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Sunday, February 19, 2012

Rendering Passing Honors...

Attribution Some rights reserved by Official U.S. Navy Imagery
 There's a tradition in the Navy to render passing honors to ships of other nations or ships that have distinguished themselves in battle by assembling the crew, saluting with cannon fire, flags or such. I wish we had the same tradition in our families and communities. Too often we wait until it's too late and at most fire some guns over a grave. Such honors are appropriate, but they are more about the family and ourselves. The honored will never hear the guns nor see the flags.

For more than 7 years it was my wife's privilege to stand beside men and women who had reached the end of their lives.  For three years of that it was my honor to help full time as her titular boss. We worked for an intergenerational day care center. She was the nurse in charge of the senior program and she was brilliant at it.

Her "little old people" were an incredible bunch. We had reporters, women who had been Rosie the Riveters during WWII. We had soldiers who fought at the Battle of the Bulge and defended Bastogne. We had flyers who landed WWII era C-47s in the jungles of Vietnam while guerrilla soldiers shot holes in the floorboards. We had mechanics and test pilots who spent their last years with us. We had a Mercury program flyer who transported astronauts home from missions. We had submariners and Army Rangers who liberated their fellow soldiers from prison camps in the jungles of the Phillipines. They suffered from Alzheimer's, strokes and other age-related disabilities. Their families wanted to keep them home and we got to help.

We became part of families. We stood beside bedsides with families as their loved ones left this world. We considered it an honor and a privilege.

There are four great passages we transit in this life. Birth we do not remember much about Our birth is celebrated by those we love, but we are at the center. Marriage we celebrate with our loved ones and again we are at the center of the festivities. At the birth of our children, we are no longer the center, but standing aside that new life may be the center.

In the final passage, we are too often alone again - the center of attention shifted now onto those who are being left behind to grieve.  I've seen it time and again, people sitting around talking about the person dying, but not to him; family and loved ones standing around shifting uncomfortably, not knowing quite what to do or say.

Miss Sheila always had a way of knowing when to sit beside a dying person and what to say.  When she worked night shifts in nursing homes, people on her wing seemed to wait till nights she was on before passing. She would sit and hold their hands and talk to them through the night, while other aids and nurses gossiped in the break room. She had an intuition about being there when her patients were passing.

I remember going to visit one of our senior volunteers in the hospital. I don't know how, but we arrived at just the right time. We found his wife sitting beside his bed looking worried. She stood and took his hand. Sheila went to the other side of the bed and took his other head. They talked softly to him as though he were the only person in the world. I'm not even sure what they said, but it was evidently time for the old soldier to move on. He breathed slower and slower and finally stopped. You could feel angels in the room. It was an amazing experience.

My family has always sat beside our elders who were dying. My great-grandfather's family were at home with him. My grandpa's family was there. My sister and his youngest daughter were with him the night he passed away. He was not alone. He knew he was loved. The last thing he said to me was, "Take care of my girl." I did my best to do just that.

At death you find out what your family is made of. Sadly the vultures always gather at death to pick over whatever the person is leaving behind. I've more than once stepped away in disgust from the spectacle of loved ones fighting over the dead. I refuse to take part. I'd rather not get a thing - not a keepsake than squabble over the things that belonged to someone I loved. 

I prefer to honor and cherish my loved - to render passing honors to a life well-lived before it is done.  

In life there are givers and takers.
You remember what Jesus said about the takers.  "They have had their reward."  You choose which you will be.
Just one man's opinion.


Sunday, February 05, 2012

Americans ARE Passionate About Sports - We Just Express It Differently

Okay, I'm not going to get into it with any of your Chinese Communists or Peruvian leftist guerrillas about whether Americans just don't "get" soccer because we're stupid, shallow and decadent. I've addressed that already in an earlier blog - "How Soccer Teaches Us That The Whole World is Nicer, Smarter and in All Ways Better Than We Are".

So as of this morning, the death toll in Egypt is 74 after an incident at the most civilized of all sporting events. Apparently fans of the two teams stormed the field afterwards and commenced beating each other senseless. Then the local cops and military joined in the fun and shot a few of the more excitable fans.

You know how much I hate pointing out flaws in the logic of others, but soccer doesn't seem to me to be a very civilized sport. As to the civility of its fans, that is even less demonstrable.

Americans are not one whit less passionate about football or baseball or basketball than their stampeding soccer brethren around the world. We just simply don't feel a compelling need to trample each other to death at sporting events.  The occasional redneck mother may have to cool off in the local jailhouse after a particularly exciting high school football game, but we don't get a lot of mass violence. Here's why:

  1. Our entire identity does not get wrapped up in a single sport. If our guys lose the football championship, there's always basketball, then baseball or hockey and even soccer for the truly desperate for something to do. If your guys lose in one sport, they may win in another so it's not that big a deal.  Nobody in America expects their team to win every year and most of the leagues are small enough that your team will eventually find it's way to the World Series, Superbowl, The Final Four or the Rose Bowl. In soccer, your team has a much slimmer chance of making it to a World Cup.  In addition, most countries seriously trying for a World Cup Championship are poor countries. The only way they have a chance to stick it to the rich countries is by kicking their butt in the World Cup. They really NEED to kick some rich country butt, so the fans come to these games already primed for trouble.
  2. Sports events are social gatherings in the United States. It's all about stuffing your face with food and hanging with four friends who are major B.S. artists. We're not likely to stampede after we've eaten 10 pounds of hot dogs, a trash can full of nachos and enough beer to dull the senses of a hippopotamus. When the game is over, we may be barely aware of it.
  3. Most popular American sports allow for plenty of scoring. And isn't that what you come to a game to see - scoring!  In a soccer game you can easily sit through an hour and a half watching the ball roll up and down the field without ever going into the net, then run down to the concession stand for a taco a falafal or kolaches and miss the only score of the game. American sports tend to be a series of discreet contests with a climax and score at the end. Each down in footballs is a miniature contest. In every game your team wins some of these contests and loses some, but most of the time they manage to score. Same with baseball which is a series of discreet duels between the pitcher and batter supported by their teams. In basketball, someone slam dunks one every couple of minutes to help bleed off the blood lust of the fans. Even in hockey, the players oblige us with a little exchange of sticks and a trip to the penalty box to help hold our attention. My theory is that a low-scoring soccer game causes an elevation in blood pressure and increase in heart palpitation among fans and mimics the fight or flight response. Soccer fans are always running out onto the field and starting fights with one another. There's nothing to bleed off the rampant emotional energy of the fans. There's little or no communal satisfaction from scoring  or successful plays at regular intervals. The only thing that stops the game for a breather are penalties and who really understands those? Everybody, as a result gets mad at the refs for one reason or another. What else is there to do? No wonder that by the end of the game the fans are ready to poke each others' eyes out.
  4. Most Americans don't have the attention span for soccer or for sustained carnage for that matter.. We also don't have the attention spans to plan and maintain any real level of violence over a game where the final score was 1 to 2. Such a pitifully low score seems hardly worth the effort.  I was going to study to be a soccer ref one time, but decided that it wasn't worth studying that hard to ref a sport that hates it's officials so much and that I don't really like anyway. All this might change with the increasing popularity of soccer these days (I have a theory that it's the cost of equipment that may account for it. Have you priced a baseball glove lately?) Do you realize that thanks to a poor economy, we may be raising a boomer generation of kids who understand the offside rule in soccer and actually care about whether or not anybody obeys it? The next thing you know we'll have fans flinging Starbucks latte's at one another at a Seattle Sounders game.
  5. Most Americans don't find sporting events worth dying for. That's why we buy big screen TVs 50 pounds of chips and a gallon of onion dip and barbecue 3 or 4 buckets of chicken in preparation for watching the big game at home. We like watching sports in small groups, surrounded by people we love, but who are unlikely to trample us to death or strike us with anything more deadly than a bag of Doritos. We may die young, but it'll likely be from a heart attack rather than a sound trampling.
I don't know about you, but if I'm ever killed as the result of a sport, it'll be me sporting with my Sweet Baboo and we'll be making an attempt on a Kama Sutra position that neither of us have any business trying at our ages.