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Monthly Archives: November 2015

Fear & Loving

IMG_4221Last weekend I enjoyed a girls’ getaway in New York City. My high school girlfriend and I arrived on Thursday, had a wonderful night catching up over dinner, and arose early Friday for a brisk morning walk up to Central Park, with a brief stop at Rockefeller Center to wave to the Today Show cast. We enjoyed a casual lunch before heading toward the High Line Park. A norther was blowing in and the wind was so brisk, we could barely stand on the elevated newly beautified train tracks. Walking back down to the street, we looked for a building to duck into for warmth. We noticed an intriguing modern building a few blocks away with outdoor zig-zagging stairways filled with people. We headed toward it and realized it was the Whitney Museum, which we’d wanted to explore. We bought tickets and went directly up to the terrace to watch the sunset over the Hudson River. We marveled at the beauty of the city and the sliver of a crescent moon shining over it when my friend’s phone started buzzing. She looked down for a minute, and seemed disturbed. “There’s been an attack near Paris. Several people are dead.” Oh my, I uttered, confused. An instant later I nearly cried with relief that my daughter who’d studied there this summer was safely back on her college campus in Tennessee. As we strolled through the galleries and admired the Pollocks, O’Keefes, and de Koonings, we couldn’t help checking our phones for updates. After an hour or so we headed back to our hotel, rushing to turn on the t.v. for news. It was hard to piece together, but we got the idea that several attacks had occurred across Paris, several were dead, and many hostages were being held at the Bataclan Theatre. The horrible news continued unfolding. We sympathized with the French as we learned more details, and remembered the fear we experienced after 9/11, the uncertainty of what might happen next.

When we awoke on Saturday we were thankful to learn there’d been no additional attacks. Local newscasters noted that New York was on high alert and we could expect to see a large police presence throughout the city. My friend and I looked at each other with alarm. Last night Paris had seemed so far away. But, of course, if terrorists would attack a nightclub, a restaurant and a soccer stadium in Paris, there was a real possibility of a similar strike of “soft targets” in New York City. We’d seen the new One World Trade Center with its spire rising triumphantly over the city and suddenly remembered that we were very vulnerable. That afternoon, a little less carefree, we headed to a show in Times Square and noticed a large police presence, complete with machine guns and automatic weapons. We walked into the Palace Theatre to see, coincidentally, “An American in Paris,” and found our seats. Although the show was riveting, I felt startled by any movement on the periphery of my vision. My friend said later that she’d made a mental note of the nearest exits. While watching the beautiful sets,costumes and athletic dancers and listening to familiar Gershwin tunes, I thought of the depravity of the attacks in Paris by men who had no regard for human life, including their own. I couldn’t help but ask what if gunmen similarly stormed this theater, the museum we’d visited the night before, the stores along Fifth Avenue with their windows gaily decorated for the holidays and packed with shoppers? What if my surly cab driver who wouldn’t say hello, goodbye, or even acknowledge my payment was plotting the destruction of a part of the city? There were more tourists on the streets than I’d ever seen before; how could anyone stop a lunatic bent on destroying our way of life? What sitting ducks we all were! Then the show ended and we all clapped uproariously. The actors lined up on stage and announced that the first time they’d performed this musical had been in Paris. They asked for prayers for the people of the City of Lights as the lead actor wiped away tears. That night, the World Trade Center’s spire was lit in the colors of the French flag, and the Empire State Building was dark in sympathy for the murdered.

Sunday morning I felt drawn to St. Patrick’s Cathedral where the Pope had celebrated Mass just a few weeks before. The rector of the cathedral began by welcoming a packed church, stating that the cathedral was a home for all Americans and had been visited often by many of our French friends, including the Archbishop of Paris. He read a prayer in French which had recently been recited in all churches across France on All Souls’ Day. In his homily he stated that the evil that had been wrought in Paris was the work of those who substituted their judgment for God’s, and he reminded us that God’s plan is not man’s plan. Rather than taking matters into our own hands, he said, we are called to the difficult task of forgiving our enemies and loving our neighbors. “The Parisian tragedy was not an apocalyptic event; God will come to judge His people in His time, with kindness, mercy and love.”  The Mass ended with the expansive organ’s exuberant strains of the French national anthem. Many in the crowd sang along, tearfully. I’d never felt so close to people so far away. Leaving the church, walking down the streets of Midtown Manhattan, I felt less afraid.

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The Powerful Precious Written Word

2551468After my parents died, it was a particular comfort to find numerous papers authored by my dad, all neatly typed and stored in a drawer in a file cabinet in his bedroom. There were copies of letters to the editors of  publications to which he subscribed, letters of condolence to the families of dearly departed friends, eulogies delivered at the request of such families, and copies of speeches and presentations he’d given. Reading them, I could hear my dad’s voice, his inflections, recall his laugh, see his wry smile at an inside joke. I felt the familiar camaraderie of sharing a good story, hearing his voice quake at a touching tribute for a deceased friend, or rising in volume with indignation at a foolish comment or statement. Memories are precious, but reading his words was like listening to him speak. I felt compelled to assemble some of Dad’s papers in the hope that we, his family, will always remember this gracious, generous, loving man, and that his great-grandchildren yet to come will have a sense of the character of their great-grandfather.  I hope they will see through his writings what was so clear to our family; that he was intelligent, witty, a devoted friend, and a loyal advocate for the Democratic party, the Catholic Church, and his community. Here is a sampling:

From a 1993 letter to the editor of Texas Lawyer expressing displeasure at a comment made by the dean of the law school of St. Mary’s University – “My interest is not in the debate concerning tenure but in her disparaging remarks about training ‘trial lawyers in Cuero and Kerrville…’ I take her remarks to suggest that the training of lawyers for practice in Cuero and Kerrville is a function unworthy of a first-class law school and by implication, that such practice is an unworthy goal for the graduates of a first-rate school.The people of Cuero and Kerrville have the same need for well-educated lawyers as do the people of San Antonio and Houston. We marry, raise children, make contracts, buy and sell property, commit crimes and die. We live under the same Constitution and enjoy the same equal education, employment, housing, facilities and voting rights. We need well-educated lawyers to protect and guide us in these life experiences.” 

This, from a letter to the president of Southwestern University upon delivering my brother to his dorm room in 1978 – “I think it is outrageous to expect a parent to spend over $1,800.00 per semester and then to house their sons in such conditions. If you have not recently seen the third floor of Ruter, I suggest that you make an inspection or have some member of your staff do so. The three flights of stairs deliver you to a corridor reminiscent of a Mexican night club. The corridor floor is covered with filthy, ragged carpet which does not match. Apparently tag ends of carpet were pieced together to make this attractive floor covering. The ceiling is falling in and a large bucket stands in the middle of a spreading puddle of plaster and water. The closet door is gouged out at one point where a previous tenant or burglar apparently tried to dig his way into a locked closet.”

These words were delivered at a close friend’s funeral in 1998 – “I have been selfish the past two days – thinking about what I have lost and only a little about what Mary and her children and grandchildren have lost and – almost nothing about what Howard has gained. But I am selfish – and so I say that I have lost my best friend. Howard was the only man I could turn to and ask, ‘Do you remember Polly Olsen and his jitney? Do you remember the horses that pulled the ice wagons and the ice men who carried the big blocks of ice into our old oak refrigerators?’ And Howard always remembered and remembered their names and where they lived and who their children married. I have plenty of people to keep me up to date on current gossip but what I will miss is someone to remind me of what happened 70 years ago.”

From a 1963 letter to the editor of the Cuero Record written in response to an editorial entitled “Minority Groups Honor Yarborough” – “In commenting on your editorial, I might remark that many people join me in resenting your newpaper’s repeated references to laboring men, Negroes, and Americans of Latin descent as ‘minority groups,’ or ‘left wing groups’ or ‘special interests.’ You seem to intimate that only your minority group – whichever it may be – is entitled to full participation in the American democratic process. We are all to varying extents members of both minority and majority groups; and sure the particular groups which you habitually harpoon are as much entitled to vote, to lobby, and to electioneer as are the Chambers of Commerce, the N.A.M., the T.I.P.R.O., or the Texas Press Association. But inevitably every effort by a Negro, a Latin American or a laborer to make his voice heard effectively is greeted by you with ridicule and contempt.”

There are many more letters and speeches and I am assembling the best of them for our family. While some of his statements would not be considered “politically correct” today, they were heartfelt sentiments based on firm and unwavering beliefs. It is rather remarkable that he was not afraid to speak his mind, considering that for most of his career he was a public official, serving two terms as County Attorney for DeWitt County and 35 years as City Attorney for the City of Cuero. Perhaps his written words will inspire future generations of his family to speak up, write letters, call out immoral actions and inaccurate statements, serve their communities, and support their friends.