Thursday, December 22, 2016

Hate is strong and mocks the song

"I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day" has been my favorite Christmas song since my Vietnam-era college days. But this year the words seem particularly relevant.

The song about holiday refrains of "Peace on Earth" is based on a poem written by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow not long after his soldier son had been seriously wounded in the Civil War.  In one stanza Longfellow laments:

And in despair I bowed my head;
“There is no peace on earth,” I said;

“For hate is strong, And mocks the song  
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!”

       Although our country isn't at war now, hate seems to have taken over like dandelions popping up after a spring rain. Trump's whole campaign style was about inciting the anger and hatred simmering in the heartland. He blamed Mexicans and Muslims and media and Hillary and China -- and anyone else who happened to tick him off. Some of his followers took up this poisonous refrain and used it to lash out physically. Even some normally responsible, Christian people have rallied round his claims of greatness while the rest of us are still shaking our heads saying, "Didn't you hear what he just said?"
       I guess what scares me the most is not the hatred I see among his followers but the tendency to respond with equal venom. I don't like the anger he triggers in me. But lately I'm seeing a hopeful response, people really putting into practice "Love Trumps Hate." Individuals stepping up to protect and advocate for those likely to be victimized.
       Longfellow must have seen similar signs of hope because the poem has an upbeat ending:
Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:
God is not dead, nor doth He sleep;

The Wrong shall fail,The Right prevail, With peace on earth, good-will to men."
       
       
      

Thursday, December 8, 2016

Broken angels

About 18 years ago I started hanging only angels on my Christmas tree. I bought out all the angel ornaments at the local department store the first year. Then every vacation I would pick up an angel or two wherever I went. I have angels of shell from the Bahamas, simple pottery ones from Mexico, beautiful blown glass from Europe and a shiny copper angel from Michigan's Upper Peninsula. When friends learned of my obsession, they added to the collection.

Of course over the years there have been accidents. Several have lost fragile wings and one wooden puppet angel lost a leg. I've tried repairs with glue and wire but to little avail. 

This year I put up a smaller tree and didn't need all the angels in the collection so it was easy to choose only the perfect ones and return the broken ones to the box. But this curly-haired cutie looked up at me with such a sweet, innocent face that I realized that was the wrong choice.

God is perfect. The rest of us are broken. Some of us are impatient, quick to anger. (Guilty). Some of us are greedy or selfish or irresponsible. Maybe we're forgetful. Or a little lazy. But God loves us anyway. He displays us proudly on the tree of life, warts and all.

So I hung the broken angels where everyone can see them. And the tree is better for their presence.

Thursday, November 10, 2016

The magic of change

           
         Long before the American electoral system transformed a TV reality show host into commander-in-chief, there was a legend about an arrogant prince who had been turned into a beast and was saved by a beautiful woman who taught him how to love.
         If you need a refresher course in this tale older than time, catch the production of "Beauty and the Beast" opening Nov. 18 at Grand Rapids Civic Theatre.
         Just a day after the historic election, Civic welcomed some local media representatives, and a few appreciative children, into their costume shop. Staff and volunteers are working on ways to transform household servants into mere objects such as a teapot and a clock. Kathleen Johnson, a Chicago expert in foam sculpture, explained how she uses lightweight, pliable foam to turn a chorus of children into teacups. By using matching fabrics to cover the foam, the elegant coat of butler Cogsworth becomes the rigid case of a windup, pendulum timepiece. In this photo, the costume-in-the-works is modeled by actor Jason Morrison.
            The show is being directed by Civic's associate director, Allyson Paris. Alyssa Meeuwsen, a 19-year-old musical theater student at Western Michigan University, will portray the tough but loving Belle who courageously tames the Beast. Meeuwson, who joined us in the costume shop to sing one of the show's stirring songs, said she has always dreamed of playing Belle. "She was my go-to Princess." The beast will be portrayed by Matt Hartman.
             Tickets to the month-long holiday show are disappearing quickly. You can get yours at www.grct.org.
              We know we can count on Civic's team of professional designers and energetic young performers to create unbelievable magic on stage.
               Now, if only the fairy tale can actually come true. 

Sunday, November 6, 2016

Get out the vote

      
I went door to door for the Hillary campaign yesterday and have never been more proud to be a Democrat.
       They didn't just send us out to knock on any ol' doors. They gave each of us a list of people who had supported Democrats in the past and armed us with information about polling place, hours of operation and voter ID requirements. When somebody joked that we should tell any Trump supporters that the election would be Wednesday, our trainer quickly set the record straight. We were representing the Democratic Party and we were not to say or do anything mean or negative to anyone.
      "When they go low, we go high, " she reminded us.
       As if that weren't enough to make me proud I went out and met so many wonderful voters. The first was an elderly, black, blind woman who welcomed me into her apartment praising God. There had been a snafu with her absentee ballot but she was confident a new ballot was in the mail and she would deliver it in person to the clerk's office on Monday.
      There was a father still wearing the uniform from his third-shift hospital job corralling several young kids in a darkened living room. Yet he paused to accept my literature, smiled and said he and his wife would make it to the polls on Tuesday, kids in tow.
       I met an elderly couple whose excited chatter was tinged with the  accent of their native Netherlands. "They aren't smart," the woman said of the Trump supporters. Another woman from Estonia had such an accent I could barely understand her as she begged me to call her friends and tell them to vote for Hillary.
     An Hispanic boy was working on his car. His mother was on my list but she was sleeping he said. He wasn't sure if she supported Hillary or not, but he said he would take her to the polls on Tuesday. And maybe he would vote for Hillary too.
      A middle-aged mother told me she would be supporting Hillary but didn't know about her daughter. When the beautiful young woman with long false eyelashes and high spiked heels came to the door she asked,  "Can I write in a vote for Bernie Sanders?"  I reminded her that Sanders supports Hillary and Hillary has incorporated many of his policies into her platform.
      After three hours of trying to encourage voters, I realized they are the ones who had encouraged me. We are stronger together. 

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Who's laughing now?

          
          Most of my life I have worked on the other side during elections. I don't mean the other party, I mean I covered elections as a member of the media. Now that I am retired I will be working the polls as an election judge.
           Way back in 1972, when Tricky Dick was re-elected, I worked for the Charleston News-Courier. My regular assignment was in the "Women's Department," walled off from the army green newsroom in a "Kotex-box blue" protected sanctuary where we could view the bustle of the regular reporters through large glass windows but wouldn't be offended by their off-color language. On election night, however,  every hand was needed so I was stationed at the messy city desk just to answer phones. I was so excited to be part of the "real" story.
           In the '80s I was the assistant city editor at the Joliet Herald-News which meant I was in charge of election coverage. We had a union staff but on election nights we overlooked all the rules. Everyone volunteered to work back-to-back shifts, 16 hours straight. "At least we got pizza," one of my reporters recalled recently.
            And we got stir-crazy working with all the names and numbers in all the little contests that never get covered on CNN. In fact I saved an old chart of some of these minor offices in my computer at the Herald-News for coding reference at the next election. Unfortunately, when the 1990 election came around, I had taken a job in Grand Rapids. In the confusion, that old chart that was still in the system ran in the paper by mistake.
            Now I have graduated to the real job: working the polls. I don't think I ever really understood what dedication it takes to run an election. First you have to recruit and train all those polling place workers. And when the big day comes they will show up at schools and churches and other polling places all over America, working from 6 a.m. to prepare for the 7 a.m. opening until 10 p.m. to deliver the last votes to the county clerk.
             We'll get a boxed lunch, I'm told. Not enough time to eat a messy pizza!


Monday, October 24, 2016

War is never civil

In the narrative genealogy I'm working on, I've just started researching how the Civil War might have affected my ancestors who all lived in Missouri at the time. I've been reading about the election of 1860 which ended up with 5 candidates. The winner, Abraham Lincoln, received less than 40 percent of the vote, concentrated in the densely populated northern states.

But in the backwoods counties of Missouri, where my ancestors lived, he was practically unknown. In one county, Lincoln received seven votes or less than 1 percent. Although slavery was legal in Missouri, very few of these poor farmers had slaves. Missouri's electoral votes actually went for Stephen Douglas, the Northern Democrat from Illinois, who believed in popular sovereignty, or allowing each state to decide whether it would allow slavery or not.

It was a very divisive election. I imagine my ancestors feeling much like we do today, wondering how friends and relatives can support a candidate whose ideas seem so abhorrent. Maybe they ignored the election. They probably had no idea that less than six months after the votes were cast -- only a month after this unknown Lincoln guy took office -- that this new president would be demanding that Missourians take up arms against each other and against the people in the states where they were born.

Makes you think.

Thursday, October 6, 2016

Rally Round

      

I just realized tonight that I have been attending political rallies almost 50 years.
           Tonight it was my privilege to hear Bernie Sanders address a thunderous crowd in Grand Rapids. We had waited, standing in that hot and airless gym for more than an hour, and yet the enthusiasm when he eventually arrived was not dimmed. We applauded almost continually every point he made. It was invigorating just to be part of that diverse company: African American young men with dreadlocks, Muslim women with scarves, a lesbian couple, white-haired gentlemen in suits, mom with baby tied to chest... all ages, all races, all lifestyles, united and cheering together. "America's already great" proclaimed a baseball cap on a tall blonde young man. The slogan definitely rang true.
Me at 1976 rally for Ford
           My first rally was 1968 for anti-war candidate Eugene McCarthy. I was a college student but the event I attended that year was a dress-up fundraiser. A single minister who was a friend of a friend had received an invitation for Mr. and Mrs. and invited me to use the Mrs. ticket. I was so excited to actually see a senator who was opposing that awful Vietnam war.
           Eight years later, 1976,  I was a reporter for the Aurora Beacon-News covering a rally for president Gerald Ford. His son Steven represented the President at an event in a hotel in St. Charles, Il. The newspaper's photographer took a picture of me that I kept all these years. Both of these events were more subdued than tonight's rally.
           Another eight years, 1984, and I was attending a rally for Walter Mondale at a union hall near Joliet, Il. I was assistant city editor for the Joliet Herald-News at the time, but I didn't attend in an official capacity. I went because Mondale's VP candidate ... Geraldine Ferraro... was the guest of honor. I was so excited that a woman was actually getting that close to becoming president. I wasn't the least subdued. I was ecstatic, yelling like a girl at a Beatles concert.
          Just four years later I went to a large outdoor rally for George H.W. Bush. I was dating a man who was a Republican although my interests often followed the Democratic platform. Each of us had 11-year-old sons. We took the boys to the event. My experience in newspapers and dealing with Secret Service helped me to guess where Bush would be in the crowd. I steered the boys in that direction and both were able to shake hands with the candidate. Meeting the vice president  was the whole goal of the day. I don't remember any speech at all.
          I remember one day when a political rally was held at Calder Plaza, just outside the Grand Rapids Press where I was working at the time. Several of us attended just to see what was going on. I'm not even sure what year or candidate.
         It's good to recall these events and realize how much things have changed, and how much they have stayed the same. Sometimes the mud slinging gets ugly but the actual process is exciting, invigorating, and very hopeful.