Archive for the 'Heroes' Category

21
May
11

Time to Unpack

I’ve called it History’s Quandary. The Middle East, where enemies and allies change by the day and the best we can ever hope for is choosing the least unfortunate. Right now, our president is standing in fallout that is too deep to sort through, and for that he deserves our sympathy. Presidents before him have acted on the best knowledge to make the best decisions only to be judged by generations of history.

Right now, though, the President is not only drowning in the fallout from the troubled Middle East, but also at home. His Israeli peace plan has brought nothing but controversy over a steadfast ally. I have a knee-jerk opinion on what he said, but I like to do a little research before I speak out on the Middle East, so I’ve spent two days reading the blog circuit regarding this speech, Hamas, Abbas, Netanyahu, the Muslim Brotherhood…Finally I came to a conclusion.

It’s time to unpack, America, or our baggage is going to drown us.

Every comment stream I read turned into a circular argument of name-calling, blaming, excuses, and hate. Is this what our great nation has become? Golda Maier said that there will be war until Palestinians can learn to love their children as much as they hate the Jews. What about us? After reading all I have, it occurs to me that Americans are so caught up in rhetoric, we cannot reach a viable solution on any issue. In the name of being right, we have forgotten that love fosters growth, but hate destroys everything in its path. The Israeli conflict is an appropriate backdrop for such a realization. Israel, though a small and young nation, has grown more than many of its peers in the area. The nation is democratic, based on a general concept of freedom. It’s peers are bent on destruction. Nothing can destroy and intimidate its way to prosperity – not governments, ideas, egos, or armies.

We Americans inherited a legacy of peace and prosperity that we have squandered. Now that it is threatened, we are up to our ears in blame and hate that jeopardizes our future. We cannot even agree on good an evil. When we reached out to the Katrina victims, there were criticisms. The Gulf oil spill? Not an environmental tragedy, but a political blame-fest. We fight about gunmen in our schools and killings on the border. Obama compared children being blown up on school buses with the humiliation of occupation and NOBODY SAID A THING. Children are being killed, people, and we have turned it into a political debate without spending a moment to grieve for humanity.

America has always stood for what is right and good. She has been a bastion of freedom and solace. Right now, though, America doesn’t know what is right and therefore cannot stand. Instead, we have replaced good vs. evil with red vs. blue and are battering both to the ground. I promise that our skirmishes over things like abortion and clean water will look luxurious when we are fighting for existence. If we cannot come together and remember that a dead child is a tragedy no matter who her parents were and that injustice is a scourge, we will fall from within.

Right now, we are carrying our own versions of history in heavy backpacks that weigh us down, hindering our movement and keeping us out of the fight. We have got to unpack those so that we can step up and remember that good is worth fighting for. The enemy is powerful, but he should be easy for us to recognize – he’s the one threatening our future and that of the world. Usually, he has less problem saying he is bent on murder than we have believing him.

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01
Mar
11

History’s Quandary…Choosing Sides

The Middle East is History’s quandary. Today’s dubious friendships are the bloody enemies of tomorrow. The enemies of today are the benefactors of our tomorrows. As the Middle East slides into even greater chaos, I am suspect of anyone claiming to have a thorough understanding of the situation. I am even less trusting of someone who claims to know what should be done. This is uncharted territory for me. I like to choose sides, and I like to know enough to choose the right side. I don’t know if there is a right side in this situation.

This could be the moment that millions stand on the crumbling wall that has held them captive for so many years. Or, it could be the moment that millions stand on a crumbling ground and fall deeper into turmoil. Historically, revolutions have not been good for the people. Think of Cuba, France, Russia, Germany…The list goes on. In fact, I cannot think of a people’s revolution that can match the one staged on our behalf. The success of 1776 and the long-term implications defy human nature. It is difficult to look at the American Revolution and the foundations it laid, however bloody, and not acknowledge divine intervention. This is a cautious statement, for I believe that every revolutionary at some time called upon the name of his god, and the results were not necessarily benevolent. But consider the success of our great nation – luck? Extreme wisdom? Favorable conditions? Good weather and a great corn crop? No need to be cheeky, but is there any explanation other than the foresight and wisdom of great leaders? There have been few such leaders in history, yet we had seven of them in our time of need. It’s inhuman when one considers the frailty of our race.

As for the Middle East, we should hope for no less, and we should pray. There is no courage in a refusal to believe our prayer will be heard. War is bloody, and there is evil committed in the name of God every day, but the name of God is invoked by the ego, by the self-aggrandizement that is counter to all God stands for. The evil in the world, particularly in a leader gunning down his own unarmed citizens, should serve to force the hand of the atheist, to deny that the will of man gets to rule this Earth. Pray. Pray for the freedom of Mideastern wives, daughters, sons, brothers, and husbands. Pray that this bloodshed we see is actually the birth of a legacy, that newborn cries of freedom will be heard throughout the Earth and the mountains will shudder against this power that is free will ordained by a Loving God.

29
Jul
09

Life is Steadfast

My daughters make me miss my grandma. She was an amazing woman who always had time to share something sweet with me. In those moments she told me what it was like to live through the depression, how she felt when her husband built her a house in town – away from the farm, and how she cared for four children by herself after he passed. Then she would tell stories about life on a Minnesota farm and she’d even pass on the stories her parents told of their journey from Norway to that very Minnesota farm. Nobody could accuse my grandma of being rich, yet anyone who spent an afternoon with her came away knowing something about the richness that life holds. My grandma understood, above all, about the twists and turns of life and how to make the most of the few things that remain constant. Like children. She would have been just “tickled” to see my girls.

Even as a little girl, I understood the wisdom my grandma had earned. She shared what I was ready for and I appreciated what I could. My mom looked to her grandma the same way. She was quick to dispense with great advice and engaging stories and the small tidbits that made my mom think things out for herself. I remember being hesitant to say too much to my great grandma because she always knew what motivated me and that scared me just a little. Now I think she would be a much needed mirror for my soul.

Many cultures recognize this. They revere their elderly and are honored to care for them with respect and adoration; but Americans seem to have a somewhat different view. We weigh the value of a life against the cost of sustaining it. We consider whether it is worth caring for the elderly and if their quality of life justifies such care. Then, as we pursue our busy lives, we consider where to put them so they will be out of the way.

With the elderly neatly tucked away, we are forced to find counsel in sources we consider relevant to our lives. We have turned our backs on Grandma’s years of life experience for the more appealing package of Tyra Banks, which begs the question, when did we begin to equate beauty with wisdom? We hang on Madonna’s every word, wait with bated breath for Brad Pitt to speak, and take Leonardo DiCaprio’s environmental advice as law. We call their voices relevant in a world foreign to our grandmothers. We are so wrapped up in the image that we shut our grandmothers out, refusing to look at the soul-mirrors they hold.

That soul-mirror just may tell us we are faltering, reinforcing the voice calling out from the backs of our minds. I know that the only thing that would impress my departed grandparents and great-grandparents is my character. There is nothing material that can impress someone who survived the Great Depression. There is no vacation or even party that would impress a woman whose fingers bled from her chores on the farm, the chores she did before her children woke up and she made them breakfast. And I can just imagine how these departed people would shake their heads at my morning road rage, which reminds us just how easily we forget our character as we carry on with the busyness of “keeping up.”

As we fear the opinions of generations refined by hardship, it is not hard to imagine that we can find comfort accepting “non-advice.” That is, the pleasure that comes from watching Jerry Springer and his guests, knowing that we are not that bad yet. We ourselves have turned our worlds upside down with this thinking. We say that we cannot get away from the trappings of the world, yet we consistently invite these trappings into our living rooms, bed rooms, and even our children’s rooms. TV has given us the visual entertainment that we crave, with none of the admonition we fear. Programmers are certain to avoid anything that may convict or cause discomfort, so we watch beautiful people living lives we covet and slowly but surely, our priorities turn inside-out. Grandma is sent away to a nursing home and we are free from burden, not the burden of care, but the burden of introspection. With Grandma away, we are free to pursue these lives of the rich and famous regardless of cost. Unfortunately, worldly pursuits will always leave us wanting, for as vast as they are, they are finite so somebody keeps changing the goal, just to keep us interested. It is defeating. To find fulfillment, we must remain steadfast in character and priority, following the legacy of the generations before us.

26
Jun
09

Let’s Skip the Bread Before Dinner

Iran has become my latest obsession. Not necessarily the election; I heard that it was expected the election would be rigged long before it happened. I also learned that Mir Hossein Mousavi shares in Ahmadenijad’s ideology, minus the messiah complex, so I don’t know that the election results really matter all that much. What does matter – A LOT – is what lies in the bloody fall out. First of all, the ruling parties of Iran are showing their character. They no longer have the excuse of a scrappy George W. and yet they are bullying on their very own. We are getting an up close look at a regime bent on power and dominance. It is a precious close-up, too, thanks to the new media.

For the last couple of months, I was beginning to believe that our mainstream media had become obsolete. This last week has confirmed it. The media are fed sound bites from various press secretaries and public relations professionals and we know that the meat of the story was chewed up over lunch, never to be heard. If we do get any of the meat, it comes to us seasoned with ideology. The problem is that these people are charged with the responsibility of our opinion, something we tend to hand over quite simply.

At first it was the many stories covering the green shoots in our economy. Frankly, if I had any power, I would do everything I could to ensure that Americans felt good about the economy. Much, probably too much, of our economic success is driven by public sentiment – animal spirits is the technical term coined by John Maynard Keynes. There is a fine line to walk because it is crucial that Americans spend confidently. The downside of that involves a need to deceive. As MSN and the local stations were flooded with stories of green shoots, unemployment bottoms, and a slowly recovering housing market, China was dumping dollars. China is our largest foreign investor and didn’t like the prospectus. Russia is pushing for a standardized currency that is NOT the dollar. The United States dumped one HUNDRED BILLION dollars into the IMF, proving that the global economy is not looking much better than our own. We are a long way from a sustainable recovery. I contend that it will not happen.

But we are distracted. We have inserted ourselves into the lives of John & Kate. We wait with bated breath for the outcome of American Idol. We wonder if Susan Boyle is really the Cinderella story of the year. We accept these stories like bread before a meal, too full to pay attention to the main course. The media slides by with their sound bites and we trust them because we have already gotten what we want.

Before this week, I was finding that if I wanted news, I had to dig past all of these stories and search for credible voices on the blog circuit. They’re all over. They are first-hand witnesses not beholden to anyone for a paycheck. They are scholars and observers and employees who understand the situation better than the financial reporter who just got promoted from obituaries ever will.

Now the world is seeing it. Despite Iran’s efforts to block foreign media, we are being fed pure news. It is a collection of first-hand accounts bound together by grainy pictures and slow video. There is no opinion save the horror any human being should feel at witnessing atrocities first hand. Ironically, what we are seeing from Iran is not colored by ideology, no matter how subtle. This is what news should be. We see it and we can decide. We have a precious opportunity to see Ahmadenijad and the Ayatollah for what they are, not through the lenses of policy through which we usually see them.

This power shaved off of the vulnerability of an empire is frightening to the offenders. China is launching unprecedented efforts to censor the internet right now. India is following suit. How far behind are we? I have witnessed myself changes in search results from day to day, knowing that items have been removed. It was a quiet censorship, but what precedent will be set coming out of Iran? If Asia and the Middle East embrace censorship, is this going to be an accepted norm? We have a lot to lose, but so do they. There is one right Americans, both liberal and conservative, treasure. That is our First Amendment. We agree on this. Could Iran possibly unify us, after all? Is it possible that when nobody is toying with our opinions, we can agree on what is right and what is wrong? If that happens, America will once again be the force of goodness she was founded to be.

30
Mar
09

All That Comes With It

Fargo is my home. This admission has always invited jokes about the accent, the snow, the wind, height, Olle and Lina. Now this admission is a badge of honor. We’re all watching these floodwaters rising and we’re wondering how long they have. I’m sure many of us have questioned the stamina of sand bags. Miraculously, while the sandbags hold, so does the spirit of these people. There are no complaints, no cries of “unfair,” no calls for government entitlements. Everyone has come together to head this off. What we are not seeing on the news is that these people have worked tirelessly in freezing weather that those who live south of the Canadian border cannot relate to. They are wet, tired, and aching – young and old, but still they smile at their neighbors. When they finish their length of the levy, they move on to the next. In this situation, finished is not a word they recognize.

Life is difficult up north. The largely rural area is often looked down upon, but it is even more often underestimated. Heritage runs deep up there and there is such determination. When I posted the video earlier, I was shocked to watch it. I remember these places that are washing away. The best homes line the Red River. There was the bridge we used to cross to get to my grandmother’s house. It’s still standing strong, but it is so nearly submerged. Then Lindenwood Park. That was my favorite place in the whole world until I was about 15 and discovered skiing. Lindenwood park is where I learned to be a child and now it may all be gone.

Watching the video and looking at pictures of this devastation is like having visual proof that my childhood bliss has been taken, washed away in the floodwaters of adult responsibilities and obligations. As I have suspected, there is no going back. All that remains are the lessons learned and the heritage that taught them.

These people who sing while they stack sandbags are my heritage. The spirit that lies within them, pushing them to reinvent rugged individualism as everything changes around them, is in me, too, and of that I am fiercely proud. I have always known their strength. I have seen the farms and the work it takes to keep them running in sub SUB zero temperatures. I know my great-grandmother who got a college education in the early part of the century so she could make a good life for her and her son. I know of my great-great aunt who lived alone in one room so that she could finish high school to move away from the difficult life on those farms.

Childhood may be long, long gone, but what is left is determination and immeasurable strength. It was a gift given me by these people. Now, as the entire nation watches, it is a gift for everyone. A glimpse of what it takes to truly survive.

16
Feb
09

Bliss in a Ponytail

Has the cliche “ignorance is bliss” caused us as a culture to discount the intelligence of many a bubbly cheerleader?  Not just pom pom-toting-ponytailed high-school cheerleaders, but the ones we meet as adults, too.  The ones who remind us to keep moving forward when we can seem to move our feet on our own.  Personally, I have been very guilty of it.  Anytime I see a ponytail bounce by, trailing a cheerful “hello,” I assume that ponytail is attatched to a sweet but empty head.  I have always held to the conventional wisdom that those who know the most are going to finish first and best.  We need to know what is happening if we are to be protected against it or to benefit from it.  I refuse to fault myself; this makes perfect sense. 

HOWEVER, I have recently found myself nearly unable to cope.  I didn’t even notice how bad it had become (make not mistake, my children had) until I turned off talk radio and chose instead some vapid music to sing with until my throat bled.  It was great.  I had no idea until I was nursing my very sore and scarred throat that I had been unhappy.  Lately the world has become nearly unbearable.  I have steeped myself in statistics.  The size of the stimulus package.  The dollar amounts actually going toward infrastructure.  The dollar amounts that may not result in economic gain.  Previous GDP’s and the stimuli pressed through at those times.  The resultant tax burdens.  Child pornography.  Human trafficking.  Teen drug abuse.  The last time I had an oil change.  The unemployment rate…You get the very large picture.  I determined that I would unplug for a while.  No more talk radio in the car and no more internet research and NO evening news.  No newspapers, except the Target ad on Sunday. 

First, I began my experiment with a certain amount of fear.  I felt so isolated and I felt that I would be ill-equipped to protect myself and my family in the event that – I don’t know – there was a literal fan and the world became covered in, well, you know…Then I had an epiphany.  Thank GOD.  I realized that yes, it is ridiculous to live a life of complete ignorance.  But just as ridiculous is to climb under the covers over what amounts to little more than a lack of control.  I can learn all I want about every issue facing us as Americans, but this does not change the fact that I have no control over these issues.  Right now, I am not part of a majority.  I can write my congressmen and petition all I want, but I am unlikely to change the outcome. 

Now, I would never condone squandering one’s life in complete ignorance Paris Hilton style.  BUT, to determine one’s moral compass and live in such accordance, permits a life of ignorance.  My daughter argued with me the case of Oedipus (not Paris Hilton), making the case that a life of ignorant bliss would surely lead to complete destruction.  Oedipus seemingly had no moral compass.  He was living an ignorant and self-destructive life of incest, addiction, and all the other trappings. 

However, to determine a standard of living and adhere to this would fully allow one to exist in complete ignorant bliss.  For instance, were I to save 20% of my income, avoid debt, and donate 10% to the less fortunate, I would easily avoid increased taxes and now that the economy has turned, I would be unconcerned.  I would have savings to rely on and no debt to worry me.  This isn’t just a financial matter.  To live as outlined above, I would have to avoid envy and covetous behavior.  That is probably the very root of many financial ills. 

If I had lived a life based on a strong moral code, the concerns of our nation would not be mine.  As our situation worsens, I could use my strength to truly combat suffering.  I would not be beholden to debt, or even a job.  Is it possible that keeping my mind centered on the events happening each day in this culture is where true ignorance was born?  It seems that my extensive knowledge of these many problems has done more damage to me and my psyche than complete ignorance would.  Perhaps, had I ignored that which I could not control and instead worked just on myself, I would not be overwhelmed at this moment.  I would then be a worthy adversary. 

Whoever thought that the cheerleaders are the true heroes?

03
Dec
08

Habitual Heroism

We are all heroes on the inside, just waiting for the moment that hero can run free, blazing courage across the darkness.  We lie in wait, expecting that moment to come, knowing we have what it takes.  I have never doubted my own heroism.  Ever.  Until recently.  The other evening during dinner a story came on the radio about a man who interfered in a violent situation.  Suddenly the reality of that hero moment crashed in on my delusion.  I surprised my husband by wondering aloud if I could do such a thing.  He quickly answered that there was no question – he’d step in and he didn’t understand why I was so hesitant.  I know something, though.  We wait for these moments, but these moments are actually waiting on us.  Every day we have opportunities to be heroic.  They are small opportunities, sure, but they are there.  We have opportunities to look strangers in the eye and smile, sincerely, even if that person wants to talk.  We have an opportunity to set aside our anticipated TV show, or blog entry, or gaming adventure, to take and extra minute and really talk to our children.  We have opportunities to keep the latest office gossip to ourselves and not betray a trust.  As Americans, we always have an opportunity to stand up for what is good and just and right.  To be a hero in the big moments, I believe that a foundation has to be laid in habit. 

During the Mumbai tragedy and standoff, the media was interviewing those who escaped.  I DO NOT fault them for escaping.  I am grateful that some did.  However, for a brief moment I paused and wondered if there could have been a different outcome had they stood in solidarity.  Had they found a way to lead a rebellion or lead others to safety.  I don’t know.  I wasn’t there, but I think that for those people, that was the moment they had waited for.  They did the smart thing, but I’m unsure if it would be called heroic.  Did I mention that I do not think less of them for it?  It is just food for thought.  It is so easy to talk about shattering evil, guns blazing, youth’s Tae Kwan Do skills honed, but when there is only time to react, I don’t think “hero” is the default unless it is practiced. 

I mentioned that I always thought I was heroic, but now I’m looking over my life.  I shamefully confess that I have a cousin I love like a sister who may not spend eternity in Heaven because I don’t have the nerve to risk our relationship.  The same goes for many of my friends.  Does this diminish my faith?  It very well may.  I donate money and some times a little time to bake sale-type fund raisers to fight human trafficking, but even in the face of such grotesque evil, I sit in my living room and wish there was something I could do.  There is plenty I can do.  The world is a better place because of people who figured out what to do, then made it a priority.  As long as we sit in our living rooms and wish for instruction, evil persists.  It grows.  It is time to go find those moments and build them into a way of life.




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