Tommy:  A Boy for all Seasons

This is a story about my best friend in high school.  His name was Thomas Donnelly.  This story took place over fifty years ago.  I still think of the influence that these events have had on my life.  Many of you will be repelled by the story that I narrate.  If you can suspend your morality, you might be able to accept that the culture I grew up in made these events very normal even if you do not consider them to be moral.

Street Corner Gang

It happened one hot Saturday afternoon in the summer.  I was hanging out on our Manton street corner.  As with all Italian teenagers, we hung out in a certain geographic area and this association led to our identity as the “Manton Gang.”  Manton was a suburb of Providence R.I. and a primarily Italian neighborhood.  My father was Italian and my mother was Irish.  It was just the reverse for my best friend Tommy.  His mother was Italian and his father was Irish.  Nevertheless, anyone with Irish or Italian blood was accepted into our street corner gang.

At fourteen to eighteen years of age, few of us were interested in anything except gambling and sex.  Gambling tended to be a regular event on the corner where we hung out but sex was much more episodic.  Good Italian girls in the sixties still did not have sex outside of marriage.  This left us to find those “bad girls” whose discrimination did not tend towards marriage or even long-term love affairs and who were much less choosy in terms of selecting “affairs of the heart.”

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Tommy and I were sitting on the corner discussing nothing important when a blue and white 56 Ford four door Fairlane pulled up to the curb and started honking.  At first, we did not recognize anyone in the car.  Two guys were in the front seat and no one was in the back seat.  We finally recognized Dave and Bob.  Dave was an infrequent corner member but Bob was a regular.  We sauntered over to the car.  It was always important to look cool and nonchalant when we were growing up.  As we approached the open window on Dave’s side, he yelled out.  “Hey, you guys want to get laid?”

“What’s up” I said.  Dave replied, “Get in and I will tell you on the way.”  Both Tommy and I jumped in the back seat.  Bob already had shot gun.  Dave gunned the accelerator and off we went.  “Okay, so where are we going” asked Tommy.  Bob said, “Well, there is this chick and she is hot to go with anyone who comes over to her house.”  “You mean she will take all of us?  What’s wrong with her?” I wanted to know.  Bob continued, “Who knows.  She is just really open to more than one guy.”  “Well, where are her parents,” I persisted.   “She lives with her dad who is a police chief” said Dave.  “What, are you crazy” both Tommy and I said in synchrony.  “Don’t worry” said Bob, “her dad will not be home.”

new england houseThe idea of sex in our minds easily overrode any caution or concern about getting caught by her father.  We arrived at her house.  She lived out of town somewhat in Scituate which was a more rural area of R.I. in the sixties.  When we arrived, Bob said “I will go in first and check things out.  If it is okay, you guys can come in.  Bob went inside the small average looking New England Colonial house with two upper dormer windows and came out a few minutes later.  “OK guys” Bob said, “She is willing.”  We all trotted inside the house to the first room which was a kitchen with a small table and four chairs.  Dave, Tommy and I sat on the chairs and Bob headed up a small staircase.  “I will go first” said Bob “and Dave is next.  You and Tommy can decide who goes after Dave.”  “Oh”, said Bob, “her name is Barbara and she likes to be called Barb.”  No one challenged this order of affairs as it was taken for granted that since Bob had set this up, he had first dibs.

Bob went up the stairs while Dave, Tommy and I just sat and kibitzed.  I wondered what was in store for me when I went up the stairs.  Bob came down about twenty minutes later looking quite proud and content.  “She likes to talk a little before” said Bob, “so you have to be a little patient.  But be persistent and she will get on with it.”   It was Dave’s turn next and he wasted no time going up the stair case.  Sometime later Dave came down, also looking very proud and content.

Tommy and I decided that I would go next.  Up the staircase I went and into a small bedroom where I found Barb half-dressed and sitting on the edge of the bed.  She was a very attractive young girl of sixteen or seventeen years of age.  She had long brown hair and a small frame that was nicely curved.  She had a very pretty face and could easily have been a cheerleader.  She was probably about five feet four inches in height but it was somewhat difficult to tell as she was sitting cross legged on her bed.

sad girl on bed

I introduced myself.  We started some small talk and I learned that her mother had left her father some time ago and that she now lived alone with her dad.  She had no other siblings.  Her dad was very strict and would not let her date.  She said that he scared most of her friends away and was very difficult to live with.  I sensed that her escapades today were a chance for her to rebel against her father’s strict sexual codes.  She was willing to go all out and did not care about any side effects.  No birth control or sexual disease prevention even came up as an issue.

We small talked for about a half hour or so and I sensed that I had better get on with the action or she would talk forever.  A real man talks less than he acts and I had talked longer than most real men would have.  I started to lay Barbara down on the bed.  She put up no resistance and meekly laid back against the sheets.  I placed my body down over hers but before starting to remove any of our clothes, I gazed into her eyes.  They were brown and sad.  I stopped to think.  This poor girl is looking for someone to love her and does not really know how to go about it.  I would just be taking advantageous of her.  I can’t do this.  I lifted her back up and quietly left the room.  She never said a word to me and I left without another word.

Feeling very guilty, I walked back down the staircase.  I did not say much when I met Tommy.  Both Dave and Bob had gone back out to the car and were now playing cards in the front seat.  Hi Low Jack was a popular game on the corner and we played it for money whatever chance we had.  I said to Tommy, “It’s your turn.”  Tommy went up the staircase and returned about thirty minutes later.  We silently left the house and went out the front door to the car.  I never saw Barb or that house again.

guys in car

We piled back in the car with Dave and Bob.  There was some minor discussion about Barbara and how hot she was on the way back to the corner but most of it took place between Dave and Bob.  Neither Tommy or I said I word.  Truth be told, I would never have admitted to either Dave or Bob that I did not have sex with Barb.  Tommy and I were dropped back at the Manton Street corner where our friends all hung out and Dave and Bob drove off together.

Tommy and I sat in silence for a while.  I finally broke the silence and asked Tommy “well how did it go?”  Tommy looked very pensive and replied, “I did not do a thing with Barb except to talk to her.”  I was somewhat stunned as I figured that I had wimped out but that Tommy (who was one of the best-looking guys on the corner) would have scored a home run in sixty seconds flat.  I asked Tom “why?”  I did not tell him that I had also struck out.  At the time, that is how I felt.  Like a batter who comes up to the plate, takes three swings and strikes out.

Tommy quietly replied “I did not want to take advantage of her.  She was lonely and scared and needy.  She needed a friend more than she needed getting laid.”  I had felt the same way but many years ago, pride and ego would not allow me to admit that I had also not gone all the way with Barb.  I persisted with Tom “Well, what are you going to tell the other guys.”  Tom then replied with a statement that I have remembered all the rest of my life.  Tommy said, “I don’t care what they think, I have to live with myself.” 

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Over the years, I have lost touch with Tommy.  We have traveled very different roads.  Tommy became a minister and works with the poor.  I became an educator and management consultant.  Many years and many different philosophies now separate us.  But I will never forget the lesson that I learned from Tommy that one hot summer afternoon about integrity and being who we are called to be and not who the world wants us to be.

Time for Questions:

Why do I call Tom a “boy for all seasons?”  What does it mean to have integrity?  How do we go about developing integrity?  How do we increase our empathy for other people?  What does it mean to be ourselves?  Are people naturally good or evil?

Life is just beginning.

“That’s what Jamie didn’t understand: it was never just sex.  Even the fastest, dirtiest, most impersonal screw was about more than sex.  It was about connection.  It was about looking at another human being and seeing your own loneliness and neediness reflected back.  It was recognizing that together you had the power to temporarily banish that sense of isolation.  It was about experiencing what it was to be human at the basest, most instinctive level.  How could that be described as just anything?”  — Emily MaguireTaming the Beast

Emily and Robert:  A love story

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Our story starts in a bathroom.   Emily is brushing her teeth and thinking about her beloved husband Robert.  Emily is 85 years old and Robert is 87 years old.  Emily and Robert have had a long life together.  Often happy, but often tumultuous with the stress of family, money and work disrupting the natural harmony of things.  Through all the ups and downs, their love for each other was the one constant of their lives.  Despite all the cliches about true love and being made for each other and all the other tropes one hears about lovers, no two people ever loved each other more than Emily and Robert.

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For the past ten years, Emily had been taking care of Robert.  After he had his second stroke, Robert needed help to dress and shower each morning.  He was no longer able to take care of his house hold chores and he needed help to do the many activities that he had once taken for granted.  Robert was a proud man but Emily was also very stubborn and she showed her love for Robert in her dedication to helping him.  Robert was appreciative and demonstrated it by doing all he could to minimize the burden for Emily.  He never complained and he never forget to say thank you to Emily no matter how many times she helped him.

An-older-couple-sitting-i-0072Emily and Robert had been married for nearly 65 years.  They were both in their early twenties when they met in college.  It was love at first sight.  Their parents wanted them to wait to finish college but after a brief whirlwind romance, they simply eloped.  They surprised everyone when they came back to school and finished their college degrees.  Robert became an engineer and Emily was a school teacher for many years.  The careers they chose suited their personalities.  They were known as hard faithful workers.  Not once in over forty years did any employer ever have a complaint or problem with either Robert or Emily.  After forty-five years, they both chose to retire so they could spend more time together after Robert’s first stroke.

old-asian-couple

The saddest part of their lives was their inability to have their own children.  However, they made up for this by becoming foster parents.  Over the course of their years together, they had helped to raise nearly twenty-five foster children.  The social service agency responsible for the placements always said that they could not have found two more loving parents.  As parents, they were strict with high expectations but they were always fair and compassionate.  They latino-couplewere loved by all their foster children who often returned home to visit or to simply stop by with a bit of news or something to eat.  Robert and Emily could not have loved any children of their own more than they loved their foster children.

 

Emily continued brushing her teeth and getting ready for bed.  The light was off in their bedroom and the bathroom adjoined the bedroom.  Emily kept up a running dialogue with Robert about her day and the trip she had taken to visit one of her sick foster children.  Robert never answered so Emily just assumed he was reading or perhaps had fallen asleep.  Even after all these years, they still slept together.  Robert always slept closest to the bathroom door and Emily slept on the other side closest to the window.

lady surprisedEmily finished brushing her teeth and then took her nightly pills.  She shut off the bathroom light and started out to the bedroom.  The light by Robert’s side of the bed was on and Emily started to say something to Robert when abruptly she stopped.  Her eyes fell upon an empty bed that was undisturbed.  The sheets and bed covers had not been moved.  Emily was surprised and shocked.  Where was bedroom at nightRobert?  Suddenly, Emily remembered.  Robert had died the previous week and had been buried two days before on Saturday.  Tears came to her eyes.  What would she do without her Robert?  She was all alone now.  No one to go to bed with.  No one to talk to at night.  No one who would regularly listen to her complaints and problems about the world.

Being the survivor of a pair of lovers is a terrible burden.  Most of us want to go first.  However, neither Emily or Robert had ever wanted to be the first to go for both knew how hard it would be for the other.  Sadly, someone must go first.  The survivor is left with a vacuum in their life and memories.  The vacuum can never be filled and the memories cannot be forgotten.  Events that happened many years ago seem like they just happened yesterday and events of a few days past seem like they happened eons ago.  Memories do not respect a correlation to physical time.

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Emily will die in five years.  In between today and her death, she will experience joy, sadness, pain and a certainty that life will once more resume for her and Robert.  She believes that somewhere in this vast universe, her atoms and Robert’s atoms will coalesce and the two of them will again be united.  As sure as you are reading this story, Robert and Emily will live joyfully ever after in a place where life and death can no longer challenge their happiness.

Time for Questions:

What is love?  Have you ever been in love?  How do you know?  Who was the greatest love of your life?  Why?  Is there anything more important than love?

Life is just beginning.

“The real act of marriage takes place in the heart, not in the ballroom or church or synagogue. It’s a choice you make – not just on your wedding day, but over and over again – and that choice is reflected in the way you treat your husband or wife.” —  Barbara De Angelis
 

My Life:  The Story of a Penny

penny

It wasn’t always this way.  If you are old enough you may well remember.  Once upon a time, I was admired and looked up to.  I was put in the mouth of deceased humans to pay Charon the boat man for taking them to the afterlife.  People made a big deal out of receiving me.  I was avidly saved and respected.  Abraham Lincoln walked two miles to return me to a customer who had been overcharged.  Children were given penny banks when they were of age to appreciate my value.  Many youngsters found that with only five of me, they had enough money to buy a candy bar or go to a movie.  A very popular saying was “A penny saved is a penny earned.”

I was the first currency of any type authorized by the newly formed United States of America.  I was born (or minted at they call it) on April 21, 1787, when the Congress of the Confederation of the United States authorized a design for an official copper penny, later referred to as the Fugio cent.  Benjamin Franklin was my designer and on one side I had thirteen chain links interlocked with the words “We are one” representing the union of the first 13 American states.  On my other side, I had a picture of the sun and the sun dial with the words “Mind your business.”  Over the years, I have had many different designs printed on me.

old original penny

I was made legal tender by the Coinage Act of 1864.  I was so popular in my middle years that Abraham Lincoln’s visage was put on one side of me and on my other side was Lincoln’s tomb and the Latin words “E Pluribus Unum” meaning “out of many one.”  Honest Abe well knew the value of a penny.  For over two hundred years, I have represented the business and entrepreneurial spirit of America.  Those were my golden years.  There was no shame in saving a shiny new penny or even an old worn and scratched penny.

How the times and fortunes have changed my life!  Or perhaps it would be more accurate to say how the Fortune 500 has changed my life.  Inflation and stock values have continued year after year to erode my value until I am now just a shell of what I once was.  There is even talk of doing away with me as not worth the metal it takes to mint me.  People leave me in little baskets at convenience stores and young children simply drop me or throw me down the street.  I get run over by cars, motorbikes, bicycles and pedestrians.  Hardly anybody will bother to pick me up off the sidewalk.  I am looked down upon and despised.

5.-Frugality-1024x524Those who say that I am not important or who ignore me are part of a new generation that values image over substance.  The word “frugal” is now associated with cheap and the word “thrifty” is associated with the idea of miserliness.  It seems the world of finance is dominated by short-sighted individuals who have forgotten the old values that made this country great.  Hard work and prudence were values that resonated among the early pioneers like so many notes in a great symphonic piece.

piggy bankWith hard work, you earned a penny.  With prudence, you saved your pennies until they became dollars.  In the old days, no one would ever have thrown me away or ignored me when laying in the street.  Too many people have forgotten the value that I represent.  From early times, there have been people who really understood my value.  Even before I was an official U.S. coin, the value of a penny was recognized by some.  I regard these people as paragons who really understood the meaning of money.  Let me tell you a few of their stories.

Back in the days of Jesus Christ, there was a poor widow who gave her last two cents.  The story is told by Mark 1:41-44 in the New Testament:

Jesus sat down opposite the place where the offerings were put and watched the crowd putting their money into the temple treasury.  Many rich people threw in large amounts.  But a poor widow came and put in two very small copper coins, worth only a few cents.

Calling his disciples to him, Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others.  They all gave out of their wealth; but she, out of her poverty, put in everything—all she had to live on.”

Both Jesus and the poor widow understood the value of money and that it was not how much money you had but what you did with it that mattered.

Then, there is the story of little Hattie May Wiat.  This was a young girl who lived in Blue Bell Pennsylvania around the end of the 19th Century.  She loved to go to a nearby church but it was often so crowded that she could not find a seat.  She decided to start saving her money to help build a bigger church.  Her parents were very poor and sadly she died about two years after she had started saving her pennies.

When they were preparing her body for burial, they found beside her a little purse with fifty-seven cents inside and a note scribbled in her handwriting which read, “This is to help build the little church bigger so more children can go to Sunday School.”  This so inspired the minister of the church that he started a fund-raising campaign that turned Hattie’s initial pennies into nearly a quarter of a million dollars.  The church was expanded and many more people would eventually be able to come to church.

penniesHattie had faith in money.  Money requires faith but it is a faith that rests on the good that money can do and not simply how much money one can acquire.  Hattie had this kind of faith and it persisted beyond her death.

A more recent story is about John the runner.  John goes out jogging four or five times a week regardless of the weather.  Some days he feels great running and other days he is just anxious to get his run over with.  Nevertheless, no matter how long he has run or how tired he is from his daily run, if John sees me on the street, he will always stop to pick me up.

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John believes that if he becomes too proud to pick up a penny, where will it end?  When will he become too proud to pick up a nickel or a dime?  John brings me home in his fist and puts me in a large glass jar shaped like a coke bottle.  I am in good company there with quarters, half dollars and even some Susan B. Anthony dollars.  When John is ready to go on a vacation, he takes me down to the bank and converts me into cash for his trip.

John does not relish wealth or the mere accumulation of money.  It is not his greed that compels him to pick me up but his acknowledgement of the symbolism that I represent.  Whether it is a hundred-dollar bill or one penny laying on the ground, the meaning is the same.   Money should never be taken for granted.

There are hundreds of other stories I can tell to show you that many people throughout history have understood the idea that “if you watch your pennies, the dollars will take care of themselves.”  This is still a very valuable lesson that needs to be taught in all finance and business classes.  From what I see, it is a lesson that too many people today have never learned.

dollar-sign-made-with-real-shiny-pennies-as-tile-sheets

So, the next time you see a penny on the street, think about my life and what it stands for.  Do not think I simply represent 1/100 of a dollar.  I represent far more than that.  I represent the start of a global business.  The start of a financial fortune.  Even more importantly, I represent the start of needed surgery for a poor child in a developing country.  The start of a fund to help protect the environment.  The start of a young girl’s education.

Time for Questions:

Do you stop to pick up a penny?  What does frugality mean to you?  What does thrifty mean to you?  Do you think being frugal is a vice or a virtue?  Do you save for a rainy day?  Do you think credit cards have made the idea of thrifty better or worse?  Why?

Life is just beginning.

The question is very understandable, but no one has found a satisfactory answer to it so far.  Yes, why do they make still more gigantic planes, still heavier bombs and, at the same time, prefabricated houses for reconstruction?  Why should millions be spent daily on the war and yet there’s not a penny available for medical services, artists, or for poor people?  Why do some people have to starve, while there are surpluses rotting in other parts of the world?  Oh, why are people so crazy?”  — Anne Frank

 

 

 

 

 

 

Samson and Delilah:  A Modern Fable

samson

This is the story of Samson and Delilah.  It is a story of passion, romance, jealousy, intrigue, narcissism and maybe even murder.  Our story takes place in Brooklyn, New York.  The date is 2017.

body builder with long hairSamson was the strongest most well-built man on the block.  He had muscles chiseled in stone.  His muscles had muscles.  He stood 6 feet 4 inches tall and did not have an ounce of fat on him.   Samson worked out seven days a week, twice each day at the Philistine Gym on Gibeon Street.  He worked out before he went to work each morning and after work for two hours each evening.

Samson was easily the most powerful man in the gym.  Everybody admired Samson, but not quite as much as Samson admired himself.  It was said that he could not pass a mirror without flexing his muscles and taking a few moments to pose in various bodybuilding stances.

Delilah lived in the same neighborhood as Samson.  All of her neighbors agreed that she was the most beautiful woman they had ever seen.  She was tall with long blond hair and a perfectly proportioned figure.  Men could not help stopping in their tracks to stare when she walked by.  She looked like an angel.  She was so beautiful that many local artists would try to paint her from memory.

delilah side view

Delilah also went to the same gym as Samson.  All the guys in the gym would flex their biceps or triceps an extra amount each time that Delilah came near them.  All except Samson.  He seldom even noticed Delilah.  Delilah knew the effect that she had on men but she could care less. The only man that she was interested in was Samson.  Perhaps it was the old story about white body builder with long hairwanting something more because you can’t have it.  Delilah had only one other person she admired, herself.  Much like Sampson, she could not pass by a mirror without staring at her reflection and thinking “how beautiful I am.”

Samson wanted to show the world that he was the strongest man who ever lived.  To achieve this goal, he decided to attend the World Weightlifting Championship taking place in Brooklyn the year of our story.  He could already dead lift 1000 pounds and he was determined he would lift 1200 pounds to shatter the then current world record of 1102.3 pounds.

dead lifting

Now Samson was a tad superstitious.  Because he was lifting more each year and had never cut his hair, he believed that his strength grew proportionately along with the length of his hair.  He had let his hair grow for over ten years and his braid was now down almost to his waist.  He was certain that his strength was a result of his long hair.

delilah weight lifting 2Delilah grew more and more desperate in her attempts to get Samson to notice her.   Finally, she hit on the idea to simply approach Samson and remark on his wonderful hair.  So, one day while he was practicing his dead lifts, she sauntered by and casually remarked on how beautiful his hair was.  She proceeded to compliment him on his marvelous muscle definition.  She followed up these compliments with the suggestion that they go back to her place after working out and she would cook him a nice microwave dinner and brush his hair.  This idea delighted Samson and after working out, they both went to Delilah’s house.

delilah weightlifting

As you would guess, human nature being what it was, dinner turned into desert, desert turned into a night cap and a night cap woke up with breakfast.  After that evening, Delilah and Samson were a twosome.  Both loved each other with a passion only matched by their mutual admiration for themselves.  It was a question of whom or which they loved more.

cheating-man

Well, as you may know, narcissists have a short attention span for anything but themselves.  Samson was the first to break the implicit arrangement that seemed to characterize their relationship.  Thus, one evening, Delilah knocked on Samson’s door and much to her surprise another woman in a skimpy negligee answered.  Delilah was shocked but more than shocked she was furious.  She swore revenge on Samson.

Weeks went by, Samson ignored Delilah at the gym and Delilah ignored Sampson.  However, all this time Delilah was plotting her revenge.  She well knew that the big weightlifting event was coming up and she also knew that Samson was superstitious about his hair and strength.  This latter fact was the pillar of her idea for revenge.

samson-delilah-cutting hairDelilah waited until the night before the World Weightlifting championship.  At around midnight, she used the key that Samson hid near his door to let herself into Samson’s apartment.  Moving as stealthily as a cat, she entered Samson’s bedroom.  Samson was a sound sleeper and he had no inclination of what awaited him.  Delilah took the surgical scalpel that she had borrowed from a medical admirer and in one quick slash, she lopped off Samson’s braid.  Samson was totally unaware and did not move a muscle.  Delilah slipped back out the way she had come and placed Samson’s key back where he hid it.

The next morning Samson woke and went to the bathroom to get ready for the big event.  Imagine his surprise and chagrin when we looked in the mirror and found that most of his hair was gone.  Samson was devastated.  He immediately knew that Delilah had taken her revenge.  But it was now too late.  There was no way that he could dead lift without his hair.  His thoughts ran to the best way to get even with Delilah and whether or not her murder would constitute justifiable homicide.

Samson decided to go to the championship event anyway.  Perhaps, even without his long hair, he would still have a chance.  Sadly, he could not even dead lift 800 pounds.  This was the minimum weight needed to qualify for the competitive championship rounds.  The mighty Samson was only a shell of his old self.  Everyone who knew him wondered what had happened to the once proud and haughty Samson.  Was this God’s way of punishing the narcissistic among us?

samson not lifting

History shows that Samson never broke another record and his name was gradually erased from the rolls of major body builders and weight lifters at the Philistine gym.

But, what of Delilah?  Would you like to know how she got her just rewards?  You see every moral or fable must have a denouement.   The good guy triumphs over the bad guy.  The two lovers marry and live happily ever after.  The struggling athlete scores the final points to win the big game.  The starving painter is eventually recognized for her creative genius.  The hero slays the dragon and wins the fair maid.

Unfortunately, neither Delilah’s neighbors or the historians at the Philistine gym have any further records for Delilah.  It is like she vanished into thin air immediately after the big weight lifting event.  There are those who suspect that foul play may have played a role in her mysterious departure.  Many others say she got fat, lost her looks, married a computer geek and is living in Poughkeepsie.

Time for Questions:

What was the source of Samson’s power?  Was it really his hair?  What makes anyone powerful?  What role does belief have in our powers?  Can you really accomplish anything without believing in yourself?  What happens when you stop believing in yourself?

Life is just beginning.

“…it occurred to me that maybe Samson’s hair wasn’t the source of his strength; maybe it was the symbol of his strength. And maybe when Delilah cut off his hair, he didn’t lose his power because he lost his hair; he just woke up the next morning and looked in the mirror, and suddenly for the life of him couldn’t remember who he was.”  — Sarah Thebarge

 

What does the 4th of July really mean?

Happy Family Standing On The Hill And Watching The Fireworks

happy family standing on the hill and watching the fireworks

Happy 4th of July! The 1st of July is the 182nd day of the year. As you watch the fireworks tonight, consider that today is now the 185th day of the year. This probably will make little or no difference to your enjoyment of the display you go to see.  Each year, the fireworks displays seem to be longer and more spectacular.  The loud explosions, dazzling sparkles and bright flashes of color contrasting with the grey smoke really bring home to me the vision that drove Francis Scott Key to write the “Star Spangled Banner.”

O! Say can you see by the dawn’s early light,
What so proudly we hailed at the twilight’s last gleaming,
Whose broad stripes and bright stars through the perilous fight,
O’er the ramparts we watched, were so gallantly streaming?
And the rockets’ red glare, the bombs bursting in air,
Gave proof through the night that our flag was still there;
O! say does that star-spangled banner yet wave,
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave?

The American Flag, the 4th of July, The Declaration of Independence and the “Bombs” we know are still bursting around our soldiers tonight are more than just images of a unique US Brand. They are more than just symbols of our heritage. They are down payments on a legacy that is part of our fundamental American values. Our Forefathers created a system of government that was based on the belief that all men (and eventually this included women and African Americans) were entitled to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. This was the most positive, uplifting and life affirming message the world had ever known. It became the great American experiment. The only other country to ever come close to America in creating an entirely new life affirming belief system for its citizens was Greece. Sadly, the Greek experiment failed to continue but its message has helped to form a foundation for every other experiment in democracy the world over.

There are those who argue that the “ascendancy” of the American experiment is over. It is opined that just like Rome, France, Great Britain and many other empires, America is on the downside of its greatness. China, India, Japan and Brazil are noted as possible successors. Perhaps from a military or economic view this will be true. But taken from the perspective of the belief system that under-girds America, there are no countries that are even close. We do not always practice what we preach. Moreover, in many areas of life, we seem to have lost our way. Our politicians are often guided more by party politics than by what is good for the American people.

As you enjoy your barbecue, your picnics and your fireworks today, rest assured, the core of the American experiment, the ideology that has brought and continues to bring millions of immigrants to the shores of America will ring forever through the halls of history. The world will never forget that someday and in some place called America, there were a people who lived, worked, fought and died for the belief that “we”, the people, including the rich, the poor and all minorities have a set of inalienable rights.

As long as we practice and believe in this message for all people, we will remain a great nation. We will remain a nation that is great in spirit and great in heart. As long as we care more about others than we do ourselves, our Nation will be a spiritual and moral beacon to the oppressed and downtrodden of the world. Greatness cannot be measured in economic and monetary measures. Measure the greatness of a people by the greatness of their message. By that standard, America is the greatest nation that has ever existed.

Time for Questions: 

Do you believe in the American Vision? Do you believe it is for all people, or just for Americans? When was the last time you actually read the Declaration of Independence? Do you know the difference between Patriotism and Jingoism?

Life is just beginning.

The advancement and diffusion of knowledge is the only guardian of true liberty.”
James Madison

The Stubborn Swedish Cow

Been gone the past week, so I am reposting a story from last year. I think you will enjoy it.

Aging Capriciously

The following story was written for my “Write-Now” class which is conducted by Dr. Carolyn Wedin a retired professor emeritus from the University of Wisconsin.  Dr. Wedin gave us a short email message she had received from a friend in Sweden about a cow that would not give milk.  The assignment for the class was to use any element or perspective from the email to write a story.  My story loosely embraces some of the key elements from the email but is of course embellished by my own writing fancies and imagination.  Since I generally write social and political commentary, this story might seem a bit odd. However, if you reflect on it a while after you read it, I think you will find that there is a message or at least a few morals from this tale that you can take away.

swedish cowOnce upon a time there was an…

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