Saturday, November 21, 2015

Fortunate sons (and daughters)

This Thanksgiving many of us will enjoy family gatherings around tables weighed down with lots of food. Some of us won't be that lucky because we're alone and/or poor. Too many of the poor and lonely did nothing more to deserve that fate than to be unlucky, born in the wrong place or the wrong time or both. On the other hand, too many of us with better fortunes think it's more important to err on the side of safety rather than compassion. We need to better remember our history. I'm not writing about Columbus here, but about the "Pilgrims." You know, those who came here seeking freedom to practice their religion free from persecution because they were "different."

wild turkey, almost America's symbol
wild turkey, almost America's symbol
Photo by J. Harrington

Too many of them, and those who followed, rewarded the welcome offered by North America's indigenous inhabitants, a welcome which we celebrate this Thursday, with fraud, genocide and attempts at enforced assimilation. If the Borg had existed in those days, they could have served as role models for many American settlers and the policies of the US government. Someone (George Santayana) much wiser than I once wrote "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it." If Native Americans had responded to Pilgrims as too many of our politicians believe we want them to respond to today's "Pilgrims" from Syria and elsewhere in the Middle East, I doubt hardly any of us would be looking forward to this Thursday's celebrations. Perhaps, instead, having been born ourselves in Syria, or Iraq, or Afganistan, because that's where our parents, and their parents and ... were born, we'd find ourselves on the outside trying to get in.

Back in the days when I was younger and sure I knew everything worth knowing, I heard a American folk singer named Baez sing a Phil Ochs written song titled There but for Fortune. I remember those lyrics (and that voice) when I encounter, from the safety of my home in rural Minnesota, reports of terrorism in Paris and Mali, and, closer to home, reports of protests in Minneapolis over the police killing of an unarmed black man. I can do nothing about having been born a "Fortunate Son" because none of us have any choice or control over the circumstances of our birth. I have, fortunately for me, lots that I can do to support increased social and environmental justice in the U.S.A and especially in my adopted home of Minnesota. That's something I'll be grateful for this Thursday. How about you?

Bless Their Hearts

By Richard Newman 
At Steak ‘n Shake I learned that if you add
“Bless their hearts” after their names, you can say
whatever you want about them and it’s OK.
My son, bless his heart, is an idiot,

she said. He rents storage space for his kids’

toys—they’re only one and three years old!

I said, my father, bless his heart, has turned

into a sentimental old fool. He gets

weepy when he hears my daughter’s greeting
on our voice mail. Before our Steakburgers came
someone else blessed her office mate’s heart,
then, as an afterthought, the jealous hearts
of the entire anthropology department.
We bestowed blessings on many a heart
that day. I even blessed my ex-wife’s heart.
Our waiter, bless his heart, would not be getting
much tip, for which, no doubt, he’d bless our hearts.
In a week it would be Thanksgiving,
and we would each sit with our respective
families, counting our blessings and blessing
the hearts of family members as only family
does best. Oh, bless us all, yes, bless us, please
bless us and bless our crummy little hearts.


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