The Alchemy of Gratitude

It’s Thanksgiving Day 2015 in these United States. Pass the turkey and the pumpkin pie or, if you’re a little more hip, perhaps the tofu and the kale salad.

In the midst of the chaos of the world and of our own election drama, I suggest a walk or a quiet half hour to sit and, as our Brit friends put it, have a think.

Have a think about your own gratitude today. I know it’s an artificial way to go about this – one day of the year – but it’s better than ignoring it. Despite all else, you have things to be thankful for as do I.

Gratitude is not about money or station in life. (God knows, I’ve been delayed in stations I wanted to leave as soon as I arrived.)

My wish for you this Thanksgiving Day, and my challenge, is quite simple and will take no time away from the ball games and family or shopping or whatever it is you’re doing. Here it is: Think of one thing you’re grateful for.

No long list is required. Just one thing – big or small, significant or piddling, just one thing. That’s it.

But I warn you – this is a trick. I can almost guarantee that when you think of one thing, other things will follow, sometimes rushing in the door.

And if you think you have nothing to be thankful for this year because of disappointments, anger, unhappiness, try this. For just this one day, turn those things upside down. As my mom would have said, “It’ll do you good besides helping you.”

Be thankful that whatever caused you disappointment, anger or unhappiness did not last longer than it did. Don’t worry, something else will happen soon enough to make you unhappy or disappointed or angry. But for today, let it go.

It’s the alchemy of gratitude, and it’s a beginning.

Happy – and I do mean happy – Thanksgiving. Pay it forward.

“Where Were You When Kennedy Was Shot?”

For many years – through the 70s and 80s and 90s and even into this millenium – the question every November was “Where were you when Kennedy was shot?”

And everybody alive on that day knew the answer. We all knew where we were and with whom and what we were doing. The assassination of JFK affected our lives in deep and powerful ways. We never forgot.

I haven’t seen anything in the print or online media today about this being the fifty-second anniversary of that sad and shocking day.

Perhaps the media is fully taken up with the political chaos now rattling the country or perhaps younger members of the press don’t relate to something that happened so long ago or perhaps the assassination of one man pales in light of the mass murders at home and abroad the last few years.

But for those of us who remember, we remember not only the events of November 22, 1963, but also what followed – the sense that we’d lost all direction and that a kind of madness had seized our country.

We feared that nothing would ever be the same again. And we were right.

The Kennedy presidency was not perfect. No presidency is. But the buoyant sense of hope JFK brought to us was shattered that day.

It is not so much the image of JFK himself that lingers for me all these years later but of his young wife in her blood-spattered suit and then his two small children, fatherless, puzzled, dignified, at the funeral. John-John saluting.

So I ask again, “Where were you when Kennedy was shot?” Perhaps you were not born yet, but if you’re older than 52, you were somewhere that day. Do you remember?

Allons, enfants…but wisely as we go…

Gene Kelly and friends in Paris (public domain)

Gene Kelly and friends in Paris
(public domain)

The attacks in Paris yesterday conjured up for me the scene in Casablanca when everyone stood to sing “La Marseillaise,” just as many did while escaping the stadium where one of the attacks occurred.

It’s a rousing anthem with its call to battle and chorus of “Marchon, marchon…”

I learned “La Marseillaise” in my first year of college French. And I sang it, with altered words in a stage production of Marat/Sade. The words were altered but the message was similar – rise up against tyranny and injustice.

Although it’s been on my bucket list for years, I never made it to Paris. I read a lot of books and watched a lot of movies and sang a lot of songs and dreamed a lot of dreams about Paris, but for me it remained “over there.” The idea of a farmhouse in the south of France appealed as did every photo of the Eiffel Tower and every Gene Kelly move in American in Paris. Even without sipping a single cup of coffee at a sidewalk cafe, I loved Paris in the springtime and I loved Paris in the fall.

What was not to love about Paris?

I did a little research this morning on the history of terrorist attacks both in France and in the United States. It’s a long history in both cases and the terrorists came from many places – both geographically and philosophically. Political and religious terrorism has marked both places as it has marked every other place in the world at one time or another. In some cases, it’s simply been a disgruntled individual or two hell bent on creating havoc. In other cases, there was some kind of organization taking credit.

The world, for all its Sunday morning beauty, is not always a pretty place.

Now this morning, the swords are rattling. Unfortunately, those swords are pointing at a lot of innocent people as well as the guilty. It’s my fervent hope that the events in Paris not be used to up the ante and sentence thousands – millions perhaps – of innocent people to pain and suffering.

Terrible things happen in the world every day and thanks to the media, we know about them immediately. (Media is, after all, the heart of immediately.) Too often, we know more about what’s happening across the oceans than on our own block.

In addition, it’s political crazy-time in the United States, and this year seems to be crazier than most with a billionaire blowhard who knows next to nothing about international politics and who wimped out of fighting in any war who is rattling the biggest sword of all, making the loudest and most brutish call to arms.

My heart is still in Paris this morning with the survivors and families of the victims. I’m still humming “La Marseillaise” and “I Got Rhythm” as I go about my day, but I do not want my country to “bomb the shit” out of any other country.

The whole of Islam did not mount this attack and there’s nothing to be gained by killing innocent people in response to it. Au contraire, we simply become as bad as the terrorists.

Joe Was My Guy

Joe was my guy.

That brilliant smile, the twinkle, the experience, the sense of a solid human being who could take a joke despite the tragedies of his own life. Joe was my guy.

A man who understands diplomacy and humble lives and ordinary people. A man who took the train home every night to Delaware for years to be with his kids. Here was a president for us all. Joe was my guy.

His decision this morning did not come as a surprise. Joe Biden knows politics. He must have known a decision to run would shift attention from the grief he’s experiencing to the mud fight this campaign season has become. He took his time to weigh it all and in the end said No.

Much as I wanted to hear a different decision, I felt certain this is the one that would come. Joe is as solid as a rock and, as he said more than once, if he couldn’t put his whole heart into the campaign and Presidency, he wouldn’t run.

Any grieving parent will tell you that putting your whole heart into anything but the grief happens slowly, over a much longer time than he’s had to miss Beau. And to think about him every day.

A grieving parent will tell you that the shrapnel of the loss can hit you at any moment, when you least expect it and that you find yourself out of whatever else is happening and into a state that feels as if the loss happened only seconds ago.

Joe Biden has had more than his share of grief but he’d be the first to tell you that you don’t get better at it when more grief comes. He’d also be the first to tell you that running a country and the concomitant politics of it don’t wait for grief.

When I see the unattractive frowning faces of some of those in the race for President so far, I fear for our country. Anger and combativeness and bullying are hardly the qualities of good leaders. I’ll miss Joe’s tact and diplomacy and smile over the next months.

Joe was my guy. He would have made a difference. But he’s brought new dignity to this campaign season and that’s a gift we sorely needed.

Politics and Pig Wrestling

The United States is currently embroiled in campaign madness, a season that used to come a few months before a national election but has now morphed – thanks to Big Media and Big Politics – into a campaign “season” that never seems to stop.

In fact, the Campaign to Get Nominated, which will henceforth be known as the CGN, now starts early and goes long. The actual election is more than 12 months away and yet…and yet…

We still have a basic two-party system in this country. and one of those parties still lives up to Will Rogers’ declaration that he belonged to no organized party, he was a Democrat.

But the Godawful Other Party which will henceforth be known as the GOP, is not simply disorganized, but on the brink of hearing someone shout, “Nurse! Nurse! They’re out of their beds again!”

The GOP has given itself over this time to a rich and fractious schoolyard troublemaker who has enlisted the rest of the candidates in a battle of insults unworthy of even the most wrought-up nine-year-old.

“You’re stupid!” “No, you’re stupid!” (Or ugly or dumb or a loser or boring…fill in the blank.)

For someone who claims he wants to make America great again, the leader of this brawl seems deadset instead on humiliating our country and rousing the rabble for no reason except the entertainment value.

I am reminded of the wise old advice: Never wrestle with a pig. You both get dirty and the pig likes it.

So far, there’s no greatness to speak of in this CGN. It’s early days.

The Democrats soldier on swatting at the flies of old mistakes – Benghazi, an email server, youthful activism. The CGN for the Democrats may not be thrilling, but there’s a welcome air of civility and adult behavior, the possibility of leadership and clear heads when it counts. Of people who understand what the role of the President of the United States entails and are working to demonstrate their capability to fill that role.

For what it’s worth, the Republican party used to sound pretty much the same. Disagreements among the members, including candidates, were on policy, not ad hominem attacks on personality.

Outside the room now, however, the rude, noisy, petulant brawl goes on as the Godawful Other Party rolls in the mud every day. If this were a cartoon, the air would be filled with ## &*@# and clouds of dust.

The Democrats and Republicans have always been on two different tracks. That’s what makes a two-party system work. This year one of those parties has been hijacked by that kid in the corner of the playground, the belligerent rich kid whose best line is, “I’m really, really rich (so I can do whatever I want).”

Kids in the schoolyard soon get tired of this kid and go off to play the game they came out to play. To their own detriment and that of our country, the members of the Godawful Other Party this year prefer wrestling with the pig.

Somebody needs to organize an intervention.

For Heaven’s Sake, Just Leave That Giant Virus Alone!

"Run, run for your life!"

“Run, run for your life!”

I learned this morning that a giant virus has been found in the permafrost in Siberia. I like reading science news but sometimes it’s a little unsettling. And I think a giant virus in the permafrost falls into this category.

Now, “giant” is not the same here as a big guy lumbering around a beanstalk. A giant virus is still smaller than anything a person who is not Superman can see with the naked eye.

But as we all know, size doesn’t matter, at least not when it comes to viruses that could defrost and grow and become stars in a sci-fi movie coming soon to a theatre near you.

The thing is, there may be a reason this giant virus has been buried in the permafrost for 30,000 years or so. If my mother knew these scientists, she’d tell them to just let well enough alone, for heaven’s sake, the same way she told me to stop poking at that wasp’s nest when I was ten.

Science is a wonderful thing, but I was in the grants and projects business long enough to know that when there’s money available for science grants, scientists will come up with projects to be funded. And this giant virus thing might very well be one of them… “Hey, guys, what do you think would happen if…?”

The article I read says the scientists have to prove that no humans or animals will be harmed in this experiment before they can “bring the virus back to life” – a phrase creepy enough on its own.

I’m sure the scientists are very very careful and know what they’re doing and want the very best for us all, but I hope they remember that you can’t put the genie back in the bottle, you can’t put the toothpaste back in the tube, you can’t get blowhard politicians to shut up, and you sure as hell can’t get those wasps back in their nest.

I don’t want to read in a month or so about a horrible “Oh, my God, no! Run for your lives!” moment in any lab housing giant viruses or listen to some scientist in a white coat try to explain that despite all precautions, the virus is on the loose and has, at this moment, taken Hackensack.

Let us be cautious when it comes to science.

To be honest, I’d rather read about a scientific breakthrough which assures that frozen food of any kind looks as good when it comes out of the microwave as it does on the box. Now that would be a genuine scientific miracle and a great contribution to humankind.

In my dreams.


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