Wednesday, November 26, 2014

We Give Thanks

The season of growing is over. September harvest is past. Crops, fruits and vegetables are gathered in. Animals are settling into their dens for the cold season; winter is fast upon us.

It is the season where Americans traditionally look back, reflect, and give thanks for the blessings of the year. In this country, giving thanks is a tradition with roots stretching back to the earliest English speaking colonies on the North American Continent. The most popular story attributes the first thanksgiving celebration to a feast celebrated by Puritan settlers at Plymouth Plantation in Massachusetts with the local Native Americans in 1621. An older less-well known story attributes the first thanksgiving to a celebration by arrived colonists in Virginia on December 4, 1619.

Regardless of origin, the tradition of pausing to give thanks to almighty God was firmly fixed in the American character by the mid-ninteenth century when President Abraham Lincoln requested "fellow-citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next as a Day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the heavens."

So it is that we today set apart the final Thursday in November to gather, feast, and give thanks for the blessings of the past year, for food, for family, for friends, and for freedom. We give thanks for health and happiness, for trials overcome and for strength to endure trials in the future. Sometimes, survival itself is sufficient reason to give thanks.

Each year, I sit and make a list of things for which I am thankful and why. During the year, when I need to, I pull out and review my list. Doing so always gives me a lift.

Will you join me?

Will you write your own list of things for which you are thankful?

What will be on your list?


Monday, November 17, 2014

Why I Write

I looked and beheld a blank piece of paper before me and a pen inclined toward my hand.

I heard a voice say "Write!"

"But what shall I write?" said I.

"Just write!" said the voice.

"If nothing else, practice your penmanship. Learn to form the characters quickly and legibly. Writing is an art. Make yours beautiful. Make it a joy to look at.

Then, cover the paper with words. Craft those words into sentences. Make each sentence concise and to the point. Craft those sentences into paragraphs that clearly convey your thoughts and ideas, observations and emotions.

Fill copy books and tablets and legal pads with your skillfully crafted words, sentences and paragraphs. Fill reams and quires of paper. Fill memo books, notebooks, and journals. Write things you want to remember and things you'd rather forget.

Write a story -- write your story! Your story is yours alone. Only you can tell it correctly. It needs to be written.

Write about what makes you happy and what irks you, what lifts your spirit and what makes you grieve.

Write poetry; write prose!

Write fact; write fiction, write fantasy. Write opinion; write conjecture; write truth.

Write essays. Write reports. Write a blog.

But write. Always write.

The paper before you is your gateway to lands and peoples and universes you have only dreamed.

Visit them and tell me about them.

Now, take up the pen and write!"

Hearing the voice, I took the pen and began to write. I have been writing ever since. As long as pen and paper exist, I will write.

The blank sheet of paper lies before you. A pen inclines toward your hand.

Will you join me? Will you pick up the pen?

Will you write?

Will you share what you've written?


Monday, November 10, 2014

Heroes Proved

"O Beautiful for heroes proved
In liberating strife,
Who more than self
Their country loved,
And mercy more than life"
                                                      -- Katherine Lee Bates, America, the Beautiful

America, the Beautiful is arguably the most popular patriotic song in the nation today. We love to sing it for its images, images of spacious skies, of amber waves of grain, of purple mountain majesties and the fruited plain, images of majesty, of prosperity and of peace. Yet too often we neglect the second verse, the verse celebrating those who secured the images of the peace and prosperity of a magnificent nation.

Peace, prosperity, and liberty exist not as happenstance but as the results of willful actions by men and women to secure them. 

It took action by embattled farmers at Concord, by a ragged army at Valley Forge, Saratoga, Yorktown, and myriad other now forgotten places to secure our independence. When the conflict ended, the soldiers returned home and built a nation.

It took action by soldiers, sailors, and frontiersmen to secure our western territories and right to trade freely on the high seas in 1812. When the conflict ended, they returned home to build and expand a country.

Actions by men wearing gray and blue nearly tore the nation apart in the 1860s.  When it was over, the nation had confirmed that all men are indeed created with equal rights to life, liberty, and property. The nation that emerged was stronger than the one that entered the conflict. Regardless of the uniform they wore, those who fought returned home to build, expand, and strengthen the country.

Then came the war to end all wars, and the war that followed that, and police actions that looked, felt, and smelled like war but lacked the benefit of a formal declaration. Again, those who fought returned home and got on with whatever life was left to them. And again the nation was strengthened.

Today, we find ourself engaged in a series of long-term actions against an enemy who recognizes not liberty or freedom, but only the law of might. Heroes, proved in battle, are again returning home to build not the nation they left, but the nation it will become. 

We call these men "veterans". At one point each of them proved to love their country more than themselves by signing everything up to and including their very lives over to their country. Some thought they signed up for only a short period of time. Most now realize that their enlistment and its consequences never really end. For the rest of their days, they will remain heroes proved. They will remain veterans.

I am proud to be numbered among them.

A verse popular with the US Special Forces states "You have never lived until you have almost died.
To those who have fought for it, freedom has a flavor the protected will never know."

What is the flavor of your freedom?

If you live in liberty, thank a veteran.

Monday, November 3, 2014

Merry What?

In the mid twentieth century when I grew up we had the normal compliment of fall holidays. In September, we celebrated Labor Day by attending the Labor Day Parade. In October, we celebrated Columbus Day by studying the voyage of Christopher Columbus. At the turn of November, we celebrated Halloween with costume parties and trick or treat. In early November, we learned and recited the words of "In Flanders Fields" and wore red paper poppies in honor of those who fought in the war to end all wars.  In late November schools actually taught the story of colonists who came to the new world to worship God according to the dictates of their consciences, nearly starved, and who celebrated their first bountiful harvest with a feast of thanksgiving. Thanksgiving was about being grateful to God and family and food. Only with the arrival of the Sears Christmas Book on the day after Thanksgiving did our thoughts turn to the promise of Christmas.

Each holiday was separate and distinct. Sadly, this is no longer so. Today, the fall holidays are but weak punctuation for an annual orgy of consumer spending that begins on Labor Day and ends only after the January White Sales are done.

Labor Day means back to school; back to school means buy, buy, buy. After all, it's for the kids!

On Columbus Day he accomplishments of Christopher Columbus are forgotten in favor of the consumer economy his discoveries made possible. Buy! There are bargains to be had. Buy! Buy! Buy!

Holiday decorations go up on our streets in mid October, the better to light the way for shoppers.

On Thanksgiving, giving thanks, food, football and family are forgotten in the frenzy to get out, find those bargains and buy. Merchants are thankful they can stay open so they can sell, sell, sell, so that customers can spend, spend, and spend some more. And Thanksgiving begins the consumer feeding frenzy that leads up to Christmas and extends after Christmas sales well into January.

Consumers are left not with memories of good times but with a feeling of "What just happened?" and bills that will remind them of their purchases well into the coming year.

Call me a curmudgeon, but I miss the time when holidays were celebrated for the events they commemorated rather than the bargains they provided. I miss the time I could enjoy a Halloween,  Thanksgiving, or Merry Christmas without being assaulted by a strident message to buy, buy, buy.

I protest! I want my holidays back; I intend to take them back. I intend to celebrate each distinct holiday on its own merits.

I intend to buy what I need because I need it and I refuse to join the orgy of buying. I absolutely refuse to participate in the hangover of debt.

How about you?

How will you celebrate the coming holidays?

How long will you suffer the hangover of debt that comes from overconsumption?

Will you celebrate Halloween, Thanksgiving and Christmas or will you join the masses celebrating Hallowthanksmas"?

The choice is yours.

Merry Hallowthanksmas!