A Chance Meeting

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Maybe I’m just a cockeyed optimist but I am slowly but surely seeing signs that there are more and more folks who are ready to ditch the incivility and fighting in our society and join together in bipartisan ways to repair the wounds that plague our society. I can only hope that we are about to turn a corner, and I don’t want to get overly excited just yet. Still I like some things that I am observing.

A Facebook post from one of the local television stations reported a chance meeting of Beto O’Rourke and Ted Cruz at a Houston airport as they were both traveling to Washington D.C. for the current session of Congress. A young woman from Texas A&M spotted them in the encounter and was overjoyed to note that Beto walked up to Cruz and offered his congratulations on his reelection to the Senate. It was a grand gesture given that Cruz’ opponent had been Beto himself. The two men than conversed pleasantly without any sign of recrimination. They young woman sensing the importance of the moment even persuaded the two leaders to pose together for a photograph with her.

There was great joy on social media that such an occurrence had transpired. Folks commented that it was refreshing to witness old fashioned manners, something that has been sorely missing for some time. The level of support for civility indicated to me that most of us are truly fed up with the ugliness that has so dominated discussions and attempts to tackle our current problems. It is as though we all understand that rigid partisanship gets us nowhere.

Mitch McConnell claims to be ready to work with Democrats. Nancy Peolosi says that rebuilding infrastructures and relationships is a great place to start. Fox News joined in efforts to get Jim Acosta readmitted to Whitehouse press briefings. There is a kind of quiet revolution attempting to take hold and I for one pray that it will become the new wave. I seriously think that it is bad for everyone to have a combative environment festering front and center all of the time. We have to rebuild trust and demonstrate that we understand that in the end we are all connected by the same desire for good lives for ourselves and our children. The main differences are to be found in how we hope to achieve things, and those are the areas that can be made to work as long as we understand that compromise is not an innately bad thing. Sometimes it is the means of incrementally changing for the good of all.

Progress and change is often slow, and perhaps there is a reason for that. It is in some of our natures to be cautious. While others want to be “gung ho” risk takers in getting things done. What we have surely learned is that some values are grand and to be cherished and others become outdated as we learn more about the world around us. Surely there are ways to move forward, but with some circumspection. We know from our individual lives that nothing is ever perfect, and sometimes we have to adjust because of that. Clinging to old ways can be lethal, but so can running headlong over a cliff without thinking about the consequences.

We really do need many types of people shepherding our decisions and our laws. There is nothing wrong with questions or suggestions that maybe we have been wrong in our thinking. It is possible to debate for all the right reasons rather than destroying simply for the sake of power. We need fewer waves of agreement and more willingness to back away in order to view the big picture. We don’t need Democrats or Republicans as much as we need the best people who want to work for all of us.

In the most recent elections something rather sad occurred. Because of the current tendency to judge the quality of a political candidate more on party than beliefs there was a great deal of lever pulling. Many voters disregarded the individuality of each person running for office and instead voted only on party lines. A very good man was caught up in that trend in Harris County Texas. His name is Ed Emmett and he had done a yeoman’s job as the County Judge for many years. In particular he was brilliant during both hurricane Ike and hurricane Harvey. Even those of us who do not live in his county relied on him for leadership, and he never let us down. Sadly he was defeated by a young woman who is only twenty seven years old and has not even lived in Texas for very long. Her resume only includes degrees in Political Science and a few ideas about flood control. She has no experience looking after millions of citizens during a disaster and yet she won mostly because so many of the voters pulled the Democrat lever without even thinking that they were unseating a very qualified and good man from a position in which he had consistently performed well and without partisan considerations. I now worry about what will happen if and when another disaster comes our way.

We are weary as a nation. We know that the way we have been behaving feels very wrong. It’s time that we understand that it is good to see Beto and Cruz talking with one another. Working together for the common good has been the secret to the success of our nation throughout its history. It’s time that we return to the days of bipartisan thinking. I hope the small signs that I am seeing will lead us that way. 

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Happy Birthday To Me

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By the end of this weekend I will have turned seventy years old. It’s a bit of a milestone. Most of the classmates with whom I attended school have already crossed that bridge. It’s far older than the average lifespan of people determined by actuarial science in the year that I was born. It’s a rather sobering sounding number by anyone’s standards, and for the first time in my life it actually seems to indicate that I am growing old.

I suppose that it would be best to accept my fate since it is the most natural of events. In fact, being able to add another year, another decade to my history is cause for celebration. In a time not that far past being seventy was not that common. It would have landed me among a blessed few. Still, I have to admit that reaching that age is a bit unnerving, not so much for superficial reasons, but because the unknown becomes a bit more murky after the age of seventy. It is indeed a very good idea for me to hold tight to every single day that remains in the rest of my life, for it is uncertain how many they will be, and certain that they are growing fewer with each passing year.

Save for accidents, wars, or natural disasters I have two possible scenarios for living out my days. One side of my family tends to enjoy good health until about the age of eighty when things fall apart. Most of the people in that group either suffered from heart disease, which I do not have, or they became afflicted with cancer like my mother, and both of my grandmothers. The other branch of my family lives very long lives, well into their nineties and beyond, and mostly in relatively good health with the ability to read and think and discuss clearly. My grandfather was literally in almost perfect condition until he celebrated his one hundred eighth birthday. I now have three aunts, siblings of my mother, who are living well past their mid nineties and slowly but surely approaching the one hundred mark. It remains to be seen which group I am most like, but given my present condition it appears that I more closely resemble the latter.

That realization gets me to a point of concern, for I vividly recall my grandfather quietly noting that growing as old as he did has the capacity of bringing sadness into an otherwise optimistic life. By the time of his death all of my grandfather’s children save one had died. His beloved spouse had been gone for thirty years. He had depleted his savings and lived from one month to the next on a ridiculously low government check. While he admitted to being fortunate because he was able to live independently until the final few months of his life, he still felt more and more alone as each passing year brought a new one. He missed the friends and family members who had one by one gone before him. In particular the death of his children was a sobering blow. He was blessed to be able to rent a room from a dear woman who became such a friend that he called her daughter, and rightly so. Still, he admitted that he had grown weary and was ready to get to heaven.

Long life is surely a blessing and I intend to enjoy mine and pray for good health in the coming years, but I’ve actually reached an age at which I am beginning to comprehend my grandfather more and more. He was a joyfully optimistic man, but I understood the worries that he hid so gallantly behind a curtain of courage. His conversations in the later years centered on nostalgia, and a kind of folksy wisdom that he wished to impart to us. As he continued to be with us year after year he became almost immortal and saintly in our minds. It was just as shocking when he died as it might have been at a far earlier age. We mourned the loss of a truly great man, but also understood how selfish it would have been to keep him with us any longer.

I suppose that these are somewhat dreary thoughts on a birthday weekend, and this is truly the first time that a new year of life has brought me such musings. There is something about the number seventy that tells me that I must enjoy each day with far more gusto than ever before. I must embrace my friends and my family and somehow let them know how much they mean to me with every single encounter.

Today the world is brilliantly beautiful to me with its vibrance and possibilities. There has never been a time in my life when technology, medicine, science and creative arts promised so much to even the most common human. Like my grandfather before me I see the past, present and future with new eyes. I understand that even as we quibble with one another and face problems that never seem to end, these truly are “the good old days.”

Mankind is without question a magnificent piece of work. I can see clearly beyond the ugliness and my view from this point in my life is glorious. I suppose that I realize that life itself is my most precious gift, and though my joints ache on most days, I am still filled with an inner energy that takes me to glorious places in my mind. I have learned like my grandfather that the world has a way of righting itself in spite of the quarrels that we create. The young take our places and lead us into a future that will no doubt only get better, without walls or artificial divisions. That sounds very nice, and I intend to go joyfully forward and push my concerns aside for another day. Happy Birthday to me!