Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Give Thanks

Just this past Monday, I had completed a circle which I had been "drawing" now for about 10 years.  You see, I went to a Cori Connors concert.  My preconceived idea of a concert that featured "folk music" was a person with a nice guitar sitting on a wooden stool with an electric bass and maybe a fiddle, if I was lucky.  What I got was more than what we call an ensemble.  Upright bass, backing guitar, autoharp, octave mandolin, drums, an entire STRING SECTION which was sitting next to the ENTIRE BRASS SECTION, all which were below a choir which could rival any grouping of musical Mormons.  I went to hear one of my true folk heroes.

Cori was raised just south of Pittsburgh.  I came from a place just a bit "southier" from her.  So we know about the Iron City and the pierogies and the cabbage rolls and the hoop-eye shoop-eye polka.  But that's where it ends.

This singer/songwriter makes marks on the souls of the people she meets, let alone the people who are fortunate to hear her songs.  The words come from such a loving place despite coming from a broken home.  I know.  But I think that in that brokenness, kids with limited parents develop a sense of seeing limitless things.  Feeling beyond what others feel.  And Cori (she's gonna KILL me) can weave these threads into the most touching tunes imaginable.  But it doesn't stop there.

I had the opportunity to visit with Cori and Dave Connors over a recent 10 day stretch and I have come away rather dumbfounded.  How can people be so nice?  Why don't they ever raise their voices in anger or disagreement?  Why is it always family, family, family?

You see, I learned my do's and don't's from others and not from parents or other family.  I never had brothers or sisters.  And the remnants of my living family today might as well be dead.  That's right.  I have cousins and aunts and uncles who have been silent for decades.  And it's probably interpreted as my fault for not staying in touch.  I tried but it will always be my fault.

Enter religion.  OK, I'm not going to try and convert you.  But the one constant thing that has kept me out of jail and has helped me make many friends is my faith (and sometimes lack of it) in God.  A God who is kind and generous and doesn't keep score.  A constant friend in times of sorrow and even depression.  You see, Cori, Dave, and their entire family and friends practice their faith and wear it on their sleeves.  And they let it wash over their family and friends.  And even over distant people that they have never met before last week.

Everyone thinks that religion is found in buildings made of granite with stained glass windows and lots of smells and bells.  It is not any of that.  It's in the hearts of people like Cori and Dave Connors.  And in their family and in everyone they know.  They don't have to go to a temple to talk to God.  He's right there with them all of the time.

So this Thanksgiving, I'm going to pray that God blesses the Connors family and every family that I know.  And you know, why stop there?  How about the families that are hurting and in pieces?

Cori wrote a song called "Give Thanks".  You ought to go and hear this..   It'll cost you though.  89 cents.  Big money.  In fact, buy or download the whole CD.  I promise you that this will be the best Christmas present you'll ever get for yourself or for others.

So on this Thanksgiving, think about family, friends, a steady job, good health.  And please pray for those who don't have it quite as good.  Our soldiers and veterans, homeless, the lonely and infirmed.  It won't even cost you 89 cents to do that.

Cori's right.  Give thanks.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Veteran's Day 2010

Each year, I hold Veteran's Day as a special holiday.  And not for me or my own military experience but to remember what others have done.  For most of us, Veteran's Day is just "Thursday".  But for those who were caught up in some of the most bitter fighting that cannot even begin to be explained, it's a very special day.

When soldiers returned home in the 1960's and 70's from Vietnam, we were not greeted with parades, testimonial dinners and accolades.  I personally remember cleaning the spit off of my uniform from a man standing in a walkway above where I was walking at the Greater Pittsburgh Airport.  But my own personal "welcome home" was easy to fix.  I ignored the guy but I remember that my dad wanted to break his legs.  And, being a 3rd degree black belt in Shotokan karate, he could have done that.  But we walked away.

But the truly difficult part of any return home for these guys in particular were the closed doors and turned away faces of the people who were approached to see if any jobs were available.  What does a man who just spent a year doing jungle warfare qualify for when looking for work?  Gardener?  Hired assassin?  Human relations manager?

The sad part about all of this is that you'll find a lot of these guys up at the University Drive division of the Pittsburgh V.A. Hospital.  They're the ones who look lost.  Angry.  Nervous.  Some of them haven't come home from this war.  You'll find others at the American Legion or the VFW.  They're the ones with the 10 mile stares or the appearance of just losing their family.  Some use alcohol or other drugs to quiet the screams.

Even in the news, we see rather glossed over depictions of returning soldiers.  Today, there are small armies of social workers and psychological experts who are there to do what they can for these people who never knew where the next ambush lay ahead.  But the Vietnam vet's plight while "in country" was the same.  Instead of IED's, there were other man made and natural horrors which awaited us with every step we took in the dense vegetation of the Southeast Asian jungle.

So on this Thursday, you might want to try to put yourself in the place of one of these veterans.  Imagine if each stop sign you approach during your daily drive had the potential of exploding.  Or whether the person in the store you are shopping in has 25 pounds of explosives under their clothing.  Or if maybe imagine if there was a deadly poisonous snake in your mailbox?  These things sound absurd but to the soldier, they are very real.  War makes us do pretty absurd stuff.

So to the men and women who suffer silently from invisible wounds, please allow me to offer you this;  welcome home.  We cannot even begin to imagine what you've gone through but welcome home.  We aren't mind readers who can appreciate the flashbacks and the nightmares that won't go away but welcome home.

And if no one else will summon the courage to say so, then by God, welcome home soldier.

Welcome home from one who knows.