Thank you, George H.W.

I GHW Bush 1never voted for President George H. W. Bush nor any of his relatives — and probably never would, left-leaner that I am. But his death the other day at 94 was, in a way, one more gift to the nation after a lifetime of public service: It reminded us of how a leader should comport him or herself, and as many commentators are expressing today, presents a truly stark contrast to what we’re currently witnessing. And not only in the office of the current president, but throughout public and private life.

I am sorry I ridiculed our 41st president when he expressed amazement at his first encounter with a supermarket conveyor belt moving shoppers’ selections toward the cashier or when his handlers told him he should do some clothes shopping to demonstrate how consumers could help the then-ailing economy. I laughed along with the rest of the nation when he emerged from the store with nothing but a single pair of socks. Of course, this man whose life was privileged even before he entered public life, had never done his own grocery or clothes shopping. We should have cut him some slack.GHW Bush 3

We all need to learn to put ourselves in another’s shoes and think for a moment before lashing out, whether in jest or in anger. As someone trying hard not to let my advancing age be too obvious while the changing world catapults ahead of me, I know I need to keep my mouth shut until I have an inkling of what I’m speaking about.

Case in point: When my (younger) brother, the computer science guru, mentioned a “nifty new tool” that showed up as he was composing an email to me, I grumbled that I’d already encountered that “nifty tool” and sacrificed several minutes of my diminishing time on earth trying to figure out how to get it off the screen. I passed along my contention that continually “upgrading” computer software along with other changes in everyday life (popular music, television personalities, slang expressions) is part of an ongoing plot to show old people it’s time to think about moving along.

But almost immediately I was reminded of an elderly (probably younger than I am now) aunt in New Jersey asking me if I planned to do the newly allowed “right turn on red” driving practice. Having just moved back from California where that was a long-accepted procedure designed to keep traffic moving, I scoffed: “Of course!” “I’m not,” she said. “Then,” I thought but did not say out loud, “You’re going to have a lot of angry drivers behind you leaning on their car horns and otherwise exhibiting their displeasure at the delay you are causing them.”

(How did I get from trying to say nice things about George H. W. to imagining angry New Jersey drivers’ expletives? I don’t know; it’s a gift of old age. “Reel it back in to the subject,” one of my daughters would say.)

Reading and watching coverage of the ceremonies surrounding the elder George Bush’s death brought a new appreciation for the man whose New York Times front page article was headed “A Genial Force in American Politics.” Inside that same Sunday issue a special section with copy by Adam Nagourney elaborates on the “geniality” theme with a headline reading “A Genial President Who Guided the Nation to the End of the Cold War.” A lot of American history represented in those 94 years.

Photos: azfamily.com; pbs.org

 

 

 

 

 

 

It’s Our Nation: Please Pay Attention

The New York Times wants to hear from women about the whole Kavanaugh debacle, and my first thought, after all those days in front of the TV for the Supreme Court hearings was, what’s the point? The time to hear from us (and the many, many good men who stand with us) is Nov. 6 and dear God, do I hope we make our voices heard then. We need to overwhelm the ballot boxes from one end of the country to the other because we simply cannot continue in this direction much longer. It’s more than a matter of showing our displeasure; it’s to save our democracy.

 

For the Birds

condorAs a break for those of us who have been glued to TV-radio-print coverage of the Supreme Court confirmation hearings, I want to talk about the return of the condors. I stumbled across this NPR coverage of the once-a-year releases of young birds to the wild after a 20-year effort by the Peregrine Fund helped by various organizations and state and federal agencies.

“With a wingspan that can stretch nearly 10 feet,” the Fund’s Chris Parish observed, “California condors are some of the largest birds in North America. They’re also some of the rarest.  After the population plunged to just 22 in 1982, all were taken into captivity for safe keeping and breeding.”

Just a few are released once a year into the wild in Northern Arizona; others are released in California and in Mexico. Thanks to interventions such as this there are now nearly 500 California condors in the wild.

I have never forgotten seeing a condor in a zoo either in Sacramento or San Francisco.  While we stood in front of the enclosure, the giant bird jumped down from its perch with a huge whoosh of wings. and craned its naked pink neck toward us. That might be where my fear of birds came from and not, as I used to imagine, from my friend Lucy’s parakeet. In high school, when I’d stop at Lucy’s house, her father took great delight in watching my reaction when he’d let the bird loose to fly around the kitchen for exercise.

In spite of that, I’d love to attend one of those condor-release viewings. Especially because the birds circle above cliffs some thousand feet above the eager binocular-wielding bird-watchers. My kind of bird-watching.

bird watchers

 

 

 

How Dare You!

The images have been haunting from the start of our current government’s outrageous treatment of asylum seekers. And you knew it was only get worse.

There was, of course, the one that landed on the cover of TIME and gained worldwide notoriety (and lampooning) — the wailing toddler standing at the knees of her manacled mother, the armed border agent alongside. It was gratifying to learn later that mother and child were reunited and safe. But what about all the other images that slid across my consciousness and vanished? I’ve spent an inordinate amount of time scrolling in vain through online photo archives for the images that remain forever lodged in my mind.

For me, it was one of two very small boys walking hand-in-hand alone between two rows of men’s knees in what was obviously some kind of waiting facility. The children were vulnerability personified. I hope there was a parent nearby; I hope everyone is safe.

And then there was the photo of a small clutch of girls walking with a chaperone on a dark New York City street toward a shelter. The caption noted they’d just landed from a flight halfway across the country. The mother in me wanted to scream (and maybe I did) “How dare you put my child into an airplane for what could well have been her first plane ride? How dare you!”

Or now that children and parents are beginning to be reunited, what about the heartbreaking video of a mother trying to embrace her little boy who kept breaking loose from her arms and running off? “What is wrong with my son?” the shocked mother shouted. And I wanted to shout along with her, “What have you done to him? How dare you!”

Except for being stuck in my mind, these images are unavailable for me. But today, and before I lose it, is a front page story in the Los Angeles Times about a Guatemalan family’s reaction to the changes they see in the 12-year-old boy returned to them after four months.  While in detention, the boy was hospitalized and treated for depression. Among his belongings, the family found a powerful prescription medication used to treat bipolar disorder and schizophrenia. They knew about his hospitalization but had never given permission for him to be administered medication. Again the parent in me wants to shout, “How dare you!”

We’re just at the start of this horror, you know. If our inept officials manage to put every child together with every family and allow asylum petitions to resume, there will still be the matter of long-term psychological harm that was inflicted on the children. Whose responsibility is that? And, not to be crass, but what about the money families scraped together to finance what is an internationally legal undertaking just to be sent back to the dangers they were trying to escape?

How dare we?

It’s Been 17 Years

World Trade Center

Photo: theatlantic.com

Last night on MSNBC’s “11th Hour,” Brian Williams mentioned that incoming college freshmen today have no memory of 9/11. That startling fact sent me back to my past posts to see what I wrote and wonder how I could commemorate the date this year. Others have observed that 9/11 held in our time the same significance as Pearl Harbor did in our parents’ time.

I trust those college freshmen will have the opportunity in their lifetimes to visit the various commemorative installations that have been established in New York City, at the Pentagon and today, in Shanksville PA, along with others in this country and abroad. They are poignant reminders of the sacrifices of individuals made in the face of unspeakable evil.

But the most significant 9/11 reminder I read today was an op-ed piece in The New York Times by Joe Quinn, an Army veteran whose brother’s death on the 102nd floor of the World Trade Center spurred him to military service and tours twice in Iraq and once in Afghanistan. It took him 17 years to be able to face the realization, he wrote, that our country is doing just what Osama bin Laden strategized: “to embroil the United States in a never-ending conflict to ultimately bankrupt the country …(and) to cause America to suffer human, economic and political losses without their achieving for it anything of note.”