Sunday, January 25, 2009
Saturday, January 17, 2009
Today was a momentous day in American history...one that the media and all of the political pundits have been hyping since November 4. An African-American man was sworn in as the 44th president of the United States. As I watched the inauguration as it was streamed on the Internet while at work today, it caused me to pause and reflect on this country that we live in.
Each morning, one of the local Christian radio stations invites an elementary school classroom to recite the "Pledge of Allegiance" and they broadcast it on the air. As you can imagine, the voices are loud...and seemingling proud, as they children share these words with the listeners. At times, it's difficult to know exactly what all of the words are as they struggle with the correct pronunciations and tend to run some of the words together.
The combination of the kids reciting the pledge and the plethora of "red, white and blue" that were so prevalent today made me think about those words that I memorized as a young child and have recited myself so many times over the past 40 plus years. I'm not certain that as I learned the words to this short series of words that I ever really took the time to think about what they really mean.
"I Pledge allegiance" - do we really understand what those three words mean? No word is wasted in that short introduction. I am proclaiming that "I" as an individual am taking an action. It's not up to the next guy...or the guy down the street...or the gal in front of me at the latte stand. "I" am the one stating "my" involvement. Webster defines "pledge" as a "binding promise or agreement to do". I wonder how many of us really take that word literally as we numbly go through motions of reciting the pledge. The "obligation, devotion and loyalty" that we are promising are all too often simply an empty promise.
"to the flag, of the United States of America" - the flag...the symbol of this country that we live in. Some people take the word "flag" here too literally. I don't believe that the pledge is referring to the red, white and blue rectangular piece of fabric. We are pledge our allegiance to a symbol that represents our country. We are a group of people within the boundaries of North America that share something in common.
"and to the republic, for which it stands" - This "republican" form of government that we live in is a unique form of government, but certainly not invented by Americans. Rome was a republic...until the Caesars took control. There are countries that call themselves "Republics" that fall far short of the definition. In this country, we are a republic because we vote for those people that lead us. Today was a celebration of that process as a new president was sworn into office to lead us for the next four years. The flag that we stare at as we make the pledge represents this great country that we live in. A country that could never have elected a black man president fifty years ago because of the deep seeds of racism that permeated our society.
"One nation under God, indivisible" - There are times when it seems that we are so different as a country that to use the phrase "one nation" seems a stretch of the truth. But that's what we are, and always have been. This country was created by uniting a group of thirteen colonies made up of peoples of different nationalities and cultures. While predominantly Christian, the people were not all of the same church. But they were alike enough to put their difference behind them and unite together in a common cause...freedom. While the phrase "under God" was added to the pledge about 55 years ago, the history of this nation definitely demonstrates that God has always held a central position for the people. Our history is also full of examples that even with all of the differences that we find across the continent that we call home, we will not allow anyone, or anything, divide this country. Whether it is a difference in belief related to slavery, or attacks by enemies who live outside our nation's boundaries, the country has not allowed itself to be broken apart.
"with liberty" - simply said, liberty is freedom. It is the foundation of why we are a country...why we fought against England in the Revolutionary War and the single word that defines us as a country. Sometimes, we forget that freedom has boundaries...that freedom doesn't mean that we can exercise our freedom at the expense of someone else's. It is a word that elicits strong emotions when someone threatens to take it away from us in any form...whether it's our freedom to own a firearm or freedom to talk on our cell phone while driving our car. We don't easily part with the "freedoms" that we have.
"and justice for all." - I've learned a lot about justice over the past five years...and in some cases injustice. But the pledge is a reminder to me that the goal is that everyone in our country is to be afforded justice, regardless of who we are and what we've done. Unfortunately, emotions tend to get in the way of that lofty goal at times. It seems that some "violations" become "causes" and those causes can steam-roll the justice that our pledge proclaims...for all.
In the future, as I place my hand over my heart and recite the pledge, I hope that I take the time to reflect on the words instead of simply blindly speaking them. I hope that others around me do the same...and that as a country, we move back toward the lofty goals that this simple pledge proclaims.
Monday, January 12, 2009
Monday, January 5, 2009
Inside, the Marshall was sitting at his desk, looking through the latest "wanted" posters that had arrived in the weekly mail. He heard him before he saw him...the 'clunk-drag, clunk-drag' as he came closer to the door. Before he had a chance to get out of his chair, the front door to the jail burst open, letting in the bitter cold from outside. Standing in the doorway was a man...slim in build, snow falling from his hat as he lifted it from his head. His eyes red and watery...were they tears or was it from the weather, the Marshall couldn't tell.
"Marshall Dillon! Marshall Dillon!" the man stammered as he stood in the doorway, unaware that he had failed to close it behind him.
"Close the door and come in Chester before you let all this heat out", the Marshall said as he walked over to the pot-belly stove to fill a tattered and dented cup with steaming coffee from the ever-present coffee pot of the top of the stove. "What brings you out in this storm tonight, Chester? "
Chester struggled to find the words, choking back his tears. His voice barely audible over the howling wind outside.
"It's Festus", he whispered. "Miss Kitty just helped me take him yonder over to Doc's office. I'm a feared he's really bad Marshall."
Immediately the Marshall straightened up and reached to the wall to grab his hat. Pulling on his oilskin coat, he looked at his friend standing in front of him...seemingly lost.
"What's wrong with him?", the Marshall asked. "Did he get shot or throwed from his horse?"
"That's jes it Marshall. I dunno...and Miss Kitty don't neither."
Bracing the cold wind, the Marshall and Chester pass back out into the dark winter night. They lean into the wind as they make their way back up the path Chester had made only moments before. His bootprints barely visible as the blowing snow seemed to erase any evidence that he had been there. As he approached the stairs leading up to Doc's office, the Marshall paused.
"What if he don't make it this time?", he wondered to himself. Festus had made many trips to old Doc Adam's office over the years he had served as his deputy. But something in his gut told him this time might be a little different. He slowly made his way up the wooded stairs, Chester following a few steps behind him. As he opened the door, Miss Kitty was in the outer room staring at the closed door of the room in the back.
She turned as she heard the men enter the room.
"Oh, Matt!", she cried as she leaned into him, burying her face in the hard fabric of his oil-skin jacket. "I've never seen Festus look this bad. He's bleeding in places he shouldn't be. Doc's in with him right now." As she looked up into the Marshall's face, tears slowly streaked down her face, leaving winding trails through her make-up.
Suddenly, all eyes moved to the door in the back of the room as it opened. The white-haired Doc emerged from the room, his face haggard and tired. He rubbed his hand over his face and down over his day-old whiskers.
"How is he Doc?", the Marshall asked. The room was as quiet as a mausoleum as the Doc slowly walked over and sat down. He looked up at the Marshall and then shifted his gaze, first to Miss Kitty and then to Chester.
"I'm pretty sure he's gonna make it...this time", the Doc said. "He seems to be messed up inside some, I dunno for sure...but I don't think it's cancer. I think maybe the bleeding's cuz he's been spending too much time sitting in his saddle."
The entire room seemed to let out its collective breath as the Doc's words sunk in. Festus was going to be OK...at least for now.
Growing up with only one channel on a black and white TV set that we first got when I was almost eight years old, the classic Western "Gunsmoke" was a weekly tradition in our home. Over the years, the characters on the program became almost as familiar as our own family. Among those characters was a scraggly-faced deputy sheriff named Festus. He wasn't my favorite character and he definitely was NOT attractive. And other than the Festus that we find in the Book of Acts in the Bible, he was the only one I ever knew who bore that name. That is...until I met MY Festus.
Festus is a beautiful cat who lives with my younger brother. Like his name-sake on Gunsmoke, I think Festus could have been on TV...as a "commercial actor". He has a face that belongs on a can of Friskie's cat food or some other product designed for felines. If there was such a thing as a "cat agent", Festus should have had one. He'd be a millionaire cat by now.
He's getting quite old...I'm not sure how many years, but I believe he's more than 15 years old. He is beginning to show his age...he moves slowly. He can't jump as high...either up or down. Just this past weekend, he tried to jump up on the desk as I was working on the computer...and he didn't make it. His pride was definitely hurt as he pretended that it was no big deal that he landed back on the floor instead of the desk top, slowly walking around the office as if nothing had happened. But we both knew. I gently reached down and picked him up and set him on the desk next to me where he likes to sit and watch as I read and write on the computer.
He did go to the doctor this week. He had been passing blood in his stool and my brother's wife was concerned that it might be cancer. He had seemed pretty lethargic all weekend and appeared to be in some kind of pain. While the tests weren't conclusive, it appeared that Festus is OK...at least for now.
I know that one of these times when I go to visit Geoff, my favorite cat isn't going to be there. Like the tears in Miss Kitty's eyes, I suspect that Lynn will have tears in her own eyes as she has to tell me that Festus is gone. And when that happens, I know a little part of me will be gone as well. I know that he is only a cat...but he is a cat who loves. That's not a trait readily found in cats.
The Marshall and Chester slowly walk back through the deserted streets toward the Marshall's office. They had just dropped Miss Kitty off at the Long Branch and as they reached the board-walk in front of the office, Chester turned to the Marshall.
"I wonder what it would be like if we lost Festus, Marshall? I dunno what I'd do."
What will it be like?