My Life Has Already Changed

I received a text message this weekend which I failed to acknowledge. I couldn’t decide whether the sender was incredibly stupid or simply insensitive. Had I been able to decide, I’m not sure I would have known what to say.

She thought that I would be amused by a meme about Hillary Clinton going to prison.

Really? Did she fail to realize that only a mysogynist Trump supporter would be amused by that? Did she fail to grasp the simple fact that I am not a Trump supporter, and unlike her, I stand in solidarity with other women so that we are not victimized by the kind of thinking which condones sexually assaulting women?

With the meme, she sent a quip (which I can’t quote verbatim because I deleted it to remove the temptation to use the sharp tongue I inherited from my dad). She wrote something to the effect that my life wouldn’t change as a result of the election. She either hasn’t checked the news since the election — or has managed to ignore the stories which don’t fit into her view of the world. My world has already changed.

Here are a few of the headlines from today alone:

  • Hate, harassment incidents spike since Trump election (CBS – credible news source)
  • Alt-Right Exults in Washington with a Salute of “Heil Victory” (New York Times – credible news source) [In case the sender of this weekend’s text message is as ignorant of history as she is of the news: the Nazis used the salute “Heil Hitler” and killed millions in gas chambers.]
  • The election is getting people uninvited to Thanksgiving (USA Today – credible news source)
  • Trump’s business empire raises concerns about foreign influence (Washington Post — credible news source)

This election wasn’t about business-as-usual politics. This election, more than ever before, was about values. Human decency vs. greed. Love vs. hate. Hope vs. fear.

Fortunately, I’ve read and watched “Lord of the Rings.” Fortunately, I have lived the passion of Christ more than once in my live. Fortunately, I know that darkness is not dark to the God who is love (Psalms 139:12). I will fast and I will pray for our nation, and the people of our nation, but I will not turn a blind eye.

I will not pretend that life has not changed. I will bear witness, and I will use my First Amendment rights over and over again to do so.

Guilty of Gratitude

I wanted to hug my kids last night.

I wanted to hold them so close and so tightly that neither of us could breathe for a heartbeat or so. I was so incredibly grateful they were alive and well, both in body and soul. And, I felt guilty for that gratitude.

All day yesterday, my heart was filled with sadness. I could not put out of my mind the young man who died so tragically just feet from where I work.

A 22-year-old soldier, a Marine who recently returned from a tour of duty in Afghanistan from what I’ve heard, went berserk after the bars closed. News reports indicate he was wielding a gun as he yelled for local law enforcement to “come out” as he stumbled around on Main Street. Then, he apparently got into his vehicle and drove around recklessly, ramming into things, including the sheriff’s office. A shoot-out in which he died followed.

This is the fourth death related to the current military action in Iraq and Afghanistan which has come this close to me. Only one death actually occurred overseas. Frank, a young man with whom my daughter was romantically involved while stationed at Shaw AFB in South Carolina, was killed in Kabul by a pilot he was training for the Afghan military, one of five Americans to die that day. It shouldn’t have happened.

When my kids were deployed, Sara to Qatar and Brodie with his A-10 to Afghanistan, I lived with a tight band of fear wrapped around my chest. I didn’t take an easy breath for months, not until they were both home safely and I had wrapped my arms around them.

And then, I still watched and worried. Did they come back whole in soul as well as in body? Sara protected me from what she experienced, but I knew Brodie had at least one heartbreaking experience. He and his wing man had pushed back insurgents so helicopters could go in to get our soldiers out. As he was lifting off so the helicopters could enter the airspace, he watched as one crashed into a mountainside. I cried when I read that email, and worried about the effect it would have on him.

As I said, the young soldier who died this week is the fourth war-related death I have seen. Frank was the third, and the first two were in Pierre shortly after the 200th Engineer Company of the S.D. National Guard returned from Iraq.

They were among the first to be called up. When they first went over, they lived in tents and didn’t have the amenities soldiers deployed later would enjoy. They stood in line for hours to call home, and didn’t have direct Internet access. Skype, which my kids used to keep in touch with one another, wasn’t even an option for soldiers in the 200th.

They did not suffer a single loss while they were in Iraq. The losses came later.

I remember the day they returned to Pierre. I rode with them. Only later did I learn I had been given that honor because, while the unit was deployed, I refused the let the community forget the soldiers were gone. I wrote story after story in a series called the Yellow Ribbon series. I wrote about challenges families faced, the soldiers’ stories when they came home on leave, community efforts to support them.

As a result of that storytelling and months of praying for those troops, I carried them in my heart. I remember meeting with Maj. Gen. Michael Gorman shortly after the unit returned. He’s retired now, but was head of the S.D. National Guard then. As a result of my series, and a number of phone calls, we were on a first-name basis by that time. Both of us were worried about readjustment.

The soldiers had, if I remember correctly, five days from boots on the ground in Iraq to home with their families. The Guard had done what they could to help families prepare. I had done what I could to educate the public with informational articles about the challenges soldiers would face with readjustment. Mike and I were still concerned, though – and rightly so.

Three months later, in a stupid drunken fight with one of his buddies, one of the soldiers shot and killed a friend from high school, a friend who was like a brother. When he was sentenced to federal prison, the victim’s family asked the court for leniency. We all believed, though the soldier’s attorney didn’t use it as a defense, the shooting was a result of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).

And just a month after the shooting, the unit commander, meeting with his unit for the first weekend exercise after the deployment, forgot to drop his infant son off at the babysitter’s. The child spent a hot August day in his dad’s SUV. At the child’s funeral, his grandfather hugged me, tears running down his face, and said, “My grandson was a victim of the war.” I could only nod.

One after another, it seems, these precious lives are being taken from us. It breaks my heart.

I have opposed this war on terrorism since Day One. No war on terrorism has ever been won through combat. Terrorism is best fought with diplomacy, with listening as those who feel powerless to affect change and negotiating to find solutions to address the injustices they see.

Terrorists are like trapped and wounded animals, striking out because they have nothing to lose. They become religious extremists because they nothing to lose, and need to believe God is on their side or they can’t get through the day. I firmly believe, if we – as a nation – would learn to accord others a little more respect instead of seeing others as either tools to help us get what we want or obstacles which prevent us from getting what we want, peace would be a lot closer than it is now.

Until there is peace, or at least until we have decided to withdraw from military action, I can only speak out when the opportunity arises, and bear the guilt of being grateful for every day my precious children are safe.

Let freedom ring

Here it comes again.

The Fourth of July. The day on which we annually celebrate the birth of our nation. Picnics. Fireworks. Flags unfurled in the breeze. A euphoric sense of liberation.

As Americans, we are darned pleased with ourselves most of the time. We are, after all, the richest nation in the world – unless, of course, per capita income is the measure. Then we fall to the tenth.

Our ranking also drops when generosity is considered. New Zealand, Australia, Ireland and Canada all beat us, according to Gallup’s World Giving Index, which looks at surveys and research on 153 countries.

We are, however,  indisputably the most powerful nation in the world – at least to our way of thinking. Some sources put China at the top. Fortunately, for us, those sources are few and far between at present. Most tend to agree that we’re No. 1.

We have a right to feel pleased with ourselves. Right? We’re rich. We’re powerful. We’re a democracy. What more could we possibly want?

Seriously, what more could we possibly want?

The answer depends upon who answers the question. Me? I think we need to recapture a spirit that was lost in recent decades – a commitment to the common good.

History shows us that folks have always bickered amongst themselves. I read somewhere that Thomas Jefferson was chosen to pen the Declaration of Independence because his views were moderate. John Adams was an outspoken supporter of independence. It was feared, I recall, that any document Adams penned would be considered biased.

However, Jefferson did not work alone. Benjamin Franklin, Roger Sherman and Robert R. Livingston, in addition to Jefferson and Adams, were on the committee responsible for drafting the Declaration. Then, the Continental Congress debated it for four days, making revisions.

Still, Jefferson is considered the author, and most Americans know at least one glorious line from it: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

Apparently, Adams resented Jefferson for years – if not the rest of his life – because of the fame he gained for his work on the Declaration. So, if President No. 2 doesn’t like President No. 3, right there in the early years of our nation, is it surprising that we have the same kind of bickering going on today? It’s in the blood, so to speak.

But, despite the bickering, we didn’t flounder as a nation. We prospered.

Some of our greatest moments, though, came out of a commitment to the common good. Tom Brokaw reminded us of this when he wrote about the generation who grew up during the privations of the Great Depression and went on to fight in World War II. Those folks didn’t ask, “What’s in it for me?” They sacrificed for the common good.

They were not the first. As our nation expanded from 13 colonies along the Atlantic seaboard, our schools, churches  and communities grew because people worked for the common good. Our infrastructure was put in place by those working for the common good.

Somewhere, we’ve lost a sense of that. Now, we want and want and want, and whenever possible, we want something for nothing. We want good schools and good roads and services for all kinds of folks (though some balk at helping the poor), but we don’t want to pay for them.

We don’t want to invest in our communities, in our state or in our nation. It makes me wonder how free we actually are, how patriotic, and what it really means today to honor the flag.

About the only ones I see who reflect the values that built our nation are those who serve in our military. What about the rest of us?