Sunday, November 29, 2015

Dad Has Left the Bulding

My dad passed away on Thursday evening. That's right. On Thanksgiving. 

It was time. He had faded away and it was time to let go.

I sat with him the last couple of days, reading some of his favorite poems: Tennyson's Charge of the Light Brigade. Gray's Elegy In A Country Churchyard. Millay's Renascence. Frost's The Road Not Taken. All kinda depressing poems...but the ones he always read or quoted from while we were growing up. He used to tell me a good poem inspires thought, a great poem makes you wanna go hang yourself. And then he would laugh and say that wasn't true, but he still liked the overly dramatic stuff best. I don't think too many people knew that the funniest guy on the planet really liked depressing literature. But that was the conundrum that was my dad. So I read him all those depressing poems until I couldn't stand it any more and switched over to Tehillim (Book of Psalms.) And those were not exactly uplifting either. I mean, I get why we read them, but lighthearted fare they are not.

On Thursday evening, just as Mom was being wheeled over to the dining room for a light supper, I went back to Dad. I saw him take a breath. No breath came out. It was over. I silently signaled the nurse to return. Then I went to tell Mom. 

This morning, Sunday, we had a service here in St. Paul for Mom's sake. We already knew she would be unable to make the trip home to the family plot, so Rabbi Allen and I figured out what we could do. I expected a few friends. The room was packed. And from what I hear, the little graveside service I thought would be attended by a few cousins will be more than that. My dad was always full of surprises. Even now.

Monday, I will stand at the family plot beside my big brother and the senior son. A large gathering of family and friends will support us, including Dad's sister, my 91-year old Tante who flew up from Florida. Just about all my cousins will be there. We will hug and hold hands....and tell Sidney stories. And we will laugh. A lot. That's what we do when we're together. Definitely Dad's fault that we laugh at everything. 

Meanwhile, junior son and our friend Arthur will be with Mom, manning the technology that will, if all goes well, allow her to see everything happening at the cemetery. We will lower the box, cover it, and walk away, but it really isn't goodbye for me. His voice will forever be in my head, telling me where I need an extra comma, or explaining how something should work. It will be the voice reminding me to do my due diligence. That voice is as much a part of me as me. I'm sure my brother will hear it in his head, and the kids will hear it in theirs. 

Judaism doesn't say much about the Olam ha'Bah, only that there is something beyond this world. I have no idea what it is, but for now, I am sure Dad is at Aunt Ruthie's, martini in hand, laughing with his best friend, his dad.... my Grandpa Moishe, and his two cohorts in crime, Uncle Marc and Uncle Lenny. Right now, I need to believe they are all together. Whether that's true or not, I don't know, but it makes me feel better. 

Dad's memory will be forever a blessing not just for us who were privileged enough to call him Dad or Zayde, but by everyone who knew this honest, forthright, and morally centered man. 

Be of good cheer and all that jazz.

For a little more about my dad: Happy Pappy At 90

Monday, November 23, 2015

Thanksgiving and Other Assorted Myths

Am I the only one who thinks that during the week leading up to Thanksgiving, We, the People need to be thinking about how thankful we should be for living in these here United States. You know....Home of the Brave, Land of the Free? The place where huddled masses yearning to breathe free managed to land at some checkpoint and make it through to the Goldeneh Medina?

The First Thanksgiving  J.L.G. Ferris - c.1932
the mythological version
Seems to me that unless you're a Native American, you arrived on these here shores seeking freedom from something. And when we arrived, we weren't nice to the people who were here. We brought little hostess gifts like influenza and small pox. Eventually, We, the People conquered, vanquished, humbled, belittled, segregated, and out-and-out killed the people who actually owned this land. I am certain had the Algonquins had a media outlet, they would've described these same "settlers" as religious terrorists come to impose their laws, customs, and mores upon people who had their own laws, customs and mores and saw no reason to change them. So, one might correctly conclude the only time refugees to the US really decimated the population was when they first arrived. See illustration above for revisionist, mythological depiction of the first Thanksgiving. 

We cannot go back and undo what the first settlers and subsequent generations did to the Native Americans, but there are certainly things that should be done, beginning with the systematic removal of ALL anti-Indigenous People acts throughout this country. A good place to begin would be recognizing the role of terror in the conquest of this nation. 

Terror? Did I say terror? Yes. As a matter of fact I did. We showed up with firesticks and scared the living daylights out of the locals. We told them BIG lies about how we were magic. We scared them first into submission, then we swooped in and destroyed them. I do believe that qualifies as guerrilla warfare. 

Meanwhile, back at the ol' homestead, another thing we should do is think about what role this mythological magic-feast holiday has in our lives. It's not religious. It is quintessentially American. It supposed to celebrate not who we are, but who we believe we have become. 

Try living up to that higher dream standard. Let's take a moment to remember where our ancestors came from and what life is like back there now. Do we want to go back, or do we want to stay in this great, imperfect manifest destiny that needs work?

There is a lot of work to do here, and we could sure use a few more hands attached to the arms attached to the shoulders and attached to the heads who want to believe in the American dream. We need those new refugees as much as they need us. It is not easy to get here. It takes about two very long, very probing years for refugee status to be conferred and that's even before America becomes the destination. There is no guarantee once you're declared a refugee that you're even gonna get in here, so let's all take a deep breath before jumping off the short pier. 

      Manzanar - Winter  1943-44       

Ansel Adams
This registration thing is Americanly abhorrent. The Nazis began  by requiring Jews to register as Jews. Once the data base was formed, it was easy to round them up. And we do know how to round people up already, don't we? We even know how to build concentration camps. Manzanar was not a myth or an imaginary exercise. Manzanar was very real. You may even know someone who was imprisoned there....and doesn't talk about it much. But they remember what it was like to be rounded up because of the shape of their eyes and the color of their skin....while their sons were in uniform fighting for the US. How American is that?

This year, when you sit down at the Thanksgiving table, maybe talk about where your people came from and how they got here. Which group would've been the one who wanted your group to register. Just don't think about it, talk about it. Talk about what you would do when then come to your door to register you. This Thanksgiving, begin a new conversation with your family and your friends. Your job is to learn who you are, who your family is, and who we are as a nation.

Wifely Person's Tip o'the Week
May all those who are hungry come and eat. 
Our tables are laden with goodly bounty. 

c. 1950

Monday, November 16, 2015

Don't Bother With Your Tired, Your Poor, Or Your Huddled Masses

used by permission © 2015 Steven G. Artley
If Mary and Joseph showed up at the refugee table next week, they might be denied visas because a rather vocal segment of these here United States has decided that only Christians from Syria should be allowed refugee status. Problem is, Mary and Joseph weren't Christian. They were Jews and they were from the Middle East. Based on Jeb!'s statement, or Dr. Ben's rhetoric, they would not have been granted refugee status.  

Seems to me, Clown Cavalcade of GOP hopefuls, all your religiosity is nothing more than hot air. Where is the compassion? Where is the desire to help your fellow human? All the stuff your savior preached throughout his career is meaningless to you? 

You would rather wage war over a ridiculous red coffee cup then lift a damn finger to help with the humanitarian crisis raging in half the world. You talk about boots-on-the-ground and bombing Syria with not a single thought about what happens next. Like Iraq was such a screaming success, let's do it again.

Come to think of it, the GOP isn't all that far removed from radical Islam, is it? They talk about everlasting life when instead they broker death with their guns-for-everyone policies. They want to put prayer in schools just like the madrases. They want everyone to follow their particular brand of religion while demonizing everyone else. Gee, fellas, I would think you would welcome ISIS with open arms and boxes of ammo.

In his speech on Monday, November 16th, President Obama said:
When I hear folks say that, well, maybe we should just admit the Christians but not the Muslims; when I hear political leaders suggesting that there would be a religious test for which a person who’s fleeing from a war-torn country is admitted, when some of those folks themselves come from families who benefitted from protection when they were fleeing political persecution—that’s shameful. That’s not American. That’s not who we are. We don’t have religious tests to our compassion.
Apparently POTUS was wrong, because there are a whole lotta petitions going around saying that's exactly who we are. 

The governors who say they are closing their borders to refugees are morons. Unless you are checking all travel papers at the interstate toll booths, there is no restriction on travel within the US. These are the same clowns who talk about the importance of life, but do not give a damn about helping people survive. They talk about the sanctity of the family, yet they throw entire families to the wolves of war. Talk about hypocrites!

And for the record, you don't exactly walk up to the gangplank and say, "Hi, I'm a refugee; take me to America." The steps to even get refugee status are rigorous and begin with an appearance before the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) who determines status based on the parameters established in 1951. Once refugee status is conferred, you will be referred to one of several countries who have opened the doors to certified refugees. No, the system isn't perfect, but it sure as hell beats people swimming across the Mediterranean and walking north from Greece. By the way, those aren't refugees....those are migrants. Apples and oranges. 

Syrian refugee family arrives in Canada
This is a big country. There is plenty of room for a few thousand broken families to find peace and security if only for a little while. Many expect to return to Syria when it is safe again, and view the US not as a permanent address, but as a place to heal. These are not radicals. These are not terrorists. These are people whose lives have been disrupted and destroyed by ISIS. We should be taking them in. We should be a safe haven. We should be everything we tell ourselves we are. Leaving them to die in a war zone is the most uncharitable act I can think of. That anyone can think of. 

If you consider yourself to be an American, if you consider yourself to be patriotic, if you consider yourself to be a believer in the Constitution of these here United States, and consider yourself of be a dues-paying member of We, the People, get off your collective butts and start acting like it. Tell your governors and your congressclowns that  we want to host and help the Syrian refugees. We want them to experience a free and productive society. We want to give them something to take home: the idea that freedom is worth the fight.

Wifely Person's Tip o'the Day
Now would be a good time to go through closets and drawers
to get clothing ready for donation. 
Keep in mind, furniture will also be needed. 

Monday, November 9, 2015

You Need An Appointment

Back when the junior son was a whippersnapper barely able to sign his name, he marched himself into the Naval Recruiting Station on Robert Street (next to the old Rainbow in the creepy strip mall,) clambered up onto a plastic chair and informed the rather startled officer behind the desk he wanted to attend to Annapolis... and it was time to get started. The man was very nice, asked the junior son a variety of very serious questions and received very serious answers. The recruiting officer told junior son he needed someone to nominate him, and explained who can do that. Making up a packet of information about the Naval Academy, he presented it to the kid in an official Navy folder. He then looked at me and said, "I think he could do it, y'know. I've never seen a kid this intense before." When the junior son presented the packet to his dad and told him what he'd done, Ziggy listened to him closely and told him this was a very good goal to have. Later, the Pappy-Unit turned to me and said, "Not a bad idea, hon. Service academies are tuition free."

Anyone who lives in this country and is even mildly aware of how officers get to be officers knows that the five service academies
  • The United States Military Academy (USMA) West Point, New York, est. 1802
  • The United States Naval Academy (USNA) Annapolis, Maryland, est. 1845
  • The United States Coast Guard Academy (USCGA) New London, Connecticut, est. 1876
  • The United States Merchant Marine Academy (USMMA) Kings Point, New York, est. 1943
  • The United States Air Force Academy (USAFA) Colorado Springs, Colorado, est. 1954

accept nominations, not applications, and admissions are called appointments. An appointment to a service academy means your tuition is paid by We, the People in order to insure our military has the best trained commanders in the world. 

Ben and his BFF Jesus
Dr. Carson, practitioner of psycho-ceramic surgery, clearly has no frickin' idea what he's talking about. It's not admission; it's an appointment, and no one offers to get you one, much less a scholarship. And if anyone had a serious conversation with you about pursuing a nomination for West Point or Kings Point or all points in between, I'm pretty sure you would remember that conversation for the rest of your life. "Hey, wanna go to West Point?" doesn't strike me as a serious conversation.

And therein lies the problem. This guy thinks casual chatter passes for serious conversation. He can't get his stories straight. Not about trying to stab someone, not about what classes he took in college. Not about the snake oil he's been selling à la Dr. Oz, another wacko who, based on Dr. Carson's success, is probably planning the launch of his campaign. 

What is wrong with these people? 

Bread and circus. That's what our elections have come down to. 

Photo by Arthur Levin
The last few days have been spent following the elections in Myanmar, the first free elections in that country in a quarter century, and people are putting selfies of their ink-stained voting fingers all over Facebook. These are people that have seriously gone to the polls to have a certifiable voice in the future of their nation. There are so many problems to tackle, so much damage to undo, but millions of Burmese are bound and determined to prove they have a voice. They are fighting for their very existence as a people. Ms Aung San Suu Kyi, after years of house arrest, is leading the opposition party even though their constitution excludes her becoming president because she is married to a foreigner. (Her husband is British.) One of my friends happens to be there now.... I am  so envious that I cannot be there to watch history being made.

Elections are serious stuff and we treat it like a circus parade. How can we possibly put up for election someone who believes the pyramids were built by Joseph for grain storage? 

The common fodder these days is that Marco Rubio will be the nominee. I hope not. He's no better than any of the other lying, fear-mongers running for office. At least the Democrats have the good sense to keep the cadre of candidates down to a reasonable number. 

President Obama nailed it in a single line the other night, when, at a Democratic fund raiser in response to the GOP field whining about the CNBC moderators, he said:
“I mean let me tell you, if you can’t handle – if you can’t handle those guys, then I don’t think the Chinese and the Russians are going to be too worried about you.”

If this is really the best field of candidates out of a whole country of 321,216,400+ people, We, the People are in deep and serious weeds. 

Wifely Person Tip o'the Week
Think about the last time you were proud about voting.
Now, is there anyone reaching for the ballot 
who would inspire that same sense of pride?
If there isn't.....go out and find one. 

Monday, November 2, 2015

Hopes For A Peaceful Anniversary

I am irradiated, but not glowing. I have a head cold. I'm tired and cranky. BUT..... 

72 years ago, in a borough far, far away, there was a wedding:

November 3rd, 1943

I guess there aren't too many couples out there who get to celebrate 72 years together. Sure, my folks had their moments but now, the best they can do is hold hands in the night while Mom hopes for a moment or two of a lucid Dad. 

I wish their living at Sholom Home's nursing/hospice side wasn't such a day-to-day challenge for all of us. My father is slowly fading away, living mostly in his head, going to the morning production meeting at Blum where he give still gives orders for the gluers and the pressmen. Yesterday he knew the Mets dropped game 4 in the World Series, but today, I'm not so sure he understood that KC beat his beloved Mets to a pulp and took the series in 5 games. 

Mom is already grieving the loss of the man my Dad was. The moments of presence are fewer and fewer...and easier to miss because he is so quiet. There is such sadness and resignation in her voice when she tells me how the day went. It's rarely a good day. The challenges of living in a nursing home are myriad and all-too-often frustrating for her, for me, and even for Dad. We are all exhausted.

But for the moment, he is still in the land of the living. He has not gone to Aunt Ruthie's....where I'm positive everyone is waiting for the rest of us at the perennial party. I try to make the most of the moments he's in the present, and I encourage Mom to keep telling him how much she loves him. When he's in the moment, he tells me he's hanging on for Mom. In turn, Mom whispers she has to hang on for him. I wonder if either one can ever let go.

"Happy Anniversary" seems oddly insufficient. Instead, I want to wish them "Peaceful Anniversary."

The Wifely Person's Tip o'the Day
The older you get, the more precious the gift of time.