A Pacifist’s Daughter and Veterans Day

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Sitting rather uncomfortably on a cold metal chair, on a stage in front of about 30 veterans, family members, the local police chief and a few others from the community, it must have been patently obvious to everyone that I was a fraud.  Clearly I was stuck in a grown-up version of that Sesame Street song “One of these things is not like the other…..”

Almost all of the participants on the stage other than me were veterans, dressed in crisp uniforms with razor-sharp creases that would have been a source of envy for my grandmother who ironed her bed sheets with a flatiron heated on the wood stove.

I tried to convince myself that after all I was there legitimately, president of the board of the local synagogue and invited to participate as a substitute for our usual representative who was away on an overseas trip this year.  I clutched the paper on which a lovely prayer for Veterans Day, written by a Jewish poet, was typed neatly and which I would soon be called upon to read as the opening prayer.

In the days leading up to this event, I had been overwhelmed with thoughts of my father, who had been a conscientious objector during World War II.  I also felt the moral weight of my upbringing in the Society of Friends (Quakers), where opposition to war was a given.  And then there were the “60’s,” the decade during which I grew from adolescent to adult, surrounded by the turmoil of the civil rights movement and opposition to the Vietnam War.   Sitting on that stage I wondered what my father would have to say about this day and my participation in it.

VW BusAlthough I never participated directly in any of the shameful treatment of soldiers returning from that war, neither did I speak out against it, or even recognize it as violence against those who had already experienced violence beyond anything I could imagine.  Violence that I might have survived physically, but not emotionally intact.  In the naive certainty of youth, I knew that being against war was obvious and anyone who willingly went to war deserved what they got.  Because I was a mild mannered and well brought-up child, I would never call anyone a “baby killer,” but surely some deserved that name and maybe if they were shouted at and vilified, they might decide to become peacemakers instead of soldiers.

The guest speaker at this Veterans Day event works with disabled veterans, helping them receive the benefits to which they are entitled.  In one of those ironic twists that often occur in life, he had served in the Vietnam War.  I expected a speech glorifying the experience of  serving in the military and extolling the bravery and commitment of those who serve.  Had I been sitting in the audience instead of in full sight of everyone, I might have been prepared to engage in a bit of eye-rolling, or at minimum some silent scoffing.

Instead I listened to a man talk of coming home from that war “broken,” admitting that he had considered killing himself several times.  Choking on tears, he described the price his wife and children paid in trying to support and comfort him in those years before he understood that he was suffering from PTSD and sought professional help.  He said he did not need to describe the treatment that soldiers returning from that war received from protesters since everyone there was already familiar with it.

The speaker and I are of a similar age, and if I were able to have a conversation with him I would want to share what I have learned since those heady days when my moral certainty had not yet been tempered by an understanding of life from the perspectives of those who lived with different economic and social realities.  I would admit I now understand that protesting war as a policy and holding elected officials responsible for those policies is not the same as demonizing the foot soldiers who pay the price.  I would tell him that I understand now that there are numerous reasons why someone would enlist in military service, other than my misconception that they must like to play with guns and kill people who don’t look like them.

Yes, I am still anti-war and I still believe that war does not usually solve the problems for which it is initiated.  I suspect, however, that it is the very people who have actually gone to war who know that truth better than any of us.  The greatest honor that we could bestow upon our veterans would be to create a world in which their children and grandchildren would never have to go to war.

Sadly the human race has not yet gotten to that point.  We cling to our fears and prejudices, we demonize those who are different, and we ask others to pay the heavy price required to maintain our perceived superior position.

So what would my father think about me sitting on that stage?

I think he would be proud.

 

©Martha Hurwitz, 11/11/18

 

 

I’ve been reading about the U.S. immigrant situation and the separation of children from their parents for the last two weeks. My response, from the safety of my own study, has been to sign petitions, send money to the ACLU, write testy letters to my own representatives which, in a purplish-blue state, involves preaching to […]

via The Borders of Decency — The Green Study

The Straw

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According to folk wisdom, it only takes one straw to break a camel’s back.  While I am not the most prolific of bloggers by any means, over the past year I have managed a few posts commenting on the state of this nation and the insanity that continues to build in the hollowed (formerly hallowed) halls of government in Washington.

But then the straw fell that almost broke my voice.  My country, the land of the free and home of the brave, where Liberty lifts her lamp to welcome the tired, the poor, the homeless and tempest-tossed, apparently now considers that God is okay with tearing children from their mother’s or father’s arms and tossing them into jail.

It is still a great struggle for me to write anything in response to this outrageous policy, so I am going to re-blog in a separate post The Borders of Decency that appeared today on The Green Study.  Michelle is an excellent writer, and she provides pertinent suggestions on ways to keep up the good fight.

Like the young people of Chicago and Parkland, and countless others who are determined to turn their personal tragedies into a dynamic force for decency and change, we must continue to speak truth to power.

 

 

Picture from article by Jessica McBride on Heavy.com, 6/18/18

© Martha Hurwitz, 6/18/18

 

 

Promises, Promises

 

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Usually I start thinking about possible New Year’s resolutions right after Thanksgiving so I’ll be prepared, but I don’t have to take them seriously because any promises made right after a major holiday are null and void.  This applies to resolutions made before a major holiday, too, so between Halloween and New Year’s Day, I’m good.

Changes in behavior have to start on a Monday that falls on the first of the month, but only if the weather is nice and the moon is full.  That’s a known fact!  Otherwise, it’s okay to wait until the following month (or year, or holiday, or whenever).  January 1, 2018 would have been an awesome day to start those serious changes that I want to make.  It was not only a Monday, but the beginning of a month, the beginning of a brand new year, the weather was reasonably nice for New England this time of year, and the moon was full.

My motivation for not making  any specific resolutions was based on the fact that for most of my adult life I have listened to the fake newsreel in my head convincing me that “next Monday,” “next month,” “on my birthday,” “after the holiday,” definitely will change, and “this time it will really work.”  In the meantime, of course, it’s okay to continue the same behaviors, because changing any old time is just not possible!

As Dr. Phil always asks:  “How’s that working for you?”  Not so well would have to be my honest answer.  Barely a week into the New Year, and evidence is mounting that my decision not to make resolutions hasn’t worked any better than making them.  Clearly, I needed to reconsider and make at least a few serious resolutions.  But “which ones? how many? when do I start?  My head aches, I’ll think about that tomorrow.”  So imagine my excitement when I opened my news feed this morning to a New York Times article titled:  “9 Ways to Be a Better Person in 2018.”

“Here’s what we’ve learned about living your best life in 2018, using lessons from some of our most-read Styles stories of 2017.  We encourage you to be a better prepared, less anxious and more showered person in the new year. ”                                                                                                       Anya Strzemien, 12/28/17

Jackpot!!

  •  Make your bed.  I can do that.  Heck, I already do.  Check!
  • Wear weather appropriate shoes.  I do that, too.  What do I look SOREL Women's Caribou Boot Size 11 - Bufflike?  A high school student waiting for the bus in a snowstorm wearing flip flops?  Laugh at my big clunky Sorrel boots if you want to, but my feet are warm and dry.  Check!
  • Wash Your Hair.  Pretty sure I learned this one at an early age, but I guess it’s never a bad thing to include on a better person list.  Check!
  • Schedule Sex.  I know we are a nation of over-scheduled, multi-tasking, device-dependent maniacs.  But maybe a better idea than adding a sex appointment to your iPhone would be to let intimacy grow from the experience of being together sharing a quiet evening, and actually talking face-to-face.  Besides, SIRI does not want to know that you plan to do the deed on Saturday night.
  • Accept the things you cannot control.  As a philosophy this is a good idea.  However, I believe there are some things that should never be accepted, even if they are clearly not under my control.  Taking this one seriously involves self-understanding and discipline.  I am generally able to do this, but will keep working on it.  Check!
  • Distract yourself with a fairy tale.  I’ve done this too much in my life, so no check here.  It’s fine to indulge in some royal-watching or brief fantasies of winning the lottery, but I think I have to pass on this one as a way to become a better person.
  • grandma-2234070_640Embrace your age.  Absolutely, without a doubt.  I have earned every grey hair, every wrinkle.   Not too crazy about the arthritis, weakening eyes and ears, and other common problems of aging.  But it’s good to be here, no matter what shape I’m in.  Check, check and double check!
  • Pack condoms.  Seriously?  Doesn’t this belong in the scheduling section?  I was forced to go back and read the whole article to figure out the purpose of this one (beyond the obvious, that is).  Turns out it was one small item in a long article about survivalists preparing for an apocalypse.  Apparently condoms can be used (beyond the obvious) as “makeshift canteens, a fire starter, elastic bands for an improvised slingshot to hunt small game,…inflated they can also be used as fishing bobbers or signaling devices for semaphore,….”  Give me a break here.  Wouldn’t balloons do the trick?  Sorry, but this one sounds like that old excuse about buying Playboy to read the articles.  Yeah, right.
  • If you suffer a setback, just keep going–and going out.  This article was about Hillary Clinton and how she responded after her loss of the election in 2016.  Overall it’s a good philosophy, but needs to be put into context.  Some setbacks are serious and the old stiff-upper-lip response is not a healthy one.  Still, I’ll put a check here to keep myself from over-dramatizing small setbacks or using them as an excuse to postpone doing what needs to be done.

While commenting on this list was fun, I don’t believe that most of these items would make me, or anyone else, a better person. Perhaps more organized, or less anxious, or prepared for the Zombie Apocalypse!

Becoming a better person has much more to do with how we treat people (particularly those who are weak and dependent on the kindness of others), about the choices we make that affect the health and welfare of this planet and all the creatures who call it home, and in the way we engage with those whose backgrounds and beliefs differ from our own.

Instead of making the same recurring resolutions that I mostly don’t keep, I think I will just make a greater effort to live by those important values that make the world a better and safer place for everyone.

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©Martha Hurwitz, 1/6/18
Pictures from Pixabay

 

 

 

How Are the Children?

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This sermon was given by Rev. Patrick O’Neil, at the First Unitarian Congregational Society of Brooklyn, New York, on January 21, 2015.  Sadly it is even more relevant today than ever.  I share it in honor and memory of all those lost lives in Newtown, in Las Vegas, in Orlando, in Texas and so many other places.  Whatever the actual age of the victims, they were somebody’s children.

Among the most accomplished and fabled tribes of Africa, no tribe was considered to have warriors more fearsome or more intelligent than the mighty Masai.  It is perhaps surprising then to learn that the traditional greeting between the Masai Warriors – Kasserian Ingera – means “And how are the Children?”

It is still the traditional greeting among the Masai, acknowledging the high value that the Masai always place on their children’s well being.  Even warriors with no children of their own would always give the traditional response – “All the Children are well.” Meaning, of course, that peace and safety prevail, that priorities of protecting the young and powerless are in place, that Masai society has not forgotten its reason for being, its proper function and responsibilities.  “All the Children are well” means that life is good.  It means that the daily struggles of existence, even among a poor people, do not preclude proper caring for its young people.

I wonder how it might affect our consciousness of our own children’s welfare if in our culture we took to greeting each other with this same daily question:  “And how are the Children?” I wonder if we heard that question and passed it along to each other a dozen times a day, if it would begin to make a difference in the reality of how children are thought of or cared for in this country.

I wonder if every adult among us, parent and non-parent alike, felt an equal weight for the daily care and protection of all the children in our town, in our state, in our country, could we truly say without any hesitation, “The children are well, yes, all the children are well.”  

What would it be like if the President began every press conference or every public appearance by answering the question:  “And how are the children, Mr. President?”  If every Governor of every state had to answer the same question at every press conference:  “And how are the children, Governor?  “Are they well?”  Wouldn’t it be interesting to hear their answers? What would it be like? I wonder…

What would be your answer?

 

©Martha Hurwitz, 11/6/17
Inspired by Daily Prompt: panacea