Monday, December 28, 2015

Christmas 2015

The four-day weekend of Christmas is past, and I head back to work, to an office I left late Wednesday. There will be the inevitable catching up and the wrenching adjustment to get back into the work mode after four days away. This four-day week (Friday is a holiday) is the last week of 2015, and the chores of transitioning to a new calendar year and the end of a financial month and quarter await me.

At home, Christmas lives on. The tree is still fresh, its trunk sitting in water. The decorations are still in plain view. My morning coffee came from a Christmas mug. Lights still sparkle in every window in the front of the house. Although stores proclaim "after-Christmas" sales, the ecclesiastical calendar says it's still Christmas, so I will continue to spread a Christmas spirit, and I will look forward to the unknowns of 2016 while giving thanks for the precious moments of 2015.

This year's four-day Christmas weekend blessed us with opportunities to gather our scattered family not once but four times. We spent the weekend before Christmas in Charleston, where the generations begotten by my parents had gathered yearly since 1990. On Christmas Eve, we drove to Greenville and ate breakfast with our younger daughter and her family. That night, our other daughter and her family arrived, had dinner with us and attended the Christmas Eve service. The next morning, we celebrated quietly first with just my wife and me, then with the visiting family members. That afternoon, my wife's sister and her husband arrived to celebrate the day with us. On Saturday, alone again in the house we've almost paid off, my wife and I relaxed and enjoyed the day. On Sunday, we drove to Greensboro for dinner with our son and his family. The gathering included our three children, their spouses (minus one, who had to work) and all of our grandchildren.

To have all of my children together as they had been at every Christmas 30-plus years ago, fills my heart, and the addition of their spouses and the grandchildren expands my heart more than I could ever have imagined. As Christmas continues until Epiphany, Jan. 6, I will treasure these Christmas moments and anticipate more to come in 2016.

Monday, December 21, 2015

8 years old — the perfect age?

When I was 10 or 12, I arrived at the conclusion that 8 was the ideal age. It was the best of times, and I was already past it. My conclusion was drawn from the increased responsibilities that came after age 8. I had more chores at home, things like feeding the dog and weeding the garden, which left me less time to play and lie around. School was also harder. I discovered long division and didn't like it. When I was 8, my math tasks were limited to simple addition and subtraction and maybe some "times tables." Long division made life a lot tougher.

Now I realize that three of my grandsons are age 8. The three of them were born within four months of each other in 2007, prompting me to jokingly refer to them as "the 2007 crop." Now my grandsons are at the age that I thought the perfect age, a mix of limited responsibilities and necessary capabilities. I could count money, read, do simple arithmetic and amuse myself all day long with my active imagination.

Beyond the irony of seeing grandsons living the life that I had thought to be the very best of times (although times have certainly changed), I wonder if I should tell my 8-year-old grandsons that they are living the best year of their lives. Should they know that it will never get any better than this?

I probably shouldn't tell them. I wouldn't want them to think they were in for a lifetime of disappointment and a longing for the good old days when they were 8 and carefree.

Monday, December 14, 2015

How much longer can we do this?

    Ginny was halfway up the pull-down ladder to the attic, struggling with two large plastic bins I was handing up to her when I had a question for her: “How long are we going to be able to keep doing this?”
    By “doing this,” I meant hauling a dozen or so large plastic bins down from the attic and swapping out their contents for decorations throughout the house, an annual ritual that begins after Thanksgiving and ends after Epiphany each year. The movement of the bins from the attic to the living spaces and back again and then reversing the process eight weeks later takes a little time, some strength and good balance on those shaky steps with the narrow rungs. How long would we have the strength and balance to move several rooms full of decorations up and down those steps? How long could I lift a heavy plastic bin over my head and into the opening to the attic? How long could Ginny keep her balance going up and down those steps, pushing up or handing down those big, heavy bins?
    The question behind my question was this: How long can we continue to decorate for Christmas in the manner to which we’ve been accustomed? That to which we’ve become accustomed has been a total transformation of the house: pictures, pillows, photographs, linens, dinnerware, rugs and books are replaced by accessories with a Christmas theme. The transformation has continued through two homes, the early excitement of our children and now our grandchildren, through at least two dozen Christmas parties and well into our “senior” years.
    But my question, like the decorating itself, endures: How long can we keep doing this?
    An earlier holiday provides an answer. At a Thanksgiving gathering that included most of our children and grandchildren, plus others, everyone was asked what they were thankful for. My answer:
    I am thankful for more than 60 years of family gatherings as locations and characters changed over the years; for several hundred pounds of turkey, ham, dressing, veggies and pies and cakes consumed; for seeing me and my cousins in my children and grandchildren and their cousins; for the wisdom that comes with age and that youthful stupidity was not fatal. I am thankful that a woman I could never deserve chose to love me. I am thankful that my children grew to maturity, graduated, succeeded, married and are independent and loving parents themselves. I am thankful for life.
    On reflection, I would add one more bit of thankfulness: I am thankful for my wife’s parents who welcomed me, a near stranger, into their family, who never doubted my love for their daughter or questioned my ability to support her.
    For this Christmas season, we will haul the decorations from the attic and place them throughout the house, even though we can’t find the time for a Christmas party and cannot lure all the children and grandchildren to our home for a celebration, we can be thankful for lives so full of blessings and so defining of grace — unearned favor. With an attitude of gratitude, our Christmas will be full again this year and every year.

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Obama's unnecessary speech and the reaction

President Obama gave one of the most unusual Oval Office addresses in my memory Sunday night, but the reaction to his lectern-side chat was both predictable and overdone.

As I watched a bit of the president's address, I kept asking, "Why?" He didn't seem to have anything of any great import to say. He mostly reiterated his past policy statements about terrorism, religion and immigration. So why would he shoot a hole in prime-time programming for a rehash of past statements? He didn't even seem to understand the medium he was using. Most Oval Office addresses were delivered by a president (Kennedy in the Cuban Missile Crisis, Nixon during Watergate, Carter during the energy crisis, Johnson on Vietnam, Reagan during the Cold War) seated at the presidential desk. For some inexplicable reason, Obama chose to stand at a lectern in front of the presidential desk. He was playing ice hockey when the venue called for baseball.

Republicans, especially those running for president, lambasted the speech as a weak and pusillanimous whine about tolerance and love instead of the take-no-prisoners tone they said was needed. Donald Trump chose to make sure his criticism topped the news feeds. He issued a statement the next day urging that the United States ban travel by Muslims (even those who are American citizens and residents) into the U.S. His discriminatory, unconstitutional proposal was greeted with loud applause at some Trump campaign rallies. The rank-and-file loved it, apparently.

Some saner voices spoke up at their own peril. A President Trump would issue an executive order barring Muslims from entering U.S. territory. That is a clear and flagrant violation of the First Amendment's guarantee of freedom of religion. Every court in the land would shoot it down.

More worrisome is the reaction of Trump's supporters, who, according to polls, constitute a substantial plurality of Republican primary voters. While they cheered Trump's proposal to ban Muslims on the basis of their religious faith, none of these less-government Republicans seemed to consider that a president with the power to discriminate on the basis of religion (First Amendment be damned) could discriminate on the basis of any religious belief. A presidential order could bar Anglicans, Jews, Catholics, or Free Will Baptists from residing here or from voting or from owning property. Can they not see where Trump's knee-jerk, unfiltered, unexamined reaction could lead?

That's the frightening thing.

Thursday, December 3, 2015

Another mass killing

Another day, another mass killing. Yesterday's senseless rampage in San Bernadino, California, elicited cries of "not again," and "what, another one?"

These shocking events have become commonplace. Some news outlets are reporting that this year's tally of mass murders has topped one per day. Some of these events are deliberate, terrorist attacks carried out by fanatics following some wild political or religious ideology. Others seem to have no rational explanation.

America may be the land of free, but it is also the land of the frightened. These killings are not limited to "bad neighborhoods" or big cities. They come to small towns, rural areas and "safe" places. No one is safe.

The National Rifle Association insists upon an absolutist interpretation of the Second Amendment (the "right to bear arms"), which has led to peaceful gunmen terrifying bystanders by carrying assault rifles and other firearms openly into stores, theaters and other gathering places. The NRA also insists that the "right to bear arms" cannot be limited to only the sane, mentally healthy, rational and non-violent citizens. NRA wants no background checks, no waiting periods, no limits on magazine or clip capacity, and no restrictions of any kind on firearms.

A timid Congress and a complacent judiciary has made the NRA's interpretations the law of the land, so now we count the bodies after each mass killing and resign ourselves to the gasp that nothing can be done.