Happy Birthday, USA!

Today is my country’s 245th birthday. As we celebrate with parades, parties, and fireworks, I continue to believe that many have forgotten both the struggles we have had to face as a country to be in this place and the many reasons we have to celebrate our birthday.

This year has been similar to the last in terms of struggling with the consequences of the Covid-19 pandemic and the numerous political battles that we see around us. The politics make me sad. Some of the polls that we see indicate that the country is divided and that many are uncertain about the future, both for themselves and the country in which we live.

My response is that more than ever before, we must work together instead of fighting with each other. Our priorities must be to educate our children, feed our hungry, reduce the violence that is rampant in our cities and towns, and put aside our political parties for the sake of the greater good.

But it is not my job to lecture or warn my fellow citizens. I feel more strongly than ever before that it is time for unity, celebration, and patriotism. This is the land of the free and the home of the brave. We are all Americans who must continue to fight for the liberty that drove our revolution and Declaration of Independence in 1776.

Happy Birthday, USA! We are grateful for the privilege of living here and I am one who will fight in any way I can to preserve all that is good about this wonderful country. Freedom isn’t free and in honor of the many thousands who have died to protect that freedom, I thank you and the rest of my fellow Americans who do everything possible to continue making this the most wonderful, rich, and prosperous country on earth. Shalom.

Steady

Having recently completed Dan Rather’s recent book, What Unites Us, I am continuing to ponder some of his many observations and reflections. By no means do I intend this to be a review of that book. But one of his chapters or essays was titled, “Steady” and I am seriously pondering that idea.

We encourage our children to be steady when bicycling or skating. Beyond that, Mr Rather’s message is a very powerful one that we (or at least I) under-utilize.

My first inclination is to identify synonyms for “steady.” Unwavering is probably a good one. Steady, however, suggests strength and durability, both of which can be extremely valuable for us right now, as individual citizens and for our magnificent country.

There is no secret that our recent election gave us all a reason for concern about our country’s unity. In addition to red versus blue, we had right to life vs. Roe v. Wade, gun registration versus second amendment, and so on.

As Mr. Rather so eloquently states, this country was founded on our rights to free speech without fear of censorship or persecution. With our variations of opinion so obvious, the need to remain steady in the preservation of freedoms should remain steady and unshakable.

Rather also reminds us that the actions having the most powerful and enduring effects on this country were completed by millions of Americans throughout our history. Some of them were recognized – these include Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., John Muir, Jane Addams, Mark Twain, Abraham Lincoln, and many others. But the everyday citizens – teachers, heath care workers, police officers, fire fighters, and so many others were steady and reliable in their efforts and accomplishments.

I agree with Mr. Rather that steady is mandatory. We must teach it to our children and their children, to protect all of our freedoms, now and for the future.

Smile

One of the most unfortunate consequences of the pandemic and the need to wear masks is the fact that we can’t see each other smile when we need smiles the most. Whether it’s in a grocery store, pharmacy, service station, medical facility, or any other public venue, we are seeing each other without others being able to see us smile.

We have options. Though it may look a bit silly, quickly pull down a mask, deliver a smile to someone who needs it, and return the mask to its proper position. When you are in a car where the mask isn’t compulsory, smile at drivers or walkers or bicyclists who look as if they could use a little brightness in their days.

The other alternative, one that doesn’t have the ability to transmit toxic vapors, is to smile through your actions. What does this mean? Say thank you to those who deliver good service, kindness, and courtesy. Ask those around you if they need assistance if they appear to be having difficulties of one type or another. Relinquish the right of way on the road to someone who can benefit from your kindness.

Yesterday, while leaving our cabin in the mountains to pick up dinner, we encountered a collection of deer who were peacefully grazing by the road. A young family – husband, wife, and two small children – were appreciating the deer and their ability to interact with them in close proximity. We approached slowly, making certain that the deer had crossed the road before we proceeded. The mother in the group was obviously touched by the ability to get this close to nature. She smiled broadly and I gave her a thumbs up, letting her know that I shared her enthusiasm.

It’s easy to smile without those smiles being seen. Your eyes will communicate for you, almost as much as the kindness that you deliver when you are able to do so. And realistically, smiling feels quite a bit better than the alternative. Shalom.

Making days good

This morning I was awakened to a series of happy occurrences. For one, a check that I normally get on the second Wednesday of the month arrived a day early. That coincides nicely with a planned trip to a nearby village that is a Mecca for holiday shopping.

In addition, I received another 5-star rating for my book, Two papas, a tale of impossible Holocaust survival. Admittedly, ratings increase sales of the book. More importantly, it verifies that my book has reached the people for whom it was intended and it was well-received.

A few moments ago, I discovered an item of clothing that I had purchased as a gift but have accidentally been wearing. Now I can return it to the person for whom it was intended.

Admittedly, all of these events are small in scale and residual importance. But it makes sense to me that if we are diligent about finding those small realizations, we have immense power to make our lives happy. Does all this make our pains any less intense? Maybe. Do we do anything to achieve world peace and tranquility? Maybe, one small step at a time.

My recommendation is to identify and celebrate as many happenings as are available to you. We have the ability, if not the imperative, to make as much around us as positive as possible. Celebrate the sunshine after a day of huge winds and gloom. Celebrate the gifts of family, stability, and peace of mind. If we address ourselves to finding what is good, we simply have no time for negativity and depression. Shalom.

Beauty in darkness

It’s approximately 52 degrees, not a cold front but not the balmy weather we have recently enjoyed. The winds are howling, probably in excess of 50 miles per hour. And if I look carefully, I can see tiny spots of blue that are quickly obscured by the dark clouds.

We are accustomed to equating beautiful weather with sunshine, blue skies, and gentle breezes. This is especially true when on vacation, as we are now. But the more I think about it,the more it becomes my challenge and responsibility to find the beauty in otherwise gloomy conditions.

Ultimately, we make have the ability to identify our own definitions of beauty in our surroundings. For one, the wind and rain that I am seeing today will make the sunshine and brightness to follow that much more brilliant. Beyond that, we must derive happiness and security from the world we’re living, rather than the temperatures and wind we are experiencing.

I’m beginning to believe that it’s senseless and a waste of time to complain about the weather. We can’t fix it, we can’t order only good conditions, and the contrast is a good thing. My life is a gift that I am able to continue enjoying. Among my blessings are a pair of unbelievably kind and thoughtful offspring, a marriage that is secure and happy, grandchildren who are bright and inquisitive, and a world that is (now) one of democracy and freedom.

With all of that considered, what can be the problem with some clouds and wind? It will go away when it is time to do so. In the meantime, it feels so much better to celebrate life’s gifts than to whine about the weather. Maybe it’s more beautiful than we thought. Shalom.

Politics and pundits

When did decency, courtesy, common sense, and respectability vanish from political debates and campaigns? On Tuesday night, America and the rest of the world witnessed an interaction between our two presidential candidates that defied all semblance of kindness and decency. As someone who observed the entire spectacle, I was horrified at the remarks that were exchanged.

In spite of the moderator’s valiant attempts to maintain order and adherence to the topics presented, both candidates found ways to wander all over the spectrum of subjects. As insults began to be exchanged, the decibel level finally reached a place that made everything incomprehensible.

This is not simply an issue of Republican versus Democrat, Trump versus Biden, conservative versus liberal. Both participants turned important national issues into personality conflicts or denials of all statements made by the other party. It amused me that handshakes were not allowed due to Covid-19. If that situation were not in place, I seriously doubt that either Mr. Trump or Mr. Biden would have wanted to get that close to his opponent.

On the local level, Senate and Congressional races are no less ugly. Is it possible that hurling insults and accusations has been going on for some time and I never noticed before? We have candidates suggesting that their opponents are liars, robbers, and almost everything else short of being convicted felons. It can’t be the presence of social media in 21st century politics that has made the difference. My personal view is that the frequency of crime riots, hostilities, and social discord have made the exchange of nastiness more common.

Like most Americans, I can hardly wait for this election season to be over. Filling the television station and other media with hate and unpleasantness is wholly distasteful. I have stopped wondering who is honest and who is not, who is sincerely determined to improve our world and who is self-serving. But I sincerely keep looking for a candidate in any of these political races who asks for votes based on his or her record, not because the opponent is slimy and unworthy. From the looks of current situations it’s not in the foreseeable future and we can all hope that election day arrives as soon as possible. Shalom.

To be a hero

Following up on the tribute to RBG, it occurred to me, both as a writer and an educator, to imagine what is required to be a hero. What I know about RBG is that she did not set out to be one but achieved that status nonetheless. Her biography tells us that she was committed to working for others, being honest to herself and the rest of the world, and doing what was right.

Let’s assume that you decide at an early age that you want to commit your life to doing good deeds for your world. In order to get there from here, you must first learn as much as you can. Sources of knowledge are family members, religious leaders, educators, and endless books of all types.

We make a mistake when we narrow research to a very small field. No matter the discipline, learn as much as you can about as many subjects as possible. My experience suggests that truly learned people have studied fields ranging from astronomy to zoology.

Defining the scope of your heroism is the next step. If you want to be a national or international icon, you will probably need to distinguish yourself in politics, scientific research, or global humanitarian achievements. If your definition of heroism is more local than global, you may want to focus your time and energy on matters within your immediate space. That may be your block, community, town, religious group, city, or state.

There are numerous ways to make yourself known for good works. Teaching is one choice. If you don’t have the credentials to teach, schools of all sorts always need volunteers. And if education isn’t in your heart, there are as many volunteer organizations as there are diseases, causes, or political inclinations.

And if you choose to be a hero to your child, grandchild, niece, or nephew, that’s a major responsibility in itself. Carefully choose the words you utter. Do everything possible not to insult those around you. The kids are listening and inclined to imitate what you say and do. When you are unpleasant, unpredictable, and unkind; these are the phrases and behaviors they receive.

Most likely, few people wake up and declare, “I am going to be a hero.” RBG certainly did not. That doesn’t mean that we can be reckless or accidental about the messages we transmit. You may never know when a man or woman will one day think of you as a hero. Shalom.

What we waste

One of the frequent conversations in our household is the imperative to finish everything that is on your plate. From my standpoint, one should eat until hunger has been satisfied and the state of satisfaction has been reached. The other approach is that you are obligated to finish everything on your plate.

Is there one correct answer to this debate? The reasoning behind everything that is on your plate is that it is a crime to waste anything, be it food on your plate or leftovers in the refrigerator. My position is that the world isn’t negatively impacted by leaving some food when I have eaten as much as I want or need.

Here is the question that I offer to you. What truly constitutes waste? Is it leaving food on a plate or cooking enough for 45 when there are only two or three who are eating? What is the consequence of cooking too much? We deplete food sources and supplies but is this really harmful? My response is that it’s only harmful when others will not have the food they need as a direct result of our gluttony.

If we extrapolate a bit, how can we reduce waste of many of the resources to which we have access. For one, it seems to be a waste of gasoline to drive to a nearby location when walking is easily accomplished. From there, it seems to be a waste of resources when we use too many plastic bags and fail to recycle them. Likewise, paper bags can also be recycled if we spent the time and a small amount of effort.

Better yet, use the heavy duty bags that are available in large chains and grocery groups, eliminating the brown and skimpy plastic bags. In other words, it’s clear that a large component of waste is pure laziness or lack of concern for protecting and preserving our world. Somehow, it all amounts to doing the right thing for our planet and the smaller parts of it in which we reside. I’ll stick with my belief that the world isn’t harmed when I don’t finish what’s on my plate unless I have purchased and prepared too much food to help those who don’t have enough. Shalom.

Reprisal

Dictionary.com’s definition of reprisal is the following: (in warfare) retaliation against an enemy for injuries received, by the infliction of equal or greater injuries. It goes on to define, the forcible seizure of property or subjects in retaliation.

The research I have uncovered most recently in preparation for my next book has furnished the word reprisal. While the US is in disputes with various countries, we are not in the midst of a declared war. As a result, we don’t see or hear this word very often.

During World War II, one of the many reasons why Jews and other captives generally did not attempt escape or brutality toward captors was the fear of reprisal. When one captive hurt or killed a soldier, killing in retaliation would take place. One of the authors I’m reading (Martin Gilbert) estimates 1200 deaths of reprisal to one escapee or injured Nazi.

All of this causes me to wonder about what we do to others out of reprisal. Cutting someone off on the road who has tailgated you or done something similar surely constitutes reprisal. Refraining from writing to someone who hasn’t written or emailed you in some time is reprisal. Putting your child on timeout simply because you had a rough day and can’t handle his behavior is reprisal.

Someone hurting you doesn’t give you license to hurt anyone else. Yes, it’s pretty obvious that it is never acceptable to do intentional damage to someone. But the point is to examine our motives in terms of our actions toward others.

One of the countless truths I’ve learned from my husband is the wisdom of giving others the benefit of the doubt. If he hasn’t heard from someone, he speculates that the other person has been busy or ill. In all of our years together, I have never seen him get angry while driving, much less committing acts of reprisal. The example is an excellent one for all of us to follow.

These days, we have few occasions to worry about reprisal in terms of acts of war or violence. But retaliation and reprisal are probably more common than we realize. Once we consider the examples and symbols of reprisal throughout history, it becomes clear that injuring someone because someone injured you is simply unacceptable. Shalom.

Ethical dilemma

Relaxing in my recliner yesterday afternoon, I was beginning to feel guilty about the process of sitting there, doing nothing. You’ve just published a book, I reminded myself. There are numerous actions you can take to promote said book. A few people in your address book haven’t been told about it. You could always create a press release. And on and on it went.

Suddenly, I began to think about the Protestant work ethic that we learned and practiced, no matter what our religion, geography, philosophy, socio-economic level, or shoe size. The gist of that was that if you work hard, and are thrifty and efficient, you would be entitled to eternal salvation.

To those of you who are too young to have heard of the Protestant ethic, we were introduced to it when we were forming methods with which we would be living our lives. Laziness is not an acceptable option. Neither is wasting time. While my personal religious beliefs don’t allow for buying or working my way into heaven, it’s curious that I was feeling that I was committing some type of sin by doing nothing at all.

How do we get to such beliefs? One easy answer is that many of us make ourselves responsible for ongoing hard work and producing results – at all times. In other words, if you are relaxing, you are not accomplishing anything and that’s bad. In addition to working on promoting my book, I could be working on cleaning some clothes out of my closet, dusting, writing my next book, or beginning dinner. In other words, sitting on my chair with only my thoughts for entertainment was a mistake and something inherently negative.

Clearly, I need to redo this type of thinking and allow myself the ability to do nothing without benefit of guilt. But before I do so, I will still need to persuade myself that the Protestant ethic as I interpret it is obsolete or irrelevant.  I’m pretty certain that demanding activity and energy from myself is a reasonable expectation. But maybe, ethics, Protestant or otherwise, can and should be suspended in deference to peace of mind and self-preservation. Shalom.