Friday, October 28, 2011

Old friends, old values

I received an email recently that warmed the cockles of my heart, whatever that means.  I just looked up the definition and it is described as "the core of one's being."  That's pretty heavy stuff, but so was this email from an old high school friend named Connie.

Connie sent me some pictures of her granddaughter getting her hair cut to donate it to Locks of Love, a non-profit organization that provides hairpieces to financially disadvantaged children in the United States and Canada under age 21 suffering from long-term medical hair loss from any diagnosis.  I can only imagine the joy and self-esteem these real hair pieces bring to these youngsters.

When serving as a member of a state Make A Wish board, I witnessed so many bald children, mostly from chemo, who wore hats to cover, not only their heads, but also to hide their shame.  I know a hairpiece would have made a tremendous difference to these children.  They suffered a lot more than loss of hair, including the loss of life, but their baldness acted as a searing scar that caused attention to their awful plight.  Hairpieces would have meant so much. 

I thought what a great thing to see Connie's daughter instilling these types of values in her girl.  Seeing an eight-year-old giving of herself instead of asking for more, caught my attention.   But should it?  Why did I jump to a conclusion this act was abnormal?  Why did I feel today's children aren't caring and giving? Why would I think this new generation would be less so than the previous?  The quick and obvious answer is media.

My daughters have made sure their kids know about the correct values in life.  My wife and I taught our girls the concepts of caring for others, loving thy neighbors, helping the less fortunate, and they have passed these same values on, just like my parents did.

Since Connie is a high school friend, I began thinking about other high school friends and how they brought up their children and if their children continued teaching values to their kids.  After reflection, I could easily see this was exactly what took place.  I'm not naive enough to believe every child who is raised with good values turns into a productive adult, but most of the ones I know have.  And I have no reason to believe my friends are different from people in any other part of America, with the possible exception of California...just kidding, John.

So the next time you see or hear "shocking" news about some kid "gone wrong," remember there are thousands more "gone right."

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Help

Yikes, please help me.  I'm more confused than ever.  It's about this global thinking thing.  As I understand it, the global economy means a world wide network with unrestricted movement of capital, goods, services and labor.  It seems to me, since we shifted our focus from our country's finances, productivity, civil rights, trade, etc. to the international stage, things haven't been going so well for our citizens.  Our government has directed us toward global interest and our so called economists do the same.  Am I being ultra patriotic to think our government should pay a little more attention to our national interests?  Is global thinking non-patriotic?  Is it OK to root for America to regain the stability it once enjoyed at home and its status internationally?  Am I a traitor for thinking globally or a traitor thinking nationally?  The Olympic Games are on the horizon; is it OK to shout U-S-A?

Our strategy to join with other nations, most of whom are somewhat dependent on us anyway, to upgrade the world seems to me to be diluting our strengths at home.  Are we actually helping other counties while asking our citizens to make sacrifices on our own terra firma?  The globalists say that may be true, but it's a temporary condition and the world will be a better place in the long run.  I'm beginning to question if this country will even be around in the long run.  What is the long run--when all people sing in perfect harmony and everyone drinks Coke?

Mentioning the Olympics brought to mind China with its billion (that starts with a B) residents.  The Great Dragon's tail was dragging, but now is wagging.  They are purported to be the next super power.  The United States of America is now borrowing money from them to bail out our financial gurus.  These same Wizards of Wall Street and Corporate America sent our nation's jobs over the Great Wall so they could make a little more profit.  Congress abetted them by passing laws like NAFTA.  Of course we all know who runs those 535 jokers on the Hill.  So the toys we loved are now being manufactured in China, not here.  Guess what?  While we suffer high unemployment, our government is now telling us these toys are not safe.  Hmm.  Is this a nightmare I'm experiencing or is this for real?

How about our textile industry?  Oh, never mind, we don't have one anymore.

Yes, let's think globally.  Look at foreign aid.  Could it possibly be time to restructure that policy?  We give aid to people who hate us.  We also give aid to their enemies so some balance exists that might eliminate conflict.  It's really helping in the Middle East where people are being killed daily.  Look at the money we've given to starving people around our globe that goes to some dictator's coffers, while the deaths pile up.  I guess the argument for global thinking could make a case, I think.  I don't get it, but I'm just a simple citizen.  I can't help wonder what some of this money would do to help modernize our infrastructure or eradicate poverty or improve our educational system.  Will it happen?  Not with our current circus of lawmakers.

So I have this conundrum, globalism versus nationalism.  Which seems more patriotic?  I looked up the word patriotism and it's defined this way - "love or devotion for one's country."  Then I consulted Mr. Webster once again and looked up the word nationalism.  Here's the definition--"loyalty and devotion to a nation; especially : a sense of national consciousness exalting one nation above all others and placing primary emphasis on promotion of its culture and interests as opposed to those of other nations or supranational groups."  Nationalism took on a pretty bad connotation because of Nazi Germany, but that kind of nationalism was to a degree of lunacy.

OK, so I love my country, but my government is telling me to think more globally.  It's rather difficult watching big business send jobs overseas so their shareholders can make a few more bucks, while unemployment is killing our country.  So am I unpatriotic to want a little nationalism?  This introduces a whole new set of questions and the main one is this - to be a patriot should one be devoted to one's country or one's government?  We pledge allegiance to our flag which represents our country and its constitution, not its government.  To answer these types of questions, I often refer back to history, especially American history.  How would our forefathers respond?

Well, ole' Tom Jefferson would probably retort with something like this.  "Are you crazy, knucklehead?  What the hell do you think we're revolting against?  Why are our citizens dying in a war against those tax-happy Redcoats?  We're trying to rid ourselves of a government of monarchy and form a new government, a perfect union for the people and by the people.  We are loyal to our country and hopefully our new government.  However, when government doesn't abide by the rules of our constitution, revolt may be necessary, you jerk."

Jeez, Mr. Jefferson, I was only asking.  So I guess that question was a no-brainer.  I wish our Congress would read the Constitution of the United States of America.  I don't remember anything in it about global thinking.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

America

This is not a warm, fuzzy, feel-good essay about our great country.  This is an observation from a guy who has been around the block a few times.  Did you ever stop to think about--I mean REALLY think about--what a blessing it is to be born in this country?  I never did until I traveled around the globe for business. 

As a little boy, I didn't know anything about the world past my own block, much less other countries.   When I grew into my teens, I was so busy having fun that worldwide events didn't concern me.  My biggest worries were passing tests, acne and dating--although not necessarily in that order.  Since I attended a local college, my life was an extension of high school--without the acne.  My draft rating was "Four F" so the Viet Nam War didn't drastically impact my life.

It was when I left the Mohawk Valley and transported this naive young man to Miami that my awareness grew.  I now lived about 90 miles from an island named Cuba.  Wait a minute, Cuba?  Wasn't that the place where the Communists had missiles pointed directly at South Florida?  I began talking to some of the Cuban refugees in Miami and learned that a fellow named Castro took away their freedom and dictated everyday living.  Some of the stories I heard made an horrific impression.

The first Cubans who escaped to Miami were  those who could afford to buy their way out.  These were professionals--doctors, lawyers, professors, educated people.  They couldn't practice without American certification so they took menial jobs but they stuck together and improved old run-down neighborhoods.  They were honest, hard-working people and I give them a lot of credit.  The same is not true of the second wave of Cuban refugees.  Many were the criminal element that invaded Miami when Castro emptied the jails.  That's when the drug problem started.

Later I entered the textile industry and traveled domestically throughout the South and Northeast.   When I advanced to international sales, I began world travel.  Wow, what an eye opener.  Seeing other cultures and living conditions is a true education.  Something happens to you.  It's not like a sudden change--that proverbial bolt from the blue--but instead, a gradual maturation of awareness.  Subtle happenings you experience manifest thoughts migrating from your subconscious to a conscious level.  You begin to identify with images you observe and realize differences from "back home."  Often these images distinctly tell a story about what's not there more than what is. 

I read somewhere being born in the USA automatically places you in the top 97th percentile of wage earners in the world.  Hello!  How's that for luck?  We didn't do anything to earn this, just fortunate enough to be born here.  Now that's what I call a real entitlement.

But what about our poor people?  Many of the people our government classifies as poverty level would live regally in many other nations.  I'm not saying it's good or bad, but I've seen the difference.  One of the great notions in this country is helping others and we do.  We are rated as number one in charity, but we shouldn't take pride in that fact.  We SHOULD be number one.  We are no more altruistic than the people of a third world country.  It's just that we have the resources to reach out and help when they don't.  They are fighting for survival.

I've lived and volunteered in Appalachia.  For years I helped to better the condition of the poor.  At Christmas we gave gift packages to impoverished kids and families.  Some of the children's packages consisted of toys, bikes and all kinds of clothing including shoes and coats.  Some poverty-level families have many more than one child and by the time we finished lavishing all the gifts out, I couldn't help but feel guilty when remembering starving kids dying in other countries.  Poverty in this country isn't exactly the same as many other places.  I hope we can someday eradicate poverty in America and move on to other locations.

Because of the Internet, facts and figures showing how the good ole USA compares to the rest of the world are at my rigid digits, but figures on a sheet of paper don't tell the story.  Let me put it this way--when I go to bed, I thank God every night for being born in America.

Think about all the daily choices you make.  Just having choices is a big deal in other parts of the world.  In some locations the choice of the day is eating a scrap of food or giving it to your child.  I've seen whole communities of people living in cardboard boxes with no electricity or toilet facilities.  We take insignificant and major modes of living for granted.  When I first went to Mexico City, guards with automatic weapons were stationed at bank doors.  I remember my shock at no toilet paper in the office building's restrooms.  Many didn't have toilet seats.  Real poverty can turn honest people into criminals and they steal anything that will help them survive.  In the Philippines kids bathe and play in open sewers.  In South Africa, female textile workers go to their jobs only when their tribal chief allows.

When I pledge allegiance to our flag, I also include a heartfelt thank you.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Mom's Towel

An e-mail I received today from an old high school friend opened a floodgate of memories concerning my much loved mother.  When I say "much loved," I don't mean just by me or our family but by everyone who came in contact with her.  I truly don't remember anyone saying a bad thing about Mom.

The note from my friend Dave, explain he found...well, let me show you his words..."Been cleaning out some stuff here and found an old face towel. The ends were decorated with beautiful blue, homemade edging. This was part of a wedding present your mom gave us 46 years ago. The other pieces were long ago worn out. I think I will keep this one."

Yes, that would have come from my mother.  Mom was an invalid.  She coped with muscular dystrophy and heart problems.  Her vision was problematic too.  She had to undergo cataract surgery brought on by the MD.  The operation was much different then.  In fact I brought her to Ithaca, where I lived, to have the procedure done.  As required back then, she had to recuperate for many weeks and my wife at that time, my dad and I nursed her back to health. We did the same for the second eye.  Boy, it's a lot easier today.

Because she was housebound, she couldn't get out to buy gifts.  She wouldn't let anybody do it for her either.  She insisted on making something special for each person.  She said she wanted each gift to contain some of her love.  It wasn't an easy task for her.  Besides muscular weakening in her arms and hands, the MD also caused drooping eyelids.  We used to tape her eyelids up and rig special lighting so she could perform her work.  I vividly recall her hunched over with her glasses close to her project and knitting or crochet needles almost clinking against those specs.  It would take her days to accomplish what a healthy person could do in minutes but she always managed to live up to the challenge.

Once I asked if I or anyone could help her.  She refused any assistance saying it wouldn't be right.  She wouldn't take credit for a gift from her if it wasn't totally her craftsmanship.  She explained her effort was part of the love she wanted to convey.  I often wondered if some of the recipients realized the sweat equity and love their presents represented.  Many, like my friend Dave, did.

Dave mentioned the wedding present was given 46 years ago.  Mom was 64 at that time, five years before her death.  Those were tough years for the regal lady.  In February of '69 I had just come back to Ithaca from visiting Mom in the Ilion hospital, when my brother-in-law called to tell me of her passing.

Through the years I've read many descriptions of people's reactions to news such as this but I honestly don't believe you can describe it.  I've heard people say it's like getting a blow to the gut or knocking the wind from your sails  but it's so much more.  I remember I felt an immediate sense of loss of boundless love and unconditional protection.  And that was just the start. (I never thought this would be so hard to write about.)

My wife was eight months pregnant with our first child, Danielle, and Mom had told me she'd try her best to see our baby.  She promised, with all her will and strength, she would fight off the grim reaper to hold my daughter in her arms.  It's the only time in my life Mother didn't keep a promise to me and it took death to make it happen.  The early morning of my mother's funeral we rushed my wife to the hospital to give birth to a premature, jaundiced little girl.  It was symbolic Dani was born in the same small hometown hospital mom died in.  I'm convinced God conceived this scenario to ease the pain of my mother's death with the joy of my daughter's birth.  Later that morning I left the hospital to attend Mother's funeral.

While cleaning out a closet a  few months ago, Gal Friday found an old, small, flat cardboard box.  Inside she discovered a few linen handkerchiefs with dainty crocheted edgings of various colors.  I recognized Mom's handiwork.  I thought about the work and the love they represented.

At first I considered giving them to my daughters, but young folks today don't place the same value on things like this as we did.  It's OK, I guess.  Things are a lot different today.  The modern lifestyle, with so many built-in conveniences makes it hard for younger people to have any kind of rational touch with yesteryear.  They never experienced life without computers, cell phones and other electronic gadgetry we older folks never dreamed of.  I still remember ice boxes, ice wagons and milk delivered to the backdoor in bottles with cardboard tops.  How can that compete with an IPad?  During my lifetime the world has experienced more change than ever in the history of humankind.  Is it any wonder kids can't relate?  Why would they?

So I decided to give these special gifts to a person who could sincerely appreciate what these linen handkerchiefs, with the crocheted borders, really meant.  I gave them to Gal Friday's 94-year-old Aunt Esther.  She absolutely loved them even before I told her the story behind them.  You can't believe how much happiness these hankies brought to Aunt Esther.  It was just as mom would have wanted.