Sundown Town – “Possible”

Having recently seen the movie The Green BookI started thinking back nearly fifty-five year years. I went to high school in a small town in the panhandle of Texas. My memory has grown a bit cloudy after so many years, yet I am almost certain there was not one African-American student in my high school.

I have two very vivid memories regarding those times. My first memory is one of working at a gas station. In those days an attendant (me) pumped gas for customers. Late one afternoon a car pulled in to fill up and a middle-aged African-American man got out of the car. The rest of his family remained in the auto. As best I can remember, here are his words. “We’ve been traveling all day, can you tell me how to get to the colored part of town so we can spend the night?”  I had no idea what to say to the man, so I said nothing in response. I’d not seen a black family in that town in four years. I remember he looked at me and then again spoke. “I understand, we’ll keep driving.” I stood filled with shame and embarrassment and watched them drive away.

A year after high my school graduation, I was working in a hospital about fifty miles away from where I’d gone to school. An African-American nurse and I became friends. When she found out were I’d lived, she told me a story. She said when she was a young girl, she and her family had to pass through that town while on their way to Colorado to visit her grandparents. She said there were signs posted on each end of town that proclaimed, “N….., don’t let the sun set with you still in ……”

I’ve attempted to find information that would deny or confirm if that town was indeed a Sundown Town. The only information I can find lists it as possible. I was a military brat, my early years were formed by living with all people – white, brown, black, purple, it didn’t matter. Color never seemed an issue as best that I can recall.

There were indeed good people in my high school town. Many hard-working, church going people. People that loved their children, those proud of their country and served in the military. I don’t know much beyond that. I don’t want to believe that kind of hateful racism lurked in that town, although my gut says it probably did. I’ve not been back in many decades, so I have no measure of how it looks today. I do know that this country has moved somewhat past those days in the 60s, but I also know the ugliness that was overt and blatant in our history, still remains. Perhaps to a lesser degree, perhaps more covert, but it remains. And I still feel shame and embarrassment.

Waking up Early

I wake up early. Not 7:30 a.m. early, it’s 3:30 or 4:00 a.m. early. When it first started occurring, I resisted it and I freely admit there were a few choice curse words uttered. Since that time, there has been a casual shift in my attitude. I’m not yet ready to say I look forward to my new habit, but I’ve learned that it’s not such a bad thing.

The early morning time has become a peaceful period. An hour or two of quiet thinking, listening and wondering. The thinking usually takes on the form of what will I write today or of my going back over a passage or two from the book I read before falling asleep. The listening is not only the morning silence, but also the early sounds. This day I was treated to the “Who who-who-who” of a Great Horned Owl somewhere outdoors. A couple of weeks ago it was ruckus sounds of a pack of coyotes who had been awakened by some unknown intruder. My wondering takes me down a new path most mornings.

Today I awoke wondering about some of the same old issues that always linger deep within my mind. One issue is the on-going internal dialogue about what I can write that might have some significance. It is an arrogant thought I admit. I have a number of writing friends, and each of them seem to have a different reason for their need to put word to paper. Some wish to simply create, some have dreams of being famous, others want to write something that simply brings pleasure to those who read their work. When I’m completely honest, I believe I write to create a means of understanding this life I live. I also write in hopes of creating something just a bit better than last time. That one can be very frustrating.

I just came back from having coffee with a good friend. He and I could be no farther apart in our political beliefs, and yet we always set that aside so that we can be friends. Today we talked about his wife’s death, our belief or uncertainty about what lies beyond death and the need for people to have some reason to get out of bed in the mornings. It was not a deep seated or well thought out philosophical discussion, just two friends considering life. I must confess those chats are far more fun for me than looking on Facebook and seeing pictures of the yummy oatmeal someone had for breakfast.

The bottom line for me, if there is one, is that I’m trying to learn acceptance, and I’m trying to be mindful of gratitude and in the end appreciate the life that I have. Some days I fail, some days I succeed. Maybe tomorrow, I’ll wake up early and ponder that last sentence.

I leave you with a quote from Claude Anshin Thomas who wrote: At Hell’s Gate: A Soldier’s Journey from War to Peace.

“I came to realize that I couldn’t think my way into a new way of living. I had to live my way into a new way of thinking.”

Go Well, David

Tell Me the Minute

This is not a poem, because I’m not a poet. It is symbolic request, a request I would ask, were I so lucky as to have the opportunity to sit and chat with you.

Tell me about the minute you decided to try and be happy, peaceful and content in your life.

Tell me about the minute you decided to trust. Trust in life, in others and in yourself.

Tell me about the minute you decided that life is good, in spite of those moments when it feels overwhelming.

Tell me about the minute when life became an adventure for you.

Tell me about the minute when honesty, compassion and justice became important for you.

Tell me about the minute the sight of a flower, a soaring hawk, a painting or the sound of a song or the reading of a perfectly written sentence made you gasp in wild wonder..

Tell me of your dreams, hopes and of those you love. I want to know these things about you.

Don’t tell me of your hatred for those others that are different. Don’t tell of your desire for money, or about your big home and fancy car. Don’t tell me of your political views or your dislike for (fill in the blank.) I don’t care to know those things.

I want to know the goodness of mankind. I’ve seen the wars we wage, the disregard we have for this planet and the waste we feel entitled to create. You need not remind me of that, I want to know about you.

I will not choose fear

I’m not going to rant and rave about what’s happening (or not happening) in our government today. We all know that both sides of the isle are securely entrenched in their immovable positions. I am going to write about a more human and personal issue that pertains to the constant news of the day.

I just finished watching a PBS program called We’ll Meet Again. It documented the story of two Cuban boys that were taken in as immigrants in the 60’s. One boy , now an elderly man, was placed with a Hispanic foster family in Washington state. The other boy, now a retired Fire Chief was saved by an African-American sailing captain. One of the men went back to tell the wife of his former foster family, thank you for what they had done for him and his brother. The other man found the children of the now dead sea captain to tell them that their father had saved his life as well as dozens of other immigrants lives. To tell them that their father was a hero.

So now to my point. As children we are sometimes led to believe that we should fear the boogey man, the wicked witch or the crazy old man who lives down the street. Depending on our ages, we may have been told we had to fear the Communists, or those uppity blacks or perhaps that Iranian family that lives across town from us.

It seems in vogue today to be told that we need to fear just about everything and everyone. If your a Democrat, you have to fear the Republicans. If your a Republican, you have to fear the Democrats. You need to fear the Catholics, the Jews, The Muslims, The Atheists, The Tree Huggers and those who use a different brand of golf ball than you use.

The hordes of people coming from the South want to take your job, your house, your car, your money, your women and if you aren’t careful, they’ll even take your new lollipop. They don’t want a better life, they want to take your better life. You must fear them.

We can choose to live in fear or we can choose to not live in fear. I live in Arizona, where openly carried guns are everywhere. Should I ask a random gun owner, “What are you afraid of?” They will almost certainly say they fear nothing. So which is it? You don’t carry a gun because you are afraid of something, or you carry the gun to make sure that something your not afraid of doesn’t harm you? I’m not a gun hater, I’m just a bit confused about them.

I’ve decided that I don’t want to spend my days living in fear. Are there things out in this world that can hurt me, of course. Cancer, car accidents, bad lettuce, poorly told jokes, not wearing deodorant and having the wrong I-phone. All of these things are terrifying.

The problem is, if I spend my life worrying, fearing those things; when will I have time to live? I want to see more hawks flying, have the next best in town taco and meet a new friend that has a darker skin and a cooler accent. I will pay attention, I will observe, but I refuse to live in fear.

Giving Life a Meaning

Some years back I worked with a younger man that often said, “The meaning of life is to give life meaning.” At first blush it sounds a bit like gobbledygook to me. If I read those nine words slowly, and with intent, they start to make a bit more sense.

The question of the meaning of life probably goes back as long as man has walked upright. If you google ‘Quotes on the meaning of life’, you get hundreds of thoughts ranging from Aristotle to Michael Jackson. A particularly moving quote comes from Meghan McCain (John McCain’s daughter), “I want to say since my dad has been diagnosed, I really feel like I understand the meaning of life, and it is not how you die: is is how you lived.”

Maybe that thought touched me because I’m once again considering it as I’ve moved from midlife to later life.

I came across an interesting book written by Lin Yutang in 1937. The book is called The Importance of Living. He wrote about the importance of living a life of balance that includes a great deal of leisure, contentment and humor. He argued that he was far more content to live a life that was less philosophical and more practical. He noted that he would not presume that there must be necessarily a purpose, a meaning of human experience. He did agree with Walt Whitman who once stated “I am sufficient as I am.” Yutang went on to write “It is sufficient that I live-and that human life exists.” Viewed that way, he notes the problem becomes amazingly simple and admits of no two answers. “What can be the end of human life except the enjoyment of it.”

Like most (if not all) people, I’m still on this journey called life and making my attempt to make sense of it. I have a few answers, but a lot of questions. I trust some will answers will eventually come and when they do they will bring along with them more questions.

I also came upon another book that in some way seems appropriate to mention. At least the last page of the book is important to mention. It comes from Death Be Not Proud by John Gunther. It is a memoir regarding the death of his son John Gunther Jr. in 1947. The boy died of a brain tumor at age 17. The boy wrote the following poem one year before he died.

Unbeliever’s Prayer

Almighty God

forgive me for my agnosticism;

For I shall try to keep it gentle, not cynical.

nor a bad influence.

And O!

if Thou art truly in the heavens,

accept my gratitude

for all they gifts

and I shall try

to fight the good fight. Amen

Let us all find our own meaning in life and then let us be true to that meaning. Go well, David



Kinder in 2019

One more year is nearly in the books and New Year resolutions are starting to be made. I wrote down some yesterday, and I’m already thinking about amending some of them. A few just seem a bit too daunting, and 2019 has not yet begun.

There is one resolution that I do intend to hold steadfast. I plan to be a more kind person. This resolution, notion or goal, call it what you wish, came to me for three reasons.

My grandmother was the most kind and content person I’ve ever met. I don’t know if there is a direct correlation between kindness and contentment, but I suspect there might be. My Granny lived to be 103 years old and I never heard her say an unkind word about anyone. I’m not sure I want to live that long, but I am sure I want to have the peace and contentment she held. Perhaps of all the things she taught me, kindness was the most important. Every person that ever knew her was a better person for having that honor.

I recently read a story that told of a lesson given by a teacher to his fifth and sixth graders. These are his words, “What if every single person in this room made it a rule that wherever you are, whenever you can, you will try to act a little kinder than is necessary – the world would really be a better place.” Simple words given to children. And so I thought about that lesson and I realized I believe it to be true. It costs nothing to be kind. Should we need a reason to be kind? A reason anymore important than kind is the “Right” way to be? I think kindness is enough.

My last reason for my desire to be kinder is a bit more mundane and yet still vital for me. In 2018, I’ve gotten into some heated and in the end, very nasty online fights with people in which I disagree. And yes, it is almost always political disagreements. I’ve written some very snarky things and I’ve received the same written back to me. In a few cases I felt some initial satisfaction with my, “I guess I told you” postings. But then, my thoughts and feelings always seemed to change. Maybe guilt, maybe embarrassment or shame started to creep in. Somehow, later I always felt regret.

I’m holding steadfast to my beliefs about justice, compassion and what I believe the moral compass of our country should be pointing towards. I will still disagree with some other points of view, but I have learned two things. My ranting, name calling and insulting remarks have changed no one’s mind. I’ve also learned that it’s been a waste of my mental and physical energy and in the end I feel worse rather than better.

I wish everyone a safe and peaceful New Year. I end this post with two quotes.

“You will not be punished for your anger; you will be punished by your anger.” Gautama Buddha

“Do not let the behavior of others destroy your inner peace.”  Dalai Lama

Old Memories

Suzanne saw the book in the library and thought that I might be interested in looking at it. It’s title, Larry Borrows Vietnam. A large coffee table book, if that’s what a book of war photographs can reasonably be called. Borrows was considered to be one of the twentieth centuries greatest journalists. There is a photograph of Borrows in the book. The look of exhaustion on his face and his eyes reflect the horror that is only known by those who have witnessed the magnitude of death brought on by every war.

The book sat unopened for several days. Today I sat with the bright Tucson sun streaming through our living room window and looked through the Borrows book.

My first thoughts those of simple curiosity. Would I see any photographs of my Vietnam duty area North of the city of Hue. Would there be any of my 101st. Airborne comrades in the book. As I turned more pages my thoughts and my feelings changed. Pages 36 and 37 showed ARVN soldiers and U S advisors standing and casually looking down at the bodies of fourteen or fifteen young dead Viet Cong. Pages 52 and 53 show U S soldiers standing at attention as the flag draped metal caskets of dead U S men are being loaded for transport back to the states.

I remembered the first dead that I had seen shortly after being in country. Pages 142 and 143 shows two photos. One a priest giving communion to soldiers and the other, jungle fatigue clad men holding hands and praying. I remembered a morning on Firebase Gladiator as a priest passed out the wafers. As I turned the pages, it seemed the faces began to change. The weariness of war and death became the stare of the young men. Page 158, a young white soldier holds close, the motionless body of a black soldier. Brothers without a color difference. Page 166. A medic wraps a pressure bandage around the chest of a GI. His head wrapped in a bloody bandage that has streaked his face in blood. It’s the look in the wounded man’s face that is telling. His is the blank stare of death.

Two last photographs show another side of war. A side we today hear about in Syria and every other country that is torn apart by years of war. Stories I’m afraid we rush through in order to get on with something more pleasant. A young Vietnamese woman lays on a stretcher while an ARVN soldier kneels by her blood covered body. Two other Vietnamese women are rushing by, running to escape the slaughter. On the next page, a young Vietnamese child is laying on his back. He is a beautiful four or five year-old boy. His little shirt is covered in blood and there is a puddle on the ground under his head. His brown eyes are open and yet I’m not sure if he was still alive when that photo was taken.

It has been forty-seven years since I returned from Vietnam. I’m now an old man. The images and the memories have never, and will never leave me. Just as they never left my father’s memories of World War II. No man or woman that has ever experienced the inhumanity of man against man will ever again be innocent. There is nothing noble about war, there is only death. There has never been a day in my lifetime that has been without a war in some country. In my worst moments, I’ve come to question if it isn’t in man’s nature to kill his brother.