Sunday, November 20, 2016

The tree that almost wasn't



My favorite tree almost wasn't.  When a tornado ripped through the center of our farm in April, 2014, trees were the favorite targets.  Countless numbers were ripped from the earth, twisted at their roots like corkscrews, or broken in half by the F4 winds.  Hundreds of them, having thrived more than a century on this earth, were destroyed as easily as you would snap a toothpick in half.

One small tree at the edge of the yard was cracked in half by the winds, splintered a few feet from its base, the upper part  nearly destroying a hundred year old shed.  A track hoe removed the large upper half from the shed and I added to my to-do list taking my chainsaw and putting the pitiful remains out of their misery.

Fortunately, my to-do list fell a few items short of done.  And at some point weeks later, all tornado clean up work stopped and everyone just rested for awhile.

Days became weeks and weeks became months and so on.  Before you could turn around a year had passed, it was spring again and guess what?  That little piece of tree, left for dead and sentenced to a burn pile, started sprouting new limbs.  And weeks later, the buds on those limbs became leaves.  And then more limbs and more leaves.  Impossible, I thought.  I mean, that tree was a goner.  A splinter.  A hopeless shadow of what once it had been.

Now, over two years later, it's much more to me than a tree.  It's a reminder that nothing is done until it's done.  And our minds simply don't have the power to determine that.  We are limited to seeing through a glass darkly during our time here on this tiny planet and we are reminded to "set (our) minds on things above, not on earthly things."

It's also a reminder not to give up.  To have hope and to have faith.  And when that hope and faith blossoms, new worlds open up.

And, finally, that little tree continuously reminds me that regeneration is always possible.  Rejuvenation.  Redemption.  Resurrection on all levels.  Even at our lowest times, when winds of fortune have turned ugly and rendered disaster, tragedy, or devastation, there is hope.  Or even when there's just a malevolent breeze that blows us about from time to time, knocking us down, pushing us off course, there is recovery.  There is reinstatement of our more vibrant, more confident former selves.  There are new seasons and new beginnings.

Next spring I'm looking for my favorite tree to be even taller and fuller and stronger.  Who knows?  It might even have a nest of birds.

I think I would feel like a grandfather.




Thursday, November 17, 2016

An open letter to Million Women's March on Washington




                                                           Getty Images Topical Press Agency


Dear Ladies of the March:

So...I'm hearing that January 21st is cooking up to be a big day, huh?  I guess no small number of you is going to journey to our nation's capital to protest.  Multiple issues, I hear.  Lots of problems.  Rampant disrespect.  I should tell you, though, that I'm a little suspicious it has more to do with who didn't win our latest presidential election than you might want to admit.  But that's neither here nor there and there's no need for us to get off on the wrong foot.  Today, it's called the "Women's March on Washington."  A few days ago it was "Million Women's March."  Stay tuned.  A lady definitely has the prerogative to change her mind.

Okay...I could be so tongue-in-cheek here that I would pierce through the inside of my mouth right through to my stubbled jaw.  I don't think that would get me anywhere, however, so I'm going to try to practice a little restraint.  But when I read that "the past election cycle has insulted, demonized, and threatened many of us...", I'm thinking that the whole thing is getting off to a start that appears to lean heavily on hyperbole. Demonized?  Really??  Also, those for whom this gathering is in the name of are "women, immigrants of all statuses, those with diverse religious faiths particularly Muslim, people who identify as LGBTQIA (when did we add those extra letters?), Native and Indigenous people, Black and Brown people, people with disabilities, the economically impoverished and survivors of sexual assault."  Talk about inclusive!

Problem is:  who's not on this list?  I can certainly claim more than a passing interest in several of those categories.  So, why not just march for everyone who's afraid?  Everyone who has truly suffered injury and injustice.  Even everyone who has had their feelings hurt in their life because someone said something.  Everyone who has ever been boxed out of the mainstream for whatever reason at whatever time.  Hey.  It's everyone, folks.  Every blasted one of us.  At some point and time in our lives, to some extent, we all have been on the outside looking in.  It's called life.

You say you want to "send a bold message."

Well, guess what...

You will.

You will send a bold message to this nation and the rest of the world that this is the most divided this country has been since the Civil War.  You will send a message that says we are a frightened nation.  You will send a message that we don't respect, honor, or support our democratic process.  (Yes, you will!  I won't let you argue that!)  And that we are a nation that assumes our leadership is going to fail before that leadership has a chance to perform.

You will send a message that says we are weak.

Your message will be heard loud and clear and our allies will wonder what happened to the America that they aligned with and identified with for generations.  Through several wars.  In good and bad times.  That strong America who took on all the bullies and backed down for nothing or no one.

And your message will resound deafeningly to our enemies who never in a million years believed that the United States could become so fractured and so disorganized and discombobulated and so...so...ugly. 

And so very ripe for the picking.

And the media, folks, is already drooling rivers.  If you thought they liberally spun the election news, watch this.  They'll spin this march on Washington like Linda Blair's head in "The Exorcist."

So organize your gathering, your march, whatever you want to call it.  I know that it will draw folks from sea to shining sea.  From L.A. to Tampa.  From those tiny islands of blue counties that looked so pitifully awash in the sea of red on the election maps.  

I cannot fathom the millions and millions of dollars that will be spent and the millions of hours that will go into the planning and organizing and executing.  Individually and institutionally.

Listen.  Just a little advice.  Consider it a travelogue of sorts.

While you're in Washington, drop by 700 Pennsylvania Avenue.  That's the National Archives and it houses our Constitution including the First Amendment upon which you will be operating while you're in D.C.  Then you might cruise by the Capitol and call on your representative to Congress. That's the person who best can help you get this all done.  And save you any future trips and expenses in trying to move our government in a direction you find more personally appealing.  And less injurious.  Because you can march till you drop but if your Congressional representative isn't tuned in, it's all for show.  (And I'm sure you're not doing it for show.)

While you're at it, take a peak at the Lincoln Memorial.  Look closely at Mr. Lincoln's face and you might just see a tear on his cheek (some folks think it's a mole) not for what this country has become, but for what you want to make people believe this country has become.  And President Lincoln had a phrase for what you are promulgating:  "A house divided against itself cannot stand."   And whether you support Mr. Lincoln's ideology or not, he certainly knew about divided houses.

And, finally, before you car, bus, train, or fly your way home, take a short ride to Arlington Cemetery and have them put you out at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.  That brave, anonymous soul who eternally represents everyone in the military who has ever died for the United States of America.   Then, in the breathtaking silence, gaze over the acres of tombstones that grace in perfect symmetry that hallowed ground .  Those people fought some pretty nasty enemies, many of the same ones who are going to be glued to their televisions watching you on your day, January 21, 2017.  And those enemies are going to nod and smile and hope for the continuing unravelling of the fabric of this great nation. Whether there are a million or two million or more of you, they will cheer you on like you are marching in the Olympics.

So look at it this way, you've already got billions of supporters and you haven't even bought your comfy walking shoes yet.

And you know what?  I highly doubt that a single soldier lying beneath that Arlington soil suited up and shipped off to fight for a certain skin color, a particular sexual orientation, a specific religion, or any special class of human beings.  I'm pretty sure that when they took their bullet, they took it for the United States of America and the great and diverse population within its borders.  They took it for you.

Sorry to be blunt but you're already hurt and scared of just about everything, so I don't think I've caused any additional harm.  And since you're going to be in Washington anyway....

One last thing:  if you decide to stay home that day, you might consider erecting an American flag in your yard.  You might take the money you are going to spend on your Washington trip and donate it to a homeless shelter or a Veterans organization.  Or any local charity, for that matter.  You might invest all that planning and organizing time into going to a VA Hospital or a battered women's shelter, or an elementary school short on funds and giving them your time and energy.  You might attend some diversity and inclusion meetings and add your level of expertise to the group.  You might write a check to the Red Cross to help those thousands of women and children devastated by war, natural disaster, and genocide.  Those who have truly been, to use your word, demonized.

Yep.  You could do any of those things.  Or you might just go ahead and have your march.  

Whichever, God bless you and keep you safe.  We may disagree but we are all Americans.  I love my country and I love you and look forward to the day we are all in the same house.

Now get out there and get those comfy marching sneakers.



Friday, November 11, 2016

On this Veterans Day


"These GIs could not be let down. This was neither the time nor the chance for tactical fencing. The "Lost Battalion" had to be rescued, the German threat to the Yank breakthrough smashed, at any cost.

Thus, on the bright, hot afternoon of August 10, 1944, with magnificent daring, doughboy-laden tanks spearheading the 320th Regiment's attack barreled up the road directly into the powerful positions of the Wehrmacht's elite.

Out of 55 tanks 31 were knocked out in a few hours of furious fighting.

But the Nazi grip on the Mortain redoubt was cracked.

In the bloody and confused struggle which continued on throughout the night and next day many units of the regiment themselves became lost or surrounded, the attack disorganized.

During the following night, under the flares of the Luftwaffe, the remaining men of the 1st and 3rd Battalions were reorganized, combined. At dawn the infantrymen, without the aid of armor, stormed Mortain and the crest of the ridge, seizing both. The Lost Battalion was rescued, its wounded cared for by all the medical resources of the regiment.

The Battle of Mortain, the most dramatic in the 320th's combat record, exemplifies the regiment's relentless style of fighting, the driving power that has been used with four armies in five countries and has been called upon continuously from Normandy through Bastogne to the east bank of the Elbe. The 320th and her superb comrade regiments, the 134th and 137th, form a division - the 35th (Santa Fe) Division - whose record of achievement in the European campaigns ranks with the best."

This is an excerpt from The History of the 320th Infantry Regiment, outlining a battle during WWII as US troops attempted to wrestle France out of the hands of the Germans.  My father, John Loyd Gray, was wounded and taken prisoner of war on August 11, 1944.  I always wondered what he was going through that day because he spoke so sparingly of it.  Except to say that the Germans intervened by taking his bleeding and broken body to a hospital in Paris where German doctors labored to save his limbs and his life.  

Irony at its best.

He was one of those doughboys on foot inches from the tracks of those huge, clamoring tanks, plodding  courageously forward, one foot in front of the other.  A small piece of ground at a time.  From one hedgerow to the next.  

Until a machine gun ripped his legs out from under him and he fell wounded into the mud and blood- thousands of miles from home.

Veterans Day couldn't have come at a better time.  While Americans are marching in the streets protesting the election process that defines our republic, while people are kneeling or sitting through our national anthem, while our country quivers and quakes in the throes of an enormous divide, Veterans Day provides a reminder of what it took to get here in the first place.

My father was a 19 year old rural American (we've heard about those rural Americans these last few days) when he volunteered to fight for his country.  By the time he was 21 he had two Bronze Stars, a Purple Heart, and battle scars.  About the age of so many of the youngsters marching in the streets of cities, towns, and on the campuses of universities around this country.  They can thank him and every other combat soldier, men and women, for giving them that right to march.  They can thank him and all soldiers of the past for sacrificing part, or in some cases all, of their lives for the right to protest the very thing that defines us as a free nation.  They can thank everyone who has spent their time or their blood in our military securing the greatness of this nation we call the United States.

I don't have any astute prose to offer here.  Just facts.  Just a piece of history.  And an undying sense of pride for one man in particular, my father, for having the courage to defend all that we hold sacred.

And I can't help but feel a little disgusted at those who disrespect those sacred things.  But my father would forgive you and my Father forgives you, so I guess that it will just have to be alright for me.


Thank you, Dad.  And believe me, I'm trying to do right by you.