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Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Faithful Friends, Agonizing Goodbyes

For those of us who own and love a dog, very few things are so foreboding and so frightful as the time their bodies have worn out.

It's all too cruel, the relatively brief time our beloved companion is allowed to stay.  When we have to let go, looking into his or her longing eyes as ours fill up with tears, the sensation comes from the depths of Hell.  We may have done this before with other furry friends but it never, ever gets easier.  You leave the vet's office,  barely seeing or feeling anything while floating through grief's cold fog.

What in God's name will I do now?

The face above is the Black Lab/Springer Spaniel my daughters simply call "Pup."  She came into our lives nine years ago this fall.  She's still with us, yes, healthy and vibrant and equipped with a bark that can practically shatter glass (and eardrums.)

Dog lovers will understand how much more Pup is to me than just a family dog.  She is one of the greatest gifts of unconditional love, devotion, and diversion.  But Pup is serenity, too.  Few things so calming as her nuzzling that canine head into mine.  Scratching her chest as her massive paws fling themselves in the air.  Hearing that soft yowl.  Getting face drenched in dog slobber.

 I can not and will not ponder the dreaded day when, as dog lover Mr. Kipling described it, I'll have to "give my heart to a dog to tear."  But on this late night, I'm thinking of someone very close who's heart is in pieces.  And so mine, too.  One of the first memories I have of her Yellow Lab "Christina" was as a bursting-with-joy little puppy on a beach 14 years ago.

She loved that dog like nothing else, carefully preparing her meals, walking her religiously, taking her everywhere.  When her Christina really began slowing down and had tender paws, she saw to it that she had special shoes to wear.  I well understood why that dog was in so many ways her world.

But at 14, Christina's body was in the kind of pain that would not subside.  She could no longer eat.  So yesterday, she had to let Christina go.  The little bed is now empty.  As empty as the feeling she has tonight.  Much, much more.  My heart's in pieces and I can't see too good right now.

This poignant video is about another Yellow Lab who passed away this year, like Christina, at the age of 14.  Her name was "Patsy."        

Rest in sweet peace, Christina and Patsy.  

I'm thinking about that saying from the Book of Revelation, that   God will wipe away all our tears.  Eventually.

"Buy a pup and your money will buy
Love unflinching that cannot lie--
Perfect passion and worship fed
By a kick in the ribs or a pat on the head.
Nevertheless it is hardly fair
To risk your heart to a dog to tear.

When the body that lived at your single will,
With its whimper of welcome, is stilled (how still!)
When the spirit that answered your every mood
Is gone--wherever it goes--for good,
You will discover how much you care,
And will give your heart to a dog to tear

Though it is not always the case, I believe,
That the longer we've kept 'em, the more do we grieve:
For, when debts are payable, right or wrong,
A short-term loan is as bad as a long--
So why in--Heaven (before we are there)
Should we give our hearts to a dog to tear?"

                               --Rudyard Kipling

Saturday, September 25, 2010

"God knows where we're heading.....make me wanna holler...."

He went from a humble beginning as a Doo Wop singer to eventually be crowned "Prince of Soul."

But Marvin Gaye's greatest contribution was an album described by one music critic as " the most important and passionate record to come out of soul music, delivered by one of its finest voices".

1971's "What's Going On" helped break the mold of the Motown Sound so drastically it put Gaye on a collision course with mogul Barry Gordy, who was appalled at a concept album radiating protest over war, pollution, taxes, and poverty.

Gordy was wrong of course.  And I'll never, ever forget the rainy afternoon that my always cool, conscientious sociology teacher Mr. Hamilton announced to our class he was gonna play some music  with a walloping message.

We knew all too well how turbulent things were at the dawn of the '70's.  But this music brought it home even harder.  Searing, emotional, just like Marvin's own troubled persona.

The album's "Inner City Blues (Make Me Wanna Holler)" and other masterpieces are far more than priceless social artifacts.  They were fateful warnings about the relentless repeat of history.

Nearly 40 years later, our endless war simply relocated from a Southeast Asian jungle to Middle East deserts & mountains.  Oil "wasted upon the oceans and upon our seas" moved to the Gulf.  And as millions of us became jobless and homeless, a report today about some of the Wall Street executives that helped wreck the economy and then bilked us for billions more of our tax dollars--CitiGroup Corp. will be handing out record multi-million dollar bonuses this year to these enterprising execs.

Make you wanna holler again?  

Me too.  

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

While Not The "Whole Story," Israel Still Begs For Spotlight

Recently I posted on my Facebook wall a commemoration to the  thousands of Palestinian civilians slaughtered in Beirut one ghastly  weekend 28 years ago this month.

One of my friends later pointedly said that I "wasn't giving the whole story."  There have been plenty of atrocities committed, she said, by the other side--Palestinian terrorists, murdering defenseless civilians, Lebanese and Israeli alike.
And she is absolutely correct.  This is a picture of what remained of a church in the Christian town of Damour, about a half hour's drive south of Beirut, after PLO terrorists had locked women and children inside, set the building on fire, and burned them alive.  The date was January 20, 1976, as the second of 15 horrific years of civil war was just beginning.

These are some of the murdered children of Damour.  No different or less important than those murdered children laying out in the alleys of Sabra & Shatila over six years later.

There is no moral distinction, of course, between the killing of civilians, whatever age, that are Jewish or Christian or Muslim, or any other race or religion.  Some militarists like to make the disingenuous argument that murdering an entire family, or two, or ten, is "unavoidable" because their enemies deploy in civilian areas.

That means, well, sadly the families are expendable because it's for the cause.  A bit like, perhaps, if you had a spouse and kids and are home one evening when a dangerous armed man forces himself inside. The SWAT team outside takes no chances, aims directly at your living room window, and fires that white phosphorus bomb right into your home.  Bulls eye!  And another desperado is "taken out."

Mission accomplished.  Well, sort of.  There is that nettlesome thing the good guys refer to as "collateral damage."  And, yep, it seems that those obtrusive human shields--your spouse and three little children--have also been wiped out.  And you've lost both your legs.  An sadly "unavoidable" effect of fighting the good fight.

Here's a picture of the kind of "collateral damage" the Israelis regularly inflict; one of the byproducts of their "Cast Lead" adventure in Gaza less than two short years ago.  Like that hypothetical gung ho SWAT team, they are the unchallenged experts at these kinds of kills.

The Damour episode was much less subtle carnage, like Sabra & Shitala.  In fact, the same journalist that revealed the gruesome results at the two Palestinian camps in 1982, Robert Fisk, reported on the Damour Massacre.  It went something like this:

"The attackers destroyed the buildings in the seaside village systematically and then took revenge on the remaining Christian inhabitants. The Christian cemetery was destroyed, coffins dug up, the dead robbed, vaults opened, and bodies and skeletons thrown across the graveyard.

The church was burnt and an outside wall was covered with a mural of Fatah guerrillas holding AK47 rifles. A portrait of Yasser Arafat was placed at one end. Other sources claim that the church was used as a repair garage for PLO vehicles, and also as a range for shooting-practice with targets painted on the eastern wall of the nave.

Twenty Phalangist militiamen were executed and then civilians were lined up against a wall and sprayed with machine-gun fire. None of the remaining inhabitants survived."

Estimates of the total civilian body count at Damour were about 584.  Yes, less than Sabra & Shatila.  But no less evil and utterly appalling.

This particular view conjures up visions of what Hell might look like.  It's the largely Muslim slum district of Karantina, in East Beirut.  As you can see, obviously all was not well that day in the neighborhood.  It was January 18, 1976 and there was a massacre unfolding.  Two days later, revenge came roaring into the little town of Damour.

The serial killers at Karantina were Lebanese Christian Militias, the same types that did all that dirty work later at Sabra & Shatilla under Israeli supervision.  The Karantina Massacre resulted in the deaths of over 1,500 men, women, and children.

And, yes, this bloodletting was a spillover from "Black Saturday," a series of Beirut massacres the month before.  And on and on and on it went for the next horrific 15 years.

So my friend is quite right.  There's cruelty and murder and all manner of evil on both sides of war.  Terrorism is a two-way street, in the Middle East or just about anywhere in the world.  It's a cycle that runs like an atomic clock until either one side is completely annihilated or both antagonists can arrive at terms both equitable and lasting.

I've always condemned all forms of terrorism.  But I'm especially troubled when my tax dollars are used to support it.  The world's largest recipient of U.S. foreign aid--most in weapons, including hideous white phosphorus bombs--is not to Arab terrorists but instead to a regime of war criminals.

These Israeli war criminals use American weapons to attack civilians.  Here they are attacking a Palestinian school in Gaza.  There were other targets, too.

Some of the terrorist victims struggled to survive. 
Others didn't have a prayer.

Maybe this will help you understand why Israel does get a spotlight just as bright as the burning phosphorus they use on women and children.  It is OUR country that sponsors these sadistic barbarians. OUR country sponsored the same monsters that sent their extermination units into those Palestinian camps 28 years ago.

Anyone like to trade places with this mother?
Israel's blame game for the real root of all this murder and mayhem will continue on as long as the United States keeps serving as its official ATM.  That's the big story here.


Saturday, September 11, 2010

Remembrance: "The Day The World Stopped Turning....."

He was the first recorded victim of the horror that engulfed us nine years ago today.

Mychal Judge was, in fact, the official chaplain of the NYFD.  Every year at this time they have The Father Mychal Judge Walk of Remembrance, which starts with a Mass at St. Francis Church on West 31st Street, then heads to Ground Zero, retracing Judge's final journey and praying along the way. 

Every September 11 there's also a Mass in memory of this courageous man in Boston, attended by the grieving family members who lost their loved ones on this terrible day.

Five years after Judge and thousands of others were massacred by maniacs thinking they were on a mission from God, a poignant documentary celebrating Father Judge's life was released.  It was called "Saint of 9/11."  It's easy to see how they got the title when you hear his story.  According to the New York Daily News:

"Upon hearing the news that the World Trade Center had been hit, he rushed to the site.....Judge administered last rites to some lying on the streets, then entered the lobby of the World Trade Center north tower where an emergency command post was organized. There he continued offering aid and prayers for the rescuers, the injured and dead.

When the south tower collapsed at 9:59 AM, debris went flying through the north tower lobby, killing many inside, including Judge. At the moment he was struck in the head and killed, Judge was repeatedly praying aloud, 'Jesus, please end this right now! God please end this!'

Shortly after his death, firefighters found Judge's body and carried it out of the north lobby.....Shannon Stapleton, photographer from Reuters, photographed Judge's body being carried out of the rubble by five men. It became one of the most famous images related to 9/11. The Philadelphia Weekly reports the photograph being called an American Pietà."

Today of course is one of those "where were you" memory days. To tell the truth, I recall actually better my unexpected bouts of sobbing throughout the days and weeks following the unspeakable tragedy in New York, and Pennsylvania, and Virginia.

But on this day nine years ago, I was a fifth grade teacher in a Fairfax County school that had some other teachers married to military personnel.  For the rest of my life I'll never, ever forget looking into the tearful, stricken eyes of one of them.

She was a tough lady, to be sure.  But at that moment she was utterly devastated by the thought that her husband who had gone to work at the Pentagon that morning was one of the casualties.

There was still no word from our ground zero only 20 miles away.  She continued weeping as I hugged her and tried to find the words.

As it turned out, he had survived and was working desperately to help the wounded.  Pulling out bodies.  Finally she got the call that ended her personal nightmare.  He would be coming home.

But the terror continued.  There was rumor that the State Department building had been hit.  No one knew what would happen next.  Sons and daughters throughout our school were by now being picked up, one by one, by frantic parents who would do whatever they could to protect their children from the menace.

Many however stayed in a lockdown with their teachers.  I put on a calm face and asked my remaining children to continue working on their assignments.  Somehow was able to fend off repeated questions why one student after another was being called out of the classroom.

Then I remembered what was sitttng in my instructional mood music bin.  I put it on.  The "Bridge Over Troubled Water" played three times. 

None of my students were among those that lost a parent that day.  One of the children somewhere in the country who was one of the 3,251 that did wrote this message:

"It's time for me to go bed now
I sleep with the light on
Just in case you come home
And kiss me good night
I love you so much
I miss you Daddy...."

Beyond "Troubled Water" is an even more powerful song written by Alan Jackson in the wake of the tragedy.  According to one source:

 "Jackson was devastated by the events of September 11, 2001. He wanted to write a song expressing his thoughts and emotions, but he found it hard to do so for many weeks. 'I didn't want to write a patriotic song,' Jackson said. 'And I didn't want it to be vengeful, either. But I didn't want to forget about how I felt and how I knew other people felt that day.'

Finally, on the Sunday morning of October 28, 2001, he woke up at 4 a.m. with the melody, opening lines and chorus going through his mind. He hastily got out of bed, still in his underwear, and sang them into a hand-held recorder so he wouldn't forget them.  Later that morning, when his wife and children had gone to Sunday school, he sat down in his study and completed the lyrics."

To all the ones who left us nine years ago, we won't forget.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

The "frightening clarity" of eyes that watch the world and can't forget.....

You can still catch it blasting over the airwaves nearly forty years after its release.  Our inimitable "American Pie" has never lost  its wondrous flavor.

Hypnotic melody and those oh-so perplexing lyrics.  One musicologist has a very intriguing analysis shedding much light on just what the hell is the meaning hidden in the threads of the song.

Yet in the enormous shadow of this epic is another Don McLean masterpiece with starkly different tones & colors, quite literally.
In 1971 the song writer had read a bio about Vincent Van Gough and was so moved he composed the song "Vincent."  It became a hit in 1972, the same year that "American Pie" dominated the music charts.
Throughout "Vincent" are references to those immortal landscape paintings as well as his self-portraits, the latter of which McLean thinks the troubled artist found solace.

A major aspect of this haunting ballad is the touching tribute to Van Gough himself, his rejections, and horrific personal torment brought on by severe mental illness, possibly bipolar and, later, schizophrenic depression.

According to one source:

"McLean pays tribute to van Gogh by reflecting on his lack of recognition: 'They would not listen / they did not know how / perhaps they'll listen now.' In the final chorus, McLean says 'They would not listen / They're not listening still / Perhaps they never will.' This is the story of van Gogh: unrecognised as an artist until after his death.

"The lyrics suggest that van Gogh was trying to 'set [people] free' with the message in his work. McLean feels that this message was made clear to him: 'And now I understand what you tried to say to me,' he sings. Perhaps it is this eventual understanding that inspired McLean to write the song.
"It is also thought that the song intends to portray van Gogh's tough relationship with his family. They were a wealthy family who did not accept him for his bipolar disorder ('for they could not love you') and never understood his will to help the poor. It is thought that van Gogh felt that in killing himself he would make the point to his parents. This is seen in the line 'Perhaps they'll listen now.'"

In 1890, wracked by his mental demons, Van Gough committed suicide by shooting himself.  It took him two days to die. With his brother Theo at his deathbed, his reported final words were "La tristesse durera toujours" (the sadness will last forever).  Van Gough was just 37 years of age.  It was only after his death that he would be recognized as one of history's greatest artists whose 2,000 paintings and drawings helped establish the foundations of modern art.

And yet he sold only one painting during his short life -- in his final year on earth:  "The Red Vineyard at Arles," bought by another impressionist painter, Anna Boch, for 400 Francs (equal to $1,600 today.)  In 1990, "Red Vineyard" was auctioned for the staggering sum of $82,500,000.

"I experience a period of frightening clarity," said Van Gough, "in those moments when nature is so beautiful.  I am no longer sure of myself, and the paintings appear as in a dream."

Dream indeed.  Dream deferred.

Thank you, Don McLean, for helping us remember the ragged genuis in ragged clothes behind all the colors.