Friday, May 28, 2010

Memorial Day: Take Time to Remember

Bath National Cemetery, New York
Bath, NY, National Cemetery

Note: This is an edited version of a post about Memorial Day that I posted here last year. It is based on a Memorial Day address I gave in 2005 at the Dover, Ohio Memorial Day observance in 2004.

Not enough people will read this or the other Memorial Day tribute posts. Most will be out enjoying a "three day holiday weekend." And I intend to do the same. But my prayer is that at some point in this weekend we will all stop, find a quiet place, and lift a prayer of gratitude for those who made the supreme sacrifice so that we can have three day weekends knowing that we still hold our liberty as one of the highest values of this nation.

Men and women have fought and died believing that they were serving a cause far greater than themselves. Some have died in wars where the enemy was clear and they knew exactly who they were fighting and why. They knew that the people of this nation declared them to be "good" wars, wars against evil. Others have fought in wars that were not worth their sacrifice.

But we must distinguish between the morality of a war, or the lack of it, and the men and women who fight believing they are doing it for us, and for our children and our children's children. And so we should honor all who gave of themselves, their blood, and, too often, their very lives. All those we honor this day.

When I was a child we called this time Decoration Day. And we used to pick flowers and carry them to the cemetery in town and lay them on the graves of soldiers from the town who were honored on that day. But the custom of honoring those who have fallen in war began long before I was a child. It began in the Southern states immediately after the Civil War when people decorated the graves of fallen Confederate soldiers.

In 1868, General John Logan, who was then commander of the Grand Army of the Republic, named May 30, the date of discharge of the last Union soldier following the Civil War, as a day to decorate the graves of Union soldiers as well. Later the graves of all soldiers, sailors, and marines were so honored regardless of what war they fought in, or whether or not they died in combat. The date was moved from May 30 to the last Monday in May several years ago.

What we need to remember now is that, for almost a century and a half, throughout this nation, we have dedicated this time to the memory of all those who have fallen in the defense of this nation, regardless of the branch of military in which they served.

And, in more recent years, we have also taken this time to remember not only those lost in battle, but also those of our own loved ones and friends who have gone from us by accident, through tragedy, or in the normal course of life.

I am sure that many of us, and others throughout this great nation, are this day are remembering the great loss of life that we suffered on September 11, 2001, and the 5000 plus American service personnel who have since lost their lives in Iraq and Afghanistan these last long eight years.

For longer than anyone alive can remember, we have honored our dead by celebrating this special time. Remembering is the key to Memorial Day. Memorial Day is about is remembering. We all know too well how easy it is to forget, to take for granted, or to deliberately close our minds to the hardships and sacrifices which are sometimes difficult and painful to recall.

But there are some things we must remember. For without memory, without the history and tradition of remembrance, we cannot know the price which has been paid for our freedom. Without remembrance, we cannot know the debt that we shall always owe to those who made the ultimate sacrifice for us, sacrifices made when many of us were yet unborn.

REMEMBERING. The word is so common that we sometimes forget what it means. "RE -membering" literally means to put the members back together, to gather together what has otherwise been torn apart. We can’t do that physically in this life, for we must wait for God to provide that miracle for us and for our lost loved ones and comrades who have gone before us. But, until then we can RE-member them in our minds, and most of all, in our hearts.

Remembering is what separates us from those who don’t care, from those who are so caught up in their own importance that they have no time to think of others. Remembering is what separates us from those who are sure that what they have is what they alone have earned, and who believe that they owe no debts to anyone, past or present.

We who will bow our heads in a silent prayer or simply in remembrance on Memorial Day know better. We know that we owe our liberty, our freedom, to all those who died for the right for us to live as free people in a free land.

On this day I put away my arguments about the evil done in the last Administration and the lack of seeming purpose by the present Administration to do something to set that right. There will be many future days for me to continue that fight. Today is not one of them. Today we should be more unified than we ever are, a day when there is no right or left, no Democrat or Republican, no insiders or outsiders, but only Americans. Americans remembering.

Remembering separates us from the cold and unthinking, from those who would pay no allegiance to anyone but themselves, and who would give no honor to those who died believing that the values of this nation were worth fighting for, and, if necessary, dying for.

Patriotism is a battered concept today. For too long it was defined as those who supported the regime in power. That is changing but it will take time to replace allegiance to party with allegiance to country. In too many places in this nation we argue over even what basic human values and virtues are.

This should not really surprise us. It should not surprise us -- even though it should dismay us -- that our dead are not honored as they should be.

Community Memorial Day services are not widely attended these days. We have other things to do, or, as in my case, my health will not allow me to spend that kind of time in the heat.

But that is no justification for me not to remember. I can still think about the sacrifices made. I can still say a prayer in thanksgiving for that long line of those who put their lives on the line for me and my family, even though I know not their names, no did they know mine. But I know that many of them paid the ultimate sacrifice for the ideal that we all might be free.

For the last several days, families across America have been preparing for their Memorial Day weekend. And that is fine. I have too. I doubt that any of the honored dead for whom Memorial Day was established would begrudge American families the opportunity to have some quality time together, for people to relax and enjoy themselves.

But we must not forget what this time is really about. This is a time in which we, as a community, as a nation, gather together in groups as small as a family, or a couple newly in love looking for some time to just be together. We can gather in groups small and large, and while gathered, or even while alone, remember.

On this day we pause to remember that there are essential lessons to be learned, and re-learned; lessons for young and old alike: to remember and appreciate the blessings of freedom; to recognize the enormity of the sacrifice that has been made for us, and to pay honor and respect to those who gave everything on behalf of our common good. This day reminds us of what we can achieve when we pull together as one nation, respecting each other in spite of our differences.

And this day reminds us as well of our duty to honor not only those we lost in freedom's cause, but also, through our thoughts and our actions, to remember the service men and women who came back home from our wars, and are now our veterans. It is a day to remember, as well, the families of those who lost loved ones, and the families of those lost for whom there has never been a final accounting.

We must remember as well those who are putting their lives on the line for us in far off wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, wars that we may not individually support, wars that I do not personally support. But our service men and women are there. They are in harms way. And we, you and I, are not. That too is worth remembering.
There really are answers for those who think that this time is just like any other- except that we get a "long weekend"; to those who pause not an instant in their pursuit of their personal pleasures. We say “No. You are wrong.” to those who say that there is nothing worth remembering, no one worth honoring, no country worth saving.

This is not the time to lift my grievances, or for me to complain about how so much of what this nation does in the political and economic sphere makes little sense, about all the things we write about so passionately, about all that is "wrong" with America.

This is a time when I have something more important to do; a time when we look back and remember the shoulders upon which we stand as we look forward to what we hope will be a new and brighter day for this nation. There are those who will say, "Why bother?" Its past history, isn't it?" "Its time to move on, to look to the future, isn't it?"

To them we say, perhaps we will do what you suggest tomorrow. But, for today, we say that we remember. We remember. And we are thankful. And we will never forget the sacrifices made for us. Never. We shall remember.

And we shall teach our children, and our children’s children, of the great privilege and honor of being Americans, and of the great sacrifices that have been made for us.

On this Memorial Day we will pledge to carry a simple message into the future. Our message is that there were, and that there still are, those who loved this country enough to fight and to die, if necessary, to preserve the American way of life. That, my friends, we shall never forget.

May God bless each of us and our families, and may we always remember and give thanks for sacrifices made.


Thursday, May 27, 2010

Don Williams Tribute: Happy 71st Birthday!

First published, Open Salon, MAY 27, 2010 12:15AM

Don Williams has a birthday today, May 27, 2010. For 7 months he and I will be the same age, 71. For not quite a half century now he has been singing professionally and I have been listening. It has been an easy relationship that never grows old - although I can't say the same thing for us.

Don is sometimes called "Mr. Mellow" or "The Gentle Giant" by country fans. Yet many modern country fans have never heard of him, don't know that he still performs and that he routinely sells out venues in the UK, Europe and S. Africa. Now. Today. In fact, he has always been more popular overseas than here. His US heyday was from about 1970 through 1989. But during that time he built a following that has been loyal and appreciative of his art.

Don is a Texas country boy, and was one of the founders of the Pozo-Seco Singers, a favorite but short lived folk group that I enjoyed in the 60s.

Altogether 17 of his songs have been #1 Singles on the Billboard Country charts.

Wikipedia notes "His first hit, in 1973, was "The Shelter of Your Eyes." His 1974 hit, "I Wouldn't Want to Live if You Didn't Love Me," was the first of 17 No. 1 hits on Billboard's country chart. His best two known No. 1 hits were "I Believe in You" (1980) and "Lord I Hope This Day is Good" (1982).

Some of his other big No. 1 country hits included "You're My Best Friend" and "Turn Out the Light and Love Me Tonight" (1975); "Til the Rivers all Run Dry" and "Say it Again" (1976); "Some Broken Hearts Never Mend" and "I'm Just a Country Boy" (1977); "Tulsa Time" and "It Must Be Love" (1979); "Love Me Over Again" (1980); "If Hollywood Don't Need You" (1983); "Stay Young" and "That's the Thing About Love" (1984); and "Heartbeat in the Darkness" (1986). Some big No. 2 hits of his were "She Never Knew Me" (1976); "Good Ole Boys Like Me" (1980); "Walking a Broken Heart" (1985) and "Back in My Younger Days" (1990). His No. 3 hits were "Rake and Ramblin' Man" (1978); "Lay Down Beside Me" (1979); "If I Needed You" (1981, duet with Emmylou Harris); "Listen to the Radio" and "Mistakes" (1982); and "We've Got a Good Fire Goin'" (1986)."

Married to the same woman for 50 years, the laid back country balladeer made no ripples in the "bad boy" pond that so many young male country singers who came to fame in the 60s and 70s seemed compelled to jump into. His music is as mellow as the man, and the beauty of his baritone voice has always been a joy to listen to.

Here are some of his biggest hits, and a few others that I have thrown in just because I like them. In addition to the YouTube videos I have included a Playlist that has a few songs on it that are not available on YouTube. While he has never sought to sing duets with other country artists he did have one hit with Emmylou Harris that I have included on the Playlist.

Don Williams was finally recognized for what he has always been, a giant of country music, when he was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame this year.

Happy Birthday, Don. Thanks for all of your wonderful music that I have been listening to since the late 60s.

You're My Best Friend

Good Ole Boys Like Me

Some Broken Hearts Never Mend


Lord, I Hope This Day is Good

I Believe in You

Lay Down Beside Me

Gypsy Woman

Love Me Tonight

The Rose

'Til The Rivers All Run Dry

Shelter of Your Eyes

We Should Be Together

Love Me Over Against


Get a  playlist! Standalone player Get  Ringtones

Relax, enjoy the smoothest male vocalist to ever hit the country scene.


Sunday, May 23, 2010

When the world presses in, to whom do we turn?

First published, Open Salon,Tuesday, May 11, 2010


Anne Cutri produced one of her best psalms today. You can read it here:

I commented, "Indeed, Anne. Indeed. This is one of your best. I have read it a dozen times and each time I find more meaning hidden in it. I am not sure, but I believe because it has happened to me, that at times when we are pressed the most we do our best work. We have to dig down for our best thoughts and intentions, if for no other reason than to avoid spiraling into the darkness and out of His light -- and ultimately in so doing we come close to the core that holds us together; to the values that anchor our reality. You are doing that. I am proud of you."

I have been spending a bit more time here lately, reading, not doing any original writing. And I have watched more than a few of you dear friends struggle with the burdens of life as they bear down on your shoulders. Many of you have shared those burdens, and I hope that in so doing you have found some succor in the kind comments of those of us who care enough to say that we care.

What I have noticed is that in the midst of the pain, whatever the source, most of the writers have reached down into a place in themselves where their basic values lie. The pain is a great enemy, and great enemies cannot be fought with commonplace platitudes, or shrugged off as just another headache. When it threatens to force is into a fetal position in bed, bereft of any relief, then we must fight it with our core beliefs.

Those who succeed are those who have those values in the first place, no matter how far they may have strayed from them since they learned them. They are those who have already answered the question "To whom can I turn now?" And the answer is that we turn to someone beyond the pain, someone who has mastered it and who understands it.

We turn to God, or Allah, or a higher power, the life force, the universe, the One, or, in Otto's wonderful phrase, the "Other." It matters not what we call that force, that power, that One in whom we move and have our being. What matters is that we HAVE the Other to whom we turn.

And in that turning, it seems clear to me, we do two important things.

First, we realize that the answers are not to be found in consulting ourselves. We are out of answers. If we were not, we would not make that turn. We do not do it casually. We do it because there is no where else to turn.

Second, we realize that we cannot create our own future. Like Sarah, we are now barren, beaten down, our dreams shattered. And we cannot even imagine a future for ourselves worth living. Without answers we do a wondrous thing: we admit our powerlessness. We surrender.

And, ironically, it is in the surrender that we find strength and peace. In the surrender we find the One who cares, the One who offers love and hope where we before had none.

I do not know why that works. But I know that it does. I also know that when we finally crawl out from the darkness we have pulled over our heads we may quickly forget how we got out. We may even think that "we did it ourselves."

We are vain creatures, we humans, and love to take credit for our own lives. Like Abraham and Sarah we are quick to prove that we are really in control and we forget the Promise, forget who got us out of the darkness, who gave us those values that allowed us to survive our toughest tests.

The wonder of it all is that the One will be there for us over and over as we stumble our way through life. The One will never say, "Well, I helped you before and you gave me no credit, so the next time you are on your own."

No. The One will say, "You are my beloved, my child, the love of my being, and I will always be with you, ready to hold you to my breast and stroke your hair, to let you know in your darkest nights that nothing you do can separate you from my love for you."

There is pain all around us. The imperfect world bears in on us and brings us troubles we believe are beyond the bearing. But as I watch and read and pray for you I see brighter days ahead for those who look beyond yourselves for the answers that we do not have within us.

St. Augustine wrote:

"Great art thou, O Lord, and greatly to be praised; great is thy power, and infinite is thy wisdom." And man desires to praise thee, for he is a part of thy creation; he bears his mortality about with him and carries the evidence of his sin and the proof that thou dost resist the proud. Still he desires to praise thee, this man who is only a small part of thy creation. Thou hast prompted him, that he should delight to praise thee, for thou hast made us for thyself and restless is our heart until it comes to rest in thee."