It’s Been 19 Years and We Still Need to Remember

Nineteen years ago today most of us woke to horrible news: nearly 3,000 people woke up on the last day of their lives. We watched New York (NY), Arlington (VA) and Shanksville (PA) with horror as terrorists hijacked planes and crashed them into the World Trade Centers, the Pentagon, and a field in Shanksville.

I remember telling a friend that at the end of my life I’ll tell someone about this about who wasn’t even born in 2001. In the days following 9/11 I spend time listening to hospice patients who needed to tell me about their experience hearing about Pearl Harbor.

But they told me about how Pearl Harbor brought people together, how young men (and many women) lined up to volunteer to defend our nation. They told me that World War II was hell but at the end of the war they were proud to have contributed to victory over fascism and allowed Europe and Japan to embrace democracy.

In the following decades the United States helped rebuild Japan and Europe.

But in the nineteen years since 9/11 we’ve gone in a different direction. Many Americans turned anger against Muslims in the false belief that they hate us and were somehow complicit. They weren’t. Currently there are 3,000,000 Muslims in the United States and they overwhelmingly love the US as much as we do.

Unfortunately the current US President, Donald Trump, loves nothing more than blaming his troubles on “others.” We are a nation who deserves better than this. We are a nation who needs to continue to mourn our losses and at the same time looks forward to healing, peace, and reconciliation.

Next year we will commemorate 20 years since 9/11. Let us work toward being a nation worthy of their sacrifice.

COVID Fatigue

Earlier this year we learned about COVID-19, a virus that likely originated in Wuhan, China.

Despite President Trump’s claim that the virus’ fault lies with China we are faced with a worldwide virus that we all need to deal with.

In the middle of March much of our nation “closed down.” We decided that some businesses needed to remain open and were deemed essential, among them grocery stores. Almost all of us listened to the voices of intelligence and reason.

Many people began working from home and they are the fortunate ones. Many more got laid off and needed to apply for unemployment insurance. Finally others, classified as “essential” kept working.

Everyone sacrificed but we hoped (at the time) that if we all pulled together we could “flatten the curve,” ie, prevent an increase of cases and get through the first wave by early summer.

Wave? In 1918 we suffered an enormous Influenza Pandemic (unfortunately misnamed Spanish Flu). The first wave started in March of 1918 with the first reported case in Kansas. It was thought to be a slightly more contagious version of the seasonal flu and by August there was reason to believe it was over.

But in November of 1918 troops began returning home from Europe after World War I and many carried the virus. By the time it was done it had infected 500 million people and killed between 20 million and 50 million.

When we started to learn about COVID-19 scientists from organizations like the Centers for Disease Control and Preventions (CDC) and the National Institute of Allergy and Infections Diseases advised that the virus decides when the country will open back up.

I guess President Trump didn’t get the memo. On March 24th he suggested that we return to normal on Easter.

Fortunately we didn’t, but by the end of April many states (primarily in the South) began to reopen against the advice of nearly anyone smart enough to be part of the discussion. Georgia was the first, reopening on April 30th. Other states followed.

And the curve, which was flattening in early May, took off again. As I write this the United States has reported over 4 million cases.

For those of us who have followed directions about wearing masks and keeping 6 feet of distance, it’s been frustrating beyond words. I had hoped by this time I wouldn’t have to wear a mask but with this resurgence it appears we’ll have to keep doing this until scientists develop a vaccine.

Now we’re talking about Covid Quarantine Fatigue. I can tell you from personal experience that it’s real. Covid fatigue describes the weariness of having to work from home, wear a mask, and socially distance.

But I will also give another symptom: anger. I’m angry at all those who refuse to follow guidelines and wear masks when shopping or getting coffee.

Some claim that this is a matter of personal freedom (but are willing to avoid a ticket by wearing a seatbelt while in a car). Others claim that they have health conditions that prevent them from wearing a mask. I have asthma and I can tell you that wearing a mask is a burden. After a few minutes I start sweating from my head and back (which I don’t understand). But I wear it anyway. I wear it because I’m willing to sweat to keep the people around me safe. I have no no patience for those who claim an exception.

And I know that I’m going to have to wear a mask for the foreseeable future because those who claim the mantle of personal freedom refuse to acknowledge personal responsibility.

In 1940 ordinary citizens of England suffered nightly bombing raids from Germany in the Battle of Britain. Germany believed that nightly bombing raids on major English cities would break the spirit of England and they would negotiate a peace treaty. It didn’t work. Instead all households were ordered to turn off all their lights at night ensuring that the German bombers couldn’t find their targets.

I write this because it worked. British homes “blacked out” their homes and won the battle. But imagine if ordinary British households believed in individual rights over corporate responsibility. Imagine that some percentage of British citizens claimed that they had the right to keep their lights on and were willing to take the chance of being bombed.

That’s fine but turning on your lights not only endangers you but your neighbors. Your irresponsible decision not only puts you in harm’s way but also those unfortunate enough to live next to you. It doesn’t matter that they’ve sacrificed for the common good because you refuse.

So for all of those who refuse to wear a mask, I hope you’re happy.

Yom Hahshoah at 75

Earlier this week the Jewish community remembered Yom Hahshoah, the commemoration of the Holcaust. In the Jewish calendar it’s commemorated on the 27th day of the month of Nissan. We remember Yom Hashoah because every one of us needs to ensure this never happens again.

Here’s what we need to know:

  • It didn’t begin with Auschwitz. It began with blame.
  • It began with xenophobia.
  • It began when one man blamed others and abandoned the idea that we are all in this together.
  • It began when this one man saw he could advance himself by dividing others.
  • It began when he saw he could lie without abandon and be believed.
  • It ended with the deaths of 6,000,000 Jews and 4,000,000 others.
  • It ended when this one man killed himself and avoided taking responsibility for his actions.
  • It ended when the forces for Good spend billions of dollars and decades healing the world.

It began with blame. Let us not let it happen again.

Thoughts on Lent 2020

I write this on the evening of Ash Wednesday, the day that begins the 40 day preparation for Easter. Ash Wednesday commemorates the time that Jesus fasted in the wilderness before his passion, death, and resurrection. Catholics and other Christians commemorate this in different ways. As children many of us were told we should give up something we like (candy, soda, etc.). Adults were told to give up things that were bad for them (tobacco, alcohol, etc.).

A few decades ago some followers suggested that instead of giving up something we like we could chose to do something positive. I remember someone deciding to pick up a piece of trash everyday. He had no illusion that this would end the problem of worldwide trash but it would make him more aware of our need to care for the world. I also know someone who decided to spend Lent making certain that he would compliment someone every day. He would say “good job” or “I like working with you” or whatever.

Three years ago Pope Francis enumerated a list of things we can do for Lent and I keep coming back to it. And I wish to share it with you:

Fast from hurting words and say kind words.
Fast from sadness and be filled with gratitude.
Fast from anger and be filled with patience.
Fast from pessimism and be filled with hope.
Fast from worries and trust in God.
Fast from complaints and contemplate simplicity.
Fast from pressures and be prayerful.
Fast from bitterness and fill your heart with joy.
Fast from selfishness and be compassionate to others.
Fast from grudges and be reconciled.
Fast from words and be silent so you can listen.

Thank you Francis.

We Still Miss Those Who Flew on the Challenger

On this day 34 days ago many of us gathered around a television set to watch a horrific event. That morning the Space Shuttle Challenger exploded 73 seconds after launch and all seven astronauts died. That day we lost:

At the time I was the Director of Religious Education at All Saints Catholic Church in Manassas, Virginia. It was ordinary morning until my secretary Edye McIntyre (1928-2008) got a call and expressed her grief. When I heard the news my first reaction was: “Oh no, not with the teacher.” It was a hard day.

We humans have always felt the need to explore. What’s over those mountains? What’s across that sea? Can we reach the moon? Can we reach other planets or galaxies? Let’s try.

All attempts put us in danger but we explore nonetheless.

Thirty four years later let us honor these brave Americans whose sacrifice made our exploration better. And let us honor the teacher, and all those teachers who have inspired us.

Auschwitz, 75 Years Later

Today, January 27th, we commemorate the day in 1945 when Soviet troops liberated the most famous of the Nazi’s concentration camps, Auschwitz. From 1940 to 1945, 1,100,000 men, women, and children were murdered. Most were Jews, but the Nazi’s also murdered Roma (Gypsies), political prisoners, and gays. It’s important to remember them too.

Seventy five years out it’s easy to parrot the phrase “Never again” but that’s not enough. This genocide didn’t begin with the opening of Auschwitz, it began much earlier and “never again” commands that we challenge and call out antisemitism before it becomes the norm, before it becomes acceptable.

Germany after World War I was a mess. Not only did they lose the war, but they were forced into poverty by England and France who demanded crushing reparations.

A few years into this an Austrian who fought for Germany as a lance corporal saw an opportunity. His name was Adolf Hitler (1889-1945). He decided that the real source of German suffering wasn’t the Treaty of Versailles but the Jews.

He was a brilliant communicator and was able to convince much of his adopted country that if they could only get rid of the Jews their future would be bright. He was raised Catholic and used a longstanding myth that the Jews killed Jesus Christ to make antisemitism reasonable to Christians. It worked.

Seventy five years ago, when we learned the horrors of the Holocaust, antisemitism became unacceptable in most quarters. But every year since then we’ve seen antisemitism become more and more acceptable. In August of 2017, at a rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, we heard, to our horror, the phrase: “The Jews Will Not Replace Us.”

This was part of a larger campaign called “Unite the Right.” Our President, when asked about this campaign, claimed that there were “very fine people on both sides.”

He’s wrong. Fine people aren’t white supremacists. Fine people aren’t anti-Semites.

If we want to ensure there will never be another Auschwitz we need to call out antisemitism when it begins, not when it becomes deadly.

The Trump Chronicles, Volume 132: Cokie Roberts is Praying For You (and I’m Trying)

Yesterday I posted about the death of Cokie Roberts (1943-2019). As you can imagine people from around the world have posted remembrances and condolences.

President Obama said this: “Michelle and I are sad to hear about the passing of Cokie Roberts. She was a trailblazing figure; a role model to young women at a time when the profession was still dominated by men; a constant over forty years of a shifting media landscape and changing world, informing voters about the issues of our time and mentoring young journalists every step of the way. She will be missed ― and we send our condolences to her family.”

President George W. Bush said this: “We are deeply saddened that Cokie Roberts is no longer with us. She covered us for decades as a talented, tough, and fair reporter. We respected her drive and appreciated her humor. She became a friend. We know Steve, their children, and grandchildren are heartbroken. They have our sincere sympathies.”

Meanwhile, our current President (who must not be named) said this: “I never met her. She never treated me nicely. But I would like to wish her family well. She was a professional, and I respect professionals. I respect you guys a lot, you people a lot. She was a real professional,”

Way to make it about you.

RIP Cokie Roberts

This morning we received bad news: Cokie Roberts died of cancer.

Some who read this will not recognize her name, but those of us who follow the news recognize how much we owe her. She was a journalist who joined National Public Radio in 1978. At the time women often found themselves without a voice, without a path toward reporting the news. NPR deserves credit for hiring Cokie, Susan Stanberg, Nina Totenberg, and Linda Wertheimer. To this day they are known as the “Founding Mothers” of National Public Radio.

Cokie came from a political family. Her father was famously House Majority Leader Hale Boggs (1914-1972). He served his home state of Louisiana in Congress. He recognized his role in campaigning for other Democrats and on October 16, 1972 his plane was lost in Alaska while he was campaigning for Nick Begich.

Cokie’s mother, Lindy Boggs (1916-2013) took her husband’s seat and served until 1991.

Cokie worked as a journalist with NPR and ABC. Her voice resonated in our living rooms for decades and it informed and educated us. Her voice made us recognize that womens’ voices are not alternatives: her voice told us that her voice mattered. Her passion in the last 40 years taught girls and young women that their voices mattered and they had a place in our national discussion.

For women who now find know their voices heard, please know that the thresholds you step over were walls that Cokie broke through.

God Bless you Cokie.

Remembering This Day Eighteen Years Later

September 11, 2001 began ordinarily for us. It was a Tuesday morning and my parents were in town to see the home we purchased five months earlier. It was a good visit and they expected to return to Virginia the next day.

Shortly before 6AM our alarm turned on the radio and we began to get ready for work. But we soon learned that a passenger plane crashed into the North Tower of the World Trade Center. In the next few hours we learned that another plane crashed into the South Tower, a third plane crashed into the Pentagon, and a fourth plane crashed into rural Pennsylvania when passengers gave their lives to prevent a crash into the White House.

On that day many of us went to work in a blur of grief, fear, and uncertainty. I spent the morning in a meeting. After the meeting we planned to have lunch to celebrate the birthday of one of my coworkers. It was a hard lunch as we spent the whole time watching the television in the restaurant.

I spent the afternoon and the next few days visiting patients who wanted to talk about Pearl Harbor. They recognized the bewilderment and the fear of knowing that outside forces drove us into a frightening future. In some ways their memories comforted me because they told me how this attack drew our nation together and good eventually triumphed against evil.

This is a day to remember those who stepped up: the passengers of United Flight 93 who gave their lives and saved the White House; the first responders in New York who gave their lives running into the fire; the Pentagon workers who ran into the fire to save their coworkers.

Also those who spent weeks and months at Ground Zero digging through the rubble who were lied to about the risk and suffer to this day.

To those who lost loved ones, that day and since, I say this: One day we will all be in Heaven and all will be well.

Evil isn’t powerless but it will never defeat good.

Fifty Years Ago Today: Do I Need To Explain?

Fifty years ago today I was, along with my family and the rest of the world, glued to our black and white television set. And I have to confess something: when Neil Armstrong (1930-2012) set foot on the moon he uttered these words: “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind,” I couldn’t figure out what he meant. I was once told that he was supposed to say: “That’s one giant leap for a man, one giant leap for mankind” and that makes more sense.

But more to the point, I knew as a 9 year old that I was watching something that would be in history books. I witnessed something that future generations would only read about.
July 20, 1969 was a good day for America, but it was also a good day for all humanity. We are born to explore, whether it be Christopher Columbus (1451-1506), or Ferdinand Magellan (1480-1521), or Sir Edmund Hillary (1919-2008).

Fifty years later we still have the same curiosity over what lies beyond. Space travel continues to fascinate us as next frontier. Fifty years later we may not know the next step, but we know there will be a next step.

While we celebrate, let us also remember the costs of space travel. The space race in the United States has yielded sixteen lives and we should honor them. They died in our quest to explore: