One Parade Too Late

He remembers watching the faces on T.V. as the tears began a salty cascade down their cheeks.  He cried as they cried, their impending separation ripping through more than twenty years of psychic dust and debris to lay open the feelings of a 19-year-old kid.  The feelings that came as he turned away from the girl he loved and marched across the tarmac toward the plane that would deliver him into the military and the uncertainty that surrounded the Viet Nam war.

He also remembers the faces on T.V. as they returned to an overwhelming display of yellow ribbons, smartly flapping flags, and old-fashioned victory parades.  Some of them reveled in the triumph of the moment, and some flushed with embarrassment, but all were thankful to be home.  The Gulf war was over and they were all treated as heroes.  And he cried again.

The year is 1971.  The 19-year-old kid is now 22 and he is sitting in the squadron commander’s office.  Quietly, but with a slight waver in his voice, he explains why his roommate has wandered off toward the ridge that overlooks the base.  A few months later the young man heads home before reporting for his next assignment.  Disappointment sets in when his young wife does not meet his plane.  It grows as he unlocks the door to her empty apartment.  It turns to crushing despair when he wakes the next morning and finds that he is still alone in bed.

This is one fragment of the era covered by what PBS describes as the “10,000-day War”.  It was a war that recorded tens of thousands of American names in black granite and altered the lives of so many others.  Those who answered the call of their country in the face of political divisions.  Those who, at worst, were reviled for their efforts and who, at best, were ignored.  Years later they shared, vicariously, in the celebration bestowed on the Gulf War veterans.  Ultimately, however, they realized that, for them, it was one parade too late.

No Country for an Old Man

Strife in politics is nothing new but the division in this day and age has grown so hardened that there appears to be no common ground for compromise.  Terms that used to convey philosophical leanings have now taken on the status of derision and expletives.  I’m talking about words like “Conservative”, and “Liberal”.  We have become so polarized that it has literally become a “my team versus your team” mentality with no handshakes after each contest.  Worse yet is the fact that each side continues to push for more and more ideological purity, thus terms like “RINO”.

Some of us may think we have an open mind to other political stripes so let me provide a little test.  I will list the attributes of two individuals and you can decide how to categorize them.  The first is a white male in his late 60’s.  He is a military veteran, having served during the time of the Viet Nam war but not in the war.  He is most comfortable in jeans, tee shirts, and cheap sneakers, all purchased at Wal-Mart.  He owns several guns, mostly of the handgun variety.  He thinks there should be some limits on abortion.  He has always worked to live within his means and believes that the government should too.  He attends church on a regular basis.

The second individual is also a white male in his late 60’s.  He went to high school and college in Southern California during the 1960’s and 1970’s.  He holds three degrees in all – Psychology, Sociology, and Computer Science.  He was opposed to the Viet Nam war.  He believes that a woman should have the right to an abortion.  He believes that those who have much should help those who don’t.  He believes that there should be better screenings for gun ownership.  He thinks that those who believe that the Universe came about exactly as it is stated in the Bible are intentionally ignorant of scientific facts.

So, what do you think?  Number 1 sure sounds like a “Conservative” and number 2 sure sounds like a “Liberal”, don’t they?  At this point, however, many of you may suspect that this is a trick and you would be right.  Both descriptions fit the same individual.  Before you write this individual off as some sort of Schizophrenic oddity let me assure you that he is a happily married (47 years), middle-class individual who is well within the norms of sanity.  I should know because he is me.

So what is the point of this exercise?  Simply to show that there are many individuals who don’t fit the constricting molds that have become the new world views of “Conservative” and “Liberal”.  Moderates of both parties are an endangered species and any hint at compromise is seen as a betrayal of one’s political tribe.  I wrote a letter to the editor one time in which I decried the language of a local party boss who berated those of his own party who were not “pure enough”.  He also filled his commentary with plenty of invective for those of the other party and peppered it with lots of usage of the terms “Conservative” and “Liberal”.  A big part of my argument was that the use of labels in general was a lazy way to avoid making the effort to see other points of view.  In some ways it harkens back to what Sociologists like Erving Goffman called “Labeling Theory”.  The danger here is not only do we too easily reject those who do not fit the label but we also too easily help in the very creation of our own enemies.

So what is an old moderate to do?  Well, first and foremost is to not stoop to the levels of mudslinging that are so common today.  Second is to call BS when alternative facts are espoused by anybody of any political stripe.  But to do so requires that you have the actual facts at hand as proof.  It may not (and probably won’t) change the mind of the person or persons touting the alternative facts but it’s still somewhat comforting to know what the truth is.  Third is to stand up for people who need a voice or a hand.  There are those who get disenfranchised from not only the political process but from society as well.  I have worked hard for what I have but I know many people who have worked hard and have very little.  As someone who tries to follow the example of Christ I know that I should do what I can with what I have to help people who need it.  But I can’t help everyone and sometimes that breaks my heart.  I’m not saying you have to be a Christian or even believe in God to be part of the solution.  Your motivations may be different than mine and your resources may be different than mine but the results will be the same – someone who needs it will be helped.  Last is to vote.  For about ten years my wife and I lived in a state where our votes almost always went opposite of the majority.  But we voted anyway because we view voting as not just a right but a responsibility.  Besides, I always say that if you don’t vote then you have thrown away your right to complain about the results.

The United States is the greatest nation in the history of the world in terms of wealth, opportunity, and personal freedoms.  To have been born here is a stroke of fate for which I am eternally grateful.  The fact that I feel like an outcast from both political parties does not change that perspective.  But I hope, and pray, that I will live long enough to see reason and civility return to our political process.  Maybe then there will once again be a country for this old man.

Why I Write

I have a need to express myself creatively.  Mostly that takes the form of building stuff or fixing stuff because, well, I’m a guy.  That doesn’t mean that my only supplies are 2×4’s and tenpenny nails.  Actually, I have a particular fondness for fine woods and like to make things like crosses, decorator boxes, and even furniture.  But just about any material or craft area is fair game if I get an idea.  The problem, though, is that while I may have the heart of an artist I don’t have the hands to match.  That doesn’t keep me from trying but I’m realistic enough to understand and appreciate what real craftsmanship looks like.  I figure that if I pass along my how-to information then maybe someone with artist’s hands will get inspired.  So I write.

I also like to solve problems.  Ok, so they have to be problems I choose to solve.  Otherwise they are just irritants that eat into my time.  A big part of that fun problem solving has taken the form of designing and building little microcontroller projects.  Getting stuff to work is fun but being able to pass along my knowledge to a younger generation really puts a fine finish on it.  So I write.

As you may have guessed, I’m a retired engineer with backgrounds in both electronics and software.  But there’s more because originally I wanted to be a Psychologist.  Wait, what?  Yup, turns out that the other half of my personality and education involves the “soft sciences”.  When I finally got serious about college (after a stint in the military) I actually got multiple degrees in Psychology and Sociology.  And then I promptly landed a job as an electronics test technician.  Thankfully my military experience paid off and kept me from the dreaded “Do you want fries with that?” scenario.

As I moved into different positions in the tech world (writing, instructing) it became more evident to me that I wouldn’t really feel fulfilled unless I was designing stuff.  So I took night classes and got a degree in Computer Science.  Not only did I start having more fun, but I also got much more use out of my Social Science education when dealing with traditional engineers.  Unfortunately, word got out that I was a little bit better than the average engineer at writing and presentations so those tasks began to infringe on my fun time.  I mean, just how creative can you get while writing tech manuals for big companies and the military?

Through it all I did dabble in some creative writing.  I joined a small writing group and even took a Creative Writing class at the local Community College – four times.  I did technical articles for a couple of hobby magazines and wrote unpublished personal essays, short stories, and even poetry.  I thought about a novel but didn’t think I could harness my attention deficit long enough to see it through.  Now that I’m retired I have more time but also a wider variety of interests.  So writing gets set on the back burner unless it’s documenting one of my craft or electronics projects.  But I still have a need to express my thoughts on other topics and doing so by posting comments on Yahoo articles just doesn’t seem to cut it.  So why do I write?  Because sometimes I need to be heard – even if I’m the only one listening.