Saturday, April 29, 2006

The Soul of America

The amazing film United 93 is many things.

It is a time machine. As you watch the grim events unfolding, from the first-on-the-scene perspectives of aviation personnel, you are inexorably pulled back into those disastrous moments in our nation’s history. As I watched the smoke billowing from the Twin Towers, I was transported once again to my living room, wrapped in a bath towel and dripping wet from my morning shower. At the sound of Pete’s thunderous cry of disbelief, I had raced there and stopped dead in my tracks at the image on the television screen. My first two words in the post-9/11 world were Our Lord’s name.

The movie is also a timely reminder of what we are up against in this protracted, unavoidable war. The enemy, what Dennis Prager calls Islamic totalitarianism, will not surrender. It has no mercy, and it craves our destruction with a single-minded fanaticism. These are the unyielding facts that may be forgotten at our endless peril.

United 93 is, above all, a microcosm of the United States of America. The movie’s tag line states that “40 ordinary people sat down as strangers and stood up as one.” We are a multifaceted nation, a country of strength built from human spirit, courage, and creativity. Our citizens descend from the distant reaches of the globe, and our forebears came to live together in America seeking independence, a better life, and the freedom to live it as they chose.

The passengers aboard United 93 possessed that same spirit, courage, and creativity. These “ordinary people” did not go as lambs to the slaughter. It has been said that courage is fear that has said its prayers. They were surely afraid, but they fought for their lives and for all they held dear. In so doing, they drew a map for all of us left behind to navigate the dangers of the post-9/11 world.

They also held up a mirror to us, to help us see and recognize what lies deep within. This film reminds us, through the brave actions of these ordinary people, what it means to be Americans. Through their valiant efforts to regain control of their doomed aircraft, we see the soul of America at work. Today, nearly five years later, it is a soul in distress and sorely in need of such a visceral reminder.

British film maker Paul Greengrass has captured the American spirit in a truthful way that few native directors have achieved. Every American should see this film. It is packed with a mother lode of emotions, challenging us to remember September 11 with clarity and honesty. It will make you both angry and sad. But the overarching emotion, for me, is one of pride. United 93 is a razor-sharp cut into our national soul that should jolt many of us into a renewed awareness of our purpose in fighting the global War on Terror.

It should also inspire renewed national pride and honor for those very first warrior-citizens who stood and fought back against our enemy.

Thursday, April 27, 2006

A Rough Month

April is the cruellest month, breeding
Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing
Memory and desire, stirring
Dull roots with spring rain.

~ T. S. Eliot

April 2006 has certainly been a gloomy time. Astronomical gas prices are causing consumer panic, the swelling ranks of illegal immigrants have everyone cranky, Duke University's sex scandal is an embarrassing mess, the president's poll numbers have hit the basement, and the deadly threat of bird flu hovers over all of us.

But that's not even the worst of it. As if all those troubles weren't bad enough, the San Diego Padres are a spring disaster. Come on, guys, shake it off. Don't let your cruel April lead you into "The Wasteland."

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Perspective, Please

Outrage over gas prices is a recurring theme in the last 30 years of American history. Below is an essay I wrote in July 2001 for "The Writing Tree," a now-defunct website for aspiring writers. I remembered it amidst the current fuss over gas prices and decided to hunt it down in my archives.

Reading it, I had to laugh. Less than five years ago, $1.72 was an outrage. In 1979, 80 cents was an outrage. Prices won't settle down anytime soon, so let's all get a grip, shall we?

July 15, 2001 ~

The Price of Gas

We as a nation, our tough pioneering forebears notwithstanding, have apparently cracked at the cost of gasoline. Even the politicians are pounding their podiums in indignation over the intolerable rise in prices. Committees are forming, regulations are under scrutiny, experts are being interviewed, and constant media attention surrounds the whole process of solving this “crisis.”

I find it somewhat ironic that this particular necessity sparks such overwhelming outrage. Really, think about it. Let’s say that gas costs $1.72 a gallon today. Many oil sheiks and gas corporations are soaking up an excessive amount of American dollars. But people drop $3 a day for a cup of designer coffee on their way to work, which adds up to oh, about $20 per gallon every week. The coffee growers of Central America are raking in mountains of Yankee cash without so much as a “pass the sugar,” which isn’t cheap either, by the way. Where is the outrage? I know women who will pay $16 for a bottle of salon shampoo, which comes out to over $60 per gallon. Now, that’s exorbitant. It costs about $10 per gallon for beer at the bar during “Monday Night Football,” and that price has stood unchallenged for many years now. The beer corporations are drunk on our money, with not even a burp out of us. A gallon of milk is roughly $3.50…why can’t they lower that? Do it for the children! And don’t even start me on the cost of pantyhose--now there is a national crisis of boundless proportions. It’s also a clear case of sexual discrimination. Women’s nylon stockings should last at least as long as a pair of men’s socks. If men had to wear pantyhose, it would be designed with the durability of chain link fencing.

But I digress. Of course, gas prices are too high. Naturally, the fat cats are getting richer off the little guy’s Expeditions and Suburbans. Yet without a doubt, we are being fleeced at numerous other daily items that don’t cause us the slightest flutter. For some reason, the gas just rankles. Maybe our collective tank is so full from all the other overcharges we shell out every day that the price of gas just tops us off. We bubble right over the rim with the injustice of it all. So maybe the national flood of uproar over gas prices eventually will prove to be a revolutionary thing.

After all, that kind of spillage makes it very tough to get the cap back on.

Monday, April 24, 2006


It’s Monday, which in the past few years has morphed from the ho-hum start of the work week into an eagerly anticipated drama date. At 9:00 P.M., Jack Bauer of “24,” grittily acted by Kiefer Sutherland in the role of his career, electrifies television screens across the county. Untold millions of couch potatoes will be immobilized for a digitally measured, real-time hour.

I’ve decided that Jack Bauer, superhero extraordinaire, impervious to bullets, bombs, torture, poison gas, drugs, handcuffs, and a plethora of other unidentified weapons and constraints, resembles no one so much as that resilient hero of ancient Scotland, William Wallace, who was fiercely portrayed by Mel Gibson in 1995’s “Braveheart.”

Think about it. The similarities between the two men are stunning. DISCLAIMER: If you haven’t watched Season One of "24" yet, stop reading now, before I enumerate the Top Ten similarities:

Both Bauer and Wallace:

1. Lost his wife at the hands of the enemy
2. Became driven, fearless, and ferocious because of this tragedy
3. Are natural born leaders who inspire their followers to action
4. Are relentlessly dedicated to protecting their homelands
5. Can outsmart the highest ranking veteran of the enemy forces
6. Are indifferent to physical pain suffered in the line of duty
7. Think fast and calmly, directing events in a panic-filled crisis
8. Fight the pitfalls of their own establishment (Bauer: CTU Division; Wallace: Robert the Bruce), as well as the enemy
9. Will break any rule to achieve their goals
10. Invariably choose the morally correct course of action—no matter how brutal it appears

When asked by someone unfamiliar with the show—a rare encounter these days—to describe Jack Bauer, I sum up his character this way: William Wallace with a cell phone. It’s easy to visualize Mel Gibson’s Braveheart driving Jack Bauer’s SUV, careening around dark corners in the depths of a threatening Los Angeles night, being directed on his cell to the next dangerous coordinate. And it’s equally simple to picture Jack Bauer leading a massive charge into hand-to-hand combat with Wallace’s sword and battle ax.

I’ve read that Kiefer Sutherland’s contract has been extended for three years. That’s great news for the growing legions of “24” fans. Hopefully, the ultimate fate of our hero will be one similarity Bauer and Wallace don’t share.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

The Substance of Friendship

Most of us have one or two friendships that reach back into the prehistoric recesses of our past. My oldest friend, Elyse, and I met at the age of ten, when her family moved next door to mine in a newly-built cluster of Long Island tract homes.

We played Barbie dolls and Monopoly together. In one of our more creative moments, we made up an imaginary game based on two popular TV shows of the day, “The Addams Family” and “The Munsters.” Our scary housewife characters were modeled after Lucy and Ethel of “I Love Lucy” fame. My moniker was “Lethal,” her handle was “Batina.” I must confess, I've forgotten what we named our imaginary ghoulish children.

We grew older, as children do. We went to high school together, swapped 45 records with each other, talked about boys. As we moved into college, our paths diverged, as so often happens. I went away to school, met and married Pete during college, had my children soon after and moved to California. Elyse stayed in New York, commuted to college, pursued her career, then married and had her own family, long after I had moved far away. We kept in touch through the decades with holiday cards, a rare phone call, and occasional visits during some of my trips back to Long Island.

I called Elyse after Pete died. She had been one of my bridesmaids, after all. A few weeks later, she called me back and said simply, “I’d like to come visit you.” A sweet spring of joy welled up inside me. I recognized its warmth immediately, as happiness is an unusual sensation of late.

At times of deep loss, we learn what our friendships are made of. Elyse arrives today to spend the weekend with me. Although it’s been several years since I’ve seen her, I know we will fall into easy conversation, as though no time has passed. We’ll talk about our children and our childhood, our parents and our parenthood, old times and new times, life and death.

In the midst of our catching up, I must ask if she remembers what we named those imaginary children of Lethal and Batina.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Sobering Thoughts

This is not relaxing reading, but it's vital information for all of us to have.

If only our elected leaders had Mark Steyn's common sense, we'd be much better off.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Flags Across America

What a terrific idea! Thanks to the Pulitzer Prize-winning San Diego Union-Tribune for publicizing this inspiring project.

Good luck and happy painting, Scott. I'd like to see another story about you after you arrive back in New York City on September 11.

Photo credit: Dan Trevan, Union-Tribune

Sunday, April 16, 2006

A New Dawn

Why seek ye the living among the dead? He is not here, but is risen...
Luke 24:5-6

Saturday, April 15, 2006

Easter at the Movies

"... if it’s not the Jesus movie you’d have made, then go make your own."
~ Mark Steyn

I honored an annual Good Friday tradition in my house last night by watching 1959's award winning film, "Ben-Hur," starring the inimitable Charlton Heston. Some movies just don't wear thin, and this is one of them. I'd like to see a modern computer-generated chariot race try to hold a candle to the thrilling live action sequence in this classic film. At the risk of sounding geriatric, I'll go ahead and say it--they don't make movies like this anymore. If you're in the market for a movie to watch tonight, "Ben-Hur" is my first recommendation.

Another favorite is 1953's "The Robe" with Richard Burton and Jean Simmons. Honestly, I can sit through that film just to enjoy two pivotal scenes: Victor "Demetrius" Mature's ferocious "a curse on your Empire!" speech, and the wild-eyed Emperor Caligula (scene-stealing Jay Robinson) ranting "They're going to meet their God!" Burton's tortured Marcellus, one of the Roman soldiers who crucified Christ ("Were you out there?"), provides great theater throughout.

More recently, The Passion of The Christ dominated the movie-goer's Easter season. Soon after its release, Mark Steyn wrote a hilariously wry and pithy review that I've linked here. I watch "The Passion of The Christ" at some point during Lent, so I watched it for a third time a couple of weeks ago. As is usually the case when Mark tackles a topic, I can't find much to disagree with in his entertaining analysis.

Friday, April 14, 2006

Now Hear This

Listen to this interview with Wade Zirkle of Vets for Freedom, as heard on Hugh Hewitt's program April 13, 2006. This is truly an idea whose time has come at long last.

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Vets for Freedom

Hallelujah! It's about time.

Read the website.

Open your wallet.


Then forward the link to everyone you know.

Roger, that.

History Lessons

And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?

The Second Coming
~ W. B. Yeats

The idea of a nuclear Iran gives anyone in their sane mind the shudders. The worldwide devastation that most certainly looms at the conclusion of a successful atomic bomb construction in Iran should be obvious to any rational person.

Will the so-called "free world" deal with this ominous event courageously and decisively? Or shall we fiddle away our time while Rome burns...or, in this current circumstance, while the uranium enriches?

With the carnage and destruction of World War II scarring the history of the last century, I wonder if Neville Chamberlain would advise "a general policy of appeasement" in this case.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Reflections on Holy Week

My soul is exceeding sorrowful, even unto death
~ Matt 26:38

After my husband's death in January, I find that I have a special appreciation for Our Lord's Passion this Easter time. I have a greater understanding of fear, pain and loss, and a newly sharpened respect for suffering.

None of us can comprehend the unique agonies that Jesus Christ endured for all of us on that Good Friday nearly 2,000 years ago. But when death enfolds your nearest and dearest, the one thing a Christian does understand more clearly is the gift of hope that was given to us on Calvary.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

A Pilot's Eye View

An excerpt from Major Kevin Kelly's very moving article today in the Philadelphia Inquirer:

"...I scratch my head when so many back home are unable to make the moral distinction between the ideology that gave birth to the greatest country on Earth and the ideology of our enemy in Iraq. I am sometimes fearful that this moral blindness may one day lead to the downfall of our republic. I only hope I'm wrong.

Let me mention one other thing. When we lose one of our brave Americans, before their bodies are carefully loaded on a C-130 aircraft for transport home, an e-mail goes out for volunteers to serve as the honor guard. Along with the members of his unit, volunteers have the privilege of assisting with the conveyance of the flag-draped casket. It typically happens late at night, on the flight line, with the C-130's rear platform lowered and the engines off. Unless you respond immediately to the e-mail, many others beat you to the chance.

As the supervisor of flying the other night, I was able to witness the ceremony. The silence was deafening, the precision was astounding, and the reverence and veneration were complete. I was moved beyond words. I wept openly. Our soldiers are sacrificing to build a strong democratic Iraq and to help ensure the security of all Americans."

~ Maj. Kevin Kelly
F-16 fighter pilot in Iraq
New Jersey Air National Guard

HT to HH for the Inquirer link. Thanks again, Rick, for sending the "Best of 2005" photos.

Sunday, April 09, 2006

Gnosticism Gone Wild

With all the hoopla surrounding the newly-chic Gospel of Judas, one might think that such a revolutionary document had never before been imagined, and that its bursting upon the media scene has blindsided Christendom into a state of shock.

Think again.

Gnosticism, the doctrine of salvation by knowledge, originated centuries prior to the Christian church. The etymology of the Greek word gnosis is "knowledge." Hence, the familiar term "agnostic" means one who believes God is unknowable. Anyone who has studied the early Church in any depth is aware of gnostic writings. In a nutshell, gnostics believed that they were "in the know" to an extent that other believers were not. There was an inside secret to salvation in gnostic philosophy, meaning that you needed the gnostic password to get to heaven. This exclusionary concept is on display in the Gospel of Judas. Another gnostic gospel is one attributed to Thomas .

Gnosticism was a highly elitist approach to the mysteries of life and death, an approach that is completely contrary to the universal inclusiveness and accessibility of the Christian message. Gnosticism set some favored believers apart as superior to others by virtue of their privileged access to the "truth." The so-called Gospel of Judas is a perfect example of gnostic snobbery. No wonder MSM can't seem to get enough of it.

UPDATE: This article from Fox News provides significant information on the silliness of taking this "gospel" so seriously.

Thursday, April 06, 2006

A Teacher's Saint

"Hold fast to what is of faith"
~ St. John Baptist de la Salle

On the Catholic calendar, Friday, April 7, is the feast day of St. John Baptist de la Salle. De la Salle is sometimes referred to as the “Father of Modern Education,” and with good reason.

St. John Baptist de la Salle founded the teaching order of Christian Brothers, also known as Brothers of the Christian Schools . He was the first educator to use what is called the “Simultaneous Method” of teaching. This process groups together students at the same level of learning—today, we would say “in the same grade”—and issues them the same text books to study from. More than 300 years later, this practice has proven most effective over time and continues across the world to the present day.

De la Salle also pioneered teaching children in their native language, rather than requiring that all education be conducted in Latin. This opened wide the doors of learning to a much larger student body. In St. John’s view, poor and middle class families should not be excluded from education, especially reading and writing, simply because they couldn’t afford Latin lessons. This revolutionary philosophy was considered quite radical in 17th century France, when he lived and taught.

My father was educated by Christian Brothers, and, as a young man, Dad served as a teaching Christian Brother in Detroit, Michigan. His passion and reverence for learning was firmly set after this youthful experience. When my first child was born, his first grandchild, Dad gave me a handwritten copy of this Christian Brothers prayer he had begun praying at the start of his teaching career:

Prayer for Mothers, Fathers, and Teachers

Thou, O Lord, art my strength, my patience, my light, and my counsel. It is You who make submissive to me the children You have confided to my care.

Grant them the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of knowledge and piety, the spirit of a holy fear of Thee, so that what they hear me say and see me do, they may apply to Thy greater honor and glory.

In his note to me, my father told me that he had recited this prayer each day for his children, from the day of our birth. Upon the occasion of their becoming parents, I sent each of my siblings a photocopy of our Dad’s handwritten prayer. Photocopies of the teacher’s prayer are also pasted into my own children’s baby books.

St. John Baptist de La Salle would most likely agree with me that parents are the first, and most important, teachers of their children. If we are parents, we are also teachers. As such, we do well to keep in mind that our children hear and watch our behavior, then act accordingly.

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Must-See Movie

On April 28, United 93 will be released in theatres. If you're having trouble remembering what the War on Terror is all about, this promises to be the perfect refresher course. (HT: HH)

If you feel "it's too soon" and you're "not ready for it," as some people are whining, burrow your head back under the sand and hope it provides enough cover when the next 9/11 hits us.

I, for one, will be waiting in the front lines (you should pardon the expression) to see this landmark film. It's long past time that someone in Hollywood stepped up to the plate to portray the harsh reality of our times. Kudos to Universal and writer/director Paul Greengrass.

Monday, April 03, 2006

Clearly Needed

I've added a link to Real Clear Politics on my sidebar for everyone's easy reference. It's packed with so much valuable information by so many smart people that it's simply got to be more accessible.

Check it out when you have some time, especially Michael Barone's post today, Jack Kelly's post yesterday, and Victor Davis Hanson on March 31. That should be enough well-written, intelligently reasoned commentary to make a really clear case for your daily minimum requirement.

Sunday, April 02, 2006

A Book of Life

This weekend, I finished reading Pull Me Up, a memoir by New York Times journalist Dan Barry. I feel as though I have completed a deluxe guided tour, not just of my childhood but also of large, painful segments of my adult life.

The parallels in our personal histories are plentiful. Barry is the eldest of four Irish-American children, two brothers and two sisters, as am I. He grew up in 1960’s Long Island, New York, and is intimately acquainted with Bugs Bunny, old black-and-white “B” movies, and the lyrics of Clancy Brothers songs, also areas of my expertise.

We both share great familiarity with the Long Island Rail Road (LIRR). At Jamaica, Queens, the central hub of the LIRR, where commuter lines converged to change trains for the long reach to the eastern edges of the Island, the conductor’s disembodied voice would ring out over the loudspeaker:

“Attention please, the Ronkonkhoma train, Track 17, stopping at Garden City…Carl Place…Hicksville…Bethpage…Farmingdale…Wyandanch…Deer Park…and Ronkonkhoma. Ronkonkhoma train, Track 17.”

My home stop was Bethpage. Dan Barry lived in Deer Park. In my first summer job, I rode the same Ronkonkhoma train as his father. Who knows, we may have shared the same car.

One of Barry’s boyhood friends, Brian McShane, makes an appearance in the pages, and is mentioned in the Acknowledgements at the book’s conclusion. Could this be the same Brian McShane, friend to my sister and her husband, who sang Clancy Brothers songs with me at my father’s Irish wake? As I recall, Peg told me that she attended Brian's brother Terry McShane’s funeral at Sts. Cyril and Methodius Church in Deer Park. In Pull Me Up, that was Dan Barry’s family church. Methinks indeed yes, ‘tis one and the same McShane clan.

These are but minor similarities compared to events yet to unfold in Barry’s story. Like me, Dan Barry has both suffered a loss to and won a triumph over the beast of cancer. His mother died at home of cancer. Then Barry himself battled the cancer beast and beat it into retreat a few years ago.

I watched my husband Pete vanquish his first cancer in 1994. We then began our dozen “Bonus Years,” which ended when Pete lost his second battle this past January. At home, on morphine, a shell of his former self, just like poor Mrs. Barry. It was during Pete's last days that I received this book, a gift from aforementioned sister Peg, when she and my brothers flew in together from the East coast to bid Pete goodbye.

The poetry and brilliance of Barry’s prose in Pull Me Up is at times breathtaking in its beauty. I found myself stopping to re-read several passages, simply because they are so powerful. Barry deftly captures the flavor of his times, the vulnerability of youth, the fragility of existence, and the persistence of hope. If you’ve ever had to suffer alongside an ill parent or spouse, if you've ever felt disappointed in the present and frightened of the future, Barry’s book will resonate deeply within you.

So even if you’ve never been to Long Island or heard of the Clancy Brothers, Pull Me Up is a story you’ll find easy to savor. It is a golden tale of universal human emotion and experiences, wondrously told.