[This piece is intended as an introduction to a series of stories based in family memories shared over the years.]
If our kitchen table could talk, oh the stories we’d hear. Growing up, our home revolved around the kitchen table. It was at the top of the steps coming in from the garage, a step from the phone, and a few steps from the coffeepot.
This is where we shared our meals, both everyday and holiday. It is where we read the morning paper and opened the mail and struggled with our homework. It is where we left notes telling where we were, who we were with, and when we’d be home. It is where neighbor women would come when they needed a word of advice or encouragement from my mother who, although just a few years their senior, had a lifetime of wisdom and friendship ready to dispense over a cup of coffee. It is where my dad told and retold stories about fishing and flying. It is where we ate rice with food coloring every night when the cupboard was bare and the pocketbook thin. It is where we held family conferences to share good news and bad–and to make the big and not so big decisions. It is where my mother sat rubbing her forehead as she paid the bills. It is where my father now plays endless hours of solitaire—the kids all grown and his wife too soon in heaven.
The oak table is over a century old, handmade and the color of honey. It came with our family from our farm in west central Minnesota to our home in the suburbs when I was just eleven years old. It bore the scares from notches accidentally hacked into the edge from its first life when it was used as a surface to butcher chickens and pigs.
Not long after Minnesota became the 32nd state and the Civil War wounds were still fresh, our kitchen table was the center of my mother’s paternal grandparent’s farm life. When Grandpa Tody’s parents were first married, I imagine the table was used for meals, canning, sewing, repairs, reading, and a myriad of family projects, laced with the rich conversation that goes along with busy hands. As the years passed, the sturdy oak table was used as a surface to butcher livestock and repair harnesses. Over decades of daily use, it became covered with too many thick coats of varnish and soiled with the blood, sweat, and tears associated with the relentless rigors of Midwestern farm life. By the time it came to my folks, it was brownish gray and dull.
World War II was raging across the sea, and in 1944, the year of their engagement, my parents painstakingly toiled evenings and weekends, stripping and sanding that table. Soon they discovered their hunch was right. This was a beautiful piece of workmanship with scrolled beaded legs and hand-hewed sliders enabling the table to seat up to 14 guests. By the time they were finished, they had a solid and attractive piece of furniture to begin their household and their life together.
Since that day, our family has depended on that kitchen table and taken it for granted, admired its beauty and misused it, relied on its function and taken care of it–just as we have regarded one another.
Some of my fondest memories involve gathering around our kitchen table after school or work, scarfing cinnamon toast and telling stories of our day or gossip we had heard while out in the world. My mother would often preface a story by saying, “Now girls, this is kitchen talk. You don’t have to tell everything you know.” This was her way of saying that the kitchen table was sanctuary…a safe house for sharing. The telling and retelling and analyzing of these events turned out to be our classroom, exploring ideas and forming values as we laughed and cried.
If our kitchen table could talk, oh the stories we’d hear.
Happy 60th birthday! I can’t imagine a neighbor in all the world better than the one God blessed me with a quarter century ago! Come to think of it, if you ask me, we have all been blessed with the greatest neighbors in all the land!
Sometimes when the stresses of life pile on and I feel pulled in a thousand different directions with big kid issues, illness, ageing, and just ordinary troubles, I reach deep into my memory bank and feel peace wash over me when I reflect on one of the best days EVER.
A vast canopy of an old Pin Oak tree.
Picture perfect weather. Early morning in early June.
Adirondack chairs in the grass facing a dirty blacktop driveway.
Two young moms sipping morning coffee.
Two little boys and two little girls happily playing close by, easy to keep an eye on.
Nothing organized. Just good old-fashioned free play.
Soles of little feet more and more black with asphalt as the sun rolls across the blue sky.
Between sips of coffee, easy conversation. So much in common.
One runs in to whip up a quick lunch for the kids. More like a great big snack: whatever is on hand.
Random neighbors pop over to join in the conversation.
Sun high in the sky, more kids come and go; one off to Badger Field, another off to Smokey Row Pool, another off down the street. Soon some circle back to join in the lazy play.
I’m sure there are plenty of chores inside on this sunny Saturday; they can wait.
Ope, here comes a watermelon! Here comes half a sheet cake! Two more reasons to stay outside and not rush in to prepare dinner.
Husbands come and go, bringing sustenance to their families, happy to see their children scurrying to-and-fro and their wives relaxing. (That NEVER happens!)
Moms talking, laughing, crying, sharing, bonding.
Fully present in this ideal space.
And before we know it, the sun glows orange in the west.
And fireflies flicker. And bats dive-bomb mosquitos.
A chill settles into the air as we carry exhausted little angels into the house and directly to the bathtub, where we try our best to scrub the blacktop off their tiny feet before nestling them into their clean sheets.
Thank you, Laura, for taking the time to make this indelible memory with me. I believe God gives us sweet memories like this and good friends to carry us through the tough times in life. Thank you for being there for me over the years.
I have been out of high school for 50 years this month. My favorite high school classes can easily be summed up in two names: Jan Baker and Jim Waletski.
Jan Baker taught English and Jim Waletski taught History. My interest in history and writing have buoyed me through these last five decades largely due to the impact of these two individuals. They were both more than teachers to their students; they were influences. I didn’t have much confidence in my scholastic abilities until I slid into their classes in the early 70s. But happily, that changed. Seeds were watered in their care.
Jan Baker was like no other person I had ever known. She was smart and sassy, plus I think she really liked working with teenagers! In her English class, students were allowed to choose a topic of study — anything that interested them (I chose Woodstock). Then we were required to read about it, write about it, and present it to the class. Reading, writing, and speech all wrapped up into one class. GENIUS! Reading, writing, and speaking are life skills that all people need regardless of what line of work they end up pursuing.
As an aside, thirty years later when my sons were in elementary school, they came up with the brilliant idea to be pet owners. More specifically they wanted to own Green Chinese Water Dragons. Wait! What?! But instead of simply saying NO WAY, I asked them to go to the library and read books about lizards, then write a report on how to feed them and maintain their environment, then create a poster showing the steps, then rehearse a speech, and finally present it to three of our neighbors. Turns out I was wrong about thinking that my kids would not jump though these hoops! They eagerly engaged in the process, learned about lizards, and became the proud owners of reptiles the length of my forearm who slept on rocks under a heat lamp and gobbled up live crickets. In my house. Yikes!
Jan Baker was an old soul AND a kid at heart. I loved her assignments and did well in English because I felt heard in her class. It didn’t matter if you were a brainiac, a hippie, a jock, a drama nerd, a musician, marginalized, or popular, Ms. Baker always made you feel like you were the only student in the class and she was hanging on your every word.
When I was a senior, she directed West Side Story, quite an undertaking for a small-town high school drama and music department. I was the photographer and all my friends were in the play, in the tech crew, or in the orchestra. What an awesome experience! Ms. Baker brought to light a confidence in her students, in my case, for the first time in my scholastic history. I am sure that many of my classmates would agree we owe Ms. Baker a great debt of gratitude for the diverse paths we took as we ventured out into the great big world out there!
Jim Waletski was our history teacher. Instead of rehashing dry facts about dusty old events featuring people with whom we had nothing in common, he taught us how to be curious about our past and how it affects our place in the world today. He taught us to question sources and authors and points of view, not just blindly swallow the versions of the stories we learned in grade school, versions which always seemed to show the development of America in the warm comfortable glow of nationalism, always on the right side, always the hero. Instead of just repeating the dry old stories we had grown up with, Mr. Waletski offered differing perspectives and encouraged us to consider an issue from varying pockets of our population. Long before I had ever heard of Howard Zinn, Mr. Waletski gave us permission to be inquisitive and to consider the perspectives of others. Howard Zinn wrote the well-researched book, A People’s History of the United States, which tells America’s story from the point of view of–and in the words of–America’s women, factory workers, African Americans, Native Americans, the working poor, and immigrant laborers. Zinn demonstrates that many of our country’s greatest battles were carried out at the grassroots level, many times against bloody resistance. He asserts that the elite minority of people in power were not always right, they just held all the cards. So, to honor history in its entirety, we must learn more than just easy reruns. We need to consider the larger scope and the roots of an event, reflecting how it still might affect our beliefs and actions and those of our fellow citizens. All textbooks contain omissions and misrepresentations of certain events. What we learned from Mr. Waletski was to consider many sides of an issue before drawing conclusions. Especially if our conclusions become our guiding light.
It is sad, but teachers have come under increased scrutiny as of late. Educators used to be the final authority in the classroom, but today they are sometimes criticized, disrespected, and in fact berated, by kids and their parents and especially some politicians. Communities and lawmakers are requiring more of teachers with fewer resources, while not trusting them to choose their own curriculum or relate to their own students. It must be hard to receive those nasty-grams in your inbox, when you’re just trying to teach children and serve your community in perhaps the most important way there is. They’re sure not in it for the money.
I thank God this wasn’t the case when I was growing up, because quality teachers like Ms. Baker and Mr. Waletski may have sought occupations elsewhere and we may never have had the benefit of knowing these two amazing gems.
My oldest brother Carlton was born in 1946 (we call him Hans), Richard in 1947 (we call him Dickie), Marilyn in 1954 (they call me Mia), and Janet in 1955 (we call her Holly.) Solveig came along in 1962 (we call her Solveig.)
As crazy as all that seems, I don’t think we ever asked our folks why they gave us one name and called us by another. I guess Richard makes sense; the common nickname is Dick. They called my oldest brother, Carlton, by the name of Hans, which is the first name of my paternal grandfather Melvin Huseth’s father. Hans Huset was the first from our family to venture from Norway to Minnesota in 1868 at the age of 20. And get this! They called him Fye!! Confused yet? Read on. Holly’s middle name is Holly because she was nearly a Christmas baby, born in the middle of December. Janet is Holly’s first name. Our folks always joked that they brought her home from the hospital in a shoe box because she was sooo tiny. We grew up thinking that Solveig means “sunny way” or “sunny path” in Norwegian, but I recently read this: “The name Solveig is a girl’s name of Scandinavian origin meaning “the strong house or daughter of the sun.” Common in Scandinavia, this name has rarely come to our shores. The name of the heroine in Ibsen’s Peer Gynt, Solveig is currently a widely-used name in Norway.” Our Solveig is truly a daughter of Light with her always sunny disposition and she most definitely runs a strong household!
My given maiden name is Marilyn Gloria Huseth. My mother, Darlene, and her sister, Gloria, both had baby girls in 1954. Gloria named her daughter Virginia Darlene and my mom named me Marilyn Gloria; that way each baby girl had her mother’s sister’s first name as her middle name. Really confused yet? Read on.
What was the leap from Marilyn to Mia? My Grandpa Tody was a big kidder and he would tease me by calling me MiyaLynn (heavy on the strong Norwegian accent.) Later the family shortened it to Miya. I don’t remember knowing my given name until I heard it on first day of school roll call. I changed the spelling from Miya to Mia when we moved to the Cities before sixth grade, in an attempt to be more cosmopolitan and less country. I often wished I had left the spelling as Miya, so people would stop calling me Mea!
[Update: I sent this essay to my brother who was 7 years old the June I was born and he offered the following insight. “Grandpa Tody was indeed a big kidder, but Mia, you named herself. When you were first learning to speak and were unable to pronounce the ‘r’ sound when people would ask your name, Marilyn didn’t come out sounding like Marilyn; it sounded more like MiyaLynn. So Grandpa, the big kidder he was, began to make fun of how you couldn’t pronounce your name. He would tease you and tease you. And laugh and laugh. At the time, we didn’t know what bullying was, but I feel like his ridicule would meet today’s bullying standard. Anyway, you quickly learned that to avoid his teasing, it was just easier to answer “Miya” when asked your name. Soon the rest of the family followed your lead. And that was that.]
So to answer the question, I actually do not know why my parents chose Marilyn as my first name. There are no Marilyns in my extended family that I know of, no one named Marilyn in our ancestral family tree. There was however, one legendary celebrity dominating world media in 1954, the year I was born. She was a curvy pretty blonde actress in her late 20s, also a June baby. Her name was Norma Jeane Mortenson. But the world calls her Marilyn.
Life is like a roll of toilet paper; the closer you get to the end, the faster it goes! And boy is it flying by now! I was born in 1954 and it goes without saying there have been many changes to our world since. This year is a big one for me: I was born 68 years ago, I graduated from high school 50 years ago, I celebrated 40 years of wedded bliss on our last anniversary.
“The good old days were not that great, believe me. The good new days are today, and better days are coming tomorrow. Our greatest songs are still unsung.”— Hubert H. Humphrey
There is a lot of truth to that phrase. Hubert Humphrey was a hometown hero when I was a little girl in Minnesota. He served as the 38th vice president of the United States from 1965 to 1969. He was mayor of Minneapolis in the 40s and was an ardent civil rights supporter. He gave a rousing speech at the 1948 Democratic National Convention arguing for the adoption of a pro-Civil Rights plank, exclaiming “The time has arrived in America for the Democratic Party to get out of the shadow of states’ rights and to walk forthrightly into the bright sunshine of human rights.” He ran against Richard Nixon in 1968 but on Election Day, Humphrey narrowly fell short of Nixon in the popular vote, and lost, by a large margin, in the Electoral College.
Life was simple when I was little. We lived on a farm near Alexandria until I was 11 years old and then on a sweet suburban street in a three-bedroom ranch home outside Minneapolis until I was 20. On the farm, we played outside from morning until dark, just darting inside to grab a bite to eat. Our mother was always in the kitchen it seemed, perpetually ready with a meal or a snack for her five children. Our favorite snack was homemade white bread with butter and jelly. I’m sure I was a teenager before I tasted store bought Wonder Bread. We had kittens, puppies, horses, cattle, and some pigs on the farm. We caught fireflies at dusk in Mason jars. We swam in murky swimming holes and crystal-clear lakes. We learned to ride bike on gravel roads. Our older brothers taught us how to shoot a rifle and ride horseback. Our dad was a farmer and a crop duster, so he would often fly us to pancake breakfasts in neighboring states in his little Piper Cub. The 1950s were indeed a simpler time and I grew up pretty much oblivious to the great big world out there. But there was a lot going on.
Here is a list of some things I have seen in my lifetime.
The month before I was born in 1954, Brown v Board of Education was signed into law and the Supreme Court made segregation illegal in public schools, setting the stage for the advent of the civil rights movement. Before that, racial segregation was the law of the land. Little black children were not allowed to go to school with little white children in many states. Since public schools are funded with local real estate taxes, the schools where black kids went were inferior to more affluent and better equipped schools where white kids attended.
Polio was the pandemic of the day and in 1954 the first mass vaccination of children began in Pittsburgh. Nobody picketed. Nobody protested. Parents around the world were relieved to have a weapon against the awful disease that was crippling and killing their children at astonishing rates. My Grandma Tody had polio as a child and as a result one of her legs was weak and she fell easily, so we knew what a big deal vaccination was. I got my shot in first grade. The Covid 19 Pandemic and its variants have been headline news for going on three years now, but today science is viewed as suspect by many and disinformation spreads like wild fire. There have been over 81 million cases in the US and almost one million US citizens have died from COVID since late 2019.
In 1954, Senator Joseph McCarthy was censured by the House and Senate, bringing an end to his Communist witch hunt. Before that, the careers, livelihoods, and indeed the very freedom of virtually anyone could be derailed by the mere mention they might be Communists. No proof needed.
I was just an infant when the words “under God” are added to the United States Pledge of Allegiance which was originally written in 1892 by the socialist minister Francis Bellamy. He had hoped that the pledge could be used by citizens in any country. In its original form it read: “I pledge allegiance to my Flag and the Republic for which it stands, one nation, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.” In 1923, the words, “the Flag of the United States of America” were added. In 1954, in response to the Communist threat of the times, President Eisenhower encouraged Congress to add the words “under God,” creating the pledge we say today. Today it reads: “I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America, and to the republic for which it stands, one nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.” In recent years, there has been a lot of right-wing noise about the godly foundation of the United States, insinuating that our founding fathers were all evangelical white Christian men, hell bent on saving the world. In fact, our founding fathers had a “hands-off” view of religion because they had seen first-hand many abuses in Europe stemming from state religions. The right wing narrow view of faith could not be further from the truth, which is exemplified in the history of the Pledge of Allegiance: it was written by a socialist a century after the birth of our nation. It took another 70 years before the term “God” was added as an afterthought and was a kneejerk reaction to the godless Communists who were doing their own global saber-rattling in the 1950s. These noisemakers have not read their history but instead insist on repeating what they hear in their echo-chamber of their news outlets.
I was a newborn when Sarah Mae Flemming Brown, an African American woman was kicked off a bus in Columbia, South Carolina, seventeen months before Rosa Parks refused to surrender her seat on an Alabama bus in 1955. Flemming’s lawsuit against the bus company played an important role later in the Parks case. Before the ruling, blacks had to stand or sit at the back of the public transportation. It seems so ridiculous to think of arbitrary rules like that today.
Just a month old, I was baptized wearing my mother’s baptism gown on July 4, 1954. Two weeks later “Operation Wetback” was started to send back to Mexico almost 4 million illegal immigrants. Just goes to show, there is nothing new under the sun.
The summer I was born, Bill Haley & His Comets recorded “Rock Around the Clock” and it became a #1 hit, helping to initiate the Rock & Roll craze. Soon followed the release of Elvis Presley’s first single, “That’s All Right.” It was recorded July 5 and released on July 19. Talk about simpler times! Rock & Roll became the soundtrack of the 50s, 60s, and arguably beyond.
The year I was born the first successful kidney transplant was in the news ushering in many new developments in medical advances.
When I was a baby, the Vietnam War was just a seedling when the Geneva Conference sent French forces to the south and Vietnamese forces to the north of a ceasefire line at the 17th parallel. The plan was for elections to decide on a government for all of Vietnam by July 1956. Failure to abide by the terms of the agreement led to the establishment of the defacto regimes of North Vietnam and South Vietnam, followed by the Vietnam War which lasted until the Fall of Saigon in 1975. The Vietnam War or Second Indochina War (known in Vietnam as the American War) was one of the most destructive conflicts in history and ended with a triumphant victory for Ho Chi Minh’s Communist forces in the most humiliating military defeat the United States has ever experienced. Over 58,000 American soldiers lost their lives and many of our Vietnam veterans still live with the physical and mental challenges they came back with. I just learned that our Pastor Tommy, who was our pastor in Carmel in the 80s and 90s, and who died of ALS at age 51, most likely developed ALS from Agent Orange used as a defoliant during his deployment. I was 21 when we finally pulled our troops out of Vietnam. The year I graduated from high school was 1972 and during that year alone, antiwar demonstrations drew 100,000 demonstrators in US cities. Boys my age were being drafted, but no one could exactly explain what we were fighting for. Hawks and doves were at each other’s throats. It was an ugly time in our history.
Disneyland in California opened when I was just one year old and a one-day ticket cost $1. Disney World in Florida opened in October 1971 when I was a senior in high school and the price of a one-day ticket was $3.50.
I was just one year old when 14-year-old Emmett Till, an African American from Chicago, was savagely murdered for allegedly flirting with a white woman in Money, Mississippi. Again, no proof needed. The details of his murder are too upsetting to share here, but it is just one more example of the cesspool of bigotry left by 400 years of slavery and cruelties. Read the book Finding Me: A Memoir by Viola Davis. And lest we think this was such a long time ago and surely, we must have advanced as a society since, the George Floyd legacy (2020) reminds us of something very different.
I finished 1st grade in the spring of 1961 and that summer Barack Hussein Obama II was born in Honolulu. He grew up to serve as 44th president of the United States from 2009 to 2017. Obama was our first African-American president. Four years later, Camilla Harris became our first woman and person of color to become Vice President. Lesson: Never give up on your dreams no matter how crazy they seem in the world’s view.
I had just started 4th grade in Evansville, Minnesota, when four little girls were killed in the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing in Birmingham, Alabama. One girl was my age, 11 years old. It was a white supremacist terrorist atrocity carried out on Sunday morning, September 15, 1963. Four members of a local Ku Klux Klan chapter planted 19 sticks of dynamite attached to a timing device beneath the steps located on the east side of the church. Two more black youths were shot to death in Birmingham within seven hours. Robinson, aged 16, was shot in the back by a policeman as he fled down an alley. Ware, aged 13, was shot in a suburb north of the city while sitting on the handlebars of a bicycle ridden by his brother. Two months later President John F. Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas. Lesson: Newton’s third law is “for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.” This holds true in more than a science experiment. Remember, change is inevitable, but progress may not be.
The summer before 6th grade in August of 1965, my sister and I took the Greyhound Bus from Evansville, MN to Minneapolis to see the Beatles in concert at the old Metropolitan Stadium. My first concert! The ticket price was $4.50 and 25,000 screaming girls (and my cousin Tom) were there. My second concert was in 1967 at the Minneapolis Auditorium to see Herman’s Hermits. The Who warmed up for them by ending their set with their signature destruction of their guitars and equipment. My friend, JoAnne and I had front row seats and wore skirts, hose, and heals. There’s something you don’t see at Rock & Roll concerts anymore!
I was in 7th grade in 1967 when Loving v. Virginia, a unanimous landmark civil rights decision of the U.S. Supreme Court, ruled that laws banning interracial marriage violate the Fourteenth Amendment. Before that, it was illegal in 31 states for a black person to marry a white person, even though the US Constitution clearly states that all men are created equal. It took a couple hundred years of fights and amendments for that term to include women, minorities, people with disabilities, and people who love someone of the same sex. These groups had to fight, sometimes all the way to the US Supreme Court to be recognized as equal.
I was in 8th grade when the first call was made to 911, a new emergency phone number service. Before that you had to memorize and dial the 10-digit phone number to police or fire departments.
1969 was the summer between my 9th and 10th grades when Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin walked on the moon and made it back to earth safely. I almost watched it on TV but was too busy getting my ears pierced. But that’s another story for another time. This year a couple of billionaires sent private citizens up in rockets to orbit the earth, opening the door for a different kind of future space exploration and travel.
I had just turned 15 the summer of Woodstock, which was the first of its kind of outdoor music festival with over 400,000 people enjoying three days of peace, love, and music. In 1969, the country was deep into the controversial Vietnam War, a conflict that many young people vehemently opposed. It was also the era of the civil rights movement, a period of great unrest and protest. Woodstock was an opportunity for people to escape into music and spread a message of unity and peace. It was a rainy muddy mess with not enough food or medicine for all the people who attended, but the hippies didn’t care. The music was great, and the atmosphere was peaceful. Three babies were born at the festival and three people died (2 of accidental drug overdoses and 1 got run over by a tractor.) If I had been older, I would have been there. For sure!
I was 18 years old when Title IX of the Federal Education Amendments of 1972 prohibiting sex discrimination, including pregnancy, sexual orientation, and gender identity, in any education program or activity receiving federal financial assistance. Before that, Universities fully funded men’s sports but women’s sports were virtually non-existent in high schools and colleges. Today my grandchildren ask me what sports I played when I was little and are shocked when I tell them that they didn’t let girls play sports when I was little. It has taken another 50 years for professional women soccer players to be paid the same as the men; in February 2022 the U.S. national women’s soccer team won $24 million in equal pay settlement and received a promise for an equal rate of pay between the men’s and women’s national senior teams in all friendlies and tournaments, including the World Cup. Lesson: never give up fighting for justice!
The theme of the 1950s was conformity, little pink houses with white picket fences, the 3-martini lunch, tight sweaters, lots of hairspray, and glass ceilings firmly in place. In the 50s however, the gap between the middle class and the poor began to widen. Women were viewed as the “happy housewife” and not all women liked this. Blacks were beginning to gain momentum in their quest for equal rights. All of this set the stage for the turbulent 60s to come.
The theme of the 1960s was revolution. Martin Luther King, John F. Kennedy, and Robert Kennedy were gunned down in cold blood; they had seemed like our nation’s bright hope for progress. Anti-war protests were common. Bra-burning rallies were gaining in popularity. The Civil Rights Act was passed by President Lyndon B. Johnson, prohibiting discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, or national origin, in housing, hiring, promoting, and firing.
I graduated from high school in 1972 and here are the big news flashes for that year: Five White House operatives under the direction of President Richard Nixon were arrested for burglarizing the offices of the Democratic National Committee and that started the Watergate scandal and the demise of President Nixon. The United States and Soviet Union signed the Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty. NASA’s Space Shuttle Program was officially launched. There was lots of bloodshed in Ireland with bombings and killings. There were more antiwar protests at home. The Godfather, The Poseidon Adventure, and Sounder were at the movies. Best new songs that year included Without You, American Pie, and Lean on Me.
Nowadays you can watch TV at any time day or night. In the ’60s, ’70s, and ’80s TVs actually went static at midnight when the transmitter was shut down. The station would play the National Anthem before the TV went to static. Programming would come back on around 6 a.m. the next day. Oh, and there were only three stations: ABC, CBS, and NBC. And look! We survived!!
In 1970, Jane Roe (a fictional name used in court documents to protect the plaintiff’s identity) filed a lawsuit against Henry Wade, the district attorney of Dallas County, Texas, where she resided, challenging a Texas law making abortion illegal except by a doctor’s orders to save a woman’s life. In her lawsuit, Roe alleged that the state laws were unconstitutionally vague and abridged her right of personal privacy, protected by the First, Fourth, Fifth, Ninth, and Fourteenth Amendments. The case made it to the US Supreme court and was argued in 1971, reargued in 1972, and decided in 1973 with a 7 to 2 Supreme Court ruling making abortion legal in all 50 states. As I write this, the ruling still stands, however the case will be heard again in the next year or so by a Conservative Supreme Court and it could be overturned, leaving it back to the states whether to legalize abortions. Birth control has always been a contentious topic for lawyers and politicians and I don’t see that changing. Both sides of the issue tap into emotion and as I have said before, when emotion and logical thought collide, emotion wins every time. I could not be more anti-abortion because I believe there are so many other avenues for birth control available to women and men in this age. But I believe we could do much more to support women caught in an unintended pregnancy. If men were the ones who carried the offspring, society would have solved this problem a long time ago.
Karl and I married in 1981 and here are just a few of the things we have now that we did not have before: the Internet, cell phones, flat screen TVs, Netflix and other streaming services, Facebook, TikTok, and other social media, YouTube (2005), electric cars, wind turbines, solar panels, GPS, Zillow, DNA testing, 3D Printing, self driving vehicles, Crypto-currency, the Tea Party, Rap music, Anti-depressants, TSA security lines (2001), personal computers and tablets, video games, child car seats (1986), AIDS, accommodations for people with disabilities (1990), Door Dash, Uber, gay marriage, digital recording, and music streaming services, just to name a few. What a big difference technology has made in our daily lives!
Financially speaking there has been a lot of change in my lifetime.
When I was born in 1954, my mother and I stayed in the hospital for five days and the bill came to $100.50. In 1972 the average cost of having a baby in a hospital was $1,500. Today the average cost is $10,000.
The inflation rate in 1954 was 0.32%. By 1972 it was 3.21%, today the inflation rate is 7.9% which has a stranglehold on many Americans living in poverty.
The average cost of a new house in the United States in 1954 was $10,250. In 1972 it was $27,600, and today the national average of a new home is $405,000. My parents purchased our home in Chanhassen in 1966 for $19,000; today its Zillow estimate is nearly $450,000! We bought our house in Carmel in 1994 for $139,500; today its Zillow estimate is $390,000. Lesson: buy dirt!
Average monthly rent in 1954 was $85. By 1972 it had increased to $165, and today the average is $962.
The average annual wage in 1954 was $4,100. By 1972 it was $11,859, and today it is $53,500.
The average cost of a new car in 1954 was $1,700. In 1972 it was $3,853, and today it is $47,000.
The federal minimum wage in 1954 was $1 per hour, in 1972 it was $1.60, and today it is $7.25; still not enough to live on.
In 1954 it cost 70 cents for a movie ticket, $1.75 in 1972, and today the average price of a movie ticket is $9.25.
The national average of a gallon of gas in 1954 was 21 cents, 55 cents in 1972, and this month (April 2022) the national average is $4.25 per gallon. Ouch!
One year of tuition at Harvard in 1954 was $1,560, in 1972 it was $2,800. One year of tuition to Harvard in 2022 is $51,153.
In 1954 the Dow Jones finally recovered back to pre-Wall Street Crash high of 381, and in January 2022 the Dow hit an all-time high of 36,953. Lesson: invest in the stock market and leave it there!
The population of Carmel, Indiana in 1954 was 1,009. By 1972 it was 6,691. Today Carmel is a growing thriving community of 101,068!
They say that change is inevitable, but progress is not. Progress depends on what we do with the changes that come our way. If I had to choose four huge factors which have negatively affected the state of our nation during my lifetime, it would be these:
I was 47 years old in September 2001 when the World Trade Center Twin Towers were destroyed by middle eastern terrorists’ hijacked airplanes. Over 3,000 people died and countless more were sickened and traumatized. This event forever changed how the world travels and how seriously we take security. It felt like our generation’s Pearl Harbor, and it dragged us into a twenty year war in Afghanistan. It also began to fuel anti-Muslim sentiments across the country.
Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely! I was 33 years old in 1987 when the FCC formally repealed the Fairness Doctrine, the origins of which lay in the Radio Act of 1927 which limited radio broadcasting to licensed broadcasters but mandated that the stations serve the public interest. In the 1980s, Roger Ailes and President George H. W. Bush orchestrated its repeal which was sold as way to promote free speech and to expand radio licenses to underserved pockets of US population. Before it’s repeal, TV and radio stations were required to give equal time to both sides of a controversial issue. In theory the repeal might have been a good idea, but tragically, it set the stage for cable TV and radio stations to take one side of an issue and run with it for the sake of generating profits, not fair and balanced reporting as had been the journalism standard. “The result is one of the most powerful political machines in American history, one that plays a leading role in defining right wing talking points and advancing their agenda,” writes political correspondent Tim Dickenson. Far right media outlets have been able to successfully stoke fears across the country ever since the 1990s, leading to the election of our most controversial president in 2016 and then going on to defend the January 6 insurrection at the Capital. Over the years, the onetime Nixon operative, Roger Ailes, created the most profitable (and the least accountable) propaganda machine in history. It is a regular fear factory. Remember the old public speaking advice we heard in high school? “It’s not so much what you say, but how you say it.” Unfettered by the FCC, these groups have figured out that if you say something loud enough or often enough or with enough anger, you can say anything you want without recourse, including proven false claims. The more sensational and apocalyptic the presentation, the more viewers stay tuned in, the more money you rake in. While this may be a sound business model, it has done more to damage unity in our nation than anything else in our history. As singer songwriter Mary Gauthier writes, “People in power, they will do anything to keep their crown.”
The white supremacist movement. What’s up with that? A bunch of guys who will kill anyone just for having a different world view. What a bunch of big babies! I was 38 years in 1992 when an FBI incident at Ruby Ridge with white separatists sparked more distrust of the government and more conspiracy theories. The siege at a Branch Davidian compound in WACO happened the following year; 76 people perished, and more fears were stoked leading to Timothy McVey bombing. I was 40 years old when Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City became the deadliest act of homegrown terrorism in U.S. history. It could be argued that the January 6, 2021 insurrection and attempt to overthrow the US government has its roots in this crazy train. These hate-driven groups are able to rally the troops and radicalize fragile young men using the radio and internet outlets who are running a lucrative business. This is possible because of the repeal of the Fairness Doctrine.
Too many guns! There are more guns in America than there are people. There are more than 393 million civilian-owned firearms in the United States, or enough for every man, woman, and child to own one and still have 67 million guns left over! I was 45 years old when 2 boys in trench coats murdered 15 high school kids at Columbine High School; it was the first time we had heard of such a thing. I was 58 years old when 26 people were shot and killed at Sandy Hook Elementary School, 20 of them were 6 or 7 years old! I was 63 years old when 58 people were mowed down at a Las Vegas concert. In the cases of all of these mass shootings, the chicken-shit gunman turned the gun on themselves after slaughtering innocent human beings. My dad used to say, “The biggest problem with a murder suicide is the order.” The gun homicide rate in the US is astoundingly over 25 times higher than in other first world countries and the US leads the world in children dying from gunshots. More than 140 mass shootings have taken place in the United States in the first four months of 2022. That is more than one a day! Mental health issues and readily available guns come together to create a toxic combination that targets the innocent. In just our immediate family, we have two friends/family shot to death, one is unsolved. Gun violence touch too many families in our country, and yet lawmakers and indeed the American people cannot agree on how to remedy this crisis. On May 19, 1986, Congress banned the transfer and possession of machine guns. In 1994, President Bill Clinton signed a temporary assault-weapons ban, which outlawed the AR-15 and other similar semiautomatic rifles. Mass shootings were down in the decade that followed, compared to the decade before (1984-94) and the one after (2004-14), but they did not end entirely. After the assault-weapons ban expired in 2004, gun makers quickly reintroduced them and sales were brisk with targeted marketing equating “manhood” with gun ownership. The fact is assault-weapons are designed to kill as many people as possible in the shortest time. They are military weapons and have no place in civilian recreation, hunting, or target practice. Yet the gun industry and its powerful lobby has America hog-tied and fearful to make a change, sighting a potential slippery slope for the Second Amendment. Fear and anger are rampant in recent years, and I guess you can’t legislate emotions, but I submit that we CAN find a way to legislate the killing machines available to emotional unhinged men. I love a good western and hunting as much as the next guy but COME ON already! Our children are dying for the rights of gun owners.
So, how has the country changed in my lifetime? A lot. And not so much. Media and technology have simply provided a new spin to the same old problems. The heart of man is desperately wicked AND hope springs eternal for a brighter tomorrow, both at the same time. After nearly 68 circles around the sun, I find myself agreeing with Hubert Humphrey: “The good old days were not that great, believe me. The good new days are today, and better days are coming tomorrow. Our greatest songs are still unsung.”
Raising kids is one of the most joyous and challenging journeys you will experience in this life. Children will make your heart explode with delight at the very sight of them. Raising children will direct your path as you make choices along the way, like where to live, how to earn money, how long to spend driving to and from work, how to install a lock on your bedroom door and set up parental controls on TV. Having kids will make you sit through the most dreadful school plays, shiver at the edge of windy soccer fields, endure numerous off-tune recitals, and attend endless maniacal Chuck E. Cheese parties. All with a beaming smile plastered across your face.
Grandparents know a little about parenting, but we raised our kids in a world very different than the one where today’s children live. You cannot raise children as your parents raised you because your parents raised you for a world that no long exists. Having said that, here are a few timeless nuggets you can take to the bank.
Teach your children to pray so if their little hearts feel heavy, they can go to God and not the world. Give them a foundation in a gracious Savior because life will most likely toss them some curveballs and you may not always be there for them. They will need a personal faith to make sense of life.
Make sure your kids know they can talk to you about anything. If they feel they can’t open up to you, they may open up to peers who may or may not have very sound advice for them. If they can’t come to you with the little things, they won’t come to you with the big things later.
Children don’t say, “I had a hard day, can we talk? They say, “Will you play with me?” Children spell love, T-I-M-E. – Dr. A. Witham
Assure your children that the beautiful thing about life is that you always change, grow, and get better. You are not defined by your past and it’s not the end of the world to make a mistake.
Always remember your child isn’t giving you a hard time. They’re having a hard time. Your kids will sometimes experience big emotions. In the heat of the moment, take a deep breath and reframe your attitude from ‘OMG, he’s driving me crazy!’ to ‘How can I help him?’
Everything has an end date. When you’re exhausted, when everyone is in the middle of a meltdown, remind yourself that this too shall pass. It’s going to end, so just count to ten and get through the moment. PHD and Family Therapist, Susan Forward, writes, “Children soak up both verbal and nonverbal messages like sponges indiscriminately. They listen to their parents, they watch their parents, and they imitate their parents.”
You don’t have to love it. Not every part of being pregnant or having an infant or kid is fun—in fact, most of it sucks. Too often people try to make it look like it’s all rainbows and unicorns, when in reality, it’s a lot of poop, spit-up, and crying. Every stage has its shitty parts. If you let yourself be okay with not loving all of it, it allows you to be kinder to yourself as a parent.
Limit screen time. Encourage playing outside. Go for walks in the woods. Enforce bedtime. Serve healthy foods. Never underestimate the power of a big hug or snuggling time. Every day you make deposits into the memory banks of your children. – Charles Swindoll
“A person’s a person, no matter how small.” – Dr. Suess Kids are just little people. So often we’re imposing things on them that we would hate—rushing their timing, changing things without advance notice, telling them to get over (or worse, diminishing) their negative feelings—and then acting surprised when they freak out. Little kids aren’t always rational, but the more you treat them how you would want to be treated, the more you will see them rise to the occasion.
Transitions are hard. They are hard for adults. They are hard for children. Some phases of growing up are marked with crabbiness and whining. Kids don’t know how to express themselves yet. My mother used to say that when kids are especially surly, it usually means they are on the verge of a new stage of development. They can see it, they just can’t do it yet, and the result is noisy frustration, theirs and yours! Remember what the Papa said in the 1991 cartoon, An American Tail: Fievel Goes West: “If growing up was easy, it wouldn’t take so long.”
Always keep in mind, you are not managing an inconvenience, you are raising a human being.
Kids lie. More specifically, all kids lie. Children lie for the same reasons the rest of us lie – they don’t want to get in trouble, or they want to get their way, or they want to avoid conflict. Parents cannot yell this tendency out of them, they cannot bargain or promise it out of them. Compulsive lying, especially if telling the truth would risk rejection, is a big part of ADHD and strong-willed children. Kids tell lies for lots of reasons. Usually, they want to take control of a situation by changing the story so that it works better for them. Sometimes kids lie when something bad has happened, or they are embarrassed, or they don’t think they can trust adults with the truth. Research has shown that some parts of the brain take longer to mature in people with ADHD. Those parts of the brain help kids use executive functioning skills, which include impulse control. This may explain why kids with ADHD are more impulsive than people who don’t have ADHD. It may also explain why kids with ADHD don’t always “act their age.” Parents sometimes believe that lying is an act of defiance, but that’s not always the case. Some kids can’t control it. They may not even realize they’re doing it. That can happen when kids have trouble with self-control, organizing their thoughts, or thinking about consequences. These obstacles are related to a group of skills called executive functions, very common among kids with ADHD. For these kids, frequent lying isn’t uncommon, but they usually don’t do it on purpose. In fact, they often feel really bad about it after the fact, resulting in a vicious cycle of impulsive acts, lying, feeling bad about causing problems in the family, and low self-esteem, which may lead to all kinds of challenges throughout adolescence. The best defense against lying is to address the source of the problem, e.g., ADHD.
Parenting doesn’t matter as much as we think. Wait! What?! This seems a little counter intuitive in this age of helicopter parents, but the New York Times published an article offering data showing that parenting is really, at best, a minimal influence on who your child will turn into as an adult. The job of a parent is to help their kids figure out who he or she is at his or her core and support him in being the best version of himself. All the little things that we tend to get ourselves in a panic about—what kind of diaper or enrichment activities and flashcards and standardized tests— we should worry about less. Instead, try to focus on the questions: Is my child the best version she can be? Am I helping her to be a functional adult and paving the way for her to grow up into the adult she wants to be?
Give your kids your undivided attention—or no attention at all. The amazing writer Catherine Newman wrote an advice column that could alter your whole approach to parenting. Do you find yourself frantically trying to do too many things at once? Do you end up feeling stressed out and cranky, blaming your children’s intrusions into your daily routine? Try this: Do one thing at a time—either be with your kids, or ignore them, essentially. It boils down to being present in the moment. When you are with them, give them your undivided attention and get into their rhythm. And when they are at school or daycare, tend to your job or housework or whatever your adulting tasks for the day.
Take whatever parenting plan you have and throw it out the window. Things will change almost immediately once that little bundle of joy comes floating into your house. We tend to cast family life thru rose-colored glasses. We either had a great childhood and we may think raising kids is easier than it is, or we had a less-than-perfect childhood and we want to make it better for our kids. Whatever your paradigm is, real life will undoubtedly be different. Roll with it. Your kids will come with their own personalities, strengths, and weaknesses. Don’t beat yourself up over unfulfilled expectations. This is one area I feel I had an advantage raising children who came to us through adoption. Every day was a surprise; we did not know what to expect since they were cut from a different bolt. We could not project our genetic dispositions onto our kids. Sometimes parents make assumptions about the children born to them and project their own life stories onto them. The truth is that all kids are different from their parents and different from their siblings. In the words of the great philosopher, Forest Gump, “Life is like a box of chocolates, you never know what you’re going to get.” So, roll with it and celebrate each child for who he is. “The moment you begin to actively discover the amazing personhood of your child, parenting becomes less of a burden and more of an adventure.” — Angela Pruess, Family Therapist
One relentless daily task in parenting is feeding our kids. A healthy diet is vital to a healthy child. Mayo Clinic research suggests that there is great value for families who sit down together for meals, both nutritional and emotional. Try to make mealtime a conflict free zone. Fill your fridge and pantry with whole foods full of nutrition. Toss out the candy, chips, and other junk food including those processed snacks labeled “healthy.” They aren’t good for anyone in the house and if they are not in the house, it’s hard to fight about them. Resist the urge to be the food cop, says Jill Castle, author and renowned childhood nutrition expert. Here are a few of her thoughts on feeding children. Restricting food undermines your child’s ability to regulate his eating and can cause all sorts of problems with eating that may last into adulthood. Using food restriction on a regular basis can cause children to lose their sense of hunger and fullness, and then over time, feelings of deprivation may set in. Kids may feel left out or deprived when they don’t have the freedom to choose what or how much they want or need to eat. Restrictive feeding practices may promote overeating and may be a set-up for kids who overeat on the sly or start secret eating. Try to tame your inner food cop. Remember, your child’s perception is real. If he feels restricted, he is. Try the following tips to calm your inner food cop: Provide an abundant table of healthy food for mealtime. Your child will feel like there is plenty to eat and she can have her fill. Use all the food groups to make a balanced meal that is both satisfying to the eye and to the tummy. Understand any generational tendencies that may be in play. Recognize the emotional aspect of eating. Feeling hungry and being able to satisfy that hunger is more than a full belly–it’s emotional fullness, too. It could be feeling emotionally and physically full is what it will take to stop your child from obsessing about food; you must lose food restriction to achieve that. Engage a predictable feeding schedule, food boundaries that aren’t too controlling or restrictive, but allow reasonable choice. Other negative feeding practices that disturb your child’s eating capabilities include pressure to clean his plate or using food as a reward. Children with impulsivity problems are more prone to struggle with food issues.
Take the time to educate yourself about medical issues your kids have. Your doctors are just one part of caring for your kids. It will take pro-active investigation into the problems and solutions specific to your child’s conditions and a family approach to handling them. Whether it is diabetes or ADHD or allergies or cancer or a broken leg, your childhood likely did not prepare you for handling every illness that your kids may encounter. Set aside your feelings of, “this is my kid so I should know how to fix this.” You may not have the tools in your tool kit to fix everything. Swallow your pride, ask around, read a book, join a blog, have coffee with other parents in the same boat, and then work out a treatment plan where all the members of the family are involved. This may include doctor appointments, therapy sessions, dispensing medicine, new activities, involving school administration, etc. “It really takes a community to raise children, no matter how much money one has. Nobody can do it well alone. And it’s the bedrock security of community that we and our children need.” — Marian Wright Edelman
When you have a baby, you don’t become ‘a mom’ or ‘a dad’—you add ‘mom’ or ‘dad’ to your list of titles. I know you love being a mom or a dad. But you are also a wife, a husband, a friend, daughter, a son, a mentor, entrepreneur, etc. Be careful not to lose yourself in the parenthood journey.
My final wisdom is this. Every Christmas I set out decorations to make the house festive. Among them are two little clay sculptures created by Walker and Jackson when they were attending Cherry Tree Elementary. Jackson made a green hot air balloon and Walker made a sculpture of the Pepsi polar bears.
They are adorable in my estimation, but they were clearly fashioned by grade school children. The little clay sculptures bring sweet memories of my little boys flooding back every time I set them out. I display them with great pride and joy. Fast forward 20 years, at the ages of 32 and 29 years old, Walker and Jackson took their dad to visit the Bob Ross Experience in Muncie for an afternoon painting class led by a special Bob Ross authorized instructor. They returned home with the most stunning mountain landscape paintings they had painted themselves! These paintings were a far cry from the child-like sculptures of days gone by. In fact, one of the instructors made a point to come over to tell them he’s been teaching these classes for 30 years and had never seen such an accurate Bob Ross replica. It turns out that my boys have both developed into REALLY GOOD artists. You would never guess that the same little chubby hands that molded those little sculptures 20 years ago are the same skilled hands that painted these breathtaking landscape paintings.
All this to say, cut your kids some slack. Enjoy each phase. Growing up is a process; it’s a journey. Try not to rush it in your frustration that your little ones can’t hold a pencil correctly or remember their times tables. Because lickety-split, your children will be grown and creating their own magnificent works of art, expressing themselves in new and beautiful ways. And you will find yourself exploding with delight watching the awesome young people you always knew were in there.
How is your faith different than the faith of your parents?
“Point your kids in the right direction, and when they’re old they won’t be lost.” — Proverbs 22:6 (The Message) I read somewhere that we are all individually responsible to God. Not one of us can claim the faith of our father or mother as our own. There is no such thing as a “spiritual grandchild” of God. We each must come to Him on our own. If we don’t have our own faith, we have no faith. Even though it is the same faith as others (because it is faith in Jesus), it is not our faith, until we own it in our hearts and minds. That was true for our parents; it’s true for our children, and it is true for each of us. That makes a lot of sense to me.
My parents were raised in the Lutheran faith, and so they raised us Lutheran. We were baptized as babies and confirmed in 8th grade after two years of weekly Catechism class. This involved standing up in front of the whole church in long white robes and answering random Bible questions and quoting memorized scripture verses. I remember being SO nervous.
Karl was raised Catholic and attended St. Andrews Catholic School thru 8th grade. He was baptized as a baby and had First Communion in 2nd grade. He found his own faith in the Baptist church in his 20s. I found my own faith thru the Catholic Charismatic Jesus Movement in the early 70s.
Then as newlyweds in the 80s, we landed in the Assemblies of God tradition under Tommy Paino at the then brand-new Northview Christian Life in Carmel, Indiana. Northview is where our sons were dedicated to God as babies, attended Sunday School and Royal Rangers, and where Karl was on staff for several years. In the year 2000, we helped with a Northview church plant, Radiant Christian Life Church in Westfield. Radiant is where our sons attended youth group and served on mission trips, and that is where our sons were baptized into the Christian faith.
In hindsight, we probably should have raised our boys in a Black church, but at the time our friends, John and Kathy Cernero, needed help getting a new church in Westfield, Indiana, up and running, so we served there. And then all at once and lickety-split, a decade passed and our sons were all grown up and out on their own. And we are still at Radiant 22 years later. But I often wonder if our kids would have a greater connection to their own faith had they grown up where they could see people who looked like them every Sunday morning. But I digress. Water under the bridge.
My mother’s grandfather on her mother’s side was a traveling pastor, educator, and cantor. In those days, it was common for rural areas and small towns to share preachers with surrounding communities. Johannes Leraas was born in Norway and was widely known as an engaging storyteller and orator. Johannes laid the foundation of our family’s faith. My mother made sure we were all in church every Sunday morning. I remember we were always the last ones to leave the building, as she had many good friends at church and there always seemed to a lot to catch up on, even as we kids rolled our eyes and tugged on her coat sleeves, always ready to go home before she was.
Young adults have a habit of drifting away from church after high school, or quite simply put, after their folks stop forcing them to go. This is true in the Lutheran church, the Catholic church, the Assemblies of God church, and many other denominations I presume. This is a decade of spiritual wandering, to be followed in most cases, by a return to church when they start families. “Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it.” (Prov. 22:6.)
Remembering that we are all immigrants in this country, most of our ancestors came to America for economic opportunities but many came for religious freedoms they could not access in their own homelands. So here is a little history lesson.
Religion is mentioned only once in the United States Constitution (written in 1787), which prohibits the use of religious tests as qualification for public office. This broke with European tradition by allowing people of any faith (or no faith) to serve in public office in the United States. However, Maryland required “a declaration of belief in God,” for all state officeholders until 1961.
The First Amendment to the U. S. Constitution was adopted on December 15, 1791. It established a separation of church and state that prohibited the federal government from making any law “respecting an establishment of religion” and gave constitutional protection for certain individual liberties including freedom of religion, freedom of speech and the press, and the rights to assemble and petition the government. It took another 77 years before the Fourteenth Amendment, adopted in 1868, made it clear that states could not enact laws that would advance or inhibit any one religion.
These Amendments keep state and federal governments from interfering with a person’s religious beliefs or practices. Now more than 200 years have passed, and we still see lawsuit after lawsuit measured against the First Amendment. It seems human nature is a relentless tide to legislate.
I think faith is such a personal thing that it is pretty easy for mankind to fall prey to the toxic idea that OUR faith is the ONLY ONE TRUE faith and that all other belief systems fall short somehow. It’s the old mindset of “us against them” and “your enemies are those who disagree with you”, and “they are coming for you next so be fearful.”
It’s a ploy as old as time. Tyranny thrives in chaos. The talking heads who want to control us need to keep us in fear and chaos. Keeping us fearful is the best way to keep us off balance. Always keep this in mind when you find yourself worked up and in a frenzy over small stuff and little details. Stay calm and trust God.
America wasn’t always a stronghold of religious freedom. Look at this! What a struggle!
The Spanish Catholics slaughtered the Huguenots in Florida half a century before the arrival of the Mayflower. The Spanish commander wrote the king that he had hanged the settlers for “scattering the odious Lutheran doctrine in these Provinces.”
The Puritans arrived in Massachusetts on the Mayflower in the early 1600s after suffering religious persecution in England but still could not tolerate any opposing religious views. Catholics, Quakers, and other non-Puritans were banned from the colony.
In 1635 Rhode Island became the first colony with no established church and the first to grant religious freedom to everyone, including Quakers and Jews. In the rest of the colonies, not so much.
In 1838 Mormons were ordered by the Missouri governor be exterminated or expelled from the state.
In the 19th and 20th centuries, the US and Canadian federal governments created Assimilation Boarding Schools, where Native American children were taken from their loving families and prohibited from wearing ceremonial clothes or practicing native religions or speaking in their native languages. Some were even killed and buried en-masse in unmarked graves.
Over the years, Mormons, Jews, Seventh Day Adventists, Catholics, Fundamentalists, Muslims, and many others fought in the Supreme Court for equal protection under the law.
When John F. Kennedy ran for president in 1960 there were many in our political system who agreed a Catholic should never win the presidency because he would undoubtedly take his orders from the Pope. Seems silly now, but there was still an anti-Catholic bias across the country. And haters always gonna hate.
Freedom to choose which religion to follow (if any) has become a political hot button in recent years. The hot button works because faith is so fiercely personal. Faith becomes toxic when a leader proclaims “it’s my way or the highway” inferring all other belief systems are untrue and in fact are dangerous. One author I read stated, “My way or the highway” is a trite expression that sums up a dictatorial leadership style that is arrogance itself. This narrow-minded style of leadership approach has brought many nations and businesses to a painful end.” This is why we see in so many failed states around the globe. Autocrats and dictators drag their people into war after war defending the theory of “I am right and everyone else is wrong” and “it’s my way or the highway.” The United States of America is the greatest country on the planet because our constitution allows for racial diversity and different faiths, and that leads to a tolerance in day-to-day life not found in many societies. We have a long way to go in reaching this lofty goal, but that’s another story for another time.
OK, history lesson over. Back to me.
I feel like growing up, everyone went to some church; it set the expectation that we are to be nice, serve others, and fear God. I think that may have been the crux of the faith of my parents. When I found my own faith, it became clear that a personal relationship with Jesus Christ had so much more to offer. But I have a sneaking suspicion that we will all be pretty surprised to see who we will be living next door to in eternity; it may not be the narrow slice of humanity we are assuming make it.
Having said that, I must admit that early in my life I too fell prey to the idea that my personal faith was more spiritual and “better” than the faith of my parents. But as the years have passed (I am 67 as I write this), I have come to realize that the tenants of faith my ancestors followed are not so much different than my own.
The life of Christian faith can be summed up in just a couple of basics: (1) Love God. (2) Love others.
With these two notions as your guiding star, you can’t go wrong. Your desire to love God will make you want to learn all you can about Him, about Scripture, about His son Jesus Christ. Loving God will lead you to find a church where you can learn about the things of God, grow in your faith, and make good friends. Your love for God will make you want to love what He loves and do what he does. Your desire to love others will spur you on to take care of those around you. It’s a pretty great way to live your life and raise your families.
There. Just that simple. Love God. Love others. There are a lot of controversial issues ready to derail your faith walk (crazy train politicians, crabby churchgoers, greedy leaders, to name just a few) but if you always return to those two concepts (love God and love others) your faith will grow deeper and you will be in step with the faith of those who came before you.
It occurs to me as I write this that they, just like me and just like you, possess a deep desire to point their kids in the right direction so they won’t be lost later in life.
This week’s StoryWorth question is “Did anyone in the family play a part in history with a capital H?”
The answer is a resounding YES with a capital Y. E. S. Have you ever heard of the legal term THE WITT STANDARD?
Margaret Witt is my cousin, my children’s cousin once removed. And get this! Margie is the woman who ended the ban on gays in the military. I would say that rises to the occasion of history with a capital H. I love so many things about this story, but perhaps the greatest takeaway is that, with enough grit, determination, and a good plan, ordinary people can do extraordinary things to make the world a better place!
Margie grew up an ordinary kid from a middle-class family in Tacoma, Washington. Her parents were both educators who always encouraged their three children to do their best in any endeavor. They spent their summers at Mount Rainier National Park where her dad was a summer-time ranger. She attended public school where she was a good student and excelled at varsity sports. She graduated from Pacific Lutheran University with a nursing degree. Just an ordinary kid, Margie never dreamed that she would one day grow up to win a landmark legal battle and change US military policy.
Major Margaret Witt served in the United States Air Force as a decorated flight nurse for 19 years until 2006. Just shy of retirement, someone outed her same-sex relationship to her superiors and she was kicked out of the Air Force where she had served with distinction in the 446th Aeromedical Evacuation Squadron. Suddenly Margie found herself stripped of her rank, retirement, severance, and benefits after spending her career serving our nation’s wounded warriors. It didn’t quite seem fair. Gays have been serving with honor in the military worldwide probably since the first army was formed thousands of years ago, yet many face persecutions at every turn. For discharged servicemembers like Margie, the stigma of involuntary discharge often became a life-long indignity. That was about to change.
With the help of the ACLU, Margie filed a lawsuit in 2006, and even though the government argued that her sexual orientation undermined her ability to lead and to do her job, there were numerous testimonies from people, who actually knew her and worked with her, to the contrary: “Dynamic officer” … “A vital team player” … “Exceptional flight nurse” … “Excellent role model” … “Always ready to support the mission” were just a few of the phrases used in Margie’s defense during her trial. Even her official record was full of commendations and promotions based on her 19-year-long job performance. During her trial, Margie stated, “Wounded people never asked me about my sexual orientation. They were just glad to see me there.”
In 2008 the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the Air Force must prove that discharging Major Witt was necessary for purposes of military readiness. Although the ruling left in place the military’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy, it sent the case back to the trial court saying that before discharging a soldier under the policy, the military must prove that the individual’s conduct actually hurts morale and unit cohesion. This requirement became known as the “Witt Standard.”
In 1993 Margie, then a young Air Force nurse was chosen as the face of the Air Force’s “Cross into the Blue” recruitment campaign. This was also the year that President Clinton’s plan for gays to serve openly in the military was quashed by a contrary Congress, resulting in the blandly cynical political compromise known as Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. Contrary to its intent, DADT had the perverse effect of making it harder for gay service men and women to fight expulsion. Over the next seventeen years more than 13,000 gay soldiers, sailors, marines, coast guard, and airmen and women were removed from military service. That is until Margie Witt’s landmark case put a stop to it.
When President Bill Clinton signed the DADT policy into law, it represented a compromise between those who wanted to end the longstanding ban on gays serving in the U.S. military and those who felt having openly gay troops would hurt morale and cause problems within military ranks. Under the new policy, gay, lesbian, and bisexual Americans could serve their country, as long as they kept their sexual identity under wraps. Margie carefully kept it under wraps for 19 long years, faithfully serving her country along the way.
Though supporters of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” welcomed it as a more liberal policy that would allow gay Americans to serve their country, gay rights activists complained that it forced these service members into secrecy while doing little to combat the prejudice against them. Meanwhile, the military continued to discharge thousands of gays and lesbians from service. In reality, DADT set up a culture of witch hunts carried out by the homophobic, hell-bent on exposing gay servicemen and women to get them expelled from the ranks with no regard to their skill and performance.
In September 2010, after a six-day trial, the U.S. District Court in Tacoma found that Major Witt’s sexual orientation does not negatively impact unit morale or cohesion and ordered the Air Force to reinstate her. The ruling declared that Major Witt would indeed be reinstated and could retire with full benefits, the government would drop its appeal of the federal court ruling in her favor, and the unlawful discharge will be removed from her military service record. In other words, Margie took on the US Government and WON!
Then on December 22, 2010, President Obama signed legislation passed by Congress repealing “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” Margie attended the signing ceremony in Washington, DC.
Margie, along with award-winning journalist, Tim Connor, wrote a book called, Tell: Love, Defiance, and the Military Trial at the Tipping Point for Gay Rights. Here is the publisher synopsis and a few reviews after its release in 2017. I strongly suggest reading it or listening to it on Audible.
Tell is the riveting story of Major Margaret Witt’s dedicated and decorated military career as a frontline flight nurse, and of her love and devotion to her partner — now wife — Laurie Johnson. Tell captures the tension and drama of the politically charged legal battle that led to the congressional repeal of the controversial law and helped pave the way for a suite of landmark political and legal victories for gay rights. Tell is a testament to the power of love to transform hearts and minds, as well as a celebration of the indomitable spirit of Major Witt, her wife Laurie, her dedicated legal team, and the brave men and women who came forward to testify on her behalf in a historic federal trial.
“The name Margaret Witt may join the canon of US civil rights pioneers.” —Guardian
“The reason [Don’t Ask Don’t Tell] was repealed was because [Major Witt] put a real face on it.” — Former U.S. Senator and Vice-Presidential nominee Joe Lieberman
“Major Witt’s trial provided an unparalleled opportunity to attack the central premise of [Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell] … and set an important precedent.” — New York Times
“A landmark ruling.” — Politico
“You may not know her name, but Margaret Witt is one of those seemingly ordinary Americans whose persistence changed the country’s culture. Her determination will help many who serve this country live better lives. Read her story. Tell others. What she’s done speaks for itself.” — Bob Dotson, New York Times–bestselling author of American
“Margaret Witt’s moving and inspirational story of how she took on the US military and won is a powerful testament to how regular people can help achieve extraordinary results. Witt gives the reader a poignant insider’s perspective on the legal case that was crucial in building momentum to send Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell the dustbin of this country’s history.” — Marc Solomon, author of Winning Marriage
“This discussion [of Major Witt’s case] formed the backdrop of my first in-depth discussion of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell with President Obama.” — Former secretary of defense Robert M. Gates
“Few people get to actually witness history and fewer still are fundamental in making it happen. Major Margaret Witt has managed to do both. Tell reminds us that now more than ever we must learn to care for each other across differences within our communities, especially when those in power attempt to diminish us.” —Ryan Berg, author of No House to Call My Home
Explorer and mountaineer Edmund Hillary once said, “People do not decide to become extraordinary. They decide to accomplish extraordinary things.” In your life, you will come face to face with injustices in our society. Those injustices may seem insurmountable and deeply entrenched. Some may even be happening at the hand of the very institutions charged with taking care of us … like the US Government!
Go ahead and take a chance!
Be on the right side of history!
Use the gifts God gave you and the power at your disposal to do something extraordinary!
You may be just an ordinary person but you can accomplish extraordinary things in this life!
I read somewhere that a car is not just a car. It’s how we define ourselves. Car ownership celebrates our agency, emboldens our self-worth, and empowers growth. A car provides a shelter on wheels, a badge of identity, and a means to determine your own path. There was a time when Americans had a love affair with automobiles; the ones we drive and the ones we wish we could drive.
Back in the day, cars were more distinctive looking, one make and model from another, even identifiable from year to year.
However, in the interest of aerodynamics and safety, cars have become more and more homogenous looking. Physics would love it if all cars were shaped like sideways teardrops.
This was clearly not the case the year Karl and I were married over 40 years ago. Here is a photo of the two cars we owned in 1982. Not many sleek design elements OR safety features involved here!
Karl drove a 1978 Checker Marathon. It was a great big beautiful tank! I drove a 1976 Ford F150 pick-up truck with a 120-gallon propane tank fastened inside the bed. The truck had been modified to run on propane, not on gasoline or diesel. At the time, propane was 50 cents less per gallon than unleaded gas. It cost around $80 to fill the tank and I could practically drive forever! It also burned cleaner, there was no fuel pump, spark plugs lasted five times longer, and the engine could last three times longer than with conventional fuel. I owned horses at the time and drove it to horse shows. This truck had NO strain pulling a fully loaded horse trailer with a tower of hay in the bed. This truck could pass everyone else on a steep incline like they were standing still! In fact, Karl (in my pickup) raced John McDowell (in his fast little sports car) leaving the Vogue Night Club one night after a concert. He beat him off the line and left him in the dust. John made Karl promise to never tell anyone his Fiat Spider (or some such) was outdone by a boxy looking pickup truck. (Oops.)
To this day I have never known anyone else to drive a propane powered vehicle. Granted my truck was pretty unique, but Karl’s car would turn heads wherever he went!
When Karl was 26 years old, he ordered his first (and only ever) brand new car. It was a 1978 Checker Marathon with a custom shiny black paint job and a black vinyl top. The band was playing in South Bend and a couple of the guys drove him an hour and a half north to Kalamazoo, Michigan, so he could pick it up directly from the Checker assembly line.
It was love at first sight! Big, fat, and wide was this automobile! Karl immediately dubbed it Chubby Checker and started shopping for a front license plate with the word CHUBBY. Roomy on the inside was definitely an understatement! There was a good three feet of leg room in the back seat. An entire sound system could fit back there. Two adults could stretch out and sleep comfortably in the back seat: there was more room on the floor than on the bench seat. In the front seat, there was plenty of headroom; no need to take off your Stetson before getting in. It was the kind of car that would make other drivers point and wave and smile at Karl. He just loved that car!
It featured a Chevrolet Turbo-Thrift engine which is a straight-six, 230 cubic inch, and had plenty of power. Its body was pretty much unchanged for the 22 years (1960 to 1982) it was in production. It was a virtual workhorse! The Checker Marathon was distinctive as Yellow Cabs found in New York and other big cities, but it was also used for a couple of years in the late 60s in Pope Saint Paul VI’s entourage motorcade — painted black of course.
Between 1978 and 1991, Karl cherished that car. It was the only one like it in Indy. Just like it’s owner, it was one of a kind. One of his first acts of ownership was to place a WTLC sticker in the back window. He could often be heard pulling up to a gig, windows rolled down, rhythm ‘n blues blaring into the streets!
When we were first married, we lived at Tudor Lake Apartments at 86th & Ditch. There was a huge snowstorm and it turned bitter cold. Not one car in the lot would turn over … except that old Checker. Some of us shoveled people out and Karl made the rounds with his jumper cables. I remember AAA was estimating a wait time of six days to come jump a battery, so Karl and his Checker were the heroes of the day!
Even now as old men, still young at heart, his buddy Michael Clark and Karl laugh hysterically every time they talk about pranking middle-of-the night gas station attendants. Karl would drive the Checker into the gas station knowing everyone would be looking as he got out. He would emerge wearing dark glasses and carrying a white cane. Michael would get out of the passenger door, walk around to the driver’s door and guide Karl into the convenience store. Inevitably the attendant would whisper, “Is he really blind?” And Michael would answer, “Yes, but it’s okay, I tell him where to turn.” They would load up on junk food and Michael would lead Karl back to the driver’s seat and hop in on the passenger side. With windows rolled down, Michael could be heard shouting directions at Karl, “Turn right! Now left! Stop! Now go!”
Karl’s band-mate Tom Wright recalls, “I only know one boy who could pull off buying a Checker Cab and have it seem normal. We were all stunned for lack of a better word. Karl sat proudly at the wheel and smiled at onlookers, “Yeah, go ahead. Take your best shot.” He loved that black behemoth. His choice simply made us love him all the more for being who he was as a young man.”
Those big silver 5-mile-bumpers could push anything on the road and Karl often came to the rescue of stranded motorists. Since 1971, Federal law stipulates that a bumper needs to withstand a slow collision without damage to the car. To dodge this requirement, the auto industry eliminated bumpers altogether, and the result is consumers and insurance companies pay thousands more to repair simple fender benders. But many a broken-down or out-of-gas motorist were saved by Karl and his Checker.
We kept that dear old Checker until the early 90s. I remember the fateful day. Our oldest son was a toddler and one day I remember thinking, “This suddenly doesn’t feel safe anymore.” I was driving on Ditch Road, looked down, and saw the street beneath my feet. The rocker panels and floorboards had completely rusted through, held only together by worn out carpet! Sadly, we had to make a decision. In the end we gave it to a friend who worked in auto body repair; we knew he’d appreciate its novelty and maybe restore it.
If you knew Karl during the 70s and 80s, you remember his Checker Marathon. It was a part of his public identity, part of his Indiana celebrity. Fans loved it. Friends loved it. Bandmates loved it. Family loved it. In fact, one time when Karl was out of town, his 17-year-old little brother fondly remembers kissing a pretty girl in the back seat of that Checker. Now there’s something you never forget! How old was Karl when he learned this little bit of information? He was today years old!
It’s funny how some things stick in your mind like yesterday, standing against the passage of time and the fading of memory. For Karl, owning that Checker was one of those benchmarks and it drove with him in tandem through the 80s, Karl’s most hopeful decade. In those days, all things seemed new. His career seemed promising with the 1978 reunion of the Wright Brothers and their second run at fame and fortune. He found new love when we married in 1981. He found renewed faith when we stumbled into a great new church, and he began his music ministry in 1985. He found fatherhood when our oldest son was born in 1989.
And all this sitting tall behind the wheel of that 1978 Checker Marathon.
“How did you get your first job?” [I took this a little far and here I tell you about all my jobs.]
My first paying job was picking strawberries. It was the summer of 1966, the summer between sixth and seventh grade, and my family of five was living in a two-bedroom apartment. Working that field was awful and hot, muggy and buggy, and undoubtedly the worst job I ever had. Picture this: a bunch of middle school kids riding in the back of a one-ton truck with wooden slats around the box to hold us inside all the way to the strawberry fields. There were so many of us we had to stand up. The truck delivered us to the strawberry farm by 7:30 in the morning. Don’t believe what they tell you about Minnesota. It isn’t always cold there. In the summertime it is H-O-T hot: 9am – 90 degrees – and – climbing hot. We picked berries all day for a quarter a quart, cash at the end of the day. I don’t think I lasted too long at this job; sunburn and heatstroke were dangerous for this little blonde Norwegian. My Mom had pity on me and let me quit, which was as simple as not showing up for the truck ride to the fields.
I was 14 years old in 1968, the summer between eighth and ninth grade when I got a job babysitting for a family in our neighborhood for $20 a week. Five days a week from 7:30 am to 5:30 pm I cared for a five-year-old girl, a boy just a year younger than me, and a girl my age who was mentally retarded [that was the term back then]. Cereal for breakfast, hot dogs for lunch, getting dinner started for the family, doing dishes, straightening up, and entertaining the children. Not much on daytime TV in 1968 and certainly no video games. I now wonder exactly what I did to entertain such a diverse group all day long all summer long.
By ninth grade, my friend Diane and I were virtually inseparable and starting to spread our wings. We had class together, we hung out together, we had summer birthdays together, we rode the school bus together and then called each other the minute we got off the hour-long bus ride, we dressed up and took the city bus downtown Minneapolis together, we went to school dances and football games together, we got dissed by the popular girls together, we snuck out together, we looked for trouble on Windy Hill together, we sipped cherry vodka together, we listened to Mason Profit through Dave’s bedroom window together, we smoked cigars together when Diane’s surprise baby brother was born, we bought Jimi Hendrix and Janis Joplin albums together, we got our drivers licenses together, and we had our first hoodlum boyfriends together. Oh…did I mention we were grounded for the better part of our freshman year together? Our folks thought we were no good for each other. But we knew otherwise. We are still good friends today. Many years later, I was living in Indiana and Diane was living in the Virgin Islands, we became mothers together at the ripe old age of 35. We are indeed kindred spirits.
I was 15 in 1969. I know there must have been important news going on in America, but I wasn’t paying much attention. That was the year I got my first W-2 job at the Chanhassen Dinner Theatre washing dishes for $1.35 an hour. Actually, Diane and I got jobs in the dish room together. It was hot and sweaty work but we didn’t care…we had our own moolah! It didn’t take long, and we were both promoted to usherettes in the 600 seat dinner theatre. The play was Damn Yankees, and we got to dress in baseball caps and tight jeans. We were the cat’s meow! We were rolling in dough at $1.50 an hour. Gas was 47 cents a gallon. Over the next twelve years, the Dinner Theatre would offer ideal hours for me as I worked my way through high school and college; from the dish room to usherette to cashier to waitress to bartender to hostess. It was an amazing place with four professional theatres under one roof serving 920 dinners out of two kitchens in two hours before the plays would begin. My job at the Dinner Theatre became my social and educational life. In by 5:00 pm and out by 9:00 pm, it was the perfect evening job for students, especially when the tips were good. For years after I left there, however, I would have nightmares about serving salads in a panic as the lights were going down, unable to find my tables.
I got married in December 1981 and moved to Indiana on Christmas Day. I traveled all over the country with his band until summer and then decided to get an accounting job. I had just received my degree 6 months prior and had never worked in accounting before. We lived at 161st and Ditch, which back then, was a long way from anywhere. One day I drove to 116th and Meridian where there were a number of tall buildings full of offices of all kinds. I looked around those buildings and said to myself, “Someone in one of these offices in one of these buildings needs me to work for them.” So all dressed up in heels and hose, I walked the halls of those buildings handing out my resume to receptionist after receptionist (in other words people who had literally no decision-making power in their company’s accounting departments.) Finally, I walked through the front doors of Fiduciary and General, an insurance holding company, owned by Russ Tolley. I handed the receptionist my resume at the exact moment the brand new CFO Neil Bardach walked through the lobby. She said, “Here is the person you need to talk to about a job in accounting.” He read my resume right then and there, paused for a moment, smiled and said, “When can you start?” I nearly fell off my three-inch spikes! I answered, “How much does it pay?” He replied, “How much do you want?” I hadn’t thought this far into the scenario, “How about $14 per hour?” He said, “It’s a deal.” That was the summer of 1982. I came back the next morning and worked at F&G for a couple of years until they were forced into bankruptcy by the Illinois Department of Insurance Compliance.
As the doors were closing on that business, my boss suggested I interview with John Biddinger who had recently opened an office at 91st and Meridian. A respected company, great boss, upwardly mobile, the whole shebang. This was a good fit for me and stayed there until 1996 when he semi-retired and moved his operations to Florida. I learned so much from this work experience. I learned about hard work, dedication, about the value of connection and living well. In my last year (1996) with BICC my salary, stock options, etc. totaled over $80,000. I remember thinking, “not bad for a little girl who wasn’t good at math in school”.
In 1998 my mother died and I was grateful I didn’t have a job at the time so I could be with her in her last days.
We had been attending Northview Christian Life in Carmel since 1982, and then were founding members of Radiant Christian Life in Westfield and attended there since 2000. I went to work for Radiant in October 2000 where Pastors John and Gary were so understanding about the importance of family obligations. My wage dropped nearly in half, but it was worth it to me. Walker and Jackson were 11 and 9 respectively and I loved having the flexibility to be involved in their school and sports activities. This was a fun job because I could do much more than accounting using other creative skills as the years tumbled by. My main responsibility was accounting and bookkeeping, but I also served on committees, took care of communications with the congregation, and had lots of interaction with the members. October 2022 will mark 22 years at Radiant, officially making me the oldest and longest employee on the books.
I have always been blessed with good jobs, good bosses, and good work environments. With one exception: picking strawberries. But that’s okay. Half of life is learning what you don’t want to do with it. Always remember, life is not about how fast you run or how high you climb, but how well you bounce.
The sun disappeared. It was a raw and blustery November day blowing in the miserable winter. The wind howled all night long ushering in the dark unforgiving season to come and slamming the door on bright blue warm lazy autumn days of the past. The next morning, we looked out the window, and low and behold, the sun had disappeared!
We waited and waited. We couldn’t believe our eyes. No dawn? We couldn’t believe our watches. No sun? We kept turning on the TV news hoping they would shed some light on what had happened over night. We kept checking our social media to see if the rest of the land was seeing what we were seeing. What was happening? And what next?
Day after day, we’d wake up hoping it had all been a bad dream. We had never seen anything like it. Ever since God was a boy, the sun had come up every day. We depended on it. It fed us. It nourished us. It kept us warm and secure and flourishing. And now it was gone! And for how long? Forever? It can’t be!!
Slowly the idea began to take root that sunless days were our new reality. We investigated how this might have happened, and we began to hear about little pockets of the population all across the land who actually preferred living under cover of darkness. They had figured out they could get away with murder in the dark; lying and stealing to line their pockets and getting their way all the time in every way. Egging them on stood an army of their heroes with microphones. An army whose voices were piped in 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, spewing anything that would keep people fearful, angry, and listening.
Almost immediately, the proverbial bad wolf began gaining in size and influence. Have you heard the legend of the good wolf and the bad wolf living within each of us? The one who rules you is the one you feed. Now that the sun had disappeared, the bad wolf was growing and prowling around looking for someone new to devour.
These little infected pockets of profoundly mislead people with their 24/7 chanting, had promoted weak-minded leaders who were a hollow reflection of their own venomous hearts. They made sure that very bad people weaseled their way to the inner sanctums and then ordered them to do their bidding. Without the sun, they were free to exploit the vulnerable for their own gain. In the darkness they were free to make fun of the disabled and to be mean to those in need. Without anyone watching, they put profits over people and normalized violence toward anyone who came against them. Without the light, they were able to dress up in the robes of the unborn to stir the hearts of those who once had fed the good wolf. Not even mother earth was off limits, as laws were passed to allowing her poisoning. Those murky dark days had the feel of an unsupervised schoolyard or a chapter from Lord of the Flies.
Emotions and fear became the driving force in everyday life, because as we all know, when rational thought and emotion get into a dispute, emotion always wins. Fear and anger can motivate even the Godliest among us to do the most ungodly things.
Most of the people in the land were basically trusting at heart, and so before the sun disappeared, lived with our heads in the sand. We believed that the sun would always rise. So, when the warning signs came, we were determined not to believe it. We did nothing to stop it. We could have. But we didn’t. And now the sun had disappeared, and we were in a world of hurt.
From sea to shining sea, we became cold and hungry and violent and sick and divided. Rich against poor. Young against old. White against black. Haves against have nots. Brother against brother. Husbands against wives. The people began to lose heart, and then a new enemy raised its ugly head. This new foe spread like wildfire across the world and randomly made us sick or disabled or worse. The people could not decide for themselves how exactly to fight the foe, but they turned a deaf ear to the warnings of the wise ones. Soon there was a halt to trading and commerce and travel and education and gathering together. Shelves began to empty. Despair tightened its grip. As the dark years dragged on and on, the people in the land languished in their self-imposed misery.
But then a mysterious phenomenon began to happen. Hope began to blossom first like the little springtime crocus, then in time, like the tall willowy cosmos dancing in the summer wind.
Abraham Lincoln once said, “The best way to predict the future is to create it.” The people got to work, spurred on by the belief that the difference between hope and despair involves telling a different story from the same set of facts. They took their tears and began to water tiny seeds of hope that had been buried deep within the whole time. They got to work and began writing their own story.
They worked to free the captives. They worked to feed the poor. They worked to teach the children. They worked to develop cures. They worked against bias and discrimination. They worked against violence. They worked against corruption. They worked against fear.
Four years later, as a result of their hard work, new leaders rose to power, leaders who reflected the generous and inclusive hearts of most of the population. This, of course, sent the old guard into a full-fledged hissy fit and they tried to burn down the country to keep the sun from shining. They failed.
So, on the morning of January 20, the sun reappeared for the first time in 1,534 days! It was a bright blue sunny cold winter day. It was the kind of day that a beautiful young poet, in a stunning yellow coat and red hat, describes in glowing descriptors when speaking of peace and promise for the future.
It was the kind of day that made you want to wear pearls. And so we did.