Day of Thanks AND Forgiving

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Thank you to those we know and don’t know.
To those who keep the lights on, the trains and trucks running, our homes and water heated,
Those who work in places that never close or to which we can go or call in an emergency.
To those who keep our streets safe, our computers running, those who grow and stock our food, those who invent and create to keep expanding our world.
To those who dare imagine new remedies to restore our health.
To those who fight to preserve our freedoms.
Today is also a day to forgive ourselves for our failings and forgive others for theirs.
Try as we do we may come up short, and yet we must pull ourselves up and try again, remembering that defeat and loss should not keep us down for long.
There is just this one life.
When we feel alone and self pity knocks at our door, we say hello and goodbye.
When we do not get what we want in one field or endeavor, we try another. And another.
If our love is not returned we smile back and keep searching.
To pain unrelieved we look it in the eye and say, ‘I will get past you, you will not defeat me.’
To whose who wish to harm or kill us we say, ‘Why do you want to give me your pain?
Why are you running from your humanity?’
We will keep quarrelling and fighting, it’s part of who we are, but can we lessen the harm we do to each other? Can we soften the injuries we inflict?
Why do we forget that our victims are our brothers and sisters?
Should we not remind ourselves every morning when we step out, that we have the option to hurt or not hurt a fellow human being?
And yet, some pain we may not be able to stop, even if we want to.
Yesterday, as I returned home from buying groceries, I spotted an old acquaintance who has given up on life. He is self employed and has means to seek help but has chosen not to do so. I called out to him and he stopped. We talked. ‘Have you sought help?’ I asked. ‘No. I don’t care.’
A middle aged man, he’s felt defeated for years. “There is help,’ I insisted as I’ve done before. ‘Thank you but I don’t care,’ he replied. ‘I don’t have any friends. My relatives live far away.’
‘There is zoom,’ I answered. ‘It won’t work,’ he returned.
As he got ready to get into his car he said, ‘The other day, I think I almost had a heart attack.’ ‘There is help,’ I said again.
‘I don’t care.’ And he got in and drove away, a prisoner of his suffering.
I felt impotent as I walked back to my car, aware that I may not see him again.
But some pain can be stopped.
I am sure that on a day like today, theatres were open in Moscow, with actors playing dramas and comedies that spoke of the intricacies of the human condition.
And we can envision a conversation between two people exiting the theatre. ‘Did you enjoy the play, Igor?’ She asks her husband. ‘Delightful. How the actor captured the nuance in the emotions. Marvelous.’
Just as their political leader keeps ordering more and more missiles be fired to kill more and more Ukrainians.
We humans have a great ability to live with contradictions.
I’ve been watching a drama on Netflix called ‘The Last Kingdom,’ set in the British Iles many centuries ago, before England was England. In the story, a Saxon king relies heavily on a valiant and skilled warrior to preserve his dominion. The Saxon king is a devout believer in God. The valiant warrior is pagan. For all that the Saxon king owes the pagan warrior, he is most intolerant of his being pagan and he will not embrace him as he is. Will not accept his difference.
I have not reached the end of the series, but it seems the king will not accept the warrior as he is even if it means putting the existence of his dominion at risk.
We humans have a great ability to live with contradictions.
Attempting to resolve them builds bridges between us. Not doing so dooms us.
We’ve been at it for centuries.
Sometimes we give up and just slaughter, burn or rip each other apart.
But there is still hope. In each one of us.
Giving thanks to another human being is a step forward.
Forgiving ourselves and others, yet another.

Afghanistan and America. The Similarities

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Dear Mr Biden:

Read your speech on Afghanistan today at the White House.

Thank you for that.

Even though you speak of American support for the Afghan forces, there’s the growing doubt that the army we helped train, does not inspire the confidence they will fight the good fight once we leave.

You have assured us we are doing much to secure the safety of those who worked with us, through the granting of visas to the US or temporary relocation outside of Afghanistan until such visas are granted. 

Thank you for that. 

And yet some people have not chosen such option, instead preferring to stay, at least for now.

Surely they are animated by the desire to stand up for their nation.

I have read elsewhere (the Wall Street Journal) that hundreds of thousands of Afghan nationals, fearing the worst, have already left the country. 

Your anecdote about a schoolgirl saying she wanted to be a doctor and asking America not to leave because otherwise she wouldn’t realize her dreams, was poignant. 

Throughout your speech, there was a tone of inevitability mixed with much hope.

You said we had not gone there to nation build. You are right.

Yes, Afghans have their fate in their hands. They always did.

In the WS Journal article, I read of a woman who is a musician. That is what she loves. And yet to the Taliban her music is un-Islamic. Where will she fit? She won’t.

The article mentions that Kabul has been transformed into a cosmopolitan center where western influence is all around.

And yet to the Taliban that will surely be anathema. 

The clash of cultures is inevitable.

Western influence brought freedom of expression and career opportunities that were quickly taken advantage of by the locals and yet a movement of sufficient strength to resist the Taliban was not formed.

The sharp divide with the culture prevailing in the countryside remained. And the brutality of the Taliban kept growing. Surely there is much envy at the root of such discord. But it was not addressed. 

For one reason or another, a strong leader did not emerge to stand up for all the advantages western influence brought to that country.

A strong leader did not emerge to remind the westernized section, that their gains had to be defended, that discipline and sacrifice would have to be called upon to defend what they were enjoying and helping them prosper. 

I’ve read that tribal leaders in Afghanistan continue to section the country to their advantage but to the detriment of a united front. To date, there has been no willingness to compromise in the interest of national unity.

It is a sad story.

There was Hamid Karzai before and now Ashraf Ghani, but neither was able to stir a spirit of national unity that Afghans were willing to defend. Such struggle never became an essential task.

At a time when here in America we are profoundly divided, we can learn a great deal from the Afghan story. 

We have to talk to each other. It is now a national priority. Right up there with climate change and immigration reform and infrastructure building and better education and healthcare and improved broadband.

The task is sufficiently important to require a cabinet position and your constant attention. 

Talking to each other is key to any enterprise we wish to embark on as a nation.

If we don’t get back to building those bridges to each other, the spirit of collective purpose will keep waning, and the price we will pay for it will grow dearer. 

Afghanistan is a lesson for us today.

Thank you

Oscar Valdes 

Is America Racist? A Guide

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There is a strong desire to absolve ourselves of that judgment. 

A strong tendency to want to spare ourselves. 

There is no other group that has suffered like African Americans have throughout the years. Except for American Indians who were decimated.

Emancipation came in 1863 but it would take another 100 years – 1964 – before Lyndon Johnson pushed through, against great resistance, the Civil Rights Act prohibiting racial discrimination. Not surprisingly, discrimination against blacks persisted in both overt and covert ways.

Is America racist?

We have been. And we still are in some ways.

What to do about it?

Put it on the table so we can examine such belief each and every day. 

Not to do so retards both our personal and national growth.

Not to do so diminishes us.

Each one of us has to keep looking squarely at who we are, day in and day out and ask, Do I think myself better than African Americans? Do I think they are inferior? Do I think they don’t try hard enough?
Do I think they are more violent? Do I think they are less intelligent?’

Am I racist?

If I share any of the above, even as a passing thought, then I have to work on it.

Because African Americans are neither inferior, nor lazy, nor more violent nor less intelligent.

But they have been marginalized for a long time.

Impoverished for a long time.

Undereducated for a long time.

All of which warps the essence of a person.

It is okay to say to ourselves, ‘I am racist… and I am committing to overcome it.’

It is not an unforgivable flaw to have racist thoughts. 

And we don’t have to tell anyone.

We don’t have to confess.

So long as we keep working on it.

But we all have to do it. 

Is America racist?

Yes, we are. 

We are because we have gone along with policies that segregated African Americans. Because we have not objected loudly enough to their having poor educational and work opportunities. Because we have colluded, consciously or unconsciously, actively or passively, to keeping them down.

And what about our guilt? 

If we have personally injured an African American acting from a racist belief – call it harm in the concrete – then we must apologize. And it will be up to them to forgive us or not. 

If we have injured African Americans by not favoring measures that would assist their development – call it harm in the abstract – then we can work to reduce our guilt on our own, by questioning ourselves daily about our attitudes toward them and aiming to resolve them. 

Forgiveness will be up to us and our consciences. 

Advancement for African Americans has been happening gradually, over the years, thanks to the commitment of many of our more enlightened fellow citizens. 

But opportunities need to grow faster. 

As they do, we will see African Americans rise in every field of human endeavor, showing that they are just as capable as any other group on earth. Their numbers in the higher ranks of science and academia and industry and technology and business and all professions will swell. And their numbers in jails and prisons will decrease.

And we will feel proud of our civic and emotional growth.  

Gradually, we will cease to be racist as a nation.

And we will be at peace,

And we will be one,

For we will have conquered ourselves. 

But we have to keep working on it. Day in and day out.

Is America racist? 

Yes, it is.

Am I racist?

Answer the above questions and make your judgment. 

You may not be.

You may be one of our more evolved and mature citizens.

Each person has to square with their truth.

And so long as each one of us does, each one of us will be ceasing to be racist every single day.

As for me,

I will not confess,

But I will keep doing the work every day,

Day in and day out,

And feel damn good about the progress I’m making.

Oscar Valdes.

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