9/11: Why We Have To Remember

September 10, 2010

President Barack Obama recently announced the withdrawal of 90,000 combat troops from Iraq, marking “the end of America’s combat mission.” 50,000 troops remain to continue training Iraqi forces in the region.  Another 94,000 U.S. troops are currently in Afghanistan, where, according to Obama, “we will disrupt, we will dismantle, and we will ultimately defeat al-Qaeda.”

The timing wasn’t lost on me.  The withdrawal date is eleven days short of the ninth anniversary of al-Qaeda’s attacks on this country on September 11, 2001.

Before September 11, 2001 most people didn’t consider the possibility of an enemy attack on our soil.  We surely didn’t imagine that anyone would highjack airliners and fly them into U.S. landmarks killing thousands of people.  And none of us could have dreamed that nine years later we would have a death toll of over 4,000 troops to add to the thousands who died on the day that “al-Qaeda” became a household word.

The President’s statement was a reminder of that day nine years ago.  I don’t need a reminder.  Every year since 9/11, I am compelled to watch documentaries about the attacks.  My husband is concerned that the shows will make me sad.  Every year I assure him that they will not.

We all remember where we were and what we were doing that day. I was in my office earlier than usual, trying to come up with an ad for a local bank.  I had a deadline, but that morning I was oddly uninspired.   I was on my second cup of coffee when the phone rang.  My husband’s voice was taut as he told me to turn on the television. “A plane crashed into the World Trade Center,” he said.

I switched on the little TV on my desk and watched the attack on America unfold. I saw the second plane strike the South Tower.  I watched both Towers collapse.  A third plane hit the Pentagon.  A fourth went down in a field in western Pennsylvania.  I could not move.  The death toll neared 3,000.

For the thousands who died and the thousands more who lost their friends, family, and co-workers, the unthinkable had already happened.  For the rest of us, the worst was yet to come.

In the days following September 11, 2001, I remember feeling a sense of desolation unlike anything I had ever felt.  I found myself watching the endless stream of anguished faces on TV as friends and relatives pleaded for news of their loved ones who had been in the Towers.  I watched until I could no longer stand to look at their pain. I climbed the stairs to my bedroom, keenly aware of the silence in the skies – a further reminder that life as we knew it no longer existed.

Even the smallest sound disturbed my sleep.  I woke with an intense anxiety about what might happen next.  I carried the fear with me throughout the day.  I did not turn on the news.  Every evening when my husband walked in the door I said, “Is everything okay?” If it was not, I wanted to hear it from him.

I remember the World Series that year in New York – just six weeks after the attack on the city – as George Bush took the mound and threw the ceremonial opening pitch.  It is the only opening pitch I will ever remember.  I breathed a sigh of relief when the game was over and nothing catastrophic had happened to the stadium full of people and the President as they enjoyed America’s favorite pastime.

I remember the sense of warmth that pervaded nearly every encounter with another person.  People who had been reserved or curt were gracious and friendly.  Little acts of kindness were commonplace, as though we treasured our lives and the lives of those around us.

Every year I watch the documentaries.  As much as I would like to forget, I feel an obligation to remember.

Today, remembering is not so much about the terrorist attack but rather about our immeasurable capacity to be human.  For me, the documentaries inspire an intense regard for the heroism shown by both emergency responders and civilians alike.  9/11 serves as a reminder that we are Americans, and we can be breathtakingly generous and kind.  If we can summon that kind of unity once a year because we remember what terrorists did to our nation, then the terrorists will have failed.  And when that generous, unconditional regard for others becomes a part of our daily lives, we will be better people than we were before 9/11/01.


Pastor Jones Holds Nation Hostage

September 10, 2010

We don’t negotiate with hostage-takers.

Someone should tell that to Pastor Terry Jones.  Whether or not he torches a stack of Korans on Saturday, September 11, 2010, he has succeeded in holding the country hostage.  His terms:  a phone call from Barack Obama.

This little-known Gainesville, Florida preacher set social media on fire when he proclaimed September 11, 2010 as “International Burn A Koran Day.”  What started ostensibly as a ploy to block plans to construct a Mosque in NYC near the site of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, has taken on a life of its own, one that is shockingly void of any respect for the memory of the 3,000 lives lost nine years ago.

Jones wants a call from the White House, the State Department, or the Pentagon.  So far, the response from the White House is unanimous.

General David Patraeus emphatically said the preacher’s Koran-burning will “very likely put our soldiers in jeopardy,” stating that it will be “detrimental and dangerous to U.S. troops” in Afghanistan.  Secretary of State Hillary Clinton called the act “disrespectful and disgraceful” and “un-American.”

So far, Obama has not given in to the preacher’s demands.

Earlier this week he appeared on Good Morning America.  In his usual casual style, he referred to the book-burning as a “stunt,” one that would become “a recruitment bonanza for al-Qaeda.”  He urged Jones to listen to his “better angels.”  If he intentionally chose his words in an attempt to deflate the situation, he failed to do so.

Jones repeatedly cites the right to burn the Korans “because we live in America.”  But his tactics, regardless of his intentions, are indeed very un-American.  His thinking is frighteningly similar to that of the al-Qaeda terrorists who murdered thousands of Americans on American soil. If his true intentions were to avert the building of a Mosque near the Twin Towers, he has failed miserably. He has, however, managed to do a great disservice to the victims of 9/11 and their families.

Jones’s book-burning is on-again, off-again, but rest assured, the world will be watching this Saturday.

Let’s hope we all find a moment to honor those we lost nine years ago.

Boyhood Unravelled: A Writers Group

September 9, 2010

I’d been thinking for some time about a writers group for children who, for one reason or another, didn’t get a fair shake in their young lives.  As an adult who navigated a less-than-desirable childhood, I wanted to have a shot at these kids.  I’ve been playing catch-up for over half a century, and I know what it’s like to live without a soft place to fall.

I shared the idea with an acquaintance, a recently-retired high school teacher, who gave me a patronizing pat on the back, said “good for you,” and then went on to warn me about the caliber of youth with whom I would be dealing.  It wasn’t what I expected from a life-long educator.

I left that conversation even more determined to make my idea a reality.  I proposed the idea to The Children’s Home of Reading.  The organization houses boys who are, as the profession calls it, “in placement.”  That’s a catch-all phrase for children who have been removed from their homes due to alleged abuse and/or neglect.

The idea was met with enthusiasm from the clinicians. They got to work recruiting young writers and I got to work on a syllabus.  My group of boys (all volunteers, BTW) ranged in age from 12 to 18, and all had been victims of sexual abuse.

That was two months ago.  We recently finished our 4-week course and added a 5th week at my writers’ request.  The clinicians have asked me to do another group, one for boys with different issues.  And my first group wants to do another 4-week course.

At the end of the course, I asked the boys to come up with a name for the group.  I scribbled words on the whiteboard as the boys eagerly read their ideas.  We came up with the name “Pen to Paper Writers Group.”

We also came up with a tagline: “Expressing Who We Are.”  With pens.  On paper.  Imagine that.

Follow the boys’ story on this blog.

Great TV Shows I Have Known

September 4, 2010

It’s that time of year when the leaves begin to change color and the nights are blissfully cool.  I settle in with a cup of hot tea while my husband gets ready for Monday night football.  And the fall line-up of TV shows dangles like a carrot in front of my nose.

So far, the old carrot trick isn’t working for me.  I’ve never seen an episode of “Survivor” or “Big Brother,” and the onslaught of ads for their new season instinctively cause my right thumb to change channels in less than a nanosecond, technically maintaining my chastity where these two reality shows are concerned.

The new shows leave me cold.  There’s a remake of “The Defenders” and “Hawaii 5-0.”  They weren’t that great the first time around, but at least they were original when they debuted in the 1960s.  And, of course, there are Kardashians, Gosselins, bachelors, bachelorettes, biggest losers, top models, cake bosses, real housewives, swapped wives, as well as an array of other unlikable, offensive, and dull characters.

All of which make me long for the great TV shows I have known: The Mary Tyler Moore Show (with Betty White’s priceless portrayal of Sue Ann Nivens, The Happy Homemaker), LA Law, The Wonder Years, Seinfeld, Boston Legal, and my very own secret guilty pleasure, Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

As much as I miss those TV greats, the one I miss most deeply – and perhaps the greatest of them all – is 24.

How I will miss Jack Bauer.  Of all my liaisons with fictional broadcast characters, Jack was by far the most compelling.  I trekked through eight years with him, minute by minute, counting the days until Monday night finally arrived and the clock began to tick again.

I have to admit I got all choked up during the last episode of season eight when Jack said his final goodbye to Chloe. For all the times I laughed out loud when his phone rang as he huddled under a car just inches away from his would-be killers who for some reason didn’t hear the ringtone … for all the times I chuckled as he interrupted the President to take a call from his daughter or one of the many damsels in distress who frequently called him on his super-secret CTU line … and for all the times he growled the very unofficial command, “NOW” to co-workers, spies, good guys and bad guys … I found myself longing for one more hour, one more escape, one more daring rescue.

Things won’t be the same this fall.  There’s an empty spot on my VCR program.  It’s Jack’s spot.  It was a bright spot in the middle of Monday night football, and it won’t be filled anytime soon.

My husband recently asked me when the new season of 24 begins.  I broke it to him as gently as I could.  A look of disbelief crossed his face.

I gently patted his back and told him about 24 The Movie.  It’s scheduled for release in 2012.  I know it’s little consolation, but until then, we will wait patiently as the minutes drag by in real time …

Beat Fray Shove: My Take On Eat Pray Love

August 27, 2010

Beat Fray Shove is what I’d like to do with Eat Pray Love, Elizabeth Gilbert’s monster hit book and movie of the same name.

You either love this book or you hate it.  I read it a few years ago because a friend loaned it to me and I was obliged to read it.  At the time, my friend was going through a rough patch in her marriage.  She had her eye on a professional associate, and not in the biblical sense, either.  Apparently the book touched on all her adolescent desires to throw caution to the wind, ditch the hubby, and set sail for some exotic land where love and romance lie waiting.

In any event, I read it.  I didn’t like it.  I attributed much of my dislike to the fact that I am almost twenty years older than my friend and I’d worked through my own angst in my free time without the benefit of a year off to eat, pray, and love.  In contrast, the author’s angst led her on a year-long trip to Italy, then to India, and eventually to Bali where she met a Brazilian factory owner who would become her next husband. All told, my math says she was a single woman for all of a year before meeting hubby number two.

The book begins with the author’s brief recap of her history leading up to the epiphanic journey.   She had (1) just ended an unsatisfying marriage and (2) just ended an unsatisfying affair.  On the up side, she was a successful writer who had garnered much recognition for her writing and published several books.

The author alludes to bouts of “severe depression” and hints at thoughts of suicide.  But, alas, our heroine opts instead for a one-year healing jaunt (partially funded by an advance for the book that would later be known as Eat Pray Love) and away we go on a whirligig tour of Italy’s gastronomic delights, off to meditate at an ashram in India, and ultimately to Bali where she runs into hubby number two, Felipe, the subject of her newest book about marriage titled Committed.

In a 2006 New York Times Book review of Eat Pray Love, the author acknowledges the “almost ludicrously fairytale ending to this story.”  She reminds the reader, “I was not rescued by a prince; I was the administrator of my own rescue.”  I’m still trying to figure out exactly what it was that she needed to be rescued from.

I ask you, am I the only woman who is more than slightly insulted when the author explains to us that she was not rescued by a prince?  Am I the only one who is offended when the reviewers slobber over the fact that she undertook a year of global self-exploration all by herself?

As to the “ludicrously fairytale ending,” the entire novel reads like a fairytale to me.  Nonetheless, the book has generated a fanatical following including Oprah and Hillary, two of its most famous fans.

We all want to believe in fairytales, but most of us won’t go running off into the sunset in pursuit of a prince who, BTW, doesn’t really rescue us.

But if we try really hard, most of us can realize a good deal of fulfillment from working on the relationships in our lives and staying the course when things don’t work out quite as planned.

But, hey, that wouldn’t be much of a fairytale, would it?

The Good News and The Bad News About Betty White

August 24, 2010

I remember Betty White from the TV game show Password, hosted by her late hubby, Allen Ludden.  I also remember her priceless portrayal of Sue Ann Nivens, the Happy Homemaker, on the Mary Tyler Moore Show.  Then as Rose Nyland, one of the Golden Girls.  And now, as SNL host and last, but certainly not least, as Elka on Hot in Cleveland.

That’s the good news.

It’s also the bad news.  If Betty White is 88 years old, that means I must be …..

Age aside, I am thrilled to see a mature woman who is not portrayed as a doddering old fool.  She’s Betty doing what Betty does best:  comedy.  Hot in Cleveland is also proof that a show can be successful – the sitcom premiered with nearly 5 million viewers – with four female leads, none of whose dialogue uses the word (and I use the word “word” loosely) “freakin'” every other second.  What a refreshing experience.  It appears that there is not even one breast implant between the four women.  Not one thong has reared its ugly head.  Eyeliner is used judiciously.  The characters actually seem to like one another.

That said, the show’s ratings have declined steadily since its premiere.  I’m hoping it’s not because there are no breast implants, thongs, decimated profanities, and so on.  The women are portrayed as intelligent beings with an element of dignity. I hope it’s not the kiss of death for the show.

Right now I am encouraged by Betty’s popularity.  It seems that she appeals to all ages.  She’s got a brand new Emmy and a TV show that’s been renewed for a second season.

Something old is new again, and as far as I’m concerned, it’s a not a second too soon.

Everybody Has Goals: McCluskey and Welch Aim Low

August 20, 2010
    On July 30, John McCluskey escaped from a medium-security Arizona where the security is so lax that the alarms reportedly go off so often that they are ignored. Armed only with wirecutters that his cousin and fiancé, Casslyn Welch, threw over the prison fence, he and two other inmates walked out of their dormitories, snipped through a chain-link fence, and fled into the desert.McCluskey and Welch went on the run. They are suspected of killing an elderly couple during a multistate manhunt.  According to U.S. Marshal David Gonzales, McCluskey and Welch “considered themselves Bonnie and Clyde.”

    Lucky for us they weren’t.  In their one apparent similarity, Clyde did escape from prison using a gun Bonnie smuggled to him.  He was recaptured, sent back to prison, and paroled in February 1932 when he rejoined Bonnie and set out on a life of crime.  Bonnie and Clyde eluded police for over a year and a half and were suspected of killing 13 people, 9 of whom were law enforcement officials.  They robbed a dozen or so banks as well as small stores and rural gas stations.  They were taken down by six officers when they appeared in their car in broad daylight in Bienville Parish, Lousiana in May, 1934.  By some estimates, each had 25 -50 gunshot wounds.

    McCluskey and Welsh eluded police for all of three weeks.  They were apprehended in Arizona, in a national forest just 280 miles from the prison where McCluskey escaped.  Welch had a gun but dropped it when she saw the number of armed officers.  McCluskey was found lying in a sleeping bag.  He told authorities that he had a gun in the tent and would have shot them if he had the chance.

    U.S. Marshal Gonzales said, “They joke about it (being Bonnie and Clyde) and I think they’ve taken the persona that this is some type of a movie and some kind of a joke that they are living but it is not – this is a very, very serious business.”

    Too bad they didn’t see the movie.  There might have been a different ending.

America’s Got Talent and a New Generation of Forgotten Children

August 12, 2010

I just breezed through internet posts about Jackie Evancho, the 10-year old girl who sang Tuesday night on America’s Got Talent and who, on Wednesday, was the most-searched person on Google.  Seems the little girl has everything:  an amazing talent, beauty, poise, and a fairytale family.  In a taped intro clip that aired before she sang, Ms. Evancho beamed and said, “”I have two brothers and one sister, a big garden and we have ducks in it. It’s so much fun!”  No wonder she beamed.

I wish the young lady the best, although she doesn’t need our collective good wishes.  She already has more gifts than most of us will have in a lifetime.  I don’t know to what extremes Ms. Evancho’s family went to advance her celebrity, but I have a hunch it was substantial.  Before you accuse me of being jealous, let me say that every time I hear about a young person whose family devotes themselves to making their child a star, I shudder.   My first thoughts go to the countless children for whom getting through the day is an accomplishment, and one that won’t be rewarded with standing ovations and concert tours.

According to a report released in December, 2009 (AFCARS:  Adoption and Foster Care Analysis and Reporting System Report), there were approximately 463,000 children in foster care as of September 30, 2008.  The National Child Abuse and Neglect Data System (NCANDS) reported that 772,000 children were found to be victims of child abuse or neglect in 2008.

Nobody said life was fair, but this disparity is egregious.  So I hold my applause for the children who would have succeeded despite the adulation of an admiring public, and I send my thoughts and prayers to the forgotten children.

Life After Extreme Makeover Home Edition

August 9, 2010

If you live in or anywhere near Berks County, you were recently inundated in press coverage of the Extreme Makeover Home Edition TV reality show that took place in Tilden Township.  All the local media clamored to broadcast even the smallest bits of information about the event.  It was the talk of the town.  I actually know someone who bumped into Christie Brinkley.

But now the dust has settled on Hex Highway.  The big bus has whisked Ty Pennington and his crew off to their next TV show. The volunteers who did the impossible – built a house from the ground up in one week – are back at their day jobs. And the recipient of all this generosity, a Berks County mother and her daughter, have a new home.

Wouldn’t it be nice if this kind of enthusiasm, generosity, and spirit existed on a daily basis, without the lure of a TV show to infuse life into our communities … if people were passionate about helping people … if we gave more than we received …

Hey, wait a minute … that does exist here.

I don’t know a single soul who does not give freely of their time and resources to help those less fortunate.  Whether it’s a neighbor in need or an organization that touches hundreds of lives through its volunteers, there is a silent army of Berks Countians that asks for nothing more than to see someone in need doing a little better at the end of the day, thanks to their volunteer efforts.  For these volunteers, there are no TV appearances, no press, no big bus, just a heartfelt passion that goes largely unnoticed except by those in need who have experienced firsthand the work of our county’s myriad volunteers.

Consider this.  Last year alone, The Reading Hospital and Medical Center’s 1,000-plus volunteers (including teens) contributed over 180,000 hours of volunteer work.  Over 5,000 Berks Countians supported The American Cancer Society.  The Children’s Home of Reading has over 50 volunteers, some of whom are active on a daily basis.  On any given day, both The Animal Rescue League and The Humane Society have up to fifteen volunteers on duty.

Our volunteers touch tens of thousands of lives every day, without the lure of an appearance on national TV.  Outside of the local weekly papers who diligently recognize local people, we don’t hear much about regular folks serving the community.  Their acts are no less grand than those orchestrated by a TV reality show or by celebrities with “local ties” to the area, and, in my opinion, they are far more newsworthy.

It is a rare person who gives without expecting something in return, and the act of giving is certainly not rare in Berks County.  Sometimes, though, it takes a big voice to be heard.  It’s hard to compete with the glitz of a national TV program.  But, I ask you, if one project merits this deluge of coverage, what do the thousands of Berks County volunteers and the people whose lives they touch deserve?

If you have a volunteer story that needs to be told, I urge you to contact your local newspaper, radio station, and TV station.

Let’s spread the word that Berks County is more than just a flash in the pan of reality shows.

Sarah Palin: The Mother Of All Mama Grizzlies

August 3, 2010

Sarah Palin is at it again with the one-liners, tweets, and internet videos.  This time she’s labeled her brand of feminists “pink elephants,” a nation of conservative women who are at the ready to rear up just like a mama grizzly bear does to protect her cubs.

Don’t do me any favors, Sarah.  Don’t fight to abolish a woman’s right to choose.  Do not quantify all women as “moms.”   And by all means, do not declare all women to be mama grizzly bears, pit bulls, elephants or any other mammal that’s not stuffed and hanging on your wall.

Back in 2008 when the sting of Hillary Clinton’s Democratic Presidential campaign loss was still fresh, I gravitated to Sarah Palin.  What can I say?  My defenses were down.  She wooed me with little more than a few snappy soundbytes.  One of my favorites was her comment about selling the Alaska governor’s private jet on ebay.  Gee, I thought, she’s pretty and bright.

Don’t get me wrong, I still think she’s smart.  Scary smart.  Just like a mama grizzly.  And the fact that she deftly  promotes herself on the internet, outside of more traditional news media that afford at least some filtering of content, makes her dangerous.  Her messages are short – typically less than 140 characters. Problem is, her simple solutions to complex problems just won’t work.

If a cheerleader were all that was needed to right this country, Sarah Palin might just be the ticket.  We all know she can work a crowd into a frenzy.  Remember “Drill, baby, drill”?  Come the next election, I’m sure the Democrats will run that soundbyte deeper into the ground than the Deepwater Horizon.

A Huffington Post article recently offered an explanation of Palin’s strategy as an appeal to the collective unconscious, Carl Jung’s theory that humans inherit a collective history which consists of pre-existent forms, the archetypes, which can only become conscious secondarily, say, for instance, when people are afraid that every economic and political institution they count on is about to fail.

I think that’s a complex explanation for a simple strategy.  I think Sarah’s lookin’ for hot buttons and keepin’ it short and tweet. In politics, a vote is a vote is a vote, and it doesn’t matter how you get it.