My Zippo Lighter


A friend of mine and I have decided to give a talk about being veterans of the Vietnam war. In starting preparations for the talk, I asked my son to send me a couple of mementos from my military past.

He sent two things I had requested. One item, my Combat Medical Badge. It is one of the few things that I’ve always been proud of from those days. It was earned by doing something positive in a period of time marked by death and destruction. As a medic, my job was to provide care for those who had been wounded or were ill. My job was to be a healer, not a killer, and I was awarded that distinction for doing my job. I was given other medals, but none have given me the same sense of pride. Many men and women suffered far more than I, and they deserve recognition far and above any given to me.

In addition to the CMB, my son sent me the Zippo lighter I carried for that year. I would guess that the vast majority of soldiers serving in Vietnam had a Zippo lighter. I would also guess many of them had the same saying engraved upon them.

“When the Power of Love Overcomes the Love of Power, Then There Will Be Peace.”

That quote has been attributed to Jimi Hendrix, although it was first said by the British statesman, William Gladestone. I suspect more grunts in Vietnam preferred that Jimi said it.

It was, and still is, somewhat odd to again hold that lighter. Next year it will have been 50 years since I boarded that plan and flew into a man made hell. I was 22 years old, thinner of waist and longer of hair in those days. I look at photos of that time and it’s hard to imagine I was once that young. I look at pictures of the men I served with and wonder about their lives, I wonder how many are still alive and I wonder how the war affected them. Some of those men were the best humans I’ve ever met, and some of them were despicable people. Maybe it was the war that shaped how we behaved. The Zippo feels smaller in my hand than I remember it feeling in those days. Maybe it’s because I feel smaller than I once felt. Maybe it’s because so many years later, I have a more realistic view of what life brings. Maybe it’s because it feels like all of these years later, the love of power is still a stronger motivator of mankind. Maybe it will take another 50 years and a new generation of people to make the power of love the stronger force. I hold out hope.

“All war is a symptom of man’s failure as a thinking animal.”

John Steinbeck

Go Well – David

What Do We Deserve?


A friend of mine recently said he asked his teenager when it wasn’t okay to lie. The response was -“When you’re in court .” A reasonable answer. At a minimum it sets a foundation for honesty. Many years ago my boss told me I needed to lie about an issue with one of my employees. I asked him if it would then also be okay to lie to him, since he had encouraged that for someone I supervised. He said no, I shouldn’t lie to him. I quit the position soon after.

So now we fast forward to the Spring of 2019 and I wonder what we as a population of 300 + million people think about being constantly lied to. It seems that it is in vogue to be lied to by certain members of our elected officials. In one instance the total number of lies has been counted in the thousands. And yet there are those who simply respond, “They all do it.” And maybe to some degree that is true. But I can’t help but wonder why we accept that there’s nothing wrong with being lied to by our government. Who else do we so readily accept not being told the truth?

My first real experience with this form of leadership came when I was in my early twenties and a soldier in Vietnam. This country was nightly shown the images of young soldiers being brought home in body bags, while at the same time being told that we were winning the war. As the war drug on, the lies became more frequent and more absurd. In the end we simply quit the war, after 55,000 Americans and countless millions of North and South Vietnamese were killed. We accepted “Peace with honor.” We flew our people back to the states and left the people of South Vietnam to fend for themselves after the North Vietnamese took over. There is now irony that we are on such good terms with the country that defeated us. I guess our memories are short when we get to buy cheap junk made by others. Another irony is we were told we had to go to Vietnam to prevent Communism from spreading. Last I checked, Vietnam is a communist country.

But Vietnam was only a step along the road. Certainly before and after that we have often been lied to. Let’s not forget the Iran-Contra tales; and should we continue to give the Bush-Cheney folks a free pass on the certainty of those weapons of mass destruction in Iraq? But what the heck, just another little war to get stuck with. Anyone want to take a stab at why we really went to war in Iraq and have been in Afghanistan for more than a decade? Does anyone have a clear idea why?

So I ask, why do we so readily accept the daily lies? I have a friend that is a deep to the bone supporter of the new administration. He once said to me “I’ve never in my life been more proud to be an American.” And I’m glad he’s proud, but I’ve never heard him say why, except that the economy is good and he wants to protect our borders. Another person I know, a fine church going Christian, told me she doesn’t care about a leader’s moral life or about lies. I didn’t have the courage to ask what she did care about.

So in the end, maybe I’m wrong about all of this. Maybe we shouldn’t expect our elected officials to be honest. Maybe we shouldn’t hold them to the same standard that we hold our young children. Maybe it’s no more important to believe that our democracy has been attacked by a foreign government then it is to believe our grandson when he says he didn’t eat the cookie before dinner. Call me skeptical, but when someone has to tell me over and over again to trust them, I usually get a little bit concerned about what’s going to follow.

“He who permits himself to tell a lie once, finds it much easier to do it the second time.”

Thomas Jefferson

Go Well, David

A Thing is Right


I’m in the process of reading Aldo Leopold’s book, A Sand County Almanac. It was published in 1949, the year after my birth. This book is considered by many to be second in stature only to Henry David Thoreau’s Walden in American nature writing. No sentimental naturalist, Leopold was a graduate of Yale Forestry School; yet his writing reads as the poetry of Yeats or Dickenson.

Although 70 years old, his book reads as important as it did when first released. In truth, it reads far more important today. We live in a period where greed unabashedly towers over nature and beauty and the lust to build and profit laughs at the destruction of our planet. One of Leopold’s most important statements says – “A thing is right when it tends to preserve the integrity, stability and beauty of the biotic community. It is wrong when it tends otherwise.” Can we believe, can we trust that this concept is how we live and are governed in this country?

Does it matter how we choose to live our individual lives? Does it matter that we fill our waste dumps with millions of tons of fast-food wrappers and plastic water bottles. When it’s to troublesome to use the trash container, do we use the planet as our trash bin? Are we foolish to think that we can be satisfied in having what we need and still take care of where we live? Will we ever stop wanting more, simply because we want more?

Some months back I saw a gigantic pickup truck that had in four inch letters on the back window. It said, “Proudly burning the gas your hybrid is saving.” I want someone to explain to me what kind of person believes this. Do we feel so entitled to waste, simply because we think we can afford it?

What inspired me to write this tirade was a quote from Leopold. “I have read many definitions of a conservationist, and written not a few myself, but I suspect that the best one is written not with a pen, but with an axe. It is a matter of what a man thinks about while chopping, or while deciding what to chop. A conservationist is one who is humbly aware that with each stroke he is writing his signature on the face of his land. Signatures of course differ, whether written with axe or pen, and this is how it should be.”

So it seems we each have to decide how our signatures will look. Few of us chop wood these days and yet, we still make decisions each day on what to save, what to destroy and how comfortable are we with the personal signature that we leave behind.

Go Well, David

Two Men


There are 7,650,000,000 people on the planet and approximately half of them are men. This brief note is about two of those nearly four billion males.

One man was born of a Syrian family. A family that moved from Syria, to the Philippines and eventually to the United States. He became a pharmacist after attending the University of Texas. He couldn’t afford text books, so he did the homework of other students in order to be able to read class assignments.

This man spoke five languages fluently. He, along with his sister and brother-in-law ran a small pharmacy in downtown San Antonio, Texas for more than forty-five years. He worked seven days a week to provide for his family and for the education of his two daughters. He was always soft spoken, polite to everyone and appreciative of the smallest things in his life. I once heard him say over and over how comfortable a pair of inexpensive shoes felt. We knew it wasn’t their comfort that made him happy, it was because his one of his daughters had given them to him.

That daughter tells a story that occurred when she was young. A man of Asian decent came into the pharmacy and after he left, the daughter asked her father “Who was that Chinese man?” In a kind manner, her father responded, “He is not Chinese, he’s Japanese. Never out of ignorance step on another man’s neck to make yourself look taller.” It was not a scolding, it was a lesson being taught by a kind man to his young daughter. She has never forgotten that lesson.

Family, kindness, understanding, acceptance, contentment and gentleness marked that man’s life. I knew him for twenty years and I never once heard him say a negative word about another human being. Not once.

Then there is a second man. A man I’ve never personally met, a man I’ve only seen and heard on TV or read about. This man has every trapping and advantage any human could ever imagine. Power, wealth, possessions and notoriety. His name is known in every country in the world.

And yet, with all that I’ve described, he appears to be endlessly unhappy. Rather than kindness and acceptance, he speaks of others with disdain and villainy. Rather than be content with his degree of wealth, it seems that there is never enough of anything in his life. Not enough money. Not enough adoration. Not enough power. Not enough praise. Not enough credit. Never enough.

The first man I’ve written about pushed everything that was good within him, outwards. He gave everything he had to others and never expected anything in return. The second man takes until there is nothing left, and then demands more. Loyalty is a one way street and it points inward. Blame is always directed away, and credit is always taken in. The first man I’ve described was always easy with a smile, easy with a compliment and generous to a fault. The second man seems to wear a scowl as a mask, compliments are given with a string of attachments and everything in life is subject to winning and to others losing.

I know I’m far more blessed to have known the first man.

“Unless generosity of spirit prevails among men, there can never be

upon earth an ideal life.” Orison Sweet Marden

Go well, David

When Then vs. Now


This morning I met again with a dear friend of mine for coffee and conversation. Jack and I meet every two weeks, and even at my advanced age, he has become something of a mentor to me. Our conversation seems to always move towards important personal issues. I was lamenting about making big plans and then having conflicts regarding completing them.

I was reminded of my days as a counselor. I had a term for people that were always looking forward in their lives and having difficulties living in the here and now . I called them “When-Then” people. It was not meant to be derogatory, but more descriptive. Here is how it went. “When I move to Seattle, I’ll be happy.” or “When I get my degree, then I’ll get a satisfying job.” or “When the kids are grown up, then I can start playing golf.” You get my point.

Another therapist friend once told a story of one of his clients. The client had been involved in several affairs with women other than his wife. He went to my friend for counseling. In one session the client said something to the effect of, “I want to stop this behavior.” My friend responded, “Okay, so from this moment on, you’ll agree that you will have no more affairs or one-night stands.” The client paused and then responded, “No, I’m going on a business trip this week, I’ll stop when I get back.” These are obviously not the exact words, but are probably close. A more common example: I’m starting a diet tomorrow, but tonight I get to eat all I want, pass the chocolate cake.” In both examples, there’s some doubt about the honest commitment to change.

How does this relate to me? I’m the first in line to say – I want to loose weight. – I want to run another half-marathon. – I want to spend more time writing. – I want to eat a plant based diet. But somehow after writing pages of goals, creating schedules and checking out books from the library on the issues, I then have my own version of “When then.”

Jack asked me to do something while we were chatting. “Get up, walk to the water fountain and get a drink, then come back here.” I did what I was told. His point? Just get up and do something, start, pay attention to it and keep on doing it until it becomes part of me. On my way home, I thought about his words. I like the term Mindfulness. Paying attention to the NOW not what I want in the future, not to be a when-then person. Wise words on the part of my wise friend.

So, I’m going to be a more mindful Now person. You may notice I didn’t say I’m going to “try” to be a more mindful person, I’m going to be more mindful. I’m going to stop, be mindful and then follow through, one small step at a time. Now is all I have, I don’t have the past and I don’t have the future. I have only what we all have only – now.

I cannot think myself into a new way of living, I have to live my way
into a new way of thinking.” Claude Anshin Thomas

Go well, David

Call Them by Thier Names


Suzanne and I sat and listened to Francisco Cantu, the author of The Line Becomes A River, talk about why after four years as a Border Patrol agent, he left that position. Many times he used the word violence to describe the experience of the work on the border.

Yesterday, as I was driving, I heard a segment of an NPR story regarding the shooting of Stephan Clarke by two California police officers. The reporter commented how the crowd listening to the District Attorney, started chanting “Say his name” while she announced that the two officers would not be charged in his death.

The two incidents made me consider how this country (along with many others) has found a means to demonize, dehumanize and dismiss others. We have come to understand that “They” become nonexistent if we refuse to use their names, or if we simply create a demeaning name for them. In World War II, the Japanese became “Nips” and the Germans became “Krauts.” In Vietnam, our enemy became “Gooks.” In Iraq, those we fight are “Towel Heads” And here in this country the N-word works just fine for African-Americans and “Wetback” seems to very well describe our neighbors that come from south of our border.We don’t have to know the names of those we decide to hate. It’s far easier to refer to them as rapists, murderers, gang members, aliens – pick your other favorite acid filled word. Just make sure it gives no allowance for them actually being human or that they are some person’s son, daughter, mother or father. Never allow that they too have the capacity to love. When we become adept at creating fear, there’s no need to know names.

ABC News has stated that at least 260 men, women, and children died trying to cross the US southern border in 2018. Each one of those people had a name. Each one of those people was loved by someone. Each one of those people is dead and somewhere a family member mourns. We cannot know their names like we know the name of Stephan Clarke. But we can and we do know that they were human beings. We know that no matter their reasons for attempting to enter this country ( and yes, attempting to enter illegally in most cases) The were human beings. No matter our political leanings, we can know them as people. It does not diminish our political strength or our power, to be compassionate. We are a better people and a better country when we realize that we are far more alike as a species than we are different.

“I’m not concerned with your liking or disliking me… All I ask is that you respect me as a human being.” Jackie Robinson

Go well, David

Sharing the Road


Let’s play a game called Sharing the Road. The rules are simple and easy to learn. It could also be called let’s make a deal, although you would have to play the role of host Monty Hall.

Here are the rules we must follow in order to make the game fair:

  1. Everyone is equal. No one gets to be better than anyone else. No one has to be less than anyone. Each voice carries as much meaning, weight, truth, and authority as everyone else. English, German, Russian, slang, poor diction, southern, northern, foreign and Arabic carry the same tone of honest meaning.
  2. Skin color is neither an advantage nor a disadvantage.
  3. Gender does not matter, Female, male, trans are all balanced on the scale of neutrality.
  4. Religious faith or lack thereof is of no consequence.
  5. You are not richer because of your wealth, you are not poorer because of your poverty.
  6. Your political leaning does not make you right, nor does it make you wrong.
  7. Street smart, book smart, not smart – does not lessen or increase your right to speak your truth. There is no fake truth.
  8. The air, the water, the animals, this planet – do not belong to you, nor do they belong to me. They are gifts to be honored, respected and cared for. Neither you, nor I, nor anyone else gets a pass on this responsibility. There are no get-out-of-jail-free cards in this game.
  9. You get five extra points if you play a hand of kindness rather than a hand of hatred.
  10. Lastly, abide by the bumper sticker that tells us to share the road with bikes. They also deserve a spot on our shared life journey.

We must embrace unity, not separation – sharing, go back to small, caring communities – Unity, not separation, is what has to happen.

Genesis P-Orridge

Go Well, David