Friday, November 28, 2008

I hate Christmas

Well, OK, that's a bit of a stretch. I don't actually hate it. It's more accurate to say that I don't like what Christmas has become. Other than time together with family, for which people really don't need an excuse to gather, the holiday is pretty devoid of meaning.

It's empty, hollow, shallow, plastic. It's about Santa Claus and reindeer, about snowmen and elves. It's about stuffing your face full of food until you need to unbuckle your pants so you can sit down. It's about being jammed into shopping malls to buy stuff for people that they don't need with money we don't have.

A certain element in our society -- a tiny but vocal minority -- has insisted that Christmas be so devoid of any Christian connotation that retailers, who don't mind taking our billions of dollars during the holiday season, fear offending customers with the radical words, "Merry Christmas."

That same tiny but vocal minority has fits over little baby Jesus laying quietly in a manger...on public property. I guess we're all much much safer if the little lad takes his naps on private property. Maybe it's the camel crap and angels flying around that really bothers them.

I decided a few years back that people can have the Christmas they want: an empty early winter gift exchange party. I would like to do what the old school Presbyterians did and opt out of the holiday but, alas, I have family and friends that expect my participation. Of course, for my daughter the holiday is special and fun and I do enjoy the fun she has. I wish I could see the day through her eyes.

If I could, I'd spend the day down at a soup kitchen. I want Christmas to move me again. I want it to be raw! I want to spend the day doing something that will really change someone. I want something that will cleanse the soul of the secular commercialism. I want to feel it again or leave it to decay in peace.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Hurtling toward eternity

Each tick of the clock takes us closer to the end of our all too short stay on earth.


Each breath we take is one breath less in the final tally.

Each beat of the heart, the muscle grows weaker.


The minute I was born I started to die.

Today looks like yesterday. I can't tell that the end is coming, but I know that it will...eventually.

My life is a sentence in an encyclopedia set -- no, a punctuation mark! I'm one song on the radio. Begins. Ends. Done.

"Vanity of vanities, saith the Preacher, vanity of vanities; all is vanity."

Am I making the most of my time? Have I lived in vain? What have I left -- will I leave -- on the table?

Monday, November 17, 2008

OK, you can stop showing off now

Alright Obama-Biden supporters, it's time to take down your Obama for Prez yard signs.

Before election day was over, many of the McCain-Palin signs in my neighborhood were in recycle bins. But Obama signs still stand all over the place. In fact, very few have come down in my neighborhood. Within a few days of the election, a tree branch fell on the sign in my neighbor's front yard, crushing the sign. Did she take the sign down? Of course not. She moved the branch out into the street and stood the crumpled sign back where it was.

Obama won. You supported him. You picked a winner. We get it. Cheers to you for going along with the majority. You should be very proud of that.

I'm not going to bring you a plate of cookies. I'm not going to pat you on the back or say "Congratulations" when I see you outside shoveling snow. You're not going to win a medal.

DISCLAIMER: If you cannot tell, I didn't support Mr. Obama. However, I'm only slightly upset that he won and the yard signs don't truly bother me. I do think that there is a little bit of attention whoring going on, though.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

A Veteran's Day salute to my uncles

My dad had one older brother and my mom has two. I think the world of them and wanted to tell you all why.

Uncle D.: He's my dad's older brother. D. is one of my favorite people on the planet. He's smart, incredibly funny, very interesting, very sweet and very loving. Everytime I see him, I'm greeted with a big old smack on the lips. His voice is deep and smooth like silk, very soothing, which makes taking to him pleasant. Peppered throughout his conversations are a lot of "hells" and "shits" and "damns" and "JEE-zus Khrist," but most of those words are used for emphasis, not in anger. I hardly notice that he's cursing. D. greets everyone with a look in the eye and a firm handshake, but he's not cheesy salesman-type; it's all genuine. I love going into stores or restaurants with him because he usually talks to workers there very pleasantly, jovially, always getting them to laugh or smile. His wit is razor sharp and cat-quick. About every fourth sentence out of his mouth makes me laugh. A few glasses of wine really brings out his brilliant humor.

My dad, the little brother, had many of these fine qualities. Dad was incredibly bright, charming, funny and interesting. Unfortunately, he was a bit of a troubled person at various points in my life. When I felt like I couldn’t look to my father as a role model, I had D. While I have to say that my dad was a lot of fun, there was little security or stability he could provide a little boy. D., though, was (and is) a great family man. I always saw him as a model husband to my dear sweet aunt and great dad to my cousins. Visiting them – I only would see them once or twice a year growing up – always felt very warm. He was a model, I felt, for adult responsibility: work, pay your bills, raise your kids and have fun trying.

D. is kind. I always feel loved, like I might be just a little something more than a nephew. My daughter really doesn’t have a grandfather, and D. does have his own grandkids, but I feel like he has enough love left over to give some to my daughter. I can’t wait for us to see him (and the rest of his family) again, hopefully very soon.

Uncle E.: Mom’s oldest brother, E., is extremely generous. His heart must take up his entire 6-foot-plus frame. I’ve always really liked E. even though he can be quite a grouch. As a kid, I thought he was like Archie Bunker. In fact, I made the mistake of calling him that to someone, and it got back to him. But, he could be cranky and mean, so what I said wasn’t unfair. As much as he sometimes roars, I know he likes the people he roars at. He shows it through his generosity. For my 16th birthday he bought me a car! What a present! It needed a new engine so he bought that, too. We spent that fall and winter putting in the engine – it shouldn’t have taken as long as it did but there were problems – and got to know each other quite well over those months. I really liked his company and learned a lot from him, about cars and life. Some fundamental changes have taken place in his life the last few years. His sweetness and generosity have come to the fore and his grouchiness has somewhat receded. I really enjoy seeing him, though I don’t make the efforts I should to do so. No doubt, he has not been the easiest person in the world to live with, but Uncle E. loves, cherishes and protects my aunt. Like my other uncles, he is a funny guy. A good sense of humor runs on both sides of my family.

Uncle B.: Everyone, I think, has an Uncle B.. Mine’s the best, though. I do what I do, professionally, because of him. I work where I work because I grew up around him and his law school friends. It was almost like all his buddies were my uncles, too. He taught me how to read, how to play baseball, and how to throw and catch a football. He bought me my first bike and taught me how to ride it. His love for learning and reading rubbed off on me. My childhood love of baseball came from him.

More importantly, when I did not have an everyday father figure, Uncle B. was there as the man in my life. He came home from the Army when I was two or three and immediately took quite a liking to me. It didn’t hurt that he was so close to his little sister, my mom. Uncle B. would take to my Detroit Tigers games with his law school friends. I was the decoy for sneaking beer into the stadium. “Sean, say ‘hi’ to the nice man,” he would say, as he used my four year old body to shield his coat which was bulging with bottles of beer. Going to games, when the average person could afford to do that often, was one of our favorite things to do. When the Tigers went to the World Series in 1984, he shelled out $100 to take me. I even got a program and a Tigers jersey out of the deal. Every year for my birthday and Christmas, I got a $100 from him, even into my early 20's. Amazingly, he describes himself as “cheap.”

Even moreso than with my Uncle D., I have always felt like a son to Uncle B.. When his first child was born, I was seven and, obviously, not part of his immediately family. He lied to the hospital staff and told them I was his son so that I could see my brand new baby cousin. I can still see her through the glass, 29 years later. I felt so special that he wanted to share that moment with me. I don’t even think my aunt’s brothers and sisters got to see the baby until she came home!

Uncle B. taught me honesty, integrity, generosity (he’s much better at that than me) and how to do things the right way. He taught me to love my country and value family. Hard work and getting the most out of life are things he showed me through his actions.

I am blessed beyond belief to have such great uncles. Uncle D. and Uncle E. were in the Air Force. Uncle B. was in the Army. Each served during Viet Nam, but only E. was unlucky enough to serve there. On Veteran’s Day, I salute my uncles. They are great Americans and even better men.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Proud yet gravely concerned

I did not support Barack Obama and I've never made that a secret. I am disappointed that he will be our next President, not because I do not like him as a person and certainly not because of the color of his skin. I disagree with his proposed policies -- his platform -- and fear his lack of experience.

That said, some part of me is delighted that he was elected. The older I get and the more I learn about America's past racial sins, the more I understand the pain, frustration, suspicion and anger of minorities in our country, most notably African-Americans. For good reason, many of our black brothers and sisters never believed they would see this day. Rightly, the felt that America did not have it within her to elect a black man to the highest office of the land, the most powerful man in the world.

With them I celebrate this victory. It proves, yet again, what many of us have been saying for years. In the United States a man or woman should be, and most often is, judged by his or her character and ability, not by the color of his or her skin. Anyone who thinks that is not true must now explain how scores of millions of white men and women elected an African-American to the presidency.

Is racism dead in America? I think institutional racism is dead and has been for some time. Are bigotry and prejudice dead? No. Sadly, they never will be. There will always be someone who hates another because of his religion or ethnic background. But the fact that millions of Americans elected an African-American, of Muslim ancestry, to the White House suggests that bigotry has been pushed off into the corners and recesses of our society.

As please as I am about all that, I have concerns, serious concerns. Obama and the Democratic Congress want America to look like Europe or Canada. We are headed to an expansion of socialist policies and programs not seen since Lyndon Johnson's Great Society. And that makes me squeamish. I also fear that Obama will change the face of the Supreme Court for decades to come. Legislating from the bench and overturning centuries of traditions and values will become the Court's trademarks post Obama.

This is a constitutional republic. The people have spoken. Nay they have shouted! I stand by that. I pray God's blessing on President Elect Obama and all the men and women who will take positions within his government. May the Lord guide and protect them from harm.

Monday, November 3, 2008

President Joe Sixpack

I am continually amazed at how every election year, especially in presidential elections years, the media blathers on and on about candidate x's attempt to "connect with Joe Sixpack." Presidential candidates go on Saturday Night Live or The Late Show with David Letterman to convince us that they have a sense of humor. They take off their ties, roll up their sleeves and go and and do "normal people" stuff. Heck, they even tell us in plain English, "I'm a normal person, just like you."

They play this game in reverse, too. "Joe the Plumber" was this year's everyman that John McCain told us would be best served by his administration. Joe the Plumber, we are told, is just like you and me and just like the candidate himself. Politicians have done this for years, maybe centuries. They love to tell the electorate how they know what "hockey moms" want or how they have spokes to a working mother of five and identified her needs and struggles. Bill Clinton even felt our pain.

Apparently this sham works. People want to feel that their elected leaders can identify with them. To some extent, that is entirely necessary. The President, especially, needs to know what is happening to his (or her) citizens. How can he (or she) serve us if he doesn't know what the heck is going on down here at street level?

But just because he needs to understand us doesn't mean he needs to be one of us. I don't want a President that is just your "average Joe." I want a person who is one in a million, nay one in a trillion. The President should be brilliant. He should inspire. He should know how to win. He should know how to stand tall when the rest of us would be blown over by the winds of turmoil.

John Kennedy was a rich kid from a privileged (but self made) family. The romanticism that surrounds him to this day was because he lived and carried himself like an American king. He was royalty. He was a better man than Joe Sixpack. He had a beautiful wife and family. His administration: Camelot. He wanted America to be something better than it already was, not to be complacent with our comfortable place in the world.

Ronald Reagan, though not an intellectual giant, was a larger-than-life figure. He had a vision for what America should be. In his mind, America would take down communism across the globe without the launching of a single atomic weapon. He'd get the economy up and running again, driving down inflation and creating jobs. Terrorists would fear him. Our hostages in Iran would come home. His presence conveyed that he believed in the nobility of his goals, he intended to keep his promises, and he dared to dream that America could do during his presidency what numerous presidents before him had failed to achieve.

Give me John Kennedy or Ronald Reagan. I don't want to be lead by a person who feels he needs to convince me that he's just like me. If I wanted my leaders to be just like me, I'd run for office myself.

I wish politicians would stop this game of conning the people into believing they are "just regular folk." Inspire us to do greater things ourselves. Get us off the couch and out into our communities. Ask us what we can do for our country. Bring the citizens of this great nation up to your level, Mr. President, don't drag yourself down to ours.