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On Veterans Day 

On November 11, 1918 at precisely 11:00 a.m., across the battlegrounds of Europe, the air was suddenly filled with an unusual sound; the sound of silence.

After four years of death on a scale the world had never before seen, an uneasy armistice was beginning. On both sides of the lines, hope started to stir in the hearts of those who, just moments before, been committed only to the task of killing. It was a hope that somehow they might just have a future after all.

World War I was a gruesome global event fought on nearly every continent and on every ocean. 70 nations participated. 65 million soldiers put on the uniform of their respective countries. Nearly 10,000,000 died in the four years of fighting. Another 21 million were scarred and mutilated, some being sentenced to spend the rest of their lives in nursing homes and hospitals.

Mankind had “come of age”. New technologies were emerging that made warfare more deadly and more horrible than any conflict prior. Gas was used by both sides with indiscriminate effect. Germany alone would release 68,000 tons of gas during the war. In total 1,200,000 soldiers fell victim to gas attacks with 91,000 dying excruciating deaths. One of those who fell victim to such an attack in the final days of the war was a young German soldier named Adolf Hitler.

Of the horror and carnage of the war, a young Frenchman, Second Lieutenant Alfred Joubaire, wrote in his diary ; “Humanity is mad! It must be mad to do what it is doing. What a massacre. What scenes of horror and carnage! I cannot find words to translate my impressions. Hell cannot be so terrible! Men are mad!” A short time later Jobaire became a statistic of the carnage he wrote of.

The Armistice of November 11, 1918 would hold. What was touted as, “the war to end all wars”, was now history. But there was still a matter of an official treaty. After much debate and bickering among the victorious countries the verdict was pronounced and the treaty signed on June 28,1919. Known as the Treaty of Versailles, it placed the blame for World War I squarely on the shoulders of Germany. A world stunned by the cost of the war in lives and resources coldly demanded retribution. 

As punishment Germany was stripped of large portions of its lands and resources, as well as its military, both present and future. Left humiliated and impoverished Germany was ripe soil for a leader such as Adolf Hitler to ascend to power by offering the German people hope that their beloved country could rise from the ashes and regain its former glory. 

We, of course, know the rest of the story. The “war to end all wars”, only planted the seeds for another war, a war that would dwarf World War I in every category. Furthermore,  it would take but one generation, a mere 20 years, for the world to be back on the same battlegrounds in addition to new ones in remote places on every corner of the planet.

One year after the Armistice took effect that ended the hostilities of World War I, President Woodrow Wilson will issued a proclamation to make November 11th each year a day to remember the end of that war and to honor those who fought it. “Armistice Day” as it was originally designated, would eventually become a legal American holiday as well as a time each year to honor American veterans of all wars.

On this Veterans Day we need to be reminded of the cost of the freedoms we enjoy and the sacrifice and service of those who fought to preserve them. Today we honor those Americans, each and every one who has served in our armed forces and have stood on the wall for freedom.

We would do well to pause to reflect and remember these men and women who have donned the uniforms and taken up arms, placing their lives in harm’s way for the sake of freedom, both ours and our neighbors who cannot defend themselves.

We must never forget the sacrifice and service of these Americans.  To do so is to set us on a dangerous path of neglect and indifference sure to seal a terrible fate for the freedoms we enjoy as well as endangering the very independence and sovereignty of our great nation.

A Wish Granted 

Rick Riscorla found himself facing one of those life challenges that sooner or later find us all. He had been diagnosed with cancer. Still a young and energetic man of 60, Riscorla didn’t like the prospects of losing his life in a gradual battle of attrition to the disease. This was not the way he wanted to go. 

Riscorla was a “man’s man”. Born in England he had been a record setting shot-putter in high school as well as an avid boxer. He served in the Parachute Regiment of the British army, then as an officer on the London police force.  He had grown up idolizing the United States military, so left London for the U.S. where he ultimately enlisted in the Army. As a platoon leader in the newly formed airborne Cavalry, Riscorla saw action and distinguished himself in the famous battle of the Ia Drang Valley in the early stages of the Vietnam War. 

Known to his men as “Hard Core” and to his commander, Lieutenant General Hal Moore as “the best platoon leader I ever saw”, Riscorla garnered a Silver Star, Bronze Star, Oak Leaf Cluster, Purple Heart, and Vietnamese Cross of Gallantry.

Now, as the new millenium began, he found himself facing a prospect almost unimaginable for a man of his intense passion and adventure. He didn’t fear the cancer. He only feared that the cancer would dictate his exit from life in a way so foreign to the way he had lived. 

“Look at us”, he wrote a friend, “We should have died performing some great deed—go out in a blaze of glory, not end up with someone spoon-feeding us and changing our (diapers).”

He fought the cancer into remission after being told in 1998 that he had but six months to live. He continued his work as the head of security for Dean Witter and Morgan Stanley, headquartered in the World Trade Center. Everyone who worked there knew Rick Riscorla. Following the terrorist attack of 1993, he told anyone who listened that “they” (the terrorists) would be back. He planned for it. He developed a procedure for getting all the employees he was responsible for out of the building as quickly and as orderly as possible. He ran drill after drill after drill to make sure they understood the routine. 

On September 11, 2001, all the planning and training and drilling paid off. As the Twin Towers burned in the aftermath of the devastating terrorist attacks, Riscorla provided guidance, inspiration, and quiet, steady leadership in getting his people to safety. Confident he had everyone out, Riscorla returned to the burning building and was last seen on the 10th floor still leading, still comforting, still inspiring. Almost prophetically, he died as he had wished; performing a great deed. In all, over 3000 people died in the attacks of that day, yet only 6 of the 2700 in Rick Riscorla’s care perished. 

The life and philosophy of men like Rick Riscorla could best be described in a poem by Jack London; 

“I would rather be ashes than dust! I would rather that my spark should burn out in a brilliant blaze than it should be stifled by dry-rot. I would rather be a superb meteor, every atom of me in magnificent glow, than a sleepy and permanent planet. The function of man is to live, not to exist. I shall not waste my days trying to prolong them. I shall use my time.”

As I am often reminded, there are things worse than death. Living with no grace, no purpose, and no passion is one of them. Rick Riscorla knew that. So he lived life with grace. He lived life with passion. He lived life with purpose.

And he died the same way. 

On Baseball: Why I love--and have always loved--the game 

I love baseball.  I played the game almost every single day of every single summer when I was a kid.  When I wasn’t playing baseball I was watching it.  Every Saturday I sat transfixed in front of our black and white TV set watching the NBC Game of the Week with Pee Wee Reese and Dizzy Dean.  On weeknights I would sit with my ear to our big upright console radio and listen to the games, especially when my beloved New York Yankees played the Chicago White Sox.  With paper and pencil in hand I would keep score, taking in every word of every second of the broadcast. 

Winters, though filled with some other childhood pursuits, were long and grew longer with each passing day in the anticipation of the coming baseball season. 

I understood what baseball legend Rogers Hornsby meant when he said, “People ask me what I do in winter when there's no baseball.  I'll tell you what I do.  I stare out the window and wait for spring.” 

Did I mention the New York Yankees?  I was a fan of the Yankees, the real Yankees.  The Yankees of the late 50s and early 60s.  The Yankees of Mickey Mantle and Roger Maris.  The Yankees of Bobby Richardson and Tony Kubek.  The Yankees of Yogi Berra and Whitey Ford.  The Yankees of Elston Howard and Clete Boyer.  Man, I loved those Yankees. 

My grandfather took me to Chicago’s Comiskey Park on a hot, sunny, Saturday afternoon in 1961 to see the Yankees and White Sox battle it out.  Mantle and Maris were in the midst of that amazing home run derby season when Maris would ultimately smack 61 round trippers to break the “unbreakable” record that Babe Ruth had held. Seeing my heroes in person in old Comiskey is a magical memory I will cherish all the way to my grave. 

Yes, I love baseball.  I love it because it has something most other sports lack.  It sets its own pace.  There is no clock to rush the game along.  It can be short or it can be long.  The game determines its own length. 

I love baseball because it has grace.  In my opinion there is nothing as beautiful and intricate as a ground ball up the middle with the bases loaded and everyone – I mean everyone – moving to their designated spot to take a relay throw or back up a base or home plate.  It is ballet on a stage of dirt and grass. 

There is elegance in the cat-and-mouse game that gets played between pitchers and hitters, and pitchers and base runners.  There is strategy in play on every pitch, to every batter, in every inning. 

Mostly, I love baseball because it is still the same game I watched as a kid some 50 years ago.  Sure, the parks and the names have changed.  Today there is the ever present talk of drugs and trades and contract disputes, but in the end all those things are discussions for the newspapers and locker rooms and the nightly ESPN broadcast. 

Between the lines baseball remains the same graceful, elegant game of my youth.  Between the lines lies a true “field of dreams” for many young boys today just as it was for me so many years ago.  Every dusty playground diamond is Wrigley Field or Yankee Stadium and every pick-up game is the seventh game of the World Series. 

I love baseball because when it is played as it should be played it is a microcosm of how life should be lived.  It is a game of grace, purpose, and passion,  and every pitch, every movement and every moment demands and is deserving of our utmost devotion. 

Baseball and life go together like the ballpark and a hot dog.  There is one huge difference between the two, however.  Baseball is played for a season, a few brief but shining months of the year, and a few fleeting hours of the day. 

On the other hand, life is something we are given to live each and every day.  We wake up each morning and choose our path, our attitude, our purpose for that day.  We can waste it or we can delight in it.  We can simply endure it or we can live it with grace, purpose and passion. 

Life is an everyday pick-up game.   In the end, it’s even better than baseball.

When Dreams Die 

 

Have you ever had a dream die? Most all of us have at some time or another. Perhaps it was the dream of being a professional athlete and that dream crumbled under a college knee injury or more likely from a sudden realization that you simply were not—and would never be—good enough.

Perhaps it was the dream of a life to be spent with that perfect someone that you had finally just met, only to see that dream shattered when you find that your perfect mate doesn’t see you in the same light.

Perhaps it was the dream of building that business you always saw yourself owning , that business that was destined to set the world on its ear and sit up and take notice. Only that dream died, like the others, for any number of possible reasons.

Dreams come in a million different colors and variations and they die in an equally staggering number of different ways.

That a dream we possess struggles and dies a terrible death is not necessarily a tragedy. If we dare to dream we face the likely reality of the death of that dream. The tragedy, however, is to live the rest of our life in mourning that dream, a mourning which robs us of any possibility of dreaming other dreams. And sometimes those dreams will be even greater, even grander, evern more profoundly impacting, than any dream we have previously dreamed. 

There are several things us prospective dreamers need to remember. 

First, if you are afraid of pain, don’t dream. If you can’t face the possibility of seeing your dream die, don’t dream in the first place. The more you dream, the more likely you are to see your dreams die. That is the reality. Face it. Deal with it.

Second, if and when you experience the death of a dream, don’t let the pain of the moment rob you of the invaluable lessons that can be learned in those moments. Stay alert. Keep a clear eye. 

Third, mourn, but only for a set period of time. The loss of a dream, like the loss of any person or possession that we love and value, must be mourned. We must go through the process of letting go. Allow yourself that time. Mourn. Cry. Scream in anger, if necessary. Shout at God a bit. (he understand, by the way).

Then, get up. Pick up the pieces. Clean up. Put a smile on your face. Move on.

Finally, dream the next dream. Songwriter Larry Gatlin penned a wonderful song titled “One Dream Per Customer” in which he asked the question; “Is life a simple matter of one dream per customer, or are we allowed all we dare to dream”. When we are in the midst of dreaming and planning our big dream—THE dream—it is hard for us to imagine and believe that there are more dreams where that came from. There are. Dream again. Yes, you might face another death if you do, but that’s ok. Dream anyway. Never let the death of one dream cause you to abort other dreams that are growing within you.

Dream on, dreamer.   

 

A Reality Check 

I’ve been through proceedures that placed five stents around my heart. I’ve had back surgery to repair damage done during my carpenter days. I possess a lifetime’s worth of arthritis. I’ve been poked, prodded, and invaded during all those tests my doctor suggested for a “man my age”. Still, nothing—and I mean nothing—has made me feel as old as I’m feeling right now.

I’m using a walker.  A WALKER for pity’s sake!

Granted, it is temporary (hopefully). Nonetheless, I feel every bit of my 69 years plus 20 or so more. 

To be honest, I’ve been pushing a walker for a number of years. You know them as shopping carts. Whether cruising the aisles at Walmart, K-Mart, Kohl’s, Menards, or Lowes, or any store that offers those little four wheel beauties, I grab one when I go in the door.  Somehow I always manage to get the one that has one front wheel aimed 45 degrees off center so I get a bit of extra exercise fighting it through the various departments of the store. Most of the time I actually don’t need the cart for shopping so I simply look as though I have great intentions of buying all sorts of goodies. Sure, I feel a little embarrassed when I approach the check-out stand with my cart and its contents consisting of just a greeting card, but I’m 69. I have no pride. 

Using a walker is just another of those reality checks that come with aging. If you haven’t experienced one yet, just sit tight. Your day is coming. When it does be thankful if the reality check is nothing more than using a walker. There are far, far worse realities. 

So, I’m thankful for my little four wheeled friend. It has been a great help in getting from point A to point B and to points beyond, even if it is a huge pain in the butt (and back) on stairs. Nontheless, I am going to use it to fullest advantage. 

You’re certainly familiar with the old adage, “When life gives you lemons, make lemonade”.  As I said, I’m hopeful my need for the walker is just temporary. That could change. Should the walker become my constant companion, I’m going to make lemonade. I’m going to have fun with it. Mine will be the coolest, most hopped-up, souped-up, snazzy, hip, cool, groovy walker yet to be seen. I envision headlights, tail lights, running lights, a crazy loud eight track player (They’ve gone out of style? Really?). Oh, yes, and turn signals. Not that us old folks ever use them. 

Why not?  It’s just aging. If you can’t fight it, make the best of it. Laugh a lot (when you’re not crying) and make the most of it. 

It’s here to stay.

Another New Year’s Eve 

Many years ago, while still in my 20s, I entered into a business venture with a friend.  We had what we thought was a great idea, we were young and aggressive, and we were confident of our success. With great excitement we dove in.  A few weeks later I stood with my new partner at a New Year’s Eve party.  Shaking hands, we boldly declared that the New Year would most certainly be our year.   

To make a long story short, it was not our year.  In fact, “our year” turned out to be pretty much the same as the previous year.   We discovered the hard way that we were big on dreams but short of the expertise that would be necessary to make our business venture a success.  In spite of our bold New Year’s Resolution, our venture failed.

The passing of a few more years and the gaining of much needed wisdom has taught me a very simple lesson; dreams are never accomplished simply by changing the calendar or turning the clock.

Countless millions of people will charge into January 2019 with renewed resolve, hoping to turn their dreams into reality.  Some of these boldly stated resolutions will be big, such as business ventures or professional challenges.  Others will be less dramatic but no less noble, such as losing weight or living on a budget.

Even armed with these new dreams and resolutions, and motivated by a new date on the calendar, an overwhelming percentage of these dreamers will fail in the pursuit.  2019 will produce no special magic that will make dreams come true and resolutions reality. 

Have you made one or several New Year’s Resolutions?  Have you taken any steps to assure their success?

            Those who wish to live life with grace, purpose and passion are resolution makers. They regularly make resolutions and set goals. They plan and prepare to succeed. They don’t confine the process to just New Year’s Eve but it is a part of their regular, 12 month a year, every day existence.

            Like them, your resolutions can succeed.  It will take more than wishful thinking and changing the calendar, however.

            Here are a few general tips to help you follow through on your resolutions for 2019.

            First, make your resolutions clear and specific. To say you are going to “lose some weight”, for example, just isn’t good enough.  How much weight?  Set a reasonable, achievable goal, but don’t make it too easy.  You need to be stretched.

            Next, put your resolution in writing.  Make several copies.  Keep it posted where you can see it and where it will do the most good. Be reminded of your resolution daily.

            Third, draw up a plan.  Like your stated resolution write out your step by step program for success.  Decide how you are going to achieve your goal and set some measurable benchmarks for various points along the journey.

            Fourth, enlist a friend or two.  Accountability is crucial to accomplishing any goal we seek. Answering tough questions from a trusted friend about your progress often means the difference between success and failure.

Last, but not least, start and don’t stop.  Get moving today with the determination that nothing will stop you on your journey.

2019 doesn’t have to be just another year, just a repeat of 2018. Set some resolutions and follow these general steps to accomplish them and 2019 might very well be everything you desire it to be. 

Missing Things 

When the father of lyric writer Larry Hart (of Rodgers and Hart fame) was dying he called his boys alongside and told them, “Don’t grieve for me…I haven’t missed a thing.” 

I love that quote. It reminds me that life is simply what we make of it. It is up to us to “grab all the gusto we can”, as the old beer commercial said.

Is it, however, really possible? Is it really possible to go through a life of 6, 7, 8 or more decades and not miss some wonderful experiences or opportunities? I highly doubt it. Still, to be able to exit this stage and feel like you’ve grabbed as much of life as possible is a noble pursuit.

At age 68 I’m fully aware that I missed some things. Sometimes I missed them because I was blind to them. I simply wasn’t looking in the right direction as they passed me by. I only saw them in the rear view mirror.

Sometimes I missed them because they were too grand or too risky. I grew fearful and hesitant. I held so tightly to what I had—and sometimes that wasn’t much by comparison—that I couldn’t loosen my grip to grab hold of an even greater thing.

Most of all, I was simply busy trying to live life. I was just getting by but that took all my time and energy. At least that was my excuse. As the saying goes, “Life is what happens when you are busy making other plans.”  My wife and I raised 5 sons and pastored two churches. We invested time in our friends and our communities. I have no regrets for those choices. They were good and noble and right.

In the end you grab as much you can but do so knowing you can’t grab it all. Should you try you will probably find you never grab anything fully. You may also find that the most important things slip through your hands while you are busy chasing dreams and rainbows.

I have no serious regrets about my life. I won’t spend my time gazing in the rear view mirror at the what could have been. Instead, I can look at what was, what is, and what is still to be with a sense of gratitude and excitement.

Besides, If I keep my eyes open, if I overcome a bit of fear, and become a little more determined to seek and live my dreams, who knows?  There just might be—no, there will be—some great dreams and opportunities in the days and years ahead. 

And, yes, I do believe the best is yet to come.

 

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Where Heroes Walked 

A few years ago I decided to do one of those things that you do when you get a few decades under your belt; I wrote my “Bucket List”.  For those of you unfamiliar with the term a bucket list is simply a list of things you would like to do before you “kick the bucket”.

I had to give some careful thought to some of the items I would place on the list. From the beginning, however, I knew what the number one item on my list would be.

I wanted to travel to Normandy, France and the D-Day beaches.

In May of 2017 I fulfilled that dream.  Thanks to the persistent urgings of all my family, my son Joel and I made the trip to France and for a few short days I tried to absorb as much of the amazing history of those few miles of the Normandy coastline as I could.

On the flight home and the weeks to follow I tried to process what I saw and learned.  I asked myself how, if at all, that trip had changed me.

The overwhelming thought that dominated my mind as I spent my time in Normandy was this;  

I had walked where heroes walked.

 I walked across a steel girded bridge that once spanned a narrow canal at a place called Benouville. Today it is known as Pegasus Bridge. There, at 12:16 a.m. on June 6, the first of three wooden Horsa Gliders quietly descended from the sky and deposited a handful of men from the British 6thairborne division, making them likely the first allied soldiers to touch French soil on D-day.

Their job was daunting and vital. They were to storm this bridge and a companion bridge 400 yards to the east in an effort to secure the left flank of Operation Overlord, the invasion of Nazi occupied Europe. They were to take the bridge as quickly as possible and intact and they did just that.

The original bridge, the bridge that stood there on June 6th, 1944, has been moved and now sits a few hundred yards away on the grounds of a museum. The bullet holes left by the brief but furious battle are still very visable. I stood on that bridge. I stood on what would have been the west end where a young man, Lt. Den Brotheridge –a likable 24 year old with a pregnant wife at home–led his men in a charge across the bridge and was felled by a machine gun bullet, likely becoming the first allied soldier to die at the hands of the enemy.

I walked where heroes walked.

I stood on a little strip of sand that is now a favorite place of picnickers and swimmers but on June 6th, 1944 was a place of death and agony. Today it is known as Omaha Beach. I looked up and down that 5 mile stretch of sand and stone, from the grassy knolls at the East end toward the bluffs of Pointe Du Hoc on the west. I tried to imagine the horrible scenes that were common on that June morning as the water literally turned red from the blood poured out by the dead and dying.

I walked where heroes walked.

 I stood on another beach just a few miles to the west of Omaha, where a 56 year old general came ashore with his men because he insisted—over the objections of his superiors—that they should see him leading the way. The son of one President and the cousin of another, and plagued with arthritis that forced him to use a cane, Theodore Roosevelt, Jr. would not hide behind privilege or age. He led the way onto Utah beach.

I walked where heroes walked.

I stood on those cliffs known as Point du Hoc amidst the ruins of German gun emplacements and the deep craters caused by Allied bombing and tried to imagine how the young American rangers could possibly have scaled the nearly vertical rocks under relentless enemy fire to capture their objective. But they did.

I walked where heroes walked.

I stood in the town square at Saint Mere Eglise and gazed up at the peak of the Cathedral there where a parachute and the replica of a parachutist hangs, just as it did on June 6thwhen John Steele hung there at watched his fellow paratroopers slaughtered as they landed in the square or hung in the surrounding trees.

I walked where heroes walked.

I walked through a field in the French countryside adjacent to a home known as Brecourt Manor, immortalized in the book and film series Band of Brothers and where Dick Winters and Easy Company of the 101stAirborne division used a textbook strategy to take out four German artillery pieces that were terrorizing Utah beach 3 ½ miles away.

I listened as the current owner of Brecourt Manor told us the “real” story of the fight, as he had heard it around their kitchen table from his father, grand-father, and Dick Winters.

 I Walked where heroes walked.

I walked the cemeteries. I walked the American Cemetery on the bluffs above Omaha Beach that through sheer courage and determination were liberated by the Allies before the end of the day and have since become the final resting place of thousands of those same men.

I was stirred to chills and tears as the sound of taps rolled across the 10,000 crosses and Stars of David.

I walked the German Cemetery which stands in stark contrast to the American Cemetery. There is somehow a darkness that hangs over it. Far, far fewer visitors come there as if they want to forget these men.  Still, I stood there thinking, “Their mothers wept for them as well.”

I walked where heroes walked.

And I wept. I wept as I sat alone in a small viewing area watching a video of mothers holding dead children caught in the crossfire, of French women kneeling over the bodies of slain American service men and weeping as if that boy was their own.

I wept at the sheer insanity of war yet all the time realizing its absolute necessity.

Indeed, I walked where heroes walked.

When it comes right down to it, however, I could not avoid walking where heroes walked, for every inch of Normandy was a battleground on June 6thand the weeks that followed.

So as I flew home, as I processed the previous days’ sights, sounds and insights, an important thought re-occurred. I walked where heroes walked on that sacred ground in France, to be sure, but in another way, in an even more important way, I always have.

I grew up in small farm town in northern Illinois called Walnut. I spent my first 55 years there. The 1950s held my childhood and the 60’s my adolescence.  My life was consumed with baseball and music and girls. I never stopped to consider that I was walking in the company of heroes.

When World War II had come, the boys of Walnut went to war. They did their duty and when it was over, most of them came home.  They went from the cornfields to the battlefields and back to the cornfields. They served without hesitation, without fanfare, and without complaining. They did their duty and when that duty was finished they went back home, right back to the life they had left.

As I grew up in the 50s and 60s I did so with little awareness of those times or of the courage and sacrifice of those boys, then pushing middle age.  Little was said about the war.  Oh, now and then I might catch a smattering of conversation between my dad and one of the many veterans that were part of his daily life as they stepped back in time to share their war remembrances. By and large, however, the horrors and adventures of those years were left unshared, much like Dad’s war souvenirs, tucked away in old, dusty army trunks, only to be brought out on very rare and special occasions.

I experienced these men daily in the town I loved although I didn’t necessarily think of them as heroes. I only knew them as Roy, Arden, Bobby, Wally, Buck, and Volley, to name a few.  I knew them as businessmen, carpenters, lawyers, grocers and farmers. I knew them as Boy Scout troop masters, Little League coaches, community and church leaders. I knew them as husbands, the dads of my friends, my neighbors, my friends, and the man who lived just down the hall.

Indeed, I have spent a lifetime walking where heroes walked.  These men—these ordinary heroes—shaped my life and my world by their sacrifice and service during the war and well beyond.  For that I am grateful beyond words.

Today we honor our heroes, past and present, whatever and wherever they stood on the wall for freedom. We honor them and remember their heroism out of gratitude for sure, but out of necessity as well.

Should we forget—should we ever forget—God help us as a nation.

 As I continued processing all these things I remembered something else of great importance, a simple challenge my father left me with as he was dying. 

“Whatever you do,” He said,” Tell my grandchildren and great-grandchildren that I was a soldier.”

I will do more than that, Dad. I will use whatever gifts, talents, and energy I have to tell the world what you—and the millions of others like you, have done for the nation I love and the world that depends upon us. I will do my part—and hopefully more—to keep that memory alive.

President Franklin D. Roosevelt once wrote, “Those who have long enjoyed such privileges as we enjoy forget in time that men have died to win them.”

On this Memorial Day—as we remember, let us pledge ourselves to continue to remember, not just one day a year but every day of every year, not just because we are grateful but because it is so necessary.  

Our freedom—the Freedom of our nation and the world we lead—depends upon our steadfast remembering as we walk where heroes walked.

 

 

A Lesson from the Searchlight 

For several television seasons actor / director / writer George Takei was known to Star Trek fans as around the world as Hikaru Sulu, the helmsman of the USS Enterprise. Today Takei is using his world-wide fame to tell the story of his childhood and the lessons it offers all of us about democracy and freedom.

The Japanese – American Takei was born in 1937 in Los Angeles to Japanese born parents. In 1942, fed by the anti-Japanese hysteria resulting from the outbreak of war with Japan, the five-year-old Takei and his parents were summarily moved to what the American government designated as “relocation camps”. Takei is quick to point out—much to the discomfort of most Americans—that these were nothing less than “concentration camps”: They concentrated Japanese-Americans in specific locations, confined them with barbed-wire fences, and discouraged their escape with sentry towers and machine gun toting guards.

In a recent interview on the Travis Smiley Show Takei made an off-the-cuff statement that caught my attention.

In discussing the concentration camp aspect of his world as a five year old, Takei mentioned that walking across the compound at night to visit the latrine meant being followed by the glare of a searchlight.

“I didn’t think anything about it,” said Takei, “I just thought it was cool that they lit my way so I could go pee.”

There is something wonderful and innocent about that statement. There is also a lesson that we could learn to make the process of growing older more fulfilling, less stressful, and more fun.

Takei’s family had been forcibly uprooted from the life they had built. They were taken from their homes, their neighborhoods, their families, and their jobs. They were treated as criminals simply because of their Japanese heritage. They had every right to be angry at a nation that purported to be the shining beacon of freedom in the world yet locked them behind wire fences. They had every right to question the morality of a nation that would watch their every act–even an act as simple and normal as going to the latrine—with suspicion.

A five year old, however, did not understand any of that. Five year olds are blessed with a sense of wonder and innocence and naiveté. The spotlight wasn’t watching him, it was simply lighting his way.

I wonder how many of us would benefit from embracing a little bit more of a child-like innocence and wonder. How many of us would experience a bit more joy in our life if we didn’t take the “big picture” quite so seriously, at least not all the time.

Let’s take a lesson from a five year old in a Japanese-American concentration camp. Let’s stop looking at the worst of things and look for the blessings. Let’s stop looking at the dark clouds and seek the silver lining.

Most certainly, we would all enjoy life and have much more fun if, like Takei, we saw searchlight not as watching us, but as lighting our way.

 

The Cause Was Not Reported 

An article from the February 26, 2014 edition of the Washington Post left me scratching my head.

“Alice Herz-Sommer, a concert pianist who was widely believed to be the oldest survivor of the Holocaust and who became known around the world for her belief in the redemptive power of music, died Feb. 23 at a hospital in London. She was 110.

So far so good, right? The best part of this obituary was yet to come, however.

The cause of death, the obit stated in its conclusion, “was not reported”. “Was not reported”? Really? How about the fact that she was 110 years of age!

We fear it. We fight it. We worry about it. Yet, the simple fact is this: One of the most freeing—and life giving—truths man can accept is the reality of his own inevitable death. The sooner we accept the inevitability of death, the sooner we can get on with the business of life.

Sure, accidents will happen. Illnesses will attack us. Bad things will interrupt our journey. Most of the time we simply can’t do much about it. So why worry?

As I think back on the many vibrant, dynamic people I have had the joy of knowing in my life they were all people consumed with living, not obsessed with dying. I have learned from them that to cower behind fear of accident or illness or calamity or death is to lose the joy of living. That is not a bargain I wish to make.

Jesus himself reminds us of the wastefulness and futility of such a bargain.

“Can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?” (Matthew 6:27) The implied answer is, “Of course not.” In fact, just the opposite is the reality. Worry destroys us. It eats away at our joy and our smile and our ability to walk out the front door into a world God gave us to enjoy.

Live fearlessly. Enjoy life. That is what I intend to do. I am on a journey to live life and to squeeze as much joy and good work out of it as I can.

I am going to die. Something– be it cancer or a drunk driver—may rob me of my life, it is true. Then again, who knows? I might just make it to110 and die, not of old age, but of wearing myself out in joyful living.