The Best Gift Ever

24910097_1677760535622078_6615890065848693126_nI’ve always had my own ideas about religion and politics. I’m an independent renegade when it comes to both, but I still believe in those institutions even though I am quick to critique them whenever I see problems. Thus it was a great surprise to me when I was asked to head the religious education program for pre-schoolers and elementary students at my church many years ago. It was to be the first time that lay people would fill such positions because the sweet nuns who were beloved by the parish were moving away and there were no religious replacements.

Since I am loathe to shy away from challenges I accepted the job and learned that my partner in the endeavor was as feisty as I was. Ours was a collaboration made in heaven if you will. A staff of assistants already existed and the two of them agreed to stay to help us after the good sisters had left. Judy Maskel would be our secretary and all around font of knowledge. Much as it is with outstanding office personnel she had been essentially running the place for several years, and she would prove to be a strong foundation on which we would build a new way of doing things. It didn’t take us long to realize that without Judy we would have been running for cover within weeks. Instead she was an unflinching ally to our cause who somehow managed to very quietly gloss over our mistakes and help us to feel competent even when we were struggling with the task. Over time Judy became far more than someone who kept us from appearing to be fools. She became a good friend, a person whom we loved for her unending patience and sincerely sweet demeanor.

Judy was a beautiful woman with a shock of ginger colored hair and the fair complexion of someone of Scandinavian decent. Nothing was quite as important to her as her faith in God and her beautiful family. She was devoted to her husband and her lovely children and they returned her love. It seemed as though Judy had discovered the secret to balancing life’s demands so seamlessly that she maintained a kind of calmness and perfection in everything that she did. Being around her was an exercise in relaxation. She had a way of soothing even the most tempestuous situation and I grew to truly adore her.

Eventually our parishioners accepted the reality that we would never again have nuns to educate the children in the tenets of our faith. The transition was successful in no small part due to the support of wonderful people like Judy Maskel. She was so admired by those who knew her that folks began to feel that if she liked us, then perhaps they should as well. We pioneered a change that would not have gone so well without Judy.

In the meantime I had finally finished my degree and earned my certification as a teacher. Although I had loved my work at the church I wanted to move into the next phase of my career as an educator, and so I left for a position teaching mathematics. Nonetheless, I had grown so attached to Judy and the others who had been my daily companions in our endeavors that I was determined to continue our relationship.

As so often happens life took hold of all of us. We were busy with our jobs and our families and getting together proved to be more difficult than we had expected, so I began the tradition of gathering with the group at Christmas time each year. In the beginning there were five of us who met on an evening in December to sample goodies and talk for hours about our children and the events that had occupied us since our last rendezvous. It was always a glorious time and I began to laughingly refer to our little group as “the church ladies.” At some point we decided to bring little gifts for one another and it was always fun to exchange the goodies that we had either created or purchased. One of our members made homemade jams and breads that were always the hit of the season. Judy liked to bake little cookies and such now and again depending on how crazy her own schedule had been. Always she came with her smile and a laugh that looked at life from a vantage point of unadulterated happiness and optimism.

The years seemed to go by so quickly. Our children grew into adults and we rejoiced in becoming grandmothers. One by one we began to retire from jobs that had occupied us for decades. Judy had faithfully continued working at the church, watching over the children and the teachers and the directors with the same compassion that she gave so generously and effortlessly. Somehow she always felt like an anchor to everything that is most important in this world, so the annual celebrations with her had a very uplifting effect on me. Whenever December rolled around I simply could not wait for the day when I would get to see the ladies who had meant so much to me, and to enjoy that twinkle of mischievousness in Judy’s bright blue eyes that always brought a smile to my own face.

As we grew older our conversations began to be punctuated with stories of health problems that we were experiencing. One of our members developed cancer and ultimately lost her battle with that disease. Somehow her spirit always seemed to continue to be with us whenever we met, even as the years began to mount along with our own troubles.

Judy had been diagnosed with a rare disease that runs in the DNA of Scandinavians. At first her symptoms came in small doses and she was able to come to our gatherings with her old hopefulness and sense of humor. Over time the illness progressed, and even though she complained very little we were able to see her decline. She became quite thin and there were signs of worry in her blue eyes that twinkled less and less. She seemed preoccupied with her thoughts and her pain, but she was determined to hang in with us and to show us a brave front.

Last year she spent time in a rehabilitation facility. When two of us went to visit her she was struggling with her fate. It was apparent that the disease was overtaking her in spite of her courage and determination. She wanted to reassure us, but she no longer had the energy to protect us from the truth of what was happening. When she recuperated and returned home we were overjoyed and hopeful that she would somehow overcome what had seemed to be her ultimate demise. Even when she was unable to be with us at our luncheon we all managed to laugh and rejoice in what appeared to be her recovery.

As we began to plan for this year’s reunion we learned that Judy was in a nursing home in League City. A kind of pall came over those of us left in the group when we realized that she had become so sick. We were planning to visit her when we learned that she had died. Somehow it was shocking even though she had often explained the ultimate effects of the disease that had overtaken her. In a strange twist I found myself experiencing the same calmness that she had always provided me even as I felt the pangs of sadness. I smiled at the thought that she had truly become an angel in heaven.

That same night our city filled with a lovely dusting of snow. Our first sight upon awakening the next morning was heavenly and peaceful, and I immediately thought of Judy Maskel. It would have been so like her to find a way to ease our sadness. I wondered if perhaps she had been somehow responsible for requesting that God send us a little gift to make us smile. It’s certainly something that she might have done. She was always so thoughtful and giving like that.

There are only three of us left from our original group. We have plans to meet later this month. We will miss Judy because she represented the very best of us. Hers was a beautiful soul that always lit up the room with her unconditional love and patience. She quietly impacted everyone who ever knew her. She was a helpmate and a font of wisdom. The most remarkable gift that she gave us was herself, and that was the best gift ever.

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#earnhistory

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My mom was from the generation that grew up listening to the radio. Back in the day people tuned in to hear programs filled with illusions built from sounds and words. The listening experience was glorious with pictures painted in the mind’s eye by announcers and actors with versatile and mellow voices. Since news stories did not include photos or films the reporters had to describe the scene and the best of them created gloriously graphic images that allowed listeners to feel as though they were on the scene. The best sportscasters managed to outlined each play in a game in such vivid detail that those who followed the broadcast might just as well have been sitting on the fifty yard line or behind home plate. It was a glorious era when ordinary folk got up close and personal with the happenings in the world from the comfort of their living rooms.

Mama especially loved Sundays because those were the days when her family honored the sabbath with visits to church, a special family meal and time to listen to favorite programs on the radio. They would gather around and be swept away into worlds of adventure, information and sports. Afterwards her father would hold family meetings in which he iterated character lessons for his brood of eight children. He insisted on honesty, hard work, frugality, ethical behavior and love of country and family. My mother would always refer to the beliefs that he had instilled in her and to those glorious Sundays when they paused from the labors of the work week to indulge in entertainment and sporting fantasies.

In my earliest years as a child the radio was still the center of information and enjoyment in our home. I recall listening to The Lone Ranger and Texas A&M football games with my parents. Eventually my father brought home a television in a lovely mahogany cabinet that replaced the radio as the center of our entertainment needs, but somehow my mom never quite lost her love for the radio. Thus it was that she developed a lifelong taste for certain programming that she followed inside her car or her bedroom. Chief among her regular habits was listening to the Houston Astros baseball games, which she rarely missed season after season. She knew the stats of all of the players and served as an armchair coach offering advice to the air as though the team might actually hear her suggestions. She cheered and rejoiced in their victories, keeping the faith that they were the best team in the country. Even in the lean times she was never willing to give up on her boys of summer and she loved them as though they were members of her own family. She rarely had the money to purchase a ticket to see a game in person, but she had her radio and it was religiously tuned to the games.

You would have thought that Mama was a personal friend of Milo Hamilton, the voice of the Astros for decades. She thought that he was a gifted announcer and she sometimes quoted his pronouncements. She especially enjoyed discussing the games with her grandsons, Shawn and Ryan, and seemed particularly proud that Ryan was named for pitcher Nolan Ryan who thrilled her during his tenure as an Astros pitcher. She knew so many details about each competition that one might have thought that she had actually been present rather than merely a listener. She was entranced by the Astros. They were her team, the one group that she followed with the fanaticism of a true believer.

When she came to live with me in the last year of her life she insisted on having a radio in her bedroom, which my brother Pat provided for her. It was tuned the the Astros station and she knew their schedule by heart. Day or night she dropped whatever she had been doing to lie on the bed upstairs and listen to the games. Sometimes we would hear her cheers or her groans and always she would follow up with a blow by blow commentary peppered with optimism and sound advice for the players. She treasured no gift more than a ticket to one of the games, but by her final year on this earth it had become increasingly more difficult for her to navigate in the vastness of Minute Maid Park. She would grow tired quickly and so her radio allowed her to fully enjoy her most treasured pleasure without requiring her to expend her limited energy.

On the last day of her life my mother remembered that the Astros were playing. When my nephew Ryan came to the hospital to say his goodbyes she insisted that we turn on the television in the ICU. Of course she was unable to speak because there was a ventilating tube in her mouth. She simply motioned toward Ryan as though she was pitching a ball and we all understood what she wanted. It was a touching and very appropriate moment and watching her eyes light up with delight as she shared a final game with Ryan made her final hours as perfect as such a time might ever be.

I’ve thought of my mom all season long as the Houston Astros have proven to be a dominant force in the game of baseball. She would have been oh so proud of them. I can’t even imagine how frenetic her cheering would have been as they brought home the pennant with so much class and style. I’d like to think that she has a home plate seat in heaven and that she and Milo Hamilton have been celebrating the Astros’ victories together. If heaven is indeed  a place where everything is perfect then there has to be Astros baseball there for my mom. I suspect that she has told my dad all about the team that had not even existed when he died and converted him into a fan as avid as she always was. Mostly though I am quite happy that the Astros are truly the team that she always believed they would be.

We’ve had some very hard times here in Houston this year. Many of our friends and neighbors and relatives are still picking up the pieces of their broken lives after hurricane Harvey. Our city has been wounded, but we proved ourselves to be strong. We’ve had a quiet nervous breakdown together and our emotions are still very close to the surface. We cry easily as we think of all that we have endured. Somehow our Astros have been part of the community glue that has kept us focused on rebuilding an even better future. We became the bullpen for our glorious athletes who have brought us so much joy. Somehow it is fitting that the Astros would emerge as the symbol of who we Houstonians are. We celebrate their victories as our own. There is a new determination in Houston as we wish our Astros well as they meet the Los Angeles Dodgers. We are fighters and so are they. We are not willing to give up on our town or its teams. Now the world understands who we are.

The Importance of Being There

largeAs adults we wear many different hats, all of which takes chunks of time to accomplish. We have relationships to nurture with family and friends. We may hold jobs that demand enormous numbers of hours. We want to be healthy, and so we may be dedicated to a routine of exercise and healthy eating. If we are religious we attend church services or read from tracts integral to better understanding our faiths. There are tasks related to our finances, the maintenance of our homes, and personal care and feeding. We push back moments of relaxation even though we know that we need them as much as the other dynamics of living. We are on the go from the moment that we arise in the morning until we fall exhausted into bed at night, sometimes far later than we might have wished. If anything happens to alter our routines we may feel as though we are drowning. An accident, an illness, a death, an unexpected event has the power of throwing us out of kilter, because we already feel pushed and prodded from all sides. Since we are responsible we do our best to satisfy everyone who is asking us to give them our time and talents, but we often feel as though we are slighting everyone and every aspect of our busy days. We find people among us who appear to keep it together so much better than we do which only adds to our feelings of imperfection. We are taught to admire the over achievers among us and to scoff at slackers, but we somehow think that living on a perpetually moving hamster wheel isn’t the best way to spend our days.

I’m as guilty of running at full speed in the rat race as anyone. I tend to be a classic Type A personality. I recall times when my mother or my in-laws would drop by our home unexpectedly throwing my finely honed schedule into a state of chaos. I still remember how anxious I felt and how much I wanted them to leave as quickly as possible so that I might resume my routines. Sadly I can’t remember any of the tasks that I was so frantic to do, but I do have fond memories of those visits and I find myself wishing with all of my heart that my loved ones might come knocking on my door once again. It’s funny how our perspective changes over time, and how we ultimately come to value our relationships over all of the other distractions that once seemed so important.

I copied a quote from someone’s Facebook wall that spoke to me. It goes something like this:

What if we stopped celebrating busy as a measurement of importance? What if instead we celebrate how much time we had spent listening, pondering, meditating, and enjoying time with the most important people in our lives? —-Greg McKeown

It’s funny how Mr. McKeown’s words are little more than common sense, but they seem so profound. Why is it that we all too often choose to ignore what is truly significant in favor of tasks and duties that other people tell us are important? Why are we so often fearful of shedding some of our responsibilities so that we might devote more of our time to making ourselves and the people around us happy? Why aren’t our heroes the people who have learned how to say “No”, or those who allow a bit of dust to accumulate in their homes so that they will be free to have some fun?

As an educator I sometimes encountered parents who were well known and highly regarded in the community because of their many outstanding achievements, but they were literally neglecting their children. Somehow their little ones had become not much more than props that helped in the advancement of their careers. When their kids began to falter and fail they could not understand that their continual absence from the home was a major contributing factor. Instead of altering their own behaviors they often threatened to send the young ones away if they did not work harder to overcome their lazy ways. What those students actually needed was a more stable and loving home life, not lectures on becoming more like their parents. The oft lauded parents had eschewed their duties in favor of devotion to careers, and somehow never learned how to balance their lives to include loving time for their offspring. 

I’ve also met brilliant men and women who chose to view their jobs as an adjunct to the real purpose of their lives, which was to build a nurturing and loving home. These individuals were often viewed as being rather average employees because they gave full efforts during normal work hours, but insisted on going home at reasonable times. For them what happened at the end of the day when family gathered together was the highlight of their efforts. The job was work, but what happened at home defined their essence. We sometimes overlook the enormous accomplishment of being an excellent parent, even to the point of dismissing women who spend a significant portion of their lives staying home to raise the children. We dismissively ask them what they do and judge them to be uninteresting once we realize that they have not had exciting careers outside of their homes.

Perhaps many of the ills that we presently see in society have their origin in the frantic paces that define so many of us. We are so busy running from one event to another that we don’t allow ourselves to do the things that Mr. Mckeown suggests should be backbone of our existence. If we were more willing to listen there would be far less hatred and far fewer broken souls. If we allowed ourselves to ponder the things that we see and hear and read we would be less inclined to fall for propaganda. If we were to make meditation an integral part of our days we might learn to relax and love ourselves just a bit more. If we were to spend more time with the people that matter most to us we would find more contentment, and most assuredly we would build more beautiful relationships and memories.

As I look back over the sixty plus years of my life I recall  hundreds of spectacular moments that make me smile and feel accomplished. Few of them resulted from performing mundane tasks to impress people who would eventually drift out of my life. The best of them center around people, members of my family, my friends, my students and colleagues. In the end it is not how busy we are that makes us important, but how well we spend the time that we have. In being there for ourselves and the people who mean the most to us we find our ultimate success.

Resilience

21766401_1868966163120008_6720605651907966418_nI’ve written a great deal about the massive floods that inundated the city of Houston a month ago. The national media has featured multiple stories from varying points of view about the tragedy that befell my town. We will be working to rebuild for years and debating how best to prevent such destruction in the future for an even longer time. To say that all of us who live in Houston and surrounding areas have been deeply affected by what happened is an understatement. What has struck me most is the courage and resilience of the people with whom I share my part of the world as well as the outpouring of support and love that has been showered on us. I thought that I had written about most of the main themes regarding this event and its impact on human nature until I saw a photo from one of my Facebook friends that moved me so strongly that I have not been able to erase that image from my mind.

I still think of the woman who posted the picture as the little girl who lived across the street from me many years ago. She spent so many hours inside my house playing with my two daughters. She was always a very sweet child and I never minded having her around. She seemed to be smiling even in her sleep and she possessed a pleasant optimism about life that just felt so good. Her name is Priscilla and I never really forgot how much I liked her as the years marched by and we lost touch.

Eventually through the power of social media we found each other on Facebook and became friends again. I learned that she was happily married and had a handsome son of whom she was understandably proud. She lives in the same part of town that I do, and so one Christmas season I met up with her and my two daughters at a local restaurant. We celebrated our reunion with hours of conversation and recollections of happy memories. Now and again I encounter Priscilla at stores and eateries, but mostly I keep track of her via the Internet, and I enjoy hearing of her adventures with her family.

Not too long ago Priscilla made a move to her dream home in Pearland, a suburb of Houston. She excitedly kept her friends apprised of the decorating and landscaping that she and her husband undertook to make their house special. I was excited for her and enjoyed seeing all of the updates. So it was with a very heavy heart that I learned that Priscilla’s home was among those flooded by hurricane Harvey. In fact, the place took on water on the first day of the massive rains. It broke my heart to think of the sadness and fear that she must have been feeling.

I had forgotten that Priscilla is one of those people who is a survivor by nature. In almost no time she had managed to find a safe hotel in which to ride out the rest of the storm. She did her best to remain upbeat even in the face of so much uncertainty. It was as though she was more concerned about easing the fears of the rest of us than concentrating on her own fate. She kept us posted so that we would know that she and her family were secure and she exuded a confident belief that ultimately all would end well for them.

Almost as soon as the storms had moved from our area she was back at her house doing the work of cleaning out all of the muck that had found its way inside. She continued to send communications showing the progress that she and her family were making, somehow finding ways to joke about the pile of debris that grew and grew on their lawn. She always managed to allay our anxieties with photos of the cleaned out rooms now devoid of half of the sheetrock and all of the flooring. In essence she and her family had taken the place down to the studs, at least on the bottom half of the rooms.

I laughed at images of Priscilla’s garage which now housed a big screen television, a few lawn chairs, a barbecue smoker and a toilet. Priscilla had noted with a hint of sarcasm that the scene was about as redneck as one might ever get. She remained upbeat, at least publicly, and it was among the few times that I smiled rather than cried over what I witnessed after the storm.

Last week Priscilla posted an image that seemed to capture her spirit and that of my hometown. She and her family had moved back into their house even though there was still much work to be done. With a great deal of imagination she and her husband had created a makeshift kitchen that was a true sight to behold. The bottom cabinets were gone as was the flooring and even the sink. Only the sheetrock had been replaced. Instead of the normal amenities there were long folding tables serving as countertops, clear plastic bins providing cabinet storage, a camping sink acting as a station for washing dishes, and a new stainless steel stove gleaming like a beacon of hope. That photo spoke of Priscilla’s fighting spirit and resilience and at the moment that I saw it, she became for me the symbol of all that is good in our town. Hers was the story that I knew I needed to tell.

There is no doubt that Priscilla and so many others have suffered in ways that should not have happened. We all understand that we must address concerns about climate change, shoring up of levees around neighborhoods, improvements to dams, aggressive building in flood plains, increased attention to drainage systems and so forth. In our quest to reflect on what happened we cannot forget to applaud the human spirit that Priscilla so embodies. Rather than complaining or waiting for someone else to help, she and her family did indeed pull themselves up by their bootstraps. They tackled the hard work and found ways to make do until their world is rebuilt once again. They are models of how to react with positivity and inspiration in hard times.

I wish that Priscilla’s story and photos would be shared until they become viral because hers is a lesson that we all should strive to follow. Life is a series of events both wonderful and sometimes even horrific. We have little ability to control many things, but we always are in charge of how we react. Priscilla has chosen faith and joy and hope. We are all the better for seeing her example, and we somehow know that she will find a way to be just fine. We’d all do well to emulate her spirit. I’m thankful that she has been willing to share her journey. I know that I am humbled by what I have seen and I vow to attempt to be as resilient as she most assuredly is.

In the Course of Human Events

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Back when I was teaching in South Houston I had unusually large numbers of students who were Seventh Day Adventists. They were particularly sweet, hardworking and respectful pupils who made my job so much easier. I always appreciated that their parents had taught them values that included being thoughtful and compliant with regard to my classroom rules and routines. Mixed in with them were a number of hardcore gang members who seemed ready by their very natures to challenge me and thus divert my time and attention from the task of conveying and facilitating knowledge to all of my young charges. The gang members stood out with their swagger and their stealth ways of showing their allegiances. The children devoted to their particular religious tenets made themselves known in another way that we teachers accepted not as defiance but as their right with regard to certain features of the Bill of Rights. Namely, they sat quietly in their seats each morning while the rest of us stood to recite the Pledge of Allegiance.

It was a given that their unobtrusive gesture of belief was something to be respected and perhaps even admired, and so nobody ever questioned their right or even their intent. There were no discussions, nor judgements. Instead we simply did our thing each morning and they did theirs. For me there was something quite beautiful about the freedom of it all, and the fact that we honored their freedom without making a big deal out of it. None of those kids had to have any form of proof of their religious belief on file. They might just as well have simply been frauds who took advantage of our largesse. We understood that it was really none of our business to question their views one way or another. It simply was what it was and it all passed quickly and without incident every single morning.

Over time I worked in many different schools and there was always the accepted actuality that we would not force our own religious or political or social beliefs on our students. We were to be respectful of individual thinking one way or another, and for the most part all of my colleagues defended the freedoms of the students, mostly without fanfare or drawing embarrassing attention to students who required special dispensations. We understood the importance of being fair and impartial.

Now a huge brouhaha has been dusted up over some rather inappropriate comments from the President of the United States of all people regarding players in the NFL and other sports who choose to take a knee rather than stand for the National Anthem. It is unfortunate that our leader appears to have neglected to thoroughly read and understand the full contents of the Bill of Rights, for it is rather clear that those athletes have as much right to make a political point by refusing to stand as my students did. The President may not agree with them or even like what they are doing, but to call them “sons of bitches” and suggest that they be fired is way out of line, and all Americans should call him out for doing so, regardless of their feelings about the players’ methods or intent. The fact is that the athletes have a right as Americans to express their discontent, and instead of mocking them our leaders should be proud that the Constitution with its Bill of Rights is still working as it was intended to do.

Of course the owners of the teams also retain the ability to employ whomever they wish. Players are regularly sent packing for a host of reasons, most of which deal with their abilities to perform their duties well. In truth if one of the owners wished to require their employees to stand during the opening ceremonies of each game he/she would be well within the guidelines of employment, but they need not respond to the whims of the President in making such determinations. It was wrong of President Trump to intimidate the owners with his remarks and his tweets which were undoubtedly made to garner political capital.

The question of how best to define patriotism has been argued since the very beginnings of the United States of America. There are those whose ideas are more narrow and confining. They insist that we will work best as a republic if we all agree to always honor our country and our leaders. Others feel that what is best about America is the ability to voice concerns without retribution. They see symbolic resistance as the highest form of patriotism, for it harks back to the Founding Father’s insistence that no authoritarian government has the right to tread on the rights of the individual. Our country began with revolution against a tyrannical government. The writers of the Constitution were determined to make certain that no one individual or group would have the power to insist that we think in lockstep. In this regard President Trump has overstepped his bounds. While he too has the right to disagree with the athletes who are mounting a protest, he surely is wrong when he disparages them for exercising their rights as citizens. Furthermore, his bullying tactics with regard to the team owners are both embarrassing and questionable. He would do well to retake a Civics course before mouthing off so publicly. He might also consider reacting the way we did when I was teaching whenever we encountered individuals whose beliefs were different from ours. We always understood that it was their right to question conventional thinking, and that our duty was to provide them with a safe space for doing so.

We will each react a bit differently to the protests among our professional athletes. The Constitution provides us with the protections to do so. We may turn off the games if we feel strongly enough. We may join them in taking a knee. We may even just choose to quietly ignore the whole incident and celebrate the wondrous idea that we have the power to make our own choices regarding such things in this country. It does not defile our national honor whenever any citizen exercises his or her rights. In fact it dramatically demonstrates that we are a truly free people.

Our military has fought for liberty from the time that those first shots were fired at Lexington and Concorde. We haven’t always created a perfect form of government, but we have worked hard to make it better. We haven’t always chosen the right sides, but we have somehow been able to recover from our mistakes and improve our ways of doing things. We will never reach the goals of a more perfect union if we are unwilling to pause now and again to question the way we do things and to discuss methods for being certain that every man, woman and child has a voice and a sense of security.

Our Founding Fathers were radicals in the world in which they lived. Their ideas were audacious for the time. I suspect that if they were around to comment they would insist that the players be allowed to have their moment to shed a light on issues that worry them. They would also encourage President Trump to be less domineering and pejorative, and far more willing to stop his tirades long enough to find out why these men feel so strongly about their concerns that they are willing to endure the wrath of their fans and the leader of the nation. It’s time for all Americans to insist that our president work for the good of all, not just the few that form his base of voters. That is what our founders intended, and that is the way it should work.

Frankly I am weary and I know that most of my fellow Americans are as well. I agree with Senator John McCain that it is well past time to dispense with all of the quibbling and attempt to remember what this country is supposed to be about. It’s a watershed moment in which we must set aside our hatefulness and invective and begin again to consider the diversity of needs that we have. Most of all it should be the duty of all to protect our First Amendment rights regardless of our own beliefs, for they are far more important than pledges or anthems or routines. Sometimes in the course of human events it becomes necessary to speak out.