Archive for the ‘Volunteerism’ Category

Volunteerism…what an interesting word. I suppose one might say it’s a word that has helped to build America and make it the nation it is today. Certainly, we can trace it back to the earliest settlers in the country who voluntarily (well, almost voluntarily) supported the religious establishments of which they were a part. Reverend Cotton Mather, a Puritan minister in colonial times, urged his parishioners to identify and care for residents in their neighborhoods in need. One source reports that, “He also encouraged people to create associations to suppress disorders, to visit the sick and needy, and to enable young artisans to help one another.” When it came time to establish the New Republic, volunteerism really began to show its appeal. Militia were formed voluntarily rather than by mandate to fight the British and to create the country of today. While we still have voluntary militia today, we look at them a bit differently.

When we think of volunteerism now, we think of it in somewhat different terms. We look at the hundreds, perhaps thousands, of American volunteers who make their way to places like Haiti, Texas, Florida, Puerto Rico, New Jersey, and even across the oceans to assist those in need. Recently, the crises caused by the spate of hurricanes that tore up so much of US possessions and Southern states was a tribute to what I think of as American volunteerism in action. Whether it was fire and police department volunteers or private citizens with boats; whether it was volunteers from the American Red Cross and other agencies; whether it was the people who opened their purses or the groups of medical personnel who banded together to help in hospitals and shelters, America showed once more just how quickly we can come together to assist those in need.

Maybe you and I don’t think about volunteerism in such ‘severe’ terms. Maybe you’re the mom who goes into her child’s classroom once a month to aid the teacher. Maybe you’re the volunteer at the Boston, Chicago, New York, Denver, or other marathon who registers runners, passes out water along the route, or works in the medical tent because that’s what your background allows you to do. Or maybe, just maybe, you’re the person who is physically unable to volunteer directly, and so you write a check to support one of the participants in the race, the ride, or the activities.

I was sitting at the kitchen table recently and I printed a little saying. I don’t know if it’s original, probably not, but I thought about the number of people I know to whom this applies. “Never stop believing in the amount of good you can accomplish if you’re only willing to try.” Looking at it on the page, it sounds kind of corny, but then again, I’m not so sure it is. There are so many things that we can do to help others, and in so doing, we really help ourselves. Years ago, hell, I don’t remember how many – we were living in Newton, MA at the time, so it had to be more than thirty years – I used to drive in to Cambridge on Saturday mornings and record some books for the blind. I wasn’t very good at it, but it was something that I could do to help those unable to see the printed page. I always walked out of there wanting to do it better the next time. Come to think of it, I don’t know whether I just stopped because I thought that I sucked at it or whether they politely told me that I’d done enough…isn’t that a great way to fire somebody…tell them they’ve done enough?

Today, I think just about every school in every district, at least in the New England area anyway, has some type of program where students are required to perform a certain number of hours of community service. I don’t necessarily agree with that because ‘requiring’ something may not appeal to everyone. Seems to me that if parents are involved in volunteering, asking their kids to help them out might be a better way. The children get the idea that the parents enjoy doing it, maybe it will just rub off, so to speak. Many parents brought their children to the Pan-Massachusetts Challenge bike-a-thon when I was volunteering at that event. Some of the kids grew into becoming volunteers while others wanted a more active role and became riders. Today, more than 4,000 volunteers and nearly 6,500 riders participate in this event that has become the largest single fund-raising event in America, an event that has given more than half a billion dollars to the Dana Farber Cancer Research Institute over the past thirty years.

For several years, I volunteered at a road race in a nearby community. My job was to sell T-shirts, and I was good, so good in fact that I became known as the “T-Shirt Nazi.” Hey, all the profits went to Amnesty International, a darned good organization. Eventually, I became “King T-Shirt Nazi,” responsible for all the shirts. That was when I learned that leftover shirts were just thrown into a basement to either be parceled out during the year by the race organizer or left to mold, mildew, and rot. Don’t get me wrong, I liked this race organizer. He was doing good things for charity, but storing T-shirts in a damp basement just wasn’t the thing to do. Now, at the end of the race each year, all shirts are folded, sized, boxed up, inventoried, and stored in a dry area. Anyone authorized by the race organizer can pick up one or two, but the rest are sold the following year as “Vintage T-Shirts.” Hey, we only charged five bucks a pierce for them, but they became a hot item. Ain’t imagination wonderful?

From the days when the Pilgrims stepped ashore to these days when tragedy seems to be striking everywhere, volunteers are still a backbone of free people everywhere. If the volunteer bug hasn’t bitten you yet, I hope that you’ll give volunteering a try. Be careful though, you’ll find that it can become habit-forming.

Read Full Post »

What a piece of work is man! How noble in reason! How infinite in faculty! In form, in moving, how express and admirable! In action how like an angel! In apprehension how like a God!                                                                                                             William Shakespeare

This will be my 1,000th post on this blog.

Several thoughts come immediately to mind: First and foremost, “What a mouthy bastard!” More polite and I hope more important, “He’s had some interesting things to say.” That sounds a great deal like ego talking and, I suppose it is. However, I admit that I did have a very real purpose in starting this blog. Quite simply, it was to get readers to think. Did it work? Yeah, sometimes it did. I could always count on people like Jerry Burke, Mark Ford, Patti Cahill, Jim Gaudet, Georgia Patterson, Bill Mahoney, and a few other friends to either argue vehemently with me or even back me up on occasion. Once in a while, a few people I didn’t know would made a comment, some good; some bad, but they did comment.

I didn’t want this post to be dull and boring, but it sure looks like it’s started that way. Politics is always a good topic but it just tends to piss some people off while others yell, “Right on, babe; go get ‘em,” and besides, I’ve just about ridden this political horse until it’s ready to drop, ergo, that one heads almost immediately into the trash bin. The do-nothing Congress is also fodder for my keyboard but I tell ya, they aren’t worth the key strokes to criticize them. I swear ISIS accomplishes more in a day than our Congress can accomplish in eight years…useless; just absolutely useless.

I’ve considered doing some follow-up pieces on law enforcement versus the black community. I read where a Washington Post reporter went to Chicago to examine exactly what the problem is in that city; he came away, if I’m not mistaken, with the impression that the biggest ‘gang’ in the windy city is actually the police department itself. It may very well be true in a number of large cities, particularly those that don’t understand where and when to place what officers in what districts. In addition, it’s not always the easiest thing to recruit minority officers, whether they are black, Latino, or Asian. Of course that’s not a problem unique to law enforcement. When I was working at Northeastern University, I remember the head of the history department complaining that he couldn’t land a black Ph.D. because Northeastern couldn’t afford to pay the person what he could get from the “richer” schools, At that time, any minority with a terminal degree was actively recruited and could pretty much name their own terms. Fortunately, today, there are more and more non-whites with doctorates…unfortunately, they still don’t gravitate toward academia as much as I’d personally like to see.

Racial problems, government problems, poverty problems, pharmaceutical problems, a myriad of problems confront both the United States and the world. Is that what I really want this brief essay to discuss? What do we do about the gang violence that is on the increase in cities, towns, and sometimes villages across the US? What can China, the US, and India, among others, do to reduce pollution and their country’s contribution to global warming? How do we stop the increase in national poverty levels around the world…and the US is just as guilty as many of the nations we speak of with a degree of disgust?  How do we ensure that individuals and pharmaceutical companies become more altruistic when it comes to saving lives, particularly the lives of America’s veterans…they put it all on the line for us; unfortunately, the pharmaceuticals see profits and not people as their bottom line.

It seems that a world without problems is the ultimate impossible dream…that and the Cubs winning the World Series, despite all of the nasty things that happen, somehow, this old planet seems to limp along. There is a whale of a lot of good being done, some of it by people with resources sufficient to make their contributions newsworthy, people like Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg; some of it by people without the proverbial pot but who are willing to give of their time and effort to help others. Perhaps I’m prejudiced but I’ve never seen as dedicated a group of volunteers as I find at the Pan-Massachusetts Challenge each year. They may not ride a bicycle or raise a pile of money for the Dana Farber Cancer Center, but the hours and hours of time given by those volunteers does this old man’s heart good. That just happens to be one organization with which I’m familiar. Multiply that by the tens and perhaps hundreds of thousands of volunteers in this country and abroad and it’s very easy to see that for all of the bad we read about and watch on TV, there’s an equal amount of good that never makes it to the headlines.

As I finish this up on Thursday, the day after the San Bernadino massacre, I have to pause and think about the comments I’ve been hearing on television. “How do you feel, knowing that your wife will survive?” is about as asinine a question as could have been asked. Almost as stupid was Paul Ryan, the Speaker of the House of Representatives, insinuating that these shootings are mental health issues. That is making an excuse for people who are actually evil. That’s right, evil. If evil is a mental condition, then I’m Howdy Doody on puppet strings. Can’t anyone get it through their heads that evil exists in the world and that this is merely another manifestation of it? Perhaps mental health legislation is in need of revision; I won’t doubt that for a moment. Legislation regarding the payment to our military is also in need of serious adjustment. Legislation regarding who is able to purchase guns is in need of serious adjustment. A great deal of legislation is in need of serious study and adjustment, but please, please, please don’t try to blame all of these shooting on mental health issues. There is evil in this world and we are sticking our collective heads in the sand if we don’t believe that the bulk of these mass killings are merely evil in nature.

I hope to be able to write another thousand essays before I day. A while ago, I said, “This is it; I’m done.” However, that was the coward’s way out. I will continue to write about topics that interest me; sometimes they’ll be happy and (I hope) a little humorous; others will attempt to get readers thinking about what they can do to make a positive difference in this world of ours. ‘Til  next time, be well.

Read Full Post »

So I get this e-mail that asks the only thing that is ever on my mind, “Are you suffering from facial wrinkles and sagging skin?” Hot damn, I’m 80 fucking years old and you have the audacity to ask me a question like that. If I’m that age and I don’t have those problems, I wouldn’t be able to move my mouth to answer because my plastic surgeon’s work would be completely undone when my face split open. What, are you crazy? These people show you pictures, one of an old woman with a frown, wrinkles, and hardly any hair. They say, “She is 70, but now…” and they show you the after picture with her hair slightly tinted and looking marvelous, and a not so subtle airbrush job with the lady smiling, and they add, “…she looks 40.”

She’s 70 and she looks 40; so what? Who cares? What’s your point? Are we looking for a massive ego boost here? You are what you are. Face facts; you’re friggin’ old. It’s not how you look; it’s how you feel. There are days when I feel 80; others when I feel 50. However, if I tried to do at 80 what I used to do at 50, (a) I’d probably have a heart attack and die; (b) if I didn’t die, the doctors might from laughter; (c) every muscle in my body would ache for months, and (d) I’d finally realize just how old I really am and would wind up a quivering mass of tears in a straight jacket somewhere. No, this is just not acceptable.

A man I know just died of a massive heart attack. He was 69 years old. A fine physical specimen of a human being; looked to be the picture of health; took a long walk every day; had a marvelous outlook on life…he died. He didn’t reach 70; he died. “So what?” you ask.  “So what,” is forgetting about trying to be something that you’re not. If you want to be a 70 or 80 year old beauty queen, that’s your business, but frankly I’m more interested in what’s inside your head and your heart than I am about how you look. If you’re a man and you want to look the way Jack La Lane did when he died at 92, great; more power to you, but I’d be more impressed if you could intelligently discuss the latest book that you had read or how you see the crises facing the United States in the next ten years…of course, if you’re 92, maybe you aren’t too worried about the crises facing the United States in the next ten years; five maybe, but not ten!

These television ads the promote youth and beauty are fine if you’re young and beautiful. Oh, wait a minute…if you’re young and beautiful the ads don’t mean crap to you. Yes, I know there are people who look in the mirror and see something completely different from what the rest of the world sees. “I’m too fat;” “I’m too skinny.” “My eyebrows are too thick;” “My eyebrows aren’t thick enough.” “My this is that, and my that is this and….and…oh, I’m a wreck.” Screw it! Get over yourself; you are who and what you are. If you’re a woman, ask yourself one question: “Am I a bitch?” You really have to think about this rather than give a quick and absolute, “No.” The same is true of a guy. Can you look in the mirror and tell that guy that you’re not a real asshole sometimes. Stop being a bitch and stop being an asshole and the world will take on a new and wonderful meaning. You don’t need phony creams or body sculpting or huge muscles. There is not a medicine made that can help you be a better you unless you begin with a bigger and better heart.

Let me tell you a little secret about feeling better about your own image. It’s called “volunteering.” Some call it giving back; others say it’s paying forward. It doesn’t matter what words you use. The minute you give time and effort to a cause that makes others feel better, you’re going to begin feeling better about you. If you’re young, you probably have so many expenses that you can’t afford to give dollars and cents. That’s of no consequence. Heck, on some volunteer jobs you’ll even get a free T-shirt. It’s the beginning of feeling good. If someone is interested only in your physical appearance, what does that actually say about them? For the most part…well…I don’t want to say they’re jerks ‘cause that’s not really fair, but for me personally, I’m more interested in who they are as a person; how they think; why they choose to give up time to help others.

Can someone have both? Can they be beautiful or handsome and still have a good heart? Sure, why not, but is it really necessary to have the perfect body; the best eyebrows, the toned arms and face and whatever? I used to be six feet, three inches tall and weigh 145 pounds; I’m now six, one, and weigh 250, and guess what…I couldn’t care less. I go to the gym regularly in hopes of preventing a fourth heart attack. I can’t give the time I once gave to some organizations, but, thankfully, I’m now in a position to modestly donate money to them…know something…the money is nothing when you can’t be with your fellow volunteers. Yes, it helps, but it’s not the same thing. It’s not, as some have called it, sweat equity, about the best kind of equity there is.

Forget the television ads that try to convince you that you look like shit unless you use their products. Give back; give back until it feels so good, you know that you’re making a difference…and you will be.

Read Full Post »

This is the time of year for inaugurations, state of the states, state of the union, town meetings, and, of course, the Grammy Awards. It’s that period where we take stock of what we have or haven’t, how we’ve done during the past year, and what bullshit we will perpetuate or inaugurate on the unsuspecting public during the next year. Therefore, in keeping with this time-honored and non-sensible performance, I shall present my own state of the mind for the upcoming year and for time in perpetuity, a.k.a. Bishop’s banal diatribe….

…My fellow Americans, illegal immigrants, alien terrorists on US soil, and children of all ages…to put things mildly, the Union is not in very good shape. There is too much violence in our own nation, whether on our college and university campuses, our local schools, our shopping malls throughout the land, the streets of our inner cities and – more and more – in neighborhoods where violence has not existed before. This is both unacceptable and intolerable.

After months of discussions with the FBI, CIA, NSA, DOD, PTA, DARPA, CASE, CUPA, NRA, BSA, GSA, 4-H, ICOP, and several private contracting firms, we have reached agreement that, beginning, immediately…that means tomorrow for those of you nodding off…American soldiers and sailors, in pairs will begin patrolling every avenue, street, road, and drive in every city and town with a population of more than 500 people. Schools, from kindergarten to high school will have a pair of armed military in each and every classroom. Writ of habeas corpus is immediately suspended for the foreseeable future, and the penalty for any crime which inflicts any kind of harm on any American citizen will be punishable by immediate death. I have been reading, watching, and being told of too many crimes and I’m sick to death of it. We have ‘deevolutionated’ – okay, I made it up – back to cave man tactics as a society and, therefore, those who wish to act like Neanderthals shall be treated as they were back in the Neanderthal period. When the nation evolves back into a 21st Century society, with the mores expected of 21st Century men, women, and children, we will…slowly at first…begin to eliminate our police state.

Our plan calls for the withdrawal of all American armed forces from all bases throughout the world. I am sick to death of watching planes land at Andrews Air Force base to unload the coffins of young Americans who have died on foreign soil for no particular reason other than to make a small group of fat cats in our own nation get fatter. Just as we never see John Boehner smoking or drinking, so now, we will never see military caskets being brought home from foreign lands. In addition, we will not tolerate any attempt by any nation or combination of nations to invade – overtly or covertly – our land. We are open to free trade between our nation and others. However, the days of the US as world cop are over. If nations wish to make war among themselves or with other nations, have fun. If any nation should consider the use of nuclear weapons as acceptable, then and only then, will the United States turn the offending nation to glass. Granted, this will end the world as we know it, but what the hell, you started it, and we are fully prepared to end it.

Our native form of speech is American. While it was English for a while, it has been bastardized by various groups who now use such words as “whatevah,” “selfies,” “hinky,” and other bullshit words which have no place in a civilized society. Students using any slang in the classroom may be immediately bitch-slapped by a teacher or either of the two military peace keepers in the classroom…or all three. We will return to speaking a combination of correct English and American beginning tomorrow. Before immigrating to this country, those from other nations must demonstrate a proficiency in the English/American language that is free from native accent.

Beginning tomorrow, all citizens with assets of over five billion dollars will be required to establish foundations to benefit the less fortunate. The initial investment will consist of one billion dollars. I have requested and received consent from Messrs. Warren Buffet, William and Melissa Gates, Harry Reid, and Eric Cantor to select a board of no more than fifteen people of their choosing to administer this fund.

Beginning tomorrow, welfare families will be required to perform twenty hours of community service to be eligible for benefits. Babysitting services for children under the age of six will be provided by the National Board of Children’s Services. All adults over the age of 18 who are not attending school or college and who are unemployed will be required to participate in this Civilian Community Service Program. Those who refuse will be shot.

I could go on, but if you believe this sounds dictatorial and impossible, you’re right. That’s not the way America operates. Would we like to see our children and grandchildren more protected in our schools than they have been over the past half century? Of course we would. Does that mean patrolling the corridors of our classrooms with armed members of the military? No, not in this country…not yet… not anymore than we consider having our military patrol our streets.

Can we demand that people speak English? No, we can’t demand this. In American schools, English is the language of choice. Those unable to grasp this concept should either learn our language or return to where they won’t be burdened with having to learn it. I have always been embarrassed when I’m in Canada, not to be able to speak French, and I generally apologize for my inability to do so.

Can we demand that our billionaires use their monies to help others who haven’t been as fortunate? Of course we can’t. People like Mr. Buffet and Mr. and Mrs. Gates, just to name a few, are already doing more than their fair share to help others. As far as Harry Reid and Eric Cantor are concerned, well, you take your pick as to which one is the greater idiot.

No, I can’t give a state of the union address. We have checks and balances in this nation that protects the general public from the manner in which I sometimes express myself. But…we have many problems in this country that do need to be addressed. We seem to pay lip service and crocodile tears when a shooting occurs at an elementary or high school, a college or university, a theater or a mall, or on the streets of Boston, Chicago, or Detroit. In reality, we haven’t done a damned thing to prevent similar tragedies. We put thousands of troops into Iraq and Afghanistan, but I don’t see the same effort being put into eliminating the cartels in Central and South America, and they are killing probably more Americans daily than are being killed on the sands in the Middle East. Our problems are myriad and many, and rather than face them head-on, we quibble; we squabble; we have elected officials who are more interested in loyalty to party than they are in loyalty to America. These are our real terrorists because they refuse to let the nation move forward. As the late Thomas P. O’Neill, former speaker of the House of Representatives, said, “Country first; state second; party third. Or, if you prefer, how about Rodney King’s, “Why can’t we all just get along?” Take your pick…either one works for me.

Read Full Post »

It is no secret that I’ve been retired now for a number of years. It’s also no secret that one of the joys of my life is writing essays, some of which I happen to think are humorous, while others, most if you want the truth, are designed to get people to think. Newspapers and television present the news to their audiences rather as a fait accompli…here is the gospel as presented by Scott, or George or Katie or Robin…but none of them really encourage you to have your own point of view. I’m happy when someone makes a comment to the effect that I don’t know my ass from my elbow about a subject on which I’ve written.

There is also joy in writing pieces which can cause people to act. The series on alcoholism, bullying, and domestic violence raised a few eyebrows but also resulted in some notes of thanks. The feeling of having done something to help others defies description. That’s part of what I want to talk to you today. You see, I watched an interview this morning with Jane Pauley. Remember that pretty young girl who joined the Today Show several decades ago, then unceremoniously got dumped, and there was a big turmoil but she landed on her feet without any problem because she was and is so damned talented?  Anyway, Jane has written another book, Your Life Calling.  I’ll start reading it this afternoon, but the interview intimated that Ms. Pauley is telling people that getting older is no big deal as long as we don’t think it’s a big deal. I couldn’t agree more.

Aging is a process but I’m not certain why that word is used. I’d much prefer to say ‘growing.’ We’re only ‘aging,’ in that context, if we think we are. It’s sort of a downer word. Sure we age to the point where we either “die of natural causes,” whatever the hell that means or some disease – most likely cancer or dementia – takes away our ability to continue to grow. However, if you’re still relatively healthy physically and mentally, you’re still growing. It’s when you stop this physical and mental growing process that your vocabulary begins to change and you join the ‘aging.’

I have a friend who has had more damned careers than I can count. He’s been with the Metropolitan Boston Police, the Massachusetts State Police, directed several programs for law enforcement education, trained police in another part of the world, and recently returned from the Middle East after doing several more years of law enforcement training. This guy makes me tired just thinking of how much he’s done…and I don’t think he’s through. He is always looking ahead, and-it’s-keeping-him-young!

It saddens me so much to see people retire from what they have been doing and just stop. One of my recommendations to people who are preparing to retire is, “What are you going to do to keep yourself active?” Too many people have these great plans and then, for whatever reason, find they’re unable to fulfill those plans. A friend had planned all of his life around taking a cruise. He took one, didn’t like it, came home and dropped dead. Another wanted to teach until he was 72. He did; then he retired, two years later, he was gone.

The normal retirement age is 65. At this point, we’re supposed to relax, travel, write the great American novel, play golf and tennis, and, if we’re lucky, enjoy our grandchildren. Then we find that relaxing isn’t easy, travel is a pain in the ass, have no idea of how to begin the great American novel, get tired of golf and tennis, and find that the grandchildren have other things to do than visit you all the time. Holy smokes; what do I do now? Well, gee, you’ve got a mind that works so put it to work. Remember, Ben Franklin was 76 when he invented bifocals; Grandma Moses was painting at 100. There are tons of ideas if you’ll just put that brain of yours to work. Contrary to popular belief, the brain is more developed in the elderly than it is in the young. Mark Zuckerberg and company do not have a monopoly on creativity.

Maybe you can’t plan to invent or create something the moment you retire. Maybe you do want to travel and do all of those other things that have been mentioned…and that’s great. However, stop thinking about you. What can you bring to others that will satisfy you and be of benefit to others. Do you have a skill that you can teach to others? One of the things that I enjoyed doing for a number of years was to drive for meals on wheels. After one of my knees began to get a bit rocky, I’d put the meals together and let “the kids” deliver them. Volunteerism is a fantastic retirement project and the gratification that you’ll receive from helping others is truly amazing.

Certainly, we’re all going to add another number to ‘us’ each year, but that number doesn’t have to become an anchor that adds more drag each year. As time goes by, our abilities will begin to fade and we move on to something new. Be prepared. Don’t allow stagnation of your physical abilities become a drain on your mental capabilities. Don’t sit on your duff and wait for death to come to you. Get out and do things that will convince the grim reaper you’re too busy to see him anytime soon!

Read Full Post »

Have you ever tried to assess your life? You know…you sit back, take a look at what you’re doing and the degree to which it is in keeping with your life’s wishes and desires? I’m not certain that any of us – change that to not to many of us – ever take the time to reflect on where we are; how we got here; and whether or not it’s actually where we want to be. There may be a day here and there when we might say to ourselves, “Oh crap, how did I get into this mess,” or “Wow, life really doesn’t get any better than this; why can’t I bottle it?” Those are days. In the overall, they are few and far between.

A couple of weeks ago I became 79 years old. When some idiot says, “Oh, you’re 79 years young,” I tend to resort to the great Joan Rivers line, “Yeah, and your 250 pounds light” [always exaggerate their weight by a minimum of 50 pounds]. Where did those years come from? What has happened during all that time? Am I happy with where I am? Have I accomplished anything? Did I ever try to do something that would be lasting and good…or bad as the case may be?

Perhaps this is just a big ego speaking…and heaven only knows that my ego is rather large…but I’d love to die knowing that I made a difference somewhere, to someone, about something. Don’t you think it would be great if you could look back on your own life and say, “Yeah, I did make a difference…and at the time I didn’t even think about it that way?” Perhaps we are destined never to know. Perhaps you have a made a difference in more lives than you realize because you did something; something like tossing a ten instead of a five in the Salvation Army kettle at Christmas time. Maybe you decided to volunteer an extra day at your child’s school, and that was the day that you helped a child to read, and perhaps that was a gift the child never would have received if not for you. The examples are endless, but how will you ever recall them?

I reached this point in my writing when I decided to check Google and see how many others had done a reflection on their lives. Holy Smokes; 220 million popped up in less than half a second. It was rather weird to note that Billy Graham had done it when he was in his seventies. However, after reading several of the references, I came to the following conclusion…I really don’t know what the hell I’m talking about!

I did learn that each of us has to choose his or her way of assessing the value of his or her life. I learned that what I might consider to be a high point in my life, e.g., having students with whom I had interacted contact me years later just to say, “Hi; how’re ya doing?” might be insignificant to another of my colleagues in the same field. While there are very few left, I’m willing to bet that the women who built bombers for WWII would look on that as one of the most significant contributions they ever made. Here’s another example that may not seem important to some but it’s one of which I’m quite proud: I volunteered as a meals on wheels driver after I retired…did it until the stairs in some of those places where I delivered became a bit too steep. Then I worked in the kitchen helping to prepare those meals.

Imagine what it must be like for someone like Lee Iacocca who rescued a car company and saved thousands of jobs or what it must have been like for President Eisenhower to look back at the infrastructure he started to speed up cross-country ground travel. You and I, in all probability, can’t assess our lives from that lofty a perch, nor should we. You and I are very, very small fish in a monstrous ocean, but if we don’t do what we have done, something else wouldn’t have happened somewhere. It’s been called the Butterfly Effect, the Ripple theory and probably has a whole bunch of names. But this isn’t about the physics of dropping a stone in a pond and watching how far the ripples go. No, it’s about you and me looking at our lives to date and trying to assess whether or not, in the aggregate, we’ve led lives that have been pleasant or perhaps not so pleasant.

I have a neighbor who is married with three boys. My late wife, Joan, and I watched those boys go to elementary and middle school. We watched them as they began Boy Scouts – Joan had been a den mother to a group of Webelos years ago. At 16, the oldest started a landscaping business. When he went to college, his younger brother took over, and so on to the youngest. All three became Eagle Scouts just as their Dad had been. Two are still in college, but the business is thriving, with new trucks and equipment, along with a determination to always deliver the best of service. How do you believe their Mom and Dad are going to regard these accomplishments when the asses their lives and ask themselves if the kids turned out okay. Personally, I think they have one hell of a lot to be proud of. It makes me think about my own kids and the pride I feel for how they have succeeded with their lives.

You have to do your own assessment. Are you proud of your life; better yet, are you happy with your life? If your bucket list hasn’t included helping others, should that be added? If you look back and say, “Wow, I’m really proud of that and that and that and that,” congratulations; I’m very happy for you. I’m even more happy that you’ve taken the time to realize that, all in all, you’ve done a pretty good job with you and for those around you. Give yourself a pat on the back from me…way to go!

Read Full Post »

It is impossible for me to tell you just how much I would like to rub dirt in the faces of my Republican “friends.” For the past three plus years I have heard nothing but horrible remarks from these so-called human beings about the President of the United States. Some of it has even been quite racist…I don’t speak much to those people any more.

Much of the criticism has been about outlandish spending, and I’ve always believed that while you don’t throw money into a black hole, spending more in an intelligent way will get you your payback twice over. People who are short-term thinkers and fail to see a larger picture will always be carping about one thing or another. I’m not surprised when they didn’t complain about President Reagan’s affinity for running up the debt; neither does it shock me that they didn’t complain about Dubya getting us into a couple of absolutely idiotic wars that have, to date, claimed the lives of more than 5,000 American troops…and for what?

By comparison to the rest of the world, America is a very young country. We’re an aggressive nation, never satisfied with where we are, always wanting to push boundaries in so many fields; in science; in education; in space exploration; in this, that, and the other thing. The only area where we have not pushed hard enough is in seeking new sources of energy so that we won’t be dependent on others who blackmail us with their assets, making us dependent on foreign oil. We are such an energetic nation; why can’t we push ourselves to make energy independence a national priority?

Perhaps the economy hasn’t been very good to you over the past four years. As a retiree, on a fixed income that had been going down, down, down until the last couple of years, and having lost my wife during that time, I’d have to say it hasn’t been the greatest bloody time for me either. However, the economy does seem to be back on a growth track – not as quickly as we’d like, but it’s growing – and my formerly spiraling downward fixed income is starting to come back to a halfway decent rate. The big thing for me is that we’ve brought a large group of young women home and out of harm’s way. Even if you don’t have a kid in the service, it’s a big deal to get them out of the sandy soil of the Middle East. I’ll just  be happy when we wake up and realize there is no ‘victory’ when you’re too young to understand the way in which things work in that part of the world.

I do hope that Obama is able to hold on to many of his people. Granted, Eric Holder should probably be encouraged to leave but he has some pretty damned good people surrounding him.  It really isn’t possible for me to state the respect that I have for Secretary of State Clinton or the CIA’s Leon Panetta. They, to me, are a couple of truly committed patriots. If he could find a way to get House Republicans to cross the aisle once in a while, and if the Democrats in the House would unplug their ears, maybe we could move the nation ahead a bit more quickly; however, that’s going to mean that the President has to adopt a Lyndon-Johnson-sized pair of brass ones. I think Lyndon’s motto was “Fear first, then respect.”

And so, my Republican friends do not pick up your marbles and go home. Do not piss and moan for the next four years how much better things would have been under Governor Romney. Do not consider the sleazy way in which Paul Ryan ran for two offices simultaneously…always nice to have a fallback position, right – and do not send me photoshopped pictures of the President wielding a fishing rod in some flooded area of New Jersey, New York, or Connecticut. If you really want to take out your aggression on something, why don’t you take a ride to Belmar, New Jersey and give Mayor Matthew Doherty and his townspeople some help in getting ready for tourists next season. Maybe you want to give Ed Haberek a call down in Stonington, Connecticut. I’m certain he could put you to work cleaning up his community. Just stop bitching, particularly at me, and let’s get going on helping to move America forward.

Read Full Post »

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.

Read Full Post »

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.

Read Full Post »

The Republican candidates for President all have one thing in common…they don’t have a clue regarding the overall job of President of the United States. The very same thing can be said about Barack Obama.

All of these folks…Cain, Romney, Perry, Paul, Santorum, Bachmann, etc…don’t understand that should they assume the office, the second thing that they will say is probably going to be the equivalent of, “Holy shit, what the hell did I want this job for?”Now I won’t pretend that I’ve been there, okay? I have no clue regarding the daily ins and outs of the position of President of the United States. However, I’m not certain that any of those running have a clue either.

The President of the United States is “the most powerful person in the world,” according to several media outlets. I rather doubt they feel that way in parts of the Middle East, Africa, or Europe. To some of those people and those countries, he is the Devil incarnate, a puppet of big business, a war monger, a terrorist, and every other nasty word you can think of. Why is this? It’s largely because no one anywhere in the world, free or not, can possibly understand the complexities of the job.

After one becomes President of the United States, he (or someday, ‘she’ I hope) receives a series of briefings. These are not the standard, everyday, “This is how things are going, sir” briefing types. These are the types of briefings that cause the hair to begin to turn white. These are the briefings that John Q., and Mary Jane S. never hear about. They are nasty! In effect, they let the incumbent become fully aware of what America, as a country, is facing…in terms of security; in terms of economic stability; in terms of what the entire truth is about the problems that this one person is supposed to contend with and fix. Fascinating word, ‘fix;’ it’s only three letters but it can turn the unprepared into a sweating mass of jelly, and that’s not a good thing. The Presidency requires someone who can hear all of the nasty situations he really faces and says, “Okay, let’s get going,” takes off his jacket, rolls up his sleeves, and doesn’t pause for a moment to take on the problems.

From what I’ve seen, the only Republican candidates who can do the job are Herman Cain and Newt Gingrich. The only problem with either man is that each has a sufficient number of skeletons in his closet that his skin will have to be tougher than elephant hide. Cain faced all sorts of problems in his business career, professional and personal. He handled them, for the most part, in a very competent fashion. Those were the problems of business and while they put him ahead of many other candidates, I think he’s getting in over his head. Gingrich is a Washington insider. He knows how to get things done. His problem is that he seems to believe that the President can kick ass and win. Obama quickly found out that such is not the case.

All of the candidates will be judged by narrow-minded and broad-minded people, by the media, by members of their own party, and, of course, by those on the other side who will never be convinced they or anyone who is a Republican can do the job. Seems to me that Lincoln was also a Republican…oh, well. It isn’t the 1800s and things have changed. That’s true, they have changed; there are more slaves today…of all colors!

Obama talked about transparency when he was running for the highest office in the land. He talked about doing this and that to bring America out of the morass in which it found itself. So far, he hasn’t done a bad job; he hasn’t done a great job, but he is now in the position of receiving those “briefings,” and if anything can screw up the best laid plans, the briefings can and will do it.

What are these “briefings” of which I speak? The briefings are compilations of what is going on in the United States and abroad. They are put together by analysts who are generally very, very good at their jobs. They not only read and listen to media; they receive other reports from other sources, including satellite intelligence and information gathered by ‘friends of the United States.’ When analyzed and put into  a summary report, these briefings – either read by the President as his ‘homework’ or presented to him orally – set a part of the agenda for the days, weeks, months, and even years ahead. The President learns things that we don’t. He learns things that Congress doesn’t know. In other words, one of the reasons he is top dog is because the top dog is aware of every potential shit storm that his country faces at any time, and it’s his job to ensure that the storm doesn’t become catastrophic.

If all of this sounds nasty, it is. I don’t understand why anyone would want the job. Thankfully, there are men and women who feel they have the answers. There are others who run just because it’s a power trip, a boost for their already massive egos. If you look back and study everyone who ever became President of the United States, you would find a common thread in nearly every one. He thought he could make the country better. In his own way, he thought his ideas would move us forward. In the majority of cases, each was correct.  Oh, sure, there have been screw-ups in the job, just like in every other job. Thankfully, they have been few and far between.  I have great admiration for Jack Kennedy, not because he did ‘great’ things. He never had a chance. However, the Peace Corps came out of his administration. It was the beginning of volunteerism on a large scale. Sargent Shriver came up with the idea and Kennedy signed the bill. Richard Nixon resigned in shame, but he was one of our greatest ambassadors to China. As I say, we’ve had Presidents whose legacy will never be forgotten as well as some who should be forgotten as quickly as possible.

I cannot in good conscience wish any of the Republican candidates ‘good luck.’ I’d like to see what Obama can do with another four years. He certainly can’t do worse than his predecessor and maybe, just maybe, he won’t let those damned “briefings” get in his way.

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »