald Trump won the Presidency of the United States over former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, my 13-year old granddaughter asked me how I cast my vote for President. Before I could answer her, she somewhat sarcastically added: Probably Trump, right? She was old enough, and had seen and heard enough during the long campaign season, to have come to the conclusion that, well, I MUST have voted for Mr. Trump since I was an older man and therefore I was probably not going to vote for a woman for President.

She was surprised to learn that in fact I had voted for Secretary Clinton. I explained that I had my concerns about Secretary Clinton, but those concerns had zero to do with her gender. I further explained that, although she was highly qualified and capable, my concerns were influenced by her policy stands, and with my retirement days growing near, I really preferred a different philosophy, one more in line with improving my economic situation that I felt would be more successfully addressed by a conservative President. 

So, my inquisitive granddaughter then asked me: So why did you vote for Sec. Clinton? I told her that, quite simply, I really did not care for how Mr. Trump treated people. Whatever my political and economic views, it was wrong for someone who aspires to lead our nation and our citizenry to approach that crucial role with a cavalier belligerence and arrogance toward well-meaning people. It is not possible to truly succeed as the leader of the free world by building up our nation by tearing down our people and our institutions. 

After nearly two years of the Trump Presidency, my perceptions in 2016 have modulated and evolved in some ways, and been disappointingly confirmed in others. Some very good things have happened in our economy. I do think that there has been a re-evaluation of the United States of America throughout the world, and that other nations realize that it is no longer business as usual. There is no doubt that we are regaining our footing in many ways. 

There has, however, been a price to pay. 

That is where the national reaction to the passing of President George H.W. Bush becomes understandable. We all, of course, mourn the loss, and pay respect to any person who has been our President, our leader, and who has sacrificed so much to bear the stress, the difficulty, the demands and the sometimes virulent criticism that is integral to serving as the President of the Unites States. President Trump is no exception

But you must be literally thunderstruck by the deluge of gratitude, homage, respect, admiration, wistfulness and love shown by not just the broad political class, but even more so by our fellow, everyday citizens, towards our 41st President. Those emotions, the spontaneous outpouring of grief and gratefulness, the tens of thousands of people at the nation’s Capital who want to spend a moment or two to say Thank You, the mothers and fathers who bring their children to pay respect to President Bush, and quietly and somberly explain to their own children and granddaughters and grandsons who this man was and why it’s so important to honor him in this way.

This kind of reaction is no accident. I think that most people in this country have been so inundated by the tone and tenor of our elected leaders, by the viciousness of many in ALL segments of the press, that we have forgotten how to recognize the signs of class, of concern for our fellow Americans, of the benefits of bipartisanship, of forgiveness, and of the willingness to listen.

I mourn the loss of President Bush, particularly for his family and friends. But it has unleashed something in our nation, and in all of us, that I almost believed was totally gone and unrecoverable. It is the newly resurrected realization that one truly kinder, gentler man or woman has the power and the impact to bring all of the great citizens of the United States of America together again, as one, in saying Thank You and God Bless You Mr. President. I pray that our leaders honestly and truly recognize the signs President Bush has left behind, and embrace them fully to preserve our precious nation. 

Too many gentle breezes unnoticed…

cropped-lake21.jpgHello everyone! I really wanted to check in with you all on this sad, happy, mournful as well as celebratory day when we honor the lives of thousands of our fellow Americans who perished on September 11, 2001. We celebrate their lives as well as re-affirm our grief at their loss. 

It truly is a day, among the remembrances and commemorations, to reflect upon our lives today as well. In this time of reflection, I also include the life of our nation and where we stand as a people.

It is gratifying to witness the true and sincere acts of courage and determination and homage to our heroes of this day, and to all of our friends and family members whose lives were lost. It has been estimated that one in four citizens in our country knew someone who was either killed or wounded on 9/11/01. I personally knew two men who were killed. Both were co-workers in Manhattan and, in honesty, were acquaintances with whom I occasionally interacted at business meetings. It does not lesson the impact of their loss on me. I also had the opportunity on July 4, 2000 to stand outside at the top of one of the twin towers (the one without the radio tower) and witness the Independence Day celebration in New York Harbor. This included seeing F-15 and F-18 fighter jets flying BELOW us, as well as seeing the Stealth Bomber, the secret black winged aircraft, scream over our heads at hundreds of miles per hour. 

So, in today’s reflections, I was drawn back to a story I read a short while ago about two American citizens who were deliberately murdered by the same evil, cold-blooded people and twisted beliefs that wreaked such horror on our friends and families on this day in 2001. 

I have included a link to the full story in the New York Times August 7, 2018. It is well worth reading, as are some of the links in the article to a blog maintained by one of the Americans that more fully describes these intriguing people.

The Americans who were killed were Jay Austin and Lauren Geoghegan, both 29 years old. They were close friends who shared a passion for cycling, meeting people and exploring the world up close. They reached the point in their lives and in their shared interests where they decided to give up, at least for a time, what they considered the mundane, humdrum, partially scripted lives as office dwellers, cubicle inhabitants who attended meetings and gave Powerpoint demonstrations, tracking working hours, spreadsheets, participating in teleconferences, attending to all of the day-to-day tedium that can creep into any job.

In July of 2017, they embarked on a cycling journey which involved, among many other places, part of the country of Tajikistan, which is a central Asian country close to China and Afghanistan. During their journey, they had encountered many, many happy moments that re-affirmed in their minds the essential goodness and kindness in people throughout the world. They also, of course, ran into those who did not display these same values, as well as an occasionally uncooperative Mother Nature and other unavoidable unpleasantries.

Most terribly for both Mr. Austin and Ms. Geoghegan, on July 29, 2018, as they cycled with a group of like-minded cyclists in a particularly scenic part of Tajikistan, a car passed by the group on the road, stopped and turned around. The driver of the car then sped up and deliberately ran into the cyclists and drove the car over them, killing Mr. Austin, Ms. Geoghegan, and two other cyclists from Switzerland and the Netherlands. The driver and passengers in the car were later identified in a video released by the Islamic State as members of that organization who were carrying out their ‘mission’ against disbelievers. 

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SPAIN Mr. Austin and Ms. Geoghegan posted photos and writing about their journey.CreditSimplycycling.org

On this day, September 11, 2018, I find myself thinking of the unrecoverable loss our nation and the world suffered in 2001 at the hands of people who perpetrated the same kind of pointless, useless and mindless violence against these two Americans.

I recently have eased into retirement from my own career as an office dweller and cubicle inhabitant, who labored through some of the same mundane and tedious moments as those experienced, and rejected, by Ms. Geoghegan and Mr. Austin. In fairness, I enjoyed a very satisfying career in the information technology business, however, there was far too much of what these two Americans jettisoned from their lives. 

I was particularly struck by a highly impactful insight Mr. Austin posted in his blog, accessible via the link to the NY Times article. As I adjust to new life routines, and have far more time to contemplate my life and the lives of those closest to me, I found Mr. Austin’s perspective quite profound, and particularly appropriate today, when we mourn the huge loss of lives, vow to make positive changes in our lives, and pledge to take the time to appreciate the sweet and beautiful moments of life, including not allowing too many gentle breezes to go unnoticed….

This is Mr. Austin’s blog reply to the questions he was asked concerning WHY he decided to give up a good job in a steady, predictable life, WHY he decided not to follow the traditional path of his peers, and WHY he so strongly felt that he had to change his life’s path to what his heart told him to do. May Mr. Austin and Ms. Geoghegan rest in peace, along with all our friends and families who lost their own lives on September 11, 2001. 

I’m grateful for the opportunity, and I’m anxious to turn my back on what was really a good thing. But getting too cozy is dangerous. Inertia is a stealthy predator. I’ve learned a lot from these seven years, and I enjoyed plenty, but with each passing year I feel I learned a little less.  The days have blended into weeks, the weeks into months, the months into years. I’ve grown tired of meetings, of teleconferences, of timesheets and password changes and Monday morning elevator commiseration. I’ve grown tired of spending the best hours of my day in front of a glowing rectangle, of coloring the best years of my life in swaths of grey and beige. I’ve missed too many sunsets while my back was turned. Too many thunderstorms went unwatched, too many gentle breezes unnoticed. There’s magic out there, in this great big beautiful world, and I’ve long since scooped up the last of the scraps to be found in my cubicle.

 

 

 

 

The Culture of Our National Divide

Hello again to all my readers! Been a while! Although I haven’t posted for a while, it doesn’t mean that I have not been reading, watching, thinking, researching and writing :). In fact, all of these enriching, mentally demanding but enjoyable tasks are also quite time-consuming, as I am sure you all well know.

One of the more challenging patterns I have discerned, at least for me, is that the sheer volume of information and the barrage of  daily events, both minor and major, often serve to distract my mind from the particular task at hand. My primary goal in maintaining this blog remains as I describe on my main page: To define and discuss how the founding of our nation, and its’ subsequent  journey to survive, came so perilously close to failure and destruction in the 18th century, and how the incredible men and women of those days dealt with all of the insurmountable odds against success.

Those distractions I mentioned are not necessarily always a bad thing. I have often found inspiration for this blog’s topics and examples from current events. In fact, they tie in to my thesis very nicely and help me to illustrate what I contend in my words. Despite the constant barrage of events and information that relate to who and what we are as a people and a nation, the discouraging heartbreak we all have recently been subjected to, the incessant whining of the news media, the schoolyard recess in our nation’s Capital and on and on ad nauseam, in the 18th century our nation faced obliteration and non-existence from the troubles of those times!

That’s precisely why it’s so important to really learn about the founding of the United States of America. It gives not only a perspective on the troubles of our own time, but also gives us all the awareness that we CAN and WILL do whatever is necessary to resolve the sources of our national divide. And let’s face it, there are many.

Like you, I have my own opinions about some of the more wrenching and difficult sources of division in our country. I have my own political leanings and religious beliefs. I have my own opinions about the stands that other people take on a variety of issues. But one thing that seems like simple, basic logic to me is the fact that, in order for our nation and our way of life to survive and continue to thrive, we MUST be willing to first acknowledge the differences among us. Next, we MUST learn to tolerate the existence of those differences. We must then be willing to listen to those earnest and sincere people who hold those differences. And finally, we MUST make our cogent and fact-based arguments to each other without impugning the integrity or motive of those who disagree with us.

To be clear, I am well aware that not EVERY person we encounter, or institution we interact with, is going to be so level-headed and embrace this philosophy. We certainly do have to accept the fact that there are just some people who are simply not willing or perhaps capable of taking this approach. When you do encounter that, it is probably best to limit your conversation to the weather!

I am also well aware that, if you are a news-junkie like me, you may get the impression from the breathless, non-stop media reporting frenzy, that my recommendations are naive or impossible to achieve. That is the culture of our national divide. The truth is that our nation is full of caring, thoughtful, passionate citizens who love this country and ARE willing to solve problems together, even with those with whom we disagree.

That was the spirit of the founding men and women of 18th century America. They built a grand and wonderful country through far more divisive and dangerous times. Now it’s OUR turn. Our task is to preserve this incredible nation!!!

In future posts, I will discuss how we can do that, and present some very wise words and descriptions of events from those dangerous times that we can use in the 21st century!

 

Happy Birthday Big Brother, Best Friend

Today I am taking a break from the concerns of the political world, and the trajectory of our nation, as I celebrate my big brother, Mike. Today, February 26, 2017 is my big brother’s 66th birthday. This is a personal celebration of what Mike has meant to me in my own life as I reflect on his memory. Mike, or Tike, as I and others often called him,has passed on from life on earth. He became yet another victim of  cancer in 2012. His passing was devastating to me and all my brothers and sisters, his wife Patrice as well as my Mom, who survived him for a year. Mom lost both her youngest and eldest sons in her lifetime, extending the pain of loss even more. (Tike third from left with the white shirt)20131013_114740

Despite the loss, which every one of us on earth have or will experience, this post today is to celebrate the fun and happiness and love I gained throughout my entire life with Tike as my big brother and best friend.xmas4-broThe four amigos..Den, Tike, Joe and John.

His nickname Tike was given to him by a teenage friend who recognized the little kid in him (a little tyke!) in his jokes and antics while growing up. Mike never lost those peculiar qualities about him, even as a senior citizen when he faced the most serious circumstances one can face in life. Mike suffered from a malignant glioblastoma which is a cancerous brain tumor. He had surgery to remove the tumor which was extraordinarily successful to the extent that it removed over 90% of the cancer. On the day of his surgery, I was with him as well as his wife Patrice all day at the hospital, awaiting word of how things had gone and what his prognosis was. (Mike and Patrice)42570020-copy

After hours of waiting and wondering and worrying, the surgeon finally came out and told us we could actually go see him and talk to him in the recovery room. When we entered the room, we were almost overwhelmed to see about a dozen patients in the room all recently out of major surgery for one reason or another. And we could not find Mike! We began to walk up to each person to see if we were at the right bedside. Then we saw him and we literally did NOT recognize him. He was a ghost of himself, a face drained by enormous trauma. Or so we thought. As we approached him, his eyes fluttered open and, when he saw Patrice, a slow, big and broad smile grew on his face. Then he turned and saw me. He extended both of his arms out to us. We sat down on either side of him and put our heads on his shoulders as he embraced both of us. It was incredibly moving and no words were spoken for a moment. Then Tike appeared…his first words to us were.. “I finally had my head examined and they found nothing”.  Patrice and I, and a couple of the staff members, burst out in an uproarious laugh. THAT was Tike. (Den and Tike)tykeanddenbaseball

All during my time growing up, especially as we became teenagers, Mike was the guy I looked up to, wanted to be like, wanted to hang out with. As often happens with brothers, and I have two younger brothers as well, we did not always get along. Sometimes he was annoyed that his kid brother was around because I wasn’t really all that cool, or I wasn’t old enough to hang out with his buddies even though we were born only 16 months apart.

In high school Mike was a year ahead of me. As we got to be in our junior and senior years Mike started giving me some tips about particular teachers or classes to look out for or prepare better for. When he went to college, and I told him I wasn’t going to go to college the following year, he convinced me that I should because I might meet some really awesome chic that I could study with…I didn’t want to miss out on that, did I ?? Well, no.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

When ever I had life troubles, Mike was the guy I always turned to. Even though he wasn’t that much older than me, he always seemed to have a confidence and wisdom about him that was hard to define, but far more often than not, his ideas and suggestions were good ones. He was a bit of a trailblazer for me, particularly when it came to dealing with Dad. Our Dad was strict and sometimes pretty tough on us, particularly Mike. He was the oldest son. He had a responsibility. He should know better. But Mike being Tike, he often clashed with Dad and they were at odds all throughout those formative years before turning 21. My turn came for dealing with Dad too and Mike’s suggestions (and warnings!) really helped ease that path for me. tykemarygodfather

As we grew into adults, Mike and I really and truly became friends….best friends really. We went on vacations together with our spouses. We went to rock concerts together, baseball games, family picnics. Mike became the Godfather of my daughter Kate. Years later I was Mike’s best man as he married Patrice. Then he was my best man as I married Denise. He was the commissioner of our yearly fantasy football leagues, and obtained an official NFL football that served as the trophy for the winner. I was the first one to win it and he had me sign it and pass it on the the next years’ winner. That tradition continued for several years. There are so many good memories I fall back on whenever I feel that sadness come over me. 584785-r1-14-13a

Even at the end, Mike was an astonishingly courageous and re-assuring presence for me and my family. I have never known anyone with such courage and determination, as he faced the extremely difficult reality of what he knew was going to happen.

I think for me, the thing that is really missing, even stolen, from my life is what you might call a ‘state of mind’. It is that knowledge in the back of my mind that no matter what problem or question or mystery or solution I have or need, I just have to call up Tike and see what he thinks. I know he’ll have something I can use. I experienced this feeling and the loss of that state of mind on the day that Mike passed away. I was on my way to his house, travelling a route I knew by heart from continually driving back and forth to his house during his two-plus years of life after surgery. I made a wrong turn by mistake and promptly got lost and not sure how to get back on the main road. After some initial panic, I thought..don’t worry…just call up Tike…he knows this area up and down and back and forth. But Mike could no longer help me. So I remembered something he told me and just calmed down and found my way. (Tike and Mom)tykenadmom

So today, I CELEBRATE you Tike. Happy Birthday in heaven. I love and miss you. We all do.

Rest in peace Big Brother, Best Friend

Menace

Real American Democracy in Action

Whatever you may think or make of the political jolts roiling America since the new presidential administration took power in 2017, you must concede that it has, at the very least, unleashed a furious storm of ACTION! 

Those actions involve not only the new administration’s deluge of executive actions and orders. but also, even more importantly, it also involves an incredible and reassuring increase in the examples of our democracy in action.

I wanted to cite one extraordinary example of real American democracy in action because it really did reassure and confirm to me that we are no nation of sheep to be led blind and numb to a bleak and frightening future. As I declared in my intentions for this blog and website, and in some of my first few posts, the American people have demonstrated over and over throughout out entire history as a nation that we do not shrink from confrontation or meekly allow any one person or party or organization to steal what has been earned at such a devastating cost. It is the same persistence, determination and courage that has motivated our incredible men and women of the military, now and at all times in the past, to physically defend our democracy from destruction by outside forces.

The example I cite involves the order released on January 25, 2017 by the President that is named: Border Security and Immigration Enforcement Improvements. If you have never actually read or even looked at not just this particular executive order, but almost any officially released executive order, you may be astonished by doing so. This is not just some 140-character 6:00 a.m. Twitter post. It is a highly detailed, specific and wide-ranging declaration of the purpose, definition, and directives compelling multiple civil servants of the administration to take specific actions and to do so immediately. I urge you to take some time and review it, if for no other reason than to make certain you understand it and therefore become able to factually support or reject it.

Of course, in our currently supercharged political atmosphere, doing so may not have been undertaken by large percentages of either critics or supporters. Also, quite frankly, the manner in which it was created and reviewed before publishing failed to anticipate how much confusion and consternation it would cause. Even more damaging has been the inconsistent implementation of the executive order, leading to judicial involvement to settle disputes and halt further implementations until a more detailed assessment can be made to assure legality and fairness.

Whether or not you agree with this particular executive order, that element of government in the United States is a legitimate tool and can be legally utilized. There is no guarantee that it won’t be just as legally challenged, nor upheld if it is challenged. Many such orders have been successfully challenged and removed, as recently as in the previous administration and also in all those that preceded it . So you could say that the executive orders undertaken by any president are part of the American democracy.

The re-assurance I mentioned earlier came from an article found in the print edition of the New York Times on January 31, 2017 by Charlie Savage detailing the efforts made by a network of former and current students of the Yale Law School in New Haven, Connecticut to actively volunteer and participate in their OWN real life example of  American Democracy in Action. You can read the article via the link, but it essentially describes how the average, everyday American, who is either happily supportive of a law or a cause, or is vehemently opposed to a law or a cause, can take helpful, positive actions to assist their fellow citizens, or in this case immigrants and others aspiring to work towards citizenship, to have their rights upheld and their voices heard.

These lawyers and law students began their team approach to helping those affected by this executive order by gathering information, filing law suits, sharing information and files with others across the country who also banded together to make sure that they had at least had some impact on mitigating the confusion and unnecessary agony of people who were legally allowed to come into the United States, but were subsequently detained and denied access and, in some cases, illegally deported. All of this totally avoidable confusion and chaos drove many to flock to the major airports across the country and participate in another element of American democracy in action: the peaceful protest of an action taken by the government. Many of the lawyers involved in this organized effort to stop what was happening also went to the airports, seeking out those in need of legal assistance, and offering their help. They succeeded in helping some and focusing critical attention on how the situation had gone so wrong, and helped compel judicial action to suspend the order and let cooler heads prevail.

So my re-assurance and confirmation of where we are in America today was bolstered in a very positive way.  I do not attribute this feeling to agreeing or disagreeing with a particular executive action or law. I am re-assured by the fact that everyday citizens took it upon themselves to organize and take peaceful, legal actions to help counteract what THEY saw as a wrong to be righted. It may not ultimately eliminate what they oppose, but their efforts can inspire all of us to stand up and take action, not by throwing rocks and smashing windows and destruction of property, but rather by joining together and work within our laws to affect the outcomes we need to maintain our precious democracy.