Nuptials Never; “I Do” Commit to Communicate

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copyright © 2009 Betsy L. Angert.  BeThink.org

I write this reflection on, what in years past; I would have considered a couple’s certain doomsday.  Within hours, Alex and Alia will walk down the aisle and take their vows.  Will May 2, 2009, be the day of deliverance for the two, one of delight, or the beginning of the end?  I know not.  I only understand that on this date, the pair will do, as I purposefully never planned to.  They will wed.  I have not met either of these individuals; yet today I can think of nothing but their lives and the effect they have had on me.  

I became aware of Alex and Alia, A2, for short, while on an airplane headed for The Toddling Town.  It was Friday, March 27, 2009.  Neither the man who will become a husband today, nor the woman, who will be declared his wife, was physically present.  Indeed, I may never see the persons who sincerely moved me to rethink whether I might say, “I do”.  Perhaps, they know nothing of what began as an innocent encounter.  The Earth did not shake, and certainly, I never expected my conviction to crumble.  Indeed essentially my belief did not evolve.  In truth, nothing actually changed.  Still, after a three-hour exchange, I began to more seriously consider what for all of my live I rejected, marriage.

I am the third child of parents who parted ten days after a twenty-year marriage.  I was eight years of age at the time.  I remember the moment of their decision as though it was but minutes ago.  I can easily relive the conversation that changed my existence.  Indeed, the entire incident never leaves my consciousness.  As my Mom disgustedly rose from the restaurant table, I knew that nuptials do not bring togetherness.  A legal commitment will not ensure quality communication.  From the second she stated she was leaving, until, well, forever, I knew I would not wed.

Then, decades later, there was a time in the month of March.  On that day, a stranger and I were in route to Chicago.  As occurs on any and many journeys, people who might never make an acquaintance sit side-by-side and chat incessantly.  The individuals may tell all and then fade from sight forever, or they may do as oddly enough my plane mate and I did, come together on the return trip and again, talk for many hours more.

For me, the travel is a frequent excursion.  It has been for years.  My most cherished confidant resides in the “Windy City.” While he and I have shared our heart and soul for decades, we had not wed.  Early on in our association the thought was far from either of our minds.  Each of us saw the other in a way that was far from physically intimate.  While our lives were deeply intertwined, a corporeal involvement would have been an abhorrent thought.  Time, much talk, realizations about what was once repugnant transformed our truths, but not my fervent reality. I would never marry.

Ela, unlike me, had happily embarked on a trek through holy matrimony.  Now, she was ready to take another extraordinary trip.  She would watch her son, Alex, follow the path she and her husband Robert had chosen.  Alex too would wed.  In prelude, on this auspicious occasion, Ela was set to attend a party in honor of her soon-to-be daughter-in-law.  Although, at the time of our first encounter I knew nothing of the imminent nuptial, had I been aware of the event it would not have changed my mind.  Marriage would not be my idea of an ideal and today it is still not!  

When I boarded the plane I had a singular notion.  Once in the air, I intended to sleep.  I could not imagine that Ela’s energy would captivate me more than my desire to nap had.  With only a few short hours of rest the evening before, and a full day on the agenda, I felt a need for some slumber

Yet, from the moment Ela asked if the chair next to me was taken, until the time she settled in, after placing her bags in the overhead bins, it was apparent, Ela and all that was within her would revise my reality.  I could see this creature loves life.  She genuinely enjoys her partner of more than forty years, Robert.  Her affection for her progeny was and is evident in her every breath.  Ela’s admiration, appreciation, and her sincere approval for Alex’s choices were, and are, palpable.  I felt Ela exuded empathy; at least for those she felt close to.  When she spoke of the man she shared her being with for two score, or their offspring, who is near thirty now, only fondness filled the air.

As I listened to her words and studied her actions I marveled.  At least for Ela, a legal commitment had not quashed her independence.  While she excitedly spoke of her family and the future event, these were not all she had on her mind.  Indeed, initially we did not discuss the May marriage other than in passing.

Ela herself was obviously independent from her husband.  Her son Alex’s accomplishments while wondrous were not more important or incredible than her own.  Ela presented no pageantry.  She was not pompous, quite the contrary.  As we talked, I became acquainted with a woman who seemed as ordinary as any other being might.  Yet, slowly it was revealed Ela is an extremely well-educated and credentialed individual.  

In her professional career, this unassuming individual rose to a very prominent position.  From the first, I experienced her eloquence, her quick mind, her sensitivity to nuances not verbalized, and her desire to learn.  Immediately, when inspired to investigate a subject further, Ela took copious notes.

The woman herself, long before she shared details of what Alex and Alia had done and would do, was wondrous to me.  Perhaps that is why her excitement for nuptials took me beyond where I had been all of my life.  Hours of conversation with this confident, compassionate, insightful being helped me to consider my long-held belief in a way I had not fully explored.

Ela was not her marriage.  She was not a wife and mother more than she was herself.  She was separate and equal; Ela was the sum of her parts, and perchance, to a certain extent a bit more.  Possibly, that was the reason I reflected on this encounter and what it might mean to me in ways I had not before when I spoke to others of a legal bond [bondage].  

For decades, I have heard excited brides gush, grateful grooms boast, prideful mothers and fathers of the betrothed flaunt.  As I listen, I wonder; what they will say far into the future.  “She is a bit**!”  “He a bas****.” “We were too young at the time.”  “I was blinded by love and should have known better.”  When asked why a couple separates, divorcees who later declare them selves happily single, offer the oft-avowed explanation, “We just grew apart.” It seems an accepted veracity that this just happens.  People evolve and chose distinct and different paths.

I believe and have observed as my Mom, ultimately, a twice-divorced damsel never in distress, admits of her escapades.  People can predict.  All one needs to know of another is apparent early on.  Even without awareness for who a person is in depth and detail, a few conversations, a day trip or two can tell us much about the person who pretends to be perfect.  What persons portend is perhaps a far truer picture of whom they are within.  As Mommy often mused, we choose to convince ourselves that what we wish to believe is correct.

Infatuation, lust, a longing to leave our current circumstances, convenience, customs, the desire for companionship, all conjure up notions of wedded bliss.  The desire for romance often rules over a rational reason.

Whilst in a state of euphoria, already anxious over what might be, people have faith.  Nuptials will bring the best into their lives.  If only that were true.  In most instances, it is not.  One need only consider the divorce and separation statistics, or the number of spouses who say they are miserable in their marriage.

I trust intendeds expect to live together ’til death do they part.  Few of the many who part in acrimony anticipate such a split.  I can only assume most are unlike me. All I ever imagined was if I entered into a marriage, the relationship would change.  A legal union would build barriers around me.  Possibly, he would feel constrained, chained, or caged as well.  Restrictions, even self-imposed, would be realized.  I feared what my spouse would sense as much as what I might experience.

When I contemplated nuptials, I could not envision a rhyme or reason for such a sacrifice.  At least, for me, matrimony seemed madness.  Did I mention the studies show a toxic marriage may literally hurt your heart?  Yikes!  I prefer good health and genuine happiness.  I totally love my own company and take pleasure in the tranquility I have created.

Too often I heard tales or saw those close to me conclude, “I need to escape for the sake of the children, his or her physical or intellectual health, and for my sanity, or ours.”  Papers would be filed.  There would be a formal dissolution.  Pain for someone, anyone, or everyone would be profound.  It was for me.  

There was no violence in my childhood home.   Physical, emotional, and, or verbal abuses were alien concepts.  In our abode life was calm, cozy, and comfortable.  Yet, not everyone, if anyone, was authentically happy.  Outwardly, it appeared that my parents and their progeny thrived.  We existed.  My family went through the motions.  Inwardly some of us died.

Before my parents decided to divorce, I was uncertain why I felt as I did when with my family.  Years of anecdotes from my parents who were no longer each other’s spouse and from my siblings helped me decide.  I would never dare do what Alex and Alia thought wise; enter into what I thought a legal lock on my life. A commitment, regardless of a formal ceremony, frightened me.  It still does.  

Before my parent’s divorce I saw too much, heard more, and understood why a legal union was not for me.  After, the split my awareness intensified.  I contemplated the home life of friends.  What seemed solid and sane, before I looked beneath the surface, was often stressful and strenuous.   No words of joy about one nuptial or another had, could, or would sway me.  People often profess happiness and hide hurts.  

Hence, it is no wonder that Ela’s deep devotion to husband and son, as well as her fervor for her future family did not transform me.  Nor did her tales touch my truth.  For all of my live, others have shared similar passions.  In a euphoric moment, people present tales of family, fiancés, and a feeling of fulfillment within the framework of matrimony.  Yet, I came to realize excitement over an individual faded fast.  At times, all that was publicly stated proved to be but a façade.  Hence, I had no reason to trust that Ela’s veracity would be different.

However, there was an aspect of her enthusiasm that varied from the usual.  Ela’s dedication to her own being brought me to a place where I could see me, myself in a relationship recognized by the law.  Indeed, Ela’s independence was the catalyst for my novel contemplation.  Though her many accounts all that I had rejected was viewed in a new light.

The sincerity my plane-mate expressed was not as easily dismissed as the superficial statements others offered all of my live.  Indeed, the profundity of my Mom’s philosophies was more apparent when delivered by a stranger.

When Mommy chose to enter a third marriage, consciously she knew not to do as she had done in the past, wed for convenience.  On the last of her plunges into partnership, my Mom made a commitment to her best friend, someone she did not simply love, which Mommy always avowed was an emotion easily expressed, but a person she genuinely liked.

My Mom stressed; individuals intent on marriage must consider invisible issues.  She embraced a lesson learned in her first marriage; shared ethical values matter.  Everyday exchanges with the object of one’s passion, if critical, cruel, combative, confrontational, or curt will ultimately cause a relationship to crumble.  Calm, caring communication, Mommy proved through practice, creates the connection most everyone craves.

Perhaps, my history had left me too badly bruised.  On the subject of marriage, I had lost my bearings.  I had easily navigated away from any commitment to closeness. Emotionally, intellectually, and even physically I could connect, deeply.  However, my heart was not open to a lengthy, legal, what felt to be as an obligatory bondage.  In friendship, I was more than fine.  I revel in real relationships.  I always have.

My friendship with Barry, the person I was off to visit, is a constant for me   it has been for decades. He and I had pondered aloud what the two of us, might want to be.  Rather than live in two distant cities as we have in recent years, could we choose to create a combined home.  If so, where would we reside.  How might we make our time together as meaningful as it has always been?  Change, while a constant, for me holds many challenges.

The question that haunted us was could we adjust the circumstances and not alter the quality of our relationship?  A relative or two thought it possible.  Alexander, a cousin of mine whom I respect, made an argument for marriage.  I considered it, for it was as practical, as I am.  However, humans, I understand are not necessarily logical.  Emotions enter into essential considerations.

Rapport, I believe, is the root to all happiness.  I wonder if that is why my time with Ela helped transform me.  While my Mom’s last and final marriage may have alleviated some of my apprehensions, just a smidgen, I could not see her strength, her independence as I might that of a stranger.  

I smile as I recall what Ela said of her husband and her son.  She was not in awe of their achievements; I was.  Closeness, when it does not breed contempt, may give rise to comfort and complacency.   This construct might explain why the tête-à-tête with Ela transformed my truth.  Communication with a person who is not an intimate can serve to enlighten in a manner the words of a loved one do not.  A sympathetic sharing with someone who is separate from ourselves can affect us in ways we would never imagine.  Certainly, Ela had that effect on me.

When we exited the plane we were so engrossed that we continued the conversation as we walked.  Ela and I had discussed what we did, do, and dream of.  The dialogue was fluid, fun, and far from shallow.  Folly, fears, failures, and feelings entered into each narrative.  We reflected on personal strengths, weaknesses, and ways we, and those familiar to us approach life.

Perchance, I was enamored with the cosmic coincidences and our similar personal histories.  With the exception of the divorce that had dictated many of my decisions I could relate to the woman whose son will wed today.

Aware that hours from now the person who changed my life will witness another transformation, I wonder if she knows, what it was about her that moved me.   I did have the opportunity to tell her that I would say, “I do.”  However, for weeks after our shared travel I did not understand why.

Ela might believe I was in awe of the her son’s arrangement, or the art Alex created to announce the event, While wonderful, the plans and powerful presentations, did not persuade me to engage in what I still believe is the myth of matrimonial felicity.  

Who Ela is, separate and with her husband Bob, her stories of all that they are separately, and have shared together transformed my perspective, at least in part.  Still, their tale alone had not shocked me out of the abyss of apprehension.  

Once able to more objectively assess the independence of one who is happily intertwined, a treasure was revealed to me.  I came to cherish the memory of my Mom and her marital experience.  I recognized that for oh so long I empathized with her earlier wedded hurts.  I had allowed these to cloud my consciousness. When change came, I discounted the difference.  I had not fully appreciated what had become Mommy’s truth in the last three decades of her life.  

When with Ela, I was able to see Mommy and marriage through a new lens.  The woman who brought me into the world did more than conceive a creature.  My Mom imagined love and an authentic fondness could exist within a legal framework.  She did not lose her heart, her soul, or her individual identity once she dedicated herself to something greater than herself.  Just as Ela and Bob had done without regret, and as Alex and Alia will do today, Mommy said, “I do: and did it well.

After much discussion over the two days in Chicago with Barry, on March 29, 2009, I told him I would.

Hence, on the afternoon of May 2, 2009, as Ela’s son, Alex, and Alia, his fiancé, wed, I solidify plans for what Barry and I recognize as a wee bit more than a “civil” union. Already, I designed and produced a “Save the Date” magnet, as Alex did.  These have been delivered to invited guests.  The webpage, an idea inspired by Ela, Alex, and Alia is my next pursuit.

A casual observer might think I changed.  People might presume I am anxious to be wed.  Perhaps, they muse, I have become the bride who anticipates marriage will bring a better bliss.  Indeed, none of these assumptions are valid.   I have not been transformed.  A “Wedding” is still not what I want. My best friend will not become my husband and I will not be his wife.  Neither of us will have a spouse other than on paper.  I will not participate in nuptials, at least not in a conventional sense.  I [and Barry] will commit to communicate.  

On this May date, separately and together, Barry and I hope that today Alex and Alia will do as we have decided to do, grow greater with the person they like just as he or she is.

References for Relationship Realities . . .

GOP Back on the Brink




To view the original art, please travel to GOP Back on the Brink

copyright © 2008.  Andrew Wahl.  Off The Wahl Perspective.

With less than a week until Election Day, it’s starting to look more and more likely that the GOP will be cast “Back to the Wilderness” (Archive No. 0837) by voters.  But beware: The last time Republicans were banished, they came back strong, first with their “Contract With America,” then with a scary brand of neoconservatism implanted on the born-again blank slate of George W. Bush. Lord only knows what they might come up with this time.

Back in seven with my post-Election Day toon.

Andrew

toon@offthewahl.com

America at a crossroad




To view the original art, please travel to America at a crossroad

copyright © 2008.  Andrew Wahl.  Off The Wahl Perspective.

Just thirteen days until United States citizens face “The Choice” (Archive 0836), (though early ballots are already in the mail). Have you made yours?

Back in seven . . .

Andrew

toon@offthewahl.com

What Pulls Us Apart



Defending Islam at a McCain rally

copyright © 2008 Betsy L. Angert.  BeThink.org

It was a cool Fall evening in South Florida.  The breeze was gentle; the sunset glorious.  As I approached the intersection where, each weekend I stand in support of peace and tranquility, I did as I do when at this crossroad.  I placed my arm out the window.  My digits were extended and formed the symbol associated with serenity.  When I am in a vehicle, at the locale commonly considered the Peace Corner I work to preserve the intent of my Saturday mission.  I strive to advance awareness for the notion, this nation remains at war.  Soldiers are slaughtered far from the shores of home sweet home.  Civilians, in their native country continue to lose their lives for a want of war.  I crave global harmony and will work to restore some sense of civility worldwide.  However, as I sat silently in contemplation cries of “Country First” startled me.

The divisiveness that has become pervasive during this political season  smacked me in the face.  Shaken, I turned to see where the words of contempt might have come from.  There they stood, two young boys, perhaps eleven years of age stood on the sidewalk with homemade signs in hand.  “McCain Palin” was painted on a poster.  Smaller type, difficult to read from even a short distance, said more.  I might pretend to portend what the words were meant to communicate.  However, I rather not assume.  I can only describe what was said and done as the seconds on the street turned into minutes.

As others had done when they passed me with my peaceful placard for oh so many years, I expressed my belief in a manner that might be visible to these youthful demonstrators.  I reached for my Obama sign, which is neatly tucked between my windshield and the dashboard.  I held the glossy rectangular navy blue sticker up, my arm stretched beyond the side of the automobile.  The near Middle School age gents immediately saw my marker and exclaimed.  “He is a Muslim!”  

I calmly cried, “No, he is not.  Barack Obama is a Christian.”  “However,” I continued, even if he were as you seem to believe, why would that matter?”  ”  Do you really wish to be intolerant of other religions?”  “What of our rights as afforded by the United States Constitution?”  Perhaps as one who taught Junior High School students for so long, an invitation to discuss seemed ideal to me.  These young people, not familiar with me, and my love of open and reverent conversations were intent on repeating the rhetoric they likely heard in their homes.

I could not help but wonder would the words Communist, Socialist, or terrorist, pass through the lips of these lads.  Might one boy or the other tell me as drivers had days ago when I stood on the corner in vigil for peace,  “Barack Obama is Black”?  My mind raced as I reflected upon the two chaps.  I realized the issues important to them were those the elders they loved had discussed at length.  Human as the young men were they knew what they knew.  The adolescents were taught to think as the adults important in their lives did.  We all do, at least initially.

I remembered a tale I frequently told pupils in the past.  In my own life, I later understood, when I was young I was unaware of the infinite options and opportunities to think, say, do, and feel, in ways that were uncommon in my family.  I could not imagine what was novel to me.  If questioned I would defend my beliefs; however, unlike these preteens I did not dismiss a request for thoughtfulness.  A want for greater wisdom was instilled in me from the first.  I learned to desire discussions.  Fury in my family seemed a futile emotion.  It brought more wrath and offered little promise for peace.

However, my relatives did not raise these miniature men.  Perhaps that explains why the pair of youthful McCain/Palin supporters began to rant and rage.  They chided me for the size of my sign.  The littler than full-grown lads laughed as they pointed to a banner firmly planted, permanently into the ground.  Behind them was a monstrous sign, perhaps eight-feet wide and six feet high.  The words McCain Palin stood strident for all passer-bys to see.  On a background, so dark as to appear near black, the white letters screamed support for the Republican ticket.

The boys shrieked; “I cannot even see your sign.”  “It is so small,” the two shouted.  I did not react.  The language the boys used morphed into a lexicon I will not utter, even when distressed.  After moments when I avoided actual engagement; although I did not put my Obama sign down, I decided to speak again.  “Love and peace,” I proclaimed.  I was quickly told there would be none of that.  A slew of statements not to be repeated spewed from the mouths of babes.  I was stunned, not by the venom but by the similarities and contrast.

While I waited for the light to turn green, I found myself lost in reveries.

As a child, also at the age of eleven or possibly twelve, I first began on my path as an activist, an advocate for people, regardless of race, color, creed, or religion.  My civic maturity was intellectually realized through acceptance.  I was taught not merely to tolerate others; I learned to embrace all.  Amongst my lessons, diversity is as significantly wondrous as similarities.  These were our family values.  More importantly, the skill that was honed in my parents’ home was listening.

My Mom and Dad helped me to understand that if I chose to hear what another believed, I could grow wiser.  Together, communities are greater when the commonweal is the central concern.  Fundamentally, my family believed, all individuals believe in love and goodness.  “All men [and women, children too] are created equal.

Perhaps that is why, while in Middle School my family participated in a civil rights march.  I was invited to join them.  Years earlier, at the age of five, I became interested in politics.  As my parents engaged in the most animated discussion I had ever witnessed, I learned of elections.  

I grew aware of the emotional impact an economic issues and the impact these could have on a vote.  Education, the environment, war, and peace all played a part in ballot decisions.  At the kitchen table, as I sat and listened to the lively talk on topics that related to every aspect of life, I realized the power of everyday people.  All Americans who vote shape our society.  I also understood that those to little to cast a ballot had influence.

Mothers and fathers often jest, “My children learn what I never did.”  Proud papas revel in the knowledge a son or daughter shares.  Modest Mamas marvel when their offspring offer informed opinions.  In my youth, I may not have realized the words I uttered as a student enrolled in school were of interest to my Mom and Dad.  What I saw and felt taught them.  As I talked aloud, my parents learned.  We chatted.  The child was a mentor.  Caregivers were counselors.  Each gained and received a greater education from the other.

The difference between my experience and what I witnessed at the intersection was in my family, peace was promoted.  A reciprocal reverence was advanced.  A word such as “Muslim,” a person’s religion, was not considered a source for a slight.

I was not encouraged to slam or damn another being, not one who stood before me, or one who wished to serve the public.  Indeed, behavior than might demean or dismiss another being was sincerely discouraged.

As a child, I was taught to believe competitive temperaments are counter productive.  Characteristics that could be classified as cutthroat were considered childish, aggressive, and contrary to the traits that might create peace.  Calmness was considered the pinnacle path.  In my family, communication was thought to be the greatest travel, that is, next to thinking.  

Even in election season, I learned at the knees of Mommy and Daddy; empathy is the best educator.  I wondered.  What had these young men experienced in their homes?  

Would their mothers and fathers be pleased as they heard their brood proclaim prejudice statements from the pavement, “Barack Obama is a Muslim.”  Might the Moms or Dads of these chaps be indignant at the discordant idea of “Country First?”  Would they rather the children cry in concord, “We, the people, are the change we can believe in.”  Likely not.  Progeny are the products of parents.  

If we teach the children to chastise, they will.  Offspring trained to offend others do.  Those tutored to act defensively often deliver dubious dictums.  Fear fills the spirits of those who were not treated with abundant respect.  Apprehension is frequently expressed as anger.  

Concerned communication gives birth to calm and care.  If we edify praise, as well as unity and peace, our offspring will practice kindheartedness.  When mothers and fathers teach attentiveness and acceptance, the children will acquire comparable customs.  Elders who choose to listen and learn from and with their progeny teach little ones to do the same.

Perchance what divides our country is not political parties, religious practices, color, or creed.  What fractures America is the manner in which we parent our children.

Power and Fear

copyright © 2008. Jerry Northington.  campaign website or on the campaign blog.

For years now I have talked about power and how people may be attracted to power and the people who hold that power.  It has been said

Power corrupts.  Absolute power corrupts absolutely.

In the aftermath of the tragic hurricane in Myanmar (Burma) a few short weeks ago I was reading a long ago speech about power and fear.  In 1990 Aung Sang Suu Kyi gave a “Freedom From Fear” speech beginning with the following words:

It is not power that corrupts but fear. Fear of losing power corrupts those who wield it and fear of the scourge of power corrupts those who are subject to it.

For some reason that way of thinking had not occurred to me.  I always attributed the desire to keep power to the addiction of always being in charge and being somehow worshipped, but the thought of fear being the driving factor makes more sense.  People as a whole are driven by fear as much or more than by most any other feeling.

Another Burmese activist, Bogyoke Aung San, said

Don’t just depend on the courage and intrepidity of others. Each and every one of you must make sacrifices to become a hero possessed of courage and intrepidity. Then only shall we all be able to enjoy true freedom.

We in the United States today would do well to take heed of those words and the advice contained within.  It will be by our actions as individuals coming together in the greater collective that will restore our nation one day.  Fear of failure or of power in the hands of others must not sway us from our goal.  True freedom for one and all is a goal we must not let fall from our vision.

Aung San continues saying

…the burden of upholding the principles of justice and common decency falls on the ordinary people. It is the cumulative effect on their sustained effort and steady endurance which will change a nation where reason and conscience are warped by fear into one where legal rules exist to promote man’s desire for harmony and justice while restraining the less desirable destructive traits in his nature.

In nations where just laws reign there is no need for ongoing resistance and protest.  

In the United States today we see the erosion of justice as we find our rights taken away one by one.  We are subject to invasions of privacy far beyond what our Founding Fathers imagined might be possible.  We must stand together to see an end to this falling away from our founding principles.  We have lost much already.  We must stand steady and true to ourselves and to our nation if we are to keep what remains and restore what is lost.

Aung San again

A people who would build a nation in which strong, democratic institutions are firmly established as a guarantee against state-induced power must first learn to liberate their own minds from apathy and fear.

This I submit is the greatest challenge facing we citizens of America today.  Too many are apathetic or fearful.  We have nothing today to fear but fear itself.  We must overcome our fear and move to bring power back to the people.

Today power resides in the hands of a privileged few in our nation.  Too many of our political leaders are mired in the quicksand of the system.  We need new ideas and new leaders to show the way into a future which benefits all of humankind.  We will not find that new future if we continue to allow power and fear to be in control today.

We must act together.  We will stand together or we will fall apart.  The choice is ours to make each and every day.  Every one of us has within our reach the power to make a difference.  We must not let fear stop us from taking the actions we know to be right.  We talk to others every day.  We can protest on the streets, write letters to editors, and live a life free from fear.  

Those who find themselves in any position of power and especially those in elected office must learn to live with the responsibility power brings.  Elected officials have a special state of accountability and must not let themselves become attached to the power to the detriment of their voting public.  We, the voting public must be the ones to hold our officials accountable for their actions.  Fear of power or of losing power must not be allowed to rule either side of the equation lest we lose our freedom in the end.

Peace.

Issue Number One; Economic Insecurity Breeds Bigotry, Bias and Bitterness



Fear Itself

copyright © 2008 Betsy L. Angert

He was a beautiful bouncing baby boy.  He was born to two parents that love him dearly.  Even before his birth, indeed, prior to conception, this little fellow was the apple of his parent’s eyes.  His biological beginning was carefully calculated.  As the seeds of life developed into a bright-eyed baby, the people he now knows as Mom and Dad thought of little else but Maxwell.  The soon to be proud Papa and Momma anxiously anticipated the day they could hold this bundle of joy.  Each of his parents was eager to meet and greet the small, sweet face of the guy that they would call Max.  Maximum value, supreme significance, marvelously magnificent, all this was and would be their son.  After Max was delivered and during any political season, such as this, Mom and Dad feel certain Max is issue number one.

The guardians look over their angel.  They plan for his future, and they are apprehensive, just as their parents and grandparents were before them.  For generations the realities of daily life have shaped parental priorities.  First and foremost, families want to survive, to feel safe and secure.  Yet, much that accounts for stability is beyond the control of a parent or any single person.  Moms and Dads agonize, as do all individuals.  Economic, educational, environmental concerns have an effect on caregivers and all citizens.  Military engagements also affect households, even if only one lives within the domicile.  Mothers, fathers, and babies, boys or girls learn to fear.

Ultimately, in the course of a life, each individual will ask, how does any matter affect me, my family, and friends of mine?  Countless citizens sense we have loss the sense that within a society, each individual works for the commonweal.  The words of Thomas Paine On the Origin and Design of Government in General are principles from the past.  In America today, the common folk feel they can no longer trust the government.  In recent years, people profess too many promises were broken; lies were told.  Intelligence was not wise.  Still, Americans sense there is an enemy.

In the minds of most Americans, the foe exists outside self.  Few have fully internalized the truth of the words uttered by Franklin Delano Roosevelt, “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.”  As people do, citizens in this country trust themselves.  People know their faith will guide them.  The Almighty will not disappoint them.  Proud of their personal strength and all they survived throughout the course of their lives, the American public, no matter their economic station believes their family will be fine.  All Americans trust in their ability to fight the opposition.  Residents in the United States are not afraid to take up arms if they need to protect themselves from evil forces.

Nevertheless, Americans are “bitter.”  People in the cities, the suburbs, and in the countryside, resent the precarious position their leaders have placed them in.  In the “Land of the free and home of the brave” the public is “looking for strong leadership from Washington.”  Individuals and communities recognize they cannot go it alone.  Sadly, those previously entrusted with Executive privileges have not served the common folk within the United States well.  Citizens have expressed their ample concern for quite a while and no one seems to hear the cries.  While some of the Presidential aspirants wish to believe Americans are not indignant . . .

Poll: 80% of Americans Dissatisfied

By Associate Press.

Time Magazine

April 4, 2008

(New York) – More than 80 percent of Americans believe the country is headed in the wrong direction, the highest such number since the early 1990s, according to a new survey.

The CBS News-New York Times poll released Thursday showed 81 percent of respondents said they believed “things have pretty seriously gotten off on the wrong track.”  That was up from 69 percent a year ago, and 35 percent in early 2002.

The survey comes as housing turmoil has rocked Wall Street amid an economic downturn.  The economy has surpassed the war in Iraq as the dominating issue of the U.S. presidential race, and there is now nearly a national consensus that the United States faces significant problems, the poll found.

A majority of Democrats and Republicans, men and women, residents of cities and rural areas, college graduates and those who finished only high school say the United States is headed in the wrong direction, according to the survey, which was published on The New York Times’ Web site.

Seventy-eight percent of respondents said the country was worse off than five years ago; just 4 percent said it was doing better . . .

The poll also found that Americans blame government officials for the housing crisis more than banks or homebuyers and other borrowers. Forty percent of respondents said regulators were mostly to blame, while 28 percent named lenders and 14 percent named borrowers.

Americans favored help for people but not for financial institutions in assessing possible responses to the mortgage crisis.  A clear majority said they did not want the government to lend a hand to banks, even if the measures would help limit the depth of a recession.

Intellectually astute, each individual understands to his or her core, a country must work well as a whole.  If we act independently of others, with little regard for those who reside in our nation, we all will realize a reason to feel insecure.  No family can survive alone. Maxwell’s parents can plan and work to provide, but if the country suffers from a crisis, be it fiscal, a protracted feud, the cost of food, or fuel, the family will also find themselves in situation critical.

In a society, we are our neighbors’ keeper, for what affects those in adjacent abodes will influence us.  If one person is poor, so too is his brother.

The tenet is true in the abstract; it is also viable concretely.  We need only consider what occurs when one domicile on the block is in disrepair or foreclosure flourishes in an enclave.  Property values for all homes in the area plummet.  A family functions best as a unit.  A nation fares well when we are one.

Our most conservative estimates indicate that each conventional foreclosure within an eighth of a mile (essentially a city block) of a single-family home results in a 0.9 percent decline in value.  Cumulatively, this means that, for the entire city of Chicago, the 3,750 foreclosures in 1997 and 1998 are estimated to reduce nearby property values by more than $598 million, for an average cumulative single-family property value effect of $159,000 per foreclosure. This does not include effects on the values of condominiums, larger multifamily rental properties, and commercial buildings.

Less conservative estimates suggest that each conventional foreclosure within an eighth of a mile of a property results in a 1.136 percent decline in that property’s value and that each foreclosure from one-eighth to one-quarter mile away results in a 0.325 percent decline in value.  This less conservative finding corresponds to a city-wide loss in single-family property values of just over $1.39 billion. This corresponds to an average cumulative property value effect of more than $371,000 per foreclosure

In 2008, this consideration consumes millions of persons who thought they were safe and secure.  As the subprime debacle ripples through every community, people realize their very survival is at risk.  Everyone, even some of the elite now experience a profound sense of insecurity.  Again, people ask who or what might they trust.  The average American has faith only in what is familiar.  Max, Mom, and Dad, families turn to what is tried and true.  Whatever has protected them in the past, they hope, will save them from what is an uncertain future.

Certainly, people have no confidence in government.  Many are frustrated.  They resent those who placed them in such a precarious situation.  Mothers, fathers, sons such as Max, and daughters are reminded, without regulations only the few profit.  Dreams die.  Witness the subprime debacle.

Mortgage companies and banks, such as Wells Fargo, have twisted the average prime mortgage loan into something much more incapable of paying by the recipient, but profitable to the company. Subprime loans, as “adjustable rate mortgages,” are packed with deceiving modifications that have low “teaser” rates that expand in interest exponentially after an initial low pay period.  Families that have received Subprime loans have bit into a bitter center of the sugar-coated American dream.

Citizens in this once prosperous country wonder whether they will ever again be able to trust that they can aspire to greater heights.  Homes are no longer worth what they were at the time of purchase.  Payments on adjusted rate mortgages [ARM] are exorbitant and balloon expenditures are now due.  Americans feel pinched.  Businesses are also affected by a slowed economy and bad investments.  Bankruptcy is an option, although brutal.  As the cost of fuel and food rises, financial fears become more real.  Existence takes a toll.  As Americans assess the circumstances within their home region, they realize there is reason to hold on tightly to what they know and love.  

Perchance G-d and country are all citizens can believe in, and maybe there is no longer reason to believe either of these will save them.  Certainly, Administrations in the recent past and present have not protected us well.  After all, our Presidents, Congress, and the Federal Reserve were responsible for the Demise of Glass-Steagall Act.  This law once regulated banks and limited the conflicts of interest created when commercial depositories were permitted to underwrite stocks or bonds.  Without such oversight, Americans lost their security.  Survival no longer seems possible.  The American Dream is a nightmare.

The Next Slum?

By Christopher B. Leinberger

Atlantic Monthly

March 2008

Strange days are upon the residents of many a suburban cul-de-sac. Once-tidy yards have become overgrown, as the houses, they front have gone vacant. Signs of physical and social disorder are spreading.

At Windy Ridge, a recently built starter-home development seven miles northwest of Charlotte, North Carolina, 81 of the community’s 132 small, vinyl-sided houses were in foreclosure as of late last year. Vandals have kicked in doors and stripped the copper wire from vacant houses; drug users and homeless people have furtively moved in.  In December, after a stray bullet blasted through her son’s bedroom and into her own, Laurie Talbot, who’d moved to Windy Ridge from New York in 2005, told The Charlotte Observer, “I thought I’d bought a home in Pleasantville.  I never imagined in my wildest dreams that stuff like this would happen.”

In the Franklin Reserve neighborhood of Elk Grove, California, south of Sacramento, the houses are nicer than those at Windy Ridge-many once sold for well over $500,000-but the phenomenon is the same.  At the height of the boom, 10,000 new homes were built there in just four years. Now many are empty; renters of dubious character occupy others.  Graffiti, broken windows, and other markers of decay have multiplied.  Susan McDonald, president of the local residents’ association and an executive at a local bank, told the Associated Press, “There’s been gang activity.  Things have really been changing, the last few years.”

In the first half of last year, residential burglaries rose by 35 percent and robberies by 58 percent in suburban Lee County, Florida, where one in four houses stands empty. Charlotte’s crime rates have stayed flat overall in recent years-but from 2003 to 2006, in the 10 suburbs of the city that have experienced the highest foreclosure rates, crime rose 33 percent. Civic organizations in some suburbs have begun to mow the lawns around empty houses to keep up the appearance of stability. Police departments are mapping foreclosures in an effort to identify emerging criminal hot spots.

The decline of places like Windy Ridge and Franklin Reserve is usually attributed to the subprime-mortgage crisis, with its wave of foreclosures.  And the crisis has indeed catalyzed or intensified social problems in many communities. But the story of vacant suburban homes and declining suburban neighborhoods did not begin with the crisis, and will not end with it. A structural change is under way in the housing market-a major shift in the way many Americans want to live and work.  It has shaped the current downturn, steering some of the worst problems away from the cities and toward the suburban fringes.  And its effects will be felt more strongly, and more broadly, as the years pass. Its ultimate impact on the suburbs, and the cities, will be profound.

Perchance, more weighty than the influence of a social degradation on a community is the impression such dire circumstances leave on a little lad such as Maxwell. Young Max will learn, just as his parents had.  Likely, he too will come to believe that he can only depend on himself.  An older and wiser Max will not fully grasp how extraordinary he is, or perhaps he will know all to well that no matter how glorious he is, someone might jeopardize his stability.  No matter how well he lives his life, another force, power, person, or authority might cause his dreams to go awry.  

Maxwell sees how hard life is for his parents.  He comes to understand that he too will always and forever, need to prove his worth.  How else might he hold onto his job, his home, his money, or his sense of self?  For Maxwell, as for us, anyone, innocent as they may be, might seem a threat.  His Mom and Dad, fearful that they might lose their livelihood, health care benefits, the family home, and their ability to provide, let alone survive, teach their young son trepidation.

Mom and Dad look around the neighborhood and they see society is shifting.  People of other races, colors, and creeds are destined to overtake the white majority.  This can be nothing but trouble, or so they think.  Maxwell trusts this sentiment to be true.  The parents wonder; might immigration and  Free Trade deprive them of their life style?  In the United States, Anglo Americans react more to what they muse might be so.  However, ample evidence affirms the contrary.  A 2006 study, by the Pew Hispanic Center avows, the sudden rise in the foreign-born population does not negatively effect the employment of native-born workers.

Growth in the Foreign-Born Workforce and Employment of the Native Born

By Rakesh Kochhar, Associate Director for Research

Pew Hispanic Center

August 10, 2006

Rapid increases in the foreign-born population at the state level are not associated with negative effects on the employment of native-born workers, according to a study by the Pew Hispanic Center that examines data during the boom years of the 1990s and the downturn and recovery since 2000.

An analysis of the relationship between growth in the foreign-born population and the employment outcomes of native-born workers revealed wide variations across the 50 states and the District of Columbia. No consistent pattern emerges to show that native-born workers suffered or benefited from increased numbers of foreign-born workers . . .

The size of the foreign-born workforce is also unrelated to the employment prospects for native-born workers.  The relative youth and low levels of education among foreign workers also appear to have no bearing on the employment outcomes of native-born workers of similar schooling and age.

Nevertheless, people continue to fear what is less than familiar.  Maxwell’s mother and father often speak of the immigrants.  The words voiced are unkind.  Assessments often are unrealistic.  In this country, on this globe, our apprehensions, our insecurity, the fear that we might not survive divides us.  Self-surety is issue number one.  

When individuals do not feel as though all is fine, when distressed, emotional reactions may be exaggerated. Many persons prefer to deny that they feel distraught.  The press, the powerful, and persons who wish to be more prominent understand this.  Each is expert in the art of persuasion.  Tell us that we are doing well, that we are strong, that they will help bring certainty, security, and safety to our lives, and to our country, and we will croon along with them.

Anxious Americans, at home and abroad, such as the parents of young Maxwell attack.  Anyone can be considered the enemy.  Bankers, big business, bureaucrats, billionaire oil magnates, migrants, and of course, mutineers of Middle Eastern descent.  Our fellow citizens are easily terrorized, if not by the persons who they think might destroy the neighborhood, or take their job, the people who crashed a plane into the Twin Towers must be a target.  Since September 11, 2001, Maxwell parents have thought it wise to protect United States shores.

Some Americans say we must stay the course in Iraq and Afghanistan.  These persons may fear terrorists from the Persian Gulf.  There is great consternation when people do not think they are physically safe.  

Citizens feel a greater concern when they discover the reasons we went to war are invalid.  Again, the people in this country recognize the adversary is the American Administration.  Lie by lie, the Iraq War Timeline reveals greater reason for antipathy.

Those who cite security and survival as the primary concern proclaim, “It is the economy.”  They say, this is the number one issue Americans must address.  Too many persons, today, cannot even live paycheck to paycheck.  Disposable income, discretionary spending, savings to fall back on are luxuries of the past.  People dream of the cushion they hope to create.  Yet, in the back of their minds, they fear.  Again,  foreclosures are in the forefront in people’s minds.  Many are mired in debt.  In February 2008, another sixty percent (60%) of Americans concluded they could no longer pay the mortgage.  Mortgage Woes Boost Credit Card Debt. Balances on charge cards cannot be reconciled.

Plastic Card Tricks

The New York Times

March 29, 2008

Americans are struggling with a very rocky economy while they are also holding almost $1 trillion in credit card debt. In most cases, those cards provide a little flexibility with the monthly bills. But an increasing number of people are defaulting because of the “tricks and traps” – soaring interest rates and hidden fees – in the credit card business.

Before more Americans get in so deep that they cannot dig out, Washington needs to change the way these companies do business to ensure that consumers are treated fairly.

The stories about deceptive practices are harrowing. At a recent news briefing in Washington, a Chicago man told about what happened when he charged a $12,000 home repair bill in 2000 on a card with an introductory interest rate of 4.25 percent. Despite his steady, on-time payments, the rate is now nearly 25 percent. And despite paying at least $15,360, he said that he had only paid off about $800 of his original debt.

Once more Americans are confronted with what causes great bitterness.  No one, not Congress, the companies that lend citizens cash, the corporate tycoons, or candidates can imagine why Americans might be bitter. None of these entities care enough to help the average Joe, Jane, Maxwell, or his parents.

Why might inhabitants in this Northern continent be cynical, or feel a need to cling to religion, weapons, or hostility.  Perhaps, these sanctuaries feel  more tangible.  Faith, as an arsenal, and anger too, are at least more affordable than other options.

Petroleum prices are also an issue of import.  Citizens cry, I now work for fuel.  Only four short month ago, oil hit $100 a barrel for the first time ever.  The rate charged for petroleum continues to climb.  Now the expense exceeds what was once unimaginable. The cost of crude is the cause.  The effect is, Mommy and Daddy do not drive much anymore.  Each trip is evaluated.  Carpools are common considerations.  Vacations are not thought vital.  Parents who had hoped to show Max the seashore this summer cannot keep the promise they made to themselves and their progeny.  Plans did not prove to be predictions.

In 2008, the inconceivable is classified as inevitable.  Scientists share a stingy assessment.  The environment is no longer stable.  Nor are our lives on the planet Earth.  We, worldwide, have passed the point of no return.  Globally, groups and individuals pooh-pooh this determination.  For them, immediate concerns take precedence over the future.  

The question we all inevitably ask, even if not expressed aloud, is, “Will I continue to exist?”  If so, “Will my family and I be comfortable?”  The answers shade our sense of what is right or wrong.  Maxwell hears his Mom and Dad speak of free trade.  This is another hazard that haunts them.

The link between economic integration and worker insecurity is also an essential element of explanations for patterns of public opposition to policies aimed at further liberalization of international trade, immigration, and foreign direct investment (FDI) in advanced economies. Economic insecurity may contribute to the backlash against globalization in at least two ways.  First is a direct effect in which individuals that perceive globalization to be contributing to their own economic insecurity are much more likely to develop policy attitudes against economic integration.

Second, if globalization limits the capacities of governments to provide social insurance, or is perceived to do so, then individuals may worry further about globalization and this effect is likely to be magnified if labor-market risks are heightened by global integration.

It seems every issue intimidates us.  Each challenges the security we crave.  All beckon us and cause us to question whether we, Maxwell, or his parents will survive.  Our serious fears force us to believe we must separate ourselves from others, from our brothers and sisters.  In an earlier speech, echoing the words of Franklin Roosevelt, the eloquent Barack Obama spoke of this situation and how our own anxiety harms us.[ The Presidential hopeful offered solutions.

[W]e need to come together to solve a set of monumental problems – two wars, a terrorist threat, a falling economy, a chronic health care crisis and potentially devastating climate change; problems that are neither black or white or Latino or Asian, but rather problems that confront us all . . .

Understanding this reality requires a reminder of how we arrived at this point. As William Faulkner once wrote, “The past isn’t dead and buried. In fact, it isn’t even past.”  We do not need to recite here the history of racial [or economic] injustice in this country. But we do need to remind ourselves that so many of the disparities that exist in the [any] community today can be directly traced to inequalities passed on from an earlier generation that suffered  . . .

Legalized discrimination . . . That history helps explain the wealth and income gap  . . . and the concentrated pockets of poverty that persists in so many of today’s urban and rural communities.

A lack of economic opportunity  . . . and the shame and frustration that came from not being able to provide for one’s family, contributed to the erosion of [all] families – a problem that welfare policies for many years may have worsened. And the lack of basic services in so many urban [and now with “no new taxes” suburban] neighborhoods – parks for kids to play in, police walking the beat, regular garbage pick-up and building code enforcement – all helped create a cycle of violence, blight and neglect that continue to haunt us.

Potential President Obama understands and hopes to help all American realize that we are one.  While this vocalization was meant to focus on the more obvious rift between the races, the Senator from Illinois, the community organizer, attempted to advance awareness for what troubles Americans as a whole.

In fact, a similar anger exists within [all] segments of the  . . . community. Most working- and middle-class white Americans don’t feel that they have been particularly privileged by their race. Their experience is the immigrant experience – as far as they’re concerned, no one’s handed them anything, they’ve built it from scratch.  They’ve worked hard all their lives, many times only to see their jobs shipped overseas or their pension dumped after a lifetime of labor.  They are anxious about their futures, and feel their dreams slipping away; in an era of stagnant wages and global competition, opportunity comes to be seen as a zero sum game, in which your dreams come at my expense . . ..

Americans, no matter the color or circumstances might contemplate that anger is “often proved counterproductive” as are resentments.  These attitudes distract attention and widen any divide.  If Americans are to find a path to understanding, we must accept that our insecurity, our fears need not distract us.  We will survive if we work as one.

This time we want to talk about the crumbling schools that are stealing the future of [any child] black children and white children and Asian children and Hispanic children and Native American children. This time we want to reject the cynicism that tells us that these kids can’t learn; that those kids who don’t look like us are somebody else’s problem.  The children of America are not those kids, they are our kids, and we will not let them fall behind in a 21st century economy . . ..

This time we want to talk about how the lines in the Emergency Room are filled with whites and blacks and Hispanics [poor and those the government classifies as affluent] who do not have health care; who don’t have the power on their own to overcome the special interests in Washington, but who can take them on if we do it together.

This time we want to talk about the shuttered mills that once provided a decent life for men and women of every race, and the homes for sale that once belonged to Americans from every religion, every region, every walk of life.  This time we want to talk about the fact that the real problem is not that someone who doesn’t look like you might take your job; it’s that the corporation you work for will ship it overseas for nothing more than a profit.

This time we want to talk about the men and women of every color and creed who serve together, and fight together, and bleed together under the same proud flag.  We want to talk about how to bring them home from a war that never should’ve been authorized and never should’ve been waged, and we want to talk about how we’ll show our patriotism by caring for them, and their families, and giving them the benefits they have earned.

Today, we must be honest with ourselves.  We can admit that we are incensed, irritated, infuriated, and irate.  These feelings do not immobilize us.  Nor do we necessarily need to fight, and be combative.  It is time we teach Maxwell and also Maxine, distress can inspire us to dream the of impossible and make it our truth.  We, Americans can rise above our bitterness and build bridges to a fine future if we unite.

It is not elitist to speak truth.  It is ignorance and obfuscation to deny how we feel and what we fear.  We cannot change what we do not acknowledge.  Elusion will not bring bliss.  We may be insecure; we may question whether we can survive.  Indeed, if we act as we have in the past, if we focus on our faith and antipathy, there will be no reason to hope.  Americans, divisions have distracted us for too long.  To negate our natural response is to restrict our growth.  This time citizens of the United States, let us come together.  Bitterness can become sweet.

Sources of insecurity.  Resources for survival . . .

Why Do We Fear Hope?

In this country many of us equate strength with the lack of emotion.  The strong one is the one who can endure life without feeling.  The weak one is the one who shows their emotions and thus are banished to a life of disappointment and tragedy.  With the introduction of the political narrative of Barack Obama there has been a lot of talk about the word hope.  I don’t ever recall this word being dissected to the degree that it has been during his unlikely run towards the White House.  One would believe that no other politician has ever invoked the word in an election before.  So what makes it so different today than say in 1992, when a young upstart politician challenged the status quo?

For his part, Bill Clinton organized his campaign around another of the oldest and most powerful themes in electoral politics: change.  As a youth, Clinton had once met President John F. Kennedy, and in his own campaign 30 years later, much of his rhetoric challenging Americans to accept change consciously echoed that of Kennedy in his 1960 campaign.   Wikipedia

Or what about in 1960, when another youthful hope monger spoke so eloquently of hope for a new world while accepting the oath of office for President of the United States:

Now the trumpet summons us again — not as a call to bear arms, though arms we need — not as a call to battle, though embattled we are — but a call to bear the burden of a long twilight struggle, year in and year out, “rejoicing in hope; patient in tribulation,”² a struggle against the common enemies of man: tyranny, poverty, disease, and war itself.   American Rhetoric

So if it isn’t that the concept of hope is something new to elections, what can it be?  I remember being a child and towards the end of November I would be filled with hope of the coming season.  I wish I could say it was because I looked forward to exercising the true “spirit of the season” and all the good will towards my fellow man stuff, but that wasn’t what filled me with joy.  I would begin to have hopes of the new toys that I looked forward to receiving for Christmas.  I would watch in excitement at all the commercials of the coming new and latest toys and I would mentally create these lists of must have gadgets that I was sure to see under the tree on Christmas morning.

There was just one small problem, my father was a selfish man who found it difficult to spoil his children.  So for many years there was the promise and hope for all of these things only to be followed on Christmas morning by the stark reality that was less than I had hoped for.  You see as a child I could not understand or accept that my father was the man that he was, you see I wanted him to be like me or who I thought I was.  The truth was that he could only be the man he was, not who I so desperately wanted and maybe needed him to be.  I would awaken on Christmas morning to small tokens and I would end up crying later.  After a while, my hopes began to lessen year by year until they were replaced with the gradual numbing of reality.  The reality that no matter how much I hoped there was always going to be disappointment.  In the end, I just stopped hoping and came to accept the cruelty of life.

As my life continued, I came to the conclusion that my problem in the first place was that I had dared to hope, that I had dared to believe in anything other than myself.  I decided that from that point on that emotions were my problem, I would no longer allow anyone the ability to control my emotions.  In fact I would bury them, my hero became Spock from Star Trek because he had no emotions.  For many years I lived as emotionless as I could.  But after two broken marriages, addiction, and suicidal moments I realized the that the strength I thought I had found in having no emotions was actually my downfall and my weakness.  What I learned was that true strength and power does not belong to the cynic or the emotionless, but to those who are willing to express their emotions and become vulnerable to disappointment and hurt.  True courage is not to never be afraid, but to be afraid and go on anyway.

Barack Obama is not God or a second coming of Jesus and his supporters do not believe this despite the cult analogies.  He is simply a man who dares us to believe beyond ourselves.  He is not promising to solve all of our problems or that the Government can.  What he is offering us is a chance to put behind us many of the things that currently divide us and to focus on the many more things that unite us.  After all what really can one man, even the President of the United States do?  Over the last few decades we have seen what the politics of division and win at all costs has wrought, a country so divided we are on the verge of breaking.  There are many who say that the answer is to continue as we have, that the only way to succeed is to beat the other side to a pulp.  Today we are refighting the Civil War only class has replaced slavery.  Will it take a bloody conflict to resolve our differences?  I don’t know.  There are many who are placing their hopes and aspirations on him and those people will be disappointed, because he can do nothing against those forces without our help and our actions.

What I do know is this, if we are able to appeal to the common good in all of us shouldn’t we to avoid that bloody conflict?  Make no mistake about it if we do not enlist their help to change this country are we prepared to fight to take it?  If Barack Obama’s hope fails it won’t be because he failed, it will be because we failed.  If it is to succeed it will require many of us to overcome our cynicism and partisanship to come together for the greater good.  The reason he does so well among the young is because they are not as jaded as their older counterparts, they still believe in change.  The question now becomes can we transfer that hope into action or will we sit and wait for the disappointment so we can say, “See, I told you so”.  It is no longer enough to vote, the last midterm election should have shown us that.  We must follow up those votes with action.  Just as with any seismic change in America, it must be bottom up, not top down.  Our biggest fear is not that we are doomed, our biggest fear is that our hero will be bested; that the things we cherish love, hope, justice, and kindness to our fellowman will not win in the end.

The great enemy of the truth is very often not the lie — deliberate, contrived and dishonest — but the myth — persistent, persuasive and unrealistic – John F. Kennedy

The Walls Cried Out; Why I Write

copyright © Judith Moriarty

A look back over my life, epitomizes to me, what has happened to America.  There was once upon a time those magic moments far removed from the madness of war, box stores, and shuttered towns.  My brother Johnny and I would spend summer days at our secret ‘camp’ called Sundown.  It sat above the steel mills far below in the valley.  We would take an iron skillet, eggs, bacon, and eat our lunch there near the waterfall.  I can’t remember that we ever spent a moment indoors during the summer.  

No ‘Danger Stranger’ – had our streets resembling a ghost town.  We had no TV – no video games etc.  There were no malls – and no designer duds, or exotic vacations.  People aren’t poor until the world tells them they are.  When you have the beauty of nature – nobody is poor.

Then one day the trucks came.  The church who owned the fields and woods; sold the land to the robber barons who owned the mills.  They covered the fields, the woods, and our secret camp, with tons and tons of ash and hot slag.  They didn’t live there so they didn’t care.  Pretty soon, there was just an ugly black mountain of black ash/slag.  Then people started dumping garbage there and the rats came.  

When we visited my Aunt Celie, (a newspaper editor) we could stand in her back yard and see the mountain hanging precariously over the town .  My aunt lived near the mills.  

Johnny and I worked on the slagheap after it covered our woods and waterfall.  We would chip away the slag from chunks of metal and then take our wagon to the junkyard to be weighed.  Johnny brought his bow and arrow to keep the rats away.  On a good day, (8:00 am to 4:00 pm) we could make $4.00.  Everyone thought that Johnny and I were the twins.  My twin Jackie (a head taller) didn’t care for woods, making stilts, or fishing in the creek.  As for slag, forget it.  Jackie was more into playing house and dressing up.  

Then one day the good news came (I was nine – Johnny was seven) we got the news that we were moving to the mountains.  My dad had gotten a job as an electrician, at the Joy, (they made mining machinery) in a small town, far removed from belching mills or mountains of ash.  We really moved there to be closer to my brother Jerry (older) who was autistic.  

After his last series of vaccine shots, he disappeared into a black hole.  He sang and danced and then he was silent.  Noise bothered him.  You couldn’t cry in our house.  My sister Jackie did – she lacked any sensitivity to my brother.  One day he threw a tobacco can at her.  It hit the bridge of her nose.  Blood covered the walls.  That’s when it was decided that an institution was the only answer.  This from the relatives.  

The small town that we moved to was magical.  There were sweeping parks, creeks to fish in,  Indian burial grounds, and forts.  The institution was about 20 miles outside of town.  You traveled over the river and winding mountain roads to reach its Gothic forbidding grounds.

Almost every weekend I would travel to the institution with my parents.  I had thought when they drove him away one day (I was nine) that he was going to a school that would take care of him.  I imagined that once he was gone that we would become a ‘normal’ family.  We wouldn’t have to worry about noise, or crying, or relatives coming to the house, like black crows on a clothesline, whispering about how he was ‘crazy’.  The neighbors wouldn’t tell me that my brother was ‘a cretin ‘ because of ‘the sins of my parents’.  Not that I knew what the hell sin was?

My parents never took my brother and sister to this place – only me.  They wanted somebody to care for Jerry after they died (I was chosen).  They needn’t have worried – I wouldn’t have forgotten him.  I spent many an hour with him in his bedroom (before he went away) – where he spit on toys and listened to music.  He never went outside after Eddie Perry (big bully) crushed his hand with a brick.  Even though I was a midget kid, I went up to Eddy, doubled my fist, and smashed him in the face.  It broke his nose.  Eddy wasn’t king of the hill after that.  Sometimes violence rears its ugly head despite the best of intentions.  I only regret that I wasn’t stronger.  He ruined my brother’s enjoyment of being outside in the dirt pile.  

People shouldn’t lie to their kids about a handicapped child in the family.  My mother told me that Jerry was a gift from God.  I didn’t think that God was putting various disabilities on certain people just for fun or to make life interesting for people? People are always blaming God for someone flawed, terribly injured, or killed in war.  As I saw it, most maladies came about through man’s pollution of the environment, contaminated (mercury) vaccines, accidents, or the greed of generational war.  Even so, – people such as my brother – are gifts.  It’s up to the individual to discover this gift in another.  Without the challenges of serving those in distress, maimed, or mentally challenged, how would we ever grow spiritually; in the gifts of kindness, compassion, patience, and the giving of ourselves? How would we develop the skill needed to hear the cry of the voiceless?

My parents (best of intentions) never should have exposed me to the traumas of visiting an institution at such a young and vulnerable age.  They should have arranged for me to meet them in the small restaurant downtown where they brought Jerry to eat.  Children are not psychologically developed enough to grasp the horrors of caged people (this goes for prisons also).Childhood is a small fragment of time – it needs to be protected.

I can still remember the first time I visited this place.  There were bars on the windows.  Nude men (it was summer) like rabid animals, were climbing on the bars, and screeching the most inhuman of sounds.  I couldn’t believe that my brother was locked up in the bowels of such a place.  They (staff) would NEVER let you go beyond the visitors’ room when you went to visit.  You would wait until they brought your relative out all dressed up.  I remember looking at those locked doors and wondering just what lay behind them? I knew my parents didn’t want my brother to be in that place but poverty didn’t have the choice of a special hospital, such as the private facility, where the Kennedy family put their daughter.  

Raised in the Catholic Church, I was convinced that if only we could get Jerry to one of those miracle places (Fatima – Lourdes ), he’d become normal.  For years I’d pray that he’d get well and then one day I stopped.  I then started praying (after visiting the institution) that he would die.  I couldn’t imagine him being imprisoned in such a place his whole life?  Then one day he did die.  He died from abuse and neglect.  He died from indifference.  He died because some people should never be employed to care for helpless, voiceless, crippled people.  It was a dreary winter day when they buried him in the institution’s potter’s field.  There was a blizzard.  In the end, it was only my parents and myself who stood there listening to the forever prayers of the dead.  

I was freezing and I was angry.  Still a kid, I remember my own prayers.  I said (to myself)….”So what was this all about? Why didn’t you (God) take him sooner – instead of him having to suffer all these years? I just want to know – just let me know if he’s safe and happy now.” The priest droned on and on.  He handed the crucifix off the cheap gray cloth box to my dad.  The snow was getting deeper.  I wondered how we’d get out of that desolate place.  Five, ten, and then fifteen minutes passed.  In all that time, not one drop of snow fell where the crucifix had lain.  All that was visible was a stark gray cloth cross.  It was enough for me.  My parents died a few years after my brother.  For years, my mother had battled for the rights and protections of the institutionalized.  I think she felt powerless, because, while she knew what was happening behind locked doors, from my brother’s physical condition, she couldn’t prove it.

And then one day I went to work in this institution.  It came about by an accident of sorts.  My friend and I were running a Dairy Store.  She was the manager and I the assistant.  We were cooks, clerks, and janitors.  We were fired when we went on strike (signs and all) for better wages for the employees.  We were told by the old timers in town that management never strikes for the workers.  Huh!

Kathleen wasn’t too keen on going to the institution to work – she was afraid.  I promised her that if it didn’t work out in a few weeks we’d quit.  She was assigned to a woman’s building, and I, to the same building where my brother had lived and died! Kathleen’s husband, who worked as a supervisor, figured it out once.  I could have been assigned to one of 700 different places – but I ended up where I had visited as a child! It was 6:30 am (first day of work) when I was led behind the locked doors that I had wondered about as a child? I was appalled.  

Nude men lay in the hallways, the place reeked of urine.  The employees screamed and cursed at the residents.  I almost quit that first day.  Then I remembered that my brother never had a choice of leaving.  He had been kept in restraints a great deal of the time which caused his arms to become deformed.  This was done because there was never enough staff.  Residents sat on hard benches or rocked back and forth.  There was little to no interaction or stimulation.  

The worst thing was observing the abuse.  Staff (mostly male) would kick, slap and throw residents down the stairs.  My first inclination was to report these assaults – but I waited.  I took the time to learn all the regulations, policies, and laws pertaining to those in institutions.  I wanted to have my arguments based on documentation rather than emotion.  I noted than whenever politicians were brought around for a visit everything was shined up and the residents dressed in clean clothes.  Then one summer day, I arrived at worked (2:30pm) .  The staff (all male) were standing around the desk smoking and telling lewd jokes.  I went to find the residents.  They were all (approx 30) laying in the cavernous bathroom (open toilets).  

They were nude and covered with feces and flies.  Some were eating out of the toilets (nobody had taken them to the dining hall).  I just cried.  Then I cleaned them up and wrote a long detailed (3 pages) report in the logbook on what I’d found.  This was NEVER done! Usually the Log read, “Found the cottage in good order all residents accounted for.” When the supervisor came around to sign the book, he had a fit.  He told me I couldn’t write something like that because the employees would be upset.  I told him I hadn’t come there to please the employees and that since a Log book was an official document it couldn’t be altered.  

That was the start of a three-year battle.  The proverbial crap hit the fan.  They tried to kill me – and went on strike to get me fired.  They refused to talk to me.  They and got together to falsely charge me with abuse.  On and on it went.  I was made to take a lie detector test (the abusers refused).  I won every court battle.  The small town paper was filled with venom and charges against me.  When they tried (administration) to remove me, I called every major newspaper – TV station in the state.  When a helicopter arrived from the nearest city (100 miles away) with reporters they stated, “Ms Moriarty we’ve been to the institution.  They tell us you’re a trouble maker and a rabble rouser.”

I replied, “If reporting patients being thrown down stairs, held under water, kicked, not clothed, not fed, allowed to die tied to a toilet, and not being given proper medical care, makes me a ‘trouble maker’ – YES that’s exactly what I am.  I will continue to be one until somebody in this state pays attention and does something.” that was on every news station in the state.  

It worked.  An investigation was started from the state level.  The superintendent, who once called me to his office, and told me he’d destroy me,  was fired.  So were numerous other people.  Meantime, I had gotten the residents new clothes, furnishings (instead of benches).  I painted murals on the depressing bile green walls (fishing ports – lake pictures) and brought music in to cheer the place up.  The nurse and her husband, the dentist, were fired.  They had worked there for years and years.  They cleaned up on lucrative salaries and lived an elegant lifestyle with their two fat sons.  I reported her for the death of Felix who died tied (her orders) to a toilet.  

And then things changed.  People noted that I hadn’t gotten myself killed and hadn’t quit.  They slowly (at first) started to come forth and report all the abuses they’d witnessed.  They weren’t afraid any longer.  Late at night, reading my mother’s diaries, I saw that she mistakenly assumed, that she was the person meant to reveal the hidden atrocities taking place.  She wasn’t – all along, it was my job – assigned to me as a child.  I now knew why I had visited the place throughout my childhood.  I finally had the answer that I asked at my brother’s grave, “What was this all about?”

God had waited for over a hundred years for someone to speak up for those without a voice.  He just needed somebody to rise above their personal fears and believe.  It’s hard to explain.  Once you are totally committed that something is worth dying for – there’s nothing that stands in your way.  I knew that I was totally in the right! You don’t go harming helpless period!

Many of the institutions are closed now.  America hasn’t dealt with those most in need.  Parents are left begging for non-existent help.  Programs are being cut.  Many of the terribly handicapped, have been shuffled off to nursing homes, where they languish and die.

I remember one night walking though the corridor from one area to another.  It was late and I was tired.  I thought to myself of what the walls had witnessed down through the decades? Just then, I heard a moaning.  I turned and saw these gray faces/hands reaching out.  It was a living wall of faceless memories.  I heard the words, “Write so the world will know.” People think that people in institutions are without personalities or don’t respond to love.  This is such a lie.  

It just takes some time and ingenuity to reach such people.  They were so abused for years, that at first, they afraid of touch.  Andrew liked for me to tousle his hair and kiss his cheek.  John was harder.  He was deaf, blind, and severely retarded.  I thought about how hard it would be for someone to not know where they were or feel any love.  He used to sit in fetal position.  Then I had the idea of wrapping him tightly in a summer blanket (like you do a newborn).  That made him smile – he felt secure.  Donny loved music.  He chewed his wrists raw! Once I put socks on his hands that stopped.  And so it went.  Everybody responds to touch and love.  

And so now, I write.  I live far from the small town of magic that my brother Johnny and I so enjoyed.  Johnny is dead now.  We had planned to visit the places where we fished and hiked last summer.  Now I sometimes visit the Bread and Puppet Theater in Vermont.  It’s a magical place of giant puppets & political theater.  It keeps a remembrance, through art, of the grave injustices of man’s inhumanity to man.  It speaks for the voiceless.  Mine is its own story – but basically, we can see through the memory glass, that our lives are covered in ash – garbage – and unconscionable pollution.  I wasn’t shocked at the pictures of torture – minus the dogs, I’d seen similar incidents at the institution.  

Shocking to me was to live in a town, where seemingly ‘normal’ people, could go to work, and commit such heinous acts on helpless people.  They once mocked me and said, “Those people don’t feel anything.” Isn’t that what we’re witnessing today? The greatest sin is not to hate – but indifference.  My life is just a microcosm of the whole.  FEAR immobilizes many today – just as it did with the people employed at the institution.  The INSTITUTION today is just on a grander scale – global.  

JM

Peace Begins With Us. Battle Hymn of the Republic


The Battle for America Montage

copyright © 2007 Betsy L. Angert

The battle for America has begun.  We, the common folk must take our country back.  Stand strong.  The lies the Administration told and tells linger.  Yet, truth looms large.  We can no longer be victims of our own silence.  Speak out. 

Shout; my country need not fear.  I am here.  I give birth to freedom and liberty.  No leader speaks for me, decides for me, or protects me.  I, we are the people.  We are united.  Tyranny, terrorists, the people of this nation will fear you no more.  We have slept too long.  Today, we trust peace begins with us.

Serenity On This Sunday


Colleen – The Happy Sea

copyright © 2007 Betsy L. Angert

Please sit; settle in.  Ponder the configuration.  Contemplate, and come to a world more serene than the one you imagine you live in.  Center your self and trust the woes within need not be.  Often as we dash about, dilemmas abound.  Few of us take the time to understand what we create.  Chaos is contrived.  We hide hurts, and hinder any healing.  We “communicate,” chatter, speak, shriek, and rarely listen.  We do not inquire, “How do you feel?”  Well, we do; however, our query is as insincere, hasty, or as inhibited as the average answer.

Perhaps on this tranquil day of rest you, he, she, or I might pose the question “How are you?” to our selves.  Breathe deeply and reflect.  Then, after ample thought tell your self what you have not dared utter.  Speak of the fear that kept you quiet.  Share the story with those you are close to emotionally.  Perhaps, you will discover as I have on many occasions; I never needed to veil the horrors that harmed me.

What I did that was ghastly was more so to me than it was to those that love me.  I learned long ago, in truth, I, we are less fond of me than others might be.  Those close to my heart are far more knowledgeable than I when the subject is me, myself, and I.

Take some time on this quiet day of rest and let yourself be.  Touch your heart, mind, and soul tenderly.  Cogitate calmly.  Deliberate deeply.  Ruminate restfully.  Meditate and say, “Me, meet me.” 

Please share what you sense, your story, your spirit, or as you choose.