Veterens DayAnother Veterens day has come. Another chance to take a moment to measure the terrible cost of this war and all wars. I have to wonder---what has all the suffering really accomplished?
I am compelled to re-post my blog entry for last Veterens Day:
In 1918, on the eleventh hour of the eleventh day in the eleventh month, the world rejoiced and celebrated. After four years of bitter war, an armistice was signed. The "war to end all wars" was over.
I was standing at the checkout stand today while the lady ahead of me struggle to fill out a check to pay for her purchase. After what seemed a lifetime she handed the check the cashier who reviewed it and then handed it back saying "you need to change the date to the eleventh" . Oh, said the lady as she looked back at me apologetically. I smiled and said "no problem, today is Veterans day you know, the eleventh hour of the eleventh day, of the eleventh month. That’s the way I remember it". Both the lady and the cashier looked at me dumbfounded and the cashier asked " what’s that, I’ve never heard that before !". I actually felt a tear well up in me. At that moment I heard the collective sigh of thousands of young souls. Young soldiers buried throughout the world, lost to the various wars (maddness) that has come to almost every generation . Had their loss, their sacrifice, their blood, their bravery and gut retching agonizing fear been lost from the collective memory of those they died for, the next generations ? I am a Veteran. I do not say that often or do I often talk about my experience in Viet Nam from 1966 to 1967. I am like thousands of others who went to war and did the not so glorious part of war called support. I did not participate in any battles, sieges, campaigns or actions. I was not physically wounded. I lived in a tent with twenty other guys and did a job ten to twelve hours a day, six days a week for three hundred and fifty five days (I circled every one on a calendar). As so aptly put in a scene from what I believe is a great antiwar movie Mr Roberts, I "sailed from boredom to tedium to apathy and back again". It was a backward , foreign country and a war zone, and I never was not scared and lonely , except when I was drinking to much beer which was all the time that I was not working or sleeping. There was a skinny young guy from Los Angeles in the tent next to mine. His parents would occasionally send him copies of the L.A. Times and he would share them with me. A taste of Southern California, of home. I remember how great it was to read about familiar names and places. I cannot say we were close friends but friends we were. Comrades in the struggle to stay sane in a crazy world. Coming from a small mostly white and Hispanic Southern California town, Cleve became the first black American I had ever known let alone befriended. And I felt privilaged that he would let me in his small circle of friends. Even in my training companies there had been few blacks and everyone seemed to self segregate themselves. Black and white alike. Many of my racial prejudices based from ignorance were erased by Cleve and his friends.About halfway through our tour of duty in the Nam, Cleve, became quite ill. He would go on sick call and the medics would send with back with a handful of aspirin to try to reduce his fever, and orders for "bed rest" which meant that he got to lay in his bunk in 110 degree heat all day. On the third day of being sent back from the hospital with aspirins and bed rest, Cleve collapsed in the middle of the company area while trying to walk to his tent. One of the few decent Officers in our outfit saw Cleve, found out what was going on from us and immediately drove Cleve back to the Hospital. We were with him when he literally ordered the intake Medics to admit Cleve or heads would roll. Two days later while laying in one of the largest Field Hospitals in Viet Nam, Cleve Jackson of Los Angeles California died of an infected bowel.
In 1985 I visited Washington DC and one of the first things I did when I arrived there was to visit the Wall (The Viet Nam Memorial). I searched the list of names for Cleveland Jackson and found nothing. I went to the information booth and asked for help. Why wasn’t Cleves name in the book? How could I find his name on the Wall ? The guy at the booth was a Veteran himself and I think understood my sense of urgency. He told me in matter of fact but understanding way that because Cleve did not die of wounds received in hostile action or in combat, his name is not on the Wall. I was dumb struck and still am. So to Blogging world, on the eleventh day, of the eleventh month, I offer in memory of a fallen soldier the name:
What Happened???I have been following with interest and distrust the undeniable connection between the current U.S. Administration, aka Dubya, and the "Christian Conservative Right". If memory serves me the Church and the Presidency issue has reared its' head many times in the past. More recently in the 1960's when it was feared JFK would be controlled by the Pope since as a Catholic, he was beholden to the "Church" in all things. He answered the critics in a speech given September 12, 1960 to the Houston Ministerial Association. Perhaps the current wanna be Texan should consider JFK's words. Perhaps Americans should take again heed to JFK's wisdom:
"I believe in an America where the separation of church and state is absolute--where no Catholic prelate would tell the President (should he be Catholic) how to act, and no Protestant minister would tell his parishioners for whom to vote--where no church or church school is granted any public funds or political preference--and where no man is denied public office merely because his religion differs from the President who might appoint him or the people who might elect him.
I believe in an America that is officially neither Catholic, Protestant nor Jewish--where no public official either requests or accepts instructions on public policy from the Pope, the National Council of Churches or any other ecclesiastical source--where no religious body seeks to impose its will directly or indirectly upon the general populace or the public acts of its officials--and where religious liberty is so indivisible that an act against one church is treated as an act against all."
"For while this year it may be a Catholic against whom the finger of suspicion is pointed, in other years it has been, and may someday be again, a Jew--or a Quaker--or a Unitarian--or a Baptist. It was Virginia's harassment of Baptist preachers, for example, that helped lead to Jefferson's statute of religious freedom. Today I may be the victim--but tomorrow it may be you--until the whole fabric of our harmonious society is ripped at a time of great national peril.
Finally, I believe in an America where religious intolerance will someday end--where all men and all churches are treated as equal--where every man has the same right to attend or not attend the church of his choice--where there is no Catholic vote, no anti-Catholic vote, no bloc voting of any kind--and where Catholics, Protestants and Jews, at both the lay and pastoral level, will refrain from those attitudes of disdain and division which have so often marred their works in the past, and promote instead the American ideal of brotherhood.
That is the kind of America in which I believe. And it represents the kind of Presidency in which I believe--a great office that must neither be humbled by making it the instrument of any one religious group nor tarnished by arbitrarily withholding its occupancy from the members of any one religious group. I believe in a President whose religious views are his own private affair, neither imposed by him upon the nation or imposed by the nation upon him as a condition to holding that office. "
WHAT HAPPENED TO THAT VISION????
He's BackSome years ago I learned about a Vulture that lives on my headboard. The sick little voice that talks to me late at night when I can’t fall asleep or whispers in my ear, early in the morning, just before I really gain consciousness. The voice that whispers things to me for which there is no factual basis and talks directly to my inner most fears and doubts. And because it seems to know how to talk to those parts of me that I seem to have little defense for, those things that scare me to the core, I tend to listen and believe if only just a little. Here is how some of those early morning exchanges went:
Hi there, glad to see you awake ‘cause I’ve been wanting to talk to you. You know, you really don’t want to get up. So why bother, you just have to go to work. And, after all that really is a crappy job. They never truly appreciate all you do. The boss just doesn’t like you no matter how hard you try. In fact, they are just looking for a way to get rid of you so why bother. The hell with them, you can do better----screw it, stay in bed, your in a dead end career there.
Of course there is no mention that I have 20 years at this job and have always received a good job evaluation and regular salary increases. So now after approximately 10 seconds into the new day, the Vulture has me convinced that I am under appreciated, in a go no where job from which I am about to be fired. It is at that point that I become aware enough to realize that there is that someone lying next to me. And the Vulture continues:
Oh yeah her. You know she is really not good enough for you, you could do better. Hell over the past few years she has really let herself go. Of course that is because she really doesn’t love you. You don’t really think she is hanging around just waiting for you to come home do you? You know she is cheating on you, has to be, only makes sense. Give her just a little more time and she is going to dump you dead ass.
No mention of the long and intimate nature of the relationship or the many ways she shows her love for me. Now I am about 20 seconds into this and not only am I going to be fired from a dead end job, and my cheating partner is about to dump me. At this point I might be just stir a little. And of course since I am not quite the youngster I used to be, I feel just a slight ache, somewhere. So the Vulture continues:
Yeah sure, try to convince yourself that is just a sore muscle. You know the truth. Cancer. You’ve seen and heard it before. Oh sure miracle drug, modern treatment, blah. They just cut you up a little at a time over the next few months, fill you full of weird chemicals that make you sick, then blam, you’re dead. Why bother with anything, you’re just a dead man walking.
Never mind the recent physical that show me in good shape. So there ya go. 30 seconds into the new day and the Vulture has me convinced that I am about to be fired from a dead end job, dumped by my partner and dead from cancer in the next few months. And all that really happened was------ I woke up.
There are times when the Vulture has some factual basis for his bile. When Diane was alive we spent a lot of time comforting and holding one another after the Vulture had backed us into the corner of fear over her cancer. The Vulture knows how to exploit real fear with a factual basis. But, it was during those times that we discovered that just holding each other and getting in the here and now would usually quiet the filthy beast. The fear was, of course, not based on any imaginary monster. But the Vulture was exploiting fear of the future to gain his evil control of today. With mutual reassurance we were able to get grounded in today, to understand that even though the worst may happen we would loose the best of today if we get overwhelmed with that fear. The mantra of "just for today, I’ll be OK" got us through a lot of tough times.
Factual based fear is not what has been going on with me lately. With the new paradigm I find myself living in, my old nemesis has been trying real hard to work his way back into my life. All the rational understanding of how this filthy beast is just taking advantage of my mourning and exploiting old fears of abandonment are sometimes a weak defense against the insistent Vulture. But lately I have been hearing another soft strong voice comforting me with the learned wisdom, " just for today, you’’ll be OK".
Go Down DeathTo All,
Thank you so much for the messages of support. I will be sure that Diane's Family receives them also.
Diane and I were members of an online support group, LMSarcoma hosted by Yahoo groups. We both received huge amounts of really good information about this leimyosarcoma curse and tons of support for what we were going through.
It was odd that when I went to the LMSarcoma site to post about Diane there was a lot of chat going on that day about fear. Diane had often talked about her not wanting people to talk of her "brave battle" or "strong struggle" with LMS. She said that because she believed that no one who was as fearful of this disease as she, should be labeled strong or brave. She said she experienced some fear almost every day. I disagreed with her then and continue to believe that she, like all those battling cancer, are some of the bravest and most caring people I have ever known. I believe that all of those Chemo Warriors know , like Diane did, what they are fighting and each of them know, like Diane expressed, what it is like to regularly have that pit in the bottom of the stomach called fear. Yet despite that, each day they get up, go forward, support each other and do what they need to do to continue the business of living. It is not the absence of fear that defines bravery but action regardless of the fear. From what I have seen, all of those Chemo Warriors and Care Givers, are very deserving of being labeled brave.
There comes a time a most of our lives when the body is just not able to continue. A major organ failure, medicine that no longer works or just plain old age can cause us to reach the point that it is time to let go of this mortal shell. I have seen it before and saw it again when Diane was just no longer able to fight. My mother went through it in her battle with cancer many years ago. After her death, a friend gave us a book called "Gods Trombones" by James Weldon Johnson, a collection of African American poetic sermons written in free verse that are so simple, in language yet so very profound. One of the sermons in the book is a funeral sermon for an old woman to whom death appears not as a fearsome specter but as "a welcome friend". I was so moved by its’ appropriateness for my Mother that we had it read at her funeral. And now, some 29 years later, I feel the exactly the same towards Diane’s struggle and final release. I have changed a few words to make it more specific for Diane.
Diane had requested no funeral services for her so it is here that I offer this sermon and it’s message of love.
In loving memory of Diane Marie Perry .
Go Down Death !
Weep not, weep not,
She is not dead
She's resting in the bosom of Jesus.
Heart-broken husband--weep no more.
Grief-stricken son-weep no more.
Left-lonesome daughter--weep no more.
She's only just gone home.
Day before yesterday morning,
God was looking down from His great high heaven,
Looking down on all his children,
And His eye fell on Sister Diane,
Tossing on her bed of pain.
And God's big heart was touched with pity,
With the everlasting pity.
And God sat back on His throne,
And He commanded that tall bright angel standing at His right,
"Call me Death."
And that tall bright angel cried in a voice
That broke like a clap of thunder;
Call Death!--Call Death!
And the echo sounded down the streets of heaven
'Til it reached away back to that shadowy place,
Where Death waits with his pale, white horses.
And Death heard the summons,
And he leaped on his fastest horse,
Pale as a sheet in the moonlight.
Up the golden street Death galloped,
And the hooves of his horse struck fire from the gold,
But they didn't make no sound.
Up Death rode to the Great White Throne,
And waited for God's command.
And God said: "Go down, Death, go down,
Go down to, Washington State,
Down to Bellingham
And find Sister Diane.
She's borne the burden and heat of the day,
She's labored long in my vineyard,
And she's tired-
Go down, Death, and bring her to me.
And Death didn't say a word,
But he loosed the reins on his pale white horse
And he clamped the spurs to his bloodless sides,
And out and down he rode,
Through heaven's pearly gates,
Past sun and moon and stars;
On Death rode
And the foam from his horse
Was like a comet in the sky,
On Death rode,
Leaving the lightning's flash behind,
Straight on down he came.
While we were watching round her bed,
She turned her eyes and looked away,
She saw what we couldn't see;
She saw Old Death. She saw Old Death
Coming like a falling star.
But Death didn't frighten Sister Diane;
He looked to her like a welcome friend.
And she whispered to us: I'm going home.
And she smiled and closed her eyes.
And Death took her up like a baby,
And she lay in his icy arms,
But she didn't feel no chill.
And Death began to ride again-
Up beyond the evening star,
Out beyond the morning star,
Into the glittering light of glory,
On to the Great White Throne.
And there he laid Sister Diane
On the loving breast of Jesus.
And Jesus took his own hand and wiped away her tears,
And he smoothed the furrows from her face,
And the angels sang a little song
And Jesus rocked her in his arms,
And kept a' saying, Take your rest,
Take your rest, Take your rest.
Weep not--weep not,
She is not dead;
She's resting in the bosom of Jesus.
Good bye my DaisyThis Tuesday evening, Miss Diane Marie Perry, my friend, my companion, my lover, my Daisy, died of Leiomyosarcoma a most awful disease. In memory of my Daisy and the joy she brought to my life, portions of a Poem #20 by Pablo Neruda:
Tonight I can write the saddest lines.
Write, for example, 'The night is starry
and the stars are blue and shiver in the distance.
'The night wind revolves in the sky and sings.
Tonight I can write the saddest lines.
I loved her, and sometimes she loved me too.
Through nights like this one I held her in my arms.
I kissed her again and again under the endless sky.
She loved me, sometimes I loved her too.
How could one not have loved her great still eyes.
Tonight I can write the saddest lines.
To think that I do not have her. To feel that I have lost her.
To hear the immense night, still more immense without her.
And the verse falls to the soul like dew to the pasture.
What does it matter that my love could not keep her.
The night is starry and she is not with me.
This is all. In the distance someone is singing. In the distance.
My soul is not satisfied that it has lost her.
My sight tries to find her as though to bring her closer.
My heart looks for her, and she is not with me.
Because through nights like this one I held her in my arms
my soul is not satisfied that it has lost her.
Though this be the last pain that she makes me suffer
and these the last verses that I write for her.
Tonight I can write the saddest lines.
Where's Santa?Thanks to Alaska Airlines summer special mid-week airmile deals, I just finished a short but wonderful visit with my daughters’ family in Southern California. California, the land of my youth, my old home State. The origin of many childhood memories.
Halfway between Santa Barbara and Ventura on US Hwy 101 lies the improbable and strangely placed Santa Claus Lane. I mean think about it. Here, right on the California Coast between two major beach communities, next to Carpenteria California once dubbed the safest beach in the world, lies a cluster of shops which include Santa’s Kitchen, Santa’s Workshop and various other replicas of Santas' North Pole compound. And standing in the midst of this some 30 feet tall, was a large, brightly painted, smiling, stylized replica of the Old Boy himself, waving at the cars speeding by on US 101. I say was because on this trip I noticed that Santa was no longer there. All the other shops seemed to be in place, but where was Santa?. It is not that this Santa had any particular special meaning except for two things. Santa kinda marked the half way point between Santa Barbara and Ventura, a trip I took many times as a child and later as an adult with my children in the car. So, first, it was the sign that we were half way to where we were going. It was the landmark I could use to console whiney kids with "we’re almost there when we see Santa". Second, it had been there for over forty years. It was as much a part of the landscape, or should I say beachscape as any hill, or rock, or other natural feature.
I got to thinking that there must be thousands of "Santa like" landmarks throughout this country. I’m sure all of us can come up with an image of something that we used as a landmark to direct people, or reassure ourselves with, or take bearings off of. Some Billboard or little store that marked being close to home or verifying we are on the right path. Then I got to thinking this. There are the great Icons of this country that are protected by one agency or another, one regulation or another so that they will never disappear. You know, the Statue of Liberty, the Golden Gate Bridge, the worlds largest thermometer in Baker California, the giant Uniroyal Tire in Detroit, all that national icon stuff. But what about all that personal icon stuff. The things that we hold dear as landmarks in are own little sphere of influence, the small but important roadside things that give us comfort or add meaning to our lives. Who is out there protecting those things? What becomes of the small things that are so easily sacrificed in the name of progress or re-development. Things that have meaning to many but most have no say in the fate of these markers of our lives. Oh sure, I’m sure there is some sort of Planning Board or Commission that publishes something, somewhere about decisions that are about to be made. But, really, do most of those who will be affected by the decision have access or input to the process. I think not. I’m not even sure of how many would if they knew how.
What I am struck with is how much of our life is changed, or affected, or modified by forces that we have no input or control over and for the most part we just seem to make note of it and then move on. I’m not sure what else I should be doing about such changes in my life except to make note of them in my blog and maybe personally recognize the fact to not to take the giant Santas of my life for granted because someday I may look up and they'll be gone.
By the way, I later found out that Santa had been purchased and moved next to a used car lot in Oxnard. That alone is fodder for a whole other posting but suffice to say it seems to me there is something terribly wrong about that.
Genuine Red Ryder 200 Shot Carbine Action Air RifleOne of my all time favorite movies is "A Christmas Story" which follows the plight Ralphie Parker (narrated by Jean Shepherd acted by Peter Billingsley) who is a nine year old boy from Indiana. The main point of this story centers around Raphie's desire for a `Genuine Red Ryder 200 Shot Carbine Action Air Rifle' for Christmas. Throughout the movie, all the indicators are that it is just not going to happen. His mother is thoroughly against the idea and reinforces her argument with the chant "you’ll shoot your eye out". Dad seems ambivalent and just brushes him off. Even the Department Store Santa ignores his plea and instead follows the stores marketing line by directing Ralphie to tell his parents about the latest special toy the have on sale. Everything points to Ralphie not getting his hearts desire. But does that discourage Ole Ralphie ? No way ! He never misses the opportunity to put forward his case of why the BB gun is really the right present for him. He clings hard to the belief that if he just wishes hard enough , stays true to the dream, clings to the hope, he’ll get his `Genuine Red Ryder 200 Shot Carbine Action Air Rifle' for Christmas. Of course, in the movie, Ralphie does get his `Genuine Red Ryder 200 Shot Carbine Action Air Rifle.' But to me that is really irrelevant to the reality of the story. You see, I believe that even if he had not, Ralphie would not have given up the dream. No, after a short period of disappointment Ralphie would have rekindled the dream and started his campaign for his next birthday. After all, he would be a year older then and certainly old enough for a `Genuine Red Ryder 200 Shot Carbine Action Air Rifle.'
Some years ago I unwittingly started a family tradition for our Christmases. It was based on the premise that all kids deserve a toy on Christmas and that everyone was a kid at heart. There were a number of people that I new through my new found recovery from Alcoholism that really had no family left and no place to go on Christmas Day. So, I made it a point to invite them to my house "if only for just a little while" and of course "they were welcome to stay for Christmas dinner." I never knew who would actually show up since commitments were not high on these folks agendas. Before Christmas I would by up a number of small inexpensive fun toys. You know, tops, yo-yo’s, gyroscopes, Tonka trucks etc. I would wrap them up untagged, and stick them under the tree. On Christmas day when a few of the many I had asked would show up, I would randomly pull out one of these special presents announcing "see Santa knew you were coming and left a gift here for you". I have many cherished memories off the looks on toughened faces as they opened the gift and were truly thrilled at the small toy inside. Watching a couple of guys with tattoos and prison records having a ball pushing around Tonka trucks on the kitchen floor is one of the fondest Christmas memories I have. One friend, Rob, was especially thrilled with his gyroscope. So much so that the following year he was one of the first to arrive anxiously eyeing under the tree as he walked in the living room. That year my wife had bought some of the gifts and unbeknownst to me she had picked out some gag underwear as one of the gifts. As luck would have it, the randomly selected gift for Rob turned out to be the underwear. I cannot describe the look of disappointment on his face as he opened the package. "I was hoping for a toy" he uttered. His disappointment was so obvious and we tried to offer up other presents to no avail. "No" he said, "this is fine. They really are cute".
Later that day I asked him about the underwear trying to assure him that it was OK to take another present to get a toy. What he shared with me is this. Seems that he grew up in a home that was oppressively strict and his parents did not believe in "toys for Christmas". So every year he would get practical and needed things. Things like sweaters, pants, new shoes and of course new comfortable underwear. In fact Rob said, last year was one of the first just for fun gifts he had ever really received for Christmas. And, though the underwear was cute, it reminded him when he was taught to not get his hope "too high" for Christmas. The lapse to childhood memories was short lived and he was OK, but it was intense and something that he thought he had ridded himself of.
It seems that much I have done in my life has been a lot like the Ralphie form of logic. There seems to have always been a sense that if I just do the necessary footwork, and wish it hard enough , stay true to the dream, cling to the hope that I’ll get the `Genuine Red Ryder 200 Shot Carbine Action Air Rifle' I’m wanting. This theory has matured over the ages to include a little more rational thinking, but in actuality, in many ways, it is still at the root of how I view things like new jobs, moves, golf shots, work projects, new cars, a change in hair style, new clothes and any number of wants and desires that come up in my life. Most recently the theory has shown it’s face as I start trying new relationships. It seems that in spite of what the evidence may indicate, no matter how much I’m counseled "you shoot your eye out", no matter what else is on sale, I want the `Genuine Red Ryder 200 Shot Carbine Action Air Rifle' and I know one when I see one. And although one can always use some new comfortable underwear, that practicality just won’t cut it in my relationship wants.
So no matter what the cost, I’d rather be Ralphie that Rob. After all, one will have lots of comfortable underwear over a lifetime but we often only get one chance at a real `Genuine Red Ryder 200 Shot Carbine Action Air Rifle'