Thursday, September 25, 2014

Life is full of Choices

“Life”, they say, “is full of choices”.  So I made them—some good, some bad, some really bad.  In looking back though, I realize something.  These choices are the only things I truly own.  Lock, stock, and barrel they are mine, and mine alone.  

That is not to say that everything in my life is a result of my choices.  Obviously that isn't true.  If it were, I would have done a much better job of choosing my parents.  As it is, I am the result of a choice they made.  I had no say in it.  And I had no say in the physical handicap their moment of passion gave me.  Or maybe it wasn't their moment of passion.  Maybe it was my Mother’s alcohol and tobacco use while she was pregnant.  It doesn't matter.  Those were her choices.  My role was limited to choosing how I’d deal with it.  Like I said, “Life is full of choices”.  People who know me tell me I say that a lot.

I’d like to be taller sure, but due to the scoliosis, that sharp curve in the thoracic vertebrae of my upper back, I’m not.  My rib cage is off center so my heart and lungs don’t fit quite right into my chest cavity.  I think sometimes what it might be like to have a straight back, where the bones would hold me up instead of having to rely on my muscles to do the job.  Muscles tire quicker than bones. That’s the down side.   But on the up side, who’s to say I wouldn't have found life too easy that way? Maybe the drive wouldn't be as strong.  Almost certainly I would have made different choices.

My first choice was to focus on what I could do, not what I couldn't do.  Football, wrestling, basketball were not options.  Reading, writing, drama were.  I gravitated towards living life in my mind.   My father, now remarried, bought me a ten volume set of the Bible written for children.  I read every volume, then read them again.  I could be as brave as David when he slew Goliath.  I could be a smart as Joseph when he helped the Pharaoh rule over Egypt.  I wouldn't lose my patience like Moses did, but would cross over into the Promised Land with Joshua. 

From there I moved on to history.  I sailed with the Pilgrims and landed at Plymouth Rock.  I rode with Paul Revere to warn the patriots that the British were coming.  I grew up in the hills of middle Virginia with Thomas Jefferson, and went on a vision quest with Crazy Horse in the Black Hills.  In books, I discovered, there was nothing I couldn't do.

By high school I clearly identified with “the writers”.  We took Mrs. Wittmer's “Creative Writing” class, wrote for the school newspaper, and the Yearbook, and read what we wrote to each other at meetings of the creative writing club.  My poetry was published in the school anthology.  I played the lead in the Junior play.   By the time I left for college, the only subject that called to me as a major was English.

On the physical side, my body was going through its own seemingly unrelated life.  Although it would be some years before I made the connection, the “forced labor” my Father demanded on the farm was actually saving my body.  Oh it hurt.  Hauling hay is still one of my most painful memories. Hay is cut in the middle of summer when temperatures are hot.  We would take turns either lifting 60 lb bales and handing them to a fellow worker on the truck, or grabbing the bales from the lifter and stacking them in an orderly fashion so they would not fall off.   In my weaker moments, I thought that being in Hell would be preferable to this.  It might be hot, but at least, as I imagined, I would just have to stand there.  As I was to learn later, the building up of my muscles during that time would make for a much better physical life than I was imagining just then.

During this time, while mind and body were doing their different things, there was a war going on in the background.  I don’t mean an internal war between mind and body.  I mean a real war.  It was in a place called Viet Nam.  I didn't like it.  I didn't want anything to do with it, and I didn't want anybody else to have anything to do with it either.  So I did what thousands of young people like me did—I protested.  Yes, I got kicked out of school once.  I went to jail because of it.  I grew my hair long and talked to anyone who would listen about the evils of “the war”.   These were all choices with which I was comfortable.  Then I made another choice.  I used my scoliosis to convince the local draft board to classify me as “4F”.  Suddenly I was “not acceptable for military service”.  That was fine by me.

Have I mentioned that “Life is full of choices”?  When you choose a path, you own it.  I accepted that idea even then.  But what I had yet to learn was that once you start down a path, you don’t have to stay with it.  So often once we are on “A Path”, we think it is "The Path”, and no matter how bad it gets we just push harder.   We don’t realize that we can choose again, and go in another direction, hopefully a better one.  We own that choice too.   For me this knowledge would come as an epiphany, and not a pleasant one.

April 1975 will always be the month that changed my life forever.  I sat in my dorm room at college and watched the films from Viet Nam.  I saw the North Vietnamese army roll south into Da Nang, Kontum, Pleiku, Ban Me Thuot, and finally, Saigon itself.  I watched people clinging to helicopters trying to get out.  I watched them fall to their deaths.   I watched boat after boat crammed with far too many people floundering in the waves.  I saw desperation and fear in hundreds of eyes.  I saw women give their babies to others in the hope that their child might be saved even if they themselves perished.  I kept thinking that it wasn't supposed to be like this.  

I found myself feeling responsible.  Choices that I had freely made had resulted in pressure on our government to abandon these people.  I had thought that what I was doing was right, but now I could see with my own eyes just how wrong I was.  I couldn't turn away from the images.  I watched.  And I cried.  

I knew then that I had choices to make.  Those choices took me out of my comfort zone and into a whole new world.  I cut my hair.  I joined ROTC.  I met a young female cadet who would become the love of my life, and the Mother of my children.  I became a soldier, and not just any soldier.  I became an Infantry Officer.  I humped a rucksack with my men.  I jumped out of airplanes with them too.  I wrote operations orders instead of poems.  And I ran, and ran, and ran.  For the first time in my life my mind and my body were working together as a team.  

Many years have passed since those days.  But the truth has not changed.  Life is still about the choices you make.  Good ones, bad ones, lucky ones, totally serendipitous ones.  If you’re lucky you’ll understand that these are the only things you ever really own.  And when you own them—when you accept responsibility for them—you’ll discover what it means to be free.  That's all I'm asking these days.  Leave me alone to experience the consequences of my choices.  That's what freedom is about.










Tuesday, August 12, 2014

There are moments in history that you know are moments in history.  Yesterday was one of those days.  Robin Williams died.  Most likely by his own hand.

The Germans have a better word for it than we do—“Selbstmord”—self murder.  And that is how I feel right now.  This brilliant, electrifying comedian, actor and genius has been murdered and I’m aghast at the enormity of it all.

I have been reading article after article all morning in the vain hope that someone will tell me something that will make this event make some kind of sense.  It’s not happening.  Probably it never will.

Naturally everyone is posting on Facebook and I did too.  I wasn't going to be that maudlin, but the fact is that I was crying, and it’s hard to be more maudlin than that. 

Robin Williams was part of a first ritual with my new bride.  I was stationed at Fort Benning, GA, a student in the Infantry Officer’s Basic Course.  She was pregnant with our first child.  But every Thursday evening we’d sit together on the couch in a crappy old trailer house just off post, and watch “Mork and Mindy”.  For the next thirty minutes everything was OK.   Life is just not as tough when you’re laughing.

To my kids, Robin Williams was the voice of the Genie in “Aladdin”.  My middle child wanted to grow up to be him, and he would quote long passages from the movie.  That was all well and good, until one night he was quoting Williams one minute, and in the very next was off on his own riff about a Superhero named “Beer Man” and his sidekick “Hangover Boy”, and they were fighting the evil villain “Mr. Coffee”, and his little dog “Sober”.  “Quick, Hangover Boy, hit him with an ICE DRAFT!”  My wife and I laughed until we had tears in our eyes.  Unfortunately we were driving down the road at the time and it got a little dangerous until I got myself under control.  We didn't grasp the irony then. 

It was the Laughter.  How pleasant.  How memorable.  How fleeting.  That unusual juxtaposition of two thoughts that catch you totally by surprise when you first hear them. 

So now I go where I always go when death catches me unexpectedly.  John Donne.  Poet, Theologian, Comforter.  He said this:  “All mankind is of one author, and is one volume; when one man dies, one chapter is not torn out of the book, but translated into a better language; and every chapter must be so translated.”

It seems to me that old Mr. Donne got it right, and this idea has become my place of refuge in times like these.  I find that I am thankful that Williams left so much media behind.  It makes it a lot easier to re-read his chapter.  And as for his new translation?  I guess I’ll have to wait until I've been “so translated” to find out. 

I am just beginning to grasp that I now live in a world without Robin Williams.  I ponder that thought with some trepidation.  I've never lived in that world before.  I’m not sure what it will be like.

So I’ll close this post like probably a million others will close their posts today and say with simple frustration and sadness, “Well Shazbat!” 


Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Yes. You can.

I don’t much like excuses.  Explanations I can deal with.  Excuses pretty much turn me off.  I bring this up because lately it seems like excuses are coming out of the woodwork.  There’s two excuses in particular that move right to the top of my “peeve list”.  The first one is, “I just don’t have the time”.  What?  How can you not have the time?  Unless you’re dead you have exactly the same amount of time everyone else in the world has.  You have 60 minutes in an hour, 24 hours in a day, 7 days in a week, 52 weeks in a year. If you can’t bring me some evidence that you were born with a congenital time deficiency which causes you to only have 50 minutes in an hour, I’m afraid I’m going to have to call you what you are.  A liar.  Yeah, it’s a little “white lie”, but what you’re really saying is, “This just isn’t that important to me to spend time on it”.  And that’s OK.  We all have to make choices.  There’s a ton of things I choose not to spend time on.  So admit it.  Don’t tell me you don’t have the time.  It’s insulting.  I know better.

The second excuse I’ve heard goes something along the lines of “Well I just don’t have the education”.  That may be true.  I won’t call you a liar on this one.  But where my peeve comes in is that an education is available.  All you have to do is reach out and take it.  Now I’m not talking about going back to school.  Sure, that’s great if you can, and if you have the time and resources you should definitely do it.  What I’m talking about is the same thing that Thomas Jefferson was talking about when he wrote to his college-age nephew, Thomas Mann Randolph, Jr., “…you can proceed by yourself in a regular series of historical reading.  It would be a waste of time to attend a professor of this.  It is to be acquired from books…”

Yep, books.  Reading.  You don’t have to be a graduate from high school, or college to do it.  Louis L’Amour, the prolific writer (over 100 novels), and historian, was entirely self-educated.  He left high school during the Depression to provide some income for his family, and never went back to school.  Yet he became recognized as one of the most educated men of our time, and was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, an honor reserved for those who make extraordinary contributions to our nation.  How did he do it?  Simple.  He read.  And thought about what he had read.  (Read his story for yourself.  You’ll find it in his book The Education of a Wandering Man.)

He’s not the only one.  ABC News reporter and anchorman, Peter Jennings did the same thing.  Or how about Dave Thomas, founder of Wendy’s restaurants?  OK, Bill Gates did graduate from high school, but not from college.  I think you get my point.  So…

READ.  Several years ago this simple word was used on posters and billboards by a literacy activist group to encourage people to…READ.  I think this advice may now be more important than ever.  Even though the “futurists” among us are convinced that reading will be replaced by television, DVDs, iPODs, and technologies we haven’t heard of yet, I still believe that reading, and more importantly, the ability to read, will remain a significant factor between those who achieve success in this world, and those who don’t.

READ.  So why are so many people so reluctant to do it?  In times past, what we would call “classical” schoolmasters divided learning into three stages called “the trivium”.  The first stage was called the “grammar” stage.  (Hence our grammar or elementary schools).  This stage focused on memorization.  The idea was to gather information---C A T spells Cat, or 2 X 4 = 8.  The goal being to acquire a certain amount of knowledge.  The second stage was called the “logic” stage.  It required that the student start thinking at this point.  Evaluate.  Is this information correct or not correct?  Is this a cause or an effect?  The final stage was called the“rhetoric” stage.  Remember the first time you were asked to write an essay?  This is rhetoric; learning to construct your own opinions based on the facts you have accumulated.  The classical educators knew that this pattern—learn facts, analyze those facts, and develop opinions about those facts—is the basis for life-long learning.

Unfortunately, educators started to skip the first two steps and started asking first graders how they feel about what they’re learning before they’ve even had a chance to learn it yet.  This “short cut” is now ingrained for many.  They go right to the opinion making, before they’ve even learned the facts.  (Don’t believe me?  Just listen to talk radio for about 5 minutes, or review those Facebook posts from your friends.)  As Susan Wise Bauer points out in her book, The Well-Educated Mind, “Like badly taught six-year-olds, we are too quick to go straight to opinion making without the intermediate steps of understanding and evaluation.”  And a formal education does not make you immune.  I’ve known Harvard grads to jump right to stage three without ever pausing to gather a fact, while the old Oklahoma farmers I grew up with wouldn’t make a move without “studyin’ up” on a subject first.

So what’s the hardest thing about reading?  Making the time.  As Susan Wise Bauer notes:  “The first task of self-education is not the reading of Plato, but the finding of twenty minutes in which you can devote yourself to thought, rather than to activity.”  Taking care of the kids, getting ready for work, fixing supper, paying bills, checking email, answering the cell phone, all these things push at us.  And we bosses don’t help.  “You don’t have anything to do, well come see me, I’ll give you something to do.”  And I’m willing to bet you’ve never heard, “Why don’t you just go back to your desk and spend the rest of the afternoon reading and thinking.”   We both know that ain’t gonna happen, but I sometimes wonder what great things we might accomplish if it did.

And no, I don’t think you only have to read “The Great Books”—you know, Plato, Shakespeare, Homer.  You can learn a lot from reading well-written novels.  Nora Roberts’ books can take you traveling around the world; Louis L’Amour will take you back to the frontier and steep you in the values of that era.  Tom Clancy will take you into the depths of military technology and current politics.  Reading can be fun.  If you haven’t been reading for a while this is how you should start.  The brain is an organ and it has to be exercised to stay in shape.  Just as you wouldn’t think about running a marathon without training for it, neither should you just jump into a schedule that calls for two hours a day of difficult study.  You won’t stick with it.  So start easy, and build up to it.

Having said that, if it’s a broader education you want, at some point you will have to take the plunge and begin to delve deeper.  History, biography, philosophy, economics, politics, theology.  And even here, you don’t have to devour everything you run across.  As the sixteenth century philosopher, Francis Bacon, has pointed out:  “Some books are to be tasted, others to be swallowed, and some few to be chewed and digested.”  Find a menu that appeals to you, and systematically, and methodically, go through it.

In the meantime, it doesn’t matter where you are in your life right now.  If you want an education it’s there for the taking.  And you can do it in thirty minutes a day.  Get up thirty minutes earlier.  Watch thirty less minutes TV.  Surely there’s thirty minutes that aren’t absolutely “must see”.  (Personally I can give up the thirty minutes for “Two Broke Girls”, just don’t ask me to give up “Big Bang Theory”).  Especially if you haven’t read for a while, thirty minutes is plenty to start.  Much longer than that and you likely won’t stick with it.  As your brain expands you may find your time spent reading expands too.  That’s fine.  Let it happen naturally.

Don’t get caught up in the excuses.  You do have the time.  It’s your choice how to use it.  You can get an education if you really want one.  It’s not up to a school.  It’s up to you.

Sunday, June 29, 2014

This was my first post about the World Cup.  It was eight years ago.

The tension just continues to build, and by this weekend it’ll explode.  No, I’m not talking about work.  I’m talking about FOOTBALL!  “Yeah right”, you say.  “Nobody plays football in July.”  Well, actually they do, it’s just that we in the US tend to ignore them.  “Soccer” is just not “our” sport. 

That’s true, so far as it goes.  But this is true too:  There is not other sporting event in the world like the World Cup.  Nothing compares to it.  More than a billion (with a “B”) fans worldwide will watch France play Italy for the World Championship.  And, yes, I will be one of them.  I hope some of you will be watching also.  (ABC Sports 1:30pm Eastern).

Admittedly, I haven’t got to see as many of the matches as I would like.  Most of the matches have been shown on ESPN or ESPN2, and living in the sticks as we do, we don’t get cable.  We can’t get satellite Direct TV either.

Dear Mr. Horner,

There are a few places in the world, of which “the sticks” of Wyandotte, Oklahoma is not one of them, which do not get satellite TV.  However, you are correct when you say that you can’t get Direct TV.  The solution to this is quite simple:  Pay your bill!  

Sincerely,
The Collections Department, Direct TV 

OK.  They may have a point, but they’re leaving out the “rest of the story”.  However, I digress.  Bottom line is that I have to go to my daughter’s house to watch the big matches with her and her husband.  Fortunately for me, I have a great son-in-law, who either doesn’t mind the intrusion, or is at least polite enough to remain quiet about it.  Besides, their TV is bigger than mine. 

Really it’s only fair.  I blame my kids anyway.  When they were growing up, I made the same mistake young parents often make—I agreed to coach my son’s soccer team.  He’d been playing for a couple of years, but was right at the age when they are supposed to cease chasing after the ball like a flock of young geese, and start learning to play “positions”.  Coaching in this environment is not easy.  You could get the girls to stay put, usually by ignoring the fact that they stayed in place so they could look for four-leaf clovers, but getting the boys to wait for the ball to be passed to them instead of just going and kicking it was an uphill battle.  You might as well wait for hell to freeze over.  It wasn’t happening.  So I spent most of my time running along the touch line hollering uselessly.  Of course, this was back in the days of “non-competitive” soccer.  We didn’t keep score so we could encourage the kids just to go play and have fun.  This didn’t work either.  At the end of the game my son would walk off the pitch and say, “We beat them 12 to 9”.  “How do you know”, I’d ask, “we don’t keep score”.  To which he’d reply:  “Maybe you grown-ups don’t, but we do.  We know who wins”.  And so they did.   

Anyway, part of the reason the World Cup is so big is that it only occurs once every four years.  Sure we have our Super Bowl, but it’s every year.  It’s a pretty big show as it is.  Imagine if we only played the Playoffs and Super Bowl every four years.  It’d be over the top.  And so it is with the World Cup.  From 1958 until 2002, it has been played every other time in Europe or the Americas.  In 2002, it was held in Asia (South Korea and Japan shared the venues) for the first time. 

I’ve noticed that most of those in the US who don’t like soccer complain that the game is too slow.  What they mean is that it is by nature a low scoring game, and doesn’t have touchdowns, homeruns, or slam dunks.  Yet, the same people who tell you that soccer is boring will sit in front of the TV watching the US Open and tell you to “Shhhh.  Mickelson’s putting for a birdie”.  Give me a break!  How can you compare the athletes who run, jostle, trip and tackle without ceasing for two 45 minute halves, plus another two 15 minute overtime periods if required, with a bunch of guys who walk around whaling on a little white ball with a bunch of sticks?  And these guys don’t even carry their own sticks!  Tell you what.  I don’t think I’m the one who doesn’t get it.

Naturally, I’m disappointed that Germany didn’t make it to the final, but I’m delighted that they played as well as they did.  Having lived in Germany for three years, and hosted two German exchange students while my kids were in high school, I have a soft spot for the Black, Red, and Yellow.  Even though Germany is the host country, the “Deutsche Fussballnationalmannschaft”, wasn’t supposed to even make it to the quarter-finals.  They made it all the way to the semi-finals only to lose an overtime heartbreaker to Italy in the last two minutes.  They play great attacking football and hopefully will prevail over Portugal to take third place.  (Saturday on ESPN if you’re interested.  Yes, I’ll be at my daughter’s.  Don’t call.)

But go ahead.  Have a relaxing weekend if you want.  Just chill out by the pool with a daiquiri or two, and catch some rays.  Not me.  My adrenaline is pumping already.  I can barely sit still.  Two days of watching THE BEST football players in the world awaits.  Not for another four years will you have a chance to see this level of skill and talent come together on the same field.  It’s an event not to be missed.  Besides, what will you do Monday when 1.5 Billion of us just want to talk about
 “THE GAME”?

Friday, May 24, 2013

“Oklahoma, where the wind comes sweeping down the plain…”

Normally the wind sweeps out here.  Occasionally it wafts, or meanders.  Almost never is it still.  This is especially true along the Indian Meridian which bisects the state into Range East and Range West.  The wind is so pervasive throughout this region that the story goes that people are so used to leaning into the wind that one day when it did not blow everyone fell down. 

But sometimes the wind gets angry.  Last Monday it got very angry.  Perhaps as angry as it has even been.  And it went on an out-of-control, blind mad, raging stampede right through the Sergeant Major’s hometown of Moore.  When it finished, 24 people were dead, thousands of homes were destroyed or damaged, and two elementary schools were wiped out.  The Sergeant Major’s elementary school was one of them.  Seven children died there.

By the next morning the area had been hit again with another tornado.  This one was made up of first responders, law enforcement officials, good Samaritans, politicians, and, of course, the media.  Most came to do good, a few just to watch, and a few more to prey on the raw emotions of the townspeople.  It was the outsiders though, even the ones who had come to do good, who most often asked the question, “You guys know the wind gets very angry out here.  Why do you stay?”

I’ve been thinking about that a lot, and so too have many of my fellow Oklahomans.  We like to tell people it’s because we’re different.  We don’t “put on airs”.  To meet us is to know us.  Our Governor even told one journalist, that “if you’re going to have a tragedy in your life you want it to be in Oklahoma”. We care about our families, our communities, and our state.  And all of that is true I think, but I wonder why.  Other people have families, communities, and states too.  What is it about Oklahoma?

Perhaps it’s because we’re still somewhat new.  We’ve only been a state a little over a hundred years.  The shine hasn’t completely worn off yet.  That’s a part of it, but I suspect there’s something more.  Something we don’t think of very often, if at all. 

Oklahoma started from nothing.  Nobody wanted this particular piece of ground.  It was considered “uninhabitable”.  The Indians didn’t want it.  They were forced out here at gunpoint by soldiers.  Settlers didn’t want it.  They passed right by it on their way West.  It was populated only after there was absolutely nowhere else to go…and mostly by people no one else wanted living next door to them. 

So the people who made it here were tough.  People that the venerable New York Times once called “ragtag”.  A disparate conglomeration of cowboys, Indians, farmers, freed slaves, oil field workers, and other groups of migrants who settled down and told themselves, “This is it.  We make it here or we don’t make it”.  So they got busy trying to make it.  There just wasn’t time to do anything else.  They taught their kids and grandkids that, “When the going gets tough, the tough get going”.  And so we do.  Somehow we’ve managed not to lose that. 

Moore is a town chock full of people who simply got busy trying to make it.  I know them.  As I said, the Sergeant Major grew up there.  And if there is anyone I know in the world that pushed all the excuses aside and simply got busy trying to make it, it’s her.  Married at 19.  Living in a foreign country with a new born and an often absent husband at 20.  Three kids at 25.  College graduate at 40.  Horse breeder, trainer, homemaker, artist, gardener, builder, engineer, and all-purpose handyman today.  No, she doesn’t know Toby Keith, but she knows the work ethic.  And she reminds our grandson regularly that, “Grandma’s house is a ‘No Whine Zone’”.

But it’s an outsider turned insider who might have summed it up best.  Sam Presti, General Manager of the Oklahoma City Thunder, was born and raised in Massachusetts.  Since he brought the Thunder here five years ago, he’s seen first-hand what Oklahomans can do when they put their minds to it. He makes every new Thunder player visit the Oklahoma City Memorial Museum before they report to work.  He says he wants them to understand the kind of people who live here, the kind of people they’ll be playing for.  In the aftermath of the tornado, he and several of the Thunder players toured the destruction.  They went to encourage, but returned having been themselves encouraged.  Sam said, “It’s clear that the resolve, the resiliency and the faith of the people that have had to endure this is infinitely stronger than that of what has taken place.”  And then he said of his recently adopted home, “There’s a sense of purpose that exists in Oklahoma that makes all of us proud to call it home”.  He’s even got a name for it.  He calls it,  “the Oklahoma Standard”.

No, we’re not leaving.  Moore will rebuild, albeit with more storm shelters for next time.  And yes, we all know, there will be a next time.  And a next time after that too.  But we’ll still be here, staying busy trying to make it.  After all, we have a Standard to uphold.

"And when we say Yeeow!  Ayipioeeay!
We’re only sayin’ you’re doin’ fine, Oklahoma!
Oklahoma! O.K."

Sunday, March 17, 2013


“When Irish eyes are smiling,
Sure ‘tis like the morn in Spring…”

Sure it is.  Cloudy.  Cold.  With just a hint of the bitter wind of Winter still in the air.  Wait a minute.  That’s my eyes I’m talking about.  Sorry, I guess I got confused again.  Oh, I’m Irish alright, but most of you probably wouldn’t accuse my eyes of smiling a lot.  I’m more like Eeyore, “And a good day to you too.  If it is a good day.  Which I doubt”.

 But all that aside, I really am Irish.  My Great-grandfather Horner was born in County Armagh in the North.  He was the patriarch of an extended family who settled in the “Cherokee Strip” in Oklahoma Territory in 1894.  My Great-grandfather Dunlavy arrived here much earlier and settled his family in the Stephen F. Austin Colony in Texas sometime around 1832.  So being solidly descended from the “Wild Geese,” today is a good day for me without doubt.  Even though here in Wyandotte it’s cloudy, cold, a mist in the air with that subtle hint that Winter isn’t quite gone yet, my Irish eyes are smiling anyway. 

Thanks to the large emigration of brothers, cousins, and countless friends from Ireland to the US in the 1800’s, today—Saint Patrick’s Day—is still one of the more joyful holidays we celebrate.  It’s known for parades, parties, corned beef and cabbage, and of course, green beer.  (Unfortunately I’ve reached an age where green beer doesn’t sit that well with me, but the Sergeant Major just told me she thinks there’s some green bologna in the back of the fridge somewhere.)

 St Patrick, though, was actually British.  He was born to Roman parents in the vicinity of the England/Scotland border.  While in his teens, he was kidnapped and taken to Ireland by Niall of the Nine Hostages.  (What a great name for a terrorist, huh?) Anyway, Niall sold him for a few bucks, and his new owner put him to work as a shepherd.  For six years he lived alone with only his sheep for company.  Not much else is known of this period of his life, as even then, people did not find it comfortable to talk about lonely teenage boys and their sheep.  But at some point, he began to hear a voice from God.  Go figure. 

 Anyway, the voice told him that the time had come for him to escape, “See, your ship is ready”.  Patrick looked down the mountain but couldn’t see any ship.  He couldn’t even see the sea for that matter, so he started walking.  Some 200 miles later he came to the sea, and sure enough there was a ship.  He got on it, and sailed back to Briton where he was immediately captured by another band of terrorists and sold back into slavery.  The voice in his head told him just to go with it for a couple of months and it would be OK.  And so it was.

He spent the next seven years just banging around Europe trying to figure out what he wanted to do with his life.  After getting his fill of German beer, French cheese, and Italian spaghetti, he decided that he would become a true servant of God.  He entered a monastery to study, and eventually returned to England as a priest. 

 Meanwhile, back in Ireland, the few Christians who were there were really having a bad time of it at the hands of the Druids.  It seems these Druids could really hit the “threes”, and the Christians just weren’t able to get it through the hoop.  (Hey, it’s March, right?)  So they called back to the Pope to see if he had anybody on the bench who might be able to contribute. The Pope calls out Patrick, makes him a Bishop, and sends him into the game. 

 They had a little success then, converting Dichu, a major landowner, to the Christian side, and they played defense OK, but the offense just couldn’t seem to get untracked.  Around Easter time, they decided to let it all hang out, and built a large bonfire in honor of Easter.  Now, this may not sound like much, except that the Druids reserved the lighting of the first bonfire of Spring for their High King, a guy named Laoghaire.  To say they were some kind of pissed off is to put it mildly.  Things really got physical then, but Patrick kept his cool, impressing the King, who gave him a chance to speak. 

 Patrick explained to the King, that unlike the Druids who believed that there were many gods in nature, the Christians only believed in one God who had three personalities—the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  Well, the Druids just fell out.  They were standing there laughing their asses off, when Patrick quickly reached down to the ground and pulled up a sprig of clover.  He pointed out to Laoghaire:  “Here.  There is one stem, but there are three leaves on it.  So it is with the Blessed Trinity.  There is one God, but three persons stemming from the same divinity”. 

 Laoghaire was mightily impressed, and didn’t even ask what Patrick would have done if he’d grabbed a four-leaf clover instead.  So he gave Patrick permission to travel throughout Ireland preaching the gospel of Christ.  He did indeed win many converts, the Dunlavy’s among them, and legend has it that God granted him his one request—that the Irish would keep their faith for all time and that they be spared the horrors of Judgment Day.  When that day comes it will be Saint Patrick himself who will judge us.  (Now you know why I made such a big deal of establishing my Irish bona fides.)

The story ends on this day—March 17—in the year 461 AD.  Patrick went to be with his Lord, and we Irish choose this day to honor his life. 

 May the road rise up to meet you.                                           
May the wind be always at your back.
May the sun shine warm upon your face.
May the rains fall soft upon your fields.
And until we meet again,
May God hold you in the hollow of His hand.”
--Old Irish Blessing

Monday, March 4, 2013

“You can’t hide your lyin’ eyes,
And your smile is a thin disguise.”

Back in the day, honesty was a quality much admired.  To be thought of as a liar was to be avoided at all costs.  To be called a liar was to invite a fight.  With fists, and right now.  It grew out of the need for survival in a hostile wilderness.  When news of the day was carried by word of mouth, those mouths had better be accurate, or people could literally die.  When life and death decisions were made every day based on the word of a stranger, honesty took a prominent role in the preservation of the society.
But that was then, and this is now as they say.  Lying has been raised to new heights.  It has become even fashionable.  Misrepresenting who you are is now an art form no longer confined to the actors on a stage.  We’ve finally reached the era of Mr. Shakespeare’s prediction:  “All the world is a stage, and all the men and women merely players.”  Yeah.  We’re there.  What role do you want to play today?
Perhaps you want to overcome cancer and win the Tour de France more than once.  Just do it dishonestly and lie about it.  What’s the worst that can happen?  You get caught and invited to star on Oprah! ?  Could be worse. 
Get good enough at it and you can get elected to important government posts where you have access to other people’s money.  Lots of other people’s money.  When you can get a Senator from your own party to tell the voting public that you are “an unusually good liar” they’ll hand you a second term on a platter.  After all, we expect our Presidents to be “unusually good”.  Run-of-the-mill is not nearly good enough for us. 
But it gets better.  The practice of lying has become an art form in the Congress of the United States.  It reaches its zenith with the naming of the bills they pass into law.  A recent favorite is “The American Taxpayer Relief Act of 2012”.  This Act raised income taxes on the “rich”, and payroll taxes on everyone else.  Some “relief”. 
Dear Cowboy:
We appreciate your command of the English language, so let us point out that you are simply using the wrong interpretation of the word “relief”.  To provide “relief” you must merely “relieve” them of some burden which they are carrying.  Our Act simply “relieves” people of the excess cash that they so carelessly carry around in their pockets. 
Sincerely,
The Select Committee for the Careful Naming of Bills in the Congress of the United States

I guess they have a point.  I mean, what might have happened if all that cash started burning holes in people’s pockets all at once?  We don’t have enough firefighters to prevent  a serious catastrophe.  So, I guess it really is a relief that someone was thinking ahead.

It’s bad enough that distrust and deliberate dishonesty are eroding our social contracts.  Equally concerning is our investigation of our own universe.  It was still early in my grade school career that I was taught “the scientific method”.  This was the approach that scientists used to discover the truth about the world around us.  Simply put it taught us to: “Ask questions.  Research.  Determine the facts.  Draw conclusions”.  It resulted in the elimination of polio as a significant threat.  It got men to the Moon and back safely.  It created technological and medical advances that have made us the richest and healthiest people to ever live on this planet.  But it too is falling victim to the lie.  The new version of the method says:  “Here is the conclusion.  Research and see what facts you can find to support it.  Don’t ask any questions”.  Fundamental dishonesty.  And it limits our advancement.

We hear lots of complaints these days about the “decline of society”, and dozens of reasons from video games to single parent families to Hollywood.  But the root cause is based in a simple question and answer:
Q:  “Can I trust you?”

A:  “Probably not.”

From celebrated sports heroes to false parish priests to lying politicians to pseudo-scientists who manipulate the “facts”, we’ve come to distrust almost everyone, and almost every institution.  The devolution will continue until we start back on the road to being honest.  “Yes”, means “yes”.  “No” means “no”.  And we quit arguing about what “is” is.

“A commentary on the times is that the word 'honesty' is now preceded by 'old-fashioned'”.
--Larry Wolters