The Newest War

I think yesterday will mark the beginning of our newest war. Yesterday is the day the Trump Administration announced new stiff tariffs on solar cell imports and washing machines. China and South Korea will not be pleased. Nor will American consumers, who will end up paying more for electricity and home appliances. Some people will be pleased though. They include stockholders in Whirlpool, domestic solar cell producers (if there are any), and some people who will end up being hired by Whirlpool, although their numbers likely will be dwarfed by the number who lose their jobs in the solar industry. In short, there will be some winners and some losers in the short term. The long term is a different matter.

We’ve been down this path before so we have some idea what to expect. In fact, a lot of what’s happening these days is reminiscent of the years leading up to, and the early days of, the Great Depression. Then, the nation decided to pull back from its open border policies, both in commerce and immigration. It seemed like a good idea at the time, at least to some people. But as we know, it didn’t turn out so well.

That’s not surprising. For when one nation takes actions that hurt other nations, it’s reasonable and predictable to expect retaliatory measures. And that’s why I suspect yesterday marked the beginning of the newest war: it could well be the day the 21st-century trade wars commenced.

The problem with trade wars isn’t only economic. The larger problem is that they often lead to military wars. And casualties. And that’s exactly where I fear we’re headed. I will be surprised if we don’t find ourselves at war with China in my lifetime. And perhaps Russia, too.

Meanwhile, our stock market is looking a lot like the market in the 1920s. And we know what happened in 1929. I’m not predicting a repeat performance, but it’s safe to say there are risks that are being minimized or ignored. And that’s never a good thing.

Given extraordinarily high asset values and a highly leveraged corporate sector, along with unprecedented peacetime sovereign debt levels, it’s easy to imagine an eventual outcome that entails a lot of financial carnage, especially against the backdrop of economic inequality the likes of which we haven’t seen since the 1920s. Yet we don’t seem to be concerned.

The nation chose to go in a belligerent, self-centered, tribalistic direction in the last election. It was a foolish decision, but it was the decision we made. And now we’re seeing it play out.

The worst is yet to come. Nonetheless, I suspect most of us will come through it just fine. But some of us won’t. And it’s hard to know today who the winners and losers will be. We just have to keep our ears to the ground and be quick to react, I suppose.

We’ll do our best for you, Vera. And for your parents and your uncle Andrew. I suppose it’s my main mission in life now. I consider myself fortunate to have all of you in my life. Fortunate indeed.

I Must Get to Know Him Better

My inclination is to avoid people I don’t like. The reasons should be obvious.

Sometimes I haven’t had a choice, though. Sometimes, the person was a boss. Or a merchant or contractor with whom I had to interact. Sometimes, they were classmates or teachers. Or neighbors. Or clients. In other words, sometimes I was compelled to deal with people I didn’t like, whether I liked it or not.

Usually, I tried to make the best of a bad situation. Sometimes, I didn’t do a very good job of that.

It’s easy to be passive-aggressive in such situations. It’s also usually self-destructive.

Recently I came across a statement of Abraham Lincoln that cast the situation in a new light. Lincoln had this to say about unlikable people:

I don’t like that man. I must get to know him better.

“I must get to know him better.”

I’m thinking that’s probably pretty good advice.

Fanning the Flames of Destruction

The president of the United States thinks some countries are “shitholes.” And, to no one’s surprise, they happen to be populated by people with dark skin.

In yesterday’s post, I debated whether America was burning, much like Rome — whether its best days were ahead of it, or behind it. Today the debate seems silly.

Leaders of great nations don’t talk the way America’s president talks.

It’s unfortunate, but it is what it is. There is more to life than the status or standards (of living and morality) of one’s country of residence. Things like family and friends matter more. Far more.

I suspect America was never as great as some people believe and isn’t nearly as bad today as some people believe. As is often the case, truth is probably hiding somewhere in the middle, out of sight.

We do know that such condescension is not new. “Those places are filled with barbarians.” “Savages.” “Illiterates.” So-called great nations have never had any trouble coming up with pejorative terms to describe people of less powerful and less wealthy places. Just add “shithole” to the list.

The danger inherent in condescension is that it always comes back to bite you in the ass. Ironic, isn’t it?

The Day the Heart of God Was Revealed

This is what follows Christmas. According to the Gospel story, Herod sought to kill the baby Jesus. He thought Jesus would be a threat to the empire — to the systems of power that underpinned the privilege and wealth of the few. So Herod ordered all newborn male babies to be slain. And the blood of the innocents flowed.

To avoid Herod’s threat, Joseph and Mary fled with the child to Egypt. It was the day Jesus became a refugee. (Interestingly, if they had tried to seek refuge in the U.S. today, they would have been turned away.)

But it’s more than a story about a refugee. Far more. At least to anyone who believes in a god — more specifically, in a god whose nature and purpose were revealed in the being and life of Jesus.

To such people, Jesus the refugee reveals much. He reveals the very heart of God. Continue reading

Turkeys Remind Us

Turkeys sacrifice. Themselves. That’s what they do. For us. Just look around the table today if you don’t believe me.

But it’s not only turkeys. There’s a lot of sacrifice out there. It’s just that most of it goes unnoticed.

You might wonder why people sacrifice. After all, we’re not turkeys. They don’t have a choice. Usually, we do.

I suppose there are several reasons people sacrifice.

Sometimes, it’s for a belief. Some people believe it’s important to live an ethical life. To have integrity. To not do something they believe is wrong. Yet they can’t control what comes their way. And sometimes what comes their way is a demand by more powerful people to do something that conflicts with their beliefs. And sometimes the demand is paired with a threat. Go along or suffer the consequences. Some people decide to stand firm on their principles and not to compromise. Sometimes, this means they have to sacrifice. Sometimes, it even means their death.

Sacrifice also can be rooted in love. Most of us parents would do anything for our spouse, children and grandchildren. We’d even sacrifice our lives if necessary. Parental love is that way. It knows no bounds.

Kids (myself included) tend to overlook or minimize this sacrifice. We tend to focus on what our parents did wrong. Or how they messed us up. Or their flaws. We fail to see the sacrifice. Or we don’t think it makes up for the wrong. Perhaps it doesn’t. But it’s still part of the equation. It can’t be written out of the book of history. Sometimes we acknowledge the sacrifice at their funeral. Sometimes we never do.

Today is a day we set aside to give thanks. To express gratitude. To count our blessings.

For starters, I’d like to thank the turkey. The ultimate sacrifice is unlike any other. It’s a big deal, even if you don’t have a say in the matter.

If you do have a choice, it’s an even bigger deal.

To my parents and grandparents (most of whom are gone), thank you. I get it. I’m a parent, too. I know what you’ve given. And what you were willing to give. Wow. Just wow.

To my wife and best friend (they’re the same person), gratitude doesn’t begin to capture what I feel. If you needed a heart, I’d give you mine. And be glad I could.

To my sons and you, Vera, my only grandchild, and your mother, the wife of our son, each of you is a blessing beyond measure. I’ve made mistakes. And probably will make more. But never doubt I would be willing to be the turkey if necessary.

To all our ancestors and contemporaries who worked so hard and gave of so much to make the world a better place, thank you. Your sacrifices may have gone unnoticed, but that doesn’t diminish them in the slightest.

If there is a spirit out there who cares, and loves us, thank you to you as well. Thank you for allowing us to experience the joy and blessing of sacrifice.

To care enough to find joy and blessing in sacrifice is indeed a gift. The source of this gift is a mystery. Yet it’s existence isn’t. It’s real. And precious.

The turkey will never experience it. But we can.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Never Trust Anybody

“Never trust anybody.” That’s one of the lessons President Trump says was imparted repeatedly by his father.

Trump added, “Then [my father would] ask me if I trusted anybody. I’d say, ‘No.’ ‘Do you trust me?’ [his father] would ask. I’d say, ‘Yes.’ And he’d say: ‘No! Don’t even trust me!'”

I had two reactions to this story:

  1. This lesson was probably one of the reasons Mr. Trump was successful financially.
  2. I wish someone had taught me the same lesson when I was young.

If I had learned this lesson, my expectations would have been more realistic. I would have better protected my own interests. And I would not have left myself so exposed to the back-stabbing tactics of duplicitous people. In short, I could have avoided some painful experiences and probably achieved more success than I did. Maybe I’d even been happier.

Some people might be tempted to think you just have to trust others. They don’t want to live in a world in which you can’t trust others. But why? I know the downside. What’s the upside?

The upside of not relying on trust is that you leave yourself less exposed. And are less inclined to operate on flawed assumptions and, therefore, less likely to make missteps or be ambushed.

Now, some may say that, if you heed Mr. Trump’s advice, you’ll end up like his son: a self-absorbed narcissistic individual seemingly devoid of empathy and ethics. But I’m not so sure about that. I don’t think it’s fair to point to that one lesson about trust as the culprit in the formation of a flawed personality disorder.

But perhaps it was a factor. I don’t know.

What I do know is that, in my world, there are few things worse than breach of trust. It’s a big deal to me. It’s the one thing about the Mafia I always respected: the willingness to go to jail or be killed rather than breach the trust your family placed in you. (Obviously, I didn’t like the Mafia’s objectives or their criminality and brutality.)

But I’ve found that trust frequently ends up being misplaced and leads to disappointment and pain. Because there always will be breaches of trust. Eventually, even the Mafia learned this lesson the hard way, as one after another ended up ratting out their family members to protect their own hides.

In the real world (as opposed to the idealized world that tends to captivate my imagination at times), people act out of self-interest. They will do what they believe to be in their self-interest, or what they think is right, even if it means betrayal. We’re very good at rationalizing betrayal away. We won’t even think of it as betrayal or breach of trust. Sometimes, we even manage to convert it into honor or virtue.

I wish I’d better understood this. As I’ve matured (beaten up like an old car), I’m less inclined to think that others were or are the problem and more inclined to think the problem was my own unreasonable expectations. And my naive understanding of human nature. I can’t blame anyone else for those expectations and naiveté. That was my own doing. I think President Trump’s dad understood this.

Still, I can’t go all in. I can’t live without any trust. But what I can do is to reserve it for fewer people. Close friends and family to be exact. And never to trust anyone in the workplace.

I’ve learned there are friends and there are friends, and never to lose sight of the distinction. I learned that lesson the hard way. I wish my dad had done a better job of imparting that knowledge when I was young. I wish I’d done a better job as a dad as well.

Nevertheless, I consider myself to be very fortunate: I have some true friends and family whom I feel I can trust. So maybe Mr. Trump’s father was wrong. Or perhaps he was right about the general rule, and that the exceptions are rare. You can decide for yourself.

In any case, I understand why Mr. Trump taught his son that lesson. Perhaps he went too far. Twenty years ago I would have said that he did. Today, I’m not so sure.

P.S. Despite what I believe is often a mere illusion of trust, Vera, you can always trust me. I can’t think of anything more important than fostering and living trust within our family. And never betraying the trust we have placed in each other. Frankly, I’d rather die than breach that trust.

The Better Question Is, What Do I Have That I Didn’t?

I’m tired of having to explain my decision to move to Indiana to all the people around Carmel with whom I come into contact. Given my situation, many of those people are in the health care field, but there have been others.

Hoosiers are open and inquisitive people. I’m always amazed by how much you learn about them in a brief conversation. They’re eager to share. And they want you to share, too.

So invariably they learn we’ve lived here for only a short time. I don’t volunteer it, but they ask: “Where did you move from?” Colorado, I say (a mistake). “Why would you leave Colorado to move here?!,” they ask, with a tone that suggests they think I made a terrible mistake.

That’s when I tell them about you, Vera. And your parents. And how happy I am to be here, even though I love Colorado.

I then promise myself to tell people, the next time I’m asked, that we moved from Camden or Detroit. But I can’t do it, even though it would be only a little white fib.

Two events occurred this week that brought all of this to the fore once again. My physical therapist was working on my arm, doing what Hoosiers do best: sharing and probing. And sure enough, she asked, Where did you move from?” I stupidly confessed: “Colorado.”

She then caught me off guard, asking a question I hadn’t gotten from other inquisitors. “What do you miss most about Colorado?”

Perhaps it’s because I’m ill and had my guard down. Perhaps it was the pain meds. Whatever the reason, I didn’t take time to think about my response. Instead, I simply uttered the first thought that came to mind, which also seemed to be the most truthful: “Everything.”

My response was entirely consistent with my prior views, of course. Simply put, taking all other considerations out of the equation (which can’t nor should it be done), there is no place like Colorado.

I went on to tell my therapist that, even though I liked Colorado, I was glad we lived here, near you and your parents. And in Carmel, which is probably the best place we ever lived from the perspective of many of the things that matter to us (amenities, walkability, conveniences, no HOA, progressive, etc.).

Roll the clock forward to last evening. Your grandmother thought she was going to pick you up a day care without me. She said I should stay home. After all, I had pneumonia and perhaps other undiagnosed ailments. I needed to stay put.

Right, I thought. The pain wouldn’t be that much different in the car than sitting at home. I went.

It was at your day care that it occurred to me that the better question would have been, “What do you have here that you didn’t have in Colorado?”

Here is just a glimpse of what I have.

We walked into your room. You were playing with your classmates. You were holding a container and they were filling it. You hadn’t seen us arrive (I have stealth-like qualities).

I then spoke your name. You turned and, consistent with past practice, you immediately did your best imitation of Usain Bolt. I’m always surprised by your acceleration and speed — and recklessness.

You never pull up. Instead, you run full throttle into my arms.

And then we went home and played.

Just Because

Day care was closed yesterday for a Jewish holiday (Shmini Atzeret). So you did something better, Vera: you came over to our place.

At one point, I asked if you’d like to do something. I can’t recall what it was. You replied, “No.” I asked why not. You said, “Because.”

“Because.” I have to confess, I hadn’t expected such a retort from a 27-month-old. I laughed.

I didn’t push the issue because I thought your reply, although surprising, was sufficient. Basically, “because” or “just because” simply means you’d rather not, and you don’t feel compelled to justify your decision to anyone else.

That’s cool. You shouldn’t have to. The world would probably be a better place if all of us were more willing to take “because” for an answer.

Why didn’t you complete your homework, Johnny? Because.

Why did you not come to visit me? Because.

Why did you eat half of the peach pie? Because (and guilty as charged).

Why did you quit your job? Because.

Why did you vote for that person? Because.

Why don’t you have cable? Because.

Why did you move to Indiana? Because.

The older I get, the more “because” becomes acceptable. Often, it’s simply a matter of respecting boundaries and accepting the right of someone else to choose differently than we might.

Often, it’s simply a matter of perspective, and not allowing little things to blow up into big things.

It’s true that sometimes because is simply a dodge. But, if it’s their dodge and not yours, so what?

In my younger years, as a parent, I was probably more inclined to push the issue. With age, as a grandparent, I’m more inclined to think, That works for me!

Why the change?

Because.

Victimization and Vindictiveness

There are so many victims today. Not so many in reality. But many in self-perception.

Sadly, this sense of victimization leads to vindictiveness. Rooted in anger and outrage. Self-pity. Self-delusion. Entitlement. Fanciful expectations. Vile blame. Abdication of responsibility. Inaction. Passivity. Surrender.

Victimization abounds in our country today.

It’s nasty. Indeed, ugly. It diminishes our country. But that’s not the worst of it: it diminishes the individual.

I’m not sure how we got to this place. Perhaps it’s inevitable as a wealthy empire matures. And peaks.

I’m not sure. I’m pretty sure, however, that it’s something to be avoided, for no other reason than it’s self-destructive.

Vindictiveness works that way. You think you’re hurting someone else. Or that your self-righteousness elevates you. But, in reality, you’re turning on yourself. You’re allowing the good within you to be eroded.

If you want to catch a glimpse of some of the consequences, read Peter Hessler’s “Letter from Colorado: Follow the Leader” in a recent edition of The New Yorker.

It’s hard to read. It’s sad. Disconcerting. Pathetic — not the people, but the situation that’s led to this.

I’m not sure there is anything worse than thinking of yourself as a victim. And blaming others or the world for your condition.

The moment you think of yourself as a victim, it’s a downhill slide.

Try not to succumb to the temptation, Vera.

You will be tempted. All of us are at some point in our lives.

At times, I’ve succumbed. I know better. But its alluring power sometimes prevails. Even when you know it shouldn’t. Even though you know you are the only one who will be hurt.

Vindictiveness works that way. It gives the appearance of being directed outward. But it never is. It always eats the soul of the person who harbors it. The person who allows it to settle in.

If it settles in, recognize it for what it is and work to evict it as soon as possible, not because your grievances aren’t real or legitimate, but because it will do you in if you don’t.

Today, victimization and vindictiveness threaten to do our country in. Perhaps it will be done in. Perhaps the tide has crested and is in the process of breaking along the shore of history.

But perhaps not. Perhaps we will take charge of our individual and collective destinies. Perhaps we will reclaim our collective can-do spirit. Our fading courage and vision.

Perhaps the day will come when we no longer countenance that which is turning us against each other. Against ourselves.

I don’t know. But I do know that it’s serious.

In the meantime, one thing is certain: if we allow self-pity, anger and the urge to be vindicated to prevail, we will become that which we claim to loath. Self-loathing works that way. It’s insidious. And deceitful.

My prayer for you, Vera, is that your soul will overflow with gratitude. And that you will never embrace victimhood. Or be vindictive. Or wish ill on anyone or anything.

As a two-year-old, you are pure. Cling to that purity and goodness as much as you can. The world will try to steal it from you. Guard it jealously.

In the final analysis, perhaps that’s what life is all about: nurturing and protecting the goodness that was embedded within each of us at birth.

The Day Death Chose Not to Stop

I remember hearing the sound of a violent crash. The next thing I knew, I awoke, only to see a spidered windshield and deformed car door pressing against me. Concussion-induced amnesia stole from me (perhaps protected me from) other memories adjacent to the collision.

I do recall emergency personnel being on site, but don’t recall being extricated from the car or loaded into the ambulance. Vera, I remember calling your grandmother from the ambulance because I was concerned she’d go to the airport to meet me as planned. But I don’t recall sending an email and photo to her and your dad and uncle, although later I was presented with proof that I had. It was an odd thing to have done.

I recall arriving at the trauma center, the hall lined on both sides with medical personnel anticipating my arrival. Once on the table, I recall someone struggling to remove my wedding ring, to no avail. I recall suggesting lubricant. It worked.

I recall someone cutting off all my clothes. And I remember a doctor examining my spine for injury. I especially recall the intense pain as I was rolled on my side as they checked for internal hemorrhaging.

I’m sure there had to be more, but that’s all I remember, until being moved for CT scans. A short time later, I recall the excruciating pain as technicians endeavored to move me into position for x-rays.

Twelve hours later, after IV drips, pain meds, more tests, sutures, a failed attempt to set a bone, and a splint being plastered on me, I was discharged, barely able to walk but one lucky guy.

Reflecting on this day later, the thing that stood out for me, through it all — the trauma, pain and vast unknowns — is that I hadn’t experienced a single moment of fear.

It wasn’t a matter of courage. It was more like an act of grace. And peace.

Beginning with the moment I regained consciousness to the present, I have been experiencing an overwhelming sense of gratitude, and the feeling that death had passed by on that road, but for reasons I’ll never know, decided not to stop.

The paramedic remarked that I probably would not have survived if I hadn’t been wearing my seatbelt. When looking at the crushed metal from my captive, scrunched position inside the car, and later when viewing a photo of the exterior of the car, I knew that it took more than the seatbelt to save me that morning and, at the very least, the injuries could have been much, much worse.

I’m healing now, as are the occupants of the other vehicle, who remain in my constant thoughts and prayers.

Yesterday afternoon, we picked you up from your school, Vera. I couldn’t lift you up to put you in the car seat, and I think you’re wondering why I have so many boos-boos and a strange thing on my arm. But it doesn’t seem to matter to you. And it doesn’t matter to me, either.

Today, I will be wheeled into an operating room for back-to-back surgeries. Bone stuff — nothing life threatening. And then I will get to know my oral surgeon and dentist even better. There are worse ways to spend time.

Along this short, intense journey, I’ve encountered people of compassion, ranging from health care professionals, taxi and shuttle drivers, airlines personnel, strangers who offered assistance at the airport, friends from Colorado extending their arms 1,000 miles, family and others.

I also encountered some people who weren’t helpful or, worse yet, were actively unhelpful. But I’m just going to pretend I didn’t.

Some people say they’re sorry. I don’t say it (because I appreciate their concern), but what I’m thinking is, “For what?” 

There have been times in my life that I’ve felt sorry for myself. But this hasn’t been one of them.

I used to close letters and emails (and sometimes still do) to certain people with the words, “Peace and grace to you.”

This past week, the words returned home to me.