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Wednesday, December 30, 2020

2020 – Worst Year Ever?

Here we come to the end of 2020. To paraphrase the Grateful Dead, “What a long, strange trip it’s been.” I’ve seen many people posting Facebook memes or tweets saying that this was the worst year ever and that they can’t wait to kiss it goodbye.

While this has not been the best year on record, I feel guilty for wishing it out the door. See, because I am still alive, and every day on earth is a gift.

So, was 2020 really the worst year ever? Not by a long shot.

Have you ever heard of the 4.2 kiloyear event? I hadn’t. There is a great YouTube channel called UsefulCharts.com, and by way of easy-to-understand graphics, it explains history. A while back I came across their chart “Timeline of World History | Major Time Periods & Ages,” which illustrates the concurrent historic events of the world across time periods.

Approximately 4.2 thousand years ago an event happened that experts aren’t exactly sure what caused it, but nevertheless, it resulted in 100 years of extremely dry conditions that wiped out fledgling civilizations around the world. It really was a reset.

 

Jump ahead a few thousand years, and we come to the year 536 A.D., which many historians site as the worst year ever.  Europe, The Middle East and Asia were plunged into darkness. According to the Byzantine historian Procopius, the sky was dark for 18 months, writing: "For the sun gave forth its light without brightness, like the moon, during the whole year." Without the sun, temperature on earth fell, ushering in the coldest decade in 2,300 years, resulting in crop failures and mass starvation. The Chronicles of Ireland recorded "a failure of bread from the years 536–539."

Evidence found in tree rings and the polar ice caps point to a cataclysmic volcanic eruption in Iceland that spewed ash around the world, blotting out the sun and changing the course of civilization. To make things even worse, shortly after that, the Justinian plague broke out and rampaged the world, wiping out one-quarter of the world’s population and hastening the fall of the Roman Empire. 

 


Skip ahead to the lovely year 1346 when the Black Death swept Europe, wiping out 60% of Europe’s population. A little over a hundred years ago in 1918, we had the tragic trio of World War I, the Spanish Flu epidemic and the Russian Revolution. The year 1968 was no picnic either as assassinations, civil unrest as well as the Vietnam war raged.

So yeah, 2020 wasn’t the worst, and no, it certainly wasn’t the best year ever, but as we turn the page on a new calendar, let’s acknowledges our losses, be grateful for what we brought out of the year and stake our hopes on a better 2021. 

Happy New Year!

 


 This article originally appeared in the December 2020 issue of Northern Connection magazine.



Tuesday, November 17, 2020

What Is and What Will Never Be

 What if? 

These two little words pack a powerful punch.

For those who enjoy crafting fictional tales like I do, they provoke creativity. What if we make the protagonist a kleptomaniac? Or what if the killer is the mother? What if we set the story during the Renaissance?

For those who battle or have battled anxiety, (myself included), those two little words can send an anxious mind down a path to panic. What if that mole is cancerous? What if they die? What if I don’t have enough money saved for retirement?

For the “what might have been” crowd, the What if? question can be haunting. “What if I hadn’t gotten drunk, driven my car and injured that pedestrian? What if I hadn’t cheated on my girlfriend? What if I had chosen a different major?

For historians, these two little words spark debate. In fact, there is a series of books entitled What If? in which brilliant historians examine critical turning points in history and what the world would be like today. They explore such topics as: What if the Americans had lost the Revolutionary War? What if Lincoln had not freed the slave? What if the Russians hadn’t backed down during the Cuban Missile Crisis?

Since we celebrate Veterans Day this month, I thought I’d share my little stroll down the historical What if? path. Although many men in my family have served in the armed forces including the Korean War and World War II, my family has been fortunate to lose only one life to war and that was my Will Moran, my paternal grandmother, Agnes Lane's older brother, who died in World War I.

 


I didn’t know much about Will except for seeing a few black and white photos of him in his Army uniform and a photo of his mother, my great-grandmother, on a ship sailing to France for Gold Star mothers to visit the graves of their fallen children.

As we began to dig a little deeper into Will’s life, we learned that he was killed near the end of the war at the Second Battle of the Marne in France. My son knows so much more about history than I do, and one of the history books he has stated that a young German soldier by the name of Adolf Hitler was on the front during that battle where Will perished. That got us to thinking: What if Hitler had died at that battle instead of Will? How different would our world have been? Would there have been a Second World War? Would six million Jews have died in the Holocaust? What would Europe be like today?

While the What Ifs are intriguing and thought provoking, they are futile. Although those two little words are powerful, two other words surpass them, and they are: What Is.

Reality is where life takes place and dealing with what is and what is real is where we can affect the most good. You can’t live in regret or fantasy or conjecture or what will never be. So, in life, there’s no going back, there’s only going forward. 

Note: While researching this article, I recently learned that Will Moran was killed on July 19, 1918, and is buried at Oise-Aisne American Cemetery, Fere-en-Tardenois, France. He was also awarded a Purple Heart. 

This article originally appeared in the November 2020 issue of Northern Connection Magazine.

Friday, September 11, 2020

The Rules Are: There Are No Rules!

 


Do not be surprised when those who ignore the rules of grammar also ignore the law.

After all, the law is just so much grammar.  - Robert Brault

Bear with me and read this little passage:

When the family arrived at the hotel, they dropped off her luggages. At the restaurant, they will eat dinner and ate dessert. They accidentally

What the heck was that, you may be wondering? The above example is an illustration of what the written word would be like without grammar. No one would ever write like that unless they were an illiterate you may think. But if our crazy world has its way, this may become acceptable because recently, the misguided Rutgers University’s English department declared that proper grammar is racist, saying:  

"This approach challenges the familiar dogma that writing instruction should limit emphasis on grammar [and] sentence-level issues so as to not put students from multilingual, nonstandard, ‘academic' English backgrounds at a disadvantage," department chairwoman Rebecca Walkowitz said. "Instead, it encourages students to develop a critical awareness of the variety of choices available to them [with] regard to micro-level issues in order to empower them and equip them to push against biases based on ‘written' accents.”

I don’t even understand that gobbledygook, and they are supposed to be the experts. Think this is only Rutgers? Think again. Anarchists are not content to demolish every institution from government to religion, they are throwing out all the rules of the written word we have spent years as students learning.

Though not tied to racial issues, nevertheless all the rules are being tossed out like the trash.  According to an article last year in Inc. there was an incident between a young employee and boss that illustrated just how bad things have gotten. When the employee spelled the word “hamster” with a “p” in a communication, her boss asked her to correct it, pointing out that there is no “p” in hamster. The employee replied, “But that’s the way I spell hamster and that’s all that matters.” And then the employee’s mother called to berate the boss!

 

 

The purpose of grammar is to provide a framework for conveying clear meaning in communications—so people can understand each other. As someone who has made a living with words, I think this move to throw out the rules of grammar is not only absurd and just another indication of how far our society has declined, but it is racist as well. It assumes that those people of color cannot master the rules of grammar. Tell that to Frederick Douglass, who taught himself to read and write and penned several books. Or Martin Luther King who wrote the inspiring “Letter from a Birmingham Jail.” Not to mention Thomas Sowell, who has written 30 books or the excellent black teacher who taught English at my children’s school and the scores of other black writers.

Black educators and authors like former Vanderbilt and Princeton professor Dr. Carol Swain, said that relaxing the standards for minority students is “demeaning.”

Before the Civil War, there were anti-literacy laws on the books in some states that prohibited teaching slaves how to read and write. The thinking was that teaching a slave would make them dangerous and would encourage a slave revolt. While those laws were reprehensible, they at least they respected the intellect of black people because they believe that they could learn grammar. Rutgers and all who advocate for throwing out the rules should be ashamed because they presume that blacks do not have the acumen or intelligence to learn. That is not only racist; it’s a disgrace.  

This article originally appeared in the September 2020 issue of Northern Connection magazine.

Monday, August 24, 2020

The Fine Line

 

Have you ever read Elie Wiesel’s masterpiece autobiographical Holocaust account Night? The book details how the Nazis rounded up the Jews in his village, in what is now Romania, when he was a teen and how his family was sent to the Buchenwald and Auschwitz concentration camps. It is a short book and brutal to read, but one you won’t ever forget.


 

I’ve read many Holocaust accounts, but there is one part in the book that has stuck with me even though I read the book more than 10 years ago. It occurs early in the narrative when Moshe, a fellow villager, is deported by the Nazis and escapes death to return to the town to warn everyone that the Germans are rounding up Jews and murdering them.

You’d think the villagers would appreciate the heads-up; however, what he tells them is so unfathomably evil, that they dismiss him as crazy. Who can comprehend that much hate? They conclude that could never happen. Sadly, not long after that, Moshe is proven to be a prophet of doom; the Nazis come for the whole village. Of his family of six, only Elie survives the concentration camps to tell of its horrors.

As a writer, I’m a bit of an information junkie; I like to know what’s going on. If you are paying the least bit of attention, you know that we are experiencing protests, division, riots and violence in our streets. Some pundits have opined that we are on the verge of a second civil war or that we are at the beginning of a complete cultural and societal collapse, much like Ancient Rome.

If either of those scenarios is true, we are in for a long, painful ordeal, and who knows what life will be like on the other side. It’s all very heartbreaking and frightening. So much so, that for sanity’s sake, I find myself trying to walk a fine line. I find myself pulling back from the news yet wanting to stay informed.

I know others are feeling this way too; I’ve heard several people remark that they don’t even watch the news anymore. They can’t bear it. I can sympathize and have at times withdrawn to find solace in prayer, family, friends and the soothing beauty of nature.

But then I remember the book Night and how the villagers were warned about what was coming, and I find myself being sucked into watching the news, scouring the internet, and scanning social media, trying to read the tea leaves to discern what’s in our future, as if knowing what’s ahead will inoculate me and those I care about from suffering.

Had Elie Wiesel’s family heeded the warning of Moshe would they have lived? Maybe. But with six million Jews perishing in the Holocaust, 20 million military personnel and 40 million civilians dying in World War II, even if they had not been murdered, their lives and much of the world’s would never be the same.

For now, I plan to try to walk that fine line; I plan to stay informed and to take time to hope and pray for the best—emphasis on prayer—because if things do go south, and the unthinkable happens, unlike the Wiesel family, we have no good options for escape.

Abraham Lincoln once described America as always being the “last best hope of earth.” Let’s hope and pray that we avert this strife, that we don’t destroy ourselves and that we continue to be a haven of hope for generations to come.

Monday, July 6, 2020

Feeding the Beast



When I turned eight, my mother let me have a small birthday party with two other neighborhood girls. It was probably a scaled back affair because later in the month, I would be making my First Holy Communion, and a big shebang was planned.

To protect the innocent, I’ll name the two other girls at the party Karen and Debbie. Karen lived closer, and we played together a lot, but as is often the case, when Debbie, whom I went to school with, came up the street and joined in, there would be tension as Debbie would try to monopolize Karen. It was the classic case of “three’s a crowd.” Most of the time whenever Debbie commandeered Karen and turned her against me, I’d come home crying.



I can’t tell you much about the party, what kind of cake we ate, what paper hats with rubber band chin straps we wore, or what presents I received, but more than 50 years later, I can remember in great detail an incident from the party.

Normally, I’m a very even-tempered person, but as the three of us were playing outside after eating cake and ice cream, Debbie lapsed into “mean girl mode” and began to gang up on me and try to turn the head of Karen.

I was doing a slow burn until we began to play a game in our front yard and was using an old stump as base. Debbie suddenly shoved me off the stump, and I remember thinking as I lay on the ground, What? This is my birthday! This is my day! I jumped back on the stump, looked her in the eye, and hauled off and punched her in the face.

Shocked, Debbie stared at me, and as I stood on the stump towering over her like some little Mussolini, I pointed at her and shouted, “You, go home! Now! This is my party, and I don’t want you here!” 


And she did.

I admit as I was winding up to punch her, I had this great feeling of relief as I was giving in to this beast inside me demanding vengeance for her treating me so shabbily on my big day. When my fist connected with her freckled face, it was a very satisfying, consuming feeling. Until it wasn’t any longer.

Though Debbie had it coming to her, that feeling of giving in to a misplaced, unbridled passion is still palpable and left a big impression on me as I knew it was wrong. As a little girl soon to make her Communion, I had been schooled that my reaction was wrong, and later, I’ve come to know that giving in to that base emotion of anger is dangerous.
 

With all that’s been happening in the world with injustice, violence and riots, maybe you’re feeling that ravenous beast of anger and vengeance within you rearing too, demanding to be fed with acts of meanness and violence, but I caution you. Don’t feed the beast. 


Why?

Because the beast is never satisfied. The beast, once unleashed, is difficult to rein in. The beast isn’t interested in justice, righting wrongs or giving peace a chance. The beast only wants to create discord and destruction. And the beast’s ultimate prey is you. Once unleashed, the beast will not stop until it devours you too. 

This article originally appeared in the July 2020 edition of Northern Connection magazine.  

Tuesday, June 9, 2020

Risk Versus Reward


By the time you are reading this, we will be in the process of trying to reclaim the lives we had before the Coronavirus derailed them. Thankfully, we didn’t suffer as many deaths as was once predicted, but we are deeply sorry for those who did lose a loved one or who suffered a hardship.

Now, we move into another unknown territory: How to safely go about our lives.




While we were holed up in our homes, when I wasn’t spending my free time reading novels, I was watching television. I don’t know if it was because I was hypersensitive to pandemics, but it seemed as if everything I watched, at some point, contained a thread about a pandemic. Some I suspected were purposely broadcast. One Saturday while I was working out in my game room, I thought I’d try MeTV.

Many of my friends love this channel because it plays reruns of old television shows. Gunsmoke came on, and the episode that aired dealt with a pandemic of typhoid that threatened to shut down Dodge City much to the dismay of the merchants who saw their livelihoods jeopardized. Next on was Bonanza, and Hoss, Little Joe and Adam, although not suffering through a pandemic, were going a bit “squirrely” because they’d been holed up at the Ponderosa for more than a month because spring rains had washed out the roads to Virginia City. It was funny to see people react on the shows the same way people were reacting today.

I’m a big fan of historical dramas, and we watched the Netflix series Medici, which followed the famed family in 15th Century Florence. In one episode, the plague struck, slowing down the building of The Duomo. My favorite show ever on Netflix is The Last Kingdom, and a new season debuted while we were at home. In this season, we saw fearless warriors quake in their boots when they met Saxons fleeing from the castle in Mercia because of the “sickness.”


I like to fact check these historical shows, and while doing that, I came across a book published in 1891 called A History of Epidemics in Britain from A.D. 664 to the Extinction of the Plague. What was captivating about this book after glancing through it online was that sickness, death and subsequent famine were such a common occurrence, it was as much a part of the human experience as life itself.

For many of us, we’ve been lucky to have been born in a country and day and age when we know more about preventing disease and nothing of the famine that our forebearers did, and we’ve been blessed and a bit na├»ve to expect that we would never suffer the things previous generations have had to endure. We have forgotten that life has always been a crap shoot.

Another show I watched on Netflix a while back was Hell on Wheels, which dramatized how incredible a feat the building of the transcontinental railroad was across America. The show featured a character named Eva, who had a chin tattoo given to her while she was a captive of the Indians. I also like to watch a series on YouTube called Biographics, and what caught my eye was a woman’s bio on there named Olive Oatman, and she was a real-life person who was captured as a child by Indians while on the Oregon Trail and was given that kind of tattoo.


While watching Oatman’s biography, the narrator dropped this fact: That there are 65,000 people buried along the Oregon Trail who died either from sickness, starvation or Indian attack. Can you imagine that? Or what about the thousands who died on coffin ships while traveling to our shores for a better life? Or what about the 5,000 Americans who died building the Panama Canal? Or the nearly two dozen astronauts who perished in their quest to explore space?


Now, as we venture out of our houses and timidly dip our toes back into civilized society, remember to take the necessary precautions to do what you can to remain safe, but to also remember all of those who have gone before us who knew that life has always been a risk. They also knew that not taking a chance, living your life in fear is no reward, and can be a fate worse than death.

This originally appeared in the June 2020 issue of Northern Connection Magazine.