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On Linus van Pelt and Apollo 8 at Christmastime: Radio Essay for December 24, 2013

It is a well worn axiom that the more things change the more they stay the same. At 50 plus years, the decade of the 1960’s seems so long ago. Not surprisingly, life seemed very different then. But was it really? Let’s look at life in 1965. The war in Vietnam was ramping up to 190,000 fighting troops; the Watts section of Los Angeles was in flames; a first class stamp cost five cents. And “A Charlie Brown Christmas” debuted. It has run faithfully every year since then.

It turns out that Charlie Brown was unhappy about all of the commercialization that was overtaking Christmas and distracting from the true meaning of the holiday. That was almost 50 years ago. You couldn’t shop on Sundays in those days, the internet was decades away, and Black Friday had more significance in religious terms than in retail. Even Snoopy, Charlie Brown’s must trusted companion, got into the act, decorating his doghouse with colorful lights. Charlie Brown’s younger sister, Sally, had an exhaustive list for Santa that she feared might be too complicated. She suggested that Santa just send money, preferably in 10’s and 20’s. Did I mention that Lucy wanted real estate for Christmas?

It’s no wonder that Charlie Brown was dismayed. Leave it to Lucy’s younger brother Linus to tell us what Christmas was all about.

“And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shown round about them. And they were sore afraid. And the angel said unto them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you tidings of great joy which will be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you. Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes lying in a manger.” And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of heavenly host, praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest, and on Earth peace, goodwill toward men.”

Linus quoted scripture. On TV. He was right, that is what Christmas is all about. And to think that it took an animated cartoon character to bring it all together for us as a nation, reminding us of a message that has stood for more than two thousand years. They don’t make much television like that anymore. There is more of a loss than the frenzy of shopping madness that has enveloped the holiday and the political correctness that makes us feel more than a little out of order when we wish each other a Merry Christmas.

It has been forty five years since man first orbited the moon on Apollo 8. The astronauts that evening recited from the Book of Genesis. First, William Anders spoke. He addressed his comments “for all the people of the earth” as he began with, “In the beginning, God created the heaven and the earth.” Jim Lovell, who later commanded the ill-fated Apollo 13, described the second day when God separated the night from the day. Finally, Frank Borman described the creation of the dry land and the seas.

These were men of faith who were not afraid to share that faith with literally billions of people on the fragile planet that they, for the first time with human eyes, would watch rise above the lunar horizon. There is that iconic photo that revealed to us just how much we are dependent upon one another on this earth for its continued survival. Their very orbit around the moon convinced us that we had no other place in which to seek refuge and that we had better find a way to get along.

At a winter concert this year at a public school on Long Island, the Christmas carol “Silent Night” was edited to omit any reference to the Holy Infant or Christ the Savior. So far we have come from the the decade where Linus and Apollo 8 could reach out to us in scripture. In retrospect and with today’s emphasis of political correctness and the sense of absolute separation of all things spiritual from anything governmental, reading from the Christian bible from space seems quite a risky proposition. And so does Linus reading from the Book of Luke about the birth of the Savior.

Personally, I believe that a God, my God, created the heavens and the earth. It is not my desire to pressure anyone else into thinking likewise. I simply profess what I believe with respect for the beliefs of others. I am happy that Linus van Pelt reached out across our nation with a story of the meaning of Christmas without offending the nation much in the same way that the astronauts of Apollo 8 chose to reach out across the planet in describing the wonder creation to an expectant world.

So, on this Christmas Eve, I will close with the heartfelt and poignant words of Frank Borman emerging from the shadow of the moon in 1968: “And from the crew of Apollo 8, we close with good night, good luck, a Merry Christmas, and God Bless all of you—all of you on the good Earth.”

Press on.

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On Loss of Innocence Again: Essay for April 20, 2013

The news came across my car radio while listening to a sports talk show in New York City. Something awful had happened at the finish line of the Boston Marathon. There was the first blast, then another. The unnerving pattern of twin explosions, eerily reminiscent of the aircraft that struck the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center, left little to the imagination. The chances of this being a random event seemed immediately implausible. America had been terrorized once again in the most public of ways on a stage as big as the world itself.

Immediately you do the accounting. Is my family safe? Did anyone have reason to be in Boston this afternoon? It was impossible to know how many people I may have known who were involved in running or support of the marathon. Where I live it is simply too big an event to ignore. When out-of-towners ask me where I live in relation to Boston, I tell them that I live to the West about 26 miles, 385 yards. People immediately make the connection.

I vividly recall assembling my children on September 11, 2001, and describing for them how their lives were going to change. Life in America was to be forever altered. They were barely adolescents then. What could my statement have meant to them having not yet known the personal pain of such loss? Or the implications to our security and liberty that were sure to follow. It was my duty to ease into that explanation and prepare them for an adulthood that would all too often ooze tragedy.

Terrorism is personal to me, especially 9/11. I used to work in the E-Ring of the Pentagon; I entertained in the Windows of the World atop the World Trade Center. Several of my classmates were New York denizens. Four of them worked in the impact zone. Two of them were away from the city as their buildings were hit; and two never made it out. These were the stories I would pass along my children and their children. This was now part of my life narrative.

The Boston Marathon bombing was immediately different. Nearly 12 years after 911, it was my children who first contacted me to see if I was accounted for rather than the other way around. And when quizzed, it turned out that they had fewer degrees of separation with their friends and colleagues than did I. Their friends were all around that scene of carnage. It became immediately personal to them. And urgent.

That’s when it hit me. No longer could I shelter my children from the cold reality of life. No longer could I gently explain what was happening around them in a world that all too frequently gets turned upside down. No longer could I protect their innocence. It had been snatched from them. And they turned their protection towards me to provide shelter from the shock of the horrific situation.

So now, in this new social reality in a post-911 context, my children are now citizens of the World of Terror. They have their own recollections of simpler, less violent times. They have their own images of once sacred spaces forever marred by the incomprehensible reality of a world at war with itself.

It is an unfortunate rite of passage in this new world. Sadder still is the thought that my kids will shelter the next generation of Americans who will inevitably need sheltering when the next act of terror touches their lives. If the Boston Marathon bombing settles one thing it is this: however quiescent current events might become, there will be another act of terror that will require explanation and tenderness.

So, for me, the baton has been passed to my children. Now having borne witness to their own incomprehensible nightmare, having made the numerous connections to people within their ever expanding number of acquaintances, they are fully adult. Perhaps it is their rightful turn to begin to bear the burden of the weight that life presses down upon our shoulders. I wish I could shelter them from that awful burden but I fear they will need to develop that strength sooner rather than later. This problem will likely be with us long after I leave this earth.

Over time, we will prevail. We will rise again. Life will regain a sense of normalcy. But the bar of normalcy has been raised. Like a balloon that has been stretched, it never regains its original shape. It is forever deformed.

We ARE Boston Strong.

Press on.

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On the Blame Game: Essay for June 30, 2012

Oh my, is there ever lots of gnashing of teeth going on over the Supreme Court decision to uphold the Affordable Care Act. There is a lot of name calling, too. After all, someone must be to blame for this horrible act.

Is it Chief Justice Roberts? He is the conservative who voted with the liberal side of the court tilting the balance to the left. He could have used his vote to end the entire matter of Obamacare once and for all. He did not. Roberts: guilty!

Then there is the grand perpetrator himself, President Obama. Wasn’t this his idea to begin with? He spent his first 14 months in office cramming this package down our throats. We did not want it and he would not listen to our clamor. Obama: guilty!

What about former Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi? Was there ever a bigger cheerleader for this monstrosity of legislation than her? Remember how she told us that we would have to pass the bill first so that we could find out what’s in it? Well, we certainly know now. Pelosi: guilty!

How about Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid? Remember how he would not even let the bill go through a conference process? That effectively neutered the role of newly elected Senator Scott Brown from weighing in as the 41st vote. Reed: guilty!

No conversation about blame for any unfortunate outcome of the Obama Administration would be complete without the mention of former President George W. Bush. Surely there is some sort of blood on his hands. Nonsense, you say? Let’s look at some facts.

While George Bush was eking out the 2000 elections with the thinnest of electoral margins, the House and Senate were under slight Republican control. In the painful wake of the 9/11 attacks, the 2002 midterms improved the Republican House margin by 8 seats. By 2004 we were involved in two wars. Bush carried 31 States and the Republicans expanded control of the House by 3 more seats and the Senate by 4. Bush now enjoyed some comfortable legislative margins on top of his reelection. But the years between 2004 and 2006 were not kind to Republicans. The wars lingered and casualties mounted. Deficit spending was increasing. Government expansion surpassed that of his Democratic predecessors.
The mid-term elections of 2006 swung the House decisively into Democrat hands as they picked up 31 seats. The Senate lurched into effective Democratic control by a slim majority. Bush: guilty!

The rise of hope and change took America by storm in 2008 and led to a clean Democrat sweep into power by very effective margins in both chambers of Congress. The Republicans lost 20 seats in the House and 7 seats in the Senate.

Emboldened by raw power and a perceived mandate of the people for change, the Reed-Pelosi juggernaut got moving and it did not stop until the final, cowardly vote was taken to pass the Affordable Care Act by the very slimmest of margins without a single Republican vote. Not a single Republican vote.

Where had all of the Republicans gone? They were voted out and almost into extinction. Heretofore, legislation of this magnitude always involved a bipartisan compromise. But there was no need to compromise with the minority party so long as there were enough votes to pass. The Republicans were hoisted on their own petard as our Constitutional Republic spoke.

Ironically, the dastardly doings of the Obama-Reed-Pelosi triumvirate would be their undoing come the 2010 elections when Republicans erased Democrat gains of the past decade and captured 63 seats in the House and 5 seats in the Senate to regain at least a single toehold in the Legislative Branch. Slowly but surely the Affordable Care Act worked its way through the Judicial Branch. Everyone who pined for appeal saw the Supreme Court as the cavalry raising a cloud of dust in the distance. It turned out that they were wearing a different uniform.

So who is to blame? Is it John Roberts or Harry Reed? Is it Barack Obama or George Bush?

I’ll give you my opinion: it is all of us Americans, that’s who. We either cast a ballot for every one of those officials who voted for or against a bill or for or against an appointment or we did not. We either paid attention to the issues at hand or we did not. We either got active, informed, passionate and involved or we did not. We let the reins of government slip through our fingers such that the majorities in the House and Senate got so lopsided that there was no counterbalance to the myopia that seized the Presidency and Congress. We looked to the Supreme Court to bail us out and it did not do so. Americans: guilty!

Perhaps “Pogo” cartoonist Walt Kelly summed it up best in a 1970 strip when he said, “We have met the enemy and he is us.” Indeed he is correct. This battle is now in our hands. The Supreme Court has spoken. We did not like what we heard. The President has spoken. We did not like what he said. Congress has spoken. We did not like their arrogance.

Nothing will change until we re-engage in the political process and drum out of Washington those career politicians who are corrupted by their own avarice and intoxicated by their own saliva. Walt Kelly also said this, “Don’t take life so serious, son. It ain’t nohow permanent.” Neither is Obamacare.

Press on.

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