The Greatest Generation

 

img_2129

“The Greatest Generation” was a tribute to the generation was born in the depression and came of age during World War II.  It was written by Tom Brokaw and published in 2001. Earlier this week I began to read “The Greatest Generation Speaks: letters and reflections.”   In it Brokaw shares responses and letters from veterans and their families to his best selling   book.

I chose it from the short pile of books I’m ready to read or re-read.  I chose it to escape the feeling of miasma I have following the recent election. Weeks before the election I wrote a blog, “Trump:  I’m Tired.” And I’ve written about the seesaw feeling of wanting to never hear Trump’s name again and recognizing that in just a week he’s making appointments that could drastically, dangerously change the United States. I cannot close my eyes.

The Greatest Generation is my parents Generation.  Their story is probably pretty typical.  This Veteran’s Day I re-posted an article about my father who served in the Navy during WWII.  Yesterday in the mail, I received several documents about his service from the Department of Veterans Affairs and a notice that have forwarded my request to another agency, National Personnel Records.   The papers, “Notice to Separation from U.S. Naval Service” confirmed his service at Newport and the Great Lakes, on the U.S.S. Nelson and the U.S.S. Rapidan.  Enjoyed reading that he listed watch making as his preference for training and job.

These small windows into Fathers life are so important now.  He is gone and the record of his service is incomplete.  It’s only recently I realized how little he said about his years in the military.  That was not unusual among servicemen.  Most, like Vincent Profy, were humble, quiet about their sacrifice and courage.  Maybe they repeated a few favorite stories but not too much.  Brokaw’s book actually awakened memories for many.  How different today when we “shout out” our accomplishments or concerns on Facebook and Twitter.

Another lesson we can learn from the Greatest Generation is unity.  After Pearl Harbor, most Americans were united in a determination to defeat Nazi Germany.  There was a draft but thousands enlisted to protect American values — acceptance, freedom, democratic rule.  You can add to the list.  The unity extended to the men in the foxhole,  cramped in a submarine or flying over enemy territory. At home, young girls and recently married helped keep the home fires burning.  Sounds corny, but it’s true.  They worked in factories, raised kids,   established canteens for those in uniform.  They were brothers and sisters for the duration.  In contrast, our rhetoric today about coming together sounds hallow.

Maybe this was when “America was Great.” I’ve been searching for that period — turn of the nineteenth century, 1840s Oregon Trail, see previous blogs.    But there were some cracks in the WWII years.   African Americans faced discrimination in the military as well as at home.  Women were sometimes viewed as just”pin ups.”  Japanese Americans were herded into concentration camps at the same time second generation  Italian immigrants invaded the homeland.  Gays were in the closet and couldn’t openly serve in the military.  When it’s said “Make America Great Again.”  Is this what is meant?

I totally enjoyed escaping into the world of “The Greatest Generation Speaks.”  Like religion, it was a haven, security, warm, cozy, things were simpler then.  But it’s history; we can’t go back.  Can we learn something.

I totally respect and appreciate the humility, hard work ethic, loyalty, patriotism, and family values that characterized the greatest generation, including my Father and Mother.  I accept that their attitudes toward diversity and openness were sometimes less than they instilled in me.  Father had Black friends but held subtle racial stereotypes.  I fondly remember a day in center city Philadelphia when he realized we were part of  a gay parade, he literally turned and ran away.  Interesting, Mother despite or because of her devout Catholicism was a more open.

img_2132

Reading, hearing, thinking about the stories of my parent’s generation,  friends and neighbors, is both inspiring and questioning.  Sixty million people were killed in WW II.  Four hundred thousand were Americans.  Why?  Easy answer.  Hitler.   A leader who divided people and scapegoated —  the Jews, gypsies, homosexuals and . . .  . are responsible for your troubles.  A nationalist who proclaimed you are superior to others.  A demagogue  who institutionalize bigotry and racism.

If you are a 60s liberal like me and want to understand the Greatest Generation better, read ” Duty: a father, his son, and the man who won the war.”  Bob Greene never fully understood his father.  After his death he met Paul Tibbits, the pilot of the Enola Gay, who dropped the bomb on Hiroshima.  How could his father admire Tibbits who killed some many people with such a horrible weapon.  Greene meets and talks with Tibbits many times and slowly comes to understand his father, Tibbits and the Greatest Generation.  It’s quite a story, I remember after reading it, immediately passed it on the my father.  Maybe no gereration holds the keys to the kingdom.

I don’t think we are Nazi Germany.  At the same time I can’t smile and promote “return to normal.”  The Greatest Generation, my parents,  raised me to think, proudly,  for myself.  Whether they intended to or not, they taught me to defend American values, including diversity, immigration, religious freedom (all religions), women’s rights — we are brothers and sisters united.  Black and white, male and female, Muslim, Jewish and Christian, gay and straight.

I honestly believe in the end, my parents, the Greatest Generation,  would have supported that unity.  It’s what they taught me.

img_2135

 

Advertisements
Standard

 

img_2027

It’s  been a year since my first surgery to correct a fistula (hole connecting urinary track with colon),  a result of tissue damaged in proton radiation when I was treated for prostrate cancer.  The surgery failed.  I had additional surgery to make a colostomy  and urostomy permanate.  Before that could happen I had triple bypass heart surgery.  From September 2015 to June 2016, I spent weeks in the  Pennsylvania Hospital.  Months later I have a fistula that still leaks (docs want to wait and see), nerve damage in left hand (result of heart surgery, should heal they say).  I’m weak, get tired quickly and I’m  limited in what I can do.

Not complaining; just assessing.  This is retirement, year 3.  The good life.  How good?  We did go to Cape Cod for two weeks with Jen and family.  Drove to Ann Arbor for the wedding of best friends, Paglione’s daughter.  Spent a week in Maine with friends, Sears.  Next leave for Seattle, two weeks with sister, Marylee.  That sounds pretty good.

But I wonder.  Will I feel whole again?  Will I have the energy to ride a bike?  Or to put the kayak on the car for an explore.  Decided not to go to Portland OR on our Seattle trip because I can’t walk all day.  An urban environment probably requires too much.  We will spend the days in a coastal B and B.

Some discomfort is physical.  Some is mental.  It takes me a lot longer to do things from taking a bath, dressing, climbing or descending steps.  I try to bend to pick something off the floor (therapy gave me pick up stick).  I try to exercise.  I try to tell myself that moving slower is OK.  Some might say better.  I try.  But I’m anxious.

I believe each day (or week, month)  should include (1) some work — being retired it’s house cleaning, repairs, gardening, yard work, cleaning out, getting rid of stuff;  (2) there should be some creative academic activity —  reading, writing, carpentry, volunteering and finally (3) some learning-exploration — field trips, to a farm, a museum, a back road, a cooking class, trip to Cape Cod, Maine or China.  This is particularly important in retirement when we don’t spend eight hours or more a day at a job.

Year one of retirement was great, and followed the plan.  All three areas mentioned above were addressed.    It was obviously much harder if not impossible last year.  Now it’s  five months into year three.  Can I can back into the rhythm?  Anxious but trying.

There are so many questions.  The biggest is what do I want from the years remaining?  Hopefully a couple of decades, maybe just one, maybe just a few years.  We usually don’t get an advance timetable.

I know I want to spend time with family.  So, this week I bought tickets for McCarter Theatre’s Christmas Carol for the Kwaits. Eli and Viv are ready for this great show.  We’re headed to visit my sister in Olympia, WA.   I totally enjoy most of the time (we have some rough moments) Diane and I spend together — trip to a local farm, lunch in a new restaurant, watching a movie, an exhibit at the Mitchener. There is  so much we can enjoy together  — 49 years this August anniversary.

I want to stay in contact with friends and relatives.  Recent trips to Ann Arbor (Pagliones) and Maine (Sears) play into this.  Maybe a November visit to Cousin Ellen in D.C.  Then there was the recent crab dinner with Taylor’s at Lovin Oven in Frenchtown.  Or Vault beers with Kathy Posey, Matt Jordan, Trish O’Connor and other remains of the HGP friday club.  We had dinner, Mexican, recently with Edna and Dave Ramirez, Tony Fig, and Father Chris.  It’s a lot less personal but I enjoy Facebook contact.   Some are people I’ve seen recently; others are “ghosts” from the past

I want to travel.  Following the mix of the familiar and new explores.  Some travel is just local field trips. Diane and I do a lot of drives in Bucks and NJ.  We could expand this to more counties in PA.  During year one, I was committed to a day in Philadelphia — train explores, urban adventures.   In year two, Philadelphia was all doctor appointments and time in the hospital.  A limited perspective.  Need to return to City trips probably in the Spring and add monthly New York City trips.

Travel is also longer trips. On a recent DC trip, I bought a new journal at the Library of Congress.  It  was to be a record of  what many call a “bucket list.”  Notes on places I think about visiting.  Again the familiar — I want to return to Europe.  Have a dream of spending months — maybe in Italy, Ireland could also work.  Then there are Eastern European countries?  Something new.

It would be fun to return to Mexico and Nicaragua — important trips in my life.  And there are other southern places I’ve considered — spent some time looking at Carribean islands — not sure which is right for us.  Costa Rica has a draw.

Then there is Africa and Asia.  When Diane and I went into the Peace Corps, we wanted  sub-Saharan Africa — safari country.  Maybe Kenya, Tanzania.  Instead we drew Libya and then the Gaddafi coup kept us from going.  I thought we would go in retirement.  Then there are so many possibilities in Asia — each offering a different  culture and experience — Japan, China, Vietnam, India (to name some obvious choices). Can I travel to places like this with my medical baggage.  I know the answer is yes.  But it makes it harder. I’m still a bit scared.

img_2003

New England,  New York, and the Chesapeake has been and will continue to be a regular destination for us but there are many other places in the US that we’ve talked about.  A trip to the southwest — New Mexico, Arixonia.  The western national parks.  Our friends, Alonzos, have bought a travel trailer.  We’ve looked at one but . . . I have reservations.  We also thought that we should explore the South more.  We liked Charleston and Savannah and some aspects of Florida are inviting but that’s ben  it so far for our  experience.

Since we’re slowly getting back to traveling,  I must get that bucket list dream journal and prioritize where we would like to go (I mix “I” and “We” — most travel Diane and I plan and do together, although personal trips aren’t out of the question). I believe reading, dreaming, writing is part of making it happen.

I like to be engaged in some creative activity.  Thought maybe I’d do some carpentry in retirement, following in my father’s footsteps.  Although I have some of his tools (others mysteriously disappeared), I don’t think I will create much from wood.  As much as I admire someone like Dave Sears who began to seriously paint, that’s not me.  Certainly not music.

img_2004

But as I decided in the 1970s,  photography could again be my art.   I helped organize a Yardley Photography club (meets monthly at the Continental) when I discovered some very talented local photographers sharing on Facebook.  Haven’t made a meet since surgery.  I’ve also had plans to buy new Nikon equipment rather that buy Canon lenses for the Rebel I use.  That hasn’t happened yet.  I have been re-reading-looking  at my 100 plus photography books (before selling them).  Trying to use the review to recapture my photographic vision (if I had one).  What do I want to photograph and why?  I have been shooting a bit more than family photos which is nearly all I did for quite a few years.

I need to organize.  We’ve been in this house over 35 years.  I am a collector (you name it) and a hoarder. The number of photographs I have is amazing.  There is a double closet full of yellow Kodak boxes containing trays of 80 or 140 slides.  Digitize or destroy.  I have Over ten feet feet of print albums — these have been recently organized.  Then on the computer I have thousands of images.  Unfortunately I am confused — folders in “Pictures” I-Photo Library, and now the new “Photos Library,”  I even bought Lightroom.  Trying to see the relationship between programs and how to organize.  Some of it is computer programs’s  ability to provide too much.

There are other collections.  I sold two boxes of proof coins but have kept the main coin collection.  What do I do with stamps, post cards, buttons, all kinds of teaching realia, hundreds of LPs — vinyl is making a come back, I know, sell, sell, sell, not to mention tapes and CDs.  I have hundreds of DVDs (teaching, particular the  film course) and several boxes of VHS (throw them out but I pulled out a Nearing tape last week and watched it; wouldn’t be easy to get it any other place).

Then there are books — thousands.  I’ve sold about 35 boxes to a Princeton bookstore (about $500).  Am getting ready to sell the photo books, then children’s books, and on with other collections.  But my plan with organization  (understandably too slow for Diane) is to review, maybe reread, rewatch, relisten, consider is it something for Eli or Viv. Then sell, give away, or trash.  We also need to have a garage-yard sale.  Lots of useless, unused stuff, in the basement, in storage, boxed and sometimes forgotten.

img_2020

Finally there is home maintenance.  This ranges from cooking and baking, tending the garden, fixing or replacing things that are broken, repairing and painting in the house.  Some of this is fun — I really enjoy baking bread, making apple butter, grilling vegetables or fish.  Much of gardening, buying, planting, harvesting, even preserving excess is fun.  Prepping, mulching, watering, weeding is less fun.  It’s the same with home repairs.  Satisfying when accomplished if not fun, but it’s increasingly difficult. We’ve paid someone for exterior painting and may need to do the same for interior work.

All of this ramble is related to reviewing my life, where I’ve been, why I think, why I believe, who am I?   And then, where am  I going.    I know I want it to involve family and friends, travel, creative activity, organization and home maintenance.  Many more specifics need to be filled in.

img_2005

My last thought is more difficult.  When I taught I felt I was doing something worthwhile.  How do I continue the worthwhile.  I thought about volunteering.  At several historic sites we’ve visited recently, I met retired teachers who were docents or guides.  Some were even paid.  I thought Independence Historic Park would be perfect for me.  I also thought about the Mercer Museum.  Then one day Jenny emailed me asking, was I going to do something socially significant, socially worthwhile, contributing to a better community, a better world.  There are so many ways.  There are medical issues, with Eli we’ve been drawn to childhood cancer.  And maybe annually supporting the Parkway and Lemon runs isn’t enough.

img_2015

For years I volunteered on Yardley Borough Council and a variety of local community groups.  It’s all stopped years ago; should some start again?  There are so many opportunities to volunteer, what is right for me?  I’m not looking for fireworks.  Just “value” in how I spend some of my time.  This takes some thought and commitment; and I’m not too satisfied with not having acted on this.  It’s probably the most important thing on this to-do list.

 

 

 

Link

On seeing, looking, observing, and sensing.

image

 

For years most of my courses in both high school and college have started with “Profy’s Principles” —  a few pearls of wisdom, in fact I usually say “this is all I have to offer, drop the course now.”  One principle involves perspective, point of view.  My belief that all information, reality, truth is filtered through our individual lens.  Each lens is formed through our life’s experiences — time, age, ethnicity, religion, education, parents beliefs, travels, books we’ve read . . . the list goes on.  Although there is objective truth and reality we can never be 100% sure we caught it.  We may be close but. . . our vision is subjective.

There are a number of ways this concept influences me daily.  First let me turn to the words of a trusted friend (some might say fictional friend, but it all according to your perspective).

In “A Scandal in Bohemia,” Holmes (yes, Sherlock) instructs Watson on the difference between seeing and observing:

“When I hear you give your reasons,” I remarked, “the thing always appears to me to be so ridiculously simple that I could easily do it myself, though at each successive instance of your reasoning, I am baffled until you explain your process. And yet I believe that my eyes are as good as yours.”

“Quite so,” he answered, lighting a cigarette, and throwing himself down into an armchair. “You see, but you do not observe. The distinction is clear. For example, you have frequently seen the steps which lead up from the hall to this room.”

“Frequently.”

“How often?”

“Well, some hundreds of times.”

“Then how many are there?”

“How many? I don’t know.”

“Quite so! You have not observed. And yet you have seen. That is just my point. Now, I know that there are seventeen steps, because I have both seen and observed.”

Some times our lens (our experiences) act as blinders we see but we don’t observe.  We see what we expect.  We don’t look deep enough.  We don’t ask questions that don’t flow from our world view.   As Watson learns we must not only see but we must observe.

I recently read a a book that opened up my eyes  to another aspect of perspective.  It’s called, “On Looking: eleven walks with expert eyes,” by Alexander Horowitz.   Horowitz realizes that when walking what she sees is limited by her perspective.  So she embarks on eleven walks and tries to see the world through the eyes of her companions — her  dog, a young child, a blind person, a geologist, an entomologist, a graphic designer . . . you get the idea.  And no surprise each guide sees a different world.  Each guide sees the world through their lens.  Lesson:  walk with different people,  try walking in another’s shoes, or just miss out on so much you might see.

My third concept related to seeing, looking, observing and sensing comes from a book I read back in the 1980s.  It was recently part of my reread significant books program (more on that later).  “Ceremonial Time: fifteen thousand years on one square mile,” by John Hanson Mitchell.  He explores on small patch of land called “Scratch Patch” outside of Concord MA.  He reads everything he can about the  place.  He walks and walks the area.  He reflects on what has happened and what may happen on this small piece of land.  The longer Mitchell reads, explores and reaches, the  more things become connected (connectedness in another Profy Principal).  Ceremonial time (maybe a Native American concept) is when past, present and future come together in our sense of place, in our understanding of reality.  It is not an easy state to achieve but it moves us to another level of understanding.  A fuller perspective.

As I begin my new journey, I want to go beyond seeing, I want to observe (thanks Sherlock)’; I want to try and walk in others shoes and see the world from their perspective; and I hope to occasionally achieve  ceremonial time bringing together past, present and future.

Join me.

Standard