Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Two Words

My mother was born in 1920 and is going to turn 90 on March 15, 2010. Vivian Arlene ‘Koch’ Schuyler did not complete high school in her hometown of Bethlehem, PA. By the time she was 24 she had borne 3 children – my beautiful siblings. This was in the middle of World War II. I wasn’t around yet but I’ve been told that our dad was a bit of a drinker and was not always present nor was he particularly responsible. He was also a high school dropout from the same era. So my mom made sandwiches every morning – lots of them – and carried them around to a few mills in the neighborhood and sold them to workers to make some necessary money.

At some point between that moment and June, 1952 a few significant things occurred. My dad stopped drinking, my mom joined Calvary Baptist Church and I was born. Sixteen years later my old man was making a pretty good living at The Bethlehem Steel and mom and dad started looking around for a nicer home. I would go on these afternoon drives when they looked at homes in some very nice neighborhoods. Things were really looking up. Six months later my dad died of lung cancer. He was 47 and my mom was 48. My siblings were married and having children of their own. My mom was beautiful, shy, young, depressed and heartbroken. She had just spent 6 months taking care of her terribly sick and out-of-control husband in our home. I watched it happen – it wasn’t pretty.

Months later suitors began to call. This embarrassed her. She never re-married. She took a job cleaning and cooking for a professor at Lehigh University. Then she took a job cleaning floors, windows and bathrooms at The Bethlehem Steel Company. After 10 years she was laid off with no benefits.

My siblings and I did whatever we could to underwrite her challenges. Eventually she moved into a high rise for the elderly and has remained there since 1984 - content in her surroundings – a one-bedroom apartment on the 7th floor.

She spends 2 hours of Bible reading, devotions and prayer every morning. She sends her many grandchildren and great-grandchildren birthday cards without fail graced with a ten-dollar bill. She voluntarily gave up her car about 10 years ago because she knew she wasn’t driving well. She supports missionaries overseas with modest donations. She lives on Social Security.

In the past few years she has lost a granddaughter and a devoted daughter – in circumstances both unexpected and shocking.

Last week my mom had a doctor’s appointment. Some specialist came into the room and began an experiment. The first thing she said to my mom was, ‘In a minute I am going to tell you 2 words that I want you to remember.’ Then this specialist mentioned those 2 words. Following that she had my mom draw a picture of a clock and asked her to make certain hours of the day on the face of the clock. She performed this task perfectly. Then they talked about a variety of things. Then the specialist asked my mom what the 2 words were from the beginning of the session. She remembered one: orange; but she couldn’t remember the second word.

A few days later they called my mom and told her they were concerned about dementia because she couldn’t remember that second word. My mother has since been distressed beyond comfort. I will talk to this specialist this week. I have 2 words for her to remember – and I think she will.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

The Lost Reader

I admit it: I got caught up in the Dan Brown frenzy a few years ago with the release of Angels and Demons and The Da Vinci Code. I make no excuses other than to say that the plot tension and twists in those two works of fiction kept me riveted and trumped the fact that this guy puts words and sentences together at an 8th grade level. Enthralled with his storytelling, I subsequently purchased two other Brown novels, Deception Point and Digital Fortress, and could not manage to read beyond 2-digit page numbers. Bottom line for me: Dan Brown has yet to reach a quality level suitable to refer to him as sophomoric. Nonetheless, my wife purchased me a copy of his very latest, The Lost Symbol, and I just completed it about an hour ago. It’s not short – just over 500 pages – and it took me a goodly number of sessions before I could fight through to the bitter end. As my good pal, KVD, said to me regarding this book in a message over the weekend: ‘I can put it down.’ For KVD and me this was not the case with Angels and Da Vinci. Now that I made it through I have the sensation that I just worked on a moderately difficult sudoku puzzle for the past week all the time wishing I were doing something else. Of course, there’s no denying a few very surprising twists that entertain and keep one buoyed. However, the space between the fascinations is filled with mundane and oft-repeated mystical history, occult ramblings, plot-advancing dialogue, spiritual explanations, worn out numerology and just plain lousy writing. Dan Brown and his editors should be lined up and slapped by everyone that bought this book for allowing half of these pages into the final text. (As Mr. Brown might say: Langdon knew that the simple act of slapping a man in the face had its origins in pre-Pyramidal Egypt during the Kofu dynasty and was carried into the west via the patriarchal legends of the Hebrews, further disbursed by The Knights Templar into Roman courts and portions of France in the 13th century and finally made formidable and everlasting by the Rosa Croix martyrs in Scotland and their depiction - in a hidden stained-glass cameo - of Moe, Larry and Curly.) The ubiquitous Professor Langdon shows up again with most of the answers and, like Indiana Jones, survives all manner of physical and mental torture proving to be our hero. This time the subject matter is the wide spread impact of Freemasonry, especially as it manifested itself in the lives of America’s Founding Fathers and, even more specifically, how it played a central role in the layout, construction and architecture of our nation’s capitol. The antagonist is but a caricature of the evil incarnate antagonists from Brown’s prior two novels: undergoing constant transformation and becoming god-like in an effort to reveal The Ancient Mysteries to all of mankind. If Tom and Opie decide to take this road kill to celluloid and they are true to the text, prepare for very long, unlikely and absurd dialogue about where this staircase may be and what Isaac Newton has to do with it and why cornerstones are always set in the northeast corner of any structure while someone (or several people) are off to the side with blood spurting out of their veins or drowning or both. This one should pretty much wrap it up for Danny Boy.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

The Great Society

I was just listening to a discussion on All Things Considered that included David Brooks of The NYTimes and E. J. Dionne of the WPost. A central focus of the chat was the perceived racism emanating from the right side of the American populace against the current administration’s direction. Early in the discussion Mr. Dionne made this statement (taken directly from the transcript of the show from the NPR web site: ‘Most of the president's opponents are against him for reasons of politics or ideology or the state of the economy, not race. And David's right, we've had big populist movements, angry populist movements. But there is simply no denying, and I don't know why everybody is so - doesn't want to say it outright, that race is motivating some of the opposition, maybe even a significant part of the opposition.’ Mr. Brooks said this in response: ‘Well, no I wouldn't deny there's always been a - in most populist movements, there's always been a racial element: Father Coughlin, there was a thick anti-Semitic movement. But I think it's mostly protest against big government and the size of the government. Now that's not to say this is not conspiratorial, but I think the basic situation here, we have people following Rush and Glenn Beck who may be are 10 percent of the country. We have another 10 percent on the other side who are almost as conspiratorial on the other side and I think the thing to…’ at which point Dionne interjected: ‘They're not racist though.’ This week former President Jimmy Carter also sustained the position that racism is to blame for the resistance President Obama’s policies are receiving from America’s staunch conservatives. He said, "I think an overwhelming portion of the intensely demonstrated animosity toward President Barack Obama is based on the fact that he is a black man, that he's African American. I live in the South, and I've seen the South come a long way and I've seen the rest of the country that shared the South's attitude toward minority groups at that time ... and I think it's bubbled up to the surface, because of a belief among many white people, not just in the South but around the country, that African-Americans are not qualified to lead this great country." This is offensive rhetoric on par with the shameful and angry accusation, ‘You lie!’ that shot from the mouth and heart of Representative Wilson last week.

Indeed, we tend to segregate ourselves in this country. This is nothing new, mean or peculiar. The phenomenon of our choices to ‘run with our own’ is natural and seems to respect and respond to a basic human instinct. It is not thrust upon us. For better or worse it seems to spring from within. These choices we make – that every ethnic group makes – are not racist; they are human. Racism is real and ugly and alive in this age – as it has been in every age. It arises in every neighborhood and is aimed at and from every single segment of our population. It is evident on our streets, in our prisons, in our politics and most apparent in our churches. It is the reason for every international disagreement. (‘Italians hate Yugoslavs, South Africans hate the Dutch and I don’t like anybody very much.’ – From ‘The Merry Minuet’ by Sheldon Harrick, 1958)
But I must push back very hard against Mr. Dionne’s comment that the left is not racist. To that I say, ‘You lie!’ Although some have surely been helped by the liberal policies of Lyndon Johnson’s crushingly large government programs instituted over 45 years ago, the clear result has been insurmountable poverty, total financial dependence, the absence of accountability, the removal of personal incentive, the most populated prison system in the world, a fatherless culture, irresponsible leadership and the general hopelessness of ‘No Way Out.’ This is entrapment of the human spirit. This is enslavement of the human soul. This is racism at its most egregious - hidden behind the guise of doing good deeds: you made it look as if you were saviors. No white hoods, no ax handles, no fire hoses, no burning crosses, no lynchings. This is government-sponsored racism. This is supplying – free of charge to the recipients – all the instruments needed to hold them down and hold them back. This, my dear Mr. Dionne, I lay at your feet and the feet of those whose trumpet you blow.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Oaks and Acorns

All three of our children attended the same elementary school at which each entering child received a designated mascot name: you were either an Oak or an Acorn. The students donned their Oak or Acorn brand proudly throughout their 6 years at school. Annual games were played with one team taking on the other. Skits at Thanksgiving, Christmas, Easter, Grandparents’ Day and the End of the Year matched one group against the other. It was fun, light-hearted, spirited and lasting. My adult children still own several of the T-shirts from those days and whenever they happen upon old alum the memory of the Oak versus Acorn competition reverberates in a happy way.
The lesson of the elementary school is that oaks and acorns are different but very much the same. The acorn is a product of the oak tree and, if things work according to nature, the acorn will become an oak. However, it takes a great deal of effort for an acorn to become a mighty oak.
ACORN is a product of the furthest left wing of the democrat party. $1.5 million dollars of our taxes have funded them this year. This is nothing. One of your congressmen has probably spent that on dinner tonight. We’ve got to get to the OAKS and cut them down. They have made your U.S. dollar worth about 3 cents. They are all democrats – and republicans. Get them all gone and plant a new grove. No more ACORNS. Let’s grow Truth and Responsibility.