Sunday, November 11, 2018

My Brother, the Veteran

(Chris and Steve, somewhere in the late 70's)

In the year before he passed away, my younger brother Chris would occasionally tell me about some of his experiences serving in the United States Navy.  He was a "Hospital Corpsman"(1), serving at Norfolk, Virginia, and Camp Lejeune, North Carolina(2).  These were never pleasant conversations.  Now I'm not sure what role medication(3) played in these conversations, but I always did my best to listen to Chris, because clearly, there were things he experienced that deeply troubled him.  For the record, I'm not going to comment on what he told me, mostly because that doesn't really matter in the context of this story.  What does matter is the fact the served and that service changed him.

As I've noted several times over the years, I did not serve in the military.  That was, in sense, an example of privilege on my part.  Now we like to talk in this country about the "privilege" of military service, but I think that's a misplaced sentiment.  I didn't have to serve precisely because so many in the United States, like my brother Chris, voluntarily served.  They paid a debt so that the rest of us didn't have to.  More than anything else, that's what I think Veterans Day is really all about: Some small repayment towards a debt that will forever be outstanding.

Now we all make big decisions in life, decisions that change us at some basic level.  Sometimes those decisions are more a function of a default than anything else(4).  Sometimes those decisions are really and truly a matter of choice.  My brother Chris' service in the United States Navy was truly a matter of choice.  He simply did not have to serve in the military, but I don't think he knew what else he could or should do after graduating from high school.  He was also desperate to get out in the world, to see what was beyond the confines of Scranton, Pennsylvania.  Granted that the stories of debauchery, as told to him by the Navy recruiter, probably helped Chris make the decision.  Regardless of the motivation though, the two things that Chris was the proudest of in his life was his daughter Miranda and his service in the United States Navy. 

Back to the subject of service and change.  The first time I saw Chris after he joined the Navy he was truly a changed man.  I envied him.  He was confident.  His life was together.  I think that he found the discipline of military life beneficial.  While Chris was a smart guy, prior to his military service he was wildly undisciplined, which caused tremendous tension between him and our mother (someone who valued discipline over about just about everything else).  That tension never really disappeared throughout his life though.  I think that the military also gave him a kind of purpose in life that, outside of being a father, he never seemed to have again.  More than anything else though, I think that Chris' military service gave him an identity that he carried forward to the end of this life.


I am glad that his identity as a veteran is a part of this final resting place.

Rest in Peace Sailor.

* * * * * *

(1) I always thought it was "Med Corpsman", but the Internet seems to disagree; citation HERE.
(2) In support of the United States Marine Corps.  
(3) Prescribed or otherwise.
(4) "If you choose not to decide, you still have made a choice" - Rush


Monday, November 5, 2018

VOTE

Vote on Election Day, Tuesday, November 6th because...

...the politically powerful count on you not voting

...voting is a protected right under our Constitution

...by not voting, you're allowing others to decide your fate

...so many have fought and died to give you this right

...big political contributors have too much influence 

...we can do better

...the richest and the poorest are all equal at the voting booth

...it's time for a change

...no President of either party should be above checks & balances

...you can say no to fear and hate

...it offers the smallest investment/biggest return available

...well-off old white guys shouldn't make all the rules

...you get the government you vote (or don't vote) for

...no one has to know who you voted for anyway

...politicians lie to you and think you're too stupid to notice

...your one vote literally could change history



I truly believe that, as a nation, we are at a crossroads:  Do we choose fear and xenophobia, or do we choose to believe that we can do better?  This is above and beyond politics; it's about who we are as human beings and what kind of nations we choose to call home.  

Please vote in tomorrow's election.  If you haven't voted in a while don't worry...just show up and the poll workers will help you.  Vote because you...and your vote...and our nation...matter now more than ever.

Sunday, November 4, 2018

A Weekend Pause

On the road in Lancaster, Pennsylvania.

Ms. Rivers and I usually go away for a weekend in the Fall.  Nowhere fancy mind you...the basic rules are that it's for a weekend and it has to be within driving distance.  The allure of air travel has long expired for both of us, and there are simply too many other things going on, making anything longer than a weekend impractical at best.  That latter point is one of the many things Ms. Rivers and I have in common:  Am almost ceaseless list of things we want to accomplish.

This weekend's trip was decided in theory a few months ago and decided in practice last Monday.  That's how this stuff rolls sometimes.  We choose Lancaster because, well, because it's Lancaster.  I've also only been to Lancaster once before.  That trip was in 1987, and I drove with my fellow Maxwell's buyers to get a train to New York City in Lancaster.  Suffice to say, I didn't see all that much.  For the record, at the time I lived in York, which is something of a slightly smaller sister city to Lancaster, but without some of the charm the Red Rose City enjoys.

Timing is everything.

I really needed this trip.  Really and truly.  This should be one of the best times of my life, yet I've been fairly unsettled for a while now.  In life perspective is everything, so what better way to gain perspective than a temporary change in scenery?  While Lancaster has had its share of problems over the years, beautiful scenery isn't among its challenges.  This is a beautiful place, and the thought of living somewhere that afforded the ability to walk to a farmer's market for fresh food is alluring.  Ms. Rivers and I have spent more than a few minutes over the past months and years thinking about where we'd like to live our retirement years.  Decisions are still pending.

Glassworks.

We spent late morning and most of the afternoon on Saturday wandering about downtown Lancaster.  The city has a wonderful farmer's market and tons of small shops that remind you of Philadelphia, all be it on a smaller scale.  One such place we stopped was Art & Glassworks.


Walking into the shop, the first thing Ms. Rivers noticed was all of the beautiful glass the shop had on display.  The first thing I noticed?  That would be Nicky.  You see, Nicky is a 19-year-old male cat that keeps watch over the shop.  Nicky and I spent about 5 minutes getting acquainted as Ms. Rivers attended to more serious shopping business.  Any business that has a cat is worth patronizing in my book, so if you are ever in Lancaster (either at their stand in the Farmer's Market or at their store) please visit Art & Glassworks.  And pet Nicky for me.  He's a good cat.  I'll also note that, in addition to petting a cat, we did get some shopping done, so it was a win for both Nicky and the shop owner.

Jesus was not live on stage.


We picked this pamphlet up at the hotel(*), and I thought it was almost bizarrely funny.  Now I know from a Facebook posting that others have actually seen this show and enjoyed it.  However, I just think it's a bit odd to claim that Jesus is "live, on stage".  If, in fact, Jesus was live, I would hope that it wouldn't be on a sage in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania.  There's a lot of bad stuff happening in this country at the moment, and if there is such a thing as divine intervention, well, we could use a little bit of it right here and now.  We are truly an un-tended flock at the moment.

The Last Sears?

On the slow road back home, we stopped at a mall in Lancaster, and low and behold there was a functional Sears.


I'm not sure how many of these are actually left but suffice to say the answer is somewhere between "few" and "not many".  As a sign of just how dismal the whole situation is, we could have waited about 14 minutes for the store to open, but we thought "Meh, why bother?".  That pretty much sums up Sears.

The Final Stop.

The final stop on the drive home was the National Civil War Museum in Harrisburg.  The stop itself was figured out this morning, mostly based on the intricate science of "well, why not?".  Nice place. 


Walking through the museum I was reminded of what this country has been through, and likely what it still has to go through.  In spite of a bloody war and over a hundred years of time passages, some of those old wounds have yet to heal.  Let's hope it doesn't take another war for us to find our "better angels".

* * * * * *

(*) We stayed at the Cork Factory Hotel on New Holland Avenue in Lancaster.  Overall it was a nice place, but apparently, it does a very robust wedding business.  That's good for the hotel, but not necessarily good for the other guests who can't find parking or a table for dinner.  Speaking of dinner, we needed reservations to eat at the hotel's restaurant.  Now I've stayed at some fancy hotels over 30 or so years, but I can't recall a lone hotel restaurant that required reservations.  If you want to get married in Lancaster you should check the hotel out.  If you just want a weekend getaway?  Well, better not make that in June.