Archive | November 2015

A shelter Thanksgiving story

Around Thanksgiving one year, I met a man who searching for his lost dog at the county shelter where I volunteered.

“Barney has been missing for a few months,” he said. “But I still look. I always hope he’ll be here.”

“Don’t give up. Sometimes dogs and cats show up a long time after they become lost,” I said.

“I doubt I’ll find him but I have hope. My whole family has been heartbroken over his loss.”

“How’d the dog get out?” I asked.

“Someone cleaned our pool. He inadvertently left the back gate open and Barney scooted out the doggie door. He apparently got curious and took a hike. I feel awful, just awful. We drove all over, put up signs, you name it. It’s my own fault that Barney didn’t have on tags. He’d probably be home now.” I didn’t have the heart to say, well maybe yes he would. The man obviously loved and cared for his dog unlike so many other heartless people I met over the years who surrendered dogs and cats for frivolous often stupid reasons.

Furthermore, I heard that story dozens of times. Pool repair men and women left gates open and curious dogs escaped. Those with tags, if caught, usually went home. Those without had a less certain fate.

“Take a look around and if you find your dog, you know what the routine is.”

If a pet owner found his dog or cat, payment of a fine was required. If the dog didn’t have a rabies vaccination, an additional fee for the shot was also required. No laws existed about cats. They didn’t need a license or a rabies shot to go home.

A few minutes later, the man blew through the door to the receiving area and ran up to me.

“He’s here,” he said. “I can’t believe he’s here. Miss, do you mind if I hug you. I’m so happy I have to hug someone and then call my wife.”

“I’m so happy for you.” I really was.

“Wait till I get home with Barney. My family will be so pleased, especially my wife. She’s so attached to that dog. We’ll have a happy Thanksgiving this year. And Barney will get a plate of turkey.”

Those small acts uplifted me and always encouraged me to go back to the shelter and volunteer. As I pulled out of the parking lot many days, I swore I’d never return. By the following week, however, my emotional wounds healed and of course I dove back for more sadness, aggravation and human drama. I couldn’t stay away.

 

 

What Islam is not

The GOP candidates running for president froth at the mouth as they spit out lies on the campaign trail acting as experts on Islam. I doubt a single one of them has ever been inside a mosque, spoken to an imam, or read the Quran. They probably rely on Fox news for their information, Fox the media giant that spreads mountains of lies about Islam, Blacks, Latinos, immigrants, Democrats, and just about anyone else who isn’t a conservative White Christian Republican.

No doubt there are problems inside Islam that need fixing, the sooner the better. There are radicals who do commit grievous, unspeakable wrongs in the name of Islam. Muslims know that and feel deeply ashamed. We don’t need Fox or its cronies flashing it on network television day and night. Killing in the name of Islam is a sin as is the mistreatment of women and non Muslims.

Are all Black and Latino men and women to blame for the heinous crimes committed by a few misguided thugs who rob, rape and murder mostly in the inner city? No, of course not, but they are largely held responsible anyway. Look at the US prison population. It’s mostly full of

Blacks and Latinos yet they are not yet the majority population. Not yet at least although one day they will be due to the declining birth rate among Whites. When a Black man shoots up in a crowd, it’s national news for days if not weeks. Fear and prejudice ensues afterwards. If a White man commits the same despicable crime, there is far less press coverage. We do not express the same fear of White men in crowds as we do of Black men. I wonder why.

There is good and bad among us all. No one is spared from making mistakes. Extremism is found in every religion, race and country. Hindu extremism is pervasive in India. A Muslim man was savagely attacked by a Hindu mob recently for allegedly slaughtering a cow and eating beef. Cows are considered sacred in India. The deceased was found to be innocent. Buddhist hatemongers regularly kill and torture the Muslim minority in Burma with impunity. Government leaders fail to even acknowledge a problem exists. Israel’s long running and merciless occupation of Palestine has left millions of Muslims and Christians angry and destitute. Although I do not condone violence as a response to persecution, it’s often a last resort to desperation. It’s happened in other countries too such as Rwanda.

 

So back to what is Islam. As a convert, I know Islam as a way of life. It’s a disciplined religion where people pray five times daily. Our holy day is Friday where we attend mosque services. Some people attend more often when schedules permit. Each religion has a holy book. So do we. It’s called the Quran. There are study groups at the mosque or people’s homes. A devout Muslim will perform zakat, mandatory alms giving to charity each month. We perform community service, not necessarily to a Muslim organization, but a worthwhile endeavor to improve the lives of others. We might volunteer at a soup kitchen or help with a neighborhood clean-up. We send our children to Scouts or to play on the soccer team. They attend school and do homework when they come home. Parents hold down jobs, often two at a time. We share food with our family, friends, and neighbors. On weekends, we gather in public parks with our friends and family to enjoy the outdoors. All Muslims dream of making hajj, the journey to Mecca in Saudi Arabia just as many Christians desire to visit the Vatican in Rome. We welcome people in interested in Islam but we do not shove it down anyone’s throats.

Don’t take Donald Trump or Ben Carson’s word on Islam. Visit a mosque on Friday. Services are at mid-day. If that’s not convenient, there are usually Quran classes in the evening or on weekends. Call us and someone will be happy to talk to you. We have nothing to hide. Nothing. I was curious about Islam and eventually I said my shahada, the declaration of faith, and I am now a devout Muslim. I know what Islam is and is not. I hope you will find out too.

 

 

It’s all about dignity

They’re called migrants or refugees. Some call them terrorists or ISIS scum. I know them as Syrians fleeing for safety from an unrelenting war that has ravaged their country. Everything they knew and loved has been destroyed, shattered by bombs, tanks and guns. And for this we chastise them. We point the finger of self-serving shame and say go back to where you came from. They risk everything for safety and a chance at a new life. If any of us were in Syria, wouldn’t we do the same thing? Wouldn’t we?

Before 2011, Syrian children attended school. Teachers drilled them in subjects such as math, science, spelling, geography, and reading. Muslim children learned the Quran; Christians read the Bible. Men worked to support families. Some women held jobs outside the home; some did not. Young adults attended college studying for future careers. Despite hardships under a dictatorship, Syrian society functioned. Food and clothing were available in stores. Syrians relaxed on weekends in cafes or listening to music. Women dressed as they wished either in hijabs and abayas or in short sleeves and slacks. There were no morality police to enforce dress codes. Some Syrians have even had pets or cared about their environment. All that changed after the spring of 2011. The Arab spring brought down dictatorships in Egypt, Libya, Tunisia and Yemen but Assad wouldn’t budge. How dare the Syrian people insult him by demanding change? Wasn’t his iron rule good enough for them? Assad reacted with a massive armed assault that citizens never thought possible. The rest of the world reacted in horror as Assad tortured and killed men, women and children. Bombs leveled cities leaving them in ruins. Tens of thousands of people died. Countless others were injured. Millions fled for safety to any nation took them. Many don’t want them. Some escape journeys led to death by the way. Now the lawless nation is further ripped apart by criminals, thugs, degenerates, murders and hoodlums who don’t even have a clue what they’re fighting. A few allege they are Muslims and claim part of Syria as a state. What rubbish. It’s all such a farce. They are not Muslims and cities are not states. Every day, foreign nations drop bombs to end the war and more innocent people are killed, The country spirals further out of control. There are no winners in Syria, just losers, the Syrian people who lost everything. Syrian refugee women are robbed of their dignity, having been raped by goons as they fled the country. Syrian women lose husbands because they either died in the war or disappeared. These are women who once woke up in the morning, showered and dressed, maybe even dabbed on make-up and spritzed on perfume, then sent their children to school. Syrian women cared for their families by cooking dinner, caring for elderly parents and prayed five times a day. They shared recipes with their neighbors for baklava or hummus. Now they scrape by, begging on the streets of foreign countries. Maybe they married teenage girls to strangers at 15 with the misguided belief this was a form of protection. Syrian men who once provided a steady income for families struggle to support them because other countries often don’t welcome Syrians. Jobs and housing are denied them. Once proud men are humiliated and shamed to ask for a handout even when their children are cold and hungry. And the children, pity the children. If they’re lucky they attend school, but for the rest what can they do? Many work in the fields picking vegetables. Others dig through garbage for food to eat. They are a lost generation, uneducated and misguided. Many are without parents who were killed or abducting during the war.

Millions of Syrians remain, unable or unwilling to leave. What will happen to them? What does the future hold? Danger, starvation, death? Pray for their safety. That’s about all we can do. Their own government surely isn’t concerned.

One day the horrific violence will end. What happens next? Who pays to rebuild the shattered, torn apart nation? Will Syrians scattered around the world feel safe to return? Syria will never be the same. Never. Nothing can bring back the dead. Nothing can replace the memories of good times that families and friends once shared. What’s the future like? Only God knows. And only mankind can figure this out.

More troublesome is that Syria far from alone. There are more countries like Syria. Take Iraq for example. The unwise and immoral American invasion of Iraq devastated that country. Hussein was a harsh, iron fisted dictator who was merciless to his own people but it was up to the Iraqi’s to topple him, not the US. Now look at Iraq. Is it any wonder why it’s crumbling? Is anyone surprised there are so many Iraqi’s desperate to leave? I can name other nations too with significant internal strife but the list goes on. It’s too numerous to get into. Who is to blame for hatred, violence and unrest? Everyone plays a role. No one country or religion is exempt. How does it end? There are no easy answers and surely I don’t have them all. But strong leadership at the top is a start. Electing a president or prime minister who fosters unity rather than bitterness and hatred is a good place to begin. A leader like Donald Trump would be a monstrous blow to a united America and the nations who depend on us. He hasn’t a clue how to bring people together. He is divisive, corrosive and crude. A wise leader encourages harmony, the greater good. We all share the same planet. There is no plan B. Our children deserve better. They depend on us for comfort, safety and peace. So far, we’ve failed to deliver. Isn’t it time we get it right before it’s too late? We’ve already failed mother nature and animal species have been hunted to extinction. Only we can save ourselves. Hate should never win. I hope it never does.

 

Dark days are upon us, or do they have to be?

Dark days are upon us now, but do they have to be? The late Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said if we don’t live as brothers (and I assume he meant sisters too) then we’ll perish together as fools. King said that years ago during the American Civil Rights era. He came to prominence in 1954 at the beginning of the Montgomery bus boycott and died in 1968 from an assassin’s bullet. King’ devoted his career to non-violence and equality for all. Where are we now? Surely some of King’s dreams came true; some have not. There is more work to be done but the deep seated hatred for Blacks shifted to Latino immigrants who toiled under a blistering hot sun picking grapes, apples and walnuts often for slave wages. Latino immigrants worked in slaughter houses under brutal conditions where on the job injury rates are among the highest in the nation. Many settled in the US raising families, sending children to school. They bought houses, cars and contributed to the economy. As their numbers increased, Americans said put on the brakes. We can’t have this many Latinos here. It’s a travesty. Lawmakers desperate for re-election pandered to those misplaced fears. They passed law after law targeting Latinos. Arizona boldly took the lead and then bragged we’ll build a wall of shame. Keep out those pesky immigrants, seeking jobs and escaping violence at home, much of which is traced back to the illicit drug trade in the US. Oh yes, your darling junior who snorts coke at high school is part of the complex problem of drugs and violence overseas. That’s for a much larger discussion, however. Instead of facing reality such as the lower birth rate in the US and the pressing need for low wage labor, the US has a knee jerk reaction. Kick out the immigrants. It’s not their fault that companies, in the never ending quest for the almighty dollar, close down factories and pack up jobs like produce and ship them overseas. Build that wall. Create a climate of fear. Blame our problems, all of them, on the Latinos, especially the Mexicans. It’s all their fault. Get out. And get out they did. We deported them by the thousands, even though there is a chronic labor shortage in certain industries like the fast food industry, meat packing and farming. And now fast forward to Muslims, especially Syrians and Iraqis. We invaded Iraq for no good reason in 2003. We killed over 100,000 Iraqi citizens and demolished their homes and businesses. Imagine if that happened to us? What an appalling and inappropriate reaction to the 3,000 people who died on 9/11. Saddam Hussein was a ruthless dictator but he was not culpable in the murderous assault on 9/11. The Iraqi people had problems of their own but they suffered needlessly as a result of George W. Bush. So did thousands of US soldiers who died or were severely injured. Then the USA doesn’t even want to pay for their health care. Imagine that gall? Is it any wonder why there are terrorists in Iraq who despise the US? And Syria. Syria morphed into a complicated thicket of terrorists fighting each other. The original goal to oust Assad became lost after the country descended into madness. Inside the gruesome remains of a nation of 22 million people that once reasonably functioned is now a utter shambles. Innocent people are desperate to leave. They want nothing to do with the rebels or the scum known as ISIS. They just want peace, calm and tranquility like everyone else. And now some Republicans call them rabid dogs and other disparaging names. The US Congress just passed a law to restrict their settlement into the US. What’s wrong with the US, an allegedly Christian nation? I was never an observant Christian (I am now a Muslim convert) but Jesus would not turn his back on the poor or suffering. Why is the US shunning immigrants who need us now? Shame on us and shame on anyone disparaging immigrants. There are some men and a few women (I cannot even call them Muslims) who commit crimes in the name of Islam. They do not represent the vast majority of the world’s over 1 billion Muslims. We do not condone their frightful behavior. But we are held culpable for their barbarism. Everyone can and should do better – Muslims, Christians, Jews, Hindus, and Buddhists. There’s room for improvement everywhere. If we don’t want dark days to continue to swallow us whole, then let love, light, and hope lead the way. Everyone can make a difference. And peace begins with a smile. Just one person can change the world for the better. Let that person be you. And let the process of healing begin today. It’s never too late for change to begin.

It’s always someone, isn’t it?

Not too long ago, we Americans, especially here in Arizona, blamed the Mexicans for all that went wrong. Lost your job? Blame the Mexicans. Waited a long time in the emergency room? Blame the Mexicans. Developed a leak in the attic? Blame the Mexicans. Before the Mexicans, who did we hold culpable for what went wrong? The Jews? Italians? Greeks? Cubans? The family dog? Blacks. Of course, how could I forget the Blacks. They were responsible for so many of our problems, even though they were brought here as slaves starting in 1619, worked from sun up to sun down on plantations six days a week, under pitiful conditions and for merciless overseers. They were beaten, whipped, raped and often killed for trivial reasons or no reason at all. Yet we held them culpable for miserable social conditions that we aided and abetted. We shoved them into ghettoes and legalized segregation. Many were darn proud of it too. Now it’s Muslims. Undoubtedly, the bad boys and girls known as ISIS are a cruel, wretched bunch, who perpetuate unspeakable crimes that shock and stun everyone. Most of their victims however are fellow Muslims – men, women and children who do the unforgivable like smoke cigarettes, have a few hairs sticking out from their hijabs or watch television. Refugees, especially Muslims, are desperate to escape from their abject barbarity. Like anyone, Muslim immigrants, especially the Syrians and Iraqis, want to live in peace. They want to wake up in the morning, enjoy a quiet breakfast with family and send their children off to school. They want jobs to pay their own way. No one wants a handout. And for this we condemn them as if they were the wicked extremists. To seethe with revenge against these immigrants is narrow-minded, shameful and just plain wrong. All White Americans descend from undocumented immigrants. Yes, that is indeed a fact. European settlers first started to arrive on this continent in 1492 fleeing from poverty and persecution, much the same reasons that immigrants still come here. The Indians living here weren’t responsible for the unrest shaking Europe at the time but the settlers took their land anyway. Was that right? No, of course not. We cannot turn back time to undo the injustices to the Indians but we can be compassionate and caring to today’s immigrants, wherever they are from. Don’t be ruthless or heartless. Fight hatred with a healthy dose of love. Drive out darkness with light. And if you’re sitting on the wrong side of the tracks, then do me a favor. Take yourself off my Facebook friends list. We really have nothing in common.

If there’s intelligent life out there, why would they come to Earth?

Ever since I was a child (I’m now a senior citizen) there has been war, civil unrest, and carnage somewhere around the world and in the US. We’ve had murders and riots. I remember conflicts in South America. Dictators in Chile, Argentina and Peru who ruled with an iron fist. There were violent civil wars in Central America in Guatemala, El Salvador and Nicaragua. Who could forget the long, bitter struggle for human dignity in South Africa to dismantle apartheid? Famines, always there’ve been famines, mostly man-made. Biafra comes to mind as do many others in Africa. Genocides do too, like the appalling bloodshed in Rwanda, Darfur, Central African Republic, the Balkans, Burma, and the list goes on and on. Now the hotspots are Syria, Sudan, Afghanistan, Iraq, oh Iraq, we never should have invaded you. That was such a horrendous mistake. Even the bi-partisan 9/11 commission said Iraq had nothing to do with the Twin Tower attacks. I have a copy of the report. I paid $10 for it.

I grew up during the Cold War, always fearful of “the bomb”. The US and the former USSR (Union of Soviet Socialist Republics) were enemies at the time, each racing to build the biggest and baddest nuclear bomb. There were thermonuclear bombs that could obliterate entire cities, flatten them into piles of rubble in mere seconds, such as we did to Japan in 1945 that ended World War II. There later was a strategy with the USSR called MAD, mutually assured destruction, that sort of kept each country in place. You launch a bomb on us, we’ll fire one on you. We both lose. In grammar school, we were routinely subject to air raid drills. One by one, children filed into the closet with our index fingers firmly pressed against our lips. Talking wasn’t permitted. Of course we were terrified. Apartment buildings were designated with a yellow/black sign as a fallout shelter, a place to hide in case of a nuclear attack. Basements were stocked with provisions to survive, such as water and crackers. Gee, I wonder how long that would last among hundreds of scared, frightened and desperate people? What would happen if “the bomb” actually dropped? We’d be wiped out entirely. After I said that, another child started to cry. Our teacher, a Catholic nun, yanked on my pony tail. Who told you that, she demanded. My father. Shut your mouth or you’re in trouble. So I did. I always wondered how hiding in a closet would protect us from a massive nuclear attack. Thanks to God it never happened. During the 1980s the nuclear arms raced heated up. Both nations spent trillions of dollars on nuclear weapons, even though millions of Americans and Russians lived in squalid conditions. We could blow up the entire solar system if we had wanted to. We still could. On June 12, 1982 there was a march against the nuclear madness in New York City’s Central Park. I marched with over 1 million people of all races, religions, and creeds in unison to protest our objections to the insanity of nuclear weapons. Just one bomb, just one mistake, just one accident, could end the existence of the human race.

In 1989, the Berlin Wall fell. Communism in Eastern Europe collapsed. It’s still a major force in North Korea but on the wane in Cuba and China, two hold-outs. For a while there was a thaw in the icy relations between the two major nuclear powers, the US and Russia. There were the SALT talks, Strategic Arms Limitation Talks, to reduce the number of weapons each side had. Now it seems we’re back at it again. Iran wants to go nuclear. Israel joined years ago but won’t say so publicly. The whackos in North Korea could unleash a nuclear nightmare because their young leader wants to prove his manhood. India and Pakistan, two mortal enemies, are both nuclear armed. The USA and Russia have an odd relationship. One day they are friends, pledging to work together for the common good; the next day they are dangerously close to the edge of war. If they go at it, we’re all doomed.

So while we humans continue to bicker, battle and destroy each other, animals, and our environment with no end in sight, our unwillingness to peacefully settle our differences continues to enrich a small but powerful group of people – the arms manufacturers. Companies like Raytheon, Boeing, McConnell Douglass, and others will swim in money because of our petty behavior. As we lob bombs across borders, blow ourselves up, and attack each other with machine guns, the arms makers become richer and richer. Why would they want peace? For them the cessation of hostilities is frightful. For the human race, however, peace is priceless. It brings harmony, safety and security. With peace, there is prosperity, jobs, education, tourism, etc. Peace ends the bitter cycle of savagery and pain. All bleeding hearts stop hurting. We will finally be good with God. Only we as a people can make this happen.

As long we we’re on murderous rampages, maiming and destroying this planet, why would visitors from another world want to come here? If they exist, and maybe they do, our appalling, shameful behavior keeps them away. It also keeps us from each other. Isn’t it time we get right with God and with each other?