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Flag Day Graphics @ dazzlejunction.com” title=”Wear Your Colors Proudly”>Wear Your Colors Proudly

Happy Flag Day, everybody. For those of you who might be from other places, this is the day Americans set aside to honor our flag. I loved the graphic of the eagle wearing his colors (and I am appreciative to Dazzlejunction.com for allowing bloggers to share it on their blogs) because these two symbols are so entertwined as symbols of American benevolence and freedom. The Eagle is a bird of prey, of great power, and yet he can symbolize either war or peace. Did you know that the direction the eagle is facing on our money and on the rugs in the White House is determined by whether the nation is at war or at peace? If the eagle is facing the arrows he holds in one talon, the the nation is at war. If he faces the olive branch he holds in the other talon, then the nation is at peace.

We are, traditionally, one of the most powerful nations in the world. Theoretically, we could wage war with just about anyone, and take whatever we wanted from smaller, less powerful nations in the world, but that isn’t what we are about. Instead we’ve become the longest lasting democracy on the planet, and in choosing to live at peace with others, and to help where we were able, we’ve become a symbol of hope and freedom for other nations. Despite our problems, and we have several notable ones, past and present, we are a family, and never do we stand more united than when we stand together to pay our respects to the flag of this great nation.  All that we are and all that we stand for flies high as a reminder wherever Old Glory waves. I would like to say a special thank you to all the men and women who have fought to defend her and everything she symbolizes. I would encourage anyone who reads this to do the same.

Ever in Peace may she wave.

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A/N: This post was originally published last week, and for some reason, it disappeared from the feed. I suspect this had more to do with operator error than any mistake or inefficiency on the part of anyone else. I am reposting it in the event that potential future readers might like to see it.

 

Ray Bradbury died this week, y’all, and the world lost a mighty fine literary talent. I don’t know too much about him, other than the fairly obvious. He was a writer, a defender of books, and an opponent of censorship in any of its various forms. He was a true gatekeeper, and that’s one of the best compliments I can give him. Why a gatekeeper, you ask? Gatekeepers guard whatever is behind the gate, and in the case of books, it is thousands of years of knowledge and history passed down through the eons of mankind’s existence. All of what we are, all of what we have been, and all of what we have hopes of becoming lies there, behind the gates of the human experience. Thus, writers are gatekeepers.

Ray Bradbury inspired me to read, because it was through his books that I first began to understand that reading is important to an educated mind. Reading is its own type of freedom. It awakens the imagination, delights the fancy, and opens our minds to ideas we might not have considered before. Perhaps more importantly, reading helps us realize that we are not alone in the human struggle, but that our hopes and fears and adversities are the same hopes and fears and adversities with which man has been dealing since the beginning of time. Suddenly, we are no longer alone in the universe, but a small part of some larger something.  More than inspiring me to read, his books became a strange kind of obsession for me.

I don’t know how many people can point to someone else and say, “I do what I do because of him”, but in some ways I can. He wasn’t the only writer about which I can say that, but he was one of the first. Ray Bradbury inspired me to write, to create worlds beyond imagining, and to provide the social commentary that is the keystone of a free and democratic society. His characters were the voice of reason for several generations of our humanity. Rest well, Mr. Bradbury, and know that we appreciate your legacy.

 

I re-discovered Librivox.org with the help of my brother, Matt, this weekend. I have known about it for a long while, having been introduced to it several years ago by Matt, but I keep forgetting that it is out there. Last night, as we were listening to snippets of recordings of favorite works of literature, he suggested I volunteer to read something. This idea appealed to me largely because I did some voice acting in college, and I have been wanting to get back into it. Also, when I was looking at their catalog, I noticed there’s not much children’s literature on there.

Librivox invites anyone to volunteer, and doesn’t require any formal acting experience, and as a lover of books and literature, sharing that love with others appeals to me. So, I’ve decided to try one small project first, to get my feet wet, and then to read a children’s book, if I can find one in the public domain. At this moment, I am debating between three books to read for that second larger project. The first is Winnie the Pooh, the second is The Brother’s Grimm’s book of Fairy Tales, and the third one I am considering is Treasure Island.

I am visiting Amazon.com later today to pick up a noise cancelling microphone to use for recording purposes, and I’ll have to download some software to my computer, but that will pretty much be the only expense. I feel good about doing something for others, and since I am only working part time (from home) at the moment, it makes me feel more productive as well. I also want to volunteer because I think of the children who might benefit from hearing some of their favorite stories read by someone who enjoys the stories as much as they do. I will let you know how the recordings go while I work on them, and I’ll also let you know when I finish, in the event that anyone wants to listen.

I would encourage you to volunteer to do something you love to benefit others. If you are looking for a volunteer project, Librivox can always use more readers, but even if you choose not to volunteer there, please find a project and lend a hand. There’s no feeling quite like it. Peace Corps service taught me that we all must build the world we want to live in, and this is one small effort towards doing that.

Do you have a favorite volunteer project, or something you love to do that might help others? Please let me know in the comments.

The Greatest Adventure, Part 1

In the coming days, I will be publishing several posts on my adventures and misadventures as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Romania from 2003-2005. Today is the 9th anniversary of the day I boarded the plane to fly to Chicago for three days of staging before I took off with the 76 other people in my group to fly to Romania, where we would all live and work for the next 27 months.

My cat, Pisoiu was a gift to me from myself for my 29th birthday. Pisoiu is pronounced Pee soo, like pea soup, without the “p” on the end of soup. It means “little cat” or “kitten” in Romanian. He travelled back to the US with me when my service ended, and has been my happy, if somewhat lazy companion, since then. He has gotten much larger than he was at 11 mos old when we returned to the US together.

Well, summer has come again, and I am back to writing. Actually, I haven’t been away from writing. I can never stay away for long–not really. What I am back to doing is writing in an instantaneous digital format, without the opportunity for the extensive amount of proofreading I do with paper works. I have been working on my latest novel, finishing up a short story or two, and launching a new internet venture to raise some extra funds for the times in between. I’ve also been playing with (read keeping) my niece four days a week. My goal is to resume the once monthly posts to my blog, and eventually to increase their frequency to weekly posts. Thank you to all of you who have continued to follow the blog, and for those of you who lurk in the shadows and read without responding. I will be posting in two different categories. Mightier Than the Sword is the category I reserve for writing about life in general, and issues relevant thereto. My Stories are fictional stories I have written, which I post for fun and also for constructive feedback, which is always welcome.  Part of this process is seeking to make my writing better.  Again, thanks to all those who read and those who respond, too. Have a wonderful summer, and I’ll look forward to hearing from some of you.

Happy Summer!

K

A Mary Christmas

If some of you are like me, the title to this post bothers you because it seems to be misspelled.  I saw it on a note written by one of my students’ parents, thanking me for caring for her child. It was nice to be remembered at Christmas, and the child wrote her own special note at the top of the card.

‘Mary Christmas. Jordanne.’

A nice gesture for a seven year old, to be sure. I couldn’t help smiling as I looked at the card. My first thought was that it was misspelled, my second was that it was a nice gesture, and then, as I started thinking more about it, I realized just how appropriate it actually is. After all, Mary, the mother of Jesus, is also the mother of Christmas.  So, what does it mean to have a Mary Christmas? Does it mean celebrating Christmas with your children? Perhaps.  I can only imagine what it would be like to celebrate with my own children, since I don’t have any. The closest I can come is celebrating with my niece.

I think there’s more to having a Mary Christmas than that, though. After all, Mary had no children before Jesus. Can you imagine planning your wedding, minding your own business, and being confronted by an angel.  Not only an angel, but an angel who comes in and completely changes everything you thought you knew about your future plans.

Imagine being told that you are going to have a baby, outside of marriage, in a time and a place where such things are punishable by death.  Imagine the fear, the uncertainty, and the knowledge that your claims of propriety might not be given much credibility, when the apparent evidence to the contrary is readily apparent. Imagine the trust, the faith that had to be involved in Mary’s willingness to be an instrument of God’s plan.  Finally, imagine the day and night of Jesus’ birth.  Walking all day down a hot, dusty road, pregnant, with several dozen of your closest friends and neighbors. Finding no rooms for rent for the night, and knowing you are close to giving birth. Bedding down in a stable, giving birth on hay, and laying your baby in a feeding trough.

Yes, saying Mary Christmas is appropriate. For the first gift of Christmas is a child. A child born to a Virgin mother. Thus, the prophecy is fulfilled and the world receives its Savior.

 

I think I want to cry. I feel like I’ve just lost one of my oldest and dearest friends. Larry Munson died tonight. He has been the voice of the Georgia Bulldogs on the radio longer than I’ve been alive. I’m a bit surprised by my reaction to this. I haven’t wanted to cry at the death of someone I didn’t know, except in the public eye, since Charles Schulz died.  Since I am not really all that interested in sports, and I also sometimes have a hard time with concentration,  my reaction to most things concerning Georgia college football goes something like this… “cute dog, band sounds good, is he really lying on an ice pack, ooohhh shiny…”

Still, I consider myself a Georgia fan. I don’t root for UGA or any other football team with the usual zealousness related to Southerners and football. Perhaps that’s because football and religion are in two different categories for me. I do, however, enjoy a good football game, especially college football, as much as the next person. Just as watching the Lighting of the Great Tree on top of the Rich’s building downtown ushered in the start of the holiday season for me, Larry Munson’s voice on the radio told me that it was, unequivocally, Fall. He was the one who made me a fan. Some of my earliest memories involve being at one or the other of my great uncles’ houses, while they watched the Georgia game with the sound on the television turned down, and Mr. Munson’s voice blaring from the radio sitting temporarily on top of the TV.

I still remember being in the car, at six years old, in complete and total darkness, riding home from I-don’t-remember-where with my family, when Larry Munson’s startled voice on the radio proclaimed to all of us that he broke his chair. That was during a long run with the ball that resulted in a touchdown, and secured Georgia’s place in the Sugar Bowl, if memory serves. I remember looking for days after that for the sugar that he said was falling from the sky.

There’s a school of thought that suggests that broadcasters shouldn’t be biased for or against one team or another, and I suppose that makes some sense. In the case of Larry Munson, however, it sure was fun to hear him rooting unabashedly for the same team I was. Through a career that spanned more than sixty years and various teams in Atlanta, he found his true broadcasting home ‘tween the Hedges.’

Rest in Peace, Larry Munson, and thank you for teaching me how to be a fan, how to scream until I’m hoarse, even if the players on the screen can’t hear me, and for being the voice that became a familiar friend on long drives on Saturday afternoons in the Fall. I like to think that God needed another announcer for Heaven’s football team, and yours is the voice He chose because He wanted to hear those legendary calls again, so He put you back to doing what He knows you love.

 

            Every generation has its defining moments. Usually, these are moments of tragedy more
than triumph, but sometimes the two go together. One of the defining moments of my generation is being marked with a tenth anniversary memorial this weekend. Memory is a funny thing. In speaking of past tragedies, I’ve always heard people say that they remember everything that happened that day. Do I? Well, not exactly. Perhaps that says something for my memory, or perhaps it is a mark of this particular tragedy that too much happened to remember all of it. Bits and pieces of the day are suspended in my mind like tiny creatures preserved in amber.

            Going into the break room at work with the idea of buying a coca cola, and instead standing in the doorway, watching a plane fly right into a building. Thinking this had to be a trailer for either the latest Hollywood thriller or a horror movie. The mind numbing shock moments later when we all discovered that it was, indeed, very real. The mind numbing disbelief that made thinking difficult. The reaction of customers and other employees as they realized they had family that might now be missing or dead. The collapse of the first tower, and then the second. And the silence. It was an eldritch silence, almost supernatural, as
though no one had the energy for the normal cheerful chatter of day to day life.

            It is my hope that we remember the lessons we learned that day, and in the days to follow. The first lesson is that there is greatness in everyone. On that day, there were the everyday heroes that exist in every society—the firemen, the EMS and first responders, and the police. But there were also more—people who were simply going about their lives as private citizens, who responded heroically when the evil touched them. Ordinary people do amazing things under extraordinary circumstances, and we need to remember and tap the potential that lies within each of us.

            The second is that we are a family, all of us, no matter where we come from and what we believe. We are a family by birthright as well as by circumstance. We are often a quarrelsome family, who fight about the most trivial of things, as siblings do, but when push comes to shove, we also band together against a
common enemy, and we are much the stronger for doing so.

            The third lesson is that we must look to our own house. We have a duty to ourselves and to one another. We must band together and become more than we could be separately, and we must protect one another. We haven’t seen much in the way of attack on our own soil, and we must take steps to guard against it, as much as
possible. Much of our response to the fear engendered by the attacks on the World Trade Center seemed to be a knee jerk reaction, and my hope is that we can actually sit down and find sustainable ways to actually protect our country from attack. If that means that we must close our borders at times, it is no more than every other nation in the world has done. If we must look to our allies for help, then let us hope we have cultivated those relationships properly. We must also work to conquer the problems that weaken us from within, and fracture the family—our prejudice (yes, it still exists), indifference, self absorption, and entitlement.  

            For the sake of our children, may we remember the lessons we learned that day and use them to help us grow stronger as a nation. The adversity we face will make us stronger if we let it. To those who died that day, and to those who struggle through without them, thank you. Thank you for giving us your best, and for the
sacrifices you made that day.

We will never forget.  

Dennis Cole

Dennis Cole, who went by Denny to friends and neighbors, sat on the cement stoop in front of his parent’s house, seemingly staring up at the picture window to his right, but really only thinking.  A book lay open and face down on the step beneath him, part of the summer reading program that was a joint effort between the local library and his school to keep kids reading over summer vacation.  As far as Denny was concerned, they needn’t have bothered. Reading, at his house, was just like breathing. You could choose not to do it, but not for long.

That said, it is important to note that reading was not all Denny ever did. He usually went outside after breakfast, came in for a quick lunch, and then went out again until forced to come in for supper or darkness. Sometimes, he even camped out in the backyard, or slept on the old mattress in his treehouse. He fancied he was king of the forest. He played baseball with the kids from the neighborhood.  He cooked on an old grill that he placed between two rocks and built a fire underneath, and he shot tin cans with his BB gun. Sometimes, he just sat on the back steps and ate a popsicle, or walked through the woods to Dairy Queen and got an ice cream cone.

Still, books were a big part of his life, and the imagination he tried to live out in the adventures he had in the backyard, and he figured he might as well compete for the prizes they were giving away to those who read the most books. So, this morning found Denny thinking.  He was thinking about what it would be like to be cut off from every other town around, to be the last person, or one of the last people, in the world. The book he was reading was Alas, Babylon, and he had saved it for the last week of summer vacation before his eighth grade year at school started. This was one of the books he would take a test over when he got back to school, and if he passed it, he would earn points that could be redeemed for prizes. He had his eye on baseball tickets. That was the grand prize; a pair of tickets to watch his favorite baseball team play down in the city.

As he sat there thinking, he heard a rumbling sound, faint at first, but growing louder with every passing second. He looked off to the west, the direction from which the sound came, and saw a strange looking plane approaching. It was like something he had seen in an old time science fiction movie, shaped like a blunted nosed triangle, flat on top, sleek and aerodynamic, and black. It was making a sound that he had heard in war movies, a strafing run, they called it, and as it came closer, he watched as old fashioned missiles dropped from the underbelly of the strange flying monster, shocked and unable to move if he had been inclined to do so.

Somewhere in the back of his head, a voice told him that he should take cover, and a video played out in his mind, more a memory, captured with photographic clarity, every detail preserved like the small insects he’d seen captured in amber. It was a memory of the nuclear attack drills his teachers had insisted they practice when he was in elementary school. He watched himself crawl under the table part of his desk, and put his hands on his head. He remembered thinking at the time that this might protect them from the initial attack, but wouldn’t help a bit if the missiles were too close and they fell victim to the radiation poisoning.

All of this passed through his head in a split second, and he realized that he’d always had a secret fear of nuclear attack, of war breaking out in his own land, secret because until this moment, he had not admitted it to himself, and as he fought the urge to hyperventilate, he understood why. It was too horrible to contemplate, too awful to comprehend, and yet, now it looked as though it was happening. When the nearest missile disappeared behind a bank of trees, and he saw pieces of the white picket fence that surrounded the house mixed with pieces of the split rail fence that housed his two donkeys, Poncho and Lefty, he was galvanized into action. He rose and ran for the door, and just as he got there, he found himself sitting up on the old mattress, breathing much too hard and sweating.

The Furies

The young man sat at the table in the diner, fingering the three items in his pocket. He watched the other people in the diner, and held his breath, waiting, trying to decide who his next mark would be.  In all, there had been three, so far. He pulled the three items out of his pocket and looked them over, a sense of macabre fascination building as he studied them. The first: a ring, taken from the finger of a woman newly married. The second: a bullet, recovered from a police officer’s gun. The third: a match, taken from a smoker of Cuban cigars. The weight of the trophies was comforting to him.

Now:  a decision. Who was next? The young couple sitting at the table near the door, with the two children? The senior citizens seated at the counter? Perhaps the waitress in the tight-fitting pants and a blouse that showed off her full figure? Most likely her, but no. Looking left, he saw the most startling pair of eyes he’d ever encountered. So blue they were almost red, very nearly black. Long, flowing, copper hair. Curly. He knew then that she was the one.

“Hi beautiful,” he said. “What are you doing here?”

“Waiting to meet my sisters,” she answered back, sweetly.

Sisters. Plural.

Like her?

This could prove interesting.

Smiling seductively, she sauntered out the door. He followed her, finally catching up with her at the end of the block where his car was parked, ready to grab her arm and force her into the back.  He reached out for her, drew his hand back as though it had been burned, and found himself on the ground. As he tried to find the strength to stand, she turned to face him, and he gasped at the subtle transformation.

Where her hair had been curly before, it now writhed with a reptilian life of its own, hissing and slithering around her head. Her eyes had turned blood-red, and red tears traced a pattern down her face.  Her nose had lengthened, and become more like that of some feral animal, a wolf or a dog. From somewhere she had obtained a metal studded whip, and now she cracked it above her head and bared her teeth at him. Was this reality, or a nightmare? He blinked, wiped his eyes with the back of his hand, and blinked again.

“Who are you?” he asked.

“I am justice,” she barked.

The young man blinked again, deciding he must be dreaming. This was all becoming very strange. “Why are you here?” he asked.

“I’m on the job. You have broken the laws of humanity. The evidence is in your pocket, and it will be the instrument of your destruction.”

He fingered the rough facets of the ring, the cold, smooth metal of the bullet’s casing, and the splintered wood of the match, as he pondered what she meant. He saw their faces in his mind, the terror in their eyes as he took his prizes and their lives. He felt himself sinking into the blackness swirling through his mind, and tried desperately to raise himself up out of it.

“Why?” he asked, laboring to clear his head enough to speak, but only able to free the one word from the prison of his mind.

“Because you never saw us watching from the shadows. Because we are protectors of the innocents, and we maintain the balance. Because it is our job to hunt down those who break the law, and punish them with madness.”

“Angel?”

“No, neither demon. Something else. Something older. It is time for me to go now, and I will take with me your mind, but your memories are your own, and you may keep them. I will see you in your dreams.” Neither angel nor demon? Something older. Then, what? The thought swirled up through the void. He heard one single word, hissed by the snakes in her hair, “Tisiphone,” and as the madness took him, for an instant, he thought he understood.