A FALLEN SOLDIER

 

I never met the man I’ll refer to as Robert, but I feel like I know him. Tragically, his story is true.

Robert was only 20 years old when he was killed in Vietnam. It can be persuasively argued that he died an unnecessary death. Today he is just another heartbreaking statistic like the tens of thousands of other soldiers who died in the national tragedy that was referred to as merely a conflict even though our involvement spanned 15 plus years and 5 Presidencies. His death occurred in the early 1970’s as a result of “small arms fire” – an innocuous phrase which doesn’t begin to relate the horror of dying alone, thousands of miles from home. Unfortunately, his story is not much different from that of so many other soldiers who served in Southeast Asia, which is what makes it so infuriating. Sadly, as history has proved, there was no need for his life to be snuffed out at such a tender age.

I discovered Robert by accident while looking online at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall. I did some research and discovered that there were many things about us that were similar – including the fact that we were born in the same month within a few days of each other – however – he was 4 years older than me, and that simple fact cost him his life and saved mine. 48 months made all the difference in which of us had to go to hell and die and who got to stay home, get married, have a child, run a successful business and have a long, rewarding life. The unfairness of one person dying while another gets to live is an issue that humanity has always struggled with, but the inequity is even more pronounced when death occurs without sufficient cause.

I do not know whether Robert was drafted or if he enlisted. Perhaps he believed in the moral claim that we should fight communism wherever we might find it, on the other hand, he may have had strong feelings that the war was immoral and that we had no right to be there. Whatever the case, he lost his life due to the poor decisions that were made by politicians who were far too willing to escalate the fighting as long as they didn’t have to witness first hand the effects of their decisions. It has always been the case that the price of war is paid by the brave soldiers who are wounded and killed while political leaders sit back in safety and comfort pondering their next military move without considering the appalling death and destruction that result from their actions.

If Robert had lived he would be nearing retirement age, but he would still have many years of life ahead of him to enjoy. If he had not been cut down in Vietnam he probably would have gotten married and had children who, in turn, could have given him grandchildren to spoil. He could have chosen a meaningful career and spent his free time engaged in pursuits that he found fulfilling. He could’ve used his life to make a positive difference for others. It is impossible to know how many lives he could have affected, the influence he could have had or the change he could have made in the world – but it was not to be. Robert’s life was taken by another human being who knew that shooting him was absolutely necessary to avoid being shot himself…kill or be killed…that is the insanity of war.

Each tragic death that occurs during a military action produces countless questions. Did Robert look into the eyes of the person who shot him or did the bullet seem to come from nowhere? Did Robert die instantly? Was he allowed to escape agonizing pain or did he linger and suffer while waiting for a helicopter to come to his aid? Did he slip quietly into shock or did he cry out over and over again for his loved ones? Were his buddies able to get to him immediately or did it take hours to recover his body? What about the individual who shot him? Was Robert the first person he had ever killed or had he been exposed to the horror of war for so long that it was no longer shocking to take a human life? Perhaps his enemy is still alive today or maybe they eventually shared the same fate.

When I think I’m having a bad day, I try to remember Robert. The sacrifice of his life certainly puts my insignificant problems into perspective. I have now been blessed with an additional 38 years that was denied to him. I hope that I have not wasted those decades foolishly. I do know that as I grow older I have a more heightened sense of time. The realization of just how brief a human life span really is begins to settle in when you reach your mid-fifties. You look back and consider the choices you made, you think about the things you did or didn’t do. You wonder if you were unkind or selfish. You worry that you might have taken advantage of other people. You are concerned that you might have hurt others by being careless. But worst of all you are afraid that you neglected the ones you love. In the end you wonder whether you contributed in any meaningful way to making life better in this world. Upon reflection it is quite easy to feel regret about not appreciating the value of every single day.

But at least I was allowed to experience those days. By being born 4 years after Robert I did not have to experience the terror or degradation of war. I was spared the stench of seared flesh and the sight of mangled corpses. I was spared from seeing the small graves dug for children. I was spared from the brutal reality of having to pull a trigger and end another human being’s life. I certainly did nothing to deserve my good fortune, anymore than Robert deserved the fate that was handed to him. It is simply the way it happened all those years ago.

The legacy of Vietnam can be found in the horrific numbers; 58,227 killed. 150,000 plus wounded. 21,000 permanently disabled. Each individual statistic represents a human being who had hopes and dreams just like you and me. Each one of these people had family and friends who loved them deeply and whose lives were changed forever by their death. Robert was simply one person who, along with more than 200,000 others, had their lives shattered by political considerations that were given more weight than the value of human lives.

I know for a fact that both of Robert’s parents lived many more years without him. How deep was their pain each time they endured another Christmas without their son? How much sorrow did they have to withstand when his birthday came each year? How many times did his mother wish she could give him one more hug? How often did his father grieve because he knew that Robert would have been a wonderful dad if he’d been given the chance to have children of his own? How many years did the anniversary of his death haunt their lives? While it is true that the pain of losing a loved one diminishes over time, the fact remains that a parent never expects to outlive their child. It does not seem right. It is not the natural order of things. But, of course, there is nothing natural about war.

Each year on the last Monday in May we remember those who have tragically fallen in the line of duty – but the true tragedy is that there has to be a Memorial Day at all.

 

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OKLAHOMA

When the average person thinks about Oklahoma two things usually come to mind: Native Americans and the OU Sooner football team – but there is considerably more to it than that.

This medium size state with its uniquely shaped panhandle has been my home for 57 of my 58 years. My family moved here when I was just nine months old which makes it the only home I‘ve ever really known. However, for a good part of my life I spent a significant amount of time wishing I lived somewhere else. This flat, dusty, wind-swept stretch of earth did not hold the same appeal for me as an exciting place like New York City where every opportunity and possibility existed. It wasn’t that Oklahoma was a bad place; it just wasn’t where I wanted to be.

Part of the problem was that I didn’t fit in. Out here in the heartland people drive pick-up trucks. They hunt and they fish. They know how to work with their hands, and they have a special affinity for the land. They embrace nature, and they spend as much time outdoors as they can…I might as well be from another planet. I drive a car made by a company based in South Korea. I’m a vegetarian so I have no interest in killing living things in order to consume them. I have no ability to use my hands in any meaningful type of work, and I can stay indoors for days on end sitting in front of a computer without giving nature a second thought until I hear the squirrels chewing on the wiring in the attic.

But that’s not all. There were other ways in which I felt I did not belong. Politically, Oklahoma is very conservative. I’m a liberal Democrat. My home state is part of the so called “Bible Belt” and Christian fundamentalism is prominent. I choose to abstain from all forms of organized religion. Oklahoma is a hotbed for country music. Garth, Reba, Vince and Carrie all come from here, however, I prefer Dylan and the Stones. I love big cities, but there is an overall rural feel to Oklahoma. Even in the metropolitan areas of this state you know you are only a few miles away from cows. It is an odd place in the sense that it is comprised, for the most part, of empty space. On a clear day you can see 15 miles in every direction. There is nothing, man-made or otherwise, to obstruct your view.

Oklahoma has always had to play second fiddle to Texas, which has bigger cities that attract people, jobs and money. Until we landed the Oklahoma City Thunder NBA franchise we had always been a minor league state. If you wanted to see pro sports you had to drive to Dallas or Kansas City or St. Louis. As a kid growing up, everyone my age idolized Oklahoma’s own Mickey Mantle, the legendary center fielder for the Yankees. And yet no one I knew had ever gotten to see a big league game. We were convinced we lived in the middle of nowhere. It just felt like Oklahoma didn’t belong on the same stage as the big boys. We were always second best. Major corporations would locate their headquarters in the Dallas – Fort Worth metroplex and then if we were lucky we would get a small branch office in OKC or Tulsa. It’s not easy to live in the shadow of the largest state in the lower 48. It seemed like Oklahoma was a place that was easy for the rest of the nation to ignore.

Unfortunately, our history had contributed to an inaccurate portrait of the state. The dust bowl in the 30’s and the stereotyping of “Okies” painted a picture of poverty and a certain lack of sophistication. While it is true to this day that there is still plenty of dust and wind in Oklahoma, it is no less true that it has become a picturesque place in a pastoral kind of way. Out here on the Great Plains, the prairie seems to stretch out endlessly in all directions. On the other hand, it is precisely because of our location that we get to endure a seemingly endless string of tornadoes each year. The Storm Prediction Center of the National Weather Service is located in Norman with good reason. Storm chasers from all over the nation converge on our state each spring because they know that Oklahoma is in the bull’s eye of tornado alley. The wailing of sirens is something you grow up with around here. It is a part of life that you learn to accept just like the relentless 30 mph wind that strikes fear into the heart of any man with a comb over. Twisters, as they are referred to by the locals, are usually rated by old timers based on the year in which they occurred. “Yeah the twister last year was big, but it didn’t hold a candle to the one that took out Ponca City back in ‘55!”

So, all things considered, Oklahoma, in my mind, was not a place you wanted to go to – but rather a place you wanted to get away from.

However, my thinking changed completely on April 19, 1995.

It has been 18 years since the Oklahoma City bombing. 168 mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters, sons and daughters were murdered that day. More than 680 were physically injured and many others suffered psychologically as entire families were ripped apart. Not even the most innocent were spared. 19 were slaughtered under the age of 6. On that day, nothing about you mattered. Your gender, your ethnicity and your age played no part in whether you lived or died. The insanity that exploded just outside the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building at 9:02 AM claimed its victims with utter randomness. Flying debris struck down one person while completely missing another. Walls collapsed in one office but remained standing in the next. The thin line between life and death could not have been finer. But for 168 human beings the end of their lives came with such shocking abruptness that it is still difficult to understand. How could such heartbreaking carnage take place on sunny spring day in a quiet out-of-the-way place like Oklahoma.

As the scope of the disaster began to unfold, the entire nation started to grieve for a region that had too often been dismissed by me, and others, as a barren, insignificant part of the Southwest. Suddenly Oklahomans were no longer faceless caricatures stuck in the middle of the country. They were recognized for what they really were; fellow citizens who had suffered the most devastating kind of loss imaginable. It is one thing to lose loved ones because of circumstances that cannot be prevented, but to have them torn from your life needlessly, adds another dimension of pain and heartache.

For a few terrible days Oklahoma became the focal point of the country, and what the nation witnessed was the quiet courage, strength and dignity demonstrated by a region that most Americans had very little knowledge about. They watched with admiration as the people of this state came together as one. After all this time, it is still not unusual to meet someone who lost a family member, friend or co-worker in the tragedy. It is the defining moment in our state’s history, and although it is not something that is constantly discussed or dwelled on, it is ever-present in the fabric of our society. From time to time you come across unexpected memorials put up in various locations honoring those who were senselessly killed, and, of course, there is the Bombing Memorial itself.

When people visit our state, the Oklahoma City National Memorial & Museum is one of the first sites they want to see. It draws people from all walks of life back to a tragic moment in time that united our nation in sorrow. It is a very special place filled with both pain and hope. It honors those who died, as well as those who risked their own safety to rescue the injured. It shows the resilience of the people of Oklahoma and their ability to embrace the future without forgetting the past. But most importantly, the Memorial helps to replace statistics with 168 names and faces.

It was in those immediate days following the bombing that my opinion of Oklahoma changed forever. I finally realized that what really mattered about my home was the inspiring compassion of the people. Our differences no longer seemed relevant. In the span of a week I witnessed the horror of death and the courage of survival. I not only saw neighbors help neighbors I also watched people make amazing sacrifices for complete strangers. In the worst possible moment I saw the best of humanity. The people of Oklahoma demonstrated strength of character that rose above the cruel brutality that had shattered so many lives. I was proud of my state, and I knew that no matter where I might search I would never find better people.

Oklahoma is my home. It is where I went to school, raised a family and will probably retire. It is regrettable that it took such a tragedy to open my eyes to what was already all around me – but it was just one more lesson learned from that awful day.

It is important to remember April 19th for exactly what it was.

It was a day when children waited for mothers and fathers who never came home.

THE OLD MEN

I used to frequent a restaurant on Saturday mornings, and there was a group of old men who sat in the corner and drank coffee together. It was usually the same bunch of ten to twelve although occasionally someone new would join and a regular would drop out. The old men liked to sit and solve the world’s problems over steaming cups of black coffee. You wouldn’t find these guys drinking flavors like Irish Mocha or French Vanilla or adding whipped cream to their drinks. These were men with nicotine stained fingers that sometimes bothered to shave the overnight stubble but just as likely would not. Their faces were deeply lined and their skin was leathery from years of hard work in the sun. None of these men had ever paid for a tan. They would discuss politics, religion and every other topic that is forbidden and occasionally the political talk would become heated, but eventually cooler heads would prevail and the local sports teams would become the unifying subject they could all agree on. Some of these men were obviously farmers. They proudly wore caps with the logo of their favorite farm machinery on them, and a couple wore overalls every week. Others had probably been businessmen, factory workers – almost anything.

Over the months I couldn’t help but notice that one of the men was a little quieter than the others. He seemed to have full acceptance within the group, but he caught my attention because he wasn’t as loud and didn’t laugh quite as much as the rest. I eventually learned his name was Pete. One morning the guys got to talking about how annoying their wives were, and they began throwing around the usual stereotypes that crop up when a group of men, who have been married to the same long-suffering woman for decades, feel the need to express their marital frustrations. However, I noticed that Pete didn’t say a word. He just sat silently staring into his coffee cup. It was at that point I noticed he wasn’t wearing a wedding ring like the others. After the joking and complaining about the wives subsided one of the men turned to Pete and gently asked, “How long has Louise been gone now?” Pete looked up with an expression that conveyed both weariness and pain and softly answered, “Three years, last month.” The old men sat silently for a time each contemplating what their days would be like if the woman they had shared a lifetime with was no longer by their side.

As I eventually learned, Pete had been a medic in the Korean War, and the horror he witnessed during that conflict affected him for the rest of his life. He had come home in a different mental state, and his outlook on the world had completely changed. He often disagreed with the other old men who always seemed gung-ho to bomb someone somewhere back into the Stone Age, however, he had witnessed so much death that he could no longer stomach the thought of it. But it was the fact that Pete had lost a son in Vietnam that made the others respect his opinions about peace. His boy had been killed by small arms fire just 6 weeks before his tour of duty was over. Pete and Louise had gone to Washington DC one summer to visit the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall. Like so many others they had found their son’s name and made a tracing of it on a sheet of paper. Pete carried it in his wallet so that he was never without it…But there were also good things in his life. I found out Pete had two beautiful daughters who meant the world to him, and he loved to show off photos of his great-grandchildren. He didn’t travel to see them as much now that Louise was gone, but they still kept in touch and came to visit him whenever possible.

Over the next year or so I slowly learned that after returning home from the army Pete briefly considered using his medical training for some type of civilian work, but his nerves were frayed, and he knew he couldn’t handle anymore human suffering. Instead he took a job at a local manufacturing plant that produced tires for cars and trucks. He spent 46 years at the plant working his way up to management. When he retired, a small party was thrown for him and he was given a few simple gifts and a pat on the back for giving four decades of his life to the company. It was a few months after his retirement when Pete stumbled onto the group of men drinking coffee each morning at the restaurant near his home. Like him, many had been told their services were no longer needed, and they too had been cast aside after it was determined their ongoing usefulness to a particular organization was in doubt. Pete had felt lost without a job to go to each day, but now he discovered he wasn’t alone. It didn’t take long for Pete to become one of the regulars.

Over the next couple of years I had breakfast almost every Saturday morning at the restaurant while I listened to the old timers talk longingly about how things used to be. But my attention was always drawn to Pete. In the beginning I thought he was just another old man, the kind of person you see every day without giving a thought to, but the more I learned about him the more interesting he became. It was an odd thing because it seemed like I knew him fairly well and yet we never spoke. We had seen each other so often that each of us would nod when the other came into the building but that was it – just a quiet acknowledgement of the other’s existence – nothing more.

Finally one Saturday morning I came into the restaurant and noticed the old men sitting quietly. As I ate, I kept wondering when Pete would arrive but soon enough I understood that he was never again going to be part of the group. As I listened to the brief snatches of conversation the picture became clear. Pete had suffered a massive stroke earlier in the week. One of the men had spoken to Pete’s oldest daughter, and she had told him that the doctors said that her father would never recover. It was apparently now just a matter of time until he passed. Several of the men blustered about how they would never want to be kept alive in that condition, but it seemed that no one really had the heart to express their opinion on the pros and cons of extending life. The group soon fell silent as they sipped their coffee lost in their own thoughts.

It was a strange feeling that came over me when I realized I would never see Pete again. I wasn’t sure why I felt so sad. I didn’t even know his last name. But for some reason Pete remained in my thoughts over the next few months. I would think about him when I saw other elderly men. I would wonder if he was still alive, if he could recognize the face of a grandchild. About 6 months later the restaurant was closed and eventually it was torn down, but it had served its purpose. It had been a place of community for a group of men who had lived long hard lives, who had been patriotic with more than just words but also with deeds. These were men who had raised families and did their best to make the world a safe and prosperous place for their children. These were men who were now being passed by as younger generations ignored them and the sacrifices they had made.

I’m sure some of the old men scattered to new places to drink and solve the latest world crisis, while others just stayed home. But for a time they had shared their hopes, dreams and experiences. They had connected in a way that younger people do not. Their shared history of life created a bond that was difficult for someone of a different age to understand. Although their appreciation and sympathy for each other went unspoken, it was clearly understood. Each man valued the worth of the other because they were equals. They were survivors.

Pete had led an anonymous life. How many others were like me and had never bothered to learn his last name? But it would the worst kind of disrespect to say it was not a life of consequence. He had been married to someone he obviously loved deeply. He had brought three children into the world and he had been blessed with grandchildren and great-grandchildren. He had fought for the country he loved and he had saved many lives in the process. It appeared that he had been a man of character and convictions, and yet he had endured the worst that life has to offer. Pete was just an ordinary man who had done the best he could, in the circumstances he found himself in. What more can anyone do?

How often do we look at older men or women without really seeing them? Do we realize the history that is represented by each of these lives? Many of them made extraordinary sacrifices that I can’t even imagine. They lived through the Great Depression and World War II. They survived marriages, divorces, the birth and deaths of loved ones. They have had a jobs and careers through the years and possibly lost them both. As they aged they have battled their own health problems and they may be bravely living with a disease or condition right now that will eventually claim their life. Everyone that is my age and younger owes a debt to those who came before us that we will never be able to repay. When you see an older person it is easy to forget that they were once the exact same age as you. When you look at them you are seeing your future. We must treat them with the dignity and respect they deserve because one day we will be in their place.

Who knows, maybe someday I’ll sit in the corner of a restaurant and drink coffee with a group of my contemporaries. Perhaps we will also trade lies, exaggerated stories and mindless conversation to pass the time. And if I do, I’m sure I’ll remember Pete and his friends. I will be fortunate to have what they had.

 

 

CAPITAL PUNISHMENT

There is no greater decision we can make than determining whether or not to take a human life.

Every society in the world has struggled with the moral and legal ramifications of using the death penalty. Most have either made the decision to ban it completely, or it is under a moratorium. Only 21% of the nations on Earth still allow this practice including, unfortunately, the three with the largest populations: China, India and the United States. All of the European countries, Canada, Mexico, Australia and even Russia no longer allow its use. So why is it still tolerated in a modern civilization like America? Is it simply an act of revenge? Is it because we want an individual to suffer while at the same time making ourselves feel better about controlling the behaviors of those within our society? Why do we feel like we have to demonstrate that killing is wrong – by killing again?

It is hard to believe that terminating a human life is ever the answer to a problem. Our entire social structure is set up to preserve life at all costs. We do everything possible from the moment of conception until the death certificate is signed to keep an individual alive. No expense is spared to ensure their well-being and longevity. The problem is that at some point we spin 180 degrees and stop believing in the sanctity of life. The same individual that our society educated and kept in good health because his life was considered equal to ours is suddenly deemed unworthy of any mercy and he or she is executed. In one brief moment we decide that life is not sacred after all. We decide that although we are mere mortals we have the absolute right to play God by deciding who lives and who dies.

Embracing the death penalty is a sign of weakness. It is a way of giving up on ourselves. When we execute a human being we are saying that we are not intelligent enough to find a way to deal with the violence that permeates our society. We are convincing ourselves that we are not smart enough to get beyond killing as a solution. In truth we know that the answers to controlling violence, rape and murder is present in the upbringing of a child, both at home and at school. It is at that time that the values we embrace as a free society must be taught and instilled. To kill AFTER the crime has been committed does nothing to heal societies ills and, in fact, creates an atmosphere filled with more violence, hatred and the devaluation of human life.

When someone commits a horrific crime do they suddenly become less than human? Once convicted are they suddenly unworthy of taking their next breath? Do we no longer regard them as worth saving? We must understand that when we take a human life we are all demeaned, we are all diminished, and we are all responsible. It is not our place to decide who lives and who dies because when we make that decision we are committing the very same crime as the person who used a gun to kill someone in a robbery. In both cases human beings are deciding that another person is worthless and can be killed. In both cases it is wrong, it is immoral and it cannot be tolerated. Of course the argument is often made that by killing a convicted felon we keep him from ever killing again, but that can also be accomplished with a life sentence and no parole.

Proponents of the death penalty also claim it is a tremendous cost saving measure. A lethal injection is far cheaper than housing a convict for 30 or 40 years. But there is a far greater cost to us than just money. When we teach our children that it is okay to kill men and women under certain circumstances we are letting them know that we do not believe that all human beings are equal, and that some have less of right to live than others. We instill in them the right to kill if they feel it is necessary. In the end it comes down to this: either we believe in the sanctity of life or we don’t. Picking and choosing who lives and who dies is another way of saying that we do not believe that everyone’s life has equal value and meaning. It is our way of saying that we have absolute authority over other human beings. It says that we are willing to kill a healthy adult – who may be a mother or father – because we do not approve of their actions.

This willingness to kill has a numbing effect on us that produces catastrophic results. When we kill “legally” – whether it’s through capital punishment, abortion or through a seemingly endless stream of wars – we are devaluing human life at every turn. We become less sensitive to death and we begin to believe that it should be permitted in the right circumstances. Of course these are actually situations where there is some perceived benefit to us to end someone else‘s life, but we like to gloss over that fact so that we can feel morally justified in our actions and avoid any nagging guilt that may linger regarding our impulse to kill. We begin to accept death far too easily.

What if one day you were convicted of a crime you didn’t commit and an execution date was set – would you still believe in the death penalty?

 

GUNS

Too often guns and poverty go hand in hand.

Whether it’s all out war or localized armed conflicts, guns play a prominent role in spreading poverty rapidly over broad areas. One cannot help but be struck by the fact that in developing nations where children are decimated by hunger – there are guns. In regions where people die from treatable illnesses because there is no medicine – there are guns. In areas where babies are stillborn and women die during childbirth without medical care – there are guns. And in over crowded slums where the disabled line the streets begging – there are guns. No matter how severe the poverty, nothing seems to supersede the need to have guns. Sadly a firearm can unleash hate and evil in an instant. One momentary lapse in judgment can change at least two lives forever. That is why the ability of one individual to kill effortlessly at will is a terrible and frightening thing. But we must come to grips with the fact that, for the foreseeable future, guns are here to stay. That being said, the real solution to the problem of violence and the murders that occur at gunpoint is a change in us. Humanity has to re-examine how we value life. We have to have the courage to step back from the easy opportunity to kill.

Guns are prevalent because there is significant money to be made by selling arms to those who are convinced they need them. Governments that do not care about the immorality of spreading death to those who are already suffering are happy to line their pockets with the blood stained money they can easily make by supplying every side in a conflict with weapons. There is no consideration given to right or wrong or a distinction made between freedom and tyranny, there is just easy money to be made supplying the instruments of death that will guarantee that a particular area remains locked in brutal poverty for years to come. Governments who deal in arms do not care if their products are used by children who have been forced to join militias. They do not care if their goods murder innocent civilians. They do not care if their merchandise maims and cripples both physically and psychologically. They just want to make money. For them it is not a life and death matter – it’s just business.

It is a grievous form of irony that so many men of peace have been murdered with firearms. Abraham Lincoln, Mahatma Gandhi, Medgar Evers, John Kennedy, Martin Luther King, Robert Kennedy, John Lennon and many more all sought peace in their own ways and yet all died violently at the hands of one individual with a gun. Stop and think about the potential these men had to offer humanity, but in one moment all of that wisdom, courage, leadership and creativity was snuffed out by the pull of a trigger…and yet the firm belief that guns are not only a necessity but a desirable addition to a civilized world persists. It is difficult to comprehend how making killing as easy and affordable as possible helps a society. To put a deadly weapon into the hands of someone who is not mentally or emotionally competent to handle such responsibility is not only dangerous it is morally wrong. However, in a capitalist society right or wrong does not count. The money behind the organizations and lobbyists that fight for the right of every unstable American to own a weapon is all that matters. Our political leaders are bought and sold. In America bullets have more power than ballots.

For the most part guns exist for one basic purpose and that is to take life. Whether they are used on human beings or animals, firearms are our preferred method of killing. However, it is important to point out that a gun is just an inanimate object that cannot hurt anyone. It is the human being who picks it up that suddenly has the power to kill. So it is our attitude towards the sanctity of life that determines how we use a firearm, and, unfortunately, life is cheap in many parts of the world. Human beings are killed everyday because of their gender, their ethnicity, their sexual orientation, their political viewpoints or because of their religious beliefs. When you have a disagreement with someone who has a gun they have the option of winning that argument by ending your life. If it is a one on one encounter it is murder. On a larger scale it is war. In the worst case it is genocide. But at what ever level, it comes down to our unwillingness to value every human life equally.

For the one billion human beings trapped in the horror of extreme poverty having guns added to their daily existence elevates the possibility of danger to an unbearable level. A young man who literally has nothing in his life except the AK-47 he holds in his hands, reveres the weapon for all the potential it represents. In his mind it symbolizes freedom because no one can tell him what to do when he has 30 cartridges he can unleash in a short burst. It frees him from the need to earn money because he can simply take what he wants. It delivers him from those who would oppress him because he can oppress them first. It changes him from a victim into an aggressor, and it can change him from someone who respects human life into someone who can kill without hesitation.

In poverty-stricken areas around the world – including America – boys as young as 8 years of age carry guns in the belief that it offers at least some measure of security in a life that has always been unpredictable at best. In their immature minds a weapon levels the playing field, allowing those who are armed to fight back against the injustice that is inherent in poverty. Many young men feel it gives them respect to be seen carrying a gun. After all, in their hands they hold a device that gives them command over life and death. Each person that comes into contact with them is at their mercy. They believe a gun gives them absolute control in a world where they have never had control over anything. All of their lives they have been a victims, but suddenly they move from being powerless to being individuals with the ultimate power of life and death over others. They are convinced that a firearm gives them a way to fight back against the helplessness of their lives.

Tragically a gun gives anyone the power of God.

 

POLITICS

I am a registered Democrat but only because, in my view, it is the lesser of two evils – but not by much. Both parties have dismal track records on almost every issue you can think of. Both are bought and paid for by lobbyists that represent corporate America who, as we know, rarely has the average citizen’s best interest in mind. They are both slaves to the military establishment in the sense that a thoughtful person cannot even mention possibly cutting the defense budget without being branded a traitor by Fox News and the Right Wing fringe. Politicians know that they have to “play the game” if they are going to be successful and that game revolves exclusively around money.

Those in office have always been a great source of material for comedians, however, the decisions we entrust them with are anything but funny. Often they literally hold our lives and the lives of our loved ones in their hands because they have the ultimate power to send our sons and daughters to die in wars thousands of miles away. This responsibility should not be given lightly. It is important that we try to find individuals with the proper combination of courage and compassion. They must have the intellectual capacity to see problems clearly, but they can never forget that human beings will bear the brunt of their decisions whatever they might be. We must find people on both sides of the aisle who care more about service to humanity than lining their own pockets or constantly trying to quench their thirst for power. Elected officials can affect you and your family in profound ways and yet we think of them as little more than punch lines to the jokes told on late night TV.

Unfortunately, political discourse in this day and age is little more than sound bites, clever lines and slogans designed to break through the noise and grab the attention of the press for one brief moment. There seems to be no real substance or strategies to deal with the complex issues our nation faces. Part of the problem is that politicians do not have the moral conviction to take a stand on anything for fear of offending a particular segment of the electorate. This constant preoccupation with doing only the things that can get you re-elected leads to a crippling lack of action. It is far easier to continually vote against progressive ideas than it is to actually develop innovative approaches that can be thought provoking and that can create the atmosphere of cooperation needed to advance programs that help to solve society’s problems in a just and fair way.

But instead of working together in a spirit of goodwill, we are consistently in a state of gridlock. This is due, in part, because of the extreme positions taken by both sides and the total unwillingness to find any middle ground. One party continually raises taxes destroying the financial futures of average Americans while the other party cuts taxes so severely that critical services, which millions of people depend on, are decimated. Unfortunately, the programs that are eliminated typically affect the most vulnerable among us. Surely there are reasonable areas of compromise that both sides could agree on so that everyone makes some sacrifices but no one has to carry the entire burden.

I work for a non-profit foundation that employs adults with intellectual challenges. About 18 months ago our state government was considering cutting funds to the services that are provided to individuals with a wide variety of disabilities. Even their opportunity to have housing was in danger. The unfairness and insensitivity of the proposed cuts infuriated those of us who work with this population, but it also resonated with average voter because of the overall lack of human compassion that it demonstrated. A broad spectrum of the electorate rose up in defense of those who depend on our society to treat them with the dignity and respect they deserve, and consequently the lawmakers backed down and the cuts were not put into place. It was a pure act of democracy for all the right reasons. It clearly showed what individuals can do when they join together for a cause they believe in.

In reality we each have to accept a portion of the blame for the pathetic state of politics in America today. We are responsible for putting politicians into office in two different ways. Obviously we do it by entering the voting booth and casting our ballot, but we also do it by not participating in the electoral process. When we refuse to exercise our right to vote we are giving away our ability to choose and by default we are allowing others to make that choice for us. If we do not take an interest in the policies that affect our nation than what right do we have to complain when the individuals who were voted into office – by a fraction of registered voters – pass legislation that we find objectionable? If we refuse to participate than we are giving up our chance to have any influence or representation. Democracy is a form of government based on action. In the United States we are not forced to live under the rule of a monarch or a dictator. We always have the opportunity to decide our leadership, and when we fail to exercise that right we should not be surprised by the dismal results that are produced.

 

MOTHERHOOD

A MOTHER’S LOVE CAN NEVER BE REPLACED.

Some of the bravest human beings on earth are the women who attempt to deliver their babies in poverty. Certainly they are not brave by choice but rather by necessity, never-the-less, their courage is inspiring. Their willingness to risk their own lives to bring a child into the world is the greatest sacrifice one person can make for another. It is the deepest form of love there is. A woman in extreme poverty knows the dangers of pregnancy and delivery – as well as the struggles she will face as a mother. The knowledge that her child could be born with physical or intellectual challenges, if it survives at all, is a fact of life that she must deal with. She also has to struggle with the realization that her own odds of surviving delivery are substantially less than women in other parts of the world where good nutrition, prenatal care and medical assistance during the birth are readily available…But even knowing all of this she is willing to risk everything for her precious child.  

When a woman holds her baby for the first time she is completing the circle of love that enriches all of humanity. The bond that is formed between mother and child cannot be broken, no matter what life brings. Even in death there remains the longing of one for the other – through all eternity. A child who loses his mother is changed forever, and when a mother has a child die she experiences the greatest pain a human being can be forced to endure…but still the bond remains, unbroken and unending. The act of giving life to another person transcends all other human endeavors. Maternal love knows no bounds or restrictions. It does not ebb and flow as in other relationships. A mother’s unconditional love is the greatest gift a child can receive. 

When a new mother looks into the face of her baby for the first time she sees the purity of humanity. She sees the hope of the future. She sees the very essence of love wrapped in a tiny bundle. It is a moment in time that defines us as compassionate beings that embrace and treasure the miracle of creation no matter how difficult the conditions may be that surround the birth. Our respect for each individual on earth must begin at the moment of life and continue to the end of the human experience. Love, respect and dignity must be accorded to each mother and child regardless of their ethnicity, political views, religious beliefs or economic class. Each new life adds to the rich tapestry of humanity in its own unique way. Each woman who selflessly gives her own body in the ultimate act of love deserves our greatest admiration. 

That is why we have an obligation to protect both mother and child as they begin the journey of life. We owe them the chance to discover each other and to grow together. We must provide the opportunity for them to share their love and develop the special relationship that will remain with them throughout their lives. The women and children of extreme poverty deserve no less than those who are fortunate enough to live in comfort in the West. They should have proper nutrition, clean water and medical care because these are nothing more than basic human rights that everyone is entitled to. If we truly believe in the sanctity of life we must make the effort to improve the health and welfare of all women and children around the world no matter how severe their living conditions might be.  

On this day it is important to remember the courageous women in poverty who have lost their lives in the effort to deliver their babies. As we celebrate the joy of our relationships with our own mothers we must remember the countless women who were never blessed with the chance to receive the love of the child they died for. We must honor their memory by doing everything possible to lower the maternal mortality rate for those in developing nations who will attempt to have children in the years ahead. No child should be denied the love of their mother, and no woman should be deprived of the opportunity to hold her newborn infant. The moment of birth should not be filled with horror and tragedy, it should be a beautiful, wondrous, profoundly spiritual connection between two human beings who will go on to share a relationship that is so special that neither will ever be able to replace the other in their lives. 

A mother and child share a heartbeat forever. They will always be linked together in the ongoing chapters of their respective lives. When they are young, a son or daughter craves the attention of the one who gave them life, while the sound of a healthy child’s laughter is a mother’s greatest delight. As they grow older, children learn the important lessons of life from the woman they trust more than anyone else in the world, and as they age they begin to truly appreciate the myriad of sacrifices she has made on their behalf. Beginning with conception and including the decision to continue the pregnancy, a woman makes a LIFE LONG commitment to another human being who will be dependent upon her for their physical safety and well-being, as well as their emotional and mental health. There is no greater responsibility a person can assume than that of a mother. It is the most important role that can be played in life.

The true measure of a human being is the willingness to sacrifice for others……

That is the perfect description of a mother.  

MOTHER’S AROUND THE WORLD SHOULD NOT BE TAKEN FOR GRANTED. WE EACH OWE THEM OUR LIVES.