We Must Not Forget

I went to church and there was a table filled with little white cards on which names were printed in a lovely black font. I had no idea why they sat quietly in the entryway, but they caught my attention enough to wonder about them until the commencement of the mass shifted my thoughts back to the reason why I was there. It was not until the service had almost ended that I learned the secret of those lovely little name plates. All of them represented someone who had died in the mass shootings in El Paso and Dayton and we were asked to take one name and then pray for that person.

I randomly chose both a female and a male without really knowing who they were other than someone whose life had ended in tragedy. I carefully placed the cards inside my purse and went about my very busy day until I found a moment to remember them. That’s when I Googled each name hoping to find out a bit more about the persons that I had promised to recall in my conversations with God.

One of my souls was Logan Turner who had been killed in Dayton, Ohio. According to his mom he had turned thirty only days before his death and was out celebrating with friends. His grieving mother spoke of her boy with high regard insisting that he was indeed “the world’s best son.” She noted that he was both sweet and smart, the kind of person who worked hard and lived life well. He had earned a degree in engineering and had a good job and a promising future but for fatefully encountering a madman on the Saturday night which was supposed to just be fun times. Now his mother has been robbed of her pride and joy, and his wonderful life has been cut short.

Without knowing Logan I somehow felt that I understood the kind of person that he was. I have known young men like Logan in my career as a teacher. They are kind and bright and full of dreams. They love their friends and their moms. They work hard but like to have fun. I felt Logan’s spirit moving inside my soul, and I knew that I would indeed think of him and pray for him and those who lost him in the coming days. I felt a great sadness that he was taken from our world all too soon. I promised not to forget him even though we had never met.

The other card that I had chosen bore the name of Teresa Sanchez who I learned was an eighty two year woman who lived with one of her sisters. She and two family members were innocently shopping in the Walmart when the shooter began his assault.  I have found very little information about her or her life. Only one source that I found had a photo that I was unable to copy. It was a black and white print that showed her lined face with a serious expression. As I gazed at her countenance I imagined that she was perhaps someone’s grandmother, a feisty woman who still maintained her independence. I thought of her routinely visiting the Walmart to accomplish her errands which reminded me of my own mother.

I remembered what joy my Mama found when we were shopping together on so many Saturdays. One of her favorite things to do with me was to spend literally hours perusing the aisles in the Walmart near her home. It never occurred to either of us that we might be in danger simply by pursuing a rather commonplace experience. As I recalled my own sweet mother I felt a wave of grief thinking that what should have been a fun time for Teresa and her sisters had turned into such a tragic loss. There were no doubt people waiting for her return who would never get to see her alive again. 

We each go about our daily lives with little thought that the unthinkable might happen. We follow our routines or take little vacations or sojourns from our work. It is so incongruous that we might be struck down without warning in the midst of doing something that is supposed to be fun. There is a double kind of insult when such things happen without warning. There is no time to say goodbye or to remind our family and our friends how much we love them. Instead those who knew Logan and Teresa are left forever with a sense that there is something unfinished in their lives.

I have been praying for Logan and Teresa just as I promised that I would. I find them coming into my thoughts in different moments of the day. They have somehow burrowed into my heart. I see them as martyrs cut down by ignorance and hate and I believe that they are now resting peacefully with God, but we should not be complacent about what has happened to them. They have left behind people who knew them and loved them and will never again be quite the same. I feel compelled to offer prayers for them as well. I want them to somehow find a semblance of comfort amid all of the rancorous debates that somehow miss the humanity of the loss that they feel. While we argue about guns and immigration and who is right and who is wrong, they are suffering and a part of them always will regardless of how we as a society finally decide how to address the issues that have brought them so much grief. 

I pray for you, Logan and Teresa. I pray for those whom you loved. I pray that we will have the fortitude to set things right in our country. I pray that we might still the voices of anger and hate. I pray that we will not forget you or the hurt that your loved ones feel. May we all learn and grow and take positive measures to better insure the safety of anyone who leaves home to have an enjoyable time. May you rest in peace with the angels and may we work hard in your name to stop the kind of terror that you had to endure. 

 

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You Just Came Later

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I don’t think that I have ever watched one of Bill Mahr’s shows. I know about him mostly from hearsay, and in that regard I often find my thinking at odds with his. Nonetheless he sometimes hits the mark with his commentaries, and recently I found myself mentally applauding his commentary on one of his shows. It were as follows:

 “People need to stop pretending that if they were alive back when, they wouldn’t have been the same asshole as everyone else. You would have driven without seatbelts and drank when you were pregnant… Because woke-sight is not 20/20, and you don’t have ESPCP: extrasensory politically correct perception. If you were around in the 1980s, you would have worn those horrible colors and the big shoulder pads. You just would have. You’re not Nostradamus. And if you were around in the 1780s, and you were rich and white, you likely would have had slaves. … Stop being surprised we used to be dumber than we are now. The humans of tomorrow will be horrified by us…Do you really think future generations will look at what you’re doing…and say, ‘That was the moment civilization peaked. We can add nothing more?’ You’re not morally better than your grandparents, you just came later.”

The truth is that we humans are imperfect now, always have been, and always will be. We are influenced by the time and place in which we live. We learn from the people around us and evolve over time. Over the course of my seventy decades on earth I have changed the way I think and live multiple times. My beliefs have been influenced by new information and innovations, which is the way it has always been for mankind.

I am from the generation that was the first to grow up with television. It’s reach into hearts and minds is incalculable but certain. As a teen I watched the walls of racial segregation being kicked down. As a young woman I witnessed the landing on the moon and more equal opportunities for women. It was my generation that halted the boom of babies with birth control. Life has become ever more comfortable for larger and larger numbers of people during my lifetime. I have things in my home that were the stuff of dreams when I was born. Polio and other dread diseases have been all but wiped out over my seventy decades. I’d like to think that we have rid ourselves of injustices that were once quietly tolerated. Nonetheless we have made mistakes, just as our parents and grandparents did. Ours is an imperfect rendering of the world and I’d like to think that future generations will not judge us too harshly but will instead be willing to balance our offenses with the good things that we have done.

Our children and their children are nudging progress forward much as every generation has, but they are also no doubt doing things that may one day be questioned by people of the future. Mankind’s journey is one of incremental progress which is more often than not somewhat imperfect. All we can hope for is that the miscalculations that we make will not be so disastrous that they set humanity back.

In the long history of civilization there have been moments of renaissance and those which have been a blotch on our progress as people. On the whole the arc has lifted us upward toward wiser and more thoughtful ways of meeting the challenges that we face. It does us little good to waste our efforts on indicting our ancestors when we will never truly understand what their world was actually like.

I’ve searched fruitlessly for information on my paternal grandfather. All that I know about him comes from things that he told me. He always said that he was Scots Irish, a term that I never really comprehended. Only recently have I learned about the journey of people from Scotland who were encouraged to leave their homeland to settle in northern Ireland where their culture and characteristics became a blend of English, Scottish, and Irish thinking. They tended to be independent souls who were speaking of liberty and freedom long before such ideas came to fruition in the new world known as America. They were often buffeted by circumstances of poverty and political clashes that lead them to wander from one place to another in search of a modicum of peace. My grandfather’s people found their way to Appalachia.

Grandpa often spoke of growing up in an isolated area devoid of any sort of modern conveniences. It was hot in the summer and cold in the winter but he and the grandmother who raised him learned to adapt to their situation. The world of his boyhood was nothing like the luxury that he would eventually enjoy by the end of his one hundred eight year lifetime. He was a living witness to the history and evolution of mankind over the course of a hundred years. He marveled at what humanity had accomplished and focused more on success than failure, because the evidence convinced him that we the people may falter, but we eventually find a way to make things better. That slow progress made him a relentless optimist.

We all know the problems that we face. We all see things that we would like to correct. Grandpa and Bill Maher are correct in believing that we need to understand that we are but workers in the job of moving the world forward. We will have great victories and we will make great blunders. In eschewing self righteousness we are more likely to help forge a future that will move us closer to the perfection that we may never realize, but that we nonetheless dream of achieving. We are no better or worse. We just came later.

Rest In Peace

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Back when Mike and I were newlyweds he was working toward an advanced degree and serving as a teaching assistant at the University of Houston. He had already been the best of friends with a fellow from Germany named Egon and the two of them were selected for the honor of working with undergraduates along with a few other students. Among them was a bright and lovely young woman from the University of St. Thomas, whose name was Marita. She hailed from a big Irish family in Chicago and it wasn’t long before the three of them became inseparable at the university.

Marita liked to joke that she was looking for a relationship at that point in her life, and that she first set her sights on Mike until she noticed the gold band that he wore on his left hand. Being a good Catholic girl she quickly shifted gears and began a flirtation with Egon who was flattered by the attention from a cute girl with the mischievous twinkle in her eyes. Soon enough they were a steady couple who often joined Mike and I for fun on weekends. It didn’t surprise us at all when they announced their engagement and impending wedding. It was to be an elegant affair with their families from Chicago and Germany coming to Houston to attend. Mike and I were honored to be members of the wedding party where we met their relatives and celebrated with joy.

Mike and Egon were both only children who became like brothers rather quickly. Mike’s mom would joke that she was happy to have two sons. We spent countless evenings laughing and talking with both Egon and Marita until late in the night. They were both intellectual giants whose conversations were always interesting and fun. Ours was a glorious friendship that seemed certain to extend well into our old ages. Somehow we were simply perfect together.

Egon and Marita were unable to have children of their own in spite of many valiant efforts so they more or less “adopted” our two girls. Both of their families lived so far away that they became bonafide members of ours. They were fixtures at every party, celebration or gathering that we had. They watched our children grow into adults and in the interim they became incredibly successful in their jobs. Egon worked as a sales representative for an international company and he was consistently one of their top earners. Marita used her talents to become a lawyer, graduating with honors and scoring high on the Texas Bar exam. She was hired by one of the premiere law firms in the city. We celebrated each milestone in our individual lives and found such great joy in being able to take for granted that these two remarkable people would always be by our side.

Life has a way of throwing challenges at us when we least expect it. Egon’s parents both died in Germany rather suddenly and unexpectedly. Shortly thereafter he was diagnosed with a number of very serious diseases including diabetes and heart problems. Marita’s father had died when she was young but her mother too died while all of this was transpiring. I suppose that they were reeling from the constant ponding of bad news and they turned to terrible and unhealthy habits to still their demons. Their lifestyle affected their performance at work and before long both of them had lost their jobs, something that was almost unthinkable given their talents and their intellects. They became more and more depressed, more unhealthy and more isolated. We saw less and less of them and we worried.

I urged them to visit their doctor and follow his instructions to the letter. They had made an appointment and assured me that they were not only going to pull themselves together, but also come to visit us on my upcoming birthday. Sadly they were never able to fulfill either promise. Shortly before their meeting with the doctor Marita became so ill that she had to be rushed to the hospital in an ambulance. Her prognosis at the time was dire and so our concern focused on Egon who was not handling the situation well.

One afternoon I had a bout of foreboding and called Egon to tell him that I was coming to check on him once the school day was over. He insisted that he was fine and asked me to just go home and visit him at another time. I reluctantly agreed but had such a strong sense that something was amiss that I called my daughter, the nurse, to get some reassurance that I was doing the right thing.

At approximately the time that I might have arrived at Egon’s home had I gone there that day he died of a heart attack. It appeared that he had checked his blood sugar and his blood pressure just as I had urged him to do because the instruments that he used for those things were sitting on a table right next to his phone. It broke my heart to think that he died alone although I realized that I would not have known what to do had I been there other than call 911. Still I felt very guilty for a long time.

Miraculously Marita recovered from her own illness and worked successfully for several more years but two separate strokes left her unable to endure the rigors of a job. She instead required help at home and slowly but surely became worse. She became a shell of her former self who was almost unrecognizable as the once powerful woman that she had been. When her best friend from college died she seemed to lose her willingness to fight. By then she was quite alone save for visits from me and Mike. She was too far away from Chicago for family there to check on her regularly and she and her brother had not been close for some time. It was a dreary and sad situation.

Marita died about fourteen years after Egon left this world. Only the staunchest of her friends attended her funeral. I gave a halting eulogy and some of my dear friends and family were there to honor Marita and support me. I felt empty and sad.

Both Egon and Marita were cremated and Mike and I kept their ashes in our home hoping that one day we might determine their ultimate fate. On several occasions they had spoken of wanting to be spread in the fjords of Norway where they had spent many happy times with Egon’s relatives from his mother’s side of the family. Now most of them were also gone and we had no idea how to fulfill their wishes. We considered taking the two of them to Galveston Bay because they had often camped on the beach there. They loved the ocean and had many happy times together in their pop up camper. Still, we just never felt that our idea was completely right.

Recently Marita’s brother who lives in Chicago with the rest of her clan contacted me. He had begun to worry that he had done nothing to provide his sister with a final resting place. He asked if I still had the ashes and wondered if I would be willing to send them to him. Of course I  understood that he had more right to them than I did. I was also happy that he had overcome whatever feelings had kept him at bay for so long. I let him know that I not only had Marita’s ashes but Egon’s as well. I asked if he wanted them both and he eagerly replied in the affirmative. We both believed that they would have wanted to stay together no matter where that may be. Soon they will find a place with Marita’s family where they will be honored and loved by nephews and cousins who like us remember how gloriously wonderful they were.

Sending them away is somewhat bittersweet, but it feels right. I have a sense of relief in knowing that their fate will be resolved. It is time for them both to rest in peace. I hope they will also know how much they were loved.

Put Out the Fire!

 

 

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I’m angry. I’m sad. I’m frustrated. I’m worried. An entire host of emotions is stalking me and most of them are related to what I perceive as the state of our country. I can go on a little trip, watch a good movie, do a little shopping, read, visit with friends or any of the things that usually put me in a better frame of mind and I keep coming back to an emotional meltdown. My concern for the health of my country and the safety of its people is mounting. I see images of frightened souls running from a backfiring motorcycle or hear of shoppers abandoning malls because of rumors of a shooter and I know that we have reached a tipping point in our tolerance for the hatred and violence that only seems to mount as we argue about what best to do.

Frankly I’m not too worried about myself. I’ll be seventy one on my next birthday and I have had a great life. I’m going to be struck down one way or another in the coming years. It is inevitable. I think more about the innocents who still have so much more to offer to this world. I grieve that so much fear festers in the background of even the most common things we do. As schools begin to reopen once again I can’t help but think that parents are a bit fearful. We used to feel safe in the certainty that the odds of something happening to our children as we send them off were slim to none, but more recent history has taught us to think differently.

I’ve had my fill of listening to arguments that remind me that car accidents and heart attacks also kill just like mass shootings I don’t want to be lectured on the number of people harmed by gang violence in big cities. I do understand that someone intent on murder will ultimately find a way regardless of any laws that we enact. I am weary in knowing that while we hesitate to take action the numbers killed in mass shootings grow. It is as though we have sent the evil doers a message that we are not serious about our intent to stop them. 

I do indeed agree that solving the problems that we have must take many different forms of action. Our task will not be easy, and it may even reduce some of the liberties of good men and women. I have become convinced that simply discussing pros and cons over and over again is a fruitless experiment. While I believe in the power of prayer I also know that sometimes God expects us to take care of our problems. We must agree to do what will ultimately be the best for the common good. In that spirit this what I believe:

  1. We must root out hate groups whether they be from the far right or the far left, domestic or foreign. We have had success with this in the past. Now it’s time to get tough again. 
  2. We must shore up our entire mental health system. Giving a few million dollars to each state is only a drop in the bucket. It is time that we encourage research and fund the best doctors and clinics on a par with the rest of the medical community. We cannot allow insurance companies to place limits on funding care for those who need it. We have to bring mental illness into the open and treat it the way we would cancer or heart disease.
  3. All threats of violence or terrorism must be taken with extreme seriousness. All of us must be vigilant and willing to report concerns to the proper authorities just as we would contact CPS when we see a child being abused. 
  4. We must enact Red Flag laws that deny access to weapons to anyone who is mentally ill or who is on record for threatening others.
  5. It is time to close all loopholes on the purchase of guns whether at store, gun shows or from private citizens and if needed extend the amount of time for background checks to insure that all pertinent information is up to date and nobody slips through the cracks.
  6. The AK 47 and AR 15 type rifles need to be banned for use other than in the military or by law enforcement officers. The thirty round magazine should not be available for purchase by ordinary citizens. These guns are too rapid fire and they inflict wounds that are deadly and difficult to repair. There is absolutely no reason for ordinary citizens to have them for hunting or protection. It’s time to get them off of our streets. 

I can already hear the gnashing of teeth and remarks that such measures will only hurt the innocent. We’ve heard all of the arguments before and I don’t need to rehash them. I simply believe that we can no longer ignore the obvious fact that we have allowed the most hateful among us to have a field day while we turn on one another rather than taking action. If we find that what we have done fails to fully address the problems then we can convene again to determine which measures work and which need improvement. It’s what businesses do all the time. Doing nothing is akin to having a long discussion about how best to put out a fire when a building is burning down.

Many of my former Hispanic students have tweeted that the El Paso shooting hits them personally. As humans these violent acts affect all of us personally. It doesn’t not matter if the victims are little white children, high school students, Hispanics shopping in a Walmart, gays, black church goers, police officers, or young people out for a fun night. Whenever one among us is hurt, we are all hurt. We proclaim that this is a great country, and I believe with all of my heart that it is, but we have become lazy. We want our problems to just vanish with a wing and a prayer. Surely the evidence is proving that this will never happen. It’s far past time for action and some sacrifice from everyone. We can do this, and we must do so before the poison in our country festers to a point from which there is little hope of return.