Photo by Robert Phelps
30 April 2019
Nancy: Goodness Remembered
May 1st is the first anniversary of my Beloved Nancy’s death. One year. These months have been a time of grieving for those who love her still, who miss her profoundly. As C. S. Lewis insists, grieving takes its own time. How true.
Not surprisingly, I am - day and night – reminded of my wife’s goodness, of her special goodness which, for nearly forty years, I was blessed to share and to learn from in so many ways beyond the counting.
Live And Remember … And Learn
Our early years were a prolonged honeymoon. We moved from the parched Arizona desert to a seaside village where we walked the beach each morning and spent leisurely hours at a sidewalk coffee shop overlooking the sea.
Slowly, ever so slowly, did we ease into the life-long process of learning how, finally, to love with unguarded vulnerability which ego’s wariness and eager ambition instinctively shun.
Little by little, it became clear to us that there is surely more to this marriage than simply “making it work.” There is, we gradually realized, the possibility for extraordinary intimacy of mind and soul in this relationship, a potential for a loving connection based on mutual trust and openness with one another. We saw the promise of a relationship which we would find nowhere else, with no one else.
Finding “Us” In Trust
For starters, we learned -- slowly at first -- to think in terms of “we” rather than simply of “me” and “my needs” and “my wants.” We learned that a greater reality exists: “us.”
We then had to recognize a hard fact of married life: it is not possible to love -- to truly and unreservedly love -- someone whom we cannot first trust. First and always, there must be trust. We can sustain a measure of affection and family fidelity for a time … but the power of trust is beyond time, as is the love of committed benevolence which trust can ultimately produce. But married love will not survive in a spiritual or emotional vacuum. Above all: there must be trust.
A Livable Vision
And so we spent some years developing a vision of what our lives could be together, as we learned to trust one another, to listen and to argue with restraint. We learned to embrace our differences and not to exploit them, as we trusted one another more and more. And love did indeed follow our hopeful vision and reward our efforts.
As years lengthened, loving one another became our central reality -- and we were truly blessed, one with the other, and our vision flourished.
The Courage To Be
But as our years passed, various maladies gradually drained my Beloved’s health. Her pain -- so courageously borne -- became our constant reminder of our shared frailty.
Inevitably, illness and age sapped her energy and her vitality. But as my Beloved weakened, her tenacious inner spirit emerged, and her quiet acceptance brought patience and extraordinary calmness to our lives, along with moments of gentle wisdom which were, to me, astonishing.
I knew how much she suffered each day, but she would smile with gracious Faith … and would then close her eyes in prayerful reverie, and squeeze my hand in a statement of her love for me … and of her readiness to accept what God had decreed for her.
After years of bearing such burdens, her resources were finally taken by sickness. We brought her home from the hospital. She received the Sacraments and final blessings of our Catholic Faith and, with her loved ones attending her, she died in peace on the first of May.
Life And Loving Continue
To this day, so many unshared memories still linger, so many embraces ungiven, so many loving words unspoken, so many moments of admiration and gratitude unexpressed, so many grand emotions still enshrined in the privacy of one’s heart. And even as these endless days pass ever so slowly, I realize there still remains much to be learned from our marriage, from the example of my Beloved, a grand and blessed woman.
Lessons For All Lovers
We both learned -- sometimes the hard way -- that in a marriage of substance and fidelity, the early, well-intended promises to “love and honor” are merely the threshold to coming years of necessary changes for both persons: changes in thought and attitude and behavior and character.
Such changes are costly. We do not quickly relinquish our ego’s defenses, nor abandon our habits of security and avoidance. Nor do we lightly surrender our pretenses, nor risk rejection nor easily embrace the precarious challenge of giving our trust.
Romance Is Merely Prelude
To many persons, romantic attraction comes easily, even recklessly. But romantic emotionality is not authentic love. True love involves the lengthy process of granting trust to that special person while also earning trust.
The gift of trust is quite a challenge for both persons. It’s risky because we learn early in life to trust sparingly and to protect ourselves from truths which sting … mainly because they are often so accurate.
When the gift of trust is earned and given, trust then opens the heart’s door to true intimacy. True intimacy is far more than merely sharing secrets or gossipy tidbits. It is the unveiling of heart and mind and soul to that rare person who has become our friend-beyond-friendship. True intimacy is one of the lasting rewards of a trusting marriage.
But some marriages remain precarious; the persons are habitually hesitant to trust one another. In such instances, trust is edged out. Hesitancy then leads to cordial superficiality which cloaks deeper avoidance. An edgy, abrasive stand-off is often the dreary result.
The Cost Of Trust
Over our years, my Beloved and I learned that the pursuit of trust and openness and intimacy in marriage is a journey of arduous self-sacrifice and confrontation which demands humility and a whole lot of truthful candor – all for the best interests of the other as our mutual priority.
This marital journey of self-abnegation is indeed costly to one’s ego. It may take years and much courage to “get it.” As a result, many people are late to recognize their partner’s value, late to comprehend and admit their need for true intimacy, late to the uncommon peace which reconciliation affords.
The choice to selflessly love each other asks a very great deal of both persons. But shared commitments also offer the benefits of mutual vulnerability and a loving relationship wherein we are, at long last, safe – and we know it.
The Upside of Choosing
When we accept our mutual vulnerability, we also accept each other’s faults and foibles and picayune missteps which often befog and curdle the early years of some marriages. Wisely, then, do we avoid needless friction where unity and affection should reign. Wisely do we banish suspicion where trust should abound. And wisely do we thank God for that person whom we choose to revere above all others.
And in God’s good time, love’s goodness brings light and life to us all ... and we are evermore grateful to God for the wisdom which teaches us these truths and for the years to appreciate and honor our Beloved.
The Price Of Loving
In time, love will eventually impose a price to be paid. The loss of one’s Beloved will then tap into the deepest reservoirs of emotion we possess. Love’s undisguised vulnerability makes us subject to unavoidable grief when our Beloved is taken from us.
Grief’s weighty price will, we are told, inevitably fade … but its passing is not quick in the hearts and memories of those to whom the Beloved meant so very much, for love’s power is never lost to memory or to the heart.
For a time, love must bear grief’s burden as we are immersed in wonderment and ambiguity … but our Faith tempers that cost with reverence and hope and unflagging gratitude for time’s richest gift, the gift of loving and being loved, the gift of the Beloved.
Faith And Purpose
Therefore, if one seeks solace for grief or looks for meaning in the death of the Beloved, one soon realizes that clarity is fleeting --- unless one’s Faith in God sustains and upholds.
When Faith and Hope are as true as Love has been, then there is indeed much meaning in loss, much value in suffering, much insight to be gained from the gifts of Faith and Hope.
Even if, at first, these gifts are hidden by grief, buried beneath the yoke of trauma which death always brings, the message is insistent and always at hand: God’s messages are always present to us and cannot be denied; avoided, yes; denied, never.
Love’s Enduring Power
Perhaps the most generous insight of all is the realization that one is truly capable of loving so deeply and so ardently. To know one’s depth of feeling -- and of Faith -- is truly a grace.
There is, thus, a further vision to be found, a vision of loving beyond life, a vision which one’s Faith allows and nourishes. And, with Faith and Hope abiding, one faces the reality that the Love of God, mirrored in the goodness of married life and the love of the Beloved, is vastly greater than the pain of loss.
The love of God, which marriage pre-figures, informs our choice to love one another with meaning and fidelity, beyond time and mind and heart.
Such love as God affords in marriage calms the pain of loss and reminds us that love does indeed survive all else.
My Beloved had a favorite poem:
Tranquility is a little child asleep,
A clear, calm sky, the softly falling snow,
The space between all heartbeats,
In which love reminds the anxious heart,
“Be still and know.”
In her final years, my Beloved Nancy would quietly sit in her armchair next to a full-length window and look into the small patio garden which I had filled with the greenery of succulents and flowering plants. And, as her ailments took their toll, she taped a verse from Psalm 46 on the window pane, in a place where she would read it many times each day. It says simply: “Be still, and know…”
May it be so for those of us who yet live and have the choice to love and to be loved.
May it ever be so.
14 April 2019
Belief And Its Contrarians:
Walking Out Of Darkness
Not long ago, I planted a small, twig-like stem of scraggly roots. With dutiful regularity I watered and nourished my roots, then watched as they slowly formed freshened leaves. To my delight, delicate buds slowly appeared. Now, six months later, by some intrinsic, miraculous process of Nature, my roots have flowered and graciously reward me with gorgeous white roses.
Occasionally, a neighbor comments appreciatively on the array of loveliness my plants provide. I smile, of course, and thank them for their kindly observations -- but in my heart I know I can claim no credit for such beauty unfolding.
I am (as are we all) merely a participant in many such beguiling events each moment. We are daily witnesses to a myriad of astonishing happenings which are elegant in design, baffling in complexity, predictable in regularity, divine in origin.
A Universe Of Wonders
My roses are but one of the inexplicable ways in which Nature fills our lives every instant: the light of the sun which saturates, the whispered touch of the wind which refreshes, the distant twinkling of a billion galaxies above and billions more unseen, the rhythmic beating of our hearts within, the unexpected kindness of a stranger, the disarming laughter of children at play, the unforgettable, lingering embrace of the Beloved.
Creation’s miraculous processes are the essence of life. In fact, Creation rests on the exquisite balance of a number of universal factors such as Newton’s gravitational constant, the mass and charge of the electron, the weak and strong nuclear forces, the mathematics of motion and acceleration, to name a very few.
Creation’s mysteries include the gift of one’s own life, a gift which should ignite in us awe and gratitude to our Creator. Science seeks to explain the “when” and “where” and “what” of Creation, but science falters at the question, “Who” is the cause of it all?
The “Who” of Creation is, of course, God. But these days, God is often shunted aside as an intrusion into our national conversation. God is an obstacle to the litany of “human rights” and grotesque “freedoms” which inevitably surface when mankind dismisses the fact that Creation has a Creator.
Nonetheless, reason and logic persist: God creates. Evidence and history and common sense urge us to acknowledge that God creates all, including us. We participate but only God creates. And our acceptance -- or denial -- of God as our Creator has profound consequences for each of us … and for the future of our society.
Evidence abounds … yet many resist belief in God. Why?
Our Struggles With Reason
For starters, belief in God compels us to admit His sovereignty over Creation, over us. We have to admit we are dependent creatures, immersed in the mystery of His Creation. Someone greater than ourselves can tell us what we should do … but “should” is an aggravating trigger to folks who resent calls to obedience and intellectual humility.
Since God’s laws often restrict behavior and carry consequences we’d rather ignore, admitting our dependence is to admit that we are vulnerable to error and wrong-headedness, that we often choose self-serving rationalizations. Moreover, by admitting our dependence, we acknowledge that Godly norms do indeed exist in the form of virtues, such as justice and prudence, fortitude and temperance, faith, hope and charity, chastity and patience, modesty and humility – all those moral realities about which we hear very little these days.
It suits our culture to deny guilt, keep God out of it, stifle the echoes of our errant consciences rather than wrestle with responsibilities which restrict our skewed notions of “human rights.”
A Culture Adrift
As we obscure God’s role in personal, political and cultural life, we also deny our responsibilities to one another. Furthermore, to deny our dependence on God exposes our culture’s distortions of morality … especially when unborn-and-newborn babies are involved; children whose right to life is violated every minute of every day by Leftist orthodoxy in the name of “human rights.”
Without God, nothing restrains human excess. The lives of the young, the elderly and ill, the depressed and suicidal, even the bored, become disposable. Nihilism ascends.
Reckless, politically correct mantras replace law, virtue, history and tradition. Even settled facts of science are dismissed. Our national conversations overflow with petty, calculated enmity, with moral relativism and vitriolic discourse and baseless accusations. We shrug at evils unimaginable a generation ago.
Humanism Without Humanity
At the core of this malaise is anti-theist humanism writ large. It is the result of militant secularism which fuels Leftist intolerance and political correctness. It generates absurdly stereotyped villains: white-privileged, racist, alpha-males who are hate-speaking, nationalistic, knuckle-dragging, deplorables; conspiratorial Conservatives, most of whom are gun-toting, Bible-clutching, closed-border, omni-phobic (…..wait for it…….) Christians!
Professor Daniel J. Mahoney (The Idol of Our Age: How the Religion of Humanity Subverts Christianity) argues that this utterly secular creed is a “religion of humanity” and is replacing Judeo-Christian values in much of Western society. Humanitarian instincts seem fine - on the surface. But without the restraints of pubic virtue, exaggerated victimhood and moral vacuity become the norms. Emotional righteousness overcome reason. Every new “freedom” is allowed, no matter how bizarre or perverse.
Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, who evolved from Soviet atheism into fearless Christian witness, warned America that without divine warrant and acknowledgement of God’s laws, humanitarianism invariably becomes tyranny and negates true politics (i.e., the betterment of people). After years of imprisonment and abuse in the Soviet gulag, Solzhenitsyn finally wrote:
“…How easy it is to live with you, O Lord,
how easy to believe in you.
When my spirit is overwhelmed within me,
when even the keenest eyes see no further than the night
and know not what to do tomorrow,
You bestow on me the certitude
that You exist
and are mindful of me,
that all the paths of virtue
are not barred…
that I, too, may reflect Your radiance upon mankind…”
History is clear: without God, societies embark upon that “walk into darkness” which Elie Wiesel writes about in his “Memoirs.” Historian Christopher Dawson told us that the modern project, having cut itself off from God, triumphantly pursued a “career of explaining nature and man to itself by its own unaided power, and ended in a kind of rational suicide by explaining itself away.”
The Conclusion Is Obvious
Every human experience (work, friendship, love, marriage, education, family life) involves a measure of everyday faith in others, moments when we trust an unseen power or an unknown authority beyond ourselves. Natural faith is a common necessity, a reasonable and logical choice we all make many times daily. But for our spiritual maturity and survival as a society, our lives demand Faith of a higher form, namely, Faith in God and attention to His wishes as they are revealed to us through time and history.
Faith in God does not eliminate worry or doubt. By definition, it includes certainty and uncertainty, the known and the unknown. Faith in God does not banish life’s misfortunes. But Faith does reassure us that we are always upheld by God’s greater Reality. His Reality grants us the life we possess, the mind with which we reason, the heart with which we seek to do right, the animating soul which, as St. Augustine says, is ever-restless without God.
Faith in God says that while we do not know everything, we do not need to know everything. Faith illuminates what we know and what we do not know, sometimes in light, sometimes in deep shadow.
And even when all is indeed darkness (as it was for Mother Teresa for forty years), Faith inspires us with the courage to persevere toward the Light without risking that “walk into darkness” about which Elie Wiesel poignantly warns.
Walking Into Light
Moreover, Faith in God enlivens Hope. Together, Faith and Hope reveal to us that true Charity – i.e., loving God and His people -- is the highest expression of our created selves.
True Charity (i.e., Caritas, true love of benevolence, not merely almsgiving) is the intentional gift of our selves, generously and freely, as an incarnate expression of our regard for others, without seeking reward or expecting applause.
Giving freely of ourselves from our heart’s willing reservoir, responding to the vulnerabilities of others, seizing any of the thousand opportunities for courtesy and civility each day -- even to passing strangers or even to those persons whose arrogance blinds them to love’s simplicity -- these are the gifts of Faith and Hope enlivened by Charity which honor our Creator, Who walks among us still, Who is present to us still.
Sometimes, when we give our love, it is not returned -- but the ingratitude and coldness and rudeness of others does not lessen the value or the beauty of our giving.
In our lives, we become what our choices to love others make of us. We also become what our rejection and dismissal of others do to us, as our hearts and souls wither and grow sere and dusty.
But as we become aware of love’s innate beauty, we are inspired to bear the costs of loving. Love is the soil in which, like my roses, our souls are meant to bloom. Even when love costs us a very great deal in loneliness and need, in illness and loss, we are still moved under its inspiration and its clarity to willingly bear the costs of being loving persons, for then life truly does make sense.
The Transcendent Goal
For these reasons have we been born … and given time and life:
- That we develop our loving selves and enliven our loving hearts over our length of days before us;
- That we recognize Creation’s laws and limits … and honor them in the time ahead;
- That we make kindness and gratitude our guiding motives, refreshed and deepened by the virtues which love instills in us; virtues such as wisdom, patience and humility and an ever-generous heart which love nourishes.
Uncertainty is always part of human experience, and all things are not open to us. But this is precisely why Faith and Hope and Charity are so crucial -- and so clearly the path into Light and Life.
As my latter years now swiftly pass and distractions fade, I am so often struck by the timeless realization of what a grand gift such Love truly is, of how fine it is to be with loving persons, of how grand it is to be mindful of others, of how essential are small acts of kindness. How else can we benefit our universal humanity, express our desire to care and bring kindness where it is wanting?
May we be inspired to seek Faith and Hope and Charity, not only in God, but with one another. Is there a better reason to live?
May it be so. May it ever be so……….
4 March 2019
The Green New Deal: Myths and Migraines
The Green New Deal is the Democrat Party’s latest version of the American Dream. The GND is a lengthy list of radical proposals for total transformation of our culture, our economy, our health care and educational systems, our environmental conditions, on and on.
The GND expands government incomprehensively. For starters: no more carbon-spewing airplanes. High-speed rail will take us everywhere. Government-administered universal health care for all – but no private insurance (so wait your turn). Not to worry: the bureaucracy will care for us, will put our children in government daycare, will see to our pesky grandparents. The government will cover everything. No worries!
We need no longer fret about farm animals emitting their befouling digestive vapors into our soon-to-be pristine atmosphere. Some astute planners suggest that even toilet paper (scourge of civilized nations) will be passé. This will undoubtedly be a relief to truly progressive Progressives, but one still wonders what sort of green technology will possibly take its place?
Democrat Socialists also assure us of equal pay for everyone, no matter what job we do (or avoid). There will be subsidized options for the energetically-deflated who can thence stay home and compose music, as Mrs. Pelosi idealized.
There’s more. Safe, adequate housing for everybody, economic security from cradle to grave, clean water, clean air, healthy and affordable food, access to nature for all of us. Democrats already demand open borders and no more guns in private hands (only the crooks will be armed)… and free government abortions for woman who weary of Nature’s gift of Motherhood … and newborn babies will be left to die if child-rearing and responsible parenting are deemed just too burdensome.
Brave New World Of Democrat Socialism Beckons
Democrat Socialism’s Green New Deal highlights the socio-economic perspicacity of Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez, abetted by dozens of Democrat elders. Indeed, many Congresspersons (who should know better) line up behind her, in pathetic testament to the vacuity of their vision for America, with dubious “true faith and allegiance to the Constitution,” as their Oath of Office dictates.
Democrat Presidential candidates also espouse this Green New Deal. Cory Booker, Kirsten Gillibrand, Kamala Harris, Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders, Amy Klobuchar and lesser-known hopefuls believe – or pretend to – that Bigger Government and the Socialist agenda are the future of America.
The Green New Deal (a reminder of Franklin Roosevelt’s massive expansion of government in 1933) raises endless questions. The GND’s budget-boggling programs demand overwhelming centralized Federal control. The cost: more trillions of dollars than the total wealth of nations on the planet.
Purveyors of the Green New Deal call it “Democratic Socialism.”
But no two words in political discourse are more opposed than “Democracy” and “Socialism.” Adults with knowledge of history and an ear for political chicanery immediately recognize this as a cynical attempt to hide Socialism’s dreary realities.
Adults with knowledge of history and reverence for truth also remember the abhorrent legacies of Germany’s National Socialism, of Lenin’s enormous, brutally centralized Soviet Socialist System, of Maoist Marxism in China, of Castro’s devastated Cuba, of the total wreckage in Socialist Venezuela, of the lingering futility in Laos and Cambodia.
Even seemingly benign Scandinavian variants demand a flattening of individual creativity. The Nordic Socialist model blocks the growth and free expansion of private enterprise, enforcing a dead-end for entrepreneurs, for the private creation of jobs and for the potential to generate economic prosperity and personal wealth.
No matter what label attaches, all forms of Socialism produce an oppressive Big Government which engenders an increasingly faltering society in which systems of production, distribution, pricing, supply and demand, quantity and quality are arbitrarily imposed and enforced (sometimes with brutal efficiency).
The Human Measures
Socialism creates a centralized bureaucracy which denies individuality, stifles creativity, punishes personal initiative, demands collective sameness, elevates intrusive governmental oversight, disparages entrepreneurship, deprives citizens of their inherent responsibility for their own lives, and makes moral decisions which properly belong to the individual.
Socialism’s worst outcomes involve 1) stifling individualism, private ownership and personal incentive, and 2) the subtle, soul-sapping poison of faux security-for-freedom: give up your fundamental human rights and your creativity. The State will grant free medical care, free education, free retirement, free everything. Just don’t rock the boat or get feisty.
No matter how fervently Presidential candidates praise Democratic Socialism (especially Candidate Sanders, who raves about the Cuban and Nordic models), no matter how much deceptive rhetoric flows from lock-step Democrats, the historic patterns of Socialism’s dehumanizing principles cannot – and should not -- be denied.
Freebies From Cradle To Grave !!
Some uninformed voters respond to the facile, fractious rhetoric of Sanders, Warren, Ocasio-Cortez, Booker and Harris. Naïve voters are especially vulnerable when pandering promises are made for free education, free housing, equal pay for all, free medical care, free abortions and an endless array of no-cost benefits, to be doled out from birth to death in Scandinavian style by an ever-more benign government which expects (wait for it!!) nothing in return except uniformity in performance, income, living style, energy – but at the cost of one’s individualism.
Some people value personal responsibility and relish the freedom to choose their work and life style, to freely select their own medical care, to freely pursue their own education, to freely make as much money as possible, to freely express their own talents, to freely build their own family and honor their responsibilities.
The idea of being “taken care of” for a lifetime by governmental agencies and hovering bureaucratic overseers is insipid. Why surrender one’s talents, individuality and potential to a smothering system which muffles creativity and represses self-expression in favor of uniformity and compelled equality.
In a 1945 speech in the House of Commons, Winston Churchill said, “… the inherent vice of capitalism is the unequal sharing of blessings. The inherent virtue of Socialism is the equal sharing of miseries.” Capitalism has faults, to be sure, but history offers abundant testament to the demeaning limits and debilitating outcomes of Socialism.
In 1989, I visited Communist Poland. I witnessed the long-term outcomes of Socialism. Let me recall several experiences during that period.
A Nation Betrayed
In Poland I saw “Democratic Socialism” in action. I visited friends and colleagues in Warsaw and Krakow, met politically-active members of the Politburo, spent days with a number of academics from Warsaw University and visited with several resident journalists. I talked with many Poles (including Communist Party members), studied their behavior and discussed their values, listened to their fears (spoken openly and whispered privately) about the quality of life and the moral milieu under Socialist ideology writ large in Polish history over six decades.
First, a bit of history.
In September 1939, Poland was invaded, first by the Nazis, then by the Soviet Union… i.e., the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, Stalin’s form of atheistic Communism (formulated by Marx, later violently implemented in 1917 by Lenin).
The Soviet invasion of Poland was the result of a non-aggression pact signed with Hitler’s Nazi government. The terms of this pact (the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, for history buffs) released Nazis and Communists to invade Poland from East and West. Persecution of the Polish people quickly ensued. Auschwitz, the Nazi death center, was built and eventually took the lives of several million human beings, mainly Jews. (The Pact was later broken when the Nazis invaded the Soviet Union).
After the Nazi defeat, the Communist occupiers of Poland held a fraudulent post-war election in 1947. The Communists and their Polish Socialist Party allies manufactured the term “Democratic Socialism” (today’s refrain) to create the vicious fiction of free and open elections. The results overwhelmingly favored these so-called “Democratic Socialists” who were, of course, Communists allied with their Polish Socialist satraps.
This election was a tragic, deceptive illusion, exposed in later years by historians as a massive fraud.
Forty year later, I experienced what Socialism had wrought. Let me relate only one example of what I witnessed about the facts of Socialism in real life -- and its cost to human beings.
Fruit Of A Poisonous Credo
One day in Krakow, my guide (a stoic woman with no regard for the rulers of her nation) took me to the city center where stores and shops clustered. In front of one department store, we spotted a long line stretching up the street and around the corner. My guide grew excited; she knew exactly what this long line of quiet citizens really meant.
She pulled me to the front of the line. I stood mutely as she explained that I was an American, visiting on a government visa. She wanted me to see what their Communist economy had produced.
The people at the front of the line listened, then looked at me and smiled as they stood back so I could enter the department store.
In a healthy economy, the department store could have been similar to Marshall Field or Macys or (in the old days) a well-stocked Sears. But the store shelves were completely empty; nothing on them whatever. Nothing to buy. Clothes racks, empty; nothing to buy. Glass display cases, empty. Nothing. The store was, in fact, a ghost, barren of goods; dark, musty, settling into its own dust.
I looked back at the line of people, some of whom nodded at me, as if to say “See…. See how we live…”
And only then did I realize that this two-block-long line of people were waiting to buy toilet paper, stacked just inside the door where an official sat at a folding card table, watching me glumly.
Each person was allowed to buy two (only two) rolls of toilet paper, after hours of waiting. One elderly woman came up to me and tore open the roll she had just received. She handed me a sheet, spoke to me in Polish, her voice quavering with anger. Her meaning was clear: "Feel this!!" I felt the piece of toilet paper she held forth to me: its texture was of sand paper.
The Cost Of Naivete
There are many more poignant, crucial details I could tell:
- - of countless autos which littered every street of every city, abandoned for lack of replacement auto parts;
- - of the countless broken windows in apartment buildings, unrepaired for want of replacement glass;
- - of countless unfinished construction projects sitting idle month after month because of unavailable building materials;
- - of a centralized distribution system so poorly planned that food rotted in the fields while people hungered in the cities;
- - of countless unemployed men, sitting in rows along curbs with heads bowed in despair, silently smoking stale cigarettes, exchanging not a single word;
- - of pollution so thick on city streets that smog swirled like London fog around one’s ankles;
- - of the ever-present State Security agents, unsmiling men, coldly watching their own citizens with suspicious gaze;
- - of serious teen-aged Army soldiers dressed in thick grey uniforms; prematurely grim youngsters, groomed in the official tenets of atheist rhetoric;
- - and, most memorably, of the frightened young desk clerk at my hotel. When I was checking out, she handed back my passport and, at the same moment, glanced warily across the lobby at the State Security agent, clad entirely in black, sitting, watching. She leaned closer to me and whispered, “… America must be a wonderful country. In America, you do not have to be afraid…”
Socialism’s Message To Us All
To this day, the lasting message of my visit still remains quite clear to me:
- Socialism inevitably demands (however gradually) a surrender of initiative and creativity.
- It is a primitive system based on a perverted vision of human nature and belief in the infallibility of bureaucratic power.
- It militates against human ingenuity and dictates the expression of artistic and creative talent.
- It abhors civic virtues of industry and inventiveness, of motivation, drive and inspiration, of the simple desire to get ahead and make money. These civic virtues fuel a free Capitalist economy which rewards risk-taking and propels fiscal achievement. Under Socialism, however, these virtues are held back by the bureaucratic mandate of Socialist “equality” at the cost of fundamental human freedom.
Socialism invariably creates repression of dissent and degrees of increasing violence. Repression begins 1) with name-calling and the accusatory dictates of political correctness (which we already behold in America in abundance). Repressive tactics often escalate 2) to psychological intimidation (which we also behold in America), 3) then to legal sanctions, 4) physical violence and episodic brutality and, eventually, even to 5) control by political terror and disregard for human rights.
At worst, the power of the Socialist State becomes absolute. All sources of production and distribution are controlled by the bureaucracy. Control soon extends into every aspect of human activity, to businesses and cultural infrastructures, to schools and farms, into the arts, television and media, even (as in China) to religion, to family size and state-imposed abortions. Morality and law are decided by power. God is an intrusive myth.
What Do We Do Now?
Some Americans are blind to the revelations of history, in denial about the reality of these issues. They say, “…It could not happen here…” But the facts are clear: Socialism is already well established within our political elite.
Socialism is a doorway to moral decay and economic chaos, a doorway to cultural suicide. Socialism brings misery to the people over whom it inevitably exercises coercion and repression, even brutality. This is history’s lesson, verified in every nation where Socialism has been implemented and/or now exists.
Socialism always elevates the power of the collective State over individual dignity. Malignant outcomes are inevitable. Yet Socialist messages are being preached every day by our elected political celebrities who are either 1) ignorant of the human costs or, worse, are 2) fully aware of that Socialism will surely destroy our Republic.
What we do next -- how we vote -- will make all the difference….
18 February 2019
Aging Is Not For The Faint-Hearted
I go to a gym regularly -- three times weekly, sometimes more – if, that is, I can muster the sheer willpower to move. I readily admit it is always a chore to get up and suit up and man-up and face the moment.
There are times when I am seriously inclined to find an excuse to lounge, an alibi to nap or a “pressing” need to delay. Indeed, I have no problem chumming up a litany of weaselly reasons for avoiding the whole thing.
BUT … somehow, that ever-hovering Better Angel of my weary nature shames me into action and – reluctantly -- I drag my aging bones to the gym and jump in.
And when I finally banish my lingering inertia and get to it, I use the treadmill for a while, slyly watching the dials tick off, with maddening sluggishness, exactly how far I have come … and have yet to go.
When that’s done, I mosey over to the weight machines and pump some iron. This takes time because I do these exercises slowly, to get full benefit from the routines. I do not lift heavy weights; repetition is my aim, slow, repetitive movements, lots of burn and some acceptable ouch which produces moments of “What am I doing here, anyhow.”
I tell myself it is all for my health and well-being and cardio-fitness and such. “Just stop whining and get on with it,” I insist ….. and, somehow, I do (which, for skeptics, might serve as a proof for the existence of God).
As I rest between repetitions, I sometimes look around the gym. For courtesy’s sake, I try not to be caught gawking … but certain scenes – actually, certain persons – stick unavoidably in memory. Sometimes, as I peek, I am bemused by a preening scenario -- but sometimes I am also unexpectedly moved by what goes on before me.
A few distracting examples: there’s the minor drama of that young power-lifter who occasionally saunters in, gloved and grim, his tight undershirt (white, of course) straining to contain his pecs and lats and all the rest of him. His upper body -- bulging arms and a chest the size of my stove -- reminds me of a barrel resting upon a Parker House roll (unbuttered).
He follows a predictable rubric of preparation. Gradually, his breathing becomes more audible as he selects various weight and puts them on the crossbar. Next, he powders his hands with elaborate finesse, and slowly lays down on the bench in a gesture of ritual precision. Then, with a series of primitive grunts and calculated groans, he finally hoists the bar as high as he can for a series of mighty repetitions.
Each lift gives rise to fevered exhalations (a sort of tribal yell, really) which, on a clear day, might be heard in distant Joliet. He then replaces the bar, springs up from the bench, slaps his hands and paces in circles, muttering psycho-mantras calculated to energize his juices for his next dramatic expose’.
I find it all a bit bizarre but, admittedly, I am still an alien in his land of Musculariana, with my puny reps and weary dedication.
As my gaze wanders, I also spot the Gym Diva: she who comes attired in a form-fitting Givenchy nylon outfit designed not for the sweaty work of treadmills and weights, but for the silent appreciation of distracted elders with wandering gaze.
But beyond the obvious, there are persons who trigger quiet admiration and genuine respect. I am moved, for example, by the aging gentleman who walks ever-so-slowly with an obviously painful limp; the white-haired woman who moves from machine to machine with a badly stooped back; the rail-thin elder who must use a walker to move even a few feet; the elderly couple who support one another as they stretch with wary, cautious movements.
Although much effort and, very often, much pain is required, these elders still move and walk … and choose to persevere.
Often am I struck by the simple courage of so many of these elders who come to the gym with evident tenacity and the unflinching desire to chase life, to cling to health, to do all they can to seek and preserve the greatest gift of well-being our Creator bestows. They are there … and, with dignity and clarity, they persevere.
These good people, this multitude of elders, are undeterred by the accumulating drag and the inevitable cost of their years, still unfazed by the clear-and-present challenges of fighting for time and motivation and flexibility and purpose – still persevering, even as the inevitabilities of their aging make a flight of stairs as painfully daunting as a craggy tor.
They seek no pity nor play no sad songs for themselves. They set about their routines with slow, sometimes agonizing, attention to the smallest details. They do not flinch in the doing. Indeed, they often seem animated and lively, attuned to the underlying dignity of their actions and also, it often seems, to the gentle humor hidden at the core of all their pursuits. They know that time will not be outlived by any of us, and yet their smile of contentment perseveres in the shadow of their -- our -- universal frailty; smiles of quiet nobility which I often detect on the faces of these good folk; the elders’ steady smile which seems to say, “I know, I know … yet I choose to persevere.”
I do not know their names, nor I do I ask. I do my own routines as I, too, chase my health and feed my hopes for longer life, as I seek the maturity and dignity of my years. But I am also graced merely by being in the presence… the quiet presence … of so many courageous elders who have come a very long way in this life -- and who still choose to persevere.
And I am grateful to be with these good people, these elders who know, all too well, how grand this life can be, how fully blessed we are – all of us -- to live and to love and to spend our length of years upon this good earth, upon God’s own good earth.
9 February 2019
--- PART ONE ---
To Love Our Children
When my wife and I first held our newborn twin grandchildren moments after their arrival, they seemed exquisitely designed to fit into our enfolding arms. Their crinkled, unseeing eyes stared at us, their tiny, dimpled fists opened and closed as they savored life’s first liberating breaths.
For months, my family had monitored the miraculous growth of our twins. We watched their sonograms with astonished delight as they grew each week into distinctly formed little human beings, hearts beating visibly in sync with Nature’s steady, inexplicable rhythms. And now, finally, here they were, in our arms, to be loved for the lifetimes ahead of us.
Their complete vulnerability, their utter innocence and their total dependency were stunning. We were awakened as never before to the gifts of life and hope which these children brought to us. And, as I held them moments after their birth, a door of gratitude and wonder opened wide in my heart in ways I can yet neither explain nor resist. But you who have held a newborn know exactly what I mean: to embrace a baby is to hold the wonder of Creation close to one’s own heart.
For a decade and a half, we have filled several shoeboxes with photos charting their lives, sometimes playfully, sometimes seriously, some with smiles, some with tears. With the grace of God and the guidance of Nature, they continue to grow in health and intelligence and, some day, I pray, in wisdom and insight, as well.
My hopes for them endure as years pass, for no matter how old we become or how much travail we endure, our love for our children is every loving adult’s steadfast priority …
… or so it used to be.
Now Comes “Reproductive Health”
On January 22, 2019, to the delight of Gov. Andrew Cuomo and the Democrat Party, the New York State legislature passed the “Reproductive Health Act” (RHA). The RHA allows unrestricted, late-term abortions up to the very day of a baby’s birth.
Not coincidentally, the RHA was passed on the anniversary of Roe v Wade by a 32-24 majority of New York’s Democrat-controlled Senate. The Democrat State Assembly passed it 92-47. It was then signed, with enthusiastic élan, by Gov. Cuomo, who ordered state buildings be lit in pink to celebrate RHA’s passage.
The RHA -- and the merciless mentality behind it -- allows termination of a pregnancy through term. It also says that non-physicians (midwives, optometrists, chiropractors, dentists, podiatrists) may perform abortions. Unborn children are no longer recognized as second victims in New York when an expectant mother is murdered (as already happened Feb. 8, 2019). This is a reversal of recognition given to the six children murdered in their mother’s wombs on 9/11.
The RHA goes even further by guaranteeing that a repeal of Roe v. Wade will have no effect … abortion will never be banned in New York. Abortion up to birth is now the legal norm, defended and celebrated -- celebrated -- by Democrats who promote the killing of healthy, living babies under the specious, brutal rubric of “reproductive health.” This is the legal norm. But the moral norm? That is no longer a consideration.
Let’s be clear: RHA now allows abortion up to the very day of birth. Make no mistake – the child to be aborted is a fully formed human person. She, this child, is fully able to live on her own, fully equipped to begin her life outside her mother (as she has been for months). She is a real person, a human being, a citizen of the United States.
But all of that makes no difference. RHA states that this fully-alive human being -- this person -- can be “legally” killed even up to the day of her birth. The law of New York and, in fact, seven other states (the newest is New Mexico) says, “Fine by me; no problem. Let the child be put to death.”
In the same lethal vein, Vermont Democrat Kathy Tran proposed legislation legalizing abortion even after birth, an idea backed by Virginia’s Gov. Northan. In Rhode Island, Democrat Gov. Gina Raimondo promised to sign legislation legalizing abortion even after the child is viable, and Democrats in Massachusetts have also passed such a law.
The State of New Mexico just passed a law which repeats the grisly provisions of RHA -- but also allows abortion for minor children without parental knowledge or consent. Physicians are also compelled to perform abortions or risk the loss of their medical licenses. No faith protections for physicians are allowed.
Furthermore, Congressional Democrats have -- three times so far -- thwarted attempts by Republicans to vote on a bill that would at the very least provide medical care and treatment for babies who survive failed abortions. Democrats refuse to allow such a vote. The message is this: even if the child is capable of living, ignore her cries and let the child die. That is the result of the Democrat’s response.
The culture of death unleashed by Roe v Wade has borne America the shameful legacy of 61 million (and counting) dead children. Such is the moral vision of the Progressive Left.
It is clear (as it has been for years) the Democrat Party is the party of abortion-on-demand for any reason -- or no reason. Love and compassion for children unborn and born, and respect for the dignity of parenthood are of no merit.
The only goal is unobstructed “freedom” to abort and the ludicrous notion that abortion is part of “comprehensive health care” for women.
The words of Isaiah resound loud and clear to our nation: They have no mercy for the infant in the womb, no pity in their eyes for children.”
A Mother’s “Right” To Kill Her Child
We have all heard the rallying cry of abortion supporters: “My body, my choice.” Beyond the angry demonstrations for “women’s reproductive health care” and the deliberately obfuscating verbiage of the Left’s inventive vocabulary, the blunt truth is this:
In America, it’s a woman’s legal right to kill (a harsh word, a harsher reality) her child for any reason at all. It is that simple. Raw emotion and propaganda aside, the law supports a mother’s right to kill her child.
No matter what attempts are made to defend, deny, distort, twist, spin, re-define, re-interpret, lie or simply ignore the legal, medical and moral facts, we are now a nation in which a major political party and millions of our adult citizenry (including some ministers) choose to deny legal facts, medical truths and moral traditions to support the destruction of our children.
Many people ululate about the climate dangers to polar bears and trispot darter fish … but the most endangered species in America is now the unborn and being-born child.
--- PART TWO ---
Elephants And Ice Cream
My wife and I would often babysit our new grandchildren in their earliest years. Gladly did we spend many days feeding and changing them, and laughing with our twins. We took them to their favorite park for swings and jungle-jim, and we went on brief safaris into the underbrush in search of roving elephants.
We picked them up at kindergarten and karate. We subsidized the local Baskin and Robbins and made hungry forays into the Chinese restaurant where greasy, succulent egg rolls awaited.
We watched our twins grow stronger and taller and take on the world and ask challenging questions. They became our friends … and with each visit, that door to our hearts opened ever-wider, where it still stands today, open and loving and hopeful, ever-grateful to God they are alive.
The Demise Of Public Compassion
Support for abortion hinges on the false contention that babies are not human beings (one wonders when any of us becomes “human”). Celebrated abortion spokespersons – Princeton’s Peter Singer, for example - believe parents should have a period of, say, thirty days (some want longer) to decide if they wish to keep or kill their child, especially if the child is ill or retarded or somehow not “normal.”
Such thinking bestows upon parents a fallacious “right” to decide if their child should live or die. After weeks of life, the survival of living children -- who are still not considered human persons -- would be a matter of parental choice.
In all of this, the reality of God is, of course, irrelevant, the Ten Commandments discarded, the Constitutional right to life rejected. Parental responsibility is twisted beyond recognition. We become gods. “Morality” (such as it is) now rests solely on power and on the idea that putting a child to death may sometimes be humane.
The logic of the abortion community fills some of us with horror, especially those of us who value human life from conception to natural death -- and in-between. We are astonished by the culture of abortion which promotes the death of innocent human beings for reasons which trivialize the boundaries of morality, reason and simple honesty.
This is moral madness. And our nation’s readiness to propose the death penalty when convenient is of special concern to elders and dependent persons, i.e., those who are no longer members of the “productive proletariat,” some of whom are already being put to death without their knowledge or will.
Advocates of assisted suicide have also proposed wider latitude for the eradication of elderly persons, of children with Downs Syndrome (all of whom are now routinely aborted in Iceland) and of an assortment of our less-than-fully-human citizenry.
Thus, these questions must be asked:
- At what point in our lives do any of us become fully, acceptably human?
- Where will this culture of death take America?
- How many more innocent people will die?
- What category of unacceptable persons is next?
- Where, pray tell, where will it all end?
Abortion’s Grisly Processes
What specific actions does an abortion involve? For years, I have avoided writing or speaking about the next few paragraphs, but the abortion issue is now fundamental to our status as a civilized nation. Acceptance of abortion is now spreading rapidly across our country. So, I continue reluctantly … but I add a caution to those who find the truth of these procedures distressing or, in my view, heart-breaking.
Let us look only at the dilation and extraction method (D&E, referred to as “dismemberment” abortion for reasons which are obvious).
D&E is customary for an abortion in the second trimester. The intruding “fetus” -- i. e., the child -- is rotated. Forceps grasp and pull the child’s legs, shoulders, and arms through the birth canal. Various body parts (kidney, liver, brain matter, etc.) have pecuniary worth, and are sometimes saved for sale to centers of animal-human experimentation.
A small incision is then made at the base of the child’s skull to allow a suction catheter inside. The catheter removes the “cerebral material” until the child’s skull collapses. The remains of the child are removed.
At this point in every pregnancy, the baby (or “fetus,” as some prefer) has a beating heart and measurable brain waves. The baby’s gender is now identifiable. Her mother will begin to feel the baby move within her. The child produces urine, even practices breathing. Her bones are now clearly forming. She can hear and swallow and suck. Her hair and fingernails and even her unique fingerprints are forming … and she begins to respond to her mother’s now-familiar voice.
These universal biological processes of human growth and development raise so many fundamental issues (all of them moral, as well as bio-medical, issues) about 1) every child’s ability to feel pain, and 2) the indispensable role of every mother in the life and survival of her baby (to list only two) that one hesitates even to pose them.
Our Moral And Legal Imperatives
Given the overwhelming scientific data, the existence of a human person - and not merely a “clump of fetal tissue” - is crystal-clear.
But here is the crucial point: is the “fetus” factually a person?
Judge Andrew Napolitano puts the legality of the issue clearly and bluntly. He says that “… the freedom to kill innocents violates all norms of civilized society. It violates the natural law. It wasn’t even condoned in the state of nature, before governments existed. It violates the 13th and 14th Amendments. Yet, the Supreme Court and numerous congresses have refused to interfere with it. It is a grave and profound evil. It is legalized murder. Is the fetus in the womb a person? Since the fetus has human parents and all the needed human genome to develop into postnatal life, of course the fetus is a person.”
Nevertheless, abortion’s supporters tell us that all such legal facts, bio-medical data and moral concerns are irrelevant when the “human and civil right” of the mother to destroy her child is invoked. After all, they say, the mother is probably suffering, too. They insist the mother’s “comprehensive health care” demands “reproductive freedom,” i.e., the “right” to be rid of this “fetus” (a cold, cosmetic term for the word “baby”).
Proponents -- such as Senator Kamala Harris and her Democrat colleagues -- incorrectly claim abortion is an “embedded” Constitutional right. Harris is an experienced attorney. She knows full-well that abortion is not a Constitutional right. It is a wretched decision, a fiction of an errant Supreme Court; the same Court which guarantees access to abortion throughout pregnancy in its Doe v. Bolton ruling.
True, the Supreme Court did allow the states to set legal restrictions on abortion … BUT for decades these restrictions have been ignored whenever a physician says the mother’s “health” is in danger, whatever that means.
This “woman’s health” provision has been profoundly and repeatedly distorted to allow millions of medically needless abortions, often solely for convenience. “Women’s health” provision is a fallacious key to a profoundly brutal practice.
Abortion defenders further object: What of the rape victim or the victim of incest, unwillingly made pregnant by violence? It is cruel and unjust for her to have to give birth.
Rape is traumatic … yet the victim lives. Abortion is an even greater tragedy in which the death of an innocent child is the chosen outcome. The second act -- violent abortion -- cannot, and will never, rectify nor offset the first violent act.
Rape is surely dreadful but it is survivable -- as is the inevitable and painful death of a beloved, as are all of life’s unwanted sorrows, unexpected traumas and lingering emotional scars which we all bear. We all experience pain and anguish and doubt. But abortion? Abortion is death; there is no recovery.
Should we compound the trauma of rape with an even greater tragedy, the willed death of an innocent?
Should we punish the innocent to assuage the offended? Should one victim choose a second victim -- this time a vulnerable child -- to be sacrificed? To what end? Vengeance? What is thereby accomplished? Certainly not Justice, certainly not compassion or equity or the courage to choose life. What is the point of abortion, when life is still a choice?
Perpetuating pain and inflicting death upon the innocent will never, in any way, relieve or resolve our own suffering.
--- PART THREE ---
Where Are We Heading?
Further issues about abortion continue to plague us. A few examples:
- Body parts severed during abortions are sold for inter-species experimentation; killing babies is profitable, yet those who reveal this fact are being prosecuted;
- An investigative report in 2017 revealed that among 97 Planned Parenthood clinics contacted nationwide, 92 said they would not provide services to pregnant women unless they sought an abortion;
- Last year, Planned Parenthood (which is still subsidized by hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars) performed 332,757 abortions, an increase of 11,373 abortions over the previous year;
- Planned Parenthood clinics perform 118 abortions for every single adoption referral.
Abortion is profoundly evil -- yet it is staunchly defended by many Americans, spearheaded by Democrats, celebrated by politicians, applauded by some entertainers, normalized by media. Even some religionists who claim to live by the Christian ethic to love their neighbor make exception for the helpless child who is to be aborted.
Abortion denies Nature, law, divine tradition, science and morality. So, as rational, intelligent and honest human beings, we simply must ask:
- Is there a greater good to which are we sacrificing millions of babies? If so, what - or who - is it?
- To whose advantage is abortion made legal?
- Where did we get the idea that motherhood must include the choice – the “right” -- to destroy our children?
In his reflective book, "Moments of Reprieve," Primo Levi, a survivor of the Nazi death camp at Auschwitz, speaks of the "unassuageable sadness that grows on the ruins of lost civilizations." Our civilization – our America -- is losing its sanity. We are crushing our moral identity by our utter disregard for innocent, vulnerable lives. We are committing national suicide.
What sort of country are we preparing for our progeny? Have we have become so morally numb as a nation, so lacking in compassionate generosity and respect for life, that we are unwilling to give of ourselves and honor our most needy and innocent citizens? Is this who we have become as a people?
We are destroying the traditional moral bases of our once-extraordinary nation; a nation handed to us by Our Founders and, before them, by Almighty God, whom our Founders honored.
Will history say of America that we (as other cultures before us) have enshrined calculated inhumanity as our misguided national vision?
31 January 2019
Be patient, she said to me.
Your time will come, she said to me.
And when it does, do not then tarry ….
But, in the meanwhile, do not hasten.
Be patient, she said to me,
and smiled in the saying,
for length of years and times of quiet reverie
in pain and unknowing and reason’s flight,
to wonder through dark nights and hopeful days.
Do not tarry when your time comes, she said to me,
smiling, her hand held forth.
I shall be here to greet you, she said, so do not hasten,
for I shall wait ……..
But do not tarry, either.
24 January 2019
My Father’s Blessed Shadow
My father (God bless him) was a man of conviction, strong and deep, a man of his word. He held to a strict ethical creed which he followed with unwavering fidelity … and he expected the same from others. His word was his solemn promise, given and honored. His favorite, oft-repeated phrase was, “A dicker is a dicker,” his way of affirming that a deal is a deal. You give your word, you keep your word.
By training, my father was an engineer but he possessed a natural gift of stunning mathematical acumen and a computer-like fluency with numbers. Coupled with a flawless memory, an aggravatingly logical mind and a sense of wicked humor, playing bridge against him was an incessantly losing proposition.
As a child, I watched him closely … more than he knew ... and I learned. And as the years passed, I saw him change in ways few people witnessed. His sternness eased; his love for his family rose evermore to the surface and, to my benefit, his affection for me was, at last, free and always at hand.
His expressions of love for us became evermore evident and unguarded. He delighted in the company of family and neighbors. Even my college friends were mesmerized by his intelligence. Several of them (math majors, to be sure) would spend hours exploring with him the intricacies of formulae and the arcana of prime numbers. As I watched, I was quietly proud of him, proud of my father.
Decades later, many of my father’s lessons linger still. For example, my father taught me that as we ease into our adult years, age is no guarantor of maturity. In our youth, our beliefs are flimsy and whimsical, fluffy and flighty and easily jettisoned as we struggle for identity and self-respect. But as we grow older, we have the benefit of experience, mistakes, judgments good and foolish.
We adjust. We rebound … and common sense says we should change for the better, become more insightful, humbler about what we do not know. But while you are growing up, my father advised, be very slow to preen or gloat or exaggerate. “Listen first,” he cautioned, “always listen first … before your foot collides with your mouth…”
We all increase in years, but maturity may still elude us. Even greying elders may lack the stable moral values and insights which only maturity bestows; values and insights which eventually reveal the depth of our character and the height of our credibility … or their absence.
The Nature Of Conviction
Our defining values and insights become our convictions. They mold us as persons and guide us as moral agents. Our convictions inspire behavior which announces who we are, what degree of wisdom and insight we possess, how credible we finally become. And, as my father said, age is not the gauge by which such qualities of character can be measured.
By definition, our convictions are tenaciously held because they are the result of personal mistakes, painful experiences and gritty lessons hopefully learned. They become our personal code of thought and action, central to our identity. They guide our intellectual lives, determine the moral probity of our decisions. They influence how we see ourselves, what we think of ourselves, how we present ourselves to other people.
Our convictions determine what political views we accept, how we critique cultural norms, how we handle social pressure, what we believe about birth and death – and life in between.
Indeed, as history tell us, some people will die for their convictions.
A Parental Model
My father was not perfect – who is? In his earlier years, he was a mercurial man, subject to temper and occasional mood swings and the many faces of stress. As he grew older, he matured and came to recognize that our rightly-formed moral convictions must outweigh our foibles and impulses. He realized that our rightly-formed moral convictions do indeed reveal (to self and others) who, at long last, we truly are.
I am still moved by my father’s struggles with own humanity; moved even more by his quiet victories … and his admirable reticence. Now, in my later years -- reinforced by his example and a lifetime of my own experience -- I believe that we must all hold our rightly-formed convictions not out of stubborn hubris or self-serving pride, but because history (both secular and sacred), divine Revelation and centuries of tradition tell us that certain transcendent truths really do exist; truths which are essential for the health and survival of individuals and societies.
My father’s search for transcendent truths opened an even more intimate door to his mind and soul. Simply put, he acknowledged, without fanfare or display, his relationship with our transcendent Creator Who, he believed, has given us definite moral boundaries and ideals, codified in the Christian faith, most fully incarnated in the Catholic Intellectual Tradition.
For him, the moral life meant speaking truthfully, loving his family and working always for our benefit, respecting facts, honoring tradition, learning from history, often swallowing his ego, monitoring the constant self-serving pull of misguided pride, quelling his anger -- and worshiping our Creator.
He learned to choose patience over intemperance, true charity for others over bloated self-interest, humility over self-adulation. He learned to listen and learn from others, to love with equanimity and humor. And his Catholic faith upheld and sustained him throughout the years of our abiding friendship.
An Elder’s Benefit
As I witnessed my father’s metanoia and the fulfillment of his manhood, his example taught me that there are laws and limits to human behavior; limits to which we should always adhere, laws we should not dare to change or challenge.
Many people today reject these beliefs and, with astonishing immaturity, eagerly embrace counterfeit “freedoms” and non-existent “human rights” which actually abuse the largess of Nature and gravely undermine the best interests of the human community.
Today, the fitful shallowness of politically correct victimhood and the faddish rants of rootless emotionalism dominate our public discourse, distort law with deliberate disdain and badly weaken our nation. The nihilistic dictates of moral relativism aggressively turn every social complaint – no matter how ludicrous – into a political cause. Specious claims of white privilege beget excuses for invoking “human rights.”
What was morally unthinkable and culturally indefensible a decade ago is now embraced -- with astonishing disregard for truth -- by professionals in law and education, media and entertainment, religion and politics -- with no regard for the boundaries of decency or self-restraint -- or facts.
The Tug Of Hope
Clearly, we are flawed human beings in a flawed culture. We’re prone to selfishness and fears and a plethora of faults to which our humanity is universal heir. But we are also born with an innate sense of altruism and empathy, of right and wrong, of good and evil; all born with the potential for goodness and virtue.
This potential for virtue -- choosing what is morally right and shunning evil -- is built into our natural ability to reason and to learn, to think and to judge. But … virtue and goodness must be nurtured through balanced family life and parental guidance, through moral learning and proper education, correction and clarity, discipline and self-restraint, law and community – all under the influence of mature elders who realize that we humans are not – are not – laws sufficient unto ourselves, nor do we possess sufficient moral insight by ourselves. We are not free to do whatever we want. We must develop rightly-formed minds and hearts.
In fact, the word “education” means to “bring forth,” to “lead out of.” Education – truly humane education – involves bringing forth goodness not only for the rightly-formed mind -- but also for the soul, always for the soul, as well.
True education acknowledges our need for a moral compass as well as a rightly-formed intellectual framework. We need a mature conscience to direct our lives, to mold our character, to monitor the role of our emotions, to make prudent choices, to guide our behavior into those moral pathways designed by our Creator which lead us to authentic maturity and its inseparable companion, wisdom.
The Gift Of Wisdom
Maturity bestows the gift of wisdom and is identified with it, as two sides of the same hand. But wisdom differs from all other forms of knowledge, including academic, technical and instinctive knowledge. As my father said, a person can be an accomplished academic or a financial genius or a technical whiz and still be unwise, immature, foolish in his choices and in his behavior and, thus, lacking wisdom of mind and soul.
Wisdom sees the connections (even the obscure and irrational connections) between means-and-ends, between behavior and outcome, between motives and means.
Wisdom sees – sometimes intuitively -- the subtle intricacies in relationships, the vagaries of personality, the power of temperament, the nuances of ideologies and the impact we have on one another. And wisdom often grasps all this without logical explanation or overt evidence. It is knowing beyond knowledge.
Wisdom has no illusions about people’s capacities for good and for ill. It is not surprised at how we delude others and ourselves, how imprudent we can be, how self-serving or harmful we can become. Wisdom recognizes the contradictions and pitfalls of trying to reason with bruised feelings or grudges gone astray.
And even though wisdom sees these hard truths with clarity, it still encourages us to make virtuous choices, to extend kindness and patience over bitterness and self-righteous pride. Wisdom urges us to unite rather than divide, to forgive rather than to avenge, to bless and elevate rather than to demean and retaliate, to rouse the better selves within our souls.
A Better Way
Finally, as we grow in wisdom and maturity, the purpose of our rightly-formed, hard-earned moral convictions becomes clearer and more lucid – and far more reasonable.
As we contemplate the beauty and dignity -- and fragility -- of life itself, we are made evermore aware that hard-earned moral convictions, rightly-formed, offer the most humane and redemptive options we have in our all-so-brief lifetime.
And, as my father finally learned for himself and taught me, we cannot allow the errors and bad judgments of others to be the standard we use to determine our decisions. We cannot let the bitterness and anger of others control our behavior. We do not return evil for evil, nor insult for insult, nor do we render hurt for hurt. This mutually-provocative form of enslavement is not -- is not -- the path to which wisdom beckons us and our Creator calls us. This is not the path of maturity, nor is it the path of rightly-formed convictions.
We are alive, so we can still seek the better way, still express our gratitude to our Creator, still share kindness and patience with others around us, even if they do not thank us as we might desire or praise us as we might wish.
The hard, yet delightful reality is that we can still learn to love rightly and freely. We can still give of ourselves in small, yet indelible, ways. Such choices are still available to us, still at hand for us --- because we are alive.
We are alive – indeed, we are still alive to the possibility of sharing goodness rather than putting life on hold.
How long shall we wait? For what do we wait? If goodness is to be done, let us do it. Let us choose goodness, no matter how small or unrecognized our actions. Let us choose virtue, kindness and patience and forgiveness -- in gratitude and forbearance.
This is true freedom. This is why we are alive. There is no better reason.
4 January 2019
For The Sake Of Our Children
When decades pass and we adults are memories to our children; when they are the nation’s elders and they look back at these astonishing days of moral confusion and cultural uncertainty, what will they say of us?
What memories of us will they recall? What values will they hold? What moral standards will we have taught them? How will they judge the moral legacy we bequeathed? What kind of persons will they say we were? What will they say of us?
* * * *
We all express our opinions and judgments -- perhaps not always judiciously or prudently, but we do not let our world pass us by without making comments and judgments and decisions. There’s a lot more to it, of course. But as we grow in age and wisdom as adults, we face truly serious challenges. So, as adults, we ought naturally to grow in our ability to make informed comments, mature judgments, morally sound decisions. But this doesn’t always happen, does it?
Let’s be clear: making wise, informed moral judgments is central to the natural order of adult life, as well as to the survival of our free society. Our children can err, make mistakes, mess things up. But we are their elders. We are supposed to be the decision makers, the wise ones, the moral exemplars.
We are the adults. We are supposed to make sound moral judgments and intelligent decisions. We are supposed to be decent, stable role models for our children. That’s why we’re here ….. isn’t it?
Without sound moral judgments, there are no clear differences. Without differences, there is no discussion or debate, no way to strain out intellectual blather and moral corruption from emergent truth and its essential corollaries. So, making morally sound, if difficult, decisions is central to our adult role in the lives of our young.
In fact, there are times when it is our profound moral obligation to judge other persons and events, then to make unpopular, difficult decisions to protect the moral character and physical safety of our children, the stability of our family, and the future of our community and our nation.That’s what adults do, isn’t it?
The Tyranny Of “Feelings”
These days, however, there is a grave problem.
Many people’s good judgment is fatally clouded by the tyranny of feelings over principles. Many people are in thrall to the seductive pitfall of “Feel-good-ism,” i.e., the politically correct, self-righteous sense of false virtue which obliterates logic, reality, moral clarity, basic courtesy, rational intelligence, social responsibility, mutual dialogue, fundamental science, revered tradition, facts of history, objective truth, authentic virtue -- and simple common sense.
Today, as a result of moral relativism, political correctness and a parade of false “freedoms,” many people meander into self-deluding extremes such as celebrating -- celebrating – abortion, exploiting transgendered youth, beating a broken drum for gender neutrality, on and on… and on.
If you wish an example of the wretched extremes to which our country has fallen, look at the pathetic, conscience-wrenching exploits of eleven-year-old Desmond Napoles, his parents and his fan base which appear on the internet.
Once again, we must ask ourselves: What values are we imparting to our children when our culture proposes such a reckless panoply of so-called “civil rights” and so readily and openly debases the innocence of our children -- in the name of freedom?
When we duck or deny our responsibility to judge maturely and wisely – with moral clarity and determination -- the result is coercive adherence to intolerant, often indecent, ideologies brutally imposed.
Sad to say, this occurs daily in our culture. It is evident, for starters, in the condemnatory rhetoric of politically correct adherents, or in government efforts to force the Little Sisters of the Poor to provide abortions.
Morality Defines Humanity
Every time we deal with another person -- even in the briefest encounter -- there’s always a moral component involved, always judgments of right and wrong behavior to be made, always issues of justice and prudence, of charity and integrity for which we are responsible and accountable … especially when the moral formation of our children is involved.
Sometimes, when we deal with children, we forget they are entitled to as much respect as adults. Parents, teachers and other adults may hold power and control over children, but this does not negate the right of all children to our respect.
True respect flows both ways. We cannot ask a child to respect us if we do not first exemplify by our behavior what respect is all about.If our children are ever to learn respect and moral probity, we must be their first teachers. Such learning is a lifetime endeavor and the war against moral probity is a lifetime struggle.
Respect for authority -- especially in the eyes of our children -- is tarnished by reckless, fact-less judgments. A moment of harsh, unmerited correction of a child by an impatient parent or a weary teacher can turn into a lesson in injustice and an abuse of power. Rashly judging a child’s behavior or motivation may deprive that youngster of friendship with someone who actually wishes to be a caring, trusted adult.
If we judge children rashly or substitute power for involvement or candid dialogue, we introduce them to needless adversity in which they stand defenseless. We teach them not to trust us but, instead, to develop strategies of precocious avoidance. A wordless war of wills often ensues, waged in silent hostility. Adult authority then loses moral authenticity; youthful cynicism is too often the result. Power is no substitute for influence.
Some children are resilient and can fluff it off -- but some youngsters are not so resilient. Too often, they do not forget. They remember -- to the disadvantage of us all.
Points To Ponder
- Most of the time, adults express opinions which are merely casual, superficial half-thoughts, off-the-cuff bon mots, throw-away observations, with no harm intended. Even so, it often happens that our children are listening … and their opinions and values are being formed.
- Cavalier comments, flippant and fleeting though they be, still contain a degree of meaning. Indeed, such comments often mirror our real concerns.
But when a child makes off-hand comments, these are often coded messages to us, conveying deeper questions, uncertainties and needs, such as the desire to be taken seriously, to be listened to, to be consulted -- to be treated with respect, to open both our hearts with candor and trust in one another, to express the love which binds us, one to the other.
- Human beings are vulnerable by nature, fickle by disposition and immature by instinct. Proof? We have all said and done things which are precipitous, harsh, uncivil, foolish. We have all expressed judgments which are hurtful and reckless. We are all capable of rudeness in word and deed. Even a loving marriage has its abrasive, regretful, episodes.
Adults can repair some of these mistakes ….. but of all the mistakes we may make, the most damaging are our rash judgments by which we hurt our children, by which we humiliate a child’s still-innocent spirit … or bring confusion and shame to the still-forming mind of a young person … or instill disillusionment in the heart of an innocent, if rambunctious, youngster … or send the message that intemperance and insensitivity are the rightful attributes of their elders.
- So, given our universal human vulnerabilities, all of us (some with reddened face and queasy stomach) have to admit that sometimes (not often, of course, but sometimes) we, too, have made unfounded, impulsive, prejudicial, unfair judgments about strangers, friends, even family and, yes, in-laws.
Thus, we adults do indeed share a host of human frailties and foibles --- but our greatest self-nourished blind-spot is our avoidance and denial of this fact.
Yet, despite our insensitivities, our failures and our glaring weaknesses, we are forgivably human, thanks to the endearing generosity of our Creator. However, the patience of our God is no excuse for insensitivity to the children amongst us.
It is the humble, wise adult who knows when to listen – and how to listen with eyes as well as ears; when to ask for clarity, when to be silent and listen again … and again … and yet again. We may have the answers … but, for a young person, simply asking us the question is often of far greater value.
The Challenges of Living
Finally, once again, we must ask: what are we teaching our children? Our society now fosters a precarious culture of death as never before in my lengthy lifetime. Our moral perspective has been badly – ever so badly -- distorted.
- Man-woman marriage and the value of life itself have all been obliterated under the rubric of “choice.”
- Aberrations of gender are enforced as “civil rights.”
- The traditional family is crushed beneath the weight of moral relativism and astonishing disregard for the centrality of the child.
- Children as young as ten are publicly celebrated as preening trans-sexual performers … and those who object are accused of “hate speech.”
- Rude, accusatory rhetoric floods America's public discourse as self-restraint evaporates.
- Character assassination, personal attacks and violent confrontations are now common.
- Pornography is now easily available to every child.
- And there is more we might mention …. but this is enough.
Despite all this, we adults still share God-given responsibility to be mature moral exemplars for our children. Nothing changes that obligation. In fact, it was for this very reason that Christ told His Apostles to let the children come unto Him. The Kingdom of Heaven, He said, is made of such spontaneous innocence, such utter lovability … and He foretold of a dreadful outcome for anyone who would harm a child.
It is the wise adult who understands that wisdom originates in the innocence and simplicity of a child’s unsullied soul. So, when our daily business is at last done and our soul becomes at rest, and we are in a spirit of gentle reverie, then may we calmly smile as we recall the antics and silliness of the children we have known and loved: the uncontrolled giggling of a ticklish child … the unbounded glee of a birthday youngster … the warm hugs and wet kisses and runny noses which bedtime brings … the utter helplessness of a newborn wriggling into Life and blessing us with our heart’s renewal …
… all these precious, grace-filled moments of unguarded love and spontaneous grandeur we share with our children; those extraordinary moments which bring us closer to Eternal Joy than life otherwise allows.
Then might we humbly ask Our Creator to guide us and enlighten us, that we may patiently protect our children from all evil … that we may guide and enlighten our children through this world, a world we have wrought for them …. and that we may always treasure all God’s beloved children whom He forever treasures and ever calls unto Himself -- including each and all of us.