Sunday, May 30, 2010

What He Missed

In my previous post, I told you about a young man from my home town who died in Vietnam about a month before his 21st birthday. He was special to lots of people. Then I started to think about all the things he missed since his untimely death in 1967. I'm sure there are additional significant milestones, events and developments that I've forgotten, but these are what I came up with. Carl never had the chance to: -graduate from college and start a career; -hold a newborn son, daughter or grandchild; -enjoy the freedom of a cordless telephone; -watch a flat screen television in HD; -vote for our first African-American president; -use a personal computer or cellphone or GPS; -serve as best man at his best friend's wedding; -mourn the assassinations of Martin Luther King, Jr. or Bobby Kennedy; -see a single Star Wars movie; -write the great American novel; -ride in the Concorde or an ultra light plane; -watch the first human step onto the surface of the moon; -behold any of the space shuttle flights or the international space station; -celebrate the end of the cold war and demise of the Berlin Wall; -celebrate his coming-of-age 21st birthday; -figure out what LED, LCD or IDP mean; -worry about covering a bald spot; -watched CNN or cable television; -drive a front-wheel-drive car with ABS; -witness the dissolution of the U.S.S.R.; -buy a CD or DVD or even a VHS tape; -use a key card to open a door; -burn popcorn in a microwave oven; -drive the snazzy new VW Beetle or a Mini-Cooper; -shop at Ikea or Trader Joe's; -spend our new, colorful paper money; -use an electric toothbrush; -dance at a discotheque; -see auto manufacturers ditch the tailfins; -view awe-inspiring pictures from the Hubble telescope; -have a blog where he could opine at will; -try in-line skates; -see Lake Erie make a comeback from near death; So many things didn't exist and hadn't happened yet in October 1967. Life has been made easier by some inventions and more complicated by others. We waste more time fiddling with electronics than we do interacting with each other. Too few of us remember that our lives or those of people we care about could be snatched away before we take another breath. I can only guess how Carl and others of his lost generation would have reacted to life these days. I so wish they had the chance to engage in long, productive lives.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

What might have been . . .

In October 1967 a twenty years young man's life was brutally taken from him in a Vietnamese jungle. One tribute I recently read about him said that he was our generation's JFK. At first I thought it was an exaggeration, but the more I thought about it the more I had to agree. Carl Thorne-Thomsen was one of thousands of America's best who went to war in Southeast Asia. At the time, he was a popular, top student at Harvard. I learned recently that two of his friends and classmates, Al Gore and Tommy Lee Jones, were among those deeply affected by his death -- just three months after he was deployed. In high school, Carl and my brother were seniors when I was a freshman. Carl was the epitome of the straight arrow student -- clean-cut, intelligent, cute, great sense of humor incredibly popular yet humble. I don't think anyone there at that time would disagree that every girl had a crush on him and every boy wanted to be him. He was the definition of a gentleman and scholar. My 1964 yearbook reminded me that had presided over several organizations, participated in several sports, was elected king of the junior prom and won awards for scholarship and leadership. In short he did everything to make his parents proud of him without tooting his own horn. The premature death of a young person can never be justified. It wasn't necessary for Carl to die before his 21st birthday. He had a deferral from the draft. But he couldn't stand the idea that other guys were paying with their lives so that he could stay in school to earn a degree. The summer following his junior year he walked into a recruiting office and volunteered. Within three months, he was dead. I began to wonder what might have been had Carl survived and completed his degree. He could have done anything and been successful. Carl was one of those guys who would have touched many more lives in memorable and positive ways. Now when I read reports and see pictures of our casualties [such a polite sounding term for the dead] in Iraq and Afghanistan, I wonder who among them might have been their generation's JFK. Today, the young men and women who volunteer to fight our country's battles may have different reasons for enlisting -- financial, family tradition, an educational opportunity, occupational training or -- simply, heartfelt patriotism. Whatever the reasons, they know they are putting their lives on the line to protect the rest of us. Some say there is great nobility in their sacrifices. While that is true, the loss of each and every life is tragic. Who knows what impact any one of them might have had on our world. Their families and friends believe they know and grieve their losses. In the late 60s and early 70s, I was out in D.C. protesting the Vietnam War. I was tear-gassed and pepper-gassed on the U of Md. campus in College Park. When this happened, I wasn't protesting, just trying to get to classes or to my part-time job. What some still fail to realize is that we were not out there because we didn't support our troops. We didn't want them sent to Southeast Asia any more than many of them wanted to go. The military draft was a scary, demoralizing fact and ruined many lives. Guys did horrible things to avoid it. One friend shot off his own toe. The Vietnam war was a mistake and everyone knew it, but we were in too deeply to admit it. The war machine -- the military/industrial complex -- was more powerful than any gaggle of college students. We were accused of being disloyal and unAmerican. Nothing could have been further from the truth. Very simply, we wanted to stop the bloodshed and chaos inflicted on combatants and civilians alike. It was a war no one could win. The war in Iraq will not end because Americans bring it to an end. It will end when the Iraqis have had enough and send us packing. Afghanistan is a more difficult proposition because the Taliban and Al Qaeda have unlimited funding thanks in part to our bumbling and misguided allegiance to a large, oil-rich Middle Eastern nation. "Death to America" is chanted in nearly every Muslim country because we are perceived as the infidels that are trying to eradicate Islam. The United States didn't exist during the Crusades of the 4th Century, but stories of the atrocities against Muslims are still taught in their schools. Somehow we need to acknowledge the mistakes our ancestors made in the name of Christianity. The Islamist extremists believe they are avenging the crimes committed against their forefathers by the Crusaders. My incentive for posting this was not to rant about past mistakes. Rather, it was to encourage every American to take at a minute this weekend to remember people like Carl whose dreams and lives were cut short by war. Who knows what impact any one of them might have had. Maybe a young corpsman in the Korean War might have gone on to discover a cure for Lupus, or an Army nurse during World War II might have gone on to become a concert pianist. For each life lost to war, dozens if not hundreds more are affected by it. For some of our wounded warriors, death sometimes looks preferable to life as they now must live it. Suicide among veterans is a shameful legacy. Only during recent history has the military taken a stab at recognizing and treating post traumatic stress disorder and survivor guilt. How our fathers and grandfathers managed to thrive after what they saw will remain largely a mystery. My own Dad waited until weeks before his death from cancer to mention a few WWII experiences. These came out only when I asked what he thought about a PBS special on WWII. Those of us who have not served in the military owe more than we can ever repay to our active military, their families and veterans. Rolling Thunder comes through town to remind us of this obligation. These guys realize how lucky they are to have survived. They also crave support as they agonize over lost buddies. So, for Carl and so many others whose chances to contribute to society were stolen before they could even offer their service, I will take time to reflect on what might have been and what is. It's the very least any of us can do.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Idiotic or Brilliant?

Watching coverage of the horrendous and continuing oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico I'm troubled by the idea of spreading dispersing agents over the oil. Yes, it breaks the oil into smaller blobs, but it doesn't remove it. It's going to wind up more widely spread this way, isn't it. Dispersing it just seems like a cosmetic fix to me. Wouldn't it be easier to scoop up the blobs if they were bigger and more solid? Isn't there some way to coagulate or congeal the gunk into scoopable chunks? Someone with knowledge of these things, please set me straight.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Something else a woman must bear

So there I sat, wearing the equivalent of an opened paper napkin with cap sleeves and a string to tie it around the neck. Even for an average sized lady this thing is not going to maintain her modesty. Being a well-endowed lady, wearing this thing open in the front -- as instructed -- could get me arrested for indecent exposure. So I leave it open in the back choosing to reveal my bare back rather than my front. Folks walking by the big windows in the waiting area get a bit of a show, but not as much if we'd been facing the window. The other issue I have with this particular garment is that it is about six inches long. [Just teasing -- it's probably 10 inches long -- still too short.] Now, gravity is decidedly unkind to well endowed ladies of a certain age. The inevitability of sagging seems to slip the minds of the people who make these paper tops. Soooo . . . I spend my waiting time slouching with my arms crossed over my lap to avoid making a scene. Knowing glances from sisters also waiting to be tortured is small comfort as we all assume approximately the same position or use a strategically positioned magazine. There's an odd odor in x-ray rooms. It always makes me wonder if the rays not absorbed by body parts are doing something dastardly to the air in the room. I hope it's just my imagination. The x-ray tech. is always a cheerful, slender lady in a pastel pants suit. She's very good about keeping her eyes off the subject at hand until she has to handle the subjects. Then she gently but firmly lifts and drags one's subject onto the plastic plate. She winces sympathetically while she slides the crusher down on the subject, squeezing it to seemingly impossible proportions. We both sigh with relief once the picture is taken and the vise is released. This goes on several more times since I have history and they want to get every millimeter of tissue, including my ribs, on film. Once all the films are done, more waiting commences, only this time in the over-heated x-ray room with the funny-smelling air. Eventually a doc comes in to explain what they did or did not find. After donning my civvies again, I quickly exit the building, take a few big gasps of fresh air and thank God that I won't have to go through that again for a whole year!! P.S. I admit to laughing at jokes about how men might handle it if their subject was subject to a similar test. We both know they wouldn't do it and rather accept whatever the consequences! wimps. . .

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

What a Difference Five Years Makes -- or -- Be Careful What You Brag About

Couldn't fall asleep last night, so I dragged myself out of bed and headed for a stash of Reader's Digest magazines ona shelf under the coffee table. Novels can be too stimulating, so short, uplifting stories are a better choice for sleepless nights. Being late, I had to stifle laughing outloud when I read some "Quotable Quotes" from the June 2005 issue.
~ ~ ~
2005: Tiger Woods -- "Life isn't all golf." 2010: Well, I guess there's no question about that now, is there? The previously impeccable Mr. Woods unintentionally exposed a raunchy side when several extra-marital affairs were revealed. His wife kicked him out and his golf game may never recover.
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2005: Susan Sarandon -- "I'm certainly not an expert, but Tim [Robbins] and I just celebrated 17 years together, which in Hollywood years I think is 45." 2010: There will be no golden anniversary for those two. Susan and Tim split rather suddenly recently and don't want to talk about it.
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2005: Mel Gibson -- "I figure somewhere between kid number one and number seven, I must have learned a few things." 2010: Hmmm -- maybe not. Apparently, Mr. Gibson didn't learn to keep his pants zipped around women other than his wife. He abandoned his family to shack-up with his pregnant girlfriend then, after she delivered his eighth child, he split again.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Good Reasons

As some of you know, I grew up outside Chicago. WGN is a, local station and recently aired this PSA. If it gives you goose bumps like it did to me, I've done a good thing. The Most Beautiful Seatbelt Ad - WGN Radio Have a great weekend y'all and remember this video. It could save your life.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

A Day With My Mom

Went down to visit Mom in Solomons yesterday. These are some of her "wild roses" growing on the east side of her cottage. They smell divine and grow in great profusion.
A nasty bout of bronchitis for the past week was making her feel downright bent out of shape. She never gets sick, so when she does, I think her body is reminding her how good she usually has it. But it also seems to neglect telling her she needs to rest if she wants to get better.
When she phoned me on Monday to see if I could come down to help her a bit, she sounded like a heavy-smokin' trucker havin' a bad day! Mom had a beautiful soprano singer's voice and a pleasing speaking voice, so hearing her basso croaking, punctuated by painful-sounding coughs was a shock.
Still, we made the most of a beautiful, sun-shiny day. She took me to the C D Cafe, a tiny little place with spectacular food and great views of the river and high arching Johnson Bridge. Then we hit the local grocery store for soup, juice and more to refill her larder.
When we got back to her cottage, she hit the wall. Exhaustion slapped her upside the head and she finally realized she'd tried to do too much.
I'd been surprised about the lunch plans and had been prepared to shop for her from her list. But nooooo . . . Mom is one of those women who simply cannot slow down, until she's shot-down. She gets stir-crazy sitting around and hates being limited by illness. We optomists can be so stupid at times like these!
When I talked with her this morning, she had decided to skip what she'd planned for the day and just hole-up. Good idea!! Now if she'll just keep eating and drinking water til her eyeballs float, she should start feeling better. [fingers crossed!]

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Happy Birthday, Key!

Yesterday was my niece's birthday. I was under the influence of general anesthesia for most of the day, so I blew it. This is Carolyn in her element - the outdoors. A friend of hers caught this last summer during a hiking trip in Alaska. She's been living and working in Anchorage since graduating from William and Mary a year ago. She leads a truly charmed life thanks in no small part to her close-knit family and her own personal charisma. I'm sure she had a wonderful day and evening with all her friends. I wish I could have been there with them! Happy birthday, Key and may you enjoy many, many more!!