Honor and Commitment

September 17, 2014

My Dad was  president of his Coast Guard Academy class, and partly as a result, has been planning class reunions ever since. (Don’t term limits kick in at some point?) Right now he is in the throes of organizing his 70th (!) reunion, which will take place during Homecoming next month in New London, CT.  One of the more sacred traditions at the Coast Guard Academy calls for each reunion class to march onto the football field, while the announcer reads a few words about the class.  Here is the script that Dad and I wrote last night to describe the Coast Guard Academy class of 1945.  I think it says all that needs to be said about honor and commitment:

146 of us were sworn in on July 16, 1941. We were the largest and last peacetime class to enter the Academy, and only two of us held draft cards. Six months later, after Pearl Harbor, the First-Classmen graduated, leaves were canceled, and we were informed that we would be required to do four years’ worth of academics in a total of three. We rose to the challenge; 95 of us graduated and received our commissions in June 1944, one day after D-day in Normandy.

After antisubmarine and antiaircraft refresher training, and after 18 weddings, we all dispersed to our first assignments, comprising a wide variety of Coast Guard cutters and U.S. Navy vessels. Once we were in the War it was soon over, and all of us who graduated returned safely home, although two classmates who left prior to graduation paid the ultimate price. Our class indeed proved “always ready”; members of the Class of 1945 served in-country in Korea and later in Vietnam.

After the War, the Coast Guard assumed new duties. An emphasis on weather patrol, aids to navigation, air-sea rescue, ice patrol, lighthouse service and merchant-marine safety obviously interested us, because of the 51 of us who elected to stay past our required tour in 1948, all but three were still on active duty and eligible for 20-year retirement. Eighteen of us remained on active duty 30 years after graduation, and two of our class served at flag rank. Today, we look back with pride to a lifetime of service: Three years as a cadet, a career on active duty, followed by 40 years of retirement.

The class of 1945 is still 24 members strong. 17 of us are represented here today, including non-graduates and widows, and together, we comprise the largest 70th reunion class in the Academy’s history. We are united in pride of our service, honor in having served our country on air, land and sea, and to have done so in peacetime and through every war and conflict.


Have You Thanked Your TSA Agent Today?

September 11, 2014

It helped that my home airport is in Portland, Maine; not exactly a major hub.  And it helped that I arrived for my morning flight at oh-dark-hundred, before the rush.  And that I was in the “precheck” lane, which means I don’t have to take off my shoes or haul out my computer.

No line, no strip search, and here’s the marvelous thing:  No yelling.  The TSA agent looked directly at me and politely asked if I had a cell phone in my pocket (I did); he didn’t yell or intone indirectly with general directives to take all phones out of all pockets.

As a result, my trip through Security was a rarity: fast, hassle-free; in fact: civilized.  And as I gathered up my belongings, I turned to the two agents and said so:  “You guys are remarkably civilized.”  One smiled, the other gave a Mainer response:  “Come back in half an hour when the crowd is here and you won’t say that.”  Then I noticed that the first one was spreading the word to the other agents that a traveler had paid TSA a compliment, and as I walked away from Security, more than one agent called out to me, or waved, or wished me a good trip and safe journey.

Today is September 11.  May we all have safe journeys, and may we always work in tandem with TSA to ensure that Security is as hassle-free — and  rigorous — as possible.



Pilgrim’s Prayer

August 30, 2014

BoxFiles_14050814192902It’s worth repeating — Following is a Pilgrims Prayer that Frank and I encountered on the Camino de Santiago earlier this year.  Frank and I shared it at the Congregational Church last Sunday, and believe me, it’s just as meaningful for Pilgrims who are searching from home as well as those on The Way.

Although I may have traveled all the roads,
crossed mountains and valleys from East to West,
if I have not discovered the freedom to be myself,
I have arrived nowhere.

Although I may have shared all of my possessions
with people of other languages and cultures;
made friends with pilgrims of a thousand paths,
or shared lodgings with saints and princes,
if I am not capable of forgiving my neighbor tomorrow,
I have arrived nowhere.

Although I may have carried my pack from beginning to end
and waited for every pilgrim in need of encouragement,
or given my bed to one who arrived later than I,
given my bottle of water in exchange for nothing;
if upon returning to my home and work,
I am not able to create compassion
or to make happiness, peace and unity,
I have arrived nowhere.

Although I may have had food and water each day,
and enjoyed a roof and shower every night;
or may have had my injuries well attended,
if I have not discovered in all that the love of God,
I have arrived nowhere.

Although I may have seen all the monuments
and contemplated the best sunsets;
although I may have learned a greeting in every language
or tasted the clean water from every fountain;
if I have not discovered the blessing
of so much free beauty and so much peace,
I have arrived nowhere.

If from today I do not continue walking on the path,
searching and living according to what I have learned;
if from today I do not see in every person, friend or foe,
a fellow pilgrim on the Camino;
if from today I cannot recognize the divine
in every one and every thing,
I have arrived nowhere. Amen.

Paying it Forward

August 22, 2014

IMG_4677Nearly ten years ago, two American women named Jane and Patty were vacationing in the northern part of Thailand, when they came face-to-face with the reality of sex trafficking.  The women realized that they had to do something.  They set up a home-grown non-profit, and in the years since, they have saved girls in danger of being trafficked and ensured that they received a good education.  For more, Google “Friends of Thai Daughters.”

Last night, Frank and I went to a fundraiser for “FTD.”  I had thought it would be a “normal” fundraiser, and in many ways it was — good food, open bar, silent and live auction and many generous contributors.  What made the evening special, however, were the “Daughters” who were part of the evening.

They had cooked a fabulous Thai dinner.  They also spoke briefly about who they were.

Mee is now 28, and she was one of the first “daughters.”  She has graduated from Chang Mai University, has returned to the area where she grew up, acquired her real estate license, and is working to support herself.  Her English is remarkably good, and so is her commonsense.  She is “giving back” by working as a house-mother for five other younger “daughters.” including her own niece.

Lek receives her university degree this October.  When she joined the “Daughters” program, she said, “I just want to go to school.”  Someone gave her a piece of paper and a pencil; she started drawing, and she’s been drawing ever since. Lek is shy about discussing her talent, but it is clear that she is something special, and already an artist in her own right. This summer, she interned with Villard Studios, and learned white line printmaking, an art form that originated in South East Asia, but which has disappeared from there. ((Check out the elephant that starts off this entry for a sample of this work.)) Lek’s professor has asked her to return to the university and teach printmaking to the other students. Lek has already made enough money from her art to pay for her sister to go to nursing school.

Two girls, given a chance to go to school, barely graduated and already paying it forward.  And were in not for Patty and Jane, these Thai Daughters would most certainly be dead, killed by AIDS or worse.



Mix and Match Bling

August 18, 2014

I have a necklace made  shell that dates from a vacation to the Caribbean, probably 30 years ago.  I don’t often wear the necklace, because I don’t have other shell jewelry to match, but about two years ago I needed something pink and summery and wore it.

My friend Mae promptly complimented me on it, and mentioned that she had a bracelet that was similar and which she would like to give me. She explained that she never wore it because she didn’t have any other jewelry to match it.  I laughed, explained that I was in the same predicament, offered to give her my necklace so that she would have the two pieces, but she had offered first and won the contest — and I acquired the bracelet, which was really much nicer than the necklace.

I’ve worn the two pieces a lot this summer, but of course I don’t have earrings to match.

Then, my aunt saw the bling, and brought out shell earrings that had been her sister’s.  She said she never wore them because, you guessed it, she didn’t have any other pieces to match.  She gave the earrings to me, and really, they are nicer quality than either the bracelet or the original necklace.

So now I have a complete set!

Anyone have a shell ring out there they never wear because it’s not part of a set?

Death Valley

August 16, 2014

IMG_4605Indians had lived here for centuries, but they knew how.  The first white people who entered the valley were settlers looking for a shortcut between Las Vegas and the gold fields, and oops, they nearly didn’t make it out alive.

Death Valley is the driest and also lowest place in North America, with an average rainfall of less than  2 inches per annum and Badwater at 270 feet below sea level.  August is no time to visit — it’s hot! It’s been 120 degrees in the daytime, getting down to 90 or so at night.  I guess I’m glad that our rental shows the temp in Celsius, because I can always think I can’t translate properly  into Fahrenheit.

The Valley is also beautiful.  The rocks look like something out of Georgia O’Keefe’s palette (or is it the other way around?) and the shadows are constantly moving and changing the rocks.

August is not the correct month to come to Death Valley, but it’s the month we had.  I was last here 50 (!) years ago during spring vacation, when the desert was in bloom and the heat was more tolerable.  But August is what we had, so here we are.

And practically the only English speakers around. The place is swarming with Europeans, particularly French and German.  They are all here to get a postmark from the Death Valley Post Office, to see the sights, and to go back home to boast.  Isn’t that what tourism is all about?

Actually, after those ill-fated settlers, mining companies came into the Valley, to mine for borax and make the 20 Mule Team famous.  When the mines started to play out, someone got the bright idea to introduce tourism to the area.  Air conditioning helped.

We woke up early to watch the sunrise, and we drove to the lowest point in North America.  We enjoyed the immensity and the grandeur of the Valley.  It really is the other side of the moon — or at least what we think that looks like.  And then we hurried south to I-15 and civilization.

A Land of Contrasts

August 14, 2014

IMG_4523We woke up again listening to the Merced River, and after breakfast climbed 2000 feet back up the river to the start of Yosemite Valley, then turned north to take the highland route to Tuolumne Meadows.  Back in high school, I had backpacked in these mountains, and the terrain reminded me of those experiences:  On the top of the world, with polished granite and tall trees and impossibly blue skies.  We stopped at an overlook for a last glimpse of Half Dome, far in the distance overlooking the valley below, and then continued west.  Tuolumne Meadows itself was impossible to stop at — too many cars, too much traffic, not at all the wilderness experience it is supposed to be.  And we pressed on, because we knew we were leaving the crowds behind.

IMG_4540Well, not quite. The Pass on the eastern edge of Yosemite is over 9000 feet.  These Sierras are geographically just like their more western neighbors, but the rain doesn’t get here, so they are hot, dry stone — very little vegetation. Then down, down, down to about 6000 feet, and Mono Lake lay before us, the water looking impossibly green in the noonday sun.

Mono Lake is a famous rallying point for the intersection of water and environment.  The City of Las Angeles was siphoning off the water for municipal use, and the Lake had dribbled to about half its previous level, exposing limestone-tufa towers from underwater and threatening the bird sanctuaries.  Then local people and environmentalists intervened, and eventually won in court — the Lake was court ordered to return to about three-quarters of its original size (not that lakes have original sizes, of course; they are constantly in flux).

IMG_4551The return has a way to go, not helped by the last three years of drought.  The tufa towers stand tall, surrounded by sagebrush, since the water has receded so far.

We worked our way down to the beach and tasted the water — it’s as salty as the Great Salt Lake, it’s neighbor to the east — about 2.5 times the saltiness of the ocean.  Then it was back to the car and to turn on the air conditioning, and to pick up some speed as we headed south.

IMG_4572Our next stop was Manzanar. the detention center that was home to about 10,000 people of Japanese descent — most of them American citizens — from 1942 to 1945.  It’s an extraordinary — and evocative — place.  In the desert, under the shadow of Mt. Whitney, and the plan shows miles of dormitories, with no privacy and little in the way of community comforts.  A watchtower stands empty now, ghostly sentinel over the exhibits and a time when American passions and fears ran roughshod over civil rights and our value system.   May we always remember that those who forget the past are doomed to repeat it.

And then, we drove over the Panamint Range and dropped into Death Valley.



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