Archive for February, 2012

Many of us are just too careless in our choice of words. Often, they just flow off our tongues in a fit of anger, joy, or just plain intemperance. We use them to make a point, but sometimes what we say can get us in a whole pile of trouble. Take U.S. Representative John Sullivan of Tulsa, Oklahoma as an example. When asked about federal spending and the Senate’s refusal to approve a budget, he went a little bit off the rails in his response. “I’d love to get them to vote for it,” Sullivan said. “Boy, I’d love that, you know. But other than me going over there with a gun and pointing it to their head and maybe killing a couple of `em, I don’t think they’re going to listen unless they get beat.” Just not the best choice of words mister representative…just not the best choice.

“I could kill that son-of-a-bitch!” You’ve heard it; you may have even said it. Ironic isn’t it that just about a week later T.J. Lane walks into school and shoots five people, three of whom are already dead. Did T.J. read what the Congressman had said and take it seriously? Naw, probably not. He was just pissed enough, had seen enough violence in his personal life, had access to a weapon, found a group of people he didn’t like, and just started shooting. Weill we ever know his real motive? Was he rebuffed by one of the girls? Had one of the boys bullied him? Maybe he just decided that, “Today is the day I’m gonna kill some people.”

I don’t know the exact number of people killed each day in the United States by guns. I’ve read figures that range from 30 to 45. That’s an awful lot of killing. When one puts it in the context of the 315 million people who populate the US, I suppose it doesn’t sound like much. When you put it in the context of some school outside of Cleveland or Denver or wherever, it brings the problem much closer to home. When it’s kids killing kids, it has a more powerful effect. Gangbangers shooting and killing each other, we often brush off as a societal problem…but it’s going to happen. Who says that it’s acceptable? Unless you are at war, killing is not acceptable. Let me rephrase that: Killing is not acceptable except on those occasions when the person being killed has committed a crime so heinous that he or she is deserving of the death penalty.

Growing up in “Whitebread, USA,” the only violence I ever saw or participated in was fistfights, and damned few of them. Going to college in Boston never really exposed me to a great deal of city violence – saw three guys throw another off a four-story building once, but that’s about as close as I got to seeing it. Listening to the police officers in my various classes talk about gang warfare, drug warfare, etc, is purely episodic and has no bearing on any empirical data that may exist. Even living for over seven decades in the ‘real’ world has not brought be that close to violence. I’ve had friends and family die, but not because they were murdered. As I approach the end of this time on earth, however, it seems that “I could kill that son-of-a-bitch” has taken on new meaning. People are just going ahead and killing. T.J. Lane wasn’t the only person to kill that day; his killing was a big story because of how and where he did it. Unfortunately, it seems only to serve as ‘ammunition’ for others whose thoughts may be tending in the same direction. Were there any signals given by lane, Eric Harris, Dylan Kliebold, or any of the other “schoolhouse killers?” I’m willing to bet that in every single ‘horrific’ killings in schools, someone saw it coming…they just didn’t think the kid meant it. Many don’t; today, too many do.

There’s a poem that hangs above the YMCA in Milwaukee. It’s been used in other places I’m certain, but I thought the ‘Y’ was an interesting place to see it. It’s probably a good way to end this piece and to give you something to think about…..

                                    Watch your thoughts, they become words.
                                    Watch your words, they become actions.
                                    Watch your actions, they become habits.
                                    Watch your habits, they become your character.
                                    Watch your character, it becomes your destiny.

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What, do you suppose, is the next chapter? Perhaps, before asking that, one would have to query, “Is there a next chapter?” I was listening to a woman on television today. She indicated that she remembered the car crashing into a tree; then everything went black; next, she awoke to choirs of singing children and adults. She, like so many before her, mentioned ‘the light’ and how bright it was. The next thing she remembered was waking up in a hospital bed. “I was dead,” she said. “I know that I was dead.”

As I approach middle age – what, you haven’t heard; late 70s are the new early 50s – I contemplate things like this; I was going to say, “weird things,” but they really are not. I think that everyone over the age of 50 or even younger if they’ve been in a serious accident, contemplates what, if anything lies beyond dying and death. Not to be too blasé about it, but I sure as hell hope it’s not 72 virgins or however many is virgins du jour this week. Given the choice, I’d prefer to have a long chat with Abe Lincoln about his many failures and successes or speak with Moses about how many Commandments there really were. I have nothing against virgins but there are just so many other things I could be doing that would be more productive. In addition to all that, here you are in Heaven fooling around with a bunch of virgins? Isn’t that a little like something you ought not to be doing…in Heaven. I dunno, but it just seems a little bit, er, wrong, to me.

The other thing about all of this wonderful music and the light and the children singing thingie, is that I always thought that the first thing would be answering for your sins. Yes, one might say, if one is a Christian, that Jesus died for our sins on the cross. There are still a few commandments for which we still have to answer, right? I’d like to think I’ve be a reasonably righteous guy while I was on earth but c’mon, I mean, none of us is perfect; we screw up, either as children or adults, we all have something we’ve done of which we’re not very proud. I don’t know about you, but I’d like to be judged quickly so I can learn whether or not I’m going to be allowed to stay or wind up on the ninth level of Hell or something. I’m not trying to be facetious here; if there is punishment to be meted, don’t try to seduce me with the singing and light and the beautiful music. I would like to believe that my life has been sufficiently lived that my punishment will not be extreme; I don’t know that for a fact. Mother Theresa I have not been, but neither would I compare myself favorably to Hitler or Hannibal Lecter (I know he’s fictional…grow up). I’m reminded of the poem, Quilt of Holes. My own life could not compare to that of the soul in the poem, but I hope it will have some sizeable pieces missing…oh, you’re not familiar with the Quilt of Holes? You can read it below, search for it on the web, or go way back to an essay I wrote about it years ago.

Anyway, let’s assume, if we can, that there is minor punishment, time in purgatory, a place between Heaven and Hell that is neither pleasant nor torturous but just is. Then let us assume that we are, at some point, allowed to enter Heaven. What happens then? If we are ‘memoried,’ do we retain all that we recall? I really don’t believe we can sit around for an eternity sharing stories. Are we reborn without memory? One of the most frightening things our youngest ever said to us was that she met my late wife’s father on her way to being born. He had died shortly before her birth. Is it possible? I have no idea and I don’t expect that you have either. Could it be that we are reborn in another universe, perhaps as total opposites of what we are or have been? The answers are as varied as the mind can conceive. Or, is it perhaps that we die, feed the worms, and that’s it; that the atheists are correct; that there is no God; that the Bible is just a nice work of fiction, written by some guys who wanted to get a group together thinking the same way?

I find it inconceivable that there is not something beyond life. It’s not in my DNA to buy that. Some might say that my thinking is the height of egocentricity; they could be right, but I just cannot accept that. Martin Luther King said, “When an old person dies, a small library is lost.” If there is a God, and I just happen to believe there is, I don’t believe that my God would let that library perish. I believe that library must be of use somewhere, in some way. I’d really be interested in your thoughts. After all, the only way we continue to learn is by listening…and reading…and watching…ah, you know what I mean.

The Quilt of Holes

Author unknown

(I have put this in narrative form to save space. It still reads well.)

As I faced my Maker at the last judgment, I knelt before the Lord along with all the other souls.
Before each of us laid our lives like the squares of a quilt in many piles; an angel sat before each of us sewing our quilt squares together into a tapestry that is our life.

But as my angel took each piece of cloth off the pile, I noticed how ragged and empty each of my squares was. They were filled with giant holes. Each square was labeled with a part of my life that had been difficult, the challenges and temptations I was faced with in everyday life. I saw hardships that I endured, which were the largest holes of all.

I glanced around me. Nobody else had such squares. Other than a tiny hole here and there, the other tapestries were filled with rich color and the bright hues of worldly fortune. I gazed upon my own life and was disheartened. My angel was sewing the ragged pieces of cloth together, threadbare and empty, like binding air.

Finally the time came when each life was to be displayed, held up to the scrutiny of truth. The others rose; each in turn, holding up their tapestries. So filled their lives had been. My angel looked upon me, and nodded for me to rise.

My gaze dropped to the ground in shame. I hadn’t had all the earthly fortunes. I had love in my life, and laughter. But there had also been trials of illness, and wealth, and false accusations that took from me my  world, as I knew it. I had to start over many times. I often struggled with the temptation to quit, only to somehow muster the strength to pick up and  begin again. I spent many nights on my knees in
prayer, asking for help and guidance in my life. I had often been held up to ridicule, which I endured
painfully, each time offering it up to the Father in hopes that I would not melt within my skin beneath the judgmental gaze of those who unfairly judged me.

And now, I had to face the truth. My life was what it was, and I had to accept it for what it was.
I rose and slowly lifted the combined squares of my life to the light. An awe-filled gasp filled the air. I gazed around at the others who stared at me with wide eyes.

Then, I looked upon the tapestry before me. Light flooded the many holes, creating an image, the face of Christ. Then our Lord stood before me, with warmth and love in His eyes. He said, “Every time
you gave over your life to Me, it became My life, My hardships, and My struggles.

Each point of light in your life is when you stepped aside and let Me shine through, until there was more of Me than there was of you.”

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You know what I haven’t heard much about lately…the “left-wing media.” Newt certainly hasn’t been talking about it and he was one of the most vocal critics. Santorum, Romney, and Paul don’t care; they’re getting their coverage; it’s not all good, but the coverage is there. I guess that radical left-wing media group must have left town for the winter. I am certain, however, that they’ll be back just as soon as the presidential campaigning begins. It won’t matter who the Republican Party candidate is, that horribly-biased, crazy radical, left-wing press will be out to get him – sorry Michele, it’s going to be a him.

Sure the press is biased. You’re biased; I’m biased. We all have our prejudices toward or away from certain things. You want to watch a Democratically-biased news program, you turn to CNN or MSNBC; you want to watch some station that is biased toward the Republican point of view, you watch FOX or one of their affiliates. I have been watching stations that are, obviously, anti-military recently. They are continuously lambasting the accidental burning of the Quaran at some base in the Middle East. Get over it people; you’re continuing your rioting because the media is continuing to film it and the media is continuing to film it because they’re looking for more blood. An apology has been issued. It’s a closed story; build and bridge and get over it! And if you can’t get over that, you’re a hell of a lot more ‘religious’ than I honestly believe you are. It’s not dissimilar in many ways to the ‘occupy movement’ here in the States. Some of you get truly pissed because it was sacrilegious to you. Perhaps you can accept it as an accident; perhaps you voice your protest. Then, suddenly, you’re joined by a group of radical Islamists and bums who have nothing better to do. They yell and scream and start fires. Then one of them produces a weapon and begins shooting wildly, perhaps even hits and kills one of the demonstrators…something else to blame on the Great Satan. What a crock of crap. Yet, you same people think nothing of desecrating an American flag. We have so many religions over here that burning a book doesn’t mean quite the same thing. Matter of fact, quite a few of us have issues with our own religious teachings. However, you fuck with my flag; the colors of my country; now you have really pissed me off. The media call that freedom and it’s not particularly newsworthy…bullshit!

I watch these talking heads on newscasts and they make me sick. They can tell the same story three days  running and still sound excited about it. Unfortunately, they have some trouble pronouncing words like “equestrian,”  “brick,” “beach,” and a few others. Local stations try to stay away from anything dealing with Iran because Mahmoud Ahmadinejad (Ma-mood Ah-ma-din-i-jad) is an absolute bitch! What is the matter with these ‘news’ channels? Is it that they can’t find people who can read?  Is it that they can’t find talented reporters who go out and search for stories? I know they use police scanners because they’re on top of every murder and fire before the body is cold or the smoke has died away. I know the locals get feeds from networks, but it just seems that good old journalistic effort to ‘dig up’ a good news story is a thing of the past. “If it bleeds it leads” certainly seems to be the mantra of all of the Boston and Rhode Island television stations.

Recently, I watched the testimony of a former Boston meteorologist and newscaster. She was appearing before the Massachusetts Senate regarding a bill that would permit children to attend public school without requiring that they receive the full range of vaccines that are now required. She and the “Canary Party” having researched the effects that some vaccines can have on some children, e.g.,  autism and more severe allergies, have tried to make the general public more aware of this situation. As a former newscaster and “star” in Boston’s media firmament, Mish Michaels was well positioned to propose this as a news story to her former stations. Only one thought the story to be newsworthy, When FOX 25 ran the story, it went national. It’s difficult to understand why Boston’s three ‘major’ news channels didn’t see the value of this as news. One station said that it wasn’t news; another called it a “fringe” story; heaven only knows what the third station had to say. While I don’t happen to be a big fan of FOX, at least they had the good sense to recognize a big story when they saw it.

It’s almost time for some real political battles to occur. When they do, I’m certain that conservatives across the country will once again be screaming about the left-wing, radical news media. Liberals will also do their share of screaming. Before that happens, perhaps the media should examine who and what they have for news-gathering reporters and develop a staff that is willing to dig for real stories affecting real people. Attention assignment editors….the 2012 race for the Presidency does not mean you can sit on your collective tushies and pretend there is no other news out there. Get with the program or get the hell out of the business.

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It is generally a very cold day in hell when I remember a dream. I’m told that we have at least 4-6 dreams per night, and if I’m asked to remember anything at all about any single one of them, I’d probably be forced to tell the inquirer to bugger off. When I was younger – oh, my God, now he’s going to tell his dreams as a youngster when he says he can’t remember his dreams; what baloney – but as I was saying, when I remember having dreams of falling from tall buildings or out of trees or falling from an airplane…yes, I have ridden in an open cockpit plane (talk about older than dirt!) Perhaps the falling thing dates back to when Henry Hunt fell out of a tree in our backyard and wound up with a bone sticking out of his arm…oh, well.

Well, now, there’s a wasted first paragraph; however, I do recall a dream that I had last evening. I must have been on a roll, because it lasted quite a long time and went along the following lines: An incoming class of freshmen, approximately 500, were gathered in Knight Auditorium at Babson College. They were seated in the front of the auditorium which is a replica of an old Yankee Town Meeting hall – Google it – and you’ll get the idea. The stage of this hall is approximately five feet above the floor, so one really is speaking down to the audience. For some ungodly reason, I had been asked to address this incoming class and their parents, most of whom were in the balcony.

Being as loud and obnoxious as I truly can be, I disdained the stage and carried the portable microphone down to the floor. “How many of you are 17?” I asked, and a number of hands shot up. “How many of you are 18?” I inquired and nearly all of the other hands flew into the air. “Go home,” I said, and there was an audible gasp, both from the stage, where the director of admission visibly paled, and from the audience of parents. I let that sink in for a moment. The freshmen were turning beautiful shades of white, purple, green, and red. “Go home,” I repeated,” because you bring absolutely nothing to this particular table. If you think being a lifeguard in the summer or working at Walmart, or even working in the family business, gives you the right to study at a college of business, you’re wrong.” The freshmen, many of them anyway, were catching on faster than their parents or many of those on the stage who were in various stages of apoplexy. To a young man down front I turned and asked, “Am I wrong.” He thought for a moment and then said, “Yes and no.” I handed him the microphone and said, “Tell us.”

He began…”No, you’re not wrong that we don’t have business experiences to bring to our studies, but you are wrong in that that’s why we’re all here…to learn from faculty and others who have been out in business and who can teach us how to behave and what to do.” The place went wild; the kid was a hero and I was the bum. Even the director of admission sat up in his chair. The dean of freshmen stopped glaring icicles at me for a moment and applauded the young lad. He handed back the microphone; I gave him a hug, and told him to sit down. After the applause quieted, I began again. “You’re cheering a child versus someone who has been in higher education over 40 years?” I asked, Heads were nodding, and there were a few “yeahs.” From the balcony, I actually heard one father say under his breath, “Goddam right!” 

“And well you should,” I yelled, “because his point, his wonderful point about wanting to learn is music to my ears; to the ears of those who are seated on the stage, and to the ears of every faculty member who is here today. Unfortunately, he doesn’t represent every member of the freshman class. There are, mixed among you, young men and women who can hardly wait for Mom and Dad to leave so they can take their phony ID’s, go off campus and get some booze. They will manage to drink their way out of this institution by the end of the year. There will be others who don’t understand the principles of time management, will fall behind, won’t go to the faculty member for help, and will flunk one of the courses they take in the first semester.” I paused to let that sink in.

“College,” I began again, “is a series of challenges. These challenges are found both in and outside the classroom. Those inside the classroom are absolutely nothing compared to what you will face in that ‘other’ education environment. If you have an eight o’clock class on a Monday morning and you did some partying on Sunday, the temptation to blow off that class is unbelievable…don’t do it. If one of your ‘friends’ asks you to “come into Boston with us” during the week…first, that person isn’t a true friend, and second, you came to this college to learn, not to go downtown during the week.”

“Understand me very, very clearly…you are here for an education. If you’re an athlete, great; I see some coaches in the back of the room. They want to win; they want badly to have a good team; however, every single one of your coaches knows that you are not here on an athletic scholarship…Division III doesn’t give them…and every single one of your coaches is more interested in you as a student as opposed to an athlete. On the field, court or in the pool, you damn well better put forth your best effort or they’ll have your head, but first and foremost, you are always a student.”

“Let me wrap up by challenging you. I challenge you to make a liar out of me for telling you to go home. I challenge you to make yourselves proud of your accomplishments. I challenge you to learn enough that you can challenge your faculty. From the President, sitting on that stage up there, to every faculty member, administrator, and staff member, there isn’t one employee at Babson College who doesn’t want you to succeed and who isn’t willing to help. I challenge you to make all of us proud.”

It was shortly after that that I woke up sweating. I don’t really remember any more of the dream than that. I had always wanted to say something like that to an entering class, but I never got the chance. At least I got to do it in a dream.

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Who among you will have the courage to take issue with me when I say that the greatest invention of the 20th Century is…wait for it…the mute button on the television remote? That one tiny grey (I painted mine red to speed things up) can shut out the world of hard sell car dealers, furniture salesmen and women, and can even shut off ex-television and movie stars who have taken to pitching everything from face creams to reversible mortgages

I’m embarrassed for someone like Robert Vaughan – Napoleon Solo, one of my early television heroes, the Man from U.N.C.L.E. – when I see him shilling for shysters, Hell, even his former partner, Illya Kuryakin, has found a recurring role on one of today’s most popular television series, N.C.I.S. And when The Fonz, Henry Winkler, starts telling me about how great a reverse mortgage will be, I quickly hit my little red button in order that I not be reduced to tears by how far my hip, cool, young, and trendy Fonzie has fallen. The rebel has been wrecked…oh woe; oh woe!

Between Terry Bradshaw telling us how horrible he looked before some diet plan and how great he looks now – a lie, of course, and Valerie Bertinelli pushing some face cream that will shrink your skin via a rare melon…are you kidding me, my mute button gets used probably four to six times an hour, often to the point where I say, “Screw it;”  turn the television off, and walk down to the ‘computer room’ (sounds fancy but it’s just a spare bedroom now that the kids have gone). Several things may happen when I sit down at my computer: (1) I may vent and writ drivel such as this; (2) I may wind up getting my ass kicked at hearts…which certainly doesn’t improve my mood, or; (3) I may see my Kindle sitting there, charging up, get nosy, and poke into a new book my electronic reader has waiting for me.

I kid about the mute button but I find as I get older that many of the ads on television are really annoying. In addition, they are several steps up on the volume dial, although I’m told there is legislation in this do-nothing Congress that is meant to change all of that. I wonder how that will be argued along party lines. It seems impossible that so many furniture stores can possibly stay in business in this area. I mean, furniture is not something you go out and buy on a daily basis. It’s supposed to last, and you’re supposed to know what the hell your doing when you buy it so that you don’t have to go out and change it on a whim. I can’t help but wonder when these furniture stores will begin to take a page from the Republican Party Advertising Playbook the way some of the automotive dealers have around here. You see, in the area where I live, we have something called “the auto mile.” It’s actually over a mile in length, and is part of US Route #1, but both sides of the road are packed with competing auto dealerships. Their television ads are now taking the negative advertising route, ala Mitt Romney and others, and are saying how dishonest and high-priced their competition is. The Commonwealth of Massachusetts could create a whole bunch of new jobs merely by building attractive overpasses so that we can take the price from one dealer across the street to the other dealer and use it as a bargaining chip. We could be bouncing back and forth for a full day beating one salesman down after another…it would also be a good cardio workout, so it has some health benefit.

But, enough about that…back to the mute button. Just think how wonderful it would be to have a mute button when you go shopping. All of those idiotic conversations that are nothing but white noise without which we’d all be better off. I can see some dangerous overuse taking place in business meetings, but, what the hell, life is short; live it up! Now if I can only find a mute button for the neighborhood dogs, I’ll be all set.

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Do you remember Nat ‘King’ Cole’s hit song, Looking Back Over My Life? For no particular reason, I was thinking about that song the other day. Well, on second thought, maybe there was a particular reason. You see, it’s been said that when you’re in the final stages of leaving this earth you do look back. And the things you regret are not the things you have done but the things you have left undone; the things you wish you could or would have accomplished. Whether or not this is true, I have no idea. Frankly, I’d just as soon find out later rather than sooner.

Since the movie with Morgan Freeman and Jack Nicholson, it seems that several of my acquaintances have taken to making out ‘bucket lists.’ You know, the things they want to do before they die. I suppose it’s not a bad idea; probably gets a bit on the expensive side, particularly if seeing the Great Pyramids or the Taj Mahal is on your list, but most of the people I know have tastes that are a bit less grandiose than that. As for me, well, I think I’ve probably done all of the bucket list things that would bring me pleasure or that I’m physically capable of doing. I would like to have tried jumping from an airplane just once…with a parachute of course, but that’s about it. I’ve stood on the edge of the Grand Canyon and peered into its abyss. I’ve driven across the Golden State bridge and felt the sway. I’ve watched Old Faithful at Yellowstone National Park and even stuck my hand in one of those hot sulfur springs…not one of the really hot ones, but it was warm enough. I don’t feel that I’ve really “seen” the United States of America, and before I traveled to foreign countries, I always thought I should get to know my own nation first. I’ve been swimming in both the Pacific and Atlantic. I found that I enjoy escargot even though I was wary of trying it, and I learned that most people are willing to smile if you smile at them first. I suppose the list could go on, but I hope by now that I have you taking a look back at what you’ve been doing with your own years on earth.

My accomplishments in life have been less stellar than most. Oh, sure, there are several things I’ve done of which I’m proud…and you know something, I’m willing to bet that you can say the same damned thing. No, you and I didn’t invent the electric light bulb or the telephone; hell, that was a bit before our time. We didn’t create social networking; well, not unless you happen to read this Matt, and I’m certain you have better things to do with your time. Our contributions – you and I – have been somewhat less spectacular. Maybe you gave some money to a homeless person or volunteered for an event. Maybe you made a suggestion that saved your company a great deal of money. Maybe you saved someone from drowning by doing CPR. I watched a teenage lifeguard do that one day at Old Silver Beach in Falmouth and if Freddie can’t carry that one memory to his grave, it would be a miracle. I don’t even remember his last name, but I remember the look on his face when she finally came around…oh wow! Want to know how simple these contributions can be? I once wrote a speech for someone else that caused 3,000 people to cry tears of joy. You don’t think that’s a contribution? Think again. That’s the first time I’ve ever acknowledged that…must be a sign I’m getting old.

We still have time, you and I, to do some of those things we always wanted to do and will regret if we don’t get them done. It really won’t be possible for us to do everything we wish to accomplish, but what the hell, whatever we do, it can be crossed off our list of regrets. Want some of my thoughts? I didn’t think so, but you’re going to get them anyway. I plan to see more people whom I knew at one time and let drift out of my life. Too many of my friends have died before I’ve had the chance to tell them that I’m sorry we didn’t stay in touch or to wish them “goodbye.” In my own case, I’d like to contribute a bit more money to cancer research. The disease killed my wife, dad, and grandparents. I’ve known too many people who have died of it. Frankly, I doubt we will ever find a cure for all forms, but if I can do a bit more, I’m going to do so. I want to see Nickerson State Park on Cape Cod. That doesn’t sound like a big deal but it is to me. My son, his wife, and their kids raved about it, and in all this time, I’ve never been there. Lived in Massachusetts all my life and never seen it…ridiculous!

I really don’t care if you’re 20 or 70 or somewhere in between, it seems to me that it’s never too early to start ‘looking back over your life.’ After all, the younger you are, the better the odds you won’t have any regrets about what you didn’t do. That’s okay; we elders have enough to go around.

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If you read the newspapers or watch television, you might just get the impression that the world is full of really good people or really bad people. There are people we admire and say, “Wow, isn’t he or she fantastic.” There are people we feel sadly for and say something like, “Oh, isn’t that too bad,” or “I never could cope with that.” There are the really bad people who make you believe in the death penalty all over again, but then you think, “No, a quick death is too good for that @#$%&*! We are exposed to the star athletes and the genius of man and woman but the truth of the matter is that they are really a huge minority.

The majority of people in this world are ‘plodders.’ Don’t get me wrong; there is absolutely wrong with being a plodder. I ought to know; I consider myself a genuine plodder. We’re born; we live; we’re not really outstanding at anything…maybe pretty good, but not outstanding enough for the “wow factor.” We go through life, making small contributions along the way. We might get married; we might live an alternative life style. We may become proud parents of one, two, or three kids, but we don’t push it just to become the flavor of the week on some television show. We get older, retire, and eventually, we die. There are no pictures of us in the newspapers, nor would we really want any…matter of fact, if we could have a say, we’d probably be embarrassed if there was one. We are one of billions who help to make this old world go round.

This happened to come up recently because of two events that made the news in a big way. The first was the death of 48-year old Whitney Houston. I guess when you’re over 60, it’s okay if you die. Ella Fitzgerald, the “first lady of song,” was 79 when she kicked the bucket. “Old Blue Eyes,” Mr. Sinatra himself, was 83 when his final note faded away. I don’t recall there being the brouhaha over their passing the way there has been over Whitney’s or even over the death of Michael Jackson. They were entertainers; they chose their lifestyle; it killed them; end of story. Jackson was a pedophile. That puts him in the same league with Jerry Sandusky, numerous Roman Catholic priests, any number of school teachers, and several Boy Scout troop leaders. It was newsworthy to say that he died; period, end of report.

The death of Whitney Houston has been treated as though a head of state passed away. Since her passing, it seem as though she is the lead story on every freaking newscast. I know she’s dead; now let’s move on to other things. Don’t get me wrong; I own just about every album that Whitney Houston ever recorded. Her voice was magnificent with its five-octave range, but a lot of other people are dying every day and they aren’t getting the play that Ms. Houston is getting.  How about the other victims of domestic violence who died on that same day? Because they couldn’t sing, they got crap. Yes, she was a star. She was also a very troubled woman. She spiraled herself out of control with drugs, alcohol, and a 15-year marriage to a wife-beater. Don’t make more of it than it is.  Know who else died recently? How about Dr. Stephen Levin, dead at 70; Freddie Solomon, dead at 59; Patricia Stephens Due, dead at 72? Don’t know ‘em? Look them up, Oh, and you might add one more…Dr. Roger Lange; he died at 68, but his contributions will follow him.

The second event that wasn’t really a news story concerned a young cancer patient who loves Justin Bieber. How did the media learn of this? I really have no idea, but I’m willing to bet that a few publicity-hungry parents might have had something to do with it. For young Mr. Bieber, who must feel his popularity is slipping, it was an ideal photo-op to spend some time with the child. However, there are a lot of kids with cancer. A lot of them have heroes. The word does get out and a lot of those heroes very quietly go and spend time with the children who worship them. Professional athletes are big on doing this. Rarely, very, very rarely are they covered by the media when they perform this service. “This is different,” some will say. Then I’ll really get pissed and ask, “Just exactly how is this different from all of the kids in all of the children’s hospitals, all over the world who have their own heroes?” The fact of the matter is, there is no difference. The eight-year old daughter of a friend of ours had a tumor on her stomach that was the size of a basketball. Her mother, a nurse, spent every waking moment with that child. She knew there wasn’t a chance in hell of the child living to be nine. We once asked her, “Pat, how can you do this? It must be tearing you apart.” Her response was interesting because it was the first time I’d ever heard it. “God gives strength,” was all she said. Several years later, after my Dad died, I was to give his eulogy. On the day of the funeral, I was a wreck. I finally told the minister, “Reverend, I’m not certain I can do this.” His response brought me right back to Pat, “Don’t worry, son,” he said, “God gives strength.” I’m not asking you to believe in God. I am asking you to believe in the plodders who watch their young kids dying of cancer each and every day.

Plodders aren’t interesting. They don’t do things to excite the media. They just do things. For years I worked with a group of volunteers who got together in February to begin planning an event that would take place the first week in August. For all intents and purposes, it was the same group every single year. We would meet and plan and plan and meet. We would review plans, change plans, come up with totally new plans, and every one of us was a plodder. We each had full-time jobs, families, and other responsibilities. We did it because it needed to be done, and we thought we could do a decent job of it. And we did. Each year we made a difference but we didn’t do it to see our faces on television or to scream, “Look at me; look at me!” We were just plodders.

Every day, in some way or another, a plodder makes a contribution. Perhaps it’s to the organization for which he works. Perhaps it’s to the local school where she volunteers. Perhaps it’s to the church where they help to plan a bake sale to raise money for part of a new roof. Maybe I should come up with a bumper sticker that says, “Plodders are people, too.” To all you plodders out there…I think of you and I admire you because I’ll always be one of you.

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