27 November 2016

Cuba Libre

This past Friday night Cuban state television announced the death of Fidel Castro, long-time dictator, despot, and weirdly, friend of Canadian Prime Minister and fan of shirt-free pictures, Justin Trudeau. Although his power had, along with his health, long since diminished, the antipathy felt towards Fidel continued to simmer amongst the Cuban exile community.

As I wrote in a post here in the Den in October 2013, I spent two amazing years in Havana Norte - Miami - as a missionary, living in the thick of the Cuban exile community. It was one of the richest experiences of my life. It was there in Hialeah and Miami that I fell in love with the Cuban people, their culture, their food, and their wonderfully slaughtered version of Spanish. It was there that I also learned of what life was like under Fidel (spoiler alert - it wasn't good). I heard first-hand the stories of people whose families had been ripped apart by the Castro regime. I heard the stories of those who came over in the Mariel boat lift and I can assure you that the vast majority were not the hardened criminals and maniacs as portrayed in the press. They were people desperate for an opportunity to be near family and for a better life.

I will never forget one of the stories one of the Mariels told us. As missionaries, we had the opportunity to help in resettlement efforts as well as share our message about God and His Son. During one of those early discussions the young man we were working with asked, "God? Who is God? Let me tell you what we were told about God en la isla (on the island)." He proceeded to tell us about his elementary school experience. Every few weeks, the class would be instructed to bow their heads, close their eyes and recite a prayer, asking God for a dulce (candy - a rare treat). Dutifully, they would do as instructed. They would then open their eyes, raise their heads, and find nothing there. They would then be told to do the same, but instead of asking God, they should ask Papa Fidel for the dulce. They would again do as they were told and I suspect you know where this is going. When told to open their eyes and raise their heads, there was a piece of candy at each desk. Miraculously, Papa Fidel had provided but any sly seven year old who cracked open his eyes knew it was the teacher who had passed out the candy.

The damage was done. Faith in what parents had believed was crushed. So was any real loyalty to Papa Fidel. As rations dried up, so did the candy. So did any real belief in la revolucion. Where hope did not die was among the exile community. I saw it burning brightly in the mid-80's when I called Miami home. I've seen it every time I've been back to south Florida in the last thirty years. I saw it in all its exuberance as people celebrated wildly in front of that venerable temple of Cuban food, Versailles, this past Friday night. How I wish I could have been there with them!

While Castro's death is reason for optimism for the people of Cuba, tomorrow will not bring a Cuba Libre (Free Cuba). Change will come and with his passing, it will come even sooner. The Cuban people I know, love, and respect are patient, strong and they are committed.

Cuba will be free. !Vive Cuba Libre!

26 November 2016

Woke and thankful

Thankful for my family. And the Cubs.
The stunningly patient and mighty fine SML and I are now home after a week of Thanksgiving celebrations with our family in Arizona. It was, in a word or two, a great week.

Due to The RM's missionary service, this was the first time in more than two years that we were all together for a holiday celebration. It was particularly appropriate that our first celebration would be Thanksgiving. By Wednesday morning of this past week, we had our children, our son-in-law and our two grandchildren together. As I surveyed the scene, ensconced in my sister-in-law's beautiful home, I was keenly aware of all that I had to be grateful for. The following quote came to mind:

Keep your eyes open to your mercies. The man who forgets to be thankful has fallen asleep in life. - Robert Louis Stevenson

At that moment, I wanted nothing more than to be wide awake and keenly aware of the mercies, or blessings, that have come my way. As we saw extended family throughout the week as well as friends (including a random run-in along the Salt River ((don't ask)) with a kid, who is no longer a kid and a a parent of teenagers himself, I haven't seen in 30+ years), I found myself counting my blessings. This Thanksgiving was one where I found myself full of gratitude, perhaps more so than in years past. I was grateful as I watched my children laugh riotously as they played a ridiculous game. I was grateful as everyone pitched in in some way to bring a fantastic Thanksgiving meal together. I was grateful as my wife and I held our grandchildren as much as we could while we were together. I was more than grateful that my family indulged me as we went to Sloan Park to pay homage to the Chicago Cubs. That made me grateful for the role baseball has played in our family memories. 

I'm glad I had the chance to be wide awake to all this during the week of Thanksgiving. Now that we are back into our normal routine, the challenge is to stay awake. 

The challenge is to stay grateful each and every day. 

11 November 2016

Veterans Day

Credit: @publix.com
Today we in the United States celebrate Veterans Day. Today we pause to honor all those who have served in the Armed Forces.  Today we pause to honor those who have fought valiantly to preserve the freedoms that we, far too often, take for granted.

This week, the fact that we take those freedoms for granted was drawn into stark relief. Our nation is one where we have the freedom to vote. It is not compulsory. As a result this week we saw that 43% of Americans who are registered to vote chose not to vote in the Presidential election.

On January 20th, 2017, our newly elected President will be sworn into office. He will be the Commander-In-Chief of the U.S. Armed Forces. This is a commander in chief who has openly mocked a man who spent nearly six years as a prisoner of war in Vietnam. Of John McCain, the military's new commander in chief said, "He's not a war hero. He was a war hero because he was captured. I like people who weren't captured." Our nation's military new commander in chief has belittled the parents of a fallen soldier, a soldier who gave his life fighting in Iraq.

In spite of that, our nation's armed forces will continue to defend this great (it's always been great) country. They will defend our freedoms as best they can, just as they have for the last 240+ years, regardless of who occupies the White House. There is probably a lesson there.

I am thankful for all those who have served our nation in the armed forces. I am thankful for all they have done to preserve our freedoms. I am thankful that their service allows us to still have a voice in this messy, wonderful thing we call the United States of America. Their service is something we can never take for granted.

Thank you, veterans.

08 November 2016

The Vote

It's finally here! Election Day! The day we can bid a bitter but fond farewell to the endless campaign commercials, angry, ugly rhetoric, and Alec Baldwin's genius portrayal of the Republican candidate for President on SNL. Although, if I'm honest, I'd like to see a few more of those sketches, but I digress. In theory, in a few more hours we will know who will be the 45th President of the United States of America. Then the hard work will really begin, as there's the not insignificant matter of restoring a very fractured electorate.

I was proud to be part of that electorate this morning. The right to vote, preserved by the 15th, 19th, and 26th Amendments to the U.S. Constitution, allows us an unrigged voice. This truly is a freedom. It is not compulsory, although the Australian system of compulsory voting may not necessarily be a bad thing. It is a freedom that we can choose to exercise. It is a freedom that we can easily take for granted or not even exercise and therein lies the danger. President Franklin D. Roosevelt once said:

Nobody will ever deprive the American people of the right to vote except the American people themselves and the only way they could do this is by not voting.

I am delighted to report, though, that based on my 40 minute wait to vote this morning that the good people of our little town (population 10,000-ish) here in Connecticutistan chose to exercise their right to vote in force. In an organization decision I am still grappling with (call me simple), we were organized by, wait for it, street name as follows: A-D, E-N, O-Z. Based on the length of the line, most of us live on the O-Z streets. Once I was in the voting cubicle, I was proud to cast my vote, knowing that my voice, albeit just one, would be heard.

President Ronald Reagan once said, "The right to vote is the crown jewel of American liberties..." and I am glad that my vote today added to the brilliance of that jewel. Every vote cast today, no matter the outcome of the election, helped to that crown jewel shine even brighter today.