Archive for November, 2012

After a storm, there are reasons to grieve and reasons to be thankful.

Last month Hurricane Sandy left entire communities devastated, destroyed homes and shorelines, sparked fires in some homes and left many more in the cold for weeks into November.  A great many – some of whom were on the edge to begin with – are still suffering.

There are far too many reasons to grieve.

Yet it is often at times like these that neighbors discover one another and people help each other with the basic needs of life.  The divisions of ideology, which seemed so important only days before, mean little when placed against the basic needs of survival.  People help one another.  Sometimes we do it through religious communities, sometimes through charities and sometimes through government assistance – but very often it’s far simpler than that.  People see other people struggling, and offer what help they can.  Communities come together.

Thanksgiving always brings these kinds of thoughts to my mind, because essentially it is  a day about community – families sharing a meal together, volunteers at food banks and soup kitchens making sure that the poorest among us can enjoy a good meal, friends invited to each others’ Thanksgiving tables.  There are no gifts and few decorations – just a quiet meal shared with others.

That’s what I’m thankful for this Thanksgiving Day – people who help one another when there is need, and who reach out to neighbors in community.  What a better world it would be if we all remembered to be thankful, first and foremost, for each other.

Big Bill Broonzy said that Joe Turner Blues was the oldest blues song he knew, but the story remains as current today as it ever was.  It tells of a man whose giving saved many a poor family after the floods came – and of a community who turned toward each other in thanksgiving.

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It’s Veterans Day.

This afternoon I had conversations with veterans from three generations of war.  A World War II veteran talked with me about the pain so many veterans experienced after Vietnam, when they came home to be treated like criminals – as if the soldiers who fought the war were the ones who caused it.  “I notice that there’s been a change since Vietnam,” he said.  “People seem to treat veterans better today.”  I said I hoped that pacifists like myself had learned to honor the soldiers, even as we worked against the war.  As another veteran put it to me today, it is important “to honor the difference between the war and the warrior.” Most soldiers, sailors, airmen and airwomen pray for nothing more than peace.

Still, too often in the United States we still fail our veterans – not out of cruelty, but out of neglect.  We ignore the real health problems that are the aftereffects of war.  We fail to provide adequate mental health care, and employment support.  We ignore their families too often.  Somehow we can’t seem to bring ourselves to sacrifice for the people who have sacrificed for us.

I don’t think it’s that people don’t care – but somehow we have been sold on the idea that wars are things that take place in distant lands, conducted by remote control.  We tend to forget they are fought by people who must suffer the effects of what they have seen and been asked to do.

Peter LaFarge wrote “The Ballad of Ira Hayes” about a World War II hero, a native American who died drunk and all but forgotten, during the Vietnam era – and nobody performed it better than Townes Van Zandt.

During the 1980s, I got to see Arlo Guthrie perform this song, not long after it had been written.  I think it’s time to bring it back.

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