Thursday, March 21, 2013

The Rodeo Clown

It's a real wake-up call when you learn that toys you played with as a child are now considered antiques that collectors are scrambling for on E-bay. Life has a funny way of distracting you, like a rodeo clown saving some poor cowboy's ass from a rampaging bull. While you deal with life's distractions, unbeknownst to you, the years have been racing by. When you're young, time passes slowly. The space between Christmases and summer vacations from school seemed endless back then, and like the fools we are, we thought we would never get old. And then one day the check arrives. Like a tipsy restaurant guest ordering everything on the menu, we are shocked at what we have spent. How did we get to be this old? Does this check look right to you?

When reality hits you realize you are well past the age at which you considered your father to be old. I know, times have changed and the rodeo clown says 70 is the new 50, but that little deception we buy into is driven by pure terror. You might think like a 50 year-old, sure you can dress like a 50 year-old, but your body is screaming 70. Someone must have sneaked in to the laundry room and washed all your clothes in hot water, because none of them fit any more. All those chores around the house that you grumbled about but had no trouble completing when your wife finally sweet-talked you into doing them...suddenly most of these are beyond your physical ability. And surely some evil spirit keeps moving your glasses and car keys from where you're positive you put them.

I believe too that patience is inversely proportional to age. You know your meter has been running for a while and you have zero tolerance for time wasters. People in front of you in lines who insist on chatting up the clerk at the register; drivers who thoughtlessly creep down the street looking for an address; distracted waitresses who bring you things you never ordered...all these poor souls incur your wrath. Maybe all those years of smiling at bosses you know are dumber than you builds up a head of steam in us that has to be released at some point. Maybe we get angry because we know that we are now officially out of the loop. We don't recognize any of the actors nominated for Oscars, any music reference at all goes right over our heads, and we can see technology's taillights way ahead of us as we try to fathom our new cell phones.

Age is not all bad. For instance, you've already made a lot of mistakes in life and if you have a brain, these experiences will not be repeated. (Note: Does not apply to anyone working in government.) This hard-won wisdom allows you to advise your children of these pitfalls, and then stand by helplessly while they do what they want. Age also gets you some free passes in terms of what uncensored thoughts fly from your mouth. You become the poster boy for Tourette's Syndrome, rarely bothering to mull over a thought before expressing it. If you're 30 and you say to the post office clerk: "Hey pal, when your 3-hour break is over, maybe I can get some service here", you might have to back that up with some swift karate moves. But when you're 70, their eyes just roll back and some people in line might gasp, but no fisticuffs. He's just a crazy old man, right?

A little friendly advice...don't let that rodeo clown take your eyes off the ball. Sorry for mixing my metaphors, but there are only so many days in our banks. Cherish your family and friends, safeguard your health, and say a prayer once in a while in case the athiests have it all wrong.


Children's Craniofacial Association

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Welcome Pope Francis I

Amid all the pomp and ceremony it can muster, the Roman Catholic Church has elected a new pope. The grayish-white smoke floating from the chimney of the Sistine Chapel proclaimed to the world that the red-hatted Cardinals, princes of the church from every corner of the globe, had selected the man who would wear the fisherman's ring of St. Peter, and bear the awesome responsibility of shepherding the church of Jesus Christ. The unprecedented resignation of Pope Benedict XVI, the 265th pope who had served since 2005, made this moment in history possible. In every country on earth, people watched and waited, rooting, and maybe even praying for their candidate to win. Some hoped for radical change in the church while others wanted stability and tradition.

The possibilities ranged from the front runner, Cardinal Angelo Scola of Milan, to the dark horse, the popular Cardinal from New York, Timothy Dolan. In between a number of names had come up, but Scola had been the runner-up in 2005 when Benedict XVI was elected. His closeness to the ex-pope combined with his strong pastoral experience and conservative views made him the betting favorite. The Italian Bishops' Conference Wednesday even sent a congratulatory email to Cardinal Scola — tipped as a hot conclave favorite. Watching the news coverage on television was painful. As the cameras focused on the papal balcony, commentators kept mumbling the same things over and over while we waited. It was like listening to Phil Rizzuto during a Yankee game rain delay.

Finally the red curtains parted and the doors opened. The electricity in the crowd assembled in St. Peter's Square was palpable. Some prayed, some hollered, and some were clearly overcome by emotion. They were about to witness an announcement that, for the Catholic Church, is both solemn and joyous; the naming of the man who would be the spiritual father of them all. All eyes were on the elderly and frail French Cardinal 
Jean-Louis Tauran as he told the waiting world that Argentine Jorge Bergoglio had been chosen. The crowd erupted, surprised and delighted that the first pope from the Americas was now their leader and had taken the name Francis I.

It is so hard for us to have any inkling of what the new pope must be feeling. To be plucked from relative obscurity in Buenos Aries and be set down on the world stage must have come as quite a shock. His humble demeanor in asking for the blessing of the people in his first act as pope give us some idea of the enormous responsibility now resting on his shoulders. In a joking allusion to his inadequacy for the job, Pope Francis chided the Cardinals at dinner with this quote: "I hope God will forgive you for what you have done." Indeed serious work lies ahead for this pope. The pedophile priest scandal is just one of the hot-button issues on his plate. Others include homosexuality, gay marriage and the role of women in the the church.

My initial impressions of the new pope are favorable. His humility and simplicity are appealing, shunning the royal trappings of his Office in favor of simpler things. He really seems to be a man of the people who eyes suspiciously the lavish lifestyles of high-ranking Vatican officials. He seems approachable and human, qualities that in my opinion did not emanate from our last pope. I paid special attention to the reactions of the priests and nuns in the square as the name of the new pope was announced. Their faces shone with hope, almost like workers who finally get a new boss that comes from the ranks and understands the job as they see it. The name he chose also says a lot about what his papacy could be. Francis of Assisi was called by God to rebuild his church, and we can only infer that our new pope hopes to do the same.

I will pray for Francis I that God gives him the strength and shows him the wisdom to carry on this mission for the good of Catholics everywhere. 


Children's Craniofacial Association

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

The Dream Devalued

My son recently gave me a book called "The Italian-Americans". It was written mostly in Italian, which I can struggle through a bit thanks to Rosetta Stone, but the real attraction for me was in the pictures. Featured were images of Italian-Americans through history who have made a life in the United States, some famous and some not. I was drawn to the beautiful black and white photos of immigrants to this country, many taken at Ellis Island where they landed, and also on the lower East side of New York City where they first settled. The faces of the men, women and children look a little bewildered, waving their tiny American flags and happy that their arduous journey had come to an end. What I see in so many of their faces is hope...the belief that leaving their homeland and coming to this new world full of promise was a decision that would not be regretted.

For many of these immigrants, not just Italians but people from all over Europe, America would deliver on its promise. It would not be easy, but they knew if they worked hard, saved their money, and sent their children to school, that they could build a life here for their families that could never have been possible where they came from. They were not always welcomed with open arms; prejudice and discrimination were faced by many, but they were tough people, willing to endure these hardships knowing that their sacrifices would pave the way for their children and grandchildren. The dream that was America drove them. They took jobs nobody else wanted and worked longer hours for less money. They did not demand free health care, welfare and bilingual schools, but through sheer grit and determination, earned the grudging respect of their neighbors.

Both sets of my grandparents were immigrant Italian-Americans. They started with nothing but their will to make things better for their children, and they succeeded. There was in them a drive to earn their share of what this country offered to those willing to work for it. That drive was passed to their children. My father never earned a lot of money in his lifetime, but he made enough to buy a house and give his three kids a comfortable life. The same goes for my wife's family. Each generation was better educated, won better jobs, made more money, and became more a part of the community fabric than the last. I'm proud to say that my children have that determination to succeed in them, and they have done well indeed, but the landscape of America is changing.

Our country is still the gold standard for providing its citizens with all the things promised in our Constitution,,,life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, but the attitude of foreigners who come here is not the attitude of my immigrant grandparents. Some are still willing to follow the old formula of entering the country legally, working at whatever jobs are open to them, paying their taxes and trading instant gratification for the rewards that will be their children's in time to come. Others sneak in illegally, demand free education, medical benefits, and work off the books, paying no taxes for the services to which they feel entitled. Add to this the growing numbers in America's "welfare class", native-born citizens who never understood the value of education, hard work and family values, and you have the dismal situation in which this country now finds itself.

My kids will make more money than I ever did, but it will be so much harder for them to buy a house and live the dream that once was America because so much more of their income is siphoned off by a government willing to trade free services for votes. This creeping socialism has got to the point where those working at jobs are tired of supporting those unwilling to educate themselves, get work and contribute to society. This in turn has created such divisions in America, and such extreme positions in our political parties that the country is being torn apart with no end to the animosity in sight. Barack Obama has made it clear that redistribution of income through taxation of the "rich" is the primary goal of his Presidency.

I don't know how this will end, but I do know that the hope I see in the eyes of the Italian-American immigrants in my new book is no longer in the eyes of this country's young people. As Margaret Thatcher said: "The problem with socialism is that eventually you run out of other people's money".


Children's Craniofacial Association