Browse Category: Social Commentary

SEPTEMBER 11, 2004

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(Originally posted on the website Continuum…)

I CAME THROUGH the Holland Tunnel as the sun lowered in the sky over New Jersey behind me. The city was calling to me today. I just had to be there. I had to stand in that area where something so significant, so tragic, happened. All I wanted was to remember and reflect. I needed to be at Ground Zero, surrounded by the life of New York City and the people there. After taking care of several things at home, I went to the city with my son, Joel.

It’s an easy drive to Manhattan from our house. We live close to Route 78, which cuts right across New Jersey from Pennsylvania to Newark. From Newark, I take Route 1 – 9, over the Pulaski Skyway, the old, narrow, iron bridge over which people like to drive at 80 or 90 mph. Once over the Skyway, I am in Jersey City and right into the Holland Tunnel. That’s it, only 50 miles or so.

As always, finding parking in Lower Manhattan was no easy trick today. Eventually we found a spot on John Street. Parking on the street in the city always makes me a little nervous. It’s an old reaction that I have because my car was once towed in Manhattan. Back around 1985 or 86, when I was not very experienced at driving in the city, I went to pick up a friend of mine there. He had flown in from Minnesota for a business conference. When I parked near his hotel I didn’t realize that there was a no parking sign about 10 high and about 20 yards away on a light pole. We came out of the hotel, talking and excited to see each other. It was an awful feeling I had when I realized that we had walked pass the spot where I had parked the car and the car was gone! I called the police and was told that the car had been towed away and impounded near the Lincoln Tunnel. What a fiasco it was to get the car out of impound! A very costly fiasco at that! So now I check for no parking signs anywhere within seven miles in front or behind my car.

There were many people coming and going around the World Trade Center area. For the most part it was a calm crowd. People were reading the signs and memorials that the city has put up. Some people placed flowers on the fence, some lit candles, some cried. I overheard a few describing what the area was like before to some who had never been there while the towers were standing.

There were some things going on that struck me as a little odd today. At one point I heard a crowd yelling from a side street. They emerged with a police escort. At first I thought it was a political protest of some kind. I thought, “What a wrong time and place for that!” But it wasn’t a political protest. It was a religious one. Someone was carrying a sign that read, “I vote 4 Jesus.” Others were holding Bibles in the area. They all began to sing as they crossed the street. Led by two Catholic priests, they began to occupy a large section of the sidewalk along Ground Zero. They were shouting things about Jesus. It felt kind of out of place. There were others at Ground Zero who were passing out religious literature. One man was preaching that the end was upon us and that most of the human race was going to burn forever in the lake of fire soon. That seemed out of place and not very compassionate on the third anniversary of September 11th. I know the Bible verses the man was referring to. I am familiar with the theology. Under the circumstances of this day, I would have chosen to present a different side of Jesus. Why not preach of how He is the Good Shepherd? Why not preach of how enduring His love and comfort are to a people who are fearful of terrorism and the uncertainties of a violent world?

There were other oddities there today. There was a fire truck called the “Freedom Truck.” It had large screens on it upon which various photos from three years ago were displayed. There was a man with very long gray hair in a white suit who was shouting things through a bullhorn while a fireman drove the truck around the area. Then the truck stopped and the long-haired man stood on top of it and sang a song about world peace. He tried to work the crowd and get people excited. It felt like some sort of pop concert. It felt out of place.

One thing that went on there today really touched my heart and brought tears to my eyes. Several people were taking turns reading from a book which contained a few paragraphs about each of the people who died in the Twin Towers. The paragraphs were accompanied by a photo of each. When the person reading finished a portion about one of the victims they held the book up for all to see the picture and stated the person’s name loudly. Many people sat on the ground in a semi-circled listening to the readers. More stood all around. It was very moving.

Joel and I took our time walking around Ground Zero, taking pictures. I realized that the real subject of my photos was actually something that is not there. It’s the missing buildings and the hole in the ground that stand out. I took pictures of the sun going down from a spot where three years and one day ago you could have never seen the sun going down.

After our time at the Trade Center, we went over to Chinatown. There’s a little place on Eldridge Street that makes the best Chinese dumplings. They are cheap too! $1 for five fried pork dumplings and $2 for eight boiled vegetable dumplings. Plus, everything is made fresh while you are waiting.

As we made our way back around to Canal Street, Joel saw that the two towers of light which memorialized the towers a few years ago were on again tonight. That brought back a lot of memories for me. When I was spending a lot of time in the city a few years ago, those lights were on night after night. Sometimes I would drive by the area on my way out of the city. I was there at 2 AM on the last night that they were lit in April of 2002. Seeing those lights tonight reaffirmed that yes, those days of my life really happened and September 11, 2001 really happened. But we move on. Never to forget.

CORRESPONDING PICTURE GALLERY:

1,000 AMERICAN SOLDIERS DEAD

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(Originally posted on the website Continuum…)

DEAD IS GONE. Dead is ended. Dead is finished. Dead is dead. Dead.

A few days ago, the number of United States soldiers killed in the war in Iraq passed the 1,000 mark. Almost a year and a half after President Bush declared the end of hostilities and called the mission a success, Americans are still dying on the sands of Iraq. Indeed, the majority of those 1,000 died after the President’s declaration.

While we often hear the statistics of how many American soldiers die, we do not hear much news on how many Iraqi civilians have died in this war. Thousands have been killed by American bombs. Others have been killed by insurgent attacks. They are dead. They are gone.

Tonight, I attended a candle light vigil to remember the dead in Iraq. Vigils were held all across America tonight. I heard about the vigils on the radio station WBAI in New York City while I was driving home from work today. When I got home I logged onto moveon.org. There I discovered that a vigil was planned right in downtown Easton, PA, just across the Delaware River from our home. My son, Joel, and his girlfriend, Kayla, came with me to the vigil.

I estimate that 25 to 30 people attended the gathering. It was a quiet, peaceful time. The vigils were not intended to be rallies or protests, just a time to reflect and honor our soldiers who have died. The participants in the vigil were friendly, normal people, concerned about our society and our troops in Iraq.

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For the most part, we stood around the sidewalk inside the circle in Easton, quietly holding candles. It was a windy September evening covered by a storm threatening sky. They rain held off, but the wind made it tough to keep the candles lit.

A few people held signs reading, “1000 Dead” and “Bush – Kerry, Stop The War.” The signs drew some heckling from some of the passing motorists. We heard comments like, “If we didn’t go there and kill them, they would be here killing us.” “We should just nuke all of them.” And of course, the ever-loving, “Fuck you!”

It is amazing to me that people are so eager to show their ignorance. There is a serious misconception about the role that Iraq has played as a threat to American national security. They were NOT a threat to our national security! Neither the Iraqi people nor Sadaam Hussein, as sadistic and murderous as he was, were responsible for the September 11th terrorist attacks carried out against our people. The war in Iraq is NOT the same thing as the so-called “War on Terror.” Rather, our invasion of Iraq has been a serious diversion away from the War on Terror. It has consumed billions of American dollars. It continues to consume American lives, now rising about the 1,000 casualties mark. At least be a little more logical in your ignorance people. If we should nuke anyone, shouldn’t we nuke the Saudis and the Afghans? Most of the hijackers of American planes, in American airspace, on an unforgettably gorgeous September morning in 2001, were Saudis trained at al Qaeda camps in Afghanistan. It is terrorists like these who are a direct threat to American national security.

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While at the vigil tonight, a reporter for a local newspaper interviewed me. He asked me what my position on the war was. I told him that in the beginning I supported President Bush’s decision to invade Iraq. Although I would have liked to have seen more international support for the invasion, the reasons the President gave for moving ahead seemed serious. Only 18 months after September 11th, still fearful of more terrorist attacks, it seemed reasonable to go after a ruthless dictator who held weapons of mass destruction and a desire to use them against our country. But those weapons never materialized. The reasons for the invasion proved to be false. Then the war was portrayed as a mission to bring democracy to the Iraqi people, to liberate them, to get rid of the evil tyrant Sadaam. It all left me feeling misled and even suspicious that I’ve been deliberately lied to, lied to by rich, powerful men who stand to make millions of dollars because of their oil connections. 1,000 are dead for this?

I was also asked what I thought the solution was for Iraq now. Honestly, I don’t exactly know. It seems to me that the situation is just a mess. The country is not under control. Americans are still dying. Iraqis are still dying. The Iraqi people are nowhere near being ready to govern themselves and maintain order in the society. The divisions between various ethnic and religious factions are more pronounced than they were under Sadaam’s rule. I fear that the Iraqi people do not view our troops as liberators but as occupiers. (Even George Bush has referred to them as occupiers, stating that of course the Iraqi people don’t like it. He said that he would be upset too if his country was occupied.) Maybe it is a Vietnam type of situation and we should get our men and women out of there now. Bush says that we are bringing democracy to the people of Iraq. In my opinion, forcing democracy on a nation negates the very essence of democracy. A government that is “by the people and for the people” must rise from the people, not be placed upon them by an outside force. If there had already been an Iraqi resistance that was willing to fight and die for their freedom (as the revolutionary Americans were willing to do), our military involvement with them would have been justified. But that was not the case. We entered Iraq on faulty premises and without the support of most of our allies. Now we are involved in what appears to be a long and messy situation. 1,000 are dead. I support our troops, so much so that I would like to see them all come home now. Let them return to their families and the safety of our land. Then let us redirect our efforts to find the terrorists who pose a real threat to us, build up our security at home, and rebuild our own country whose economy, health care system, and educational system are in serious trouble.

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I was inspired by attending tonight’s vigil. Over the past several months I have done a lot of serious thinking. I have decided to be proactive about the serious issues that face our country, making sure that I registered to vote and pestering others to do so too. This vigil was the first public event that I participated in. Tomorrow I will be attending a John Kerry rally in Allentown, PA. While I have voted Republican in the past, Kerry has my support in this election. It will be good to hear him speak tomorrow. It will be even better to exercise my right to peacefully assemble in public in America. For all American soldiers who have ever fought for our freedom, my candle was lit tonight.

IT’S NOT LIKE THE MOVIES

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(Originally posted on the website Continuum…)

I WENT to visit my father today. The cancer is taking its toll. Six months is what the doctor has given him, as if doctors are the givers of life. That was almost a month ago. Don’t do the math.

I brought a funny movie with us so that we could all watch it together. The movie was one that I saw at my friend Pete’s house recently, “Along Came Polly” with Ben Stiller and Jennifer Aniston. I thought that maybe it would lighten the mood and create a happy memory. Deep inside I was hoping that enough laughter would shield me from the reality of my father’s disease. With enough merriment maybe time would stand still. Maybe the shared hilarity would be enough to drive time backwards and my father would be all better again. They always say that laughter is the best medicine, right? Part way through the film my dad was holding his belly. That would have been a normal motion during a funny flick. However, my stepmother’s question, “Do you need some percocet, Pappy?” became the non-funniest line during the movie. Somehow, Ben Stiller’s farting noises in Aniston’s bathroom were no longer funny either.

My father appeared evidently weaker than the last time I saw him a few weeks ago. He was noticeably thinner. He has reached that point of looking unhealthily thin. I know that next will come feebly thin, and then… He has become too weak to take the dog, Murphy the black labrador, out to the back yard. True, a black lab is a large, strong dog. But my dad was always a big strong guy. No dog ever intimidated him. Murphy is so used to my dad taking her out that they now have to trick her by having my dad walk part way down the steps and then my stepsister takes her the rest of the way. Then Dad walks back up the steps and is exhausted.

At dinner, my father’s suffering was further displayed. The poor guy can hardly eat. It’s mainly a side effect of the chemo. He went through heavy chemo treatments since he was diagnosed in February. When that proved to be ineffective, the doctor recommended a milder chemo treatment in order to improve his quality of life. To watch a man, who once loved to eat, sit at the table and poke at the tiny portion of macaroni on his plate was depressing. He left the table at one point. As my stepmother watched him go down the hallway she said, half to herself, “It just gets a little worse each day.”

Two years ago, my dad’s brother died from cancer. His remains are interred at Arlington Military Cemetery in Washington, D.C. I was not able to attend my uncle’s funeral service at Arlington. My dad went though. Last year he went again to visit his brother’s grave. This year he has cancelled his trip to Arlington. The bumpiness of the car ride makes the pain from his tumor intolerable now. For the same reason, he doesn’t drive into town to have coffee with his buddies as much these days.

There is no reversing this for my dad. I knew that as we said good-bye this evening. With much effort, he walked us to the car on our way out. He patted my shoulder a few times and told me he loved me. I saw the tears in his eyes as he turned away. He stood on the lawn and watched us. I couldn’t drive off right away, just started the car and waved. He waved. I thought that maybe if we just stay right there and wave back and forth to each other, it would never happen. We would never lose sight of each other. He would never leave.

But I know that one day there will be a last wave, one last good-bye, one last, “I love you,” and a pat on the shoulder. No matter when exactly it happens, it will always, always, always be too soon. Even if there was some bizarre quirk in the space-time continuum and we somehow found ourselves sitting on the couch doubled over in laughter at Ben Stiller’s antics for a few more millennia, sooner or later the movie will end. Movies always do. Sadly, so do lives.

I feel that I should wrap up this entry with something positive, something upbeat or happy. You see, that right there is one of my faults. Maybe I’ve watched too many movies, been too conditioned by Hollywood. Life is not like the movies. There is real pain in life, real sadness. People do die. True, there are plenty of good and pleasant things in life: love, peace, joy. There is faith to connect us with things that transcend this life. But tonight, what I sense is the frustration of humanity’s mortality. That sense is just as valuable as faith, in its own way.

KAYLA MAKES IT BETTER

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(Originally posted on the website Continuum…)

AFTER more than two months of not posting a journal entry, it feels awkward doing so now. Where should I begin? What should I tell everyone about? Much life transpires in two months.

One significant change in circumstances in our household is that my son Joel’s girlfriend has been living with us for the past month. Her name is Kayla.

Kayla is a nice girl, kind and easy to get along with. She’s respectful. She is thoughtful. She cares about our family, especially Joel, of course.

Joel needs that. He has had to face life with hefty disadvantages right from the start. By the time he reached school age, it was apparent that he had difficulties in learning. His speech was below the average level for his age. He was sometimes unruly and had tantrums for no obvious reasons. By first grade, it was determined that Joel had certain learning disabilities, especially in areas of communication.

It was explained that people with his kind of disability have a very hard time interpreting the communicative stimuli that we are all bombarded with. They may have difficulty understanding audio stimuli. Sometimes they may not be able to decipher facial expressions or body language. They may totally misread a person’s facial expressions and think that a person is angry when they are not. They may be dyslexic. As if all of that isn’t enough, they may also have severe difficulties in communicating their own thoughts, not able to speak or write as they would like.

Joel was in specialized classes all through his school years. Of course, kids in his situation are often made fun of by their more fortunate peers. I know. I did that to kids like Joel when I was young. I was one of the ones pushing them around in the boys’ bathroom, calling them “retard,” “sped,” or “spaz.” What I thought was “coolness” I now know to be merely cruelty.” Since those days, I have been humbled and broken in heart as I have watched my first child endure that type of abuse. I learned my lesson. But I digress on a tangent that deserves an entry of its own. Perhaps one day I will write that.

In addition to learning disabilities, Joel had to deal with other tough things early on. He had one hernia operation when he was only two-years-old, then another when he was four. Yet, perhaps hardest of all, was his mother’s drug and alcohol abuse, which ultimately brought about the disintegration of our marriage and family. We separated when Joel was only six. At the age of 12, he began to have seizures. Now at the age of 20, he still has them. He is unable to get a driver’s license and lives with the daily anxiety of the possibility that a seizure could happen at any time without notice. There have been lots of tough breaks for this boy.

I am happy that Joel has someone like Kayla at this point in his life. He is having difficulty holding a job. A local vocational agency for disabled people is helping him to find appropriate work. That is good and necessary. But Kayla adds a comforting, inspiring dimension to his life. It is good to see someone caring for him, enjoying his company and respecting him as her equal.

That leads me to something to mention as an aside on this issue. We say that people like Joel have a “disability.” They are not “able” to do things as most other people are. We find it hard to understand and live alongside people like this. We marginalize them because they don’t fit into our system well. We send them a message that says, “You can’t. You are not able. We don’t have time for you, to understand you and respect you, because we have to keep our big machine running. You just don’t fit in. So, step aside.” Thankfully, not all people are like this. There are those who devote their lives to researching the disabled, those who work hard to help them function in our society, those who are kind and patient, those who make it better for people like my son.

Kayla makes it better. Not for Joel alone either. She has touched each one of us. She bought hair ties and loofahs for all the girls. She brings coffee and bagels home after work for us. Today when I arrived home from work, Kayla greeted me on the porch with the words, “I promised that I would buy Chinese food for everyone tonight. I didn’t have enough money. So I MADE it myself instead!” The whole house smelled delicious! She made chicken stir fry with elbow macaroni and buttered rolls. Not quite the traditional Chinese dinner, but it tasted great. It saved a lot of work for me and even gave me the inspiration to write… finally!

Happy Independence Day

(Originally posted on the website Continuum…)

Happy Independence Day…

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There is nothing like the right to live in freedom.

Yet, I fear that we have lost some of our freedom in America. We’ve lost some of our voice. We’ve allowed them to silence us. We’ve allowed the rich and the power-hungry to use us. They have become fat at our expense. And they have lowered our dignity in the eyes of the whole world in the process.

Hopefully, in November, we can start to change that.