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Thanksgiving 2016, the traditional day of turkey, football games and relatives, is over and for far too many, done with. (Let the shopping begin!)

But, I think we short change Thanksgiving by giving it but one day. Heck, we give pickles, popcorn and peanut butter a whole week.

The people in Oz got it right.  Thanksgiving is a daily event. 24 hours a days where the people can give thanks to anyone and for anything.

Some years ago…at least 12 but probably closer to 15 or 18 years… I penned a short essay that appeared in the Times Herald-Record (Middletown, NY).

Of course I had forgotten about the article until this Thanksgiving when a woman, now living in South Carolina, called “out of the blue” to wish me a happy Thanksgiving and to tell me how much that article meant to her when she first read it…and everyday thereafter.  She told me she has the article framed and on her desk and that when she sends a graduation card to anyone, she includes a copy.

Today this woman’s call would be equivalent to a single tweet in a world where anything less than being retreated 278,413 times is meaningless.

However, one to me is still a significant number.

I share my Thanksgiving piece hoping that it might be meaningful to some “one” else.

thanksgiving

fork-in-the-road

I’m in the state of confusion, the 51st state of the Union where I seem to have taken up permanent residence.  Lately I’m very confused about the definition of words we toss around with reckless abandon.  Words like Democrat and Republican, in my opinion, are totally useless words that should be banned from use in private or public.  But words like conservative and liberal are two words that need some attention.

The dictionary defines the two this way as adjectives:

liberal – open to new behavior or opinions and willing to discard traditional values.
conservative – holding to traditional attitudes and values and cautious about change or innovation, typically in relation to politics or religion.

The “troubling” words in the liberal definition are “willing to discard,” because discard is so close in meaning to toss or throw away like a piece of trash. The words “cautious about change” in the definition of conservative are, in my opinion, less offensive, but can easily be used to stop progress.

What I hate about the two words, aside from their lame definitions, is the fact that both words have driven a wedge between us.

I am a conservative.  I conserve water, energy, and natural resources.  I am a liberal. I am liberal with the time I spend helping other people, in using my money to help the less fortunate, and in praising people when praise is deserved.

But, I am not so cautious about change, when change is beneficial to us all, even if it might benefit some more than others.  I am not willing to discard traditional values without some gut-wrenching decision-making because, as Tevye said in Fiddler on the Roof, “without our traditions our lives would be as shaky as a fiddler on the roof.

I have no problem embracing relationships of and between genders. I have no problem with people who are working hard to legalize marijuana. I am a big supporter when it comes to making sure everyone’s rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness are defended. I am not a big, vocal proponent of abortion, but, I am against making it illegal because that won’t work.  Does that mean I’m too weak to defend the lives of the unborn? No.  It just means that I think a woman does have a right to make a decision despite the fact that I believe life is life…but a life has to be wanted, and I don’t buy the argument about so many couples want to adopt children.  (The issue is far too complex to fit into a blog.)

But I also fear that we are living in a society where anything goes without giving a second thought to traditional values that perhaps might  have some permanence and universal viability. These values, in my opinion, include respect, honesty, tolerance, selflessness, compassion, etc.  My conservative genes believe that today it is hard to maintain values in a world that spins on an axis of entitlement.

When I was in college during the big anti-war movement of the 60s, I was amazed how a “liberal” student could come home from a peace march and turn up his stereo to a deafening volume, but would say “fuck off” to a conservative, aka, hawk, when asked if the stereo could be scaled back.

I sometimes believe that extreme liberals and conservatives make it hard for all of us to create a world of mutual respect and admiration.  There are numerous forks in the road and we have to believe that not all of the roads to the left need be taken nor should we take all of the roads to the right. As a secular people we have to understand that our rights can be found in our founding documents. As a secular people we also need to know that we have a right to make changes in our laws and that our “laws” are not necessarily sacred.

Progress is not a dirty word. It does not, pardon the expression, trump, using our heads or following our hearts in the pursuit of creating a just world.  It does mean it is going to take a lot of internal courage to support justice for all.

 

election-post-card

Dear State and Local Candidates: Alright already! Enough of your innocuous glossy large post cards! I don’t read junk mail! And that’s what your post cards are. Junk mail! They lack any creativity and they appear to be one size candidate fits all. Your attacks on your opponents are falling on my deaf ears because your promises are not only hollow, they are filled with bull shit!

And while I’m at it. How come I never hear from you when you aren’t running for election…or are you ALWAYS running?

tinman-crying

Life is a song – sing it.
Life is a game – play it.
Life is a challenge – meet it.
Life is a dream – realize it.
Life is a sacrifice – offer it.
Life is love – enjoy it.

Sai Baba

clock

L. Frank Baum really never told his readers how many days Dorothy spent in Oz. In fact, time as we know it, stood still in Oz.  Unlike the White Rabbit in Lewis Carroll’s “Alice” story who was always running late or J. M. Barrie’s Peter Pan who wanted to stop time so no one would ever grow up, Dorothy was not limited to or hindered by time. (When The Wizard asked her to bring him the broom of the Wicked Witch, he didn’t give her a deadline.)

rabbit.jpg

Locked in time

peter pan.jpg

The last moment in time was on the Big Ben’s clock

I was reminded of time in my Marist class the other day when one of the student’s asked me what was my best time.  It was a good question in a class built around the importance of asking questions. I didn’t have much “time” to think about an answer, but my head was flooded with images of past events. And while I was tempted to say one of my best “times” was my year as a student at Oxford, I found myself saying that the present was my best time. And I meant it even though it wasn’t the kind of answer the average college student is looking for.

College students are all about time.  They crave it and want to be washed in “good times.”  They look at the future and want to hurry it up.  Their impatience is understandable because when you are young you are always looking forward.  When you are “older” it doesn’t mean you don’t “look forward,” because you do.  Many seasoned individuals, on the other hand, tend to look back at “good times.”  And while there’s nothing inherently wrong with that, it can be dangerous though when the past is where you live.

Living in the moment often gets an undeserved bad rap.  That doesn’t mean I encourage selfish and careless living where you abandon any sense of responsibility for your actions. What we do in the moment does come with consequences.

However, the present is really all we have.  And while there is always room in the present to prepare yourself for the future, I think we miss something if all we do in think about the future.

There is no arguing that I have far more yesterdays in my life than I have tomorrows.  But I have the present and it is up to me to squeeze as much juice out of each moment in the present that I can.

I am very fortunate to be in the presence of young, eager minds.  And if there is one message I would hope to give them it would be this: There’s nothing you can do about yesterday. What happened is in the books. Believe in tomorrow, but don’t take up residency there before tomorrow happens. If you do, today will slip through your fingers. Make the most of today by living in it and celebrating it. Carpe diem!

oz box

In my opinion, back to school ads should be banned until the last week of August. Summer should be a school-free zone where children can be children.

Other than getting a new pair of shoes, six # two pencils, a Bic pen, a marble composition book and a hair cut, I never got what I wanted, or perhaps I should say, needed before starting back to school. I wanted and needed a place where my natural curiosity could blossom. What I didn’t need was a place filled with pot holes deliberately placed to trip me up. And that’s what school was to me when I was a kid.  It was a place I dreaded because I wasn’t a good student.  Like a batter who has a full count with the bases loaded, bottom of the ninth with two outs…I chocked.

I hated spelling lists. I hated multiplication sheets. I hated text books of all subjects. I even hated lunch because the grape jelly in my peanut butter sandwich leaked through the white Wonder bread.

A school is just a place. And while it has the potential of being a great place for learning, I fear we have forced our teachers to replace teaching with teaching to a test. Instead of making learning a fantastic journey we have made it a long and boring trek.

L. Frank Baum did not have a school in Oz, but he did make a comment on education, a comment I call into question. Talking to the scarecrow he said, “Why, anybody can have a brain. That’s a very mediocre commodity. Every pusillanimous creature that crawls on the Earth or slinks through slimy seas has a brain. Back where I come from, we have universities, seats of great learning, where men go to become great thinkers. And when they come out, they think deep thoughts and with no more brains than you have. But they have one thing you haven’t got: a diploma.”

I have no problem with what he said about the brain, but I do have a problem with him saying that the only thing that makes a difference is a “diploma.”

Having spent the last 15 years teaching on the college level I have come to the conclusion that all that matters is the diploma or the degree. One of the problems with a college degree is that it’s like a mattress. You can’t actually compare mattresses because they all hide behind different funny names that mean absolutely…nothing.

It’s almost as difficult to compare college degrees, especially if you are comparing a degree given in 1970 when I got mine and with a degree given to a recent grad. The courses I had to take to earn my degree are not the ones a 2016 grad had to take.

Not that my courses were better because they weren’t. In fact my courses didn’t prepare me an iota for a job, let alone a career.  Today’s grad has taken very career specific courses coupled with internships that have prepared the grad for an entry-level job.

I believe we learn what we need to learn and what we want to learn. We need to learn and to master certain  skills to navigate the rough seas of life. Our little dingy can be flooded if we don’t have a handle on some of the more practical “things.”

Unfortunately, the list of what we have to learn has been lengthened to include only job skills. And while we do need to learn what it takes to be proficient in the field of our choice, many of us don’t make any time in our lives to learn what we want to learn.

And I fear that’s happened because our lives are so frenetic and the marketplace is so competitive that we no longer have time for broad learning that is fueled by yearning.

2016 ozlympic medal

As an “American” I couldn’t help but cheer on the “American” athletes in the 2016 Summer Olympic games.  There’s nothing inherently wrong with that, but it did get me thinking about “being” something. Even though we live on a tiny planet in an ever-expanding universe we have taken to divide ourselves into ever-expanding groups of people identified by imaginary boundaries. Some of “us” are Americans, some Brazilians, Italians, Iranians, Bolivians…. (According to a source there are 195 countries and 206 nationalities.) If that isn’t enough, we further identify ourselves beginning with larger geographic regions (states) down to smaller ones (towns and villagers).

If geographic divisions are enough, we further divide “us” by religions This division is further divided by religions of which there are over 4000!

There is a certain irony to all these divisions. An “Albanian” can, through the “magic” of the internet/social media, witness…in actual time what is happening to a “Bolivian” or an “Indonesian.”

In other words, all the walls we have constructed are crumbling. And that’s a good thing. The only problem is there are far too many people who like walls. Good fences do not make good neighbors and people who insist on reinforcing old walls are not good people.  We need to tear down walls by beginning to do it close to home. Very close to home.

We first need to tear down the walls of fear and ignorance.  We need to stop branding one another with the divisions we have created.  Nationalism, when it leads to jingoism, only leads to war. We even need to swallow our “pride” and admit that there is no one single “great nation” or one “right” religion.

The whole notion makes me scratch my head and makes me wonder if I am wrong. Is there anything wrong with the pride that comes from being a (fill in the blank)? Is it wrong to wrap yourself in a flag and pound your heart when your “national” anthem is played?

More often than not I have no answers to most of the questions that bounce around in my head, but when witnessing something like the Olympic games, I can’t help but wonder if will we always build a wall around the yellow brick road.