The Thoughts and Musings of Tom Allain

If this is going to be a Christian nation that doesn't help the poor, either we have to pretend that Jesus was just as selfish as we are, or we've got to acknowledge that He commanded us to love the poor and serve the needy without condition and then admit that we just don't want to do it

Stephen Colbert
(b.1964)

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Archive for the ‘Remembering’ Category

The War That Didn’t End All Wars

Thursday, April 6th, 2017

One hundred years ago today, April 6, 1917, House of Representatives voted 373 to 50 to accept President Woodrow Wilson’s request to declare war on Germany. This came four days after President Wilson formally requested a declaration of war and two days after the Senate voted 82 to 6.

Obviously it wasn’t called “World War I” because nobody expected that there would be a World War II 22 years after the end of this war. Some called it “The Great War” but others optimistically called it the War To End All Wars. It wasn’t.

Peace was declared on November 11, 1918. By that time 116,516 Americans were killed in battle, including the poet Joyce Kilmer.

May they all rest in peace.

The Trump Chronicles, Volume 44: Executive Order 9066 Matters (and He Has No Clue)

Sunday, February 19th, 2017

This may be obscure to many, but it shouldn’t be. Seventy five years ago today President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066.

February 19, 1942 came a little over two months after the attack on Pearl Harbor and the entry of the United States into World War II.

Inevitably war leads to a demonizing of the enemy. During World War I, in this country, “sauerkraut” was renamed “victory cabbage” and during Operation Iraqi Freedom “french fries” became “freedom fries.”

Oftentimes this demonizing is harmless, but not always. The demonization of Japanese led to the false belief that Japanese Americans couldn’t be trusted. Executive Order 9066 led to the mass deportation of 110,000 people of Japanese descent. It didn’t matter if you were a citizen, or that you pledged loyalty to the United States. If you had Japanese ancestors, you were eligible to be moved. If you had a home, you couldn’t stay there. If you had a farm, you needed to leave. If you owned a business you were forced to abandon it. Many were given less than a week to sell what they had, and nearly all of them lost everything.

When they were released at the end of the war, almost all of them needed to start over.

I write this today because today’s demon isn’t Japanese but Muslim. On December 7, 2015 (the anniversary of Pearl Harbor), Candidate Trump called for a complete ban on Muslims entering the United States.

Late last month I wrote about Mr. Trump’s Executive Order restricting entry into the United States from seven countries. He insists that this isn’t meant as a ban on Muslims but we’re not fooled.

Seventy five years ago today we assumed Japanese Americans couldn’t be trusted. Today our leadership assumes Muslims can’t be trusted.

We have learned nothing from past discrimination.

Thoughts On the End of 2016

Saturday, December 31st, 2016

The end of the year always causes us to think back on the past and look forward to the next. And on any given year there are some who celebrate because it’s been a hard year they’re ready to see it go.

My worst day of 2016 was August 4th when I learned of the death of my friend Fr. Henry Rodriguez. He died much too suddenly and much too soon.

My 2nd worst day was election day, November 4th. For weeks I advised everyone not to worry about Donald Trump because there was no way he would win. I was wrong.

And so as I say goodbye to 2016 I have to confess concern for 2017. Typically we look toward the new year with optimism. But twenty days into 2017 we will inaugurate someone that most of us didn’t vote for. I’m not jumping on the bandwagon to bash the Electoral College but our nation will be led by a man who didn’t win the popular vote, who likely won the electoral vote because a foreign nation successfully steered the vote in his direction. And yet he claims he won on a landslide.

This post is tagged in the “praying” category for a reason.

John Glen Was a True American Hero. Do You Know Who Was His Hero?

Friday, December 9th, 2016

In the last few days many of us read about the death of John Glenn (1921-2016). His life embodied the best of the 20th Century. As a young man he joined the Marines and flew F-4U planes. He flew 59 combat missions in World War II. A few years later he flew an additional 63 missions in Korea.

He was also the first American to orbit the earth in space. He was the last surviving member of the original Mercury 7 astronauts, the first Americans in space. If you haven’t read Thomas Wolfe’s book The Right Stuff you should.

After his career with NASA ended he served his home state of Ohio as a U.S. Senator from 1975 to 1999.

By any measure he was an American hero. But his hero was his wife Anne.

You see, Anne lived much of her life with a stutter. Many of us learned about this from the brilliant movie The King’s Speech about King George VI.

Anne’s stutter was so severe that she could barely speak in front of others. You can read an excellent article from 2012 here. When taking a cab she would write the address on a piece of paper; at restaurants she would point to what she wanted on the menu. Time and again she sought treatments, but nothing worked until she found a doctor in Roanoke, Virginia.

For three weeks in 1973 she worked harder than I can imagine. And it worked. At the end of the program she called her husband. Hearing her speak he cried. And he dropped to his knees to thank God.

In the years since she has become a public speaker. She advocates not only for our brothers and sisters who stutter, but for all those who live with disabilities.

Full disclosure: I’ve always loved speaking in public and the fear of looking at a group of people and feeling paralyzed eludes me. That said, I can only imagine fearing the stare of a restaurant server and needing to point to my choice on the menu.

She’s my hero too.

Reflections on Memorial Day 2016

Monday, May 30th, 2016

Shortly after the end of the Civil War, also called The War Between the States, families began to gather in cemeteries to remember those who died. At first it was called Decoration Day.

By 1868 General John A. Logan (1826-1886) proclaimed May 30th a day to remember those who died in battle. He was the Commander in Chief of the Grand Army of the Republic, an organization of Civil War veterans. It has since been moved to the last Monday in May.

Eventually Decoration Day became Memorial Day and it was made a federal holiday in 1971.

We’ve all heard the phrase “freedom isn’t free” and our history is replete with young men and women who gave their lives for our freedom. We can never know how many and my attempt to dive into the weeds proved fruitless. Suffice it to say that we need to honor all of them.

And so let me begin my soapbox. We find ourselves in an election year and in November many of us will have the opportunity to choose our leaders. And not without reason it’s become fashionable to lament the lack of worthy leaders. But if we allow this to keep us home on election day we disrespect those who we claim to honor today.

In many arenas we are tasked with choosing between less than ideal selections. Our responsibility to those who gave their lives is no less important in 2016 than it was in 1788 or 1860.

Let’s vote people!

A Day To Remember

Thursday, March 24th, 2016

I know that we all carry certain dates in our memories: our birthday, the birthdays of our spouse, children, siblings, friends, etc.

Today is one of those days for me.

On this day in 1909 my maternal grandmother, Imelda Mailloux Cazeault was born in Gardner, Massachusetts. Blessed by good fortune I was able to spend part of my summers growing up with her and my grandfather, Thomas Joseph Boyle Cazeault. She died on August 9, 1981 and I was blessed to be one of her pallbearers. I miss her still.

My grandmother was blessed with 72 years among us. Alas, the other memorial is sadder. My father’s older brother, Andre Joseph Allain (who continues to be known as “Tonto”) was born on March 24, 1928. He died tragically and accidentally on July 4, 1964. I was four years old and don’t remember him. But my parents, cousins, aunts and uncles have filled in the blanks. By all accounts he would have become the “cool uncle” that I would have revered. That said, I had several “cool uncles:” Uncle Chet, Uncle Ed, Uncle Joe, Uncle Norman (who is still alive), Uncle Ziggy, Uncle Al, and Uncle Roland.

That said I’m sad I didn’t get to know Uncle Tonto. Happy Birthday to you both.

I Had a Conversation That Made Me Think: What Would I Say To Me at Twelve Years Old?

Saturday, February 27th, 2016

In the course of my work as a hospice chaplain I have the opportunity to speak with all sorts of people with all sorts of experiences, and of all sorts of ages.

I recently had a chance to speak with a 12 (nearly 13) year old girl whose relative was on hospice. We spoke about the usual things, including the question of what she’ll do when she grows up. She was equal parts hopeful and fearful. I remember well thinking I had to choose a path as a teenager that would inform the rest of my life. But now I know how silly that was.

In my parents’ generation most people worked in the same field (if not with the same employer) for their entire career. In my generation most of us worked in the same or related fields for a good part of our career, even if we had multiple employers. That’s the case with me. I’ve had a few unrelated jobs: I worked at libraries in Woodbridge, Virginia and at Mount Vernon College, and I spent 6 months working for the Salvation Army.

But the bulk of my career has centered on faith. I’ve been a seminarian, Director of Religious Education, Youth Minister, priest, and hospice chaplain. Interestingly enough, I’ve spent the last 18 years as a hospice chaplain, a position that barely existed when I was twelve. As a matter of fact, it was a volunteer position until 1982.

When speaking with this young lady I encouraged her to dream big and recognize that she may well spend a good part of her career in a field that doesn’t even exist now. I graduated from high school in 1978 and none of my classmates found their future in internet startups, only because the internet didn’t exist.

But our conversation got me thinking about what I would say to the 12 year old me if I had the chance. Here’s what I think I would say:

  • Forget about your classmates whose approval you crave. By the time you’re 30 you won’t even remember their names. They are playing the same “please like me” game you’re playing and if they are more successful it won’t translate into anything with meaning beyond high school.
  • You know that teacher who won’t let up on you? The teacher who keeps telling you that you can do something you don’t think you can (or want to) do? That’s a name you’ll remember. This teacher gave you a gift: you’re more than you think you are and you’ll be more than you think you’ll ever be. Say a prayer for him or her.
  • Oh yes, and that girl who doesn’t know you’re crazy about her? Yeah, maybe she’ll be your girlfriend and maybe she won’t. Maybe you’ll be too shy to talk with her or maybe she’ll shoot you down. In any case you’ll find the person for you and you’ll be happy she did the same.

Finally, relax. None of the stuff you worry about will really hurt you. You never saw your greatest gifts and your greatest tragedies coming. And yet you find yourself still here and your greatest tragedies were you best teachers.

And while your greatest tragedies were your best teachers, your greatest gifts were your best celebrations. Maybe it was the day you got married, likely it was the day your children were born, but in any case they were experiences you cannot explain, only experience. And worst of all, you don’t have the vocabulary to fully translate how you’re feeling at that moment.

It Was Seventy One Years Ago Today: D Day

Saturday, June 6th, 2015

June 6, 1944 is a day most members of the Greatest Generation will never forget. By 1944 everyone knew that Allied Forces stationed in England would need to make an amphibious landing on the coast of France. Nobody (or at least almost nobody) knew where or when.

The English Channel is a little over 20 miles wide at its narrowest (in the Strait of Dover) and Adolf Hitler, among others, believed the invasion would start there, in Calais. It didn’t.

The invasion instead was south of Calais, near the villages of Caen and Bayeux. They hoped to join their forces at St. Lo.

It was chaotic from the very beginning. The weather was not cooperative and many of the paratroopers were dropped far from where they were supposed to be.

Nevertheless, this day was ultimately successful. The Allied troops were able to claim a beachhead and begin the march toward Berlin. Ten months later the Nazis surrendered and Europe was once again free from tyranny (at least those countries not conquered by the Soviet Union.

I’ve spoken with several of the troops who landed at Normandy that day. Their memories continue to move me to tears. I can’t help but know that the first few waves landed and understood that their jobs were to use up all the Nazi bullets. I remember one man telling me that they were told to get off the transport boat and start marching: if the man next to you goes down, don’t try to help him. Just keep marching. He defied that order when the guy next to him walked off the transport boat and stepped into a divot in the ocean and fell in over his head (and was in danger of drowning). This man told me he defied orders by grabbing the collar of his buddy and dragged him back up.

He also told me that during the transport he saw the soldiers doing several things. Some were praying the rosary, some were staying silent, and some were playing dice. It’s hard to imagine being on a transport, as a teenager or young adult, knowing this may well be the last day, or the last hour of your life. By sunset on this day, 71 years ago, they were all grateful to be alive.

I’m grateful too.

On This Day 150 Years Ago: A Bad Day

Tuesday, April 14th, 2015

My last post celebrated a good day: the day the Civil War ended. Our newly reunited nation rejoiced and nobody was more grateful than our President, Abraham Lincoln. Even before the war ended he was outlining the plan to bring back the states that wanted to secede. He articulated a process that would echo the Biblical parable of the Prodigal Son.

In one of the cruelest twists in American history, a man who hated Lincoln killed him 150 years ago today. John Wilkes Booth first devised a plan to kidnap the president as a bargaining chip to force the Union to ransom him in return for Southern emancipation. When the South surrendered on April 9th, Booth’s plan lost its purpose. Booth, a frequent actor at Ford’s Theater, found out on the morning of April 14th, that President Lincoln would attend the play This American Cousin that evening. He took that opportunity to kill Lincoln instead of kidnapping him. The plan was greater than that. He devised a plan where he would kill President Lincoln. George Atzerodt would kill Vice President Andrew Johnson, and Lewis Powell would kill Secretary of State William Seward.

George Atzerodt got drunk and didn’t attempt to kill Johnson, Powell was able to wound but not kill Seward, and only Booth carried out his mission.

Booth was shot to death on April 26th. Azerodt and Payne were executed on July 7th (along with Mary Surratt and David Herold)

On This Date 150 Years Ago the Civil War Ended

Thursday, April 9th, 2015

On April 9, 1865 two men met at Appomattox Court House and signed a document that silenced thousands of guns and ended possibly the worst era in our history.

Confederate General Robert E. Lee (1807-1870) surrendered the forces of the Confederate States of America to Ulysses S. Grant (1822-1885) and the Grand Army of the Republic.

Four years earlier the nation was torn apart when eleven states succeeded from the union in an effort to preserve states’ rights and slavery. Neither side expected the other to last long and both expected to win the war handily. The union didn’t think the confederates had the resources or commitment to fight a long war and the confederates didn’t think the union had the desire to preserve the union. They were both wrong.

By the winter of 1865 the nation was in shambles. About 620,000 soldiers died from combat, disease, or starvation. The confederates suffered the lion’s share and its troops were starving. General Lee recognized that he had no choice and asked for terms of peace. He had no idea what that would mean for him or his troops.

General Grant rose to the occasion. He told General Lee that his troops could go home (and not be prisoners). His officers could keep their sidearms. And the union troops fed the starving confederate troops. You can read more about this in an article written by Douglas Brinkley.

In fairness this was not their first meeting. They were both graduates of West Point (Lee in 1829 and Grant in 1843). They fought together in the Mexican American War from 1846 to 1848. As a matter of fact when they met at Appomattox they began to talk about that war.

Libraries have been written about this day but I have two recommendations. Bruce Catton (1899-1978) wrote several books on the Civil War and his last volume recounts the last days of the war. It’s called A Stillness At Appomattox. My next recommendation is a work of fiction that details a man who is walking home from the war. Cold Mountain by Charles Frazier gripped me from page one.