You Are the Gift!

copyright © 2010 Betsy L. Angert.  Empathy And Education; BeThink or  BeThink.org

Perchance, on this the twenty-second commemoration of a lesson learned, it is time to reflect on our first, foremost, and greatest Teachers.  More than a generation has passed.  In that time, I have acquired much knowledge. Yet, I am forever reminded that the more I know, the more certain I am.  I know nothing with certainty.  What I once thought was the greatest treasure, a tradition I could never part with, was other than it appeared.  I never imagined what would become my truth.  Today, I share the tale with you.

Originally Published December 25, 2009

On this the twenty-first year anniversary of my first holiday season without what are thought to be tangibly traditional gifts, I can truly say that, I, Betsy, remember it well.  The occasion changed my life forever.

It was October 12, 1988.  Mommy, Berenice Barbara sat across from me at the kitchen table.  This was just as it had been all of my days.  We chatted cheerfully.  Conversation between us was never superficial.  Nonetheless, for us, serious contemplations were fun.  A pleasure for the profound has not left me. It was and is the reason I revel in the company of my Mom.

On this one extraordinary occasion, Mommy declared my family would no longer celebrate any of the conventional holidays as we had.  No presents would be exchanged in the future.  Christmas, Hanukah, Kwanzaa, Ramadan, the Winter Solstice, whatever we might wish to call the customary holiday, in our family home little or large luxuries given would not appear.  None would be purchased or placed under a tree.  Trinkets would not sit on a shelf, nor would these be stashed in a closet for a charitable sharing on a December day.  The season of gift giving would not be ours.  

Once the words entered my ears, I exclaimed in horror.  I inquired; why would this be our newly adopted truth.

In her defense, Berenice Barbara offered a dismissive statement that I knew was suspect.  Mommy had never thought the notion of age appropriateness a wise or welcome one.  She forever spoke of the need to honor individuals for whoever they might be.  My Mom often discussed; people need not be constrained by a chronological age.  Yet, perchance her experience of my reaction caused her to offer a rapid retort.  “You are too old for presents,” she proclaimed.  “Too old?” I responded.  For minutes, we talked to no obvious avail.

It seemed nothing could be done to change my Mom’s mind, thankfully.  Her steadfast stance evoked my evolution.

Days later I learned, her own distress for what had recently occurred in our lives encouraged this unexpected and ultimately, very welcome reflection.

While it is true, on that day, Mommy and I had our first and only significant argument, I am grateful for what emerged.  The lesson I learned was a truer value than any bobble or bangle.  Occasions are worthwhile when one feels no sense of obligation to give or receive.  Gifts are given daily in every exchange.  

A word, a touch, a look, the mere presence of a person can mean more to those who bequeath and receive than any material object might.  This veracity is one that fills our hearts, our heads, our bodies, and souls.

More than a score has passed since that date.  I look back on what, for me, was once an unbearable idea.  Today, I cherish what has been my ideal.  

To those beings who I experience as beloved, beautiful, inside and out, to individuals familiar to me, and who intentionally interact in a manner that honors reciprocal reverence, you are the gift.  Your presence in my life is all that I cherish.

I thank you Mommy!  I like and love you more than mere words might ever begin to express.  You, just as all beings, are genuinely a gift!

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You Are the Gift!

copyright © 2009 Betsy L. Angert.  BeThink.org

On this the twenty-first year anniversary of my first holiday season without what are thought to be tangibly traditional gifts, I can truly say that, I, Betsy, remember it well.  The occasion changed my life forever.

It was October 12, 1988.  Mommy, Berenice Barbara sat across from me at the kitchen table.  This was just as it had been all of my days.  We chatted cheerfully.  Conversation between us was never superficial.  Nonetheless, for us, serious contemplations were fun.  A pleasure for the profound has not left me. It was and is the reason I revel in the company of my Mom.

On this one extraordinary occasion, Mommy declared my family would no longer celebrate any of the traditional holidays as we had.  No gifts would be exchanged in the future.  Christmas, Hanukah, Kwanzaa, Ramadan, the Winter Solstice, whatever we might wish to call the customary holiday, in our family home presents would not appear.  None would be purchased or placed under a tree.  Trinkets would not sit on a shelf, nor would these be stashed in a closet for a charitable sharing on a December day.  The season of gift giving would not be ours.  

Once the words entered my ears, I exclaimed in horror.  I inquired; why would this be our newly adopted truth.

In her defense, Berenice Barbara offered a dismissive statement that I knew was suspect.  Mommy had never thought the notion of age appropriateness a wise or welcome one.  She forever spoke of the need to honor individuals for whoever they might be.  My Mom often discussed; people need not be constrained by a chronological age.  Yet, perchance her experience of my reaction caused her to offer a rapid retort.  “You are too old for presents,” she proclaimed.  “Too old?” I responded.  For minutes, we talked to no obvious avail.

It seemed nothing could be done to change my Mom’s mind, thankfully.  Her steadfast stance evoked my evolution.

Days later I learned, her own distress for what had recently occurred in our lives encouraged this unexpected and ultimately, very welcome reflection.

While it is true, on that day, Mommy and I had our first and only significant argument, I am grateful for what emerged.  The lesson I learned was a truer value than any bobble or bangle.  Occasions are worthwhile when one feels no sense of obligation to give or receive.  Gifts are given daily in every exchange.  

A word, a touch, a look, the mere presence of a person can mean more to those who bequeath and receive than any material object might.  This veracity is one that fills our hearts, our heads, our bodies, and souls.

More than a score has passed since that date.  I look back on what, for me, was once an unbearable idea.  Today, I treasure what has been my ideal.  

To those beings who I experience as beloved, beautiful, inside and out, to individuals familiar to me, and who intentionally interact in a manner that honors reciprocal reverence, you are the gift.  Your presence in my life is all that I cherish.

I thank you Mommy!  I like and love you more than mere words might ever begin to express.  You, just as all beings, are genuinely a gift!

To Believe



Milan – 5 Year Old Girl Basketball Star- Basketball Training

Whatever you can do or dream, you can begin it.

Boldness has genius, power and magic in it.

Begin it now.”


~ Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749-1832), [German Poet and Dramatist]

One person with a belief is equal to a force of ninety- nine who have only interest.

~ John Stuart Mill [Philosopher]

copyright © 2008 Betsy L. Angert.  BeThink.org

We are born with an innate wisdom.  Each step we take helps us to grow wiser, or more full of woe.  The information we acquire often gives birth to anguish.  Too much elucidation is never enough.  As an infant, we yearn to learn.  Babies gaze, grasp, and get what they desire.  No harm comes to one who cannot move beyond, thus, thrives, in a protected environment.  Those fresh from the delivery room do not harbor expectations.  Few are placed upon them.  Existence, for the newborn, is a game of anticipation.  There are no rules, no regulations, and initially no reprimands.  The littlest children believe and thus, they achieve.  

As the babes develop, they explore beyond a crib.  Tots crawl.  They climb into this or that.  A drawer prompts a dive.  A pool promises a plunge.  When a small one wanders, a caregiver knows not where a tiny youngster will go.  Parents begin to place barriers in the child’s way, more are situated into the young one’s mind.  

Cries of caution come from elders.  “No!”  Mom might say.  “Do not do that,” Dad declares.  “How could you?” sister may scorn.  “Stop it!” the older son spurns.  Babysitters bark.  Guardians disapprovingly grunt.  The smaller sweet soul shrinks back.  He or she begins to understand knowledge is not power.  It is not good to grow the gray matter.  The more you recognize, the less you wish to realize.

“Curiosity,” a child is told, “kills the cat,” and research might end a relationship with the ones who once appreciated inquisitiveness.  A tiny world traveler, as a toddler will talk.  The most oft spoken word is “Why?”  

The inquiry may tickle a mother, father, grandparent, or other older person, at first.  However, after a time, grown-ups tire of what they perceive as too many questions.  In truth, it may be an embarrassed elder does not know the answers, and will not admit to ignorance on any subject.  Perchance, the person the youngster approaches believes the child does not truly care to gather details.  A mature man or woman might surmise to the tot, investigations are but a game.

Frequently, folks who have lost interest in discovery, or determined it is best not to be open to the novel, turn inward.  Fear of disdain from those a little one loves may have dampened a spirit.  Disparagement, invoked by strangers, can also scar an vibrant scientist.  An energetic essences is fragile in the face of foils.  Too many disappointments teach individuals not to delve into discussions or dare to do as they once thought possible.  

Yet, on occasion, a child is groomed to grow.  A nipper snaps with ability not yet quashed.  An innocent does not adopt inhibition.  Reticence is not realized, for rarely; yet thankfully, a naïve creature is given permission to be, to believe, and ultimately, to achieve.  

Some parents plum their progeny.  An instructor may provide incentives.  Inspiration can be caught, or taught.  Five year-old Milan, who dribble three basketballs with ease might remind us that a vision is worth more than money.  Words and wisdom that advance woe do not allow for accomplishments.  As the Triple Threat Academy, amongst the teachers of tiny Milan express. “Every player has the potential to be great, not only on the basketball court, but in the game of life.”

An experience that encourages, will help a little one realize that lessons learned “on the court can help shape their lives off the court as well. Education is a fundamental element” if edification, enlightenment is to be enjoyable.

If wisdom is to be wondrous, those old, and sage, must promise to teach the children well.   The more physically mature must practice as Author Napoleon Hill professed, “Whatever the mind of man can conceive and believe, it can achieve.”

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

Vietnam: A Personal Recollection, Part II

copyright © 2007 Possum Tales.  Sedalia Tales

Part I of my story was posted earlier as a crosspost from Daily Kos.  [You may also wish to read Part I at BeThink.]  I am humbled with gratitude for all who took time to read the previous posting.  The support for one another so often expressed here in BlogLand takes my breath away one more time.  You cannot know how much that support means until you, too, have been a beneficiary.

This diary picks up just where the first part ended.  Travel down the yellow brick road and over the fold to the second part of the possum’s tale.

Once I left the field misery struck the company three more times.  One patrol called in air support that hit the patrol by mistake.  Several men died.  A lone Kentucky boy (I remember him best because were from the same home state) was killed by a sniper while on daytime sentry.  Another man was killed as he awakened a sleeping soldier for a change of the night sentry duty.  I learned of each tragic event from fellow soldiers out of the field and had no opportunity to discuss any of the episodes with fellows from the field company.  The dead men were all folk I knew superficially in the field.  Their deaths were just taken as part of the war and not given any special attention at the time.  The pure lack of emotion at the time seems remarkable today.  Just one more aspect of war that defies easy explanation or acceptance.

Endless days dragged by spent on a helicopter loading zone.  Long, boring, hot days punctuated by the occasional loading.  One memorable day included a helicopter flight as the lone passenger.  I held a security clearance high enough to deliver code books to field units and this was one of those days.  The pilots were having a fun time as we zipped along following the course of a small river part way.  When we left the river a man working his rice paddy with a water buffalo became the target of mischief.  In accordance with giving locals no respect the man was buzzed by a very low flight.  He dove into the water and the water buffalo left the scene running scared.  I always wondered just how that man recovered and what he lost along the way.

There were so many stories along the way.  Christmas was officially celebrated when the artillery ceased firing for 24 hours.  The sudden silence was deafening.  The children who were employed as drug runners near the helicopter pad were an interesting bunch.  They were chosen to carry drugs from seller to buyer since the MP’s were less likely to arrest or harm them in any way.  Most times the police just ran the kids off.  Today those children who survived might be in their 40’s an 50’s. 

Food in the field was always a challenge.  C-rations came in various incarnations, most of which would be considered inedible in our society today.  We managed to concoct different ways to make the stuff easier to consume and heated our meals on fires of burning C-4 (a plastic explosive very effective for making large explosions if struck or detonated by a spark).  We all carried a personal supply of C-4 for cooking.  After watching a landing zone being cleared with explosives we went about our mealtime without a single thought.  One day on sick call found me in a front line hospital unit.  The sights and sounds of that tent were a far cry from the TV show, M*A*S*H. 

The wounded were everywhere in the tent.  Medics were working feverishly to stabilize the members of both Vietnamese and American forces for transfer to other hospital units.  The scene was one of controlled chaos from which I quietly retreated, taking my aches and pains back to my unit.  Isolation was nearly complete.  We had very little news of the outside world.  An occasional Stars and Stripes came our way, but no real outside news was available.  We only had our daily struggle in a very limited world.

The time to go home arrived at last.  I remember a very different trip altogether than the trek over.  We were alive and well.  We were going home.  Happiness reigned.  I remember no real war stories on the return trip; although some such might have been a natural occurrence at the time.  Many of us were finished with our tours, while others were going home on leave before returning to some other duty.  The plane landed in Alaska in deep winter.  Disembarking from the plane dressed in jungle fatigues we faced a winter wind blowing snow across the tarmac.  Even though we went inside quickly, I still remember the cold shock of that landing.  Once back at Fort Lewis I got my new uniform with all the patches earned on the tour.  Traveling home in that new uniform with the serious suntan from days on the helicopter pad made me feel very self-conscious.  No one else seemed to take any special notice.  One airport layover had TV scenes of one early moon walk.  I was so disconnected from the real world that I had to be reminded later that the show was live and not a science fiction movie. 

Entering society once again was traumatic.  The transition from an all male war zone to family life was difficult.  For many months I was startled and would duck by reflex at any loud noise.  My family took many days to get over their concern at my reactions.  After time those automatic responses of mine died away. 

My two younger brothers were both facing the potential of being drafted.  By the time I was home my opposition to the war was deep.  My parents and I discussed the possibility of sending the brothers to Canada.  Luckily both were assigned lottery numbers that kept them from the draft.  To this day I am grateful we as a family did not face the decisions that tore so many families.

For years after coming home I tried to be a good citizen.  Voting in every election and keeping relative track of world news has always been important to me.  Still I kept my own counsel and did not speak out other than to the closest of friends.  Then came the first Gulf War with live coverage on a daily basis.  The memories of Vietnam began to come back in a flood and I came to believe that we as a nation were repeating the mistakes of history.

9/11, the run up to Afghanistan, and the subsequent invasion of Iraq solidified my worries.  At the time I remained opposed to the war and all it meant at home and abroad.  Learning that the administration outright lied about WMD’s and other facets made me really angry.  I found Delaware Pacem in Terris on a march commemorating an anniversary of the invasion of Iraq.  I found many new people with similar views of the war.  These new friends along with the regular vigils on the bridge in addition to a lengthening series of letters to the editor became a new way of life.  Not venting my anger and disappointment ceased to be an option.

Today I live in real fear of what world we are leaving behind.  Today I feel obligated to act in all the ways available to me as an individual to end the senseless violence that is war.  To that end I am grateful for the opportunity to share my personal story.  Nothing I might say can convey the reality of war.  To say that war is ugly is very much an understatement. 

To get some grasp of the reality that is war, put yourself in country.  Think of the fear.  Live in abject fear for a few moments.  If each minute as a single day in your life.  Remind yourself each moment that some people in the room may have just died.  Remind yourself that each minute might just be your last one on this earth.  Remember all the time the true face of war is ugly.  Think of living the fear of each and every day without admitting to any such thought.  The psychological trauma is the worst part.  No person can return from war without being changed inside.  The outside may be the same, but the inside always changes.

Today I do not know how to end the ongoing occupation of Iraq, or how to avoid such conflicts in the future but I do know with great certainty what many of our troops in Iraq today are going to feel in 30 years or so.

Two quotes to end.  These people said it all much better than I ever could.

I hate war as only a soldier who has lived it can, only as one who has seen its brutality, its futility, its stupidity.
~ Dwight D. Eisenhower

Wars are rarely fought for the reasons that are claimed.  Those reasons amount to nothing more than bogus excuses, ways to hoodwink the gullible public, and the vilest propaganda designed to incite people to sacrifice their children for a supposedly glorious cause. 

The defense of freedom and democracy is one false claim that we often hear in this country.  This shameful claim could not be further from the truth. 

No one ever bothers to explain how our freedom and democracy are at risk in some obscure little country halfway around the world.  That’s because the sad and dirty truth is that wars are fought for empire and the financial gain of the few.
–Major General Smedley Darlington Butler, two time medal of honor winner at the time of his death the only such person.

Crossposted from Daily Kos.

Vietnam: A Personal Recollection, Part I

copyright © 2007 Possum Tales.  Sedalia Tales

The raccoons tale is bushy
The possum’s tail is bare.
The rabbit has no tail at all
Just a little bitty patch of hair.

Encouraged by other people and after the example of so many in BlogLand I offer my story.  Every person who spent time in Vietnam has a story.  Every one is different.  This is my personal story related to the best that memory serves today.  If you are so inclined follow over the fold and down the yellow brick road as the possum tells his tale.

My war experience was very easy in comparison to so many others yet I had more than enough for one lifetime.  The overall pain of the war has been diminished somewhat by the passage of time.  My time in country (in Vietnam) began in the summer of 1969 and ended in March, 1970, for a total of 179 days.  I celebrated a 23rd birthday, Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s in country.  I was assigned as communications chief for an infantry company in the central highlands.  We called An Khe and Pleiku our base camps but spent more time in the field than in camp.

I began my military experience by withdrawing from college.  My not being a student took away all deferments and I was soon 1-A and ready for the draft.  I joined the US Army in an effort to at least have a degree of choice in training.  Active duty in March, 1967, in Basic Training at Fort Benning, Georgia.  Training as a tank driver and gunner continued at Fort Campbell, KY, (the result of failed training choices and an army assignment instead).  Eighteen months in Germany with a tank battalion followed.  More training in Europe qualified me as a communications chief by the end of the Germany tour.

I started off to Vietnam after a thirty day leave at home.  Parting from family was a solemn and sad affair for all of us.  Airports are cold places at such times and Lexington, KY, was no better or worse than any other.  The first stage of my journey started at Fort Lewis, Washington, a gathering point for outgoing and returning soldiers at that time; although the two sets were kept well separated.  By the time of my assignment I knew enough about both the war and the American military to believe that no good could come from the situation.  My going to war was a final choice between getting on the plane or facing a court martial.  At the time I truly saw the going as a better option.  Today might bring a different choice.  Jail may not be so bad in contrast.  Hindsight is always a better vision. 

I remember a very quiet trip from Ft. Lewis.  We were all young, all male, and traveling on a military charter flight.  Some few saw the event as an adventure fueled by testosterone and the desire for some measure of glory.  I, like most, just wished to return home alive one day.  Fear and uncertainty about the future ruled my life that day.

The flight stopped briefly in Hawaii and in Guam.  At both places we disembarked for a short time before continuing our flight.  We arrived at Cam Ranh Bay in daylight hours.  My first sight of Vietnam included snow white beaches  landscape bordered by a lush, green landscape.  Vietnam is a semi-tropical country and is really quite beautiful if one is only a tourist.  I remember wondering if and when I would ever see those shores again.

Dehumanization began quickly?in time of war every individual becomes an object.  All the slang terms about the opposing forces were introduced in the first few minutes of welcome.  The enemy and the allies all become in many ways the same in how the opposition is seen.  On the weapons ranges we fired at targets that were vaguely human in shape.  In Vietnam I remember targets with cartoonish human torsos painted on.  The entire process was aimed at producing soldiers able to kill other humans without a single thought.

I had no real friends in my group.  The realities of war precluded any close attachments among us.  The danger of losing a friend kept most of us to acquaintance without real relationship.  Conversations were kept very superficial.  We complained about the food, the heat, the trek, the equipment, and so on.  Fear was not part of the conversation.  Not one of us ever admitted aloud that he was afraid, or at least not that I ever heard.

Mere days before my assignment to the company in the field the group met an ambush.  Several men died.  I cannot remember a single time when anyone in the field at the time ever mentioned that event to me.  Those deaths were just more lost objects.  The reality of the moment took over each and every day.  Not one of us could dwell on the death of a comrade for that would remind us of our own precarious position.

In the field we were on the move most days.  Sometimes we would camp for as much as 2-3 days but more often we were moving 2-3 days at a time.  On the march we carried all we owned along with food, water, ammunition, weapons, and communications gear.  The loads were heavy and often difficult to manage in the heat.  As communications chief for the company I carried our secure radio gear and extra batteries.  The total including provisions, rifle, ammunition, and extraneous gear likely weighed in excess of 80 pounds.  I found the moving all day with such a load an extreme physical test.  My body was just not made for such.  Every day we marched was a real test of my mental and physical endurance.  Each of those days was a nightmare to be endured.  Time encamped was time to be relished and enjoyed to the limits of the circumstance.

My company operated in an area that contained farm land with rice paddies along side serious hillsides.  We walked right through whatever terrain we met with the company in single file, spaced 5 meters apart as a safety precaution.  As a group of about 80 at any given time we caused quite a bit of damage in passing through when we walked through a rice paddy, but there was never any concern expressed by our officers about what we injury we were causing the locals.  The local citizenry was given no thought at all as we moved about.  By the same token we were similarly ignored for the most part.  We remained vigilant at all times since we were not able to distinguish combatants from friends.  Even children were said to be recruited to deliver live grenades in soda cans.  At least I was not exposed to any such incident.

We often moved through jungle areas to find an area of defoliation.  Agent Orange was very effective at removing leaves from all the trees.  We passed craters caused by bombs dropped from the B-52’s.  Those craters were large enough (often 20 meters or more in diameter) that detouring around the perimeter was sometimes our chosen path.  Our path on any given day was often unknown until the night before.  Other times we had an assignment that lasted as much as 2-3 consecutive days.  Maps were not always as accurate as the satellite guided devices of today so we often found ourselves on a hilltop different from the one we thought. 

Any time the company was set in place sentries were kept on duty 24 hours a day.  During daylight hours patrols explored the surrounding countryside.  Only one time did I volunteer for such a patrol.  Being in a completely foreign zone with such a small number of people gave me a feeling of abject fear such as I have not felt at any other time in life.  Other members of the company took such patrols at regular intervals as a part of their assignment in country.  How they managed to do so I still cannot quite fathom.

One of the daily patrols encountered locals who may or may not have been armed.  In accordance with accepted procedure the patrol opened fire.  No return fire came.  No weapons were found.  The only artifacts in the area were clothing and household goods in a nearby cave.  Apparently the people were just living in the mountains and taking no part in the war.  From our perspective, all who were not in American uniforms were seen as enemies. 

About halfway through my tour, my time in the field ended.  I returned to a base camp and moved on to a fire base as part of my communications duties.  The fire base accommodated an artillery company along with two infantry companies.  My group was assigned to dig and build a bunker large enough for a complete command communications setup.  That meant a dig several feet in each dimension deep, wide, and long.  The bunker was not completed before we were moved once again; although we did manage about 4 feet deep, 8 feet wide, and perhaps 20 feet long before we were relieved of the duty. 

During our time on the fire base sniper fire from the surrounding jungle was a regular event.  The artillery made an attractive small arms and mortar target.  While my comrades stood to see the action I always found a place at the bottom of the bunker.  I wished only to go home alive.  I felt none of the seductive effect violence so often engenders in men.

Down Home: Grandaddy and the Mule

copyright © 2007 Possum Tales.  Sedalia Tales

Family stories are as varied and individual as are lives and families.  In some families stories are a rite of passage handed down by oral tradition.  My grandfather was a man of few words.  Even so as a child I heard him tell this tale many times.  Each and every time my grandmother was present for the telling.  The significance of her presence was not evident to me until my adulthood, and even now I wonder if I got it right.

Follow one more time down the yellow brick road, across the river, and over the fold for one of the possum’s favorite family tales.

My grandparents were farmers living in far western Kentucky during the late 19th and early 20th Centuries.  Their wedding likely took place around 1910.  Grandaddy and Grandmother were married in a small country church not far from their home.  The trek home meant a mule and wagon ride as they were too poor to own anything so fine as a horse and buggy. 

But back to the story.  Mules are known for having a certain degree of stubborn resistance to being told what to do.  The trip home began without event.  All was well until the mule stopped and refused to move any further no matter the urgings from the driver’s seat.  Grandaddy said in a quiet and calm voice, “That’s one,” dismounted, walked to the mule’s head, and whispered in the mule’s ear.  Upon Grandaddy’s return to the reins the mule set off down the road with real alacrity.

No too far down the road the mule halted again, refusing to move in spite of all Grandaddy’s exhortations from the buggy seat.  The distance home remained significant.  Once again Grandaddy spoke more loudly than was customary for him saying, “That’s two,” and  dismounted to whisper in the mule’s ear.  The mule  responded to the command of the reins and the journey started up one more time.

They hadn’t traveled much farther before the mule stopped right in the middle of the road.  This time Grandaddy spoke in the sort of gruff tones that were rarely ever heard from him, “That’s three,” dismounted, went to the mule’s front end, and taking his favorite pistol shot shot the mule right between the eyes.  Grandmother, being an observant woman saw the reality of their situation, newly married, far from home, and nothing to do now but walk the rest of the way.  Life was not going the way she anticipated that day.  A defining moment in life came as Grandmother took real exception to Grandaddy’s action complaining, “That mule was all we had to get us around.  Now we have no way to get home.  What are we going to do?”

Grandaddy returned to the wagon and spoke quietly to Grandmother saying in his usual way of simple and direct speech, “That’s one.”  For the next 50 plus years of life together both of them agreed they never had another argument.

Crossposted from Daily Kos.

Sad Conversations With Bushies

copyright © 2007 Possum Ponders.  Sedalia Tales

One recent morning as twelve of us stood on the sidewalk for our regular Saturday morning vigil, a young (thirty-something) man approached.  He smiled and seemed friendly enough with his greeting.  He said he’d seen us there the week before and just wished to see what we were about.  Our signs made very clear just what we were about.  We mourn for those who have died and protest the war in an effort to end the ongoing succession of deaths.  Signs always include the number of Americans killed in Iraq to date and today included at least one with the “T” word.  We are pretty outspoken overall and even at that do practice measured restraint in our messages.  More beyond the fold.

Recognizing our hats (mine says Vietnam Veteran) and the uniform shirt of another man, he stumbled over the words “so you are veterans.”  Not all of us are, but two of us right in front of him just happened to be.  Then the one way conversation began with “What do you think we should do about terrorists and what about the Buddhist terrorists?”  (his words, not mine).  No amount of explanation of either fact or history was to deter the young man.  He continued to be polite but misinformed through a several minute conversation.  One member of the group gave him a DVD to review and we all invited him back next week to continue the interaction.

Hard as we tried, none of the three of were able to penetrate the right-wing slogan spouting ideas the man posited.  We simply could find no common ground from which to begin a real conversation.  His ideas were set in bedrock and we had no drill strong enough to penetrate the barrier.

Today’s episode reminded me of last weekend spent with my creationist, fundamentalist Christian, right-winger, war supporting son.  He is an adult who lives with a wife in North Carolina.  We spent a weekend as father and son in Virginia Beach.  Our goal was to find some of the connections we had when he was younger.  Just as we have so many times, we were forced at last to keep the conversation to light subjects for complete lack of common ground.  Saturday was spent hanging out in the hotel room while he watched TV and I followed a childhood story diary of mine on Kos.  Our only meaningful conversation had to do with creationism.  Even there we had no middle ground.  At least he agreed to read a book on the subject.  I mailed the book early this week.  Will be interesting to see if he finds any place for the book in his life.

How do we approach these closed minds.  I am at a breaking point in frustration.  So many are so misled and continue to ignore facts in the face of the fiction being put out from the administration.  Finding common ground is sometimes outside my reach even though I pride myself on being a somewhat sane and very rational human being.  Whatever are we to do indeed?

Crossposted from Daily Kos.

Responding to Life Today

copyright © 2007 Possum Tales.  Sedalia Tales

Life has a way of taking twists and turns that most of us don?t really expect.  In recent days we have seen a Democratic Congress fail to oppose ongoing spending in Iraq in spite of what so many of us in blogland expected.  On top of the continuing toll of American deaths and the damage to our economy as a result of war spending the toll is being taken on our psyche.  Add in all the other concerns like global warming, the various costs of living, and so on and on and life becomes a very complex issue indeed.

Most humans tend to react almost spontaneously when events come to their life.  Road rage is one class example.  A driver cuts us off and we immediately rise to anger and often speak or act in ways that demonstrate our feelings.  The same happens when other events touch our lives.  We tend to react in opposition to those events which cause any measure of discomfort.  Anger, striking out, resentment, unhappiness and so on begin to consume our lives.

The Buddhists teach a different way which is not an area of expertise of mine, but is an interesting perspective for sure.  Some teachers recommend reaching inside our own self for that place of peace and tranquility that resides deep within each of us.  My thinking suggests that is a part of our soul, but that is just my way of seeing this.  To reach that point of peace we can take a few deep breaths and a few moments of quiet contemplation before acting.  At that time we are likely to be better able to act in ways that are productive in changing the course of events or at least in meeting the situation head on without damaging ourselves in the process.

The current issues with Congress and the apparent Dem failure is a fine example of a threatening outside event.  We can rant and rave and call them all the names we wish to assign or we can reach deep inside and find peace in ourselves and get back to work.  We can write, call, and Fax our Congress critters to let them know our disappointment and our annoyance.  Action to a positive end has its own rewards.  We may not always attain the goals set by our thoughts and actions, but at least we have the personal reward in knowing we were active.

As always action is the best medicine available in my life today.  I write letters to the editor, call my Congress critters, and stand a pair of weekly vigils for peace as described here and here.  No longer am I able to sit and stew.  I must reach inside often to find inner peace and serenity.  Action helps me reach that place and helps heal the hurts inflicted by so many events of today.  Life may continue its twists and turns, but it seems to me we must all keep ourselves alive and well by acting in the best interests of our overall society.  In the end that will assure the twists and turns of life lead to a better future for all of us.

“Death Ends a Life, Not a Relationship.” In Memory of . . .

© copyright 2007 Betsy L. Angert

In the last sixteen years, I have only used the word in my writing.  It just does not seem apt for me anymore.  In 1991, my Grandpa passed, or as some say, he died, although he never did.  I am reminded of this today for someone I knew from afar for many decades, and met face-to-face only a year ago on this same date, took his last breath this afternoon. 

It is a somber day; yet beautiful.  Phillip, is gentle man, a giant.  His heart is, to coin an expression, more golden than gold.  His spirit is softer than the yellow metal is in its purest form.  Phillip’s goodness is great.  You may think it odd that I presume to know so much about this man.  After all, we only spoke on a few occasions in the past year.  However, I am closely acquainted with Phillip’s family.  I have, by extension been apart of this loving circle for generations.

On March 11, 2006, I spent hours chatting with Phillip.  We discovered all that was between us.  Until then, we never understood that we were truly connected.  Without communication, there is much conjecture.  When we open our hearts and minds much is realized, at least Phillip and I thought so.

Our conversation was deep; it went on throughout the day and into the evening.  We spent hours relating to what was, is, would be, and could be.  I never felt so safe, so sane, as fortunate to be part of his, my, or our family as I did on this date a year ago.  Strangely enough, when we first spoke Phillip was sitting in a sacred chair.  It is my Mom’s favorite chair.  Mommy settled into that seat for years.  She read, smoked, smiled, and laughed, all from that chair.  I felt certain she was sharing the wooden bench with Phillip as he and I chatted.

No one sits in that maple structure anymore and has not since Mommy took her last breath.  My father gently looks over at the white and wood construction often throughout the day and every evening.  He has for years.  He discusses the day with Mommy as he sits across from her.  Fresh flowers are neatly positioned in front of her fixture regularly.  Father always buys her favorite blossoms and talks to her about his choices.

When Mommy’s body, in a physical sense was here on Earth, each morning my parents would brew their first cup of tea and walk through the garden examining every new shoot on each beautiful plant as the tea steeped.  They kept a pictorial log of the gardens growth.  They mounted photographs on a rolling file so that they might flip through these, as if watching the transformation through time-lapse photography.

Mommy and the love of her life were both avid readers.  They frequently exchanged books and articles.  They still do today, although Mommy sends her circuitously.  Nevertheless, my parents still share.

I too share with Mommy.  She is so very much a part of whom I am, what I think, say, do and feel.  She is forever with me.  Now, she and Phillip are sharing or so I imagine.  Perhaps, when he sat there in her chair with her, she and he knew.  It was time, time for them to meet and be one.  Phillip is my father’s younger brother. Yet, Mommy and Phillip  had never met.  Families do some not so funny things in the name of love, caring, concern, or knowing what is best.

I suspect, as I think about the life after this Earthly existence, those of us bound by the properties of this planet rarely imagine what is most important, love and peace.

After I learned Phillip was lost to my physical touch, I looked around me.  I examined all my possessions and wondered were any of these truly valuable.  Did my clothing, my car, even my home have any actual worth.  Were these assets or distractions?  I pondered whether life itself was significant.  What is the meaning of it all?  I could think to leave this planet, for I do inquire what is the point.  Yet, I think that decision would not be wise.

I have to believe there is some reason I am here.  My Grandpa taught me so much.  He gave me reason for living.  Grandpa taught we to be open, honest, curious, and concerned.  Grandpa, born more than a century ago was, is, in fact a peacenik.  Grandpa regularly recited . . .

Hearts, like doors, will open with ease,
With two very, very little keys.
And don’t you know the two of these
Are “Thank you, Sir” and “If you please.”
Grandfather Mitchell memorized . . .
“Two wrongs do not make a right.”
Grandpa felt deeply, ‘Love always endures.’  What seems like centuries ago, I yearned to visit a beau.  This magnificent man lived states away from where I resided.  Roundtrip airfare was two hundred and eighty nine dollars.  I certainly did not have dollars to cast to the wind, only to watch them fly across the country.  To this day, I do not know when I mentioned the subject to my Grandpa.  Surely, I never expected, nor did I ask him to pay the price of such a costly ticket.  Without hesitation, he did.  If you knew how extremely frugal my family is, you would trust, this was weird, wonderful; ye still bizarre!  Nevertheless, it happened.

I could not get over such a gesture!  I thanked Grandpa over and over again.  I was and to this day, am grateful for the gifts he gave me, this one and the less tangible treasures.  Grandpa turned to me one day and said, “Betsy; No one does anything they do not really want to do.”  He assured me he offered me the opportunity to travel for that was what he really wanted to do.  While he appreciated my expressions of gratitude, I need not thank him again.  My going and enjoying was his pleasure.  For Grandpa facilitating growth was love and love was the reason for living.  Sharing love brings peace.

Grandfather Mitchell taught my Mom the same.  Love and peace were forever his lessons.  The scientific method was his preferred tool for instruction.  Grandpa gave Mommy the freedom to think and to be who she was naturally.  My Mom is, was interested in every entity.  She was a scientist, just like her father.  He was a Chemist, a Pharmacist, and a lover of people.  She was a Social Scientist, a little lessen enamored with human foibles.  As a child, Mommy saw too much pain.  It hurt her heart.  She longed for love and peace and worked to create it.  She did.

Observation, examination, and experience were my Mom’s mentors.  Mommy embraced learning easily.  Her father, my Grand encouraged little Berenice Barbara to explore and share her discoveries.  The two chatted often.  They were, they are, two great minds with millions of thoughts, each inspirational.  They imagined all the people, sharing all the world, and living in harmony.  I trust they still do.  I suspect now that Phillip has found his peace, he has joined them.  The three are together giving rise to greater love.

The most important thing in life is to learn how to give out love, and to let it come in.
~ Morrie Schwartz [Sociology Professor]

My Mom wanted me to learn as she had.  Curiosity continued to be the teaching method of choice; love and peace were still the curriculum.  Berenice Barbara the parent had two overriding principles.

“Do whatever makes you happy, as long as it does not hurt anyone.”
“No one has the right to tell you what to think, say, do, feel or be.”
Mommy never did.  If I asked for her advice, and on occasion, I did, I would hear the previously stated philosophy.  Oh, if only I knew what made me happy.  If only I was certain what was wise.  I find no joy in their departures; although I have never felt they left me.  I am in some ways more with my Grandpa and Mom now then I was in life.  I feel their presence. Rarely, if ever do I speak of them in past tense.  I definitely do not say; nor do I believe they “died.”  I feel their love and I am at peace.

This is exactly what I was saying to Phillip little over a month before he passed.  Phillip expressed his deepest fear.  The doctors had expected him to exit Earth months ago.  Physically, by all accounts, Phillip was ready to pass.  However, he stayed.  When asked why he lingered, Phillip shared he did not wish to leave his two daughters alone.  He, with help from his wife’s spirit, raised them since they were very young children.  Becky passed on Mother’s Day decades earlier.  The girls are in their early twenties now, still so young. To be without a mother and a father, Phillip did not wish to do that to them. 

I was visiting at the time he made this statement, though I was a room away.  Upon hearing his reflection, I knew I must speak with Phillip.  I entered his hospice room.  I proceeded to his bedside, walking right past his mother and sister.  I put my face to his and began to tell my tale.

I said, for as long as I could recall, my worse fear was I would loss my Mom.  I missed her even when I was in the same room with her.  She was [is] so alive, infinitely interesting, open, brilliant, and vibrant.  I had hoped to pass before her.  Surely, without her I would fall apart.  How would I live? Who would teach me as she had. 

I was close to my grandfather and feared his demise; however, it was different.  To this day, I am unsure how, for my Grandpa engaged me for hours daily in my younger years.  I even lived with him for a couple of months when I was eleven years old.  Perchance, I had accepted the convention that Grandfather’s pass, since my paternal Grandparents were never on Earth in my lifetime.  I know not.  I did understand that though Grandpa’s body was not visible.  He still lives large in my life.  Only last evening I quoted him on a blog.  I attributed his words to him.  Grandpa lives!

Nevertheless, without Mommy, I knew I would not function.  As I attempted to tell Phillip this, I cried uncontrollably.  Finally, gasping for air, I quoted Morrie Schwartz of Tuesday’s With Morrie fame.  Professor Schwartz told his former student, author Mitch Albom,

“Death ends a life, not a relationship.”
Tearfully, I told Phillip my Mom never left me.  She is so much a part of who I am in every moment.  Berenice Barbara is within me.  I am as close to her as ever.  She still teaches me.  I also share the lessons I learn from her with others.  I assured Phillip as best as I was able, he was not leaving his daughters or other members of his family.  He was only changing the way in which he would be with them.

After I spoke, a hug festival ensued.  Love and peace filled the room.  Grandpa and Mommy were there with us all.  The two are still teaching.  Yet, much remained unsettled.  It is challenging to grasp the unknown.  Yet, I must trust that ultimately Phillip has.  Today he decided to take his last breath as he held his daughter’s hand.  I hope she too was [is] able to understand he is not gone. Only his appearance differs.  Amy and Stacy, I love you so.  Your Dad does too.  He will continue to be there for you.  He will teach you now as he was when you were younger, as he did while working through his own rite of passage.

Another relative of mine, Nicholas has been ill for years.  He too is young, still in his fifties.  His son has not yet graduated from High School.  I wonder if Nicholas might also want to be there for his family.  Might he muse that though his body may wither away, he will not.  If only we knew to our core, that death is not our undoing.  We live in and through all those that we touch.

I kiss your sweet face Phillip.  I would ask you to say hello to Mommy and Grandpa were I not able to do so myself.  It is almost midnight and I must sleep.  I was never able to slumber well unless I said “Pleasant dreams” to those I love before I went off to bed.  Thus, I wish you “pleasant dreams!”  May we all live and rest in peace.

  • Tuesday’s With Morrie By Mitch Albom