Monday, May 29, 2017

Memorial Day Tribute

The NFO, rightly, in my opinion, feels that much of the meaning of Memorial Day has been lost.  It's more about a day off from school or work and barbecues/sales.

So, she asked each of us to research a soldier (from any conflict) who had sacrificed his/her life for the USA.

Here's what each one wrote:

Nadia wrote about: Army Spc/Pfc. Sarina N. Butcher

Paco wrote about: Sgt. Joshua Rogers

Tikkanen wrote about: First. Lt. Anais Tober (pasted below)

I wrote about: Specialist David E. Hickman

You are welcome to read them and honor the memory of these heroes with us.

Memorial Day 2017- Anais A. Tobar

First Lt. Anais A. Tobar was found dead in her room on July 18, 2016. She was in the United Arab Emirates supporting Operation Inherent Resolve. She was born in Caracas, Venezuela. She then moved to Florida and lived there until  she was assigned to the Fourth Maintenance Squadron, Seymour Johnson Air Force Base, North Carolina. She was very connected with her mom. She was deployed in Abu Dhabi.  “There are not enough words to tell you what a loving and wonderful girl she was,” McGee(family friend) said. “She was God-fearing, deeply devoted to serving others and her country.” She didn’t even die in battle. She died by an unknown cause. I think that on this Memorial Day, we should remember the soldiers who not only died fighting, but died at a young age while serving in the army, even if they didn’t go down fighting.

Monday, May 15, 2017

The Questions of a Lifetime

My dad had a wonderful piece in the WSJ last Saturday in the "Peggy Noonan" slot.  Link here. Pasted below.
Well worth the read.

The Questions of a Lifetime

‘Why are we in America?’ I asked when I was 4. The next eight decades have provided many answers.

‘Why are we in America?” was the first substantive question I ever asked. It was 1939. I was 4 years old and speaking to my father, Yudie, in a San Antonio neighborhood not far removed from the frontier. He responded by writing a poem, in Yiddish, about how he left a Lithuanian shtetl in 1922 to join his siblings in America. My mother Sonia came from Poland, via Mexico, a few years later. When I got older, I joked that I thought everyone in Texas spoke Yiddish.
“Will there still be news after the war?” I asked my father during World War II. Each day he drove my brother William and me to our local public elementary school. There was no radio in the car, so my father wouldn’t leave the house until he’d heard the latest news about the war. I was always worried we’d be late. We usually arrived just before the tardy bell. I learned later that news would not only still exist but that the concept of news is elastic and ever-expanding, going well beyond great wars.
“What were the causes of the American Civil War?” asked a professor at Harvard College while I was a student there in the mid-1950s. Similar lofty questions filled the air in Harvard Yard, at the dining tables in Adams House, and in well-worn lecture halls. “Were the Dark Ages really without learning and culture? What were the consequences of the closing of the American frontier? What is the Greek idea of tragedy? Why do the righteous suffer and the evil prosper?” Science posed different questions with precise answers, about how to create compounds, measure weights, and understand mass and acceleration.
Saluting the flag in the 1940s.
Saluting the flag in the 1940s. PHOTO: GETTY IMAGES
“Do I want to be a doctor?” I asked myself in 1957 during the summer after college graduation. I’d been accepted to several medical schools. No, I decided, I wanted something else. At Harvard Law School, the interrogative Socratic Method was applied in such a way that previously confident students were resigned to humiliation.
“Aye, aye sir,” is the answer of a junior officer in the U.S. Coast Guard, aboard ship or on shore. Follow orders, rules, and military etiquette. I served my country by doing as I was told. No questions asked.
“Ask not what your country can do for you—ask what you can do for your country,” said President Kennedy in 1961. I took his command literally. Moving to Washington, I became an assistant U.S. attorney. I asked a prosecutor’s questions in my effort to learn and present affirmative facts or to challenge those offered by the defense. Eventually I asked legal questions in courtrooms as a civil litigator, in classrooms as a law professor, and in conference rooms as an arbitrator.
“Who is America’s most obscure president?” I asked Ellen Robinson in May 1971. It was our second date. She answered that this was the same question that she asked her dates. “If we have that much in common, we should get married,” I said. Ten weeks later we did. Our marriage is in its 46th year and has produced five children and 12 grandchildren. (For the record, I say Franklin Pierce was most obscure; Ellen says Chester Alan Arthur. )
“What’s in this week’s Torah?” my then 5-year-old son once asked me during our traditional Sabbath-eve dinner. I made dinner-table questions a feature of family life in order to divert the children from their antics and introduce content to our discussions. One week, I forgot to raise any topics. The child’s question led me to write an article. That generated an offer from a major publisher to write a book. I co-authored “Torah With Love: A Guide for Strengthening Jewish Values Within the Family.” A reviewer wrote, “This is one of those books which can change lives.” Years later, an author referred to our book as a “classic.”
“I wonder what we are missing right now?” is the question I asked Ellen during the weeklong celebration of Harvard’s 350th anniversary in 1986. The dean of the John F. Kennedy School of Government had just noted that in 1936, at the Harvard tercentenary, not a single one of the speakers made reference to conditions in Europe. Three years later the Continent was consumed by war, the consequences of which would take 50 years to resolve. I attest that in 1986 none of the academic, political and cultural leaders who spoke offered a single thought to suggest that Europe was again on the verge of world-changing events. Three years later, in 1989, the Berlin Wall, the physical symbol of the divide between freedom and totalitarianism, fell. In 1991, the “evil empire” itself, the Soviet Union, collapsed.
“Where shall we go?” I asked each of my children when they were teenagers and ready for a one-on-one trip with Dad. Our eldest, Jeremy, chose communist Europe, and we contemplated the blessings of freedom and the meaning of democracy from both sides of the then-still-standing Berlin Wall. Asher chose New Zealand and Australia during the latter’s 200th celebration of the arrival of the First Fleet. When Barak and I set off to see the Roman Empire, our shared reading assignment was Edward Gibbon’s “Decline and Fall.” On our trip to Turkey, Dina and I walked up to the ruins of Troy while listening to “The Iliad.” My trip with Kira, the youngest, took us across a broad swath of the new South Africa, conceived by Nelson Mandela.
“What do you know now that you didn’t know then?” I asked my childhood, high school, and college friends when we reconnected during a yearlong, cross-country 80th-birthday celebration in 2015. We talked about lessons learned, not current events. We talked about resilience after being battered by life, adjustments to a changing world, disappointments and satisfaction in family, career, and community.
“Are you depressed?” an exercise therapist asked me after an unexpected four-way coronary artery bypass surgery during that same 80th birthday year. “No, am I supposed to be?” I responded. I was actually amazed at what medical science had done for me.
“What bedrock principles and values would you like to pass on to your descendants?” My answer: integrity is not negotiable; never stop learning; cling to the aspirations of the Declaration of Independence and defend the restraints of the Constitution; salute the flag; and pass along these values to the next generation.
Oh, and ask substantive questions.
Mr. Epstein is a lawyer in Washington, D.C. and a self-styled “minor American playwright.” This essay is adapted from his contribution to a collection published for the 60th reunion of the Harvard College Class of 1957.

Monday, May 01, 2017

Finding Life in a Cemetery

There are some days that you (well, I) just need to memorialize because of how meaningful they were.

Sunday was one of them for me.

My friend, Michael Fishman, whose mother died way too early told me that he thought my blog was a great gift to my kids because, "one day, when they are curious about who you are, they will have your blog."

I was so fortunate to have my maternal grandparents with me until the age of 34. Every year since they died 10 years ago, we had a family gathering on/around the anniversary of their death.

Last year, for whatever reason, we didn't make it.

So, this year, when the anniversary of their deaths (they died within 5 weeks of each other) came around, I really felt a pang and a deep need to visit them.

As is typical of suburban Dad Sundays, however, we had to keep pushing it off. Baseball, dancing, birthday parties, weather, etc.

Finally, yesterday, we realized it was our time.

I took the kids to the cemetery and we stood at the grave, just talking to my beloved Nana and Poppy.

Tikkanen and Jokinen both remembered them. Lakkanen was born a year after they died, so she never got to know them.

Still, I knew that Nana and Poppy would have been proud of the people that their 3 great-grandchildren (of mine, that is) are becoming.

We reflected on life, death, and the lessons that my grandparents taught me about friendship, love, marriage, and perseverance.

I wondered how they would view the events transpiring today. Though my Poppy was an early adopter, I wasn't sure that he would totally get Blockchain.

All of us were crying and, though I'd had some resistance from some of the kids about going, they all took the moment seriously.

It was really a "mental snapshot" that allowed me to hold them close and realize how fleeting the time is.

I don't think I every truly appreciated the importance of a cemetery for personal reflection until yesterday.

As we left and drove up the Baltimore-Washington Parkway, we were discussing what we had experienced, when Paco said "hey, there's a Ferris Wheel, can we go on it?

So, in a moment of spontaneity and an effort to just Carpe Diem it, I took the exit.

Turns out there was a "pop-up carnival" with a bunch of rides (including a mini roller coaster).  I was particularly proud of how we managed our budget and allocated out tickets to maximum usage.

It was a team effort as Tonka gave up one ride.

And, from the top of the Ferris Wheel, we saw a Walmart in the adjacent lot, so, as is our custom, we went to get flavored water and scented candles.

I knew we had created a memory. We joked about "hey cemeteries are supposed to be free, this one trip cost us over $75!" and we had a great bonding experience.

I held them close and I held the memories of the moments even closer.

That night, began Yom HaZikaron (Memorial Day for Israel's fallen soldiers) and, as it happens, I was summoned to perform a ritual cleansing (tahara) as part of the burial society (chevra kadisha).

So, mortality was very much on my mind yesterday.

But because of that, I held on to Life and it's beauty with an even greater grip.