For all the problems and challenges — our military’s a disaster, crime’s never been worse, unemployment’s 40%, illegal alien rapists and terrorists make us all afraid to leave our homes in the morning (plus real problems and challenges, like climate change and cybersecurity, decaying infrastructure, income inequality . . . and the Zika virus that the Republican Congress adjourned without addressing) — for all that, the progress over the last century has been astonishing.

Consider, first, this poem (via Garrison Keillor) (thanks, Paul!) . . .  and then a letter to the quarterback who refused to stand for the National Anthem.

Portrait of Viola
by William Reichard

They lived without electricity.
Their water came from a hand pump
at the base of the windmill.
A Nebraska farm, 1935.
She said, you can’t miss what you
never had
. Drugstore goldfish
in the water tank turned into
giant orange and white carp,
Koi prized in another country,
another class. Her father threw them
out into the prairie claiming
they’d poison the cattle.
Rattlesnakes, a way of life,
careful checking before eggs
were gathered from the darkness
of nesting boxes. Everywhere, heat.
Gone with the Wind
in 1939. She was fourteen.
During the war, she looked like
one of the Andrews Sisters.
First child at twenty, last at thirty-nine.
All survived save one, gone
at thirty. The death of her daughter
turned her hair white.
Eighty-four and she’s lived alone
for longer than she was married,
her husband a man with a wild imagination
but a weak mind. He was born
the year the Titanic sank.
That should have told me something.
Now, central air for the worst
of the heat. In her lifetime:
organ transplants, space flight,
television, artificial hearts.
On still nights she sleeps with
just a sheet, the window open wide,
summer’s heat hard and dry.

“Portrait of Viola” by William Reichard from Two Men Rowing Madly Toward Infinity. © Broadstone Books, 2016

The technological progress dazzles. But there’s been social progress as well. Integrated drinking fountains? A black President? A transgender CEO?

Bob M.: “I thought you might be interested in my brother Mike’s letter to Colin Kaepernick.”

Dear Mr. Kaepernick,

I happened to be watching the 49ers on the first day you became quarterback. I was amazed that you performed so well on your first appearance. When you weren’t throwing the ball and connecting with your receiver, you were running it and outdistancing the competition.

Therefore this recent brouhaha about you not standing for the national anthem was a great disappointment. You see I am a gay person and spent eight years in the Navy. I was always concerned that someday I would be outed. I even had a gay sailor in my division whom I tried to protect. Unfortunately he was as we say “a screaming queen.” It was a difficult job keeping him from being dishonorably discharged (and I include in that the general discharge that was in vogue when I was on active duty). Unfortunately he attempted suicide and then there was no protecting him. One day he was aboard the ship and the next day he was gone.

I also spent a year in country in Vietnam while in the Navy. I met three other gays while serving there. Again all of us were in fear of being outed. We all felt  kindred with Sgt. Leonard Matlovich, an Air Force Sergeant whose epitaph reads “When I was in the military they gave me a medal for killing two men and a discharge for loving one.” After Vietnam I worked for the Navy as a civilian and again had to keep my sexual orientation a secret. I was always hopeful whenever something came along that appeared to allow me more freedom, such as “Don’t ask don’t tell” but was always suspicious that someone was lying. That’s the way things were.

Now I am retired and I cannot believe the changes that have been made. After more than 200 years (Yes, you could be put in stocks in early America for being gay) we are now free to even marry. All the members of my generation wanted, was not to be kicked out of the service, military or civilian. We wanted to serve our country.

The point of all this is, is that in all that time I never once refused to stand for the national anthem. This was my country warts and all. But we do try and sometimes we even win! I do wish you had picked another way of expressing your understandable anger at the way things have been going recently. It is of course your right. But things do change. I am now 80 years old and can attest to that. Please don’t lose faith in our country; like I said, we do try.

We do.

When my mom was born, women didn’t have the right to vote.

Think about that this election season.

Have a great Labor Day weekend.



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