It is the middle of the night and I cannot sleep, again. In the morning, I am off to another funeral. When we learned of this funeral, my wife Kim asked if we had been to a funeral every year that we’ve known each other. The thought stuck with me, and I searched online for the average number of funerals that adults in the United States go to each year. The online answer was best summarized as, adult Americans typically know about 50 people whose funeral they would go to. They typically don’t go to funerals before they are eighteen, so it averages out to around a funeral a year. Others suggested the number is between one funeral every two years and two funerals a year.
Fiona, who is almost thirteen, has been to her share of funerals already. So much so, that when she was about four and we told her we were going to a family reunion, she asked, “Who died?” In her mind, at that early age, that is what family reunions were, funerals.
So, as I tossed and turned and tried to get back to sleep, Harold and Maude met the ancient sleep aid. Instead of counting sheep, I tried counting funerals I’ve been to since I met Kim. Initially, I randomly thought of different people’s funerals. It seemed like a pretty long list, so I tried to organize it in my mind. Before I knew it, I had thought of around thirty funerals, or an average of two funerals a year since Kim and I met, and as I write this, I remember more.
There are family members, both close and more distant; mothers, uncles, aunts, cousins, grandparents, in-laws, and beyond. There are friends from church, work, and politics. There are cancers, car accidents, suicides, old age, and friends who have died way too young.
It is tempting to wonder when we will get a break, to talk about meeting less frequently at funerals, about trying to find time to celebrate people’s lives while they are still living. Yet as I think about it, a little bit of Harold and Maude rubs off on me.
I am blessed to get to go to so many funerals.
Yes, I am blessed to get to go to so many funerals. It sounds odd, but it is true, and something we should all think about.
When I write about funerals, I often quote John Donne,
Any man's death diminishes me,
Because I am involved in mankind,
It is easy to think about how death diminishes us, but it is more important to think about how blessed we are to be involved in mankind. A bunch of funerals we would not have gone to if we weren’t involved in politics. Yet we’ve met many great people through our political involvement and I urge all my friends to become more politically involved. Many funerals we’ve attended were of friends we’ve made at churches we’ve attended. I urge my friends to find communities that share their beliefs. Our lives have been so much richer because these people were in our lives.
Monday was Labor Day and a great quote from the movie Norma Rae comes to mind.
On October 4, 1970, my grandfather, Isaac Abraham Warshowsky, aged eighty-seven, died in his sleep in New York City. On the following Friday morning, his funeral was held. My mother and father attended, my two uncles from Brooklyn attended, my Aunt Minnie came up from Florida. Also present were eight hundred and sixty-two members of the Amalgamated Clothing Workers and Cloth, Hat and Cap Makers' Union. Also members of his family. In death as in life, they stood at his side. They had fought battles with him, bound the wounds of battle with him, had earned bread together and had broken it together. When they spoke, they spoke in one voice, and they were heard. They were black, they were white, they were Irish, they were Polish, they were Catholic, they were Jews, they were one. That's what a union is: one
We are one, as co-workers, as Catholics, Jews, Muslims, and Atheists, as neighbors and as relatives; as Americans. It is something that we have lost in our political discourse that we need to rediscover.
Today, I will celebrate my wife’s birthday. I remember her mother on the anniversary of her mother’s death. I will attend the funeral of her grandmother.
And I will weep and hug those around me. I will remember wonderful moments of people’s lives. I will kiss my wife and tell her I love her. I will celebrate the lives of those living, those dead, and those yet to be born. If I am lucky, my words will bring comfort and joy to some of those around me and perhaps, if I am really lucky, help some of those around me rediscover the value of what we have in common.
On Tuesday evening, I was in a car accident. (This is why I didn't post on Wednesday or Thursday). No one was hurt and both vehicles received only minor damage. However, minor damage to a rusting out seventeen year old car with close to a quarter million miles on it that just barely passed inspection last time around was enough to render it beyond repairing.
We moved our vehicles off to the side of the highway and waited for the police to come. They made it about as quickly as you would expect during rush hour traffic and quickly and courteously made their report.
I am grateful for the job these policemen do. It is a difficult subject to talk about right now, in light of what has been going on in Ferguson, MO. Would things have been different if I were a young black man in Missouri? Perhaps.
I also don’t want to get into a variant of the Not All Men Meme. We should all know that not all cops are bad. Not all cops are racists. Not all cops are involved in police brutality. In fact, I believe that most law enforcement officers are good honest caring people that are trained to avoid escalation of the use of force and to examine their racial assumptions.
These days, politics and social media seems to be stuck with a focus on all that is messed up. I believe that we need to change our focus, to focus on gratitude for people who are doing the right thing, and helping making doing the right thing more of the social norm.
We need to focus on supporting young college men who confront their peers and tell that that it is just plain wrong to get a woman drunk so you can take advantage of her. We need to focus on law enforcement officers who stand up to racism and police brutality and who know that any racism or police brutality by law enforcement officer hurts all law enforcement officers.
So, I’ve been very interested in learning more about Missouri Highway Patrol Captain Ron Johnson. A picture of him showing a Kappa Alpha Psi greeting, being mistaken as a gang sign illustrates so many things. It illustrates the racism that many hold onto, immediately assuming a hand signal by a black man is a gang sign, instead of a sign of being a member of a college fraternity. It illustrates the good that can come from a good man getting involved with a good organization.
Fiona ran through the darkness, her heart pounding, fueled by adrenaline. Catching up was an adult with a flashlight. She ducked into a barn. The horses spooked and reared, yet Fiona found a safe place to hide.
I was at home, after a conference on Racism. I wasn’t sure where my daughter was, other than that she was out with some friends. I thought about the riots in Ferguson.
If I were black and living in Ferguson, or many other places around our country I probably would have been worrying about my child’s safety but I am white and living in a part of Connecticut where racial tensions are much better concealed.
I am grateful that my daughter can run around with friends after dark, screaming and laughing and I don’t have to worry. It is a privilege I have, being white. It is a privilege I wish more parents had.
I don’t normally quote conservative blogs, but this one is priceless. Apparently, Republicans in Missouri are outraged that liberals are trying to get the people of Ferguson to express their frustrations at the voting booth. From Breitbart:
In an interview with Breitbart News, Missouri RNC executive director Matt Wills expressed outrage about the reports.
“If that’s not fanning the political flames, I don’t know what is,” Wills said, “I think it’s not only disgusting but completely inappropriate.”
Wills explained that the shooting death of Michael Brown was a tragedy for everyone.
“This is not just a tragedy for the African American community this is a tragedy for the Missouri community as well as the community of what we call America,” he said. “Injecting race into this conversation and into this tragedy, not only is not helpful, but it doesn’t help a continued conversation of justice and peace.”
If registering people to vote is “fanning the political flames”, then we need more people fanning the flames. Personally, I think registering to vote is the most appropriate and constructive thing that can be done in response to the tragedy. But maybe Mr. Wills would rather see looting.
As to “injecting race into this conversation”, well, a continued conversation that ignores the elephant in the room doesn’t seem particularly helpful either.
The other day, I was talking with a friend about political campaigns and social media. He commented that all he was seeing in a specific candidate’s social media political posts was negativity. I see a lot of that as well and it struck me that perhaps what is needed is politicians who will post for 100 days, things they are grateful about.
There are less than 80 days left until this year’s election, so even doing it until election day would be a big thing. Such posts could reflect the values of the candidates in a much more beneficial manner.
The 100 days of gratitude, or sometimes 100 days of happiness is a popular challenge going around the internet right now, so making it 100 days of political gratitude isn’t a big stretch. Also, with the ice bucket challenge going around right now, social media challenges appear to be the thing, although I know some are beginning to weary of such challenges.
So, to all my friends running for office this year, are you up for a 100 Days of Political Gratitude challenge?