Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Do You Love Love?

Oh for pity's sake.... Wouldn't you hate to be a gay person in love? Really - just think about it. You'd have wondered most of your life whether or not you're okay the way you are. You'd have had to think about, and somehow get over, what much of the world thinks about you. You wouldn't have had the advantage of the socially wired ways of meeting a person you'd like to hold hands with or hug or (gasp-try not to think about it) kiss. At some point, if you made it to a smooth part of life's sea, you'd have found someone who had climbed the same mountains and navigated the same war zones. Then - screech, halt, whoa! That's where your journey through the land of loving partnership slows to what surely feels like a slow march through pudding to the halls of justice. I point to yesterday's word from the California supreme court. The court said...6-1...that the people of California have a right to change the constitution at the ballot box. Consequently, Proposition 8, which bans the marriage of same sex couples in the state of California, was upheld. Okay, then. Nothing complicated about that equation for justice. Proponents of 2008's prop 8, meet your opposition. We're back and we're more determined than ever. See you in 2012, if not sooner. We'll even have some new voters by then!
(Profits from these stickers are donated to the fight for marriage equality - buy some!)

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Armadillo Days

I have an armadillo living in my yard. I know I have one of these fat armored rats because yesterday I found fifty, FIFTY freshly dug post holes in an otherwise beautiful patch of 12' x 12' St. Augustine in the backyard. The armadillo makes these holes in a search for insects that live in the ground. I guess it took some serious looking night before last. Apparently 50 digs worth. It's hard to ignore the compelling visual summary of life that is scattered on my lawn today. We work hard...plant, water, fertilize, make a soft and pretty spot somewhere in our yards or our businesses or our hearts. We're proud of what we've done. What we've accomplished is, no bragging intended, lush: Found the perfect partner. Bought the dream home. Landed the best job. Grown the most magnificent children. Lost the extra pounds. Elected the most brilliant president... Then we get up one day and the place is full of holes. Unexpected, inconvenient, perhaps not dire - but a mess, nonetheless. Overnight. We usually run straight to the culprit/cause of the disaster, but are often befuddled by a process that seems less than iron-clad for making the madness stop. We are not in control. Armadillos are hard to discourage. I haven't found one online resource today that promises me I'll be rid of my hole digging squatter if I do "X" - which means, of course, that I'll have more holes to fill before a solution is found. Even more exciting - armadillos apparently have babies in July. If I can't run the critter off before July, we could have a swarm of four-legged back hoes roaming the lawn at night. And just like that - my world begins to spin on the life and times of an armadillo. We are not in control. Breathe deeply. Smile broadly. It's happening to all of us. Peace.

Monday, May 18, 2009

The Inconvenience of Change: Growing Up

Remember the book Who Moved My Cheese? I bought it for my youngest son when he was 12, and insisted he read it. As he sat on the threshold of his teen-aged years, the boy had a stubborn and unwavering belief in one certainty of life: Change was bad. We're talking change of any kind - the furniture moved, the alarm set 15 minutes later than usual, the brand of bread in the pantry - all change was bad, and duly questioned. We did our best to lighten the load. We threw in new twists on old traditions from time to time (like buying a cut tree at Christmas instead of chopping our own). We sold the old couch. His grandmother moved. Oh, the horror.... Can you guess what has happened over ten years? The child who so resisted change - the one who grew up on pepperoni pizzas, chili dogs and smoked beef brisket - is (gasp) a vegetarian. He tours with a band, which means a different town/country/bed every night when they're on the road. He has studied at three different universities, in three different cities, in two different states. He is following his artist's heart wherever it leads. He is the King of Change. And it looks good on him. Very good. Change, it seems, turns out to be great. Imagine that. So now we laugh at the memory of a young boy who couldn't sleep if you moved his bed five inches - a kid who wouldn't order anything but chicken nuggets if we ventured to a new restaurant (I mean, really, how different can a chicken nugget be?). The fun is often tempered, though, by a nagging little push to evaluate our own well worn paths of routine - those untouchable comfort zones we sometimes let ourselves believe keep us happy. Is the thermostat set at 75 because that's where it's always set in summer months? Is the car the designated way to travel the half-mile to the post office because it just is? Are strawberries grown in Argentina chosen over peaches grown locally because strawberry pie is always on the Memorial Day menu? Peach cobbler - no way! Do you recycle like you should? Do you choose your feet instead of your wheels to get where you need to go from time to time? Do you support your local farmer by buying her fresh, organic produce? Do you use your financial, emotional, intellectual resources to improve the world, or do you assume someone smarter, richer, kinder will do that? As the tilt of the earth delivers the seasonal change in light and warmth and foliage to your piece of this planet, why not consider one or two new tricks for the old dog of your daily grind? If you need help, pick up a copy of New Day Revolution: How to Save the World in 24 Hours...or click over to Life Without Pants if more compelling arguments are needed. Warning: If you delve any deeper, you may be reminded that YOU should be the change you want to see in the world. Breathe. Change is good. Peace.

Friday, May 15, 2009

More Money-Less Peace

House Republicans in Washington, DC finally voted yes on something yesterday. I'm sorry to say it was more money for war. And 200 Democrats joined them. A $96-billion supplemental war spending bill, requested by President Obama, sailed through the legislative process in the House of Representatives this week. The vote last night was 368-60 in favor of the bill. The measure now queues up in the Senate for review and vote next week. Please contact your senators. Tell them: More troops won't bring more peace. Civilians are being killed in Afghanistan - 2,118 of them in 2008. 138 of those were aid workers. Only 5-percent of the supplemental spending package is designated for peacekeeping activity. 95-percent of the $96-billion is for war-fighting. There is no exit strategy attached to this spending. Active and retired US generals have said we cannot shoot our way to peace in Afghanistan. More troops won't bring more peace. Feel free to quote from a letter to the editor in today's New York Times, which says:

If the Obama administration replaces the Bush administration’s self-righteousness with respect, openness, humility and sincerity it would be a monumental step forward.

On the other hand, if the Obama administration continues the military solutions of hi-tech death over intelligent nonviolent engagement in Afghanistan, all possible gains with its new approach will be lost and only perceived in the eyes of Afghanis as cynical hypocrisy.

US Representative Jim McGovern (D-Mass) tried to amend the bill before the vote yesterday, adding the requirement for an Afghanistan exit strategy by year's end. The amendment did not make it to the approved legislation.

"I'm tired of wars with no deadlines, no exits and no ends," said Rep. McGovern. Aren't we all tired of that? I can assure you - Afghanis and Pakistanis and US military personnel and their families are tired of it. More troops won't bring more peace. It's easy math. Call your senators. Peace.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Early Goodbyes

There's a Mass of Christian Burial this morning in a small Illinois town just 85 miles south and west of Chicago. It appears to be a sunny day there, which is a fitting tribute to the young woman whose life will be remembered and celebrated and mourned. Twenty-five year olds are not supposed to die. The sentence bears repeating...Happy, vibrant, creative young adults are not supposed to die. Just ask my friend Terri, whose 25-year old son was killed in a fire not quite two years ago. Or my friend Carol, whose 27-year old daughter lost a heroic battle with cancer just 10 months ago. And now the family and friends of Gaby Duffy wander through that black hole of disbelief, as they replay the days of their last week: lingering fever, hospital, diagnostics, visits with best friends, seizure, death. There is no way to make sense of these things. We dare not call it God, for that would only make clear headed people hate God. We cannot call it Fate, because there is no reasonable explanation for this world losing a young creative chef, or a tender-hearted friend/wife/quilter, or a photographer who found beauty in things others found strange. It comes to this: Shit happens. Loving people is dangerous business. We have learned the hard way that good-byes sometimes come way too early. We enter the days after these lessons so much more aware that life is not a promise...but one moment upon one moment. And we walk, forever after, longing for just one more...
Gaby Duffy, August 2004

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Living is Trusting

I've never built a bridge, or drilled into the root of a tooth, or gone looking for a diseased kidney inside a human being. Heck, I've never even driven a bus or grown a peach or rolled my own sushi. I trust other people to do these things for me. And I assume...I trust...they are doing them in accordance with the safest proven methods available. I drive across bridges. I let dentists and doctors drill and cut at will. I get on the bus, eat the peach, savor the sushi. It rarely occurs to me that I shouldn't trust people to do - with great expertise and success - what they've been hired to do. Like fly an airplane. Today I read the voice recorder transcript from Flight 3407 - you know, the plane that fell from the sky over Buffalo, NY three months ago. Every person on the plane died. Until the National Transportation Safety Board began meeting this week to discuss the findings from the crash, I think we all believed ice on the wings created an unmanageable, act of God situation as the plane made its final approach to Buffalo-Niagara. Stop reading here if you are afraid of flying. Continental 3407 was on final approach. Announcements had been made, the flight was almost over. Here's the transcript...those of you who fly regularly can recite it from memory:
Ladies and gentlemen in preparation for landing in Buffalo please be certain your seatback is straight up and your seatbelt is fastened. Please pass any remaining service items and unwanted reading materials to us as we pass through the cabin. Please turn off all portable electronic devices and stow them until we have reached the gate.
It was 10:09:15 PM. Isn't this the moment most of us secretly breathe a sigh of relief? We're home. We're about to land. We start thinking about what's waiting for us at baggage claim or home or the office. We look out the window and see the lights of our destination. In the cockpit, that's exactly what was happening that night. The 47-year old pilot and 24-year old first officer were chatting about planes they'd flown, ways around airline hiring systems, and whether or not their ears were popping. Then, at 10:12:05 PM the young first officer says this:
I've never seen icing conditions. I've never de-iced. I've never seen any— I've never experienced any of that. I don't want to have to experience that and make those kinds of calls. You know I'dve freaked out. I'dve have like seen this much ice and thought oh my gosh we were going to crash.
The captain quickly lets his FO know that he knows what he's doing 10:13:01 PM:
But I— first couple of times I saw the amount of ice that that Saab would would pick up and keep on truckin'....saw it out on the spinner. Ice comin' out about that far - my eyes about that big around. I'm going gosh. I mean Florida man— barely a little you know out of Pensacola.
For the next three and a half minutes they chat about finding the sweet spot in a seat adjustment, descent checklists, and approach checklists. Then that stick shaking sound begins - the sound that I've learned this week means the plane is about to stall - at 10:16:06 PM. Ten seconds later the pilot says, "Jesus Christ," and makes a grunting sound followed by, "..ther bear." Perhaps this was the moment in which there was a pull on the stick that should have been a push. My husband, who holds a sport pilot's license, crash landed an ultralight several years ago after an engine failure on take off. You push, so the nose goes down, he tells me. This keeps you from stalling. You do not pull. Everyone knows this. At 10:16: 51 PM the pilot of Continental flight 3407 said, "We're down." At 10:16:52 PM his first officer said, "We're..." and she screamed.
Continental Flight 3407, February 12, 2009
My husband will not be piloting the plane that brings him home from California on Friday. Nor will anyone I know be flying the planes that bring my son home from Germany two days later. We will decidedly place our trust in complete strangers. We don't know how well they've been trained, how they voted in the last election, whether they had a good night's sleep, or when they last called their mothers to say "I love you." Yet we put our lives in their hands. Whether they're flying our planes, drawing plans for our bridges, or chopping our raw fish. It's a puzzle to me why such a trusting bunch can't make a world of peace.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

War is Hell

I worked in a television newsroom in the late 70's. Back then, the most inflammatory phrase you could attach to a person's name was "Vietnam veteran"... as in:
"Vietnam veteran Joe Smith has been arrested today and is expected to be charged with murder..."
We never mentioned the name of a soldier from the war in Southeast Asia without "Vietnam veteran" attached to the front end. It seemed a necessary descriptor, especially in the case of a crime of violence, terror, or just plain lunacy. It was as if we were providing our viewers with an answer to the ever-present question: Why would someone do that? This comes to mind today as we all face, with our hearts aching, the event yesterday at Camp Liberty in Baghdad. Five US coalition force members were shot and killed in a clinic set up to help soldiers deal with the stress of war. Two others were wounded. One US soldier - the suspected shooter - is in custody. While we wait for names and faces and horrifying details to go with the story, our search for information turns up only a pile of sobering statistics:
  • there has been a steady rise in violent crime within the US military in the last year;
  • sexual assault cases in the rank and file were up 26% in 2008;
  • the incidence of suicide among Iraq vets, some of whom have been sent 4-5 times into the war zone, is at record levels and rising every year;
  • suicide among military recruiters is climbing, as the stress to replenish the dwindling supply of recruits reaches an all time high...73% of the recruiters are soldiers back from a tour in Iraq.
It's bad. Really bad. And I see it coming - the phrase "Iraq war vet" in front of any soldier's name connected with a violent crime. Nevermind the implicit indictment of every person who has served in Iraq. Forget the unspoken conclusion that each one of them is capable of an untoward plunge off the deep end of society's ragged edge of sanity. But who would blame them...or begrudge even one Iraq war veteran the right to a Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome breakdown? It's an ugly, ugly thing we started over there. And it's still a long run to the finish line (2011). 139,000 US citizens are still being exposed to a waking nightmare that has real people with real skin and real blood as the major players. It's time to ponder the question...What are we going to do to keep "Iraq War Vet" out of our headlines for the next twenty years? Peace. Soon.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Mother's Day

One wonders how Mother's Day became an occasion to buy flowers and patronize restaurants that deliver a long stemmed rose with a mimosa and quiche. I'm not complaining - of course - about a day set aside to be treated in a queenly way. I wouldn't trade one photo magnet or recipe card holder or burned-toast-breakfast in bed...or sweet card or phone call or big bear hug for any amount of money. It's nice to be loved and appreciated. But you have to wonder how Mother's Day for Peace became just plain Mother's Day. Julia Ward Howe was an activist during the Civil War. She was a determined abolitionist, but became involved in sanitation efforts in civil war prisoner of war and army camps - on both sides of the fight. (Apparently we were losing more men to disease in those camps than we were losing in battle.) Julia toured the filthy, death infested camps - so I call her qualified to speak on the horrors of war. She didn't like it. When conflict began to brew post Civil War in another part of the world (the Franco-Prussian war in 1870), Julia Ward Howe declared peace to be one of the two most important causes in the world. (The other was equality.) She wrote the words below, as a declaration of intolerance for war. She wrote in the voice of every woman who gives birth to a son or daughter. And with the words, she began a campaign for a Mother's Day for Peace.
Arise, then, women of this day!

Arise all women who have hearts, whether your baptism be that of water or of fears!

Say firmly: "We will not have great questions decided by irrelevant agencies,

"Our husbands shall not come to us reeking with carnage, for caresses and applause.

"Our sons shall not be taken from us to unlearn all that we have been able to teach them of charity, mercy, and patience.

"We women of one country will be too tender of those of another country to allow our sons to be trained to injure theirs."

From the bosom of the devastated earth a voice goes up with our own. It says, "Disarm, Disarm!"

The sword of murder is not the balance of justice! Blood does not wipe out dishonor nor violence indicate possession.

As men have often forsaken the plow and the anvil at the summons of war, let women now leave all that may be left of home for a great and earnest day of counsel.

Let them meet first, as women, to bewail and commemorate the dead.

Let them then solemnly take counsel with each other as the means whereby the great human family can live in peace,

And each bearing after her own time the sacred impress, not of Caesar, but of God.

Julia Ward Howe died in 1910. Mother's Day became a national holiday when Woodrow Wilson declared it so in 1914.

Mother's Day...not Mother's Day for Peace.

And so we have forgotten Julia Ward Howe.**

I can't help but wonder how the world might be different today if, "Disarm! Disarm!" had become the annual sentiment of the day. What if, for the last 95 years, instead of Hallmark cards and FTD orders, we'd been gathering together as mothers united with hopes and promises for peace on this earth?

A "great and earnest day of counsel" for women who love their children.

A day to imagine, together, "the great human family" living in peace.

Happy Mother's Day.

For peace.

**Julia Ward Howe is remembered as the poet who penned the words to "The Battle Hymn of the Republic" in 1862.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

What's Up With Christians?

The voice of Leonard Pitts - so strong, so clear - so necessary...

Why This Tolerance for Torture?

Between 1933 and 1945, as a series of restrictive laws, brutal pogroms and mass deportations culminated in the slaughter of six million Jews, the Christian church, with isolated exceptions, watched in silence.

Between 1955 and 1968, as the forces of oppression used terrorist bombings, police violence and kangaroo courts to deny African Americans their freedom, the Christian church, with isolated exceptions, watched in silence.

Beginning in 1980, as a mysterious and deadly new disease called AIDS began to rage through the homosexual community like an unchecked fire, the Christian church, with isolated exceptions, watched in silence.

So who can be surprised by the new Pew report?

See entire column...

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Rethinking Rebuilding

We had the mother of hail storms here about 6 weeks ago. Honestly - I've chased some tornadoes in West Texas, and I haven't seen hail the size of these stones since I sat in a car watching a funnel cloud move across a wide open cotton field on the South Plains in 1979. This was large hail. We'd have called it "baseball-sized" back in the newsroom in Lubbock. It took a while for the insurance adjusters to make the rounds, but they've come and gone - left big checks behind - and now the neighborhood is dotted with roofer's signs and filled with the daily sounds of what can only be described as "woodpecker colony meets shooting range"... The hammering of shingles begins early in the morning and lasts all day. I guess you'd say we're rebuilding, although a piece of me feels like it's more appropriate to call it suburban indulgence of a need to get something out of that high premium we pay for our homeowners insurance every month. Nothing is leaking at my house. I see no holes. Apparently my insurance adjuster could see something that qualified as 100% damage to my 12-month old roof, but it's a mystery to me. It's certainly nothing like the scene in the Sichuan province of China. Remember Sichuan last May? The 8.0 earthquake that killed 70,000 people and left hundreds of thousands sitting in rubble? No one in Sichuan was out in the yard digging through hedges and flower beds in search of a blown shingle or two...they were out in the piles of fallen structures looking for members of their families. No one in Sichuan is holding an insurance check today and pondering the possibility of using the money to re-carpet instead of re-roof - they're living in lean-tos made from the rubble of what was once a home, and trying to build something new out of concrete and steel that will pass "earthquake safe" engineering recommendations. Many of them are poor farmers who can't upgrade the quality of their masonry to meet recommended standards. Even though they still feel tremors almost every day that remind them of what can happen if they don't build safe homes, they can only afford what they can afford...and living in a lean-to through another winter is not a very appealing option. 69,197 dead in China's 8.0 earthquake last May. 370,000 people injured. 2,000 children orphaned. Countless - millions - left homeless. A world citizen might be thinking $4,000 for a roof that shows no sign of damage would be best spent on masonry and re bar in China... Peace.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

When in Carpi...

I haven't been so obsessed with a band since The Beatles made me swoon in 1964 (and yes...I was awfully young for swooning). But, I'm telling you, those adorable guys from Liverpool couldn't make a move without my knowing about it. When I didn't know about it...well, I made it up. The stories usually involved Paul... My new obsession is only slightly different. I'm not swooning - I'm beaming. The band is Balmorhea - a six piece ensemble with Austin roots and a cinematic sound that you just must hear, because it really defies all genre typing. They've been called indie post rock, pastoral post rock, neo-classical, experimental...all terms that could be boiled down to - amazing. My youngest son plays the double bass in the band. They're currently in the middle of a 5-week, 26 gig tour of Europe. Six young and talented musicians, loading and unloading a van, sound checking in every language but English, playing encores, signing autographs, eating like kings/queens - in seven countries on another continent. Basically, they're livin' the dream. I begin every day opening a map on my computer and trying to figure out where they are, how far they have to drive between venues, and what time it is there. Next, I usually send my son a text message - where are you? how was last night's show? Then I refresh and refresh and refresh the text link to his EU phone, looking for a reply. Sigh. I'm pathetic. After that, I check the twitter traffic on to see what people who might have seen them play are saying. From there, I google the next venue, look for posters, pictures, reviews. Then I send a daily update email to my sister - who relays every single word to my mother (who still refuses to have a computer in her home). I'm not sure what I'll do with my time when the tour is over. I am looking forward to hearing the back stories. Babel fish has been incredibly entertaining as I've cut and paste copy from venue sites into the translator. For instance, here's a line describing Balmorhea's music from Mattatoio in Carpi, Italy:
what one is about to describe to us is egg whites outside from the time
Egg whites outside from the time? In context it seems to be something wonderful. One thing is certain - music is the universal language of peace and love and hope. From Leipzig, Germany to Lausanne, Switzerland to Bilbao, Spain - these six kids have shown up at crowded venues full of people who live under different governments, speak different languages, travel, eat, and live their lives in wholly different ways. But they love music. And they have welcomed these Americans with gourmet meals, comfortable accommodations, spirited applause, and lively post-performance conversation (sometimes about George Bush, since the band is from Texas...). It's a van full of beautiful instruments and gracious young Americans who still have 3,371 miles of this music-meets-world-peace adventure left. Perhaps we need a US Department of Live Music to facilitate a way to a kinder, more inclusive world view. Like egg whites outside from time... Peace.

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