Remembrances of things past and looking to a better tomorrow

“We don’t even know how strong we are until we are forced to bring that hidden strength forward. In times of tragedy, of war, of necessity, people do amazing things. The human capacity for survival and renewal is awesome.”
— Isabel Allende

I was initially going to stay away from the subject of what happened on September 11, 2001, but it isn’t entirely possible. Not really. Not when the national consciousness is not ready yet to move very far forward, not when the losses closer to home were so devastating.

I live in an area that felt the aftermath of that day very strongly – my kids were in a school district that included a village of 5000 losing 5 firefighters that day, the schools were forced to dismiss the students early because so many panicked parents wanted their children close to them. Not only the deaths, but the injuries, the illnesses caused by the dust, the post-traumatic stress – these all proved to be a very heavy cost for a region full of New York City first responders, and many, many commuters. One child in my daughter’s class at school was picked up by relatives early in the day, and never returned, because life could never go back to normal for that family. For far too many families. Two very nice men that I used to take the train with before my company relocated were lost. Other parts of the region were also hit incredibly hard – with many communities losing may people.

I remember that morning too clearly. Calling home after first finding out about the first plane hitting the World Trade Center to see if they had more news – were we at war?. Going out for walk to try to clear my head, and failing to understand how those beautiful clear blue skies could have held so much pain. Feeling completely helpless as anguished coworkers scrambled to reach family members – husbands, wives, children – that lived or worked in lower Manhattan. How coworkers located in the upper floors of a building across the river watched in horror as the devastation unfolded. Yes, I certainly do remember, and although it does not dominate my life, I am unlikely to ever forget.

But I remember, too, the rush to war with the wrong enemy – and how that left a nation deeply divided, with many still lusting for blood fourteen years later. I remember how we lost the moral high ground, and wasted the good will that other nations felt for us. How we, as a nation, compounded our tragedy instead of moving forward to heal. So yes, I remember, but I’m not waving flags, sharing mournful, or even inspiring, memes. In order to heal, as a nation, we need to move forward. Remember all of the lives lost so senselessly, yes, but also acknowledge what was wrong with our response. Realize that our actions, ultimately, were what Osama bin Laden wanted – we increased instability in a highly volatile region with no real plan for how it would end. Accept the fact the we were lied to, understand that torture does not work like it does in Hollywood – it’s morally wrong and rarely provides anything useful, recognize that not all Muslims are evil. The first step to compassion and world peace is to break far enough through the ‘not like me’ thinking to put faces on those that are not the same as you – to see that they have lives, and family, too. To understand that we are all humans trying our damnedest to get by on this tiny planet. As the song says “Let there be peace on earth and let it begin with me”.

In the words of Lao Tzu:

“If there is to be peace in the world,
There must be peace in the nations.
If there is to be peace in the nations,
There must be peace in the cities.
If there is to be peace in the cities,
There must be peace between neighbors.
If there is to be peace between neighbors,
There must be peace in the home.
If there is to be peace in the home,
There must be peace in the heart.”

Pax vobiscum

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Tuesday’s Quotes – September 8, 2015

In honor of yesterday’s Labor Day holiday in the U.S., I’ve decided to repost my first “Tuesday’s Quote” blog post, unedited except for the addition of a picture taken this past July 4th.

“The people are what matter to government, and a government should aim to give all people under its jurisdiction the best possible life.”

— Frances Perkins

France Perkins is probably not a name most of us recognize. Few Cabinet members, excluding Hamilton and Franklin (& they are remembered primarily for not being Cabinet members), can be named by most of us while they are still in office – never mind decades, or centuries, later.
Very long life story made very short – Frances Perkins was Secretary of Labor under President Franklin Roosevelt. She has the distinction of being the longest-serving Secretary of Labor, 12 years, and the first female appointed to a Cabinet level position. Already active in lobbying efforts for better working conditions in New York in 1911, the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire pushed her to leave her teaching position to pursue a career in politics. In her capacity as Labor Secretary, she was instrumental to the success of most of the policies enacted during FDR’s tenure – many of which we still benefit from today.
The quote above stuck me as being particularly apropos given our current climate in Washington. So many politicians seem to be jumping over themselves to prove to their not-very-grass-roots TEA Party supporters, and billionaire donors, that they are better than the next guy at slashing & burning government. They seem to have forgotten that in order to be a government ‘Of the People, By the People, For the People’, we have to actually support the PEOPLE. The average workers. Not the large corporations that have proven trickle-down economics to be a failure, not the mega-wealthy campaign donors who would like to have themselves, their corporations, and their trusts pay an ever decreasing share of the expenses of running the society under which they’ve thrived.
A society is a construct that exists to benefit and support its members. A government exists to codify that support (because human beings have largely proven that anarchy is unworkable). So yes, even in a capitalist based economic system, the government has the obligation to put in place controls – such as minimum wage laws, child labor laws, environmental protection – and also to levy taxes to maintain the infrastructure that we all take for granted – roads, bridges, public use lands. And to provide assistance to those in need – disability income, basic healthcare.
It seems that we, as a nation, have forgotten basic Civics, and missed or mis-read most of the Constitution, and have allowed ourselves to be swayed by those that that have exploited our fears (of ‘Big Brother’, of having our beliefs trampled by people who believe differently, of our lost jobs being given to – or taken by – ‘foreigners’) into ceding power to those who have already proven themselves capable of all of the above on both the national & state levels – by rushing to war, by building an incredibly, uselessly, huge security structure, by mandating transvaginal ultrasounds for pregnant women, by banning the disclosure of chemicals used in fracking.
We seem to have lost sight of the purpose government.
This is common sense. It’s our civic duty. It’s about being a responsible member of society, and demanding no less of our elected representatives.
But most of all, it is about being a good human.

When religious beliefs collide with civic duties

“The greatest deception men suffer is from their own opinions.”

–Leonardo DaVinci

Somehow, this seemed very appropriate to me this week. Okay, yes, it seems appropriate it to me most of the time, but it has been calling out to me quite a bit with much of the recent news, and inflammatory bulk emails, and particularly when thinking about Kim Davis and her determination to go to jail rather than do her job.

For anyone that still doesn’t know who Kim Davis is, and what her situation is – and for those of you outside of the US who probably don’t care – Ms Davis is the County Clerk for Rowan County, which is in the state of Kentucky. On June 26th of this year, the US Supreme Court ruled in favor of marriage equality, and the governor of Kentucky directed the state’s county clerks, who, among other duties, issue marriage licenses, to obey the law. On June 29th, Ms Davis, citing her religious beliefs, stopped issuing marriage licenses to anyone, rather than having to issue them to same-sex couples. She and the county were sued, and on August 12th, the US District Court ruled that she had to begin issuing licenses. She appealed, and on August 27th the 6th US Circuit Court of Appeals declined to grant her a stay. On September 1st, the US Supreme Court also dismissed her request for a stay, and on Sept 3rd, after failing to agree to a compromise with the court, she was jailed for contempt.

Now, of course, she has become a lightning rod for opinion – agree, disagree, need a reason to hate, she found her way into many people’s consciousness. She has become a beacon for the extreme religious right – persecuted for her beliefs. But that misses the point. As does the delight over her own past, which is far from a shining example of how a good Christian, or even a good human, should live. She has apparently turned herself around, through religion, and unfortunately is now suffering from the fervor of the recently converted. Few people hold stronger opinions than reformed anythings – alcoholics, junkies, serial spouses. Whatever the vice, rehabilitation often leads to a high level of intolerance.

Anyone that knows me even a little bit, knows that I’m very serious when it comes to the US Constitution, the judicial system, basic civics, and the words of our Founding Fathers. Others’ personal opinions on the subject of marriage equality aside, we are, first and foremost a nation of laws, and by refusing to follow a court order, she has broken the law.

The only important things at play here is that Ms Davis is an elected official. One that in Kentucky apparently cannot be removed involuntarily from office without being impeached by the state legislature. This means that if she will not quit, she effectively cannot be summarily fired for non-performance of her duties. Of course there is only one duty of many that she has chosen not to perform, but as a government official she really doesn’t get to decide which ones she is willing to perform.

When she was elected to office, and in fact before then since she served as a deputy county clerk under her mother, as well, this is the oath that she took:

“I, ….., do swear that I will well and truly discharge the duties of the office of ………….. County Circuit Court clerk, according to the best of my skill and judgment, making the due entries and records of all orders, judgments, decrees, opinions and proceedings of the court, and carefully filing and preserving in my office all books and papers which come to my possession by virtue of my office; and that I will not knowingly or willingly commit any malfeasance of office, and will faithfully execute the duties of my office without favor, affection or partiality, so help me God.” The fact that the oath has been administered shall be entered on the record of the Circuit Court.

By using her religious beliefs to NOT issue marriage licenses, regardless of how sincere they may be, she has violated her oath (which interestingly, invoked God, as well).

Many people get confused over the First Amendment, but the protections it offers, are not, and were never intended, to be so all-encompassing that you can say whatever you want, and not get criticized, or even fired. Or that your personal religious freedom extends to your actual refusal to do your job. Unfortunately for Ms Davis, it seems she has found an attorney who doesn’t quite get that distinction, either.

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances. “

Her right to believe as she chooses, and to freely practice her religion is not what’s in question. What’s is question is her willingness to do the job that she sought to be elected to, and has now chosen not to do. She is, of course, appealing her contempt ruling, but the legal basis for that appeal is not much more substantive that her appeal of the initial court decision that she resume issuing marriage licenses.

It’s hard not to appreciate, and even admire, someone standing up for their beliefs, even when we disagree, but the right thing for her to have done, in this case, was to have resigned her position since her religious beliefs prevent her from carrying out the duties that the taxpayers are paying her to do. I was also appalled when her attorney chose to compare her to Martin Luther King, Jr:

“She’s not going to resign, she’s not going to sacrifice her conscience, so she’s doing what Martin Luther King Jr. wrote about in his Letter from the Birmingham Jail, which is to pay the consequences for her decision.”

Never mind that Reverend King wasn’t a government official, so the comparison is a bit off. As was his likening of this situation to Nazi Germany and the extermination of the Jews. The hyperbole being thrown around only serves to inflame both sides, and to distract from the very simple issue involved in this case.

Yes, the battle over marriage equality will likely go on of many, many, years, but that is irrelevant to this particular legal issue. Kim Davis is not a hero, or a martyr, and if she would either do her job, or resign, she would take herself out of the spotlight that she claims to not want.
Photo of the US Supreme Court building, undated.

Life

“Experience is never limited, and it is never complete; it is an immense sensibility, a kind of huge spider-web of the finest silken threads suspended in the chamber of consciousness, and catching every air-borne particle in its tissue.”

— Henry James

So, on this last long weekend of the summer season – go out and expand your web of experience.

Enjoy the weekend!

Image from publicdomainpictures.net

Tuesday’s Quotes #40 – reflections on my first year of blogging

“I’ll walk where my own nature would be leading: It vexes me to choose another guide.”

–Emily Brontë

It’s very hard for me to believe, but this blog is celebrating its first birthday! It was September 1, 2014 when I published my first post. It wasn’t particularly interesting or profound, but there it was – written & sent out into the ether for someone to see. Of course, the initial someone was my elder daughter, who said she could hear my voice in her head while she was reading and found it disconcerting. For my part – that was great news. I’d quite literally found my voice! Which is good – it’s much easier for me to write that way.

In that spirit, I’ve decided to use the same quote today that I used for my own birthday.

I’ve learned many things over the past year, some I’ve chosen to disregard, others I’ve incorporated. I’ve gained a surprising number of followers – and an even more surprising number that I interact with regularly. I’ve most likely lost a few, too, but it would be strange if I didn’t. I didn’t set out expecting to build a huge following, and to me, my current number is pretty huge considering the fact that my blog is really all about me – Time for my Thoughts pretty much spells it out. I admittedly do like to see the numbers rise, and am now a bit disappointed on a day that has no views – especially now that most days seem to have at least a couple, but it’s okay. It doesn’t help view counts that I don’t publish every day, and I don’t simply because I don’t want to make the time – I have a fairly demanding job, a retired spouse, a teenager still at home, other projects, and a need to make sure that whatever I’m writing is accurate (poorly proofread, perhaps, but accurate). My family copes well with my assorted writing endeavors, but it’s nice to have some family time sometimes, too. And some downtime for me occasionally is also nice.

The future looks like it will maintain the status quo. My current posting schedule is working for me most weeks, so I’ll stick with it for the time being. Sometimes it isn’t easy to stick to a schedule, but out of all that I learned in Blogging U, I think it may be the most important. I’ve come to realize that nonfiction works best for me in a blog, so I’ll continue to trudge down that path. Actually, I’ve discovered that I enjoy it so much that I may do more of it in my non-blogging writing life. I’m a poor planner, and am not likely to change, so most things that I write will continue to be written on the fly. I plan to continue with the 1000 Voices Speak for Compassion posts each month – I think it’s a wonderful idea, and pushing myself to focus on compassion once a month helps me stay balanced during the rest of the month. The posting dates for those pieces will vary a bit now that the 20th of the month is no longer cast in stone – but I’ll keep it close to the 20th just to make sure that I really get the posts written (deadlines: sometimes I really need them). I’m still wary of social networking. My twitter feed is almost exclusively for Time for my Thoughts, but my only Facebook account is my personal one – and one of the reasons I started the blog was to be able to expand on my views somewhere not in Facebook. If I ever become a power blogger, I’ll reconsider Facebook. Oh & beginning next week, I’ll date, rather than number, my Tuesday’s Quotes – numbering confuses me and 40 seems like a good place to stop.

Thank you for reading and, especially, for  continuing to share your thoughts with me.

Another Sunday

The past week has been an odd one all around, I think – what with my dental work and the world continuing to go on in spite of a slew of tragedies, bad weather, and the usual assortment of religion, politics, and bad behavior.

In the realm of true tragedy, the migrant crisis is Europe has been moved to the forefront – where is will hopefully stay – after the horrifying discovery of 71 decomposing bodies, believed to be Syrian refugees, in an abandoned truck in Austria. This, along with the sinking of a boat carrying Libyan refugees in the Mediterranean Sea off the coast of Italy, which claimed at least 111 lives.

The UN estimates that, so far this year, 300,000 immigrants have fled the Middle East and Africa for the prospects of a better life in Europe. And that approximately 2500 of those have lost their lives trying to make the journey – most by drowning. And it is only August.

In the US, this crisis and its human costs seem to be largely ignored – as is most international news, but, the contrast here seems somewhat worse in this case than it does with other news we ignore. Our media here, and our presidential hopefuls, are focused not on the tragedy of human smuggling – for there are deaths here to in the crossing from Mexico in the US – but are instead focused on stopping immigration with a nearly xenophobic focus. There are even calls to undo the 14th Amendment to our Constitution to address the perceived ‘anchor baby’ problem – a statistical nonissue, but anything that keeps the haters hating is actual helpful to those that want control. At issue is Section I of the amendment:

All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the state wherein they reside. No state shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any state deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.

There is no ambiguity in the phrasing and yet I’ve heard many argue recently that it doesn’t mean what it says. No?? Personally, I’m not sure how you interpret it any other way. Born here? Citizen. End of discussion. Xenophobia is not sufficient grounds to assume that a constitutional amendment is invalid. And an extra note to the candidates pandering to this bizarre reasoning – it is not within the purview of the Executive Branch to alter the Constitution. In fact, they have no designated part to play in the amendment process at all. Any proposed amendments, which require either 2/3 majority approval in both houses of Congress, or a Constitutional Convention convened by 2/3 of the states (which has not yet happened), are required to be ratified by 3/4 of the state legislatures. It is not easy passing a new amendment under any circumstances – and with the current level of divisiveness – all of those frothing at the mouth for an end to birthright citizenship might want to revisit their old civics texts.

On a slightly smaller scale, there was the fatal shooting, on-air, of a reporter and cameraman in Virginia by a disturbed former coworker. An interviewee was also injured in the shooting, and the shooter committed suicide after the shooting. Is it too soon yet to talk about gun control? The father of the slain reporter, Alison Parker, thinks not. Andy Parker has made it clear that he wants to see the loopholes that allowed an obviously mentally disturbed individual to own a gun. And of course, there are already conspiracy nuts claiming that the shooting was a hoax. Because of course people make this stuff up just to have an excuse to come after your guns. In my opinion – those that seriously believe that these gun related incidents are hoaxes are already too mentally unstable to be in possession of any weapons.

And on a very small-scale, a pilot was killed in a crash on Friday, very close to where I live, while practicing stunts for an airshow. As I’ve been writing this post, the fighter jets have been doing their maneuvers overhead (loudly) – I assume to a cheering crowd, so the airshow, and its tragic start is gnawing at the back of my mind.

And, so another week starts…

“Yesterday is gone. Tomorrow has not yet come. We have only today. Let us begin.” 
― Mother Teresa

Image borrowed from house.gov