Memorial Day: Reflections on Sacrifice

Today is Memorial Day.

Today we honor and mourn the more than one million Americans who died while serving in the US armed forces. Today we pause to reflect on them and their service. They remind us that sometimes the welfare of our nation requires sacrifice. Sometimes, it requires the ultimate sacrifice.

It’s a fact that as members of a society we are sometimes called on to make sacrifices for the good of our fellow citizens. And doing so is noble noble and patriotic. That’s the reason for this holiday; that’s the reason for the parades and the flag waving. And that’s the reason that (under normal circumstances) we have this day off from work: to allow us to pause and reflect on the sacrifices made by others on our behalf.

Because that’s the American way. And not only during times of war, but always. Surely so: after every national tragedy or natural disaster, we’re fed hours of news footage of Americans pitching in and helping one another: filling sandbags, making donations, digging out, coming together.

And now, millions of Americans across the country are being asked to make a similar sacrifice to protect and defend their fellow citizens. We are being asked to stay home. To forego the BBQ or a day at the beach. And an extreme sacrifice: to wear a piece of cloth over our nose and mouth when we go out in public.

It’s hard to fathom the audacity of a society that would ask so much of its citizens.

Indeed, in an upending of everything we’ve been taught about what is required of us as Americans, we are now being told that in being asked to wear a mask out of concern for our neighbors, our rights are being irretrievably infringed upon. Can one think of anything more infringing than a face mask? Certainly not being asked to button on a uniform, strap on a weapon, and fight and die in a foreign land.

Remember when Americans believed that with rights come responsibilities? That Freedom isn’t Free? How did the Republican party (and for sure, this pre-dates the Trump Republican party) manage to make such a mockery of the concept of shared sacrifice? of caring for our neighbors and putting others ahead of ourselves? When did thinking about the welfare of our fellow Americans become such an infringement on our God-given rights? When did looking out for others become so un-patriotic?

On this day of reflection, I’m reflecting on what seems to be a new era of selfishness that I see growing in this country. It’s a sad day indeed.

Old Habits For New Times

I shouldn’t have been surprised at how quickly we went from “rediscovering the simple pleasures of being at home” to retooling our old habits to suit our new shelter-in-place lifestyles. But I still was.

Way back a few weeks ago when we first found ourselves locked in our homes, we quickly realized how rushed and distracted our lives had become over the past several years. With events and activities cancelled, we suddenly had the leisure time we hadn’t known in years. Gone were the relentless obligations, the harried mornings, the over-scheduled days, the stress-filled evenings.

Now we were home with nowhere we had to be — nowhere we could be — and fewer demands on our time. Many of us were alone. Others were cocooned with spouses, children, and other loved ones for the first time in a long time. For some, it was the first time ever.

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A Country’s Greatest National Asset

What do you say to people who tell you that universal health care doesn’t work? What do you say when people tell you that private insurance and for-profit health care is the best alternative?

What do you say when they argue that systems like Britain’s NHS (National Health Service) or Canada’s public system are inefficient, unsustainable, produce substandard results, and that people hate it?

What do you say? You say this:

Britain’s Prime Minister thanks the NHS for saving his life, calling it his country’s “greatest national asset.”

If anything positive can come of this terrible COVID pandemic, let it be that the United States has finally learned that universal health care works. Every person deserves health care. Universal coverage is the only morally acceptable solution.

My Silver Linings Playbook

Believing as I do that the words we use influence the way we experience the world, I have decided that rather than referring to this current situation as a “crisis” I will instead use the word “opportunity.”

I don’t mean to make light of what’s going on. My sunny outlook is entirely situational of course, and not in any way meant to downplay the very real and very serious impact of this pandemic: death, illness, sacrifice, extreme economic hardship, social isolation, anxiety, and more.

It’s just that for me and for many millions of others, doing our part to comply with stay-at-home orders means changing our expectations and our mindsets rather than enduring any actual hardship. Having to work from home, spend more time with my spouse and my cat, wear gloves and maintain social distancing, and watch a lot of Netflix isn’t exactly a crisis. It’s an opportunity.

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How Will COVID Change Us? I Hope We Remember That the Arts Sustained Us

Prince Charles uses Namaste greeting

There’s no question that we’re going to be changed by this COVID pandemic. You can’t go through something like this and not be altered in some way. Sadly, some of us will lose a friend or loved one to the virus. Some will have had a major life event (perhaps a wedding or graduation) cancelled or postponed indefinitely. Millions will lose their livelihoods. Savings will be eviscerated. We will all suffer hardship to a greater or lesser degree.

Some self-reflection may come out if it as well. Maybe we’ll discover a resilience in ourselves that we didn’t realize we had. Maybe we’ll find out that we actually enjoyed our solitude more than we would have thought. (Or maybe we’ll realize that we hated it more than we would have expected.)

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How Will the COVID Generation Be Remembered?

To paraphrase Shakespeare: Some are born great, some have greatness thrust upon them, and some bungle greatness when it’s handed to them on a silver platter.

There’s no question: this is a scary time. In a worst-case scenario, millions of people across the globe could die as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. The world’s economy may be crushed, plunging us all into a dire situation. These are truly frightening thoughts. But it also presents us with an opportunity to step up into the moment and be great. To take personal responsibility for our actions and to look out for one another. To come together as a community at the local, regional, and global level. To make sacrifices. To show leadership. And to potentially save millions of lives.

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Invisibility Doomed Elizabeth Warren

Ever since Elizabeth Warren ended her presidential primary run, there’s been a deluge of articles analyzing what went wrong with her campaign. After all, on paper at least, Warren was the ideal Democratic candidate for 2020: brilliant, capable, experienced, compassionate, and female. She had real policies for fixing many of the problems that plague hard working Americans. She had a plan for everything. And after the near-miss in 2016, America seemed ready to put a smart, capable, qualified woman in the White House.

Political analysts looked everywhere for the reason Warren never placed higher than third in any primary — why she didn’t even win her home state of Massachusetts. Some argued she was doomed out of the gate by the mishandling of her claim of Native American ancestry and by allowing Trump to bait her into taking a DNA test. Others argued it was her public feud with Bernie Sanders over whether or not he told her that a woman couldn’t be elected president. One analysis laid the blame squarely at the feet of her chief campaign strategist Joe Rospars for softening her edges and trying to hide her image as a fighter, arguably her most compelling quality.

But most pundits came to the conclusion that, just like in 2016, the true reason for Elizabeth Warren’s failure was that we just don’t like women. Call it sexism, misogyny, testimonial injustice, or a double standard, the only logical explanation for why, in a campaign that began with a historically diverse field of candidates, the putative Democratic nominee for president in 2020 is an old white man.

But it wasn’t sexism that sank Warren’s campaign. Or Amy Klobuchar’s. Or even Hillary Clinton’s. It was invisibility. Elizabeth Warren’s problem isn’t that she’s a woman per se; it’s that she’s a middle-aged woman. And in our society, middle-aged women are simply invisible.

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Some Thoughts on Friends and Friendship

Making friends is tough business. And it gets harder as you get older. Until one day you wake up and realize you’ve got no friends at all. As John Mulaney quipped: “My dad has no friends. And your dad has no friends. If you think your dad has friends, you’re wrong! Your mom has friends, and they have husbands.”

Well, he’s right in one respect: it sure isn’t as easy as it used to be to make friends, and every year it seems to get harder to keep the friends you’ve got. Who has the time to get together anymore? All of the conveniences and time-savers of our high-tech life have somehow only conspired make us busier than ever. An occasional text message or Facebook post is certainly no substitute for a real conversation. And although phones are ubiquitous, we use them for everything except the purpose for which they were originally designed: actually talking to the people who matter.

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More Thoughts on Gender Neutral Language: Pete’s Husband

Two hands making a heart

My 91 year old Aunt Heidi is a big fan of Mayor Pete, and last week in the middle of an engaging chat about his chances of winning the Democratic nomination, she confessed that it bothers her a little when Pete talks about “his husband.” It’s not the fact that he’s gay or that he’s married to a man — that doesn’t concern her at all. And she isn’t like the woman at the Iowa caucus who voted for Buttigieg and then discovered that he was gay and wanted her vote back. But when Pete says “my husband” it confuses Heidi. Shouldn’t he say “my wife”? or does Chasten call Pete his wife?

Uh oh.

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A Man Above the Law

You can add Attorney General Bill Barr to the list of people happily enabling Trump’s demagogic tendencies. After blatantly mischaracterizing the results of the Mueller investigation, Barr’s most recent move has been to intervene in the sentencing of Trump loyalist, convicted liar, and self-proclaimed dirty trickster, Roger Stone. Barr’s interference has officially ended any pretense that American justice in the Trump era is fair and impartial, or that our criminal justice system is immune from political influence. This move has dramatically undercut one of the foundational tenets of the American system.

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