As a Child …

Through the Eyes of a Child

Original post: 2018.07.08; reposting 2019.07.04

Pentecost 2019

 

I am reposting this because the principles of this nation have not changed and, sadly, neither has the crisis of children being held captive at border crossings.

 

New York City has always been a port of entry for those immigrating to the United States.  Even in the midst of the War Between the States, five ships docked carrying those hoping for a better life in the New World at least every three days.  In the middle of a civil uprising, this country has always seemed to offer new hope.

 

Ellis Island, in Upper New York Bay, was the gateway for over 12 million immigrants to the U.S. as the United States’ busiest immigrant inspection station for over 60 years from 1892 until 1954. Ellis Island was opened January 1, 1892.  Two years after its closing, a six-year-old child stepped onto American soil for the first time.  The week-long journey across the Atlantic Ocean had been made on a personal troop carrier with several families sharing a room.  Our young girl slept in one bunk bed with her two sisters while her mother slept in another.  The men were in the enlisted quarters and slept in hammocks stacked three or four high.  Rather than excitement, seasickness colored their days.  The quest for freedom, though, was the ultimate prize because even a small child knows a life lived without fear is worth some discomfort.

 

It is an often overlooked advantage but those born in the United States are automatically considered American citizens.  This is not true in many countries.  Our young child had parents who had met during World War II in a relocation camp.  She herself was born in a part of Germany controlled by Americans after WWII but her nationality lay with that of her parents, natives of Estonia.  German was her language in public and at school while Estonian was spoken at home.

 

Her first impression upon arriving on US land was the strange language she heard spoken.  “It sounded like bees buzzing”, she once remarked.  Arriving at a time that saw many immigrants arriving, her school system assigned her one-on-one tutoring with a teacher to learn English.  Her mother would pretend not to understand store clerks so her children would have to translate for her in an effort to facilitate them learning the language of their new home.

 

Our new arrival grew up in a community of immigrants and valued her ability to move around her neighborhood freely.  While most of us have grown up never thinking twice about running down the street, many immigrants relish such an opportunity.  They have lived in restricted environments and under fear of disobedience that often results in jail or death.  Something as simple as walking to a corner store for many became a new adventure, something to be treasured and enjoyed.

 

An immigrant child is seldom allowed to forget they were not born here, though.  Even in a community of immigrants, some discrimination can exist.  We all, regardless of national origin, tend to fear the unknown and different.  We tend to look for the two percent of our DNA that denotes ethnic differences instead of seeing the ninety-eight percent we have in common.  Our young Estonian was called a Nazi even though her family had been victims of them rather than supporters.  A neighbor’s son even threw a rock at her head in the name of patriotism.

 

When an immigrant becomes an American citizen, it is always day remembered.  At a time when our young high school coed could not have enlisted or been asked to serve in a combat military setting, she was required to swear allegiance to “bear arms” to protect the United States of America.  She became a US citizen one morning and later that day, graduated high school.  Like most immigrants afforded the opportunity, she excelled in school and earned two college degrees.  Over eighty percent of all US Nobel Prize winners have, in fact, been immigrants.

 

I once asked the heroine of our story today what she valued most about being an American.  It was at the end of a long day and I had spent most of the day running errands.  Her answer humbled me.  Without hesitation, when asked the best thing about being an American she replied:  “Freedom of movement.”

 

The country of Estonia was under Soviet rule after WWII for almost half a century and the parents in this story were uncertain of the life they faced if they returned home.  They braved a transatlantic crossing with strangers to give their three young daughters a better life.  Today the families seeking to cross our borders are doing the same exact thing.

 

It is indeed ironic that today, many immigrant children will be taken out of their cages to eat and then return to them to spend the rest of their day.  They have been brought here just as our little girl was by their parents.  Some are seeking opportunity, but most are braving the relocation in order to survive and give their children the same chance to survive.  Hopefully, one day, these children will be able to say they experienced freedom of movement in a country that eventually welcomed them as it has everyone else who ever lived here.

 

We are a nation of immigrants. President Franklin Delano Roosevelt once said “Remember, remember always, that all of us, and you and I especially, are descended from immigrants.” We should not forget that.  Just like the little girl in our story, someone in our family underwent great struggle and trials to afford their children (who eventually became us) a chance at freedom.

 

The American dream, Declaration of Independence, and US Constitution can be summed up in this quote from Senator Robert F Kennedy.  “Our attitude towards immigration reflects our faith in the American ideal. We have always believed it possible for men and women who start at the bottom to rise as far as the talent and energy allow. Neither race nor place of birth should affect their chances.”  Hopefully the children of today will continue to live and experience that belief.

 

Inspire

Inspire

Jan 13-14

 

Please accept my apologies that this post was delayed.  Weather and technology are sometimes life savers and at other times, nuisances.  The interesting thing, though, is that the messages can still have value regardless of its timing.  As I worked to repair the delay, I received a post about Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and how he made his first major impact as an inspirational hero at the young age of twenty-six years.  He began his inspirational journey at an age when many of us are still finding ourselves.  His life was and continues to be an education in diplomacy, inspirational living, education, and faith.  He not only inspired a generation, he changed the course of history and opened the eyes of society.

 

Many times it is either education or work that opens our eyes.  For one child who remained feeling on the outside of society even as a young adult, it was work.  Work took her to Cambodia and while many boast of having taken an exotic vacation there, this young adult saw the real Cambodia and the bleak reality its children were living.

 

“We cannot close ourselves off to information and ignore the fact that millions of people are out there suffering. I honestly want to help. I don’t believe I feel differently from other people. I think we all want justice and equality, a chance for a life with meaning. All of us would like to believe that if we were in a bad situation someone would help us.”  Upon returning home, this person did something about what she had seen.  She contacted the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.

 

There is very little I could tell you about the actress Angelina Jolie.  She is as well known for her movies as for her beauty.  It may be hard to believe but she was once that outsider in her school – the girl with glasses and braces that no one befriended.  The dropped out of high school and took a home course for her chosen profession of embalmer.  A chance part at acting led her in a different direction.

 

It was not until she adopted her first child that the suicidal tendencies vanished.  “I knew once I committed to Maddox, I would never be self-destructive again.”  Jolie not only committed to her first son, she made a commitment to the children of the world.  As a humanitarian she has traveled the globe and helped inspire others to also help.

 

It can really be that simple.  You do something and somebody else follows.  Behavior is contagious.  We usually say that about inappropriate behavior but it is also true for good behavior patterns.  “What you do makes a difference, and you have to decide what kind of difference you want to make.”  Jane Goodall’s words may not seem like they could change the world but they speak the truth.

 

American statesman Thomas Jefferson once said “Action will delineate and define you.”  We are all doing something.  Right now you are reading this blog.  Earlier I wrote it.  What comes next?  Will you simply sit back and ignore that people are starving and children are freezing or will you contribute to a food bank and go through your closet donating items you don’t need or haven’t worn for several years?

 

Very few of us have the public platform that Angelina Jolie has but we do have a platform in our own corner of the world.  Edward Everett Hale was a nineteenth century historian, writer, and Unitarian clergyman who once stated “I am only one, but I am one. I cannot do everything, but I can do something. And because I cannot do everything, I will not refuse to do the something that I can do.”

 

We are all someone.  We may not have won multiple awards or have plentiful bank accounts but we can do something.  What will you do today that benefits another?  When we help someone, we help ourselves.  When we help someone, we help the world.  We can all do something.

Walk/March

Walk/March

Epiphany 18

 

This past weekend over two million women worldwide walked.  Called the Women’s March, many felt moved to participate because of conflicting ideals with a new administration.  Many marched because they feared the loss of freedoms and rights.  Others marched as a show of solidarity for women.  Some walked simply because they could.  They donned pink hats and walked, marched, or simple gathered to support women, wearing pink hats and carrying signs.

 

“In the end, our success in resolving conflict and affecting deep change is not made by focusing on the leading figure of our discontent, but rather on the much less visible number of women and men who form his or her base of support. While it may be tempting to focus our attention on the leader, waiting for and pouncing on his every misstep and falter, in the long run our most effective response will be in how well we do at the hard work of creating a new solidarity with those who see the situation so differently than we. A good reminder of this fact is in considering how we came to this crossroads in the first place; the responsibility is not the Russians alone, but our own: we got in this situation partly by overlooking the need to reassure some of our good neighbors that they were needed and valued. Taking human hearts for granted can be a costly mistake and not one to be made twice. So while we may be mesmerized by what goes on in Washington, D.C., it would do us well to be even more active in communities farther afield. Building bridges there could be the ethical and political infrastructure we need for winning the next series of crucial elections. The question is not how many in the inner circle are hearing us shout, since they will be largely deaf to our appeal, but instead how many of those who put them there are hearing us in quieter conversations all across America. Success will be measured not by how many of our own we can put in the streets, but even more importantly, by how many women and men in the rust belt will be willing to wear a pink hat the next time around.”  These words by retired Episcopal bishop Steven Charleston bring us to my point and our verbs for today.

 

What comes after we have walked?  What comes after we take a stand for a cause or ideal?  The answer is life, that forward progression of steps we make each day that, eventually, will comprise the journey of a lifetime.  You see, getting your dander up for a good cause is great but that can only last for a certain amount of time.  How do we live those ideals for which we marched?

 

Sometimes the conflict is not so much about the other guy but about our response and the manner in which we respond.  It is so much more fun and easy to get mad and stay mad but seriously, unless you do jumping jacks or some other exercise in your anger, getting mad really accomplishes very little.  Real, long-lasting action requires thought and – gulp – reconciliation. 

 

Reconciliation starts with understanding.  First we need to admit and understand that there are other points of view.  No matter how wrong or ill-conceived we may judge them to be, they do exist.  Generally speaking, many have as valid a right to be felt as do our own.  Those incorrect beliefs that are wrong, as in harmful or illegal, need to be understood and explained.  Appeasement does not always mean acceptance and that is something to remember. 

 

No one person is a god or even a demi-god.  We all are human beings and deserve equal respect and opportunity to survive and thrive.  Some of our steps need to be toward building bridges to carry us all into a productive and efficient future.  That is the best march of all.

 

Who We Are

Who are We?

Pentecost 186

 

As the President of the United States embarked yesterday on a world trip, not to promote his own policies but to reassure other leaders that the United States had not forgotten its identity nor past in moving forward after its most recent election, actor Tom Hanks was being honored.  Grateful for the honor, Tom Hanks used the opportunity to remind his countrymen of their past while living the present and preparing for the future.

 

“We are going to be all right. America has been in worse places than we are at right now,” Hanks said. “In my own lifetime our streets were in chaos, our generations were fighting each other tooth and nail and every dinner table ended up being as close to a fist fight as human families will allow.

“We have been in a place where we have looked at our leaders and wondered what the hell they were thinking of. We’ve had moments with the administrations and politicians and senators and governors in which we have we’ve asked ourselves ‘Are they lying to us or do they really believe in this?’ That’s all right.

“We have this magnificent thing that is in place. It’s a magnificent document and it starts off with these phrases that if you’re smart enough you’ve memorized in school or you just read enough to that you know it by heart, or you watched those little things on ABC where they taught you a little songs in order to sing. and the song goes (singing): ‘We the people/in order to form a more perfect union/established to ensure domestic tranquility/to provide for the common defense/promote the general welfare,’ and you go on and on. That document is going to protect us over and over again whether or not our neighbors preserve, protect and defend it themselves.

“We are going to be all right because we constantly get to tell the world who we. We constantly get to define ourselves as Americans. We do have the greatest country in the world. We move at a slow pace. We have the greatest country in the world because we are always moving towards a more perfect union.

“That journey never ceases, it never stops. Sometimes, to quote a Bruce Springsteen song, it’s one step forward two steps back, but we still aggregately move forward. We who are a week into wondering what the hell just happened will continue to move forward. We have to choose to do so, but we will move forward because if we do not move forward. What is to be said of us? …

‘We will take everything that has been handed to us as Americans and we will turn our nation and we will turn the future and we will turn all the work that we have in before us into some grand thing of beauty,” Hanks said, to a standing ovation.

 

Thank you, Tom Hanks.

Celebrating Motherhood – Joining Forces

Celebrating Motherhood – Joining Forces

Easter 43

 

“In the day of 27 February 1782, the list from Nikolskiy monastery came to Moscow containing the information that a peasant of the Shuya district, Feodor Vassilyev, married twice, had 87 children. His first wife in 27 confinements gave birth to 16 pairs of twins, seven sets of triplets and four sets of quadruplets. His second wife in eight confinements gave birth to six pairs of twins and two sets of triplets. F. Vassilyev was 75 at that time with 82 of his children alive.” Whew!

 

Typical of many cultures, the name of this mother has been lost, signifying that her value was only as a spouse and not as a person in her own right.  This struggle for women to gain recognition for being themselves is not over.

 

“Being a mother is an attitude, not a biological relation.”  Robert Heinlein wrote that in his book “Have Space Suit – Will Travel”.  I think it is the most truthful quote regarding motherhood I could offer you today, on this day that in the United States celebrates Motherhood.  I will also remind you of what I said in my last post – We all give birth every day, actually every hour, to our own future.

 

Mothers, however, are not strictly just those women who have given birth.  For various reasons, a woman can birth a child and never raise it.  While science has made great strides in helping women with fertility problems bear a child, we still cannot create life without the basic ingredients of life from a female and a male.  Motherhood is not possible with a father somewhere in the picture.  Thus, mothering is just part of this equation we call life.

 

Today I want to mention two mothers – one a minority woman who is the poster child for what one can achieve with a good supportive family and the other, proof that someone can enter a family and be a great mother.

 

Michelle Obama was not born into a situation that ensured success.  No private school was expecting her and by her own admission, standardized tests would not have gotten her into college if that was the sole determining factor.  Michelle was encouraged and supported by her family, however, and she soon learned that study and hard work would reap results.

 

“I am an example of what is possible when girls from the very beginning of their lives are loved and nurtured by people around them. I was surrounded by extraordinary women in my life who taught me about quiet strength and dignity,” Michelle Obama explains.   “One of the lessons that I grew up with was to always stay true to yourself and never let what somebody else says distract you from your goals.”

 

Dr. Jill Biden married into a family that had seen tragedy.  Her new husband had two sons but had lost a wife and daughter in a tragic accident.  Jill Biden is the first wife of a sitting vice president of the United States to hold a job, earning her own paycheck while her husband earns his.

 

As reported in a 2010 interview in Marie Claire magazine, her schedule is not laid back at all.  “On Tuesdays and Thursdays, Jill Biden rises at 6 a.m.; dresses; gobbles toast, coffee, and a 2% Fage yogurt; and hustles out the door for the 30-minute commute (via modest motorcade) to NOVA [Northern Virginia Community College]. Though academia is hardly a fashion bastion, Biden, who teaches English, always looks camera-ready for class. “I think it’s important how I come across to my students,” she says. “I want them to see how professional women dress.” Biden is exceedingly sensitive about how she is perceived by her students. According to one news account, after Secret Service arrived in suits and earpieces on her first day at NOVA, she suggested they dress less conspicuously. The next day they showed up looking like junior bankers on Casual Friday — khakis and ties. Biden again asked them to tone it down. Some of her students have only a vague awareness of her role as second lady. Asked once if she was related to the vice president,  Biden responded efficiently, “Yes, we are related.”

 

While many of their deeds have gone unreported, this past week these two women celebrated the fifth anniversary of a special project of theirs – Joining Forces.  In a wonderful nod to motherhood and fatherhood as well as families, Joining Forces helps the families of active duty military personnel.  Today you can show your support and share a message with those whose mothers and fathers are helping defend freedom and mothers all around the world.  Think of it as sending a Mother’s Day card to military families worldwide.  Go to http://joiningforces.uso.org and complete your card today.

Spirit of Freedom

Spirit of Freedom

Pentecost 2

The human spirit is fairly simple in its design and in its living. While there are myriads of complex systems within the body that houses the spirit, history has proven that our basic core desires are the same regardless of the location, period, or economic factors of the person.

Perhaps that is why the mythologies of antiquity hold our attention. They unite us in asking and providing answers to the basic questions mankind has always had. Paramount are the common threads that weave the lives of us all into the history of the world. The struggles and the victories repeat throughout time just as the fables and stories are repeated in different colors with different and yet the same basic stories.

The stories of our histories are not just myths, tales with a shred of truth that have been elaborated and exaggerated. Some are painfully honest and bear witness to the conflicts life presents. Today in the United States of America many will pause to pay homage to those who died fighting for others. Just as the spirit of Pentecost came for all, so the victory of freedom for one becomes a victory for many.

The American philosophy about basic freedom being for all was eloquently presented by Thomas Jefferson: “To preserve the freedom of the human mind then and freedom of the press, every spirit should be ready to devote itself to martyrdom; for as long as we may think as we will, and speak as we think, the condition of man will proceed in improvement.” Thirteen colonies dared to risk everything for the spirit of freedom which was the spirit of human dignity. They dared to engage one of the world’s most powerful nations for this cause, knowing that the struggle was worth everything for without such freedoms and dignity, life would be worthless.

I realize that some of you will be reading this in countries without such freedoms. You still have your heroes, though; you have in your own history those who have fought for your rights. Today as we in the USA honor our own heroes who have passed, I hope you will honor your own. “While there’s nothing one of us can do to bring back those loved ones, we can celebrate who they were, how they lived their lives, and remember how their lives were lost, in a struggle dedicated to the eternal truth of freedom and the human spirit,” stated former US Statesman Donald Rumsfeld.

We look very different; we speak very differently; we even eat different foods. We all still live and in our living, share basic needs and desires. Whether one’s hair is blonde or black, one’s skin is yellow or brown, one’s height is tall or short….We all feel and strive to improve. Kahlil Gibran once said “Love is the only freedom in the world because it so elevates the spirit that the laws of humanity and the phenomena of nature do not alter its course.”

Today I invite you to tell the stories of your own heroes. Tomorrow we will jump into the stories of the Ice Age and the heroes and gods of which they speak. As Joseph Campbell described, “I don’t believe people are looking for the meaning of life as much as they are looking for the experience of being alive. “A hero is someone who has given his or her life to something bigger than oneself.” Today, as we honor those who have died, let us live by telling their stories.

Pull up a comfortable stool or chair and gather a few friends or family. Today is for remembering our past and recognizing that it is the road on which we will walk our future. We owe so much to those who have come before us. Their sacrifices, their struggles, and their examples are all glorious lessons from which we can learn and be proud.

Anniversary of Horror

Anniversary of Horror
Epiphany 22

They stood silently as the Allied soldiers approached. The Allied soldiers were from Russia and most had not heard of the Nazi camp in Oswiecim, Poland. They approached cautiously, on the lookout for a sudden ambush. Then they saw the eyes behind the barbed wire and soon learned the horror that was the reality of the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp.

The Russian patrol unit found almost seven thousand that had been left because they were too weak to participate in what would become known as the Death March. Before the arrival of the Allied troops on January 27, 1945, the Nazi leaders had embarked on an evacuation of the concentration camp. Almost fifty-six columns of men, women, and children were marched on foot through Upper and Lower Silesia. Another twenty-two hundred from two other camps were transported by train. As the Allied regained the region, they found the bodies of those who had been too ill to complete the route as well as those shot by the Nazi SS guards. Between nine and fifteen thousand died in the course of the evacuation.

The reality of a Nazi concentration camp was discovered by those men liberating the remaining people at Auschwitz. In addition to the seven thousand barely alive people they located at the camp, they also found six hundred corpses. The evidence of others, though, was irrefutable. They discovered 370,000 men’s suits; 837,000 women’s garments; and 7.7 tons of human hair. The Nazis had destroyed some of the large ovens they had used in their killing of mostly of Jewish people, but failed to remove all the evidence.

Last week Poland hosted a commemorative ceremony of the seventieth anniversary of the liberation of Poland but many were not thinking of the past. Genocide did not end with the treaties ending World War II. The present and future were very much on the minds of those attending the memorial. United Nations Deputy Secretary-General Jan Eliasson urged everyone to “reflect how we can better prevent the world from again becoming the setting for the terrible events we saw in the Holocaust, the killing fields in Cambodia, and the genocides we saw in Rwanda and Srebrenica. We as individuals, as representatives of the UN, and of our member states, must ask ourselves what more we can do, and must consider what we can do differently to build societies where tolerance trumps hatred. We have failed vulnerable populations too many times.”

It was not a bright idea to try to eradicate the world of all people of a particular culture or belief system. It was greed and arrogance. It is, sadly, a greed and arrogance that exists in our world today. The epiphany to combat this is the realization that we are all very similar and, being so, have the same basic needs of air, water, food, and caring. We need to live an epiphany of caring, of communion with one another, of touching the soul of another in a positive way.

Here is a rather long but very meaningful quote from Jacob Bronowski: “It’s said that science will dehumanize people and turn them into numbers. That’s false, tragically false. Look for yourself. This is the concentration camp and crematorium at Auschwitz. This is where people were turned into numbers. Into this pond were flushed the ashes of some four million people. And that was not done by gas. It was done by arrogance; it was done by dogma; it was done by ignorance. When people believe that they have absolute knowledge, with no test in reality, this is how they behave. This is what men do when they aspire to the knowledge of gods.

“Science is a very human form of knowledge. We are always at the brink of the known; we always feel forward for what is to be hoped. Every judgment in science stands on the edge of error and is personal. Science is a tribute to what we can know although we are fallible.

“I owe it as a scientist to my friend Leo Szilard, I owe it as a human being to the many members of my family who died here, to stand here as a survivor and a witness. We have to cure ourselves of the itch for absolute knowledge and power. We have to close the distance between the push-button order and the human act. We have to touch people.”

We are the designers of the future, we who study the past and live the present. Our actions today will determine our fates tomorrow. We cannot ignore the horrors that occurred but we cannot simply be sad and then move on in our busy lives. I hope that today, on this anniversary, we all find a way to live in peace, secure in our individual beliefs, walking in the truth that no one man is better than another. Every living thing deserves respect. All cultures should teach tolerance. All people should value another.