Thursday, December 21, 2006

A Christmas Adventure

Sometime in the early spring, I told my children that I would need to get away from home this first Christmas following their father's death. They agreed to decide a Christmas destination for all of us.

Around Memorial Day weekend, the kids went to visit their grandmother, my mother-in-law, who had been too ill to make the trip to California when Pete died. When they returned, the kids informed me that they had decided on the place for our Christmas adventure. I asked where, thinking along the lines of Vegas or the Grand Canyon.

Not even close. My kids take after their Dad; they think big. Early on Friday, December 22, we are leaving for Ireland.

We'll be there until early January, our own Twelve Days of Christmas. It's our gift to each other, this precious family time together. It's our farewell to cherished family traditions and our celebration of new ones. From wherever Pete is watching us, I know he is smiling.

So have yourselves a merry little Christmas while I'm away, and may the New Year hold many joyful surprises for you. Perhaps even a trip to Ireland.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Blogged Down

Here's quite a discontented blog reader. Sorry, Joe, but the "blog mob" will be with us for a very long time. Click here for an illuminating example of why. The better blogs provide a depth of coverage, insight, and honesty that MSM can't, or won't, deliver.

Far from causing the demise of democracy, as Rago gloomily infers in his closing paragraph, blogs have clicked the media elites into worker mode. MSM can't feed "the masses" a load of garbage any more and expect us to swallow it whole. Reporters like Rago actually have to work now. Call us a "mob" full of "fools" and "imbeciles" if it makes you feel better, but bloggers are helping you keep your job. It takes you a lot more hours and vocabulary to sell what used to be a simple party line in a newspaper's articles and editorial columns.

Sorry to be such a bother.

Let Them Win

President Bush's news conference today was an encouraging signal that he is prepared to allow our military to win the war in the Middle East.

I hope he means it; I hope he lets our troops win. They deserve nothing less.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

The Irony of Freedom

I realize that the inane stupidity vomited forth daily on television's "The View" is not germane to the clear and present dangers of our time. In fact, being at work on weekdays, I never have seen the show--except for the seemingly endless montage of tasteless video clips popping up on internet news websites.

But this latest idiot attack has prompted me to wonder if these vacuous excuses for females ever stop to consider that the only reason they are allowed to spew such mindless venom over public airwaves is because we live in the most free country in history.

The tittering TV heads absolutely delight in eviscerating our national leaders. And they do it with impunity, because this is America. No matter how big of a jackass you make out of yourself, over two and a quarter centuries of dead heroes ensure that you have the right to shoot your moron mouth off about people who stay up all night to keep you safe. So go ahead, knock yourself out, girlfriend. The "joke" is on you.

Somehow, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad or Kim Jong-il always seem to get a free pass from the clueless media crowd. There's never any trashing of the maniacs who want all Americans dead. In Iran or North Korea, tacky one-liners against government authorities would buy "the stars" tickets to their own execution. Do they get that?

Probably not. Understanding the substance and value of our freedoms would require the application of cognitive neurons. From where I'm sitting, "The View" is quite dim.

Monday, December 18, 2006

A Soldier's Silent Night

Have you heard it yet? If not, please listen to this moving recitation, set to Mannheim Steamroller's beautiful arrangement of the classic Christmas carol.

During our holidays, remember to think of our service men and women, serving overseas so that we can enjoy the season in peace and safety. Theirs is a gift we can never repay.

Sgt. Rob: I hope you've received your packages by now. Merry Christmas, with thanks, to you and your guys.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

A Candle in the Darkness

Bright flows the river of God

There are literally hundreds of saints named John in the Catholic Church. December 14 marks the feast day of one, St. John of the Cross, the 16th century Spanish mystic theologian. John the Baptist was perhaps the most fearless of St. Johns, and John the Apostle the most gentle and loving. John of the Cross might be considered the most discerning about the pitfalls of our human nature and how our sufferings and weaknesses can actually enrich our relationship with God.

One of less than three dozen saints who rank as a Doctor of the Church, among John's numerous writings is Dark Night of the Soul, a term that has been used in modern times to describe a state of despair and depression. John taught that, if embraced with faith, this black state of being could lead to spiritual peace and perfection. He is one of the Church's incorrupt saints; his physical body has not decayed.

During this season of Advent, as we await the celebration of Our Lord's arrival in our troubled world, it's reassuring to remember that our bad times can really be a way forward.

Never was fount so clear,
undimmed and bright;
From it alone, I know proceeds all light
although 'tis night.
~ St. John of the Cross

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

The Island of Conclusions

In Norton Juster's classic children's book, The Phantom Tollbooth, people who jump to conclusions find themselves stranded on a desolate island.

Today's frenzied media speculation on the ill health of South Dakota Senator Tim Johnson and its numerous possible outcomes reminded me of "The Island of Conclusions" that looks so inviting from afar and is so inhospitable up close. The only way back from the Island of Conclusions was a long swim through the Sea of Knowledge.

Most of the Washington D.C. crowd could use a good dunking in that.

I read "Tollbooth" many times while growing up, and I still revisit it occasionally when life gets too weighty. This charming book chronicles the quest of the young hero, Milo, to rescue the two lost princesses, Rhyme and Reason, and return them to the Kingdom of Wisdom. Besides the Island of Conclusions, among the many places Milo visits in his adventures are the Foothills of Confusion, the Land of Expectations, and the Mountains of Ignorance.

It sure sounds a lot like Washington D.C. to me. The Phantom Tollbooth should be required reading for all branches of government, politicians, and MSM. As for myself, well, based on the news lately, I'm due to re-read it.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

The Eyes of Love and Mystery

Today, December 12, is the feast day of Our Lady of Guadalupe, patron saint of the Americas. I think we need her protection and guidance more now than at any time in our history.

Roman Catholic Blog has good coverage of the intriguing facts surrounding the miracle of Juan Diego, the poor Mexican man who found the famous image emblazened upon his cloak. Most interesting are the scientifically verified accounts of human reflections within the eyes of the image.
I, for one, am grateful she is keeping watch.

Monday, December 11, 2006

Empty Suits Talking

My goodness, who's that wagging his slimy, Oil-For-Food scandal-stained finger at the good ol' USA? Why, it's Kofi Annan on his way out the door--imagine that! And without so much as a "thanks for the freebies" or a "sorry I didn't get jack squat accomplished in ten years."

There the pompous windbag stood, solemnly lecturing us on all our terrible shortcomings--and from the Truman library, no less. "Give 'em Hell Harry" is doing backflips in his grave. And if HT were here, he certainly would--give Annan hell, that is.

According to Kofi, we are making other nations "troubled and confused" by our actions. He scolds that "no nation can make itself secure by seeking supremacy over all others." Go tell that on the mountain, to President I'm-In-A-Jihad over in Iran, and see how long your head's attached to your neck. Personally, I'd much rather be confused than decapitated. I guess Kofi would, too, which is why he's badgering and insulting the United States instead of Middle East fascist dictators.

I was half expecting to see Jimmy Carter follow Annan to the podium, as anchorman for this slugfest on America. But Carter's been very busy slamming Israel these days, no doubt he was already booked for some PLO fundraiser. Maybe Jimmy and Kofi can team up, now that Kofi is free from the pressing burden of stuffing his pockets while ineffectually observing international screw-ups.

Carter & Annan. (It sounds like a bad law firm.) They could start a traveling speaker series about those constant troublemakers, the USA and Israel. There's certainly a built in audience. My suggested title for their speaking tour is: "The World's Two Most Dangerous Free Countries and Why They Must Be Stopped."

It sounds exactly like something both men would love to come right out and say. But then, that would take courage.


Sunday, December 10, 2006

Christmas Through The Looking Glass

I knew this season would be the hardest part.

All year long, my daughter, son and I have been climbing over the holiday hurdles of a first year's loss. My husband Pete and I shared the same birthday, which followed just a few days after his death; we were all still numb, so passing that obstacle was almost easy. On Easter, we switched from family dinner to festive brunch, with great success.

Near summer's end, on what would have been our wedding anniversary, all four of "the kids" and I went out to dinner, following up with a bonfire party far into the night and a "sleep-over" at my house. Wonderful fun! Thanksgiving came fast upon the Hawaii cruise, and my mother was here to help us celebrate. So far, so good.

Then came December.

We always knew that this would be the tough one. Our family celebrated Christmas with iron-clad traditions for twenty-five years. Our Christmases were interchangeable as the years passed, like identical pearls slipping off a string. We never left home; that was the rule. Anyone who wanted to visit us was welcome, but we did not travel on Christmas. Every year, tree-trimming was a family event, the date carefully planned for and greatly anticipated. Kristine's "Snoopy" ornament went on the tree first, ever since she was a toddler. Matt's kindergarten snowman followed, second. This is the stuff that the most precious memories are made of.

On Christmas Eve, we always attended the same early Mass, came home, had dinner, drank eggnog, ate gingerbread cookies and watched "It's A Wonderful Life." When they were younger and living at home, Kristine and Matt woke us at 6:00 Christmas morning (although Pete and I were usually awake, awaiting our cue to rise). After the kids grew up and moved out of the house, they always spent the night with us on Christmas Eve and still "woke" us in the morning--although for the last few years it was closer to 7:30 than 6:00 a.m.!

Breakfast was always pop-open cinnamon rolls while we opened gifts, for what seemed like, and sometime was, hours. Dinner was always lasagna, prepared on Christmas Eve afternoon so that I could enjoy my Christmas Day with my family. Each year, the only difference in our Christmas was number of dinner guests. The kids knew that any of their friends who did not have plans should be invited to come to our house.

This year, there are no decorations; there is no tree. There are no gifts piling up in my spare room, waiting to be wrapped. No Christmas carols sing from my stereo. There are no excited daily conversations about what we found online or during a quick run through a favorite store, about what I'll give Kris and what Pete will give Matt.

My home is quiet. I still talk to Pete, but silently. Silent night, lonely night. All I want for Christmas is something I can never have again--that magical joy that enveloped the four of us each Christmas morning. But, I am quick to remind myself, I did have it. And I had it for over twenty-five years. How many of us are that fortunate?

I walk my dog in the evenings and admire the colorful Christmas lights on my neighbor's homes. Christmas trees wink and sparkle in front windows, just as ours always did, and I smile. Although my halls are not decked for the season, my children and I do have something to look forward to this Christmas.

We knew we could not endure Christmas at home this first year without Pete, without Dad. We're leaving town. We'll be traveling to Ireland for the holidays. I know Pete would approve. He was never one for doing anything halfway. If you're going to break tradition, break it all the way through to the bone. Shatter it, and build anew.

Christmas in Ireland won't be in the budget every year. It won't need to be. Traditions only need to be broken once. We're on our way to a Christmas full of surprises, this year and all the years to follow.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

A Life-Changing Day

For as long as I can remember, I have wanted to see Pearl Harbor, the place where worldwide war engulfed our country. I looked forward to seeing the USS Arizona National Memorial as a highlight of my trip to Hawaii.

It certainly was that, yet in a depth of ways I had not anticipated. When my mother and I arrived in the morning light on November 7, one month shy of the 65th anniversary of the Japanese attack, I looked across the harbor for my first glimpse of the majestic white building straddling the lost ship, Arizona. On such a brilliant and peaceful day, it was difficult to imagine the fiery hell that had so suddenly consumed Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941.

It made me think, also, of another spectacular sunny morning sixty years later, far to the east, in New York. Sudden tears stung my eyes, and a fist-sized lump rose in my throat, settling tightly there. I knew I would need my inner steel today.
Despite the early hour, there were hundreds of visitors milling about, swarming over every square inch of the visitor center, museum, gift shop, and the outside walkways. Although most were Americans, many were from other countries, including Japan. It was heartwarming, and somehow uplifting, to witness so many people eager to visit this honored place of history. Everyone was clutching their launch ticket and listening to hear their numbers called. We were number ten; it would be ninety swift-flying minutes in the museum before we were called and ushered into the small movie theater to watch dramatic newsreel footage of the attack. After the film, the theater doors swung open to the boarding deck, and we were ferried across the harbor to the USS Arizona Memorial.

Trade winds whipped through the sunlight, tumbling the water’s surface into endless ripples and lacy froth. Fighting the screaming gusts, we stepped from the boat onto the ramp that led up to the heart of the memorial. A few moments later, I was staring down into the rusted smokestack of the Arizona. The shadows of the dead ship waxed and waned, mirrored up through the flashing waves. Despite the Hawaiian heat, I shivered with a chill born of equal parts sorrow, reverence, and pride. In the emotions of that moment, there were no words; had there been, I could not have spoken.

At the far end of the memorial is the white marble wall of honor, etched with the names of the Arizona’s fallen. I looked for, and found, a S1c named Carroll and pondered his short life and violent death. A wellspring of prayer flowed easily, almost instinctively, for my unknown namesake and his shipmates as I stood over the final resting place of these heroes.

Heading back towards the boat ramp, I walked along the other side, looking out towards what had been the ship's stern. I watched the random ribbons of oil bubbling to the surface, black tears that weep through the decades. It is as though the Arizona shall never cease mourning the day that lives in infamy, never stop crying for her lost sailors and all their youthful promise, gone.

Those of the Pearl Harbor generation tell us that the military enlistment lines were around the block after December 7, 1941. I drew a parallel to our troops today, so many of whom say that September 11, 2001 inspired them to military service. Modern America is a large, spoiled, squabbling family amongst our own. But when an outsider attacks, an ironclad band of fellowship encircles us, and woe to the intruder. That was true in 1941, and again in 2001.

It will be true on the next December 7, or September 11, as that sad day will surely come. I was moved to understand that as I stood in the midst of our history on the Arizona Memorial.

Our nation’s enemies make a fatal mistake if they assume the whole of America is the sum of its empty-suited parts in Washington D.C. The angst-ridden paralysis that grips our government is born of weak leadership. But the majority of Americans still have spiritual grit and a fierce love of our home.

There is a chord of unity that reaches between the sacred waters of Pearl Harbor, Hawaii and the holy ground of Manhattan, New York. Somewhere in that span of 65 years, half an ocean, and a whole continent, if we look deeply enough past our petty differences, we Americans can view the solid core of our spirit. It is the same today, for the soldiers on watch in Iraq and Afghanistan, as it was for the first colonial minutemen. It was clearly visible through the oil-kissed waves of Pearl Harbor, and it sends the same message to those who would harm us:

Do not try to take from us our good life, which we have worked and wept to build. If you wish us ill, beware. We will protect our own.

Perhaps I am overly optimistic, but I believe this dedication to our home and freedom is still true of most Americans and will stand us in good stead, whatever dark days may lie ahead. This faith in America’s essential substance allows me to look to the future with more hope than fear. I daresay that the heroes who rest with the USS Arizona would agree.

UPDATE 1: Victor Davis Hanson measures the differences between 1941 and 2001.
UPDATE 2: And more on the difference 65 years makes.

The Only Way To Fly

Debra Burlingame, sister of one of the 9/11 pilots, explains in no-nonsense detail exactly why U.S Airways was perfectly correct in grounding the "flying imans."

Read it all, but here's the money quote:
Here's what the flying public needs to know about airplanes and civil rights: Once your foot traverses the entranceway of a commercial airliner, you are no longer in a
democracy in which everyone gets a vote and minority rights are affirmatively protected in furtherance of fuzzy, ever-shifting social policy. Ultimately, the responsibility for your personal safety and security rests on the shoulders of one person, the pilot in command. His primary job is to safely transport you and your belongings from one place to another. Period.

Amen to that!

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Must It Happen Here?

With each passing day, it seems inevitable that America must suffer a loss far more horrific than 9/11 to be shaken from its slumber of passivity. Time burns quickly away as Iran presses forcefully towards its goal of domination, complete with a nuclear scepter. We watch the ominous news unfolding on our televisions and computers, believing ourselves safe at a comfortable distance. We cluck and shake our heads, then switch channels to "Deal or No Deal."

Sad to state, it is now obvious that it will take far more than two skyscrapers and 3,000 American dead to galvanize our "leaders" into any remotely serious action. I shudder to think just how much, how massive, how irrevocable that requisite "more" will be.

Saturday, December 02, 2006

Telling It Like It Is

When my mother and I visited the Arizona Memorial in Honolulu last month, the museum there contained many glass-encased newspaper front pages. I read the prominent display of 4-inch headlines in amazement; most of them announced, in varying fonts of outrage:


Having become indoctrinated to our nauseatingly "politically correct" world, I was more than a bit taken aback at the 1940's slang term for our modern Asian allies being used in metropolitan dailies across the USA. Adding to my consternation was the presence of a Japanese tour group close on our heels. They seemed fascinated by the dramatic headlines, elbowing each other aside to peer into the cases, snapping photos of the newspapers, pointing to them and whispering excitedly among themselves.

I felt a bit like a hostess who witnesses her ethnic guest overhearing a racial slur. As such, I kept a discomfited eye on the Japanese tourists. However, they showed no dismay or offense--simply a keen interest. I remarked on this to my mother, and she replied, "In those days, the papers came right out with it. They just said what happened and that was the end of it."

As I considered this frank analysis of media reports from a person of the Pearl Harbor generation, I could understand why the Japanese tourists were not offended at the headlines of December 8, 1941. They were stark statements of fact. The "Japs" had, indeed, bombed Pearl Harbor. What else was there to say?

I wish more of today's newspaper editors would tour the Arizona's museum and find a clue about how to present unvarnished facts rather than agenda slogans in headlines. If they did, we might find ourselves reading a headline stating that "Islamic Terrorists Murder Civilians."

I can dream, can't I?