Archive for December, 2009


We humans have so many differences about which we’re so angry, I find it hard to believe we haven’t annihilated each other, simply wiped the planet free. We don’t agree about religion, about politics, about race, about gender, about child-rearing, about climate change, health care, heaven, hell, happiness, ethics, education, money, motive, morality, or even movies;  for example, some may believe “Avatar” represents film-making’s second coming, while others may find it a pleasant visual experience with a couple of nifty new tricks and a paper-thin plot, not nearly as industry-shaking or mind-altering as, say, “2001” or even “Fantasia.” But I digress.

 I like to discover people who agree with me. It helps to know I’m neither crazy nor alone. But I also like healthy debate and welcome differing opinions. It makes life interesting and confirms my belief that there can never be just one, fixed way of looking at anything on a planet with billions of people. 

We’re getting better at accepting the notion of a multicultural family of man, but we’re not very accepting of differing opinions. We are equipped to locate, via cyberspace, those people who support, confirm and applaud our most cherished assumptions. We are also now used to seeing our thoughts in print. Validated and circulated, they may take on an out-sized importance. That, in turn, tempts us less to debate, where we might exchange ideas and perhaps learn something and more to fighting in order to make a point we believe is absolutely, incontrovertibly right.

 It’s so tiring, especially at this time of year because, quite apart of any religious meaning, the holiday has come to stand for the possibility of good feelings and shared humanity. That possibility can seem light years away — as indeed it probably is — but the beauty of not knowing what an outcome will be is that it allows us to hope for the best one. That’s why I can’t help myself: this time of year I invariably bet that eventually (whenever that may be)  we humans will spend more time focusing on what the vast majority of us probably want: safety, freedom from want and pain, love, a sense of purpose, and a sense of community as the basis from which to secure any or all of these things.

Wishing you the best of all possible worlds, now and going forward.


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December 15 is the anniversary of the marriage that no longer exists. The marriage no longer exists because the husband no longer exists, having died eight years ago, which begs the question: does the anniversary still exist? Or perhaps the question is, how do I acknowledge its existence? 

In a parallel universe, one of those infinite dimensions that split off at each major event and form the “what-ifs” of our lives, I might be planning a dinner or a getaway for the two of us. My mind turns that way from time to time. Such magical thinking, as Joan Dideon has named it, is inevitable. It’s a coping mechanism, one that changes form and purpose over time.

Last month my father-in-law Pete turned ninety. From a legal standpoint,  he is no longer my father-in-law, but such definitions often prove to be utterly inept when it comes to describing the ties that bind us. He is an amazing man: tall, trim, and upright; still exercising, making minor repairs, or running food over to shut-ins during the holidays. Writing to thank me  for a gift,  he closed:  “When people ask me how I’ve managed to reach ninety, I tell them it’s all smoke and mirrors — and it is!”

JimPete94 Pete and Jim, 1995

 Smoke and mirrors and the “what-ifs” are represented by those parallel universes we can’t see and can’t know, notwithstanding quantum physics and fervent believers in alternate realities. In another universe, I would be celebrating with my tall, strapping husband, he from such long-lived and healthy stock. Or perhaps not. If one thing changes, so does another; change has consequences. Events set off other events: illness or injury, trauma or death, disappointment, division, good fortune or incidents that affect those closest to us. The road keeps on dividing and subdividing. 

In an alternate reality…ah, but I don’t live there. Nor do I any longer live in the past I can’t change or the future I can’t know. In the here and now, I am, if not deliriously happy, at least profoundly grateful for the opportunity to have married and loved. So I’m going out to dinner with my sister, who was extremely close to my husband. After all, he was and will always be her favorite brother-in-law.

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“I am not opposed to all wars; I’m opposed to dumb wars.”
then-candidate Barack Obama, March 26, 2008
ObamaAfghanistan is a war which we didn’t start but which we will end. We have twenty months (more or less) to do so. Before we end it, we will provide a surge to counter the insurgency. This will be done in full view of absolutely everybody. This is not done lightly but with the security of the United States in mind. We will secure key areas (not deeply rural areas because we can’t; no one can) against the Taliban as we  train and grow the Afghan Army. Yes, we are forced to count on support from a deeply corrupt government, but we will hold that government accountable. We will not send them money directly but instead will fund local leaders, build up local miltia and convert former insurgents. We cannot send troops uninvited into Pakistan, where we know Al Qaeda is most active and where the nuclear arsenal is less than secure, but we will be close by. We will try to cut off any nascent partnership between the Taliban and Al Qaeda and prevent new alliances from growing. Most importantly, we will convince ordinary Afghans that we are there to help them take their country back and then move it forward. This is at the heart of any lasting success.
War is hell. It’s also either strategic, unavoidable, inevitable, unwinnable, manageable, practical, essential — or dumb. What have we here?

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