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Posts Tagged ‘Iraq’

This week John McCain stated that Al Qaeda might intervene in Iraq to assist the Dems in the election. Note to John, but everything GW has done since taking office has been as though he were a puppet pulled by the strings of Al Qaeda and Osama Bin Laden. Al Qaeda would love to have you in office to continue the idiotic policies of our sitting president. By the way, with a statement like that it looks like Karl Rove is advising your campaign. Oh, he is.

And to think, he used to be one of the few Republicans I would have actually considered, however briefly, voting for.

I can’t believe I just admitted that.

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I was asked to give my “Unitarian-Universalist” story to introduce today’s service, and to light the chalice, which we do to kick off our Sunday gathering. I had put something together last night, in order that I could sleep on it and get it settled into my brain for presenting to the Fellowship this morning.

I rely on this process a great deal when presenting or speaking. I have to visualize the presentation, with its content, several times in my head if I am going to give it smoothly in front of people. I have a problem presenting ad hoc, though I have done it, and on occasion done it well.

However, at non-scripted social settings my speech-thought pattern completely disconnects, more accurately self-destructs, leaving me with smoke coming out of my ears and glassy eyed. As a result, I have a terrible time engaging in what I view to be lively or interesting conversation. A visualization of a successful presentation helps me get through this pitfall when in front of a crowd.

Well, today I ran into a few hang ups with the system. First, our house is for sale and we had a showing scheduled for when we would be gone at church this morning.  That means clean-up. Because we were out all yesterday and didn’t clean up last night, that meant this morning. Because of that, I didn’t get much time to memorize my “story”, as written. 2nd, I wasn’t very comfortable with my story, and kept editing it in my head. Right on up to and through my talk. Last, what I did visualize was much too rigid. I had, in my mind, my family sitting to my right as I was in the front of the sanctuary, where I could have them stand and introduce them. I can visualize presenting in a chaotic setting, but for some reason didn’t this time and it hung me up a bit.

Last, because we were cleaning house, we were late. Not unusual for us, but not a good thing on the day I had to start the service. It also left me a bit scrambled, I didn’t have time to settle in like I prefer to do.  (Postscript, the interestedpart never showed up.  All that cleaning for nothing.)

Did I mention this story only had to be 2-4 minutes long?

The end result, I think, was alright. I did mumble a bit, a few ums and awes, and it may have been longer than 4 minutes. But in the end I hit the high points of my own personal UU story. Everyone I spoke to said they enjoyed it.  Aren’t UU’s considerate?  I was going to say dishonest but thought better of it.

See below for the full version. Ums and awes have been excluded for your reading pleasure. And take all the time you want, the 4 minute rule doesn’t apply here.

My first introduction to Unitarian-Universalism was in 1992. Jane and I had just gotten engaged, and at the recommendation of one Jane’s Mom’s friends we went to look at the All-Souls Unitarian Church in Tulsa, Oklahoma. It is a beautiful church, had an opening that worked with our schedules (2 days after finals), and complied with our wishes to have a god-free (godless sounds so bad) wedding. I was particularly impressed with the rooms throughout the church, each named for one of our great freethinkers, Thoreau, Paine, Jefferson among others. In the back of my mind, I set aside the thought that I would have to look into this peculiar religion that celebrates free-thought some day in the future.

Our wedding was a success, a beautiful day by most accounts. We got married in their small chapel or sanctuary, which was perfectly sized for our small gathering. The ceremony itself lasted all of 5 minutes, if that. It took longer to seat the guests than to say our vows. The minister snuck God into the ceremony at least once, according to Jane. She was counting, I was just trying to get through the ceremony. If I had tried to make a break for it, all the exits were well covered. Leave it to the Unitarians to build a church without an escape route for the groom.

Following the wedding, we held a reception in the church’s courtyard garden. It was early May in Oklahoma, so the flowers were in full bloom, the temperature somewhere around 80. So perfect, I’ll never have to do it again.

Several years later, and several thousand miles away, we decided to return to a Unitarian-Universalist church, this time in Fairbanks. Our oldest daughter, Jolie, was getting old enough to ask questions about life, and death. And we were by no means ready to answer those questions.

On top of that, the tragedy of 9/11 had just occurred, followed quickly magnified by a succession of equally bad actions by our government. A client of mine tragically died in a plane crash a few weeks after 9/11. We had just received funding for to build a new head start she was the driving force behind. The push for war in Iraq was in full swing, and we were losing contact with friends and family because we wouldn’t get on the bandwagon. In short, we were isolated, and feeling quite alone.

We had a choice at that time to remain quiet and be part of the status quo, acquiescing to the demands of the majority and the Bush administration, or to speak up. If we hadn’t been parents, we may have let some of the slander slide by. As it was, every time I looked into Jolie’s face I felt we owed her more. How could we leave her a country and life full of fear, of persecution, of preemptive war, and not at least tell her we had spoken out against it? We spoke up, and have paid the price in friendships and relationships with family that will never be the same.

In the Unitarian-Universalist Fellowship of Fairbanks we found a group of like minded people, a group of friends and family who believed in free speech and free thought. What a discovery!! There were others like us. We felt at home, and were no longer alone in the mass of American society.

Meetings were still held in the basement then. In my memory, those were dark days. Perhaps because the basement was dark, but I think it had more to do with the political climate of fear, a dark cloud of hysteria hovering overhead, the stench of corruption permeating every breath. We would gather downstairs, in the gray and gloom, sharing laughter and tears, hope and anger.

Jane and I found rays of light, stars in the darkness, in the elders of the fellowship. Jane and Red, Susan, Art. They were people that had lived their values, and continued to. They were happy, brave, successful by our account. We saw our future ahead of us, we didn’t need to concede our values, like Jane, like Susan, like Art, we would survive this period of, for lack of a better word stupidity, and would succeed.

The laughter during those times was incredibly important. I’ve only laughed one other time like I recall doing here at the fellowship. My grandparents were visiting us in Wyoming. My grandfather developed pneumonia. In the middle of one night, we got a call from the hospital. My grandfather had passed. We sat around the table, light shining brightly against the darkness outside the windows. There may have been tears. What I remember most clearly is our laughter, laughter of sorrow and anguish, a communal release of stress and grief. That’s what I experienced here, at fellowship, in the aftermath of 9/11 and the prelude to war.

Now, on one of those grey mornings, with everyone crowded into the basement, everyone there had a thought. The bowl was literally turning into a bonfire. There were the typical fears, sorrows, and of course laughter. Art, one of the points of light, one of those stars I alluded to earlier, eventually got up to the candles to say his peice.

At that time, at the end of the candle lighting, the lay leader would say “to all the thoughts and concerns left unspoken” and light one final candle.

In honor of Art, I’m going to quote him from that morning as I lite the chalice.

“To all the thoughts left unsmoking.”

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Last summer (summer of 2007), in the midst of a run of casualties suffered by Alaska based troops, I happened to travel to Anchorage on a business trip. During that time period it was fairly common for me to go from Fairbanks to Anchorage and back home again in a days time, catching the 6:00am flight down (to Anchorage) and an afternoon or evening flight home to Fairbanks. The meetings and trip down were uneventful, I can’t even recall now what the meetings were for. The return flight proved eventful, putting an exclamation point on an otherwise forgettable day.

I had come to dread the flights back and forth, yet cherished them as well. Over a course of time, and repeated flights, I had started feeling like I’d used all my ‘lucky’ flights up. On those days, I would lay in bed until I had overcome my phobia, then quietly get out bed, and head on out to Fairbanks International to catch the 6:00am early flight. What I enjoyed about the flights was the quiet time. That is, time without phones, children, spouse, or co-workers breaking into my thought process. It was an opportunity to write in my journal, to ponder the future, to read, and yes, to nap. Especially nap.

This day was no different. I checked in, headed down the familiar concourse of the Anchorage airport, to the familiar Alaska Airlines gate and on to the airplane. I took my seat, and started resting my eyes, reflecting on life, work, and how much I would like to nod off before the plane got off the ground.

Soon we pulled away from the gate, and began to make our way across the tarmac to the runway. Suddenly, the airplane stopped. Not unusual, though not a typical stopping point either.

A couple minutes later the Captain came onto the speaker and announced that one of the recently fallen soldiers based out of Fort Richardson would be passing by the plane on the left side in their motorcade. He requested our silence, though needlessly. The plane had suddenly taken on the solemness of a funeral, and rightly so.

Fortunately I was seated on the left side of the plan, by the window. I was able to observe the procession as it crept by. Other passengers unbuckled and looked over the window passenger’s shoulders, anxious to pay thanks to the returning soldier. Throughout this time, not a word was spoken nor a sound made.

For a moment everyone on that plane ceased to be Republican, Democrat, pro-war or anti-war; we were all Americans. It is one of the few times after the weeks following 9/11 I’ve felt this way.

As the motorcade passed, passengers returned to their seats. People began to murmur quietly to each other, clearly affected by the flag draped coffin as it had passed.

Eventually, someone in the plane began to clap. It is one of the most bizarre instances of applause I will ever witness, or participate in. Soon, everyone was clapping. It wasn’t the raucous cheering at a baseball game, or the polite tap-tap after a mediocre performance. The applause was brief, subdued, but intense and heartfelt.

It was nothing less that a communal sharing of grief, and of thanks. Everyone on that plane, though we could or did not exchange hugs or glances, shared that moment; the grief, the pride, the anger, and sorrow of a life ending too soon.

I think often of that solider, and that plane full of people. Every time I pickup the newspaper or check the news online and see more casualties. Sometimes I consider looking up his or her name, getting to know who he/she was, who they left behind. But I don’t.

Personally, I think it is because I like to picture each casualty I hear about as that young man or woman, moving slowly by, forever still beneath the flag. It makes each new death more tangible, more personable, more than a number or name in a paper that is easily tossed out with the daily trash. I fear if this soldier were to lose his/her anonymity, I would lose my ability to transpose that experience.

Then again, it may be as simple as me wanting to avoid feeling the sadness of death, more than I already do. And I know as deeply as it has moved me, what I feel is incomparable to the grief felt by his or her loved ones. What could I possibly do to comfort them?

I know that experience, and the honor and gratitude expressed by everyone on that plane, was possible because someone stood up to the president and insisted that the soldiers be brought home with respect and dignity, not under the cover of darkness. I am grateful to them for giving me that experience.

But mostly I’m grateful to that young man or woman, a fallen soldier, who gave something none of us will ever be able to return to him or her.

Last, I would encourage anyone who has an opportunity to observe the motorcade of a returning fallen soldier, please take the time to do so. It will put your daily worries in their proper perspective, and provide a chance to bond with strangers, your fellow Americans.

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