vendredi, février 09, 2007

Words at dusk

When saying goodbye to my dad on the phone a couple of days ago, I blurted out "I love you." Signing off with those three words probably wouldn't seem unique in a lot of other families. It was something my mom and I used to say to each other all the time-I recently came across a letter I sent her, one she had saved, in which I wrote "I love you so very much." My mother was easy to love-generous, kind, brave. My father, an exceptionally smart guy, has many rocky places on which the unwary can find themselves trapped. Sometimes his sharp words meant to wound-sometimes they did not, but did anyhow. But we always knew that he loved us. Now he is dying, whether slow or fast we are not sure. Afflicted with new diseases we didn't know he even had until a month ago, he still loves us-even when he can't say it. And now it is time, past time-to tell him I love him too.

As I turn out the lights on my children's busy days, and close the door to let them gather strength for the morrow, I tell them I love them. We are so close, sometimes I worry that they will have problems being independent. But my generation of parents, and younger generations, appear to be willing to treat their children with affection that might have been seen as unhealthy a half a century ago.

A few days ago Colin asked me to put toothpaste on his toothbrush. Brushing his wavy brown hair with my hand, I teasingly asked him if he would ask his wife to do that when he got married. "I'll be more civilized then" he said in a whisper. Perhaps if I were less indulgent, he'd be "civilized" by now...but in this household, where adults apologize to children and expect it in return, where tears so often give way to laughter and hugs all 'round, it's OK to have two little barbarians-and sometimes, a big one.

mardi, février 06, 2007

The war to end wars

Sian and I watched the last part of the Anne of Green Gables movies tonight. We'd managed (well I managed) to miss the second part, where she becomes a teacher, and gets engaged to Gilbert, the idealistic young man who eventually trains as a doctor. In the third part, after a time in New York, they come back to Prince Edward Island. Gilbert buys Green Gables, and he and Anne are set to have a great life-the only problem being WWI. Most of the movie takes place on the battlefield of France and in London-and, without being needlessly violent, it doesn't shirk the depiction of the bloody cost of war. World War One was a needless war-infamous as one where old men sent young ones off to die. Perhaps it is simply in our nature to start fights-and then to up the ante and drag in others. It is hard to imagine that anyone who had been in a war would ever be in favor of another one. Those of us who have not seen the bodies of young men and women on battlefields can be so glib in talking about starting democracies and defending freedom-but we need to remember the number of wars that just ended because finally men in power (mostly men) were just too damned tired to fight anymore. What would Europe have been like, particularly Germany and France and England, if almost a whole generation of men hadn't been killed in Alsace and Neuve Chapelle and all the other places now memorialized in poetry and history books? Lines of white gravestones mark the spots where idealists and mercenaries and career soldiers died...for what, exactly?

lundi, février 05, 2007

Fiddling while Iraq burns

In addition to the resolution introduced by Mr. Gregg, declaring that Congress should not cut off financing for forces in Iraq, Republican leaders had sought a Democratic commitment for a vote on another alternative, one introduced by Senator John McCain, Republican of Arizona. That measure would set 11 conditions for the Iraqi government if it wanted to retain American support. The Republican approach would need 60 votes for passage.
Democrats said that the Gregg initiative was meant as a political distraction and that they wanted to focus strictly on the question of whether senators supported Mr. Bush’s plan or opposed it. “We are witnessing the spectacle of a White House and Republican senators unwilling even to engage in a debate on a war that claims at least one American life every day and at least $2.5 billion dollars a week,” said Senator Richard J. Durbin of Illinois, the No. 2 Democrat.
Some Republicans admitted that they were unsure how long the unity would last and whether Republicans could continue to make a case against the resolution on procedural grounds. And two Republicans facing re-election in 2008, Senators Susan Collins of Maine and Norm Coleman of Minnesota, joined Democrats in voting to begin the debate. New York Times February 5

If we didn't have bombings that kill hundreds of civilians every week, and if we didn't have to bear the loss of US men and women trying to keep the peace in a land where they face enemies who don't mind blowing themselves up to get Americans out, then perhaps this jousting in the Senate over an Iraq resolution would seem like more politics as usual. But leave out whether this war is wrong, on the merits, for a minute-let's just ask what our $2.5 million a week is getting us---or what we could do with this kind of money to address huge problems at home? Sadly, this dispute will probably be resolved on the grounds of politics, not principle. Enough Republican senators who face the scrutiny of the public next year want to be on record opposing a surge in troops that Democrats can be fairly confident some kind of resolution opposing the war will eventually get passed. But, as was pointed out in a New York Times article this past Sunday, it really is up to the President to start or end a war-the Congress can make itself a royal pain (as it were), but it is up to the monarchical Commander in Chief to decide enough people have died to declare this one a failure and get out. But then, this is George Bush we are talking about-a stubborn man surrounded by a group of guys (maybe even Condi) that could most charitably be termed paranoid. They would go to Armageddon and back to see their will accomplished. They don't seem to understand that there is no going back once you get to Armageddon.

dimanche, février 04, 2007

Optimism and the Morality of the Banana Skin

Do you think optimism is a matter of moral courage? Doing some online reading last night, I came across this thought-and have been pondering it on and off since. I'm spurred to think about meditate on this by the fact that my father, who is gravely ill, is not what one would call an optimistic man. Smart, yes. Well-read, of course. Although his temperament probably poses difficulties for his friends sometimes, he has loyal and profound friendships that go back to his early years as a professor at Brooklyn College. Oftentimes his skepticism about human motives could pose a real challenge to my late mother. She, though no fool, was willing to believe the best of people unless and until they proved themselves to be not worthy of her trust. I inherited that trusting disposition-which has been both a huge gift and perhaps a stumbling block. It certainly has not helped in the Internet dating world when I run into guys who display what might be kindly termed erratic behavior. A guy friend of mine was tougher, terming some of these characters "scoundrels and sleazeballs, scammers, phonies and mountebanks." (Mountebanks are quacks or charlatans-perhaps you can now find a way to use the word in conversation). I'm not so sure. I suppose there are folks who prey on others, but I tend to think the majority of the men and women who cause others pain in such Internet portals are simply confused, lonely and indecisive people-or people who can't overcome their genetic or environmental history. So is optimism truly a matter of moral courage-a decision one makes-or is it a genetic gift? Perhaps it is some of both. Optimism may be the courage to look at one's past and say-I accept the idea that I suffered from pain inflicted by parents or relatives who didn't know any better. Though there may be times when the wounds still bleed, I (or you) am going to work as hard as I can to be faithful in relationships, kind to those whom I stumble across, and an advocate for those who have few friends. We are all children of our genetic history. But as human beings with (relatively) free will, we have the God-given ability to make different choices-decisions that will influence our descendants. Ladies and gentlemen-are we going to be proactive and positive? Or are we going to stumble on that darned banana peel once more-and find somebody else to blame for dropping it?