Thursday, December 31, 2009
The attempted Christmas Day bombing of a Northwestern flight to Detroit from Amsterdam is just the latest in a series of near-catastrophes masterminded by al-Qaida or other Islamist groups around the world. Nine years after Sept. 11, 2001, have we learned nothing?
Before the Christmas Day attempt to ignite a sophisticated high-explosive strapped to a Nigerian passenger's leg, there was the Fort Hood shooting, when an Army psychologist with the rank of major opened fire on soldiers. Immediately, political correctness demanded that reporters play down Major Nidal Malik Hasan's Muslim religion and Palestinian ancestry. But it turns out that Hasan was not some run-of-the-mill deranged nut case. He had touted Islamist hatred of the West and advocated allowing Muslim soldiers to claim conscientious objection to fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan. His violence was motivated by Islamist hatred of America.
These, unfortunately, are not isolated incidents. American Muslims have been charged with plotting an attack on Fort Dix. American Muslims of European ancestry in Wake County, North Carolina, have been charged with plotting attacks. Other "sleeper cells" have been uncovered before they could carry out their plots.
So far, so good, but how long can our good fortune last? In the days immediately following 9/11, America braced for another attack. Thus far, none has succeeded, but it's apparent that this lack of success if not for lack of trying. Blowing up a federal building or a shopping mall or taking down an airliner would strike a blow at American confidence and might cripple the struggling economy. A bigger blast — a small nuclear device or a "dirty bomb" or chemical weapon detonated in a major city — would devastate the country. Terrorists' sophisticated plots, even though they haven't succeeded, indicate that they might well be capable of creating a catastrophe from which America might not recover.
The Obama administration had better get serious about homeland security, airport security and intelligence gathering. We're extending American civil liberties and criminal justice rights to terrorists intent on destroying this entire nation, but we're not taking seriously the threats these terrorists pose for the United States. We're more worried about "profiling" suspected terrorists than we are about protecting American lives. A successful major attack will not only devastate the economic foundation of the country, it could turn America into a police state focused solely on preventing any additional attacks. American freedoms of speech, religion, press and assembly could be lost to the fear of terrorist attacks.
America's future depends on preventing Islamist terrorists' attacks on Americans.
Monday, December 28, 2009
I'm no exception to the holiday expansions rule. As I step on the bathroom scales each morning, I've noticed the numbers edge upward. After a full year of increased physical activity and smarter eating, my weight had dipped into a leaner, healthier level, but now I see it creeping up again. Like almost everyone else, I've succumbed to the temptations of the season to consume more food and richer food over the holidays. That veer off the disciplined path takes its toll. But I'm convinced there's more to holiday weight gain than just more and richer food. We've just passed the winter solstice, when daylight dips to about nine hours in these latitudes. Shorter days make it more difficult to keep up with an exercise regimen, and longer nights make overeating more tempting. Something as simple as getting out for a walk after work is harder to do when night has spread its pall over the earth and winter temperatures make the outdoors less inviting. Strenuous yard work is abandoned in the darker seasons, and our entire body rhythms slow down to a hibernation-like level.
Darkness will linger for another three months, making it harder to keep that new year's resolution about exercising more and losing holiday pounds. It's the combination of tempting holiday food and the reduced opportunity (and motivation) for exercise that combines to make these holiday pounds so hard to shed.
Thursday, December 24, 2009
The primary missing element is magic. Christmas was the most magical time of the year, a time when even a family like mine, with seven mouths to feed (not counting a cow and a dog), could experience the miracle of Christmas bounty. Fresh citrus fruit that seemed not to exist at any other time on the calendar. Candy bars and chewing gum and whole nuts that, with some self-discipline (but not much), might last the remainder of the week.
And then there were the toys. Christmas provided a trove of toys, not just one or two that might come on your birthday but a whole universe of toys designed to fulfill your most outlandish desire. I never got the pony or horse that I asked for each Christmas for several years and which I imagined would be tied to the front porch columns, but I received so many other things, that disappointment never entered my mind.
And how did this happen? It had to be magic. My hard-working, Depression-weaned parents could not have fulfilled such grand wishes year after year. It had to be magic, and the whole day was wrapped in a magical aura. I never imagined in my naivete that some people worked on Christmas Day. The whole month of December was a waiting time, and we were an audience sitting restlessly in our seats anticipating the opening of the greatest show of the year. "You're slow as Christmas!" I remember one of my cousins telling another cousin. The remark was made in mid-summer, but the meaning was clear. Christmas was the most anticipated day of the year, the day that it seemed would never arrive, the slowest item on any calendar.
By Christmas morning, sitting on the cedar chest, waiting to be admitted to the living room where an aromatic cedar tree, a crackling fire, sweet chocolate candy and boundless toys awaited us, I shivered with excitement, unable to control my shaking. Christmas magic had transformed the living room — the room that was closed off from the rest of the house, that room where children were forbidden entry — into a magic land where wishes do come true and the inexplicable occurs.
Even the night was different. The sky seemed darker, the stars closer as the world awaited Christmas morning, a time when, I thought, the whole world stood still, no one worked and miracles happened.
I will enjoy the remainder of this Christmas Eve and the gathering of loved ones on Christmas Day. I will share the thrill of wide-eyed pre-schoolers as they open presents and marvel at all there is. But I will miss the magic, the naive belief that this day is miraculously different, a day when the whole world pauses and no one works or worries.
Monday, December 21, 2009
On Thanksgiving weekend, following a delightfully raucous gathering with Ginny’s family (which included our three children, their spouses and all six of our grandchildren), we begin the preparations for the Christmas season and reflect on the year behind us. Advent begins Sunday, and our anticipation this year is not of gifts but of opportunities to gather with family and to share precious moments.
This year has made us even more cognizant of the brevity of life and the transcending importance of sharing our fleeting days with those whose genes, DNA and love we share. “Tempus fugit” reads the clock’s face, and we have reached the age when we feel the backwash as time flies.
This year 2009, the year we would mark out 38th wedding anniversary, began on an uncertain note. Hal had been laid off by the newspaper where he toiled for 29 years, and his severance pay expired in January, adding him to the millions drawing unemployment insurance in this Great Recession. Although moments of despair came, Hal’s idleness proved not to be the financial disaster that we had feared. By curtailing spending, we survived nine months on unemployment without dipping far into our savings, a turn of events that seemed miraculous. Ginny said it best: “It’s like the loaves and fishes.” What we had was enough to go around.
Hal accepted a job in October as manager of the Wilson office of the American Red Cross, a position that reduces our former income but keeps us in our home, and without a long commute. Best of all, it is a job that consists of helping others.
... we received word that surgery on Ginny’s dad had revealed inoperable cancer. The entire family, including her dad, vowed to make the best of whatever time he had remaining. A successful course of treatment has given him improved health and priceless time with loved ones. We spent a week at Topsail Beach (his favorite getaway) in May and gathered in Chapel Hill in September to celebrate his 89th birthday. We look ahead to 2010 hoping for more quality time with him. ...
In March, Hal celebrated his 60th birthday with a lunch in Southern Pines, where everyone could watch the UNC Tar Heels win at basketball on big-screen TVs in the restaurant.
This Christmas season, we have many reasons to be joyful and a greater appreciation of the many joys we are given. May your Christmas also be filled with joyful appreciation of what we have and the recognition that it is sufficient.
Sunday, December 20, 2009
Sunday, December 13, 2009
Friday, December 11, 2009
Wednesday, December 9, 2009
Sunday, December 6, 2009
You could think of it as a lost day, a day in which I achieved nothing productive. Nothing checked off my to-do list. No weekend tasks completed. Even skipped church.
Friday, December 4, 2009
Wednesday, December 2, 2009
Tuesday, December 1, 2009
Monday, November 23, 2009
This is the job most people never think of when they hear "Red Cross." Oh yeah, the blood drives and the first aid classes. Few people think about disaster services, except for the Big Disasters, the tsunamis and the earthquakes and the Katrinas. But these dark rural roads in the middle of the night is where Red Cross volunteers spend most of their time and energy. A call in the middle of the night from a rural fire chief sets off a response from on-call Red Cross volunteers, who find the location of the small disaster and the survivors, huddling beneath a tree behind the burned-out hulk of a mobile home. They're luck to be alive, but you don't tell them that. They don't look so lucky at the moment.
Don't doubt that this is a disaster of monumental proportions for one family. All is lost — home, furniture, clothing, medications, shoes, identification cards, keys, precious photos and mementos. The Red Cross' role is to get the clients through the initial shock of this devastation. A place to lay your head, a change of clothing, a pair of shoes, some food: It goes a long way toward bridging the gap between Before and Now What? "Comfort kits" provide little things that you might never think of but are as essential as clothing — toothbrush, toothpaste, antiperspirant, etc. In bigger disasters, clients are grouped into shelters, where basic needs can be attended to. But in a typical week, the local chapter attends to at least one single-family fire, a disaster of gargantuan proportions for those directly affected. Each year, Red Cross responds to 70,000 home fires nationwide.
In the dark of night, with incongruous Christmas carols playing background music, the work goes on where few notice.
Saturday, November 21, 2009
A parade looks different from the inside. I found that out today when I marched in the Wilson Christmas parade, held five days before Thanksgiving! I had not watched a Wilson Christmas parade (or any other variety) in several years and have never been a huge fan of parades. The last time I watched the Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade or the Rose Bowl parade on TV, I was probably too young to vote. When I lived a block from the Wilson parade route, I would usually walk down the street to see what the excitement was all about. One of my children appeared in the parade one year.