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Stand up or shut up

One of the television programs I recently watched included a scene depicting the swearing in of a number of people as US citizens. As is the case every time I see one of these ceremonies, I am close to tears at the power and emotion of the proceedings.

What would happen if we Americans who were born into our citizenship had the right or opportunity to reaffirm our allegiances? How many would elect to participate? What form would that take?

Every time I see a bible-banging, flag-waving, pseudo-patriot who babbles on and on about his country, his rights and his freedoms, I want to ask how much he truly knows about this country. One the most lucid recollections I have from my childhood is helping my grandmother study for her citizenship examination. To her, this was the most challenging but most important event of her life. But I strongly suspect that for those who never had to fight for their status as Americans, this victory will never be understood.

It would be useful and enlightening for many Americans to know everything that is required for citizenship. How many could pass the exam? Could the majority of our fellow countrypersons be able to discuss the preamble to the Constitution, the number of senators per state and the three branches of government?

While I consider myself a knowledgeable American, I would welcome the refresher into our history and the foundations of our government. On a daily basis, I am grateful for the privilege of residing in this powerful, heroic and distinguished nation. When you attempt to discredit or abuse it in any way, I take it as a major, inexcusable offense that cannot be allowed or sanctioned by its citizens.

If you call yourself and are truly an American, stand up, live by our rules and respect our flag. For those who have committed to public or military service in any form, thank you for your sacrifices and your continued dedication. But if you want to bad-mouth this wonderful country, break its laws or undermine its democratic principles, don’t let anything prevent you from leaving here as soon as possible. You won’t be missed. Shalom.

 

If I may assist you in your writing endeavors, it would be my pleasure and privilege to do so. Please contact me at csbutts19@yahoo.com.

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How you feel

As I become older, I am aware of how many people I have lost and how many have been lost to those I love. While I object to spending a great deal of time in grief and sadness, I do think about the opportunities missed to tell those we love exactly how we feel about them.

My experience says that men have much more difficulty with expressing their feelings than women. Obviously, that generalization is subject to countless exceptions. Some women don’t know how to or refuse to express their feelings, especially when it comes to loved ones. And likewise, some men have no difficulty whatsoever in discussing their feelings, to significant others or family members.

What’s the reason for this reluctance to talk about our emotions? There are probably as many reasons as there are people who can’t or won’t. And while I make no (ridiculous) attempt to change this, I do have some gentle suggestions to make.

Many of us who have lost those closest to us did so without ever hearing the feelings that they had for us. It would have been soothing to hear a, “I’m so proud of you” or “I’m glad that you’re my daughter” or something along those lines. While I have many family members and friends who are lavish with their compliments or gratitude, some kindnesses and words can never be duplicated.

As one who feels strongly about articulating how we feel about others, I urge you to waste no time in telling those closest to you how your life is defined or amplified by their existences. For me, I find myself also guilty of not telling those closest that they are as wonderful as I find them and how proud I am of who they are and what they have achieved.

My irreplaceable and uniquely magnificent children should know that they are my greatest gifts and that I am grateful that they call me Mom or Mommy or Mother.  If you are likewise blessed, waste no time in detailing how you feel, in spite of how often you’ve said it or thought about saying it. This is not done in the spirit of anticipating last breaths but more in making every breath matter. Shalom.

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Keeping promises

For this, the 300th of my blogs, it made sense to me to elaborate on a subject that means more to me than many others. It relates to keeping promises and fulfilling obligations. Among the many cultural trends that I observe, the failure of many to do what they say they are going to do leaves me frustrated and worried.

Here’s an example. Not long after we moved to New Mexico, we spent some time with a young man who was very charming and persuasive. Because of him and his enthusiasm, we were moved to make a major investment in our home. Among the other commitments he made to us, he assured me that I would receive part of his recent shipment of Kona coffee, something I truly love. My cupboard is still devoid of Kona.

From a different organization, we were promised a refund for our warehouse club membership as a demonstration of good faith from our purchase of another home improvement. This was right around Christmas time and we continue to wait for our check.

Why is it that people don’t believe that their assurances are as binding as their reputations? Prefacing the guarantee of something with “promise” or not doesn’t make a commitment any more or less sacrosanct. If I tell a client that I will have an edit done by tomorrow, he or she will receive it tomorrow if it requires my staying up all night to furnish it.

Is doing what we say we will do a vanishing habit? Can we tell our children that they will receive this or that and fail to have the item materialize? Absolutely not. When I tell a class that they will have pencils or candy by the end of the day, you and they can be certain that they will.

Don’t promise me something that you can’t provide. It’s a much better idea to indicate you’ll try or that you’ll make every attempt. In the event that the pledge is incomplete, I will believe that you have tried. We must keep our words. If those words are lies, ultimately so are we. Shalom.

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Be there

Last night I was delighted and revitalized by listening to a piece from Carl Orff that I had sung during my high school participation in mixed chorus. At this point, I don’t remember how many years I participated. It may have been one or two but at this point, it’s insignificant. What I did remember last night was that for as many concert performances as I completed, either in college, high school or thereafter, for many years no-one was ever in attendance to cheer for me.

Because my life story includes many years of my mother’s illness, I bear no grudges or animosity. But I believe that the experience of being without a fan base taught me volumes, as an educator and as a mother. My son liberally reminds me that I was in attendance for all his pursuits, ranging from tee-ball to trumpet lessons to auditions to opening theatre performances. My daughter also had a mom present for her recitals, sports or concerts, no matter what.

When I am fortunate enough to participate in plays or parties in the elementary schools, I always identify the pride displayed by those students who have parents in attendance. On the other side of things, I am also told such sad stories as, “Mom is in jail,” “Dad works two jobs,” “Both of my parents are gone” or other reasons why students have no-one there to celebrate them.

To me, it’s not a question of, “Should I be there” as much as it is, “What time should I be there?” There will only be one kindergarten graduation per child. There will never be another time for a child to participate in a sixth grade Halloween party. And as a careful observer, I can assure you that it makes a substantial, lasting difference on the children who have parents (or siblings or caring others) who take the time and effort to attend.

Be there for those who will be improved by having someone in the audience who is proud of them. No gift will ever endure as well, mean as much or provide an equivalent small flicker or sparkle to a song or baseball game. Shalom.

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U.S. History

We who live in New Mexico got one of those chuckles that is tinged with irony after watching the news recently. It seems that a New Mexican resident was attempting to secure a marriage license in Washington, DC but was prohibited from doing so without his passport.

The reasoning was that they couldn’t issue licenses to those who weren’t native Americans and this gentleman was deemed to be foreign because of his New Mexican citizenship. Apparently, someone forgot to tell this employee (and her supervisor) that New Mexico is America’s 47th state. Our statehood was granted in 1912, shortly before Arizona’s.

My gut feeling about this misunderstanding is that while it may not be new news for the residents of New Mexico, our recent press coverage and political controversies have made this situation worse. Where was this employee’s history lesson that discussed our fifty states, with the last two added as far back as 1959?

A resident of Albuquerque told me recently that our license plates say, “New Mexico USA” in order to alleviate any doubt about our legitimacy as Americans. While I find most of this amusing, as an educator I also find it disturbing. We should be teaching all of America’s development, not merely the 13 colonies, the presumed secession of California and the efforts to add Puerto Rico as the 51st state.

New Mexico is a lovely place, full of mountains, a highly diverse population,  history, desert and a galaxy of beautiful greenery. Our tagline is “Land of Enchantment,” a legend that was first placed on New Mexican license plates in 1941 and became our official state nickname in 1999.  This is a memorable designation and one with which I fully agree.

It shouldn’t be so difficult to remember that we’re a state. It makes me wonder if residents of New Hampshire or New Jersey are asked for their passports. Let’s make an effort to give us the legitimacy to which we’re entitled. What we’re asking for is a little respect. Shalom.

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Take a drive

Whenever you’re in the mood for some reasonably priced experiences that are enlightening, fulfilling and totally enjoyable, tour this magnificent country by car. Although I’ve been privileged to spend time in forty-eight of our fifty states, driving through them is the paramount experience.

On the most recent motor journey, we began with New Mexico, Texas, Oklahoma, Missouri and Illinois. Moving east, the personalities of each state vary widely.

An example I appreciate immensely is a road sign I just saw in Missouri. It invited “Explore Uranus – Candy and Sideshow.” The ad had an antique-flavored image consistent with the sideshow attraction. It is a tourist spot consisting of a fudge factory and general store. Next trip, I’ll finesse a stop there to check out their clever marketing methods.

Other signs were a casino’s huge hamburger photo with the word “Yum” and no other information. You can also see a car wash named Mr. Washy, signs at every mile from mile 35 to the World’s Largest Gift Shop and Candy Factory and Okie Annie’s Homemade Hamburgers. Another good one is, “Don’t be an ass – stop at The Mule.”

Attitudes also change from state to state. Clichés and generalizations notwithstanding, I got a chuckle from a Texas “Old Country Store” that was filled with lone star memorabilia and t-shirts proclaiming, “I messed with Texas.” Missouri has a vacuum museum that invites, “Get sucked in.”

The next part of our journey included a bit of Indiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania and New York. Hoosiers are more sedate about their billboards than the Show-Me personalities of Missouri, Okies or Illini. Illinois is proud of its history, with allusions to Lincoln, Powhatan, Pocahontas and everything else historical. The only other rah-rah environment that compared was in Texas. Due either to space or my own experiences, Indiana always seems like some place to travel in order to arrive somewhere else.

One of the most interesting realities is the quantity of antique shops. Large or small, old or new, it appears that there are at least triple the antique venues east of the Mississippi than west. What’s the reason? Obviously, the eastern portion of the US was settled before the west. But maybe the explanation is more sublime, that easterners have a greater reverence for heritage than their western counterparts.

Along those lines, our country has an unusual affection for Route 66. If you’re on or near 66, you’re always aware of it. There are signs, businesses and endless memorabilia that glorify this old, venerated highway.

Ohio is much more subdued than the other states traveled. No matter where we stopped, we were inundated by products for and about The Ohio State University. Certainly, there are other high caliber institutions of learning in Ohio but apparently, their advertising or marketing people aren’t quite as aggressive.

You can go for miles without seeing any billboards in Ohio. Either there aren’t enough landmarks, the cost of advertising is too high or there’s too much distance between Columbus (The Ohio State University) and everywhere else.

The same will be true of Pennsylvania and western New York. You’ll see the usual road signs but until you get within a mile or so from a city, the only advertising available is for the ubiquitous antique shops.

New York City and western New York have little in common beyond the state designation. It’s amusing or informative that most of the towns and villages tell you when they originated – 1830, 1802, 1766, etc. While there may be similar signs on the outskirts of NYC where history includes Ellis Island, the Statue of Liberty and the Twin Towers, it’s the area outside NYC that boasts long-term existence.

Driving home to New Mexico should prove to be exhausting, entertaining and educational. As long as you keep your eyes and mind open, this country’s wealth of sights and eccentricities is boundless. If we continue to celebrate our country’s beauty and diversity, we have the far beyond the necessary resources to continue blossoming and flourishing. Shalom.

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Veterans Day

There are basically two types of people. People who accomplish things, and people who claim to have accomplished things. The first group is less crowded. Mark Twain

Each year at Veterans Day, I begin to think about the gratitude that many people and I share for those who have served and continue to serve our country in the context of military service. This quote from Mark Twain reminds me of those in that esteemed category.

From the beginning of our country through the present, our safety and security have been preserved and ensured by those who have committed to the branches of our military. No matter what the role, wartime or peacetime, armed forces personnel have often made the ultimate sacrifice of their lives to make certain that their families and ours will enjoy all of the freedoms that our country has established and perpetuated.

Does that mean that those who do not or did not serve in the armed forces accomplished nothing worthwhile? Certainly not. Both inside and outside of our government, many thousands of people have contributed to the preservation of this country and its citizens. Whether you have delivered mail. contributed to the aerospace program, taught our children, served in our courtrooms or countless other roles, you have completed work that has built and nurtured our society.

Those who claim to have accomplished things are probably those who have accomplished least. My experience suggests that the true heroes and distinguished citizens rarely need to or want to publicize their achievements.

Thank you to the veterans who have dedicated their lives and careers to making this country strong, safe and secure. Thank you to all the rest of our great nation’s citizens who daily complete countless actions of wisdom, bravery and selflessness, all of which combine to make our country the epitome of virtue that it is. Shalom.

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Happy Birthday, USA!

You may want to call me a purist or a patriot. The second title is certainly true, explaining why I become disrupted at some of the lunacy on social media. Today is our incredible, wonderful country’s birthday and is a day of absolute celebration. Instead of that commemoration, I can see primarily political bantering and grandstanding.

The best answer is to stay away from social media, today and otherwise. But if you are a proud American, you can’t help but find some of today’s bluster quite offensive. So far, I’ve seen people calling Melania Trump names, opinions on the next justice for the SCOTUS, critical commentary on school shootings and a variety of other garbage.

To me, this is a day of gratitude for our many freedoms and accomplishments. It is a day to be proud of our many thousands of veterans, alive and deceased, who have dedicated their lives to make certain that our liberty is preserved. And if you live in Colorado as I do, it is a day of hope for the over fifteen fires blazing in our state that are requiring the work and commitment of thousands of firefighters who have no time for politics or unessential drivel.

For my part, I continue to be grateful for all of these realities and will never stop appreciating all of the advantages that I enjoy as a proud American. If you can’t observe our laws, our traditions and our protocols, go somewhere else. If you join me in realizing that this is the best place in the world to be, dedicate yourself to building instead of destroying our home.

Happy birthday, USA! Shalom.

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Proud of you

One of those commodities that is impossible to measure, difficult to anticipate and powerfully valuable is that of pride. Try as I might, I can’t remember hearing the expression, “I’m so proud of you” from my dad. There’s a good possibility that I did hear it from my mom but far too many years have elapsed since it would have been stated.

When we overlook or underemphasize the importance of saying this to our children, grandchildren or students, we miss extraordinary opportunities to enrich their lives. Pride is one of those unusual emotions that have positive impact on both parties who are involved. When you feel pride, you are enhanced by having some part of the pride-recipient’s accomplishment. Hearing, “I am proud of you” from someone important leaves an indelible positive impression.

Some religious doctrine would suggest that it’s sinful or inappropriate to be prideful. The downside of pride includes definitions such as a conflict with the truth, self-idolatry or vanity. In fact, Proverbs 11:2 of the Bible states,

“When pride comes, then comes disgrace,
but with humility comes wisdom.”

Clearly, it seems that pride can be a negative in excess or when it comes at the expense of a higher form of accomplishment that is intrinsic to learning or intellectual growth.

Returning to the positive side of pride (delivery and receipt), psychologists and philosophers indicate that having pride is crucial to the development of self and is virtuous. Perhaps this is one of those social phenomena that is good in small quantities but toxic when excessive.

When we contemplate delivering a sense of pride in the excellence of another, all it takes is to think about what it meant or would mean to hear, “I am proud of you” from someone you love. My soul and spirit dictate that we can never say these words too often, both to encourage self-esteem and to trigger new achievements. Shalom.