Saturday, July 25, 2009

Walking Away

Who among us never had a moment as a child when we were tempted to – or when we did – simply grab up our toys and walk away, leaving the company of whomever had offended us? Most of us have lived that scenario in one form or another at one time or another, most likely when we were very young.

But have any of you experienced the adult variation of this childhood game? Or, more accurately, game-playing? I’m sad to report that I have. And, I recently was reminded of how childish and hurtful it can be.

The details are not important and if I go into them here there could me trouble, but suffice it to say that I struck up a friendship with a colleague many years ago, more than ten years ago. We worked well together, got along very well, began to socialize more regularly, and that sort of thing. Then, a few years into the friendship, something did not go the way he wished for it to go and he got upset. When I would not intervene (read: take his side) and use the authority that came along with my then-position to make things “right” for him, he gathered up his toys, left the organization we were both involved with, and severed the friendship with me.

Fast forward nearly eleven years. Last week, I went to meet another friend and colleague who was in town for a brief visit. The aforementioned fellow was also present at the gathering. We had what I thought was a rather cordial chat, I wished him well, congratulated him on an accomplishment I’d heard of in recent months – you know, that sort of thing. In due time, he left and I visited with my out-of-town friend.

The following day this gentleman’s name popped up on the “suggested friend” list on Facebook, presumably because we have so many friends in common. I thought, “Well, surely it’s been enough time and bygones must at long last be bygones, mustn’t they?” (I’m sure you know where this is going by now.)

I invited, he declined, with a reiteration of how hurt he was by my actions in that past life. “Seeing you last night confirmed it,” he added in the Facebook message with which he declined my offer of “friendship.” Okay. I’m sorry for him and for me. So many of us are as the walking wounded, at times, but I’ve been feeling, of late, that life is too short to walk away from anyone who ever mattered to us.


Thursday, July 16, 2009

On Our Political Discourse

I’m concerned about how we talk about things over which we disagree.

When I read a posting where someone refers to the president of the United States as the “Commander in Thief,” I worry that perhaps we are too far gone to have civil debates and conversations with one another about important public policy issues. I was no fan of the previous occupant, but I never referred to him as Commander in Thief, despite how he ascended to the presidency in the aftermath of the 2000 election debacle. When I referred to him, I referred to him as the president – plain and simple. I might have noted that I neither voted for nor supported him, but I never smeared him with epithets like “Commander in Thief,” nor did I ever hope that he would fail, as Rush Limbaugh and several other Republicans have opined about Mr. Obama, the current occupant (to borrow a phrase from Garrison Keillor).

How can any American citizen want his or her president to fail? We can surely argue against policy initiatives with which we don’t agree without expressing the wish that we hope the president will fail, can we not? Maybe I’m naïve. Maybe I’m overly optimistic.

I did not agree with the decision for this county to invade Iraq (a country that had not attacked us and that had no ready means to do so) but never once did I express that I hoped our president or our troops would fail. Especially the troops! They, after all, are simply following orders. I hoped that our troops would be as safe as possible and grieved over stories of hearing that they were not being provided with adequate body armor or adequately protected vehicles.

Elections matter. They are of consequence. The American people made a choice last November. And to my friends who did not vote for Mr. Obama I would simply say, please understand that we had an election – the people chose. Should you express your opinions? Should you share your concerns about the direction in which Mr. Obama is attempting to lead the country? Of course! Big-time of course. That is your right and your duty. But is it too much to ask that you do so without resorting to calling Mr. Obama and others in his administration or those he has nominated to high office names? Aren’t we a little more mature than that?

People call Sonia Sotomayor a racist for her ruling in the Ricci decision in the Second Circuit Court. Anyone saying that of the other judge who voted with her to uphold the actions of the City of New Haven? I think not. But look – here’s my point – I also think that that case was decided wrongly when it comes down to simple fairness, but Sotomayor was following precedent and the law. And, she and her colleagues vehemently expressed their sympathy for the plaintiffs' situation, but ruled on a matter of law as they saw it. Now that the Supreme Court has ruled differently there is new precedent, new law to be followed by the lower courts.

I think it’s far past time for us to grow up in this country, for us to give each other the respect we are all due, whatever our political beliefs and affiliations. To hear Rush Limbaugh say that Judge Sotomayor and Mr. Obama are “anti-constitutionalists” is an outrage! Mr. Obama was a constitutional law professor and Ms. Sotomayor has been a judge sworn to uphold the Constitution for seventeen years. Please. Let’s stop the grenade throwing and the headline grabbing nonsense like the term “Commander in Thief” with which I began this posting. I’m tired of it. I’m ready for us all to embrace Lincoln’s dream of a country “of the people, by the people, and for the people.” And, if we’re going to succeed at that dream, we need to turn the rhetorical temperature down a bit and give each other a little respect and the benefit of the doubt. And, let’s dispense with the name calling once and for all.


Wednesday, July 15, 2009

The Wise Latina

Is anyone else as sick as I am of hearing these bloviating Senators ask what Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor really meant when she referred to a “wise Latina” possibly, perhaps, just maybe, approaching cases with a slightly – just a tiny, insignificant difference, really – different perspective than a white man? Is this statement not obvious on its face? And, as she has reminded us repeatedly over the course of the last three days, she was playing off of something that former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor (a Reagan appointment let us not forget!) said in a speech about the different sensibilities that women (of all races and ethnicities) bring to the Federal bench.

I don’t recall anyone making a stink when O’Connor made her remarks. What gives? Oh, it couldn’t possibly be racism or sexism or sour grapes that the results of elections actually have an impact on the civil life of our country – no, Sotomayor (and, WHY does she have to accent the last syllable, anyway? That’s downright un-American, wouldn’t you say?) is a young, learned, gifted, judge of Puerto Rican heritage. Perish the thought!

Obama didn’t ask her about abortion. The Senators have, however, and she’s made her view clear in very transparent language. She said, and I’m paraphrasing here: It is settled law that has been upheld by the Court on numerous occasions. Okay, so enough with the questions about it, all right? Dang.

I, for one, am very excited to finally see a person of Hispanic descent on the highest court in the land, and that she’s a woman as well is icing on the cake.

As I mentioned in an earlier blog posting, we live in an increasingly diverse country and those who choose to ignore that or to dismiss that do so at their own peril. They marginalize themselves. I’m interested in being inclusive and that includes my friends who are more conservative that I am. We all need and merit a seat at the table and representation on the bench. So, I say, “Go, Sonia, go! Sí, se puede!


Wednesday, July 8, 2009

On Writing, July 8, 2009

In his terrific memoir, The Tender Bar, J.R. Moehringer writes, “Above all I suffered from a naïve view that writing should be easy. I thought words were supposed to come unbidden. The idea that errors were stepping-stones to truth never once occurred to me…” Ah yes, there is that.

Guess what? It’s hard!

I’ve had a difficult and productive and frustrating and joyful day of revising my extended critical essay on how yearning induces empathy and compels action in memoir. My brain is a little tired, a little “tweaky” as my wife Gloria might say. But, I have produced words – some of them good, I think!

What makes them good? They are clear, specific, and absolutely the right word to express the precise idea(s) I am trying to convey. It’s hard, that. Finding the right word. Le mot juste, as Flaubert famously put it. It is also exhilarating when you succeed.

It’s been a rather gloomy day here in Chicago, with the skies looking more like October or even November than the second week of July. But the light rain and cool winds matter not when the words are flowing. The dogs have been mostly well-behaved today with a bare minimum of barking inside the house, and I rewarded them with some extra walks, during which I turned word over word in my head – do I want “consistently” or “systematically” to modify the phrase “thwarted wanting?” Perhaps both? They are different, after all. Do I go so far as to employ the word “perniciously?” Maybe so. Setting aside the near-constant injunction many writers hear to “never use adverbs,” sometimes they are precisely what are required. And, the New American Oxford Dictionary defines “pernicious” as: having a harmful effect, esp. in a gradual or subtle way. That might just be right. I’ll think on it some more, I suppose, but at least I have choices.

I’ve put in a solid day’s work and will shortly meet up with a friend and colleague for an adult beverage before returning home to share dinner with my wife. Things could be much worse.


Saturday, July 4, 2009

Independence Day

As I listen to the neighborhood fireworks that make my dogs (canines: Max and Beau) go nuts in fear and anxiety, and to the drunken frat boys in my Lincoln Park neighborhood on the night before our official Independence Day celebration, I can’t help but wonder if those revelers really understand what it is, exactly, that we are celebrating.

Call me a curmudgeon, a stick-in-the-mud, an old man; call me what you will. That’s fine. But, really? Is celebrating our independence about getting drunk and shooting off illegal fireworks? Now, don’t get me wrong – I can enjoy getting a nice buzz on as much as the next guy (and any of you who know me know that that’s true). But, what I don’t do is go out and get drunk for the sake of it and set off dangerous firecrackers in a neighborhood with many young children, or anyone else, can easily be hurt. What I don’t do is get wasted beyond all measure and leave beer cans and bottles in the front of other people’s houses (read: mine) and puke on their lawns. I don’t do any of that.

I have my own sins, my own vices, Lord knows. But I’ve never really understood why or how the fourth of July has turned into an excuse to be an asshole, to be inconsiderate, to be an unadulterated jerk. The fourth of July represents something truly extraordinary – if you know your history.

At the time that those men signed the Declaration of Independence, thirty thousand British troops were disembarking at a port on Long Island, not very far at all from Philadelphia. The signers were putting their signatures on a document for which they would be hanged, if caught, as traitors to the Crown.

What they did was truly courageous and it set in motion the Revolutionary War through which we secured our independence as a country. That act has inspired countless others (Ghandi, Mandela, even Dr. Martin Luther King) throughout the past two centuries all over the globe. And we honor it with illegal fireworks and drunken bacchanals? I know I’m sounding like the aforementioned curmudgeon I assured you I was not, but there’s something about this that sticks in my craw.

At the same time, I also revel in the fact that we are free to behave like jerks – as long as we don’t hurt anybody else. We are free to act in an immature or even disrespectful manner – that is our right, under the greatest Constitution that has ever been written. (Despite its many flaws, like, oh, only white land-owning males being accorded the right to vote and blacks being considered “property” or, at best, 3/5 of a person, but that’s a blog for another day.)

I’m proud of our country. I love our country. I celebrate our Independence. And, I’d like to think it means a little more than waving a flag and setting off Chinese made fireworks and grilling some wieners on the trusty ole Weber.

And let us never forget that the moment we take our freedoms for granted we are sure to lose them. We must always and forever remain vigilant to Abraham Lincoln’s ideal of “government of the people, by the people, and for the people.” That demands engagement, involvement, and attention. Not just shooting off fireworks and going on a bender once a year in the name of “celebrating” the fourth of July.

Sermon over.