Saturday, July 4, 2015

The Glorious Fourth

Flags in the Rain 07-03-14When I was a kid I was very outgoing in putting up displays for the holidays — Memorial Day, Christmas, the Fourth of July — I liked the flags, the lights, the stuff. It was cool to make a big splash. But as I grew up I grew out of it, and today I don’t go much for things like that. I don’t have a flag to fly on national holidays, and the most I’ll do for Christmas is a wreath on the door because it has good memories and the scent of pine is rare in subtropical Florida.

I suppose it has something to do with my Quaker notions of shunning iconography — outward symbols can’t show how you truly feel about something on the inside — and more often than not they are used to make up for the lack of a true belief. This is also true of patriotism: waving the flag — or wrapping yourself in it — is a poor and false measure of how you truly feel about your country.

There’s an old saying that there is nothing more powerful than an idea whose time has come. As Benjamin Franklin noted, no country had ever been formed because of an idea. But when the Continental Congress met in Philadelphia in 1776 and passed the resolution embodied in the Declaration of Independence, that was what was being done. To create a nation not based on geographical boundaries, property, tribalism, or religion, but on the idea of forming a new government to replace the present form because the rulers were incompetent, uncaring, and cruel. The American Revolution wasn’t so much a rebellion as it was a cry for attention. Most of the Declaration is a punch-list, if you will, of grievances both petty and grand against the Crown, and once the revolution was over and the new government was formed, the Constitution contained many remedies to prevent the slights and injuries inflicted under colonialism: the Bill of Rights is a direct response to many of the complaints listed in the Declaration.

But the Declaration of Independence goes beyond complaints. Its preamble is a mission statement. It proclaims our goals and what we hope to achieve. No nation had ever done that before, and to this day we are still struggling to achieve life and liberty, and the pursuit of happiness goes on with no sign of let-up.

That is the true glory of America. Not that we complain — and we do — but that we work to fix those complaints. To put them right. To make things better than they were. To give hope to people who feel that they have no voice, and to assure that regardless of who they are, where they come from, what they look like, who they love, or what they believe, there will be room for them to grow, do, and become whatever it is that they have the capacity to be. It’s a simple idea, but the simplest ideas often have the most powerful impact.

This nation has achieved many great things. We’ve inspired other nations and drawn millions to our shores not to just escape their own country but to participate in what we’re doing. And we’ve made mistakes. We’ve blundered and fumbled and bullied and injured. We’ve treated some of our own citizens with contempt, and shown the same kind of disregard for the rights of others that we enumerated in our own Declaration of Independence. We have been guilty of arrogance and hypocrisy. But these are all human traits, and we are, after all, human. The goal of government is to rise above humanity, and the goal of humanity is to strive for perfection. So if we stumble on the road to that goal, it is only because we are moving forward.

I love this country not for what it is but for what it could be. In my own way I show my patriotism not by waving a flag from my front porch but by working to make things work in our system and by adding to the discussion that will bring forth ideas to improve our lives and call into question the ideas of others. It is all a part of what makes the simple idea of life, liberty, and that elusive happiness so compelling and so inspiring, and what makes me very proud to be a part of this grand experiment.

Go forth!

Photo: The Avenue in the Rain by Frederick Childe Hassam 1917

This post originally appeared on July 4, 2005.

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Monday, May 25, 2015

Memorial Day

I grew up in Perrysburg, Ohio. It’s a small town, a suburb of Toledo, and when I was a kid in the 1950’s and ’60’s, it fit all of the images that small towns in the Midwest have: tree-shaded streets, neat homes, lots of churches, and a main street — Louisiana Avenue — with little shops like the drug store with the fountain, the dime store, the barber shop, the hardware store, the bakery with the smell of bread baking and the sweet scent of icing, and the bank with the solid stone exterior. They’re all still there, just under different names now, and my parents, who still live there, still call the drug store by its old name, even though it’s changed owners and become a jewelry shop. In the winter the Christmas decorations line the street, and each Memorial Day there is a parade that starts at the Schaller Memorial, the veterans hall, and proceeds up Louisiana Avenue, taking a turn when it reaches the Oliver Hazard Perry Memorial (“We have met the enemy and they are ours…”) and marches down West Front Street past the old Victorian homes that overlook the Maumee River.

When I was a kid the parade was made up of the veterans groups like the American Legion and the VFW, and platoons of soldiers and veterans, including, through the 1970’s, the last remaining veterans of World War I. They wore their uniforms and their medals, and those that couldn’t march sat in the back seat of convertibles, waving slowly to the crowds that lined the sidewalks. They were followed by the marching band from the high school, the color guard, the Cub Scouts, the Boy Scouts, the Girl Scouts, the drum and bugle corps, floats from church groups, all of the city fire equipment, antique cars, and the service groups like the Shriners, the Elks, and the Kiwanis Club. After the last float came all the kids on their bicycles decorated with streamers, bunting, flags, and all the patriotic paperwork we could muster. My friends and I would try to outdo each other, and it had less to do with patriotism than it did with seeing how many rolls of red, white, and blue crepe paper we could thread in between the spokes of our wheels.

I was about ten or so on one Memorial Day when I spent a lot of time getting my Schwinn Racer ready for the big parade. It was a perfect day; the sky was a sparkling spring blue and all the floats, cars, and fire trucks were gleaming in the sun as the parade organized on Indiana Avenue in front of the Memorial Hall. The high school band in their yellow and black uniforms marched in precision as the major led off with a Sousa tune, and as the parade slowly made its way down the avenue we could see the crowds along the sidewalks waiting and waving. As we waited our turn we wheeled our bikes in circles, just like the Shriners in their little go-karts, and finally we got the signal that it was time for the kids to roll. There was an organized rush to lead off, and then we were slowly pedaling down the street, waving to everybody outside the library, the Chevy dealership, even the people lined up on the roof of the pizza parlor. I looked for my dad shooting movies with the 8mm camera, but didn’t see him. Oh, well, it didn’t matter; we were supposed to meet at the home of friends who were hosting a post-parade picnic in their backyard. Their house was at the end of the parade route, so that was the perfect place to pull out of the parade and have the first of many Faygo Redpops that summer.

But for some reason I stayed with the parade, on down West Front, and then up West Boundary and past the gates of Fort Meigs Cemetery. The floats and the fire trucks were gone, but what was left of the parade — the color guard and the veterans — went through the gates and along the path. There was no music now, just a solemn drumbeat keeping a steady muffled tapping. The color guard turned at a small stone memorial, and then past it to a gravesite where a family was gathered; a mother in a black dress, a father in a grey suit, and a teenage son and daughter, looking somber and out of place. The grave was still fresh, the dirt mounded over, the headstone a simple marker with a flag. A minister spoke some words, and then the color guard snapped to attention. A volley of rifle fire, then Taps, and then a tall young soldier in dress blues handed a folded flag to the mother, who murmured her thanks and tried to smile.

I suddenly realized that I felt out of place there with my gaudily-patriotic bike and my red-white-and-blue striped shirt. No one noticed me, though, and when the people started to slowly move away from the gravesite and back to the entrance, I followed along until I was able to ride slowly back to our friends’ house, park my bike with all the others, and find my parents, who probably hadn’t even noticed that I was not there with all the other kids running around and playing on the lawn.

Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images.

This post originally appeared on May 25, 2009.

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Sunday, April 5, 2015

Friday, April 3, 2015

Big Friday

To observant Christians, today is Good Friday.  To observant Jewish people, tonight is the first night of Passover.  And to some of us, it’s payday.  There’s a reason to celebrate something right there.

Most Quakers don’t observe holidays because they believe that every day is a reason to celebrate.  But I’ve been invited to Seder tonight with my friends — I will wear my Quaker hat as my yarmulke — and enjoy the lesson in history and the brisket.  Just because we don’t make a big deal out of it doesn’t mean I can’t help friends celebrate their traditions and be a Friend.

It’s a teacher workday at Miami-Dade County Public Schools, which means kids get the day off and it’s (hopefully) going to be a quiet Quaker-like day at the office.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Monday, March 2, 2015

Ddyhea buchedda Cymru!

[This post was slated to go up yesterday morning — Sunday, March 1 — but somehow it ended up in draft mode until I noticed it this morning.  Better late than never, I suppose.]

March 1 is St. David’s (Dewi Sant) Day, the patron saint of Wales (“Cymru”). Notable people of Welsh descent include Richard Burton, poet Dylan Thomas, and me on one side of the family.

The title is a literal translation of “Long live Wales!” courtesy of an on-line English to Welsh translation service.

Here’s the national anthem, and a phonetic version of the lyrics so you can sing along:

My hen laid a haddock on top of a tree
Glad farts and centurions throw dogs in the sea
I could stew a hare here, and brandish Don’s flan.
Don’s ruddy bog’s blocked up with sand.
Dad! Dad! Why don’t you oil Aunty Glad?
When whores appear on beer bottle pies,
Oh butter the hens as they fly.
Dad! Dad! Why don’t you oil Aunty Glad?
When whores appear on beer bottle pies,
Oh butter the hens as they fly.

Monday, February 16, 2015

Monday, January 19, 2015

Martin Luther King, Jr.

Martin Luther KingToday is the federal holiday set aside to honor Dr. Martin Luther King Jr’s birthday.

For me, growing up as a white kid in a middle-class suburb in the Midwest in the 1960’s, Dr. King’s legacy would seem to have a minimum impact; after all, what he was fighting for didn’t affect me directly in any way.  But my parents always taught me that anyone oppressed in our society was wrong, and that in some way it did affect me.  This became much more apparent as I grew up and saw how the nation treated its black citizens; those grainy images on TV and in the paper of water-hoses turned on the Freedom Marchers in Alabama showed me how much hatred could be turned on people who were simply asking for their due in a country that promised it to them.  And when I came out as a gay man, I became much more aware of it when I applied the same standards to society in their treatment of gays and lesbians.

Perhaps the greatest impression that Dr. King had on me was his unswerving dedication to non-violence in his pursuit of civil rights.  He withstood taunts, provocations, and rank invasions of his privacy and his life at the hands of racists, hate-mongers, and the federal government, yet he never raised a hand in anger against anyone.  He deplored the idea of an eye for an eye, and he knew that responding in kind would only set back the cause.  I was also impressed that his spirituality and faith were his armor and his shield, not his weapon, and he never tried to force his religion on anyone else.  The supreme irony was that he died at the hands of violence, much like his role model, Mahatma Gandhi.

There’s a question in the minds of a lot of people of how to celebrate a federal holiday for a civil rights leader. Isn’t there supposed to be a ritual or a ceremony we’re supposed to perform to mark the occasion?  But how do you signify in one day or in one action what Dr. King stood for, lived for, and died for?  Last August marked the fiftieth anniversary of the March on Washington and Dr. King’s “I have a dream” speech.  That marked a moment; a milestone.  Today is supposed to honor the man and what he stood for and tried to make us all become: full citizens with all the rights and responsibilities of citizenship; something that is with us all day, every day.

For me, it’s having the memories of what it used to be like and seeing what it has become for all of us that don’t take our civil rights for granted, which should be all of us, and being both grateful that we have come as far as we have and humbled to know how much further we still have to go.

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Today is also a school holiday, so blogging will be on a holiday schedule.

Thursday, January 1, 2015

Happy New Year

From me and mine to you and yours.

BBWW Mug Shot 11-03-14

From Charlie Pierce:

We are a little lost here in America. Too many of us have tuned out, and too many of us are deeply tuned in to the wrong things. Our eccentricities have curdled into crochets. Our love for the strange and deeply weird has soured into a devotion to the mean and deeply angry. Our renegade national soul has given itself up to petty outlawry. We have tailored the principles of our founding documents — flawed though their authors were — into cheap camouflage for our boring traditional grudges. None of these things are good things. But none of those things is permanent, either. Imagination always has been the way out — a faith in that which seems impossible, a trust that not every mystery is a murder mystery, and that not every mysterious creature is a monster. Imagination is the way out — a belief that safety is not necessarily the primary (or even the secondary) goal of democratic citizenship, and that a self-governing political commonwealth does not always come with a lifetime guarantee. Yes, we are a little lost here in America, but we can find our way, and the best way that we can find is the one that seems like the least secure, the darkest trail, the one with the long, sweeping bend in the road that leads god knows where. We must trust what we can imagine, and we must trust that what we can imagine is the product of what is the best of us. And, whether we imagine it or not, it’s going to happen anyway.

I can imagine a great deal.

Friday, December 26, 2014

Boxing Day

I had a wonderful time last night courtesy of Bob and the Old Professor, joined by close friends Dan and Kathy, Ira and Susan, Bill and Terri, Joel, Joanne, and Chris, and Chiz and Jordana, sharing a great meal and good times.  I am very grateful to have such good friends.

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I hope you had a good time yesterday with your friends and family if you celebrated.  What did you do?

Today is Boxing Day.  In countries and places with a British heritage, it’s an official holiday when, according to Wikipedia, “servants and tradesmen would receive gifts, known as a “Christmas box”, from their bosses[1] or employers.”  Hmm.  I don’t have any servants, and I already got a box of chocolates from my boss, so I guess I’ll just hang out around the house and catch up on a crossword or two.

Thursday, December 25, 2014

The Sense of Christmas

Continuing a tradition I began back when this blog was new, which is another way of saying that I’ve posted this on Christmases past…

Christmas WreathWhen I was a kid, our family lived in a house with tall ceilings so we always got a Christmas tree that was at least ten feet tall – maybe taller. (It could have been less, but when you’re six or seven, it looks a lot taller.) We had tons of decorations from our family history; gingerbread decorations held together with fine wire, bubble lights that never seemed to work right, and hundreds of ornaments. We always had a debate about tinsel – I hated it, my sister wanted it. Guess who won that one. Every year we put the tree in a different room – one year in the living room, the next in the front parlor, and then in the bay window in the dining room.

That was not the extent of the decorating by any means. While my family was not particularly religious, we went all out for the season in the decor mode that would have made Martha Stewart get out of the business. This was a tradition carried on from both of my parent’s families; my father tells how his father was a meticulous hanger of the old-fashioned lead tinsel, and my mother’s family did it up to the heights of giddiness that included the tree and presents magically appearing overnight on Christmas Eve. So we had a legacy to live up to. Lights on the front porch were interwoven in the cedar roping that looped down from the eaves. There was more roping on the bannister going up the front stairs, tied on with red ribbons, and roping again around the big mirror in the front hall. Candles in Christmas candelabra filled the house with the scent of candle smoke, merging with the evergreens, and on Christmas Eve, when the big roast was in the oven for the dinner with Aunt Margaret, the house was awash with homey aromas.

We had an old-fashioned hi-fi system with speakers throughout the first floor of the house, and as we put up the tree and the roping – usually the weekend before Christmas – we would dig out the Christmas LP’s. The perennial was the Mormon Tabernacle Choir’s Joy To the World that began with “Lo, How a Rose E’er Blooming.” That would be followed by the Bing Crosby Merry Christmas album and anything else we had in the rack.

We had two fireplaces in the house, including one in the kitchen, so that’s where we hung our stockings with care. Christmas morning would arrive and the four kids would line up, youngest first, on the back stairs, squirming with anticipation until we were let into the kitchen and a breakfast of Christmas baked treats, including a Scandinavian stollen baked by a family friend. (Never one who liked things like that, I often wished the stollen would be stolen….) Then we’d line up at the appropriate closed door behind which lay the treasure. Nearly fainting with the anticipation, the door would be flung open – a four-voiced gasp of breath, followed by pounding feet and squeals of delight. We took turns, shredding the wrapping, opening the boxes, reading the tags – “From Mom and Dad,” “From Santa,” “From Grammie.” My mother kept a list of who got what from whom so that the thank-you notes could be written. There was always one Big Present for each kid – a bicycle, skis, a train set, a kitten – and lots of books and clothes, too. And each child was sure to give his sibling something, usually something oddly appropriate; like lavender bath beads from me to my sister.

When it was all over, the trash can was filled with the wrappings, the loot taken upstairs, and new clothes tried on. I would pore through the new books until I was nagged to get dressed to go to Christmas dinner somewhere else – with cross-town relatives or the Carranor Club – and the streets would be empty as we piled into the station wagon. We’d come home in the cold and dark, tired from all the excitement, ready to come down from the sugar-spiked high. The next day we’d pack up for our annual skiing trip to Boyne Mountain in Michigan, complete with its own set of sense memories.

These traditions were carried on as we each grew up and started our own families, adding our own touches; Allen and I merged some of each to come up with our own for fifteen years, including the tree (artificial, though – he’s allergic to pine) and music. (I’ve got the Bing Crosby CD on as I write this.) My sister has passed it on to her children, and my younger brother, with his three kids, carries on much as we did when we were young.

So while there may not be a whole lot of religion in any of it, there’s the strength of the ties of family and love that surpasses any denominational definition. It is a common thread that binds us all together whether we say “Happy Holidays,” “Merry Christmas,” “Felice Navidad” (which I immediately corrupted to “Fleas On Your Dad”), “Happy Hanukkah,” or “Good Kwanzaa.” It’s the sense of togetherness and hope that can be spread regardless of whether or not you celebrate the birth of the son of God, and the thankfulness that you feel that you have made it through yet another year and look forward to making the next one better.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Happy Festivus

It’s the most grumpiest time of the year!

Festivus 12-23-14

Festivus, a well-celebrated parody, has become a secular holiday celebrated on December 23 that serves as an alternative to participating in the pressures and commercialism of the Christmas season.[1] Originally a family tradition of scriptwriter Dan O’Keefe, who worked on the American sitcom Seinfeld, the holiday entered popular culture after it was made the focus of a 1997 episode of the program.[1][2] The holiday’s celebration, as it was shown on Seinfeld, includes a Festivus dinner, an unadorned aluminum Festivus pole, practices such as the “Airing of Grievances” and “Feats of Strength”, and the labeling of easily explainable events as “Festivus miracles”.[3]

Keep it in the family.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Just A Simple Wreath Will Do

Decking the halls gets dangerous.

Police said they charged 53-year-old Richard Carter with attempted homicide for shooting at his neighbor on Saturday afternoon.

Talk about your war on Christmas….