Something to be Thankful For

If you are a typical family, your day may start out with the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade which you will sort of watch.  Sometime during the day you will sit down to the feast.  The adults will be seated around the grown up table and the younger crowd will be at the kids’ table where I can guarantee there will be mischief afoot.  The feast will consist of turkey, potatoes, stuffing and gravy.  You might have some squash or maybe yams and you will probably  have a salad or a dessert that are family traditions passed down from your own parents.  You will share stories, eat too much (it is a requirement), and then you will either watch football or complain about football.  If it is your team playing, you might be doing both.  Somewhere, in the course of the day, you will find a way to list the things you are thankful for or at least you will try.

In America we are generally blessed with a reasonably comfortable life.  We are after all, the land of opportunity.  The problem is that too many of us will still be looking for more.  We will look to compare ourselves to others, who in our perception, are better off than we are and ask why we can’t have that too.  If only we would look in the other direction and find those people who are in need, who aren’t enjoying the comfortable life, who actually have less.  If we did that, we would begin to realize how blessed we really are.  From that very different view point, we would realize all the things we can and should be thankful for.

“Give thanks”, that’s the line we hear over and over at this time of year.  I do believe that we need to give thanks but I challenge anyone still reading to actually take this time to give.  Find those people or organizations that are in need and give.  You can give money, that’s easy, or maybe clothing or food.  Maybe you can give time.  Time to help someone in need due to a financial condition or maybe unable to take care of the tasks they need done due to a handicap or old age.  Maybe it’s just reaching out to that person you have lost touch with or to someone who is alone and needs companionship even if it is just a brief visit.  But understand, you must give from your very best.  Not from the things you don’t want.  Make the gift count by making it meaningful.

Thanksgiving is the time to give thanks and enjoy time with your family and traditions.  But if you can rise to my challenge, you just may find out how much greater the season can truly be.  Not just for the person or persons you help but for your own soul.  Tis the season to be thankful and with a little sacrifice….maybe thanked as well.

At least that’s over

This Thanksgiving, along with all the things I am thankful for, I am very thankful that the elections are over.  No, I am not going to gloat or moan about the results.  I’m just thankful that they have come to an end.  The fact that they are over means all the threatening and misleading ads are done.  No longer will I be bombarded with messages of doom if I vote for the other candidate.  No longer will I be required to listen to promises no logical person could ever believe were possible to keep.

Campaigning is no longer about who a person is or what a person intends to do but rather about how wrong headed and dangerous their opponent is.  We are expected to assume that the person campaigning must believe in the exact opposite of everything we are asked to fear about the opponent.  Gone are the days of civility and dignity.  Without any compliance rules to follow and a boat load of money needed just to get your message out, civility and dignity have become passe.  Fear and exaggeration sell.

How refreshing it would be if a candidate simple spoke truthfully about who they were, what they believed in and what they HOPED to do instead of making promises they either couldn’t keep or never intended to keep.  How can I improve education, give universal no holds barred health care, fix our deteriorating infrastructure and do it all while I cut your taxes.  All of those items, while extremely important to us can not be paid for without dollars.  Why can’t we acknowledge that the benefits of an educated and healthy society improve life for everyone.  It should not be a question of do I have a child in the education system but rather that all children in the education system deserve a chance to learn and develop the skills, both social and intellectual, that all of our futures depend upon.

But fair taxation does not mean equal taxation.  Our graduated system has worked for years and is necessary if we are to accomplish even half the items on our wish lists.  The problem is, that promising to make sure we can pay for something, just doesn’t go well with our propensity to want our taxes cut.  Until we realize that the society we imagine needs the support of everyone in it, we can’t honestly expect it to ever exist.  This means that the dollars I pay for taxes, if based on my ability to pay, will in fact directly benefit me, if not today, in my future.  If it means I can drive on good roads across safe bridges, or know that I can see a quality doctor when I need to, without wondering if I can afford the service, then my taxes were well spent.  If paying my taxes means that children can be guaranteed a quality education whether it is my child or yours, then my dollars are well spent.  If it means that my taxes will provide the services for someone not as well off as me so that I can walk city streets knowing we have done what we can for the homeless and not that we have left even more fall through the cracks, then my dollars are well spent.

By now you are ready to accuse me of being at the very least a socialist and at the worst hopelessly idealistic.  But understand, I am still grounded.  Things may never be perfect but we should never settle for less than our best civic effort.  I just wish we could have candidates, who if they really believe what they say, would be honest about what it takes to accomplish these goals and then go about actually trying to accomplish them.

We can be a great society but only if we are willing to shoulder the responsibility, both fiscally and morally, that it requires.  But for now, fear and greed still sell.  I can only hope that as we move forward, it will actually be forward.  That we will move in a direction of increased civility.  We have a voice to be heard and that voice is our vote.

At least for now, the ad campaigns are over and I might just be able to stomach the commercial breaks in my favorite shows.  I will chalk this one up to it just had to be said.

Thanks for reading.

Sidewalk Art

This week the city paid us a visit and removed and replaced four squares of our sidewalk.  My big beautiful ash in the front lawn has over time decided its roots needed more room than the old sidewalk was allowing.  Pushing up its roots and reclaiming its territory caused several of the sidewalk squares to get just a bit too far out of level.  We now have a new smooth sidewalk and some new built in space for the tree.  But that is not the point of this piece.

Over twenty years ago, the same situation existed as the then much smaller ash was just beginning to demand some room.  Back then the city had come out and marked the squares to be replaced with a chalked “X”.  We had three squares marked that time and were calculating the cost we would be forced to cover in replacing them.  My daughter, Kathryn, was five at the time and quick to notice patterns.  As I arrived home from teaching the night before the city crew was scheduled to appear, there was Kathryn out on the front lawn, sidewalk chalk in hand.  It didn’t take long to see what she had been up to.  There laid before me my entire length of sidewalk beautifully adorned with a big white “X” on each and every square.  Kathryn, beaming from ear to ear, proudly exclaiming, “Look daddy, I finished their picture for them.”

Oops….after complimenting my budding Van Gogh, one should never starve the artist, I grabbed a scrub brush and the hose and began the task of removing her handiwork.  That of course would be the moment my neighbor appeared admonishing me on the crime he assumed I was committing.  After all, he explained, he was being forced to replace six squares.  Once I had assured him I was not responsible for anymore than my three squares, I turned my attention back to the task.

Let me tell you, it is much harder removing sidewalk chalk than one assumes.  To my credit, I had at least dimmed the effect and that next morning, when the city crew arrived bright and early, I was there explaining my young artist’s talent and dedication.  The three squares were re-identified, removed and replaced, and my wife and I vowed to find new outlets for our daughter’s budding art skills.

Turns out all IS well that ends well.  I guess we just “chalked” it up to experience.

A Broken Record

We are a culture that spends huge amounts of time keeping statistics.  We track statistics in every aspect of work, sports, entertainment and life and then record them as records.  The longest, the shortest, the highest, the lowest, the most, the least, the fastest and the slowest.  If we can measure it, we can record it.  We even dedicate an entire book to keeping these records and update it annually.  So what is it about these records that make them so sacred?

They are important, or seemingly so, because they motivate us.  They often go so far as to inspire us to reach for goals we believe might be beyond our reach.  But one thing is true, records are meant to be broken.  And, given time, they often are.

A week or so ago, one of my records was broken.  It had stood for a number of years and in the back of my mind, I know I entertained the idea that it would somehow stand forever.  It had been a record I had set at work and I was quite proud of it.  In truth, it wasn’t the record, but rather the effort that it had taken to set that record that made it so important to me.  And there in lies the point of keeping records.  It is not the loftiness of the record but rather the effort, skill, tenacity and often the risk that was involved in establishing it.  Records don’t come easily.  If they did, well, they shouldn’t be records and certainly not worth tracking.

I am happy to say that my record was broken by someone very deserving.  She put forth the effort required to have the chance.  She sacrificed the personal time and dedicated herself to the work in a manner that allowed her to reach and exceed the goal.  And in the end my record fell.  Sure, there was a moment of sadness when my record fell but it was quickly replaced with a sense of pride knowing that I had inspired an individual to do what it took to break it.

That is the purpose of records and the reason they are worth recording.  They inspire people to reach higher than they otherwise would.  To accomplish things we think are beyond our ability.  To set goals worth working for.  The record setter needs to realize this fact and take pride in the effort they expended in setting it.  The record may fall, but the sense of worth and the challenge they set for others can never be taken away.

Ironically, this week we have the chance to set a new record as voters go to the polls in what might be record numbers.  What an inspiring thought that we as a nation might so fully respect the right to vote that uncountable numbers of people before us fought to secure and protect.  Like any other record, it is meant to be broken and all it takes is the will to break it.  Go be part of the record.  Have your vote counted, and then just maybe go on to choose or set a record of your own.  But remember, your record is just the bench mark for someone else to reach for.  Set the bar high.