Freedom is not Free

Tomorrow Americans celebrate the birth of independence, the birth of country, the longevity of the United States of America. We’re old, by some reckonings, barely started by others.

We’ve had glory days, amazing stories that fill our history books, our movie scenes, fill our hearts with pride and nostalgia. We rightly remember the heroes, the brave ones, the  hardworking backbone of this country.

And we’ve had the other…the moments, many captured to live indefinitely online, that haunt and hurt and damage our national story. We’ve had days of sorrow, internal family feuding and fighting that’s hateful, and embarrassing.

We’re all siblings, of a sort.

National siblings. 

Lately, I’ve wondered…are we, the citizens of the United States, really worthy of the freedom we enjoy? Do we deserve the rights and privileges we’re so accustomed to having?

Do we take voting seriously? Do we know about the issues, take time to understand more than the sound bites and talking points that we’re already drawn to, by our pre-determined stances and opinions?

Do we look for candidates who will be leaders, or do we just check boxes when we vaguely recognize a familiar name?

Do we bother to learn about local issues, the unexciting realm of politics that influences school boards and community elections? Do we know what’s happening at the level of governing we can all be a part of? Do we participate in our own back yard?

Do we look for ways to help? Or are we just enjoying the show, enjoying the role of critic without the burden of involvement?

Do we look for the good of the whole? Are we focused on self-interest, or are we interested in our siblings…our national siblings?

Are we nurturing a nation, caring for our collective integrity and honor?

Sometimes it seems like we’re talking all the time, but not really saying anything worthwhile.

Is anyone even listening anymore? Or are we all talking over each other? We can all feel good that we’ve had our say. But did anyone hear anyone else?

I don’t have all the answers, nor does anyone else. Our issues are big, and getting bigger. Our debt is enormous, and our resources are limited.

But our hearts are not limited. Our imagination is not limited. Our capacity for compassion and hard work is unmatched.

Rather than hoping we can reach agreement on all our many areas of conflict, I hope we’ll look for opportunities to make actual contributions to real needs. I don’t have to agree with someone to work beside them for common good. And there so much that we can do if we choose to cooperate, instead of using our energy and time to tear one another apart.

Tomorrow we celebrate the heroes of thought and words who conceived a land built on freedom and liberty. We celebrate the heroes of action who brought the idea to reality. I hope we’ll also be celebrating the heroes of quiet deeds, the people who continue to make the United States great…the people who give, generously; who care, ferociously; who live, courageously; and who love, whole-heartedly.

We are siblings, all of us citizens. We’re national siblings, and we need to remember that. We pay a price to live in this land. Freedom isn’t free, even for civilians. There is a cost to everything, for everyone. And I’m not talking about taxes.

I’m talking about the price we owe from the heart.

Are you paying your share?

Happy 4th of July, Americans! Happy 4th, my siblings!

 

 

 

 

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My mother’s table – Happy Thanksgiving!

I’m celebrating this Thanksgiving at my mother’s table, once again.

It’s not often, at this point in my life, that I find myself surrounded by family for the holiday. We often visit in summer, or at Christmas, but the Thanksgiving break is shorter, and makes for a harder trip.

But this year, the stars aligned, and we have a cross-section of ages and family branches, from multiple time zones and states, gathered to share the day and the feast, to tell stories and catch up on news, to snap photos and give hugs. We’ll hear about what’s new, remember what’s past, (and who’s passed), and talk.

Most of all, we’ll talk.

In my mother’s kitchen, around my mother’s table, we’ll talk. The stories will flow, and mostly they’ll be funny. Sometimes the talk turns to country and opinions, and the opinions are always strong, and strongly voiced. But no one is uninvited here, whatever is said. We’re family, and that’s that.

My mother has two tables, in side-by-side rooms. There’s a formal dining room, and we’ll have enough people in the house that both tables will be used.

But it’s the kitchen table where the magic happens.

It doesn’t matter how long it’s been, when we gather, we eat, we talk, and we laugh, often late into the night.

Like so many families across the country, we’ll do the traditional things, eat traditional foods, and mark another year.

There are some missing from our clan. Some just can’t be here, too far to travel, and too short a break. We’re missing others who’ll never sit with us again. But they’re here in spirit, and in stories, and in the recipes we use, the names we recall…”Papa,” “Mama,” “Daddy,” “Mother.”

The day will be full, and we’ll be full, stuffed with all the trimmings, and all the favorite dishes offered up to mark the meal, to say this is a special time, to remind us of tradition and occasion.

We are thankful, the lot of us. We’ve all known joys, and we’ve each known loss. We’re a cross-section of Americana, in so many ways…from careers to interests to where we live and how we talk. Some accents are southern, some less so. Mostly we’re united by common genes, common faith, and heritage of place and upbringing, though we’ve wandered far and wide from our starting points.

Thanksgiving is a day for many things…a national pause to say grace and peace, to thank and remember, to eat and celebrate. Mostly, to me, it’s about family. Purer than any other holiday for that focus, it’s a day that allows us to be together with no other motive than that…to be together. The food and the other traditions are really the extras. It was never really about what’s on the table.

What we’re really thankful for are the people, gathered around.

Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours! May your table be full of food cooked with love, and the chairs be filled with faces you love. As you look around tomorrow, may you know who you’re thankful for, and find kindred spirits to talk and laugh with.

I’ll be at my mother’s table, and I’ll be thankful to see the faces, hear the stories, and feel the love.

~ Sheila

My country, ’tis of thee…

It’s been a while since I wrote on this site. Life has been full of travel, recruiting, day jobs, and family.

I had intended to do a post about fish and chips, a follow-up to the last post on fishing. I wanted to be light-hearted and fun.

But today I don’t feel light-hearted, and I want to say why.

I like to think I’m patriotic. Not in the grating, super-power-proud-gloating sense, but in the tear-up-when-I-see-a story-of-American-heart-and-American-goodness sense. Whenever I’ve been out of the country and I feel the touch-down of the plane’s wheels on American soil, no matter the point of entry, I always breathe a little welcome sigh, a recognition of being “home.” I love so many of the things that Americans sheepishly acknowledge…speaking generically, we really are a melting pot. We love corny things, little guys winning uphill battles, we value fairness and people standing up to challenge wrongs. There’s a segment of the population that’s sophisticated, by the going standard, for sure, but I think the majority of us are still focused on the basics…family, making a life for our kids, being part of communities that need good people and good ethics.

Which brings me to my moral dilemma. As the events of the last few days have unfolded, I’m reminded, again, that we have two candidates for the highest office in the land, and I can’t vote for one, and won’t vote for the other. The order of which names fit with “can’t” and “won’t” change from time to time, but the bottom line is the same. No options.

I would love to see a woman in the office of president, but not this woman. I can’t get past the enormous sums of wealth this candidate and her family have accumulated in public service, with no visible sign of creating anything of value, other than influence and favors. I’ve seen estimates of net worth from $30 million up to $111 million. Add that to the decades of scandal and charges of corruption that have followed this family, and I just can’t vote for more of the same. I’m sure there is some truth and some hype, but really, can’t we do better? From the beginning of this election cycle, through the primary season when so many of the contests looked unfairly rigged, there’s been a sense that this was a choice made for voters, rather than by voters. There’s nothing right about that.

A lot of my distaste comes from exhaustion. I wish politicians had the grace to move off the stage after a few years, but it seems almost no one does any more. I am fiercely opposed to political dynasties. I believe allowing multiple family members to milk the political system off name recognition and shared influence gives unfair advantage and access to a process that should be based on merit and work, not who one is married to, born to, or otherwise related to.

And the other candidate…well, I just can’t go there either.

I understand we’re electing a president, not a pope (I read that little nugget recently). I understand we’re all human, we all have faults and flaws, and who am I to judge, anyway? I’ll tell you who I am: I’m a voter. And while I accept that any human being is far from perfect, I want to elect someone who has aspiration toward high standards, who I can look up to and feel that at least they’re attempting to be a person of honor.

I’m sure that all people in places of leadership have their bad moments, lapses in judgment, and say things they regret. I do all that too. We all do. But I’m not proud of those moments when I fall short. I don’t go around bragging on myself that I got away with bad behavior, or find myself expressing remorse because I got caught at something and now have to try to look sorry, whether I really am or not.

I understand that in many ways, culturally we’ve done away with moral standards, with the traditional “rights” and “wrongs” of past eras. Or maybe we haven’t. Maybe we’ve told ourselves we’re all grown up now, so sophisticated we don’t pass judgement on anyone anymore. Live how you want, say what you want, just don’t get caught on camera or mic, right?

I think our culture has an up-close view of what that looks like in a potential leader, and we’re disgusted with what we see…and who we’ve become, to some extent. Maybe the reason so many are outraged with this candidate is that he is a self-indictment, in many ways.

After all, morality either matters, or it doesn’t. Crude language is either acceptable, or it isn’t. Politicians either have private lives, or they don’t. We can’t really have it both ways.

Personally, I believe when someone offers themselves up for the highest office in the land,  for that time, they don’t have a private life. Their children should be off limits, but anyone running for the office of president should be prepared for every word and action to come under a microscope. And if they’re not, maybe they should not invite the scrutiny of the world. I’m not saying that’s fair, or even right. But in this day of ever-present media, and no subject off limits, that’s the way it is.

Honestly, I would be glad to not be privy to the personal details of candidates’ lives…I don’t want to know all the nitty-gritty. But that’s not the culture we live in, when anything and everything is fair game for dinner table conversation and social media posts.

I wish the wise people who founded this nation had given us a blueprint for this scenario: what to do when we want a do-over, but don’t want to create a constitutional crisis or a revolutionary change. I don’t want to see anything like that happen. I do want a way out of this dilemma.

Personally, I would be happy to see the vice-presidential candidates take over the top of the ticket.

Or if we can’t take that approach, maybe we can launch a write-in candidate via social media to win the most votes? Who will step forward to save us from these two? Anyone? Anyone?

Going forward, I think we need to create constitutional amendments that provide two things:

Term limits to two election cycles…I don’t care if you run for dog-catcher, two terms and you’re out. Whatever benefit accrues from having people in office who know the system are far outweighed by having people in office who corrupt the system.

Only one family member can be president, period. This may seem unfair and arbitrary, but I think we could go a long way toward fixing the political dynasty issue if we took the top prize off the table, once someone in the family has had it. Enough already. Go home, go away, just go! There’s a whole country full of people who are potential candidates. Let someone else step up to bat.

I know there are people who believe in both these candidates, who will vote for them for various reasons, and I understand that…we all have to vote our own consciences. For me, this is a year of none of the above. I’m not excited about the third party candidates either, and realistically, we’re not at a point in our politics where that makes a difference. No third party candidate has enough traction to matter, at least not yet.

Maybe the lessons of this election cycle, on both sides, will be that choosing candidates wisely is important. By the time we’re at this stage of the process, it’s too late to get picky…we’re stuck, voting for undesirables, or voting for no one.

It’s rare that I feel much angst politically. Usually I just tell myself that things will work out, and of course, life goes on, as I’m sure it will, whatever the November election brings. But after such a season, I hope there’s a national call for change to some of our process so we don’t find ourselves here again.

Surely, we can do better than this. We deserve better, our children deserve better. It’s time to look in the mirror, and face what we’ve allowed.

 

 

Can digital work survive like paper?

For the past month I’ve been listening to the soundtrack from the hit play Hamilton, based on the book Alexander Hamilton, by Ron Chernow. I finally downloaded the Kindle edition of the book and started reading it last week, and I’m struck by the author’s references to the writings of people of the 1700s. Some of the references are to letters and other documents that seem fairly obscure. In fact, in the book, the author notes that we’ve learned a lot of what we know about Alexander Hamilton from material that’s come to light only in the last 50+ years, as more than 22,000 pages of Hamilton’s writings were published.

Of course we’re used to reading books and material written centuries ago. From the Bible to ancient texts from early civilizations, Shakespeare and the great writers of all genres and eras, right up to the entrance of the digital era…even the not-great writers…the every-day and common recordings of business, home life, letters, journals, etc…all of it was written on materials that were physical and perishable.

But they were also savable. Keepable. And findable. Readable. And re-producable.

I can’t help but wonder, as I write away on my keyboard, if the words I save to my blog will be readable hundreds of years from now, if they’re only in digital form?

If I stop paying for my domain name, and make no provision to move the posts to a new site, or have them printed, I suppose they would disappear, as if I never wrote.

Here’s an interesting post on this problem…and it is a problem. While I fully expect the digital world to be with us forever, if we don’t experience nuclear winter, or some catastrophic natural event that shuts us all down, the digital world is fragile is ways that the physical world is not. With the changes to technology over time, and the ongoing necessity of financial backing, the issues of who pays to maintain websites, domain names, provide tech support, etc., are thorny.

And it seems there aren’t really good long-term solutions.

I’ve spent the last decade transitioning to digital everything, and I don’t regret that. But reading about information dug out of letters from the early 1700s has made me think about my letters, or rather, my lack of letters. I email, and text, post Facebook messages. But it’s extremely rare these days that I write anything that could be found twenty years from now, likely, much less two hundred years from now.

To be honest, most of what I write doesn’t merit saving…most of it’s just the stuff of everyday life. But then, that’s how we know about the past…because someone wrote about everyday life, and we can look back through time, through letters, through newspapers and books, old photos and journals.

Of course there are printed books and materials everywhere, even in this digital age. I’m not concerned that the future won’t know our time. There’s a huge volume of printed work that will surely exist, long ages from now.

But I have to admit, I’m becoming thoughtful about my work. Do I care if it doesn’t survive me? And if I want it to survive my time on earth, if writing is part of the legacy I want to leave, what do I do to make sure there’s something savable, keepable, readable, after I’m not around to pay to keep a website live, or deal with tech glitches?

It’s not as if this is a totally new thought. Of course I’ve had the experience of clicking on a link only to find that it doesn’t work. Someone set up a site, once upon a time, and then eventually quit maintaining it…you get a message that the page can’t be found, and whatever was there once, is no more.

Could ages past have more longevity than this modern time, with all our sophistication and technology? I think that’s entirely possible. Maybe even probable.

Read the post I linked above…it will make you think.

I suppose someone, some enterprising young start-up company will come up with solutions, there for anyone who is able and willing to pay for digital immortality. But who knows what that would look like?

And I’m thinking…maybe there’s something to be said for printed books after all.

 

 

Happy 4th of July! The Star Spangled Banner

 

The 4th of July is here again, a day to remember and celebrate heritage, and a day to remember that freedom comes at a cost. The national anthem of the United States was born during battle, and reminds us that freedom requires courage…we must be brave if we want to be free. Bravery comes in many forms, some more visible than others. How are you being brave in your life?

Here’s a treat:

The Star Spangled Banner at the Lincoln Memorial

And a little history of this song…

The Star-Spangled Banner

O say can you see, by the dawn’s early light,
What so proudly we hail’d at the twilight’s last gleaming,
Whose broad stripes and bright stars through the perilous fight
O’er the ramparts we watch’d were so gallantly streaming?
And the rocket’s red glare, the bombs bursting in air,
Gave proof through the night that our flag was still there,
O say does that star-spangled banner yet wave
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave?

On the shore dimly seen through the mists of the deep
Where the foe’s haughty host in dread silence reposes,
What is that which the breeze, o’er the towering steep,
As it fitfully blows, half conceals, half discloses?
Now it catches the gleam of the morning’s first beam,
In full glory reflected now shines in the stream,
’Tis the star-spangled banner – O long may it wave
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave!

And where is that band who so vauntingly swore,
That the havoc of war and the battle’s confusion
A home and a Country should leave us no more?
Their blood has wash’d out their foul footstep’s pollution.
No refuge could save the hireling and slave
From the terror of flight or the gloom of the grave,
And the star-spangled banner in triumph doth wave
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave.

O thus be it ever when freemen shall stand
Between their lov’d home and the war’s desolation!
Blest with vict’ry and peace may the heav’n rescued land
Praise the power that hath made and preserv’d us a nation!
Then conquer we must, when our cause it is just,
And this be our motto – “In God is our trust,”
And the star-spangled banner in triumph shall wave
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave.

Thank you 

I know some individuals who mark this day with memories, not as a day off. For those who are gone, and to their families, thank you. There’s nothing political about remembering men and women who did their best, gave their all, and honored their commitments.

Thank you.

Earth in the soul

I’m drinking my coffee, looking out at morning sun over vineyard rows, the symmetry and orderliness calling to my soul.

What is there about farming that sings to me? I don’t have any real ambition to work the land, to tend crops or fret about the impact of weather on harvest. But there is something there.

I think it’s the heritage of my grandparents, farmers all, at one point or other in their lives: tied to the soil, to the rhythm of seasons and the cycle of labor, prepare, plant, nurture, harvest, rest.

My grandmothers were gardeners. They were primarily gardeners of vegetables, real food. One of them also raised chickens, and the other was an avid flower gardener, in addition to the plants she grew for food.

They worked hard. As a kid growing up, I had the luxury of helping on the fringe, shelling peas or some other child-friendly task. I wasn’t out doing the real manual labor.

I got to enjoy the bounty. My grandmothers’ tomatoes and corn, peas and butter beans, strawberries and cucumbers were all features of their summer tables, in fresh-from-the-field dishes. Canned and frozen versions appeared in the fall and winter months. Pickles, jams, and all things good lined their shelves and filled their freezers.

In my childhood home, gardening wasn’t a hobby, it was a necessity.

I wish I could say I learned this skill from these women, but I didn’t. At the time, I was too young, and later, too busy, to value the knowledge and the work of putting food on the table the old-fashioned way. I thought, in some place in my younger-self brain, that growing your own food wasn’t glamorous. It was too lowly. It wasn’t where I would put my efforts. Give me a nice clean grocery store, vegetables and fruit clean and neatly arranged in artistic rows.

No sweat and dirt for me, thank you!

Now I look out over these rows and I’m wistful. I wish, sometimes, I could be still long enough to see a season through from the planting to the harvesting. I wish I could know the satisfaction of raising my own food. I look back at the women of my youth and I appreciate them in a different way. They were hard workers, and they were so knowledgeable. How did I miss that? How could I think that because they weren’t well educated in a formal sense that I couldn’t learn from them?

I don’t know that I ever really thought that. But I demonstrated it. I didn’t try to learn what they knew. I took it for granted, and shelved what I saw into the category of “nothing I’ll ever need to know.”

I wish I could go back and sit with them, appreciate them from an adult point of view. I wish I could tell them how proud I am of them, how inspired I feel by them. Knowing, as I know now, more about their lives, how hard they worked, how selflessly they gave.

I look out over the rows and I feel it, the call to my blood. Is it some sort of genetic memory? I don’t even know if such a thing exists, or if I believe in that. But something pulls. Maybe it’s just nostalgia for connection to the land that I used to have, through them.

Maybe it’s knowing I missed chances, and I don’t want to do that anymore.

My grandmothers knew I loved them. I said that, many times. But I don’t know if they knew I respected them. I’m not sure I did, as my younger self. I didn’t think of them in that way. But now…now, I wish I could tell them that.

I respect them for the love they showed, for their work, for who they were in their time of life. Their lives were so different from mine. But finally, looking out over the vineyard, I know that’s not important. IMG_0029

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What is important is that they lived their purpose, and planted a heritage.

And I thought they were just planting vegetables…