Presidents’ Day

By the time you read this, my friends, the warm memories of another Presidents’ Day will be receding, but today we pay homage, blissfully and reverently engaged, somewhere between celebration and commemoration.

Our discussion will be brief today, for duty calls. There is a sale, multiple sales, actually, to which we must attend in order to continue the tradition of observing holidays via consumption. It seems fitting, actually, for what finer salesmen have ever hawked their wares than the long line of hucksters, peddlers and costermongers that have occupied the White House?

Of course some of us may also be remembering George Washington and the birthday of the man who could have been king but set aside personal ambition for the good of the nation. He was a complicated man, flawed, but a man of integrity and substance even when viewed through the modern lens of retroactive social justice.

With the signing of the Uniform Monday Holiday Act in 1971, however, we set aside history in favor of three day weekends, and bundled our celebration of all presidents into one extended opportunity for taking advantage of sales and discounts. The banks are closed today, along with federal offices and many businesses across the land. Congress will also be resting from their labors, for about two weeks, taking a much needed break from campaigning and making resolutions.

Meanwhile, soldiers at 800 military bases in 70 countries around the world will still be on duty, safeguarding our ability to shop without interruption. Many, still in Afghanistan and Iraq, are still in harms way as we celebrate the people who put them there. Law enforcement personnel, firemen, EMT’s and nurses are still on the job.

Come to think of it, perhaps this year we should be more mindful of those people than we are of our long line of pompous potentates. After all, it takes skill, training and a willingness to sacrifice to do those jobs, but anyone can be president.

The Mystery

Sunset and evening star,
And one clear call for me!
And may there be no moaning of the bar,
When I put out to sea

My mother crossed the bar ten years ago last week, and my father followed her not quite five years later. The old family home passed into our keeping.

There are a great many things contained within that house. My parents were collectors of memories. Great grandmother, Eula’s rocking chair, the length of strong hemp rope Great Grandfather, Will, used to climb down into the wells he dug by hand, hand forged farm implements, quilts, tools, documents and pictures were among the many things that were carefully kept and preserved. Every birthday card we ever gave our parents was there; artwork from grade school, compositions, awards, trophies, and toys. A history of our entire family was kept under that roof.

If you have lost a parent or loved one and if you are as sentimental as your humble scribe, then you will understand. For a time, we do not suffer a single thing to be moved or removed from the possessions of the deceased. Some things preserve memories better than a photograph, almost as if the spirit of the departed lingers for a while among them.

In time, we realize that our spirits are not, nor should they be bound to earthly possessions, and we begin to let them go. If you have done this, you know, there is catharsis in that process, and grieving is never finished, only deferred.

All of this and more have I realized as we prepared for the estate sale that will finally empty the family home and allow new life to occupy it, new memories to be born. But there has been an unexpected reluctance which has slowed this process, and I did not realize until quite recently what was at its root.

As we sorted through the possessions of times past, mysteries were uncovered. Love letters from one parent to another, four leaf clovers pressed in wax paper, birthday and holiday cards from long lost relatives, arrowheads, coins and scrap books were found hidden in nooks and crannies. One by one, the old house gave up its secrets, until finally there were no more to reveal.

We are a curious species. We love mysteries, and we love even more to solve them. Our curiosity has led us from the depths of the ocean to the outer fringes of our solar system to the inner workings of the atom, and our imaginations would lead us even farther.

I think, however, that we should not rush to nor insist on knowing all. Perhaps some stones should be left unturned, some paths untraveled. We need mystery. We need undiscovered country. We need wilderness for the sake of wilderness.

Imagine a world without mystery, where all is known, developed, monetized and surveilled. We are fast approaching that world, and since our bodies are currently earth bound, our civilization turns from pioneering and adventure to gratification and habit. You can see it in the way we walk, no longer looking to the horizon, but slumped over in the constant sharing of the disjecta membra of our daily routines.

In solving the mysteries of our old family home, opening my mom’s cedar chest and the steamer trunk my dad kept locked in the hall closet, plumbing the depths of the big steel toolbox in the basement, I confronted unwillingly an uncomfortable truth. There are limits to this human life. We are granted only so many days. We will write a finite number of love letters. We will find only so many arrowheads, and there is a number, however distant, that is the reckoning of our last breath.

One day we will solve the puzzle of our own earthly lives and confront the mystery of the next . We will cross the bar ourselves on a journey into the next unknown, and someone else will sort through the remnants of the earthly possessions we leave behind.

The Sweet Spot

 

With the passing of the recent taxpayer subsidized marketing and sports spectacle (for many of us, football ended in January with the National Championship), the season of traditions which begins around Thanksgiving, that time of year which, with its celebrations and observances inspires us to temporarily set aside our differences, can be said to be truly over. 

Our assumed national obsession with politics and identity will soon continue the long and insufferable crescendo of drama that accompanies our never ending campaign cycles. 

For those of us who lost friends and suffered anxiety during the last cycle, it might behoove us at this point to take a step back and speculate on the nature of the things which separate us.

For some time now we have struggled to better understand  what we perceive to be a false dichotomy that divides almost half of the nation, or at least those of us not too busy making a a living to have time for such concerns. Just what is it that separates us into warring camps of conservative and liberal, democrat and republican?

The loudest and angriest among us follow leaders, and leaders in the vast majority of cases carry a red or a blue banner. Yet government itself, and the business concerns which direct government, seem more apolitical. Once elected, our leaders are political only as far as it is necessary to be reelected, and the vast bureaucracies of federal, state and local governments act as entities unto themselves, with their primary goal being their continued existence. 

To put it bluntly, politics is for little people, but since our numbers are overwhelming, we hold if we do not in fact wield a power which is actively sought by business and government alike. Politics is the method by which our power is divided, diluted and controlled.

Political control is achieved by identifying and leveraging the natural divisions which exist between people. By understanding what those divisions are, it might be possible to reduce the amount of manipulation to which we are subjected. 

Think of a round of firewood we intend to split. To do so, we look for cracks in the wood and we guide our axe to that “sweet spot.” If we hit it just right, far less effort is needed to split the wood. We are not firewood, but we do have vulnerabilities which are used over and over again. In this limited space we can only address a few of those. We will speak in generalities, and we concede the point that there are many exceptions to each of these.  Our intention is not to judge, but to observe.

There are several “sweet spots” where a wedge can easily be driven between democrats and republicans, conservatives and liberals. In our opinion, a sure sign of the path of the wedge can be found in the logical inconsistencies, some might say “hypocrisies” that result from our forced separation. 

Generally speaking, conservatives tend to be more religious while liberals tend to be more humanist.  Conservatives believe in the higher power of God while liberals trust more to the higher power of collectivism. Both yield individual responsibility, the conservative to a belief system and the liberal to a government. 

Observe the many splinters left by the passing of the maul. One of the biggest and sharpest is the issue of abortion, which is kindled every election cycle to the point where it is now a litmus test of political affiliation. The conservative postures as a pro life advocate, but has no problem with capital punishment. The liberal abhors capital punishment, but accepts the termination of life in the womb in a culture which, in its admixture of science and faith cannot agree at which point a human life begins. 

The liberal is predictably a defender of the environment. The conservative, when it comes to the environment, has been more of a consumer than a conservator.  The conservative would consume the environment to create jobs. The liberal would conserve the environment, but consume the wealth of working people to support the jobless.

Both conservative and liberal allow, and even encourage business and government to go adventuring around the world with our blood and treasure, to meddle unceasingly anywhere that it seems possible to extract wealth. Distracted and content or angry and made fearful by the wedge of politics driven between us, we have allowed death and destruction and debt, and the transfer of vast amounts of wealth into ever smaller numbers of hands.

Throughout history, every time wealth inequality has become extreme, volatility has ensued. Inequality leads invariably to the rise of collectivism and of socialistic forms of government that are doomed to fail. Even capitalism, the core of the American way of life, degrades as free markets are gamed into crony capitalism and oligarchy. In the end, the only proven method of reducing inequality, is disaster. 

Every civilization, every philosophy and belief, every form of government and every nation has a shelf life. All human institutions contain the seeds of their own destruction. Human nature dictates that we evolve and devolve in cycles. When we work together, we slow down the turning of the wheel. Conservatives want to preserve what we have accomplished and hold back the tides of change which threaten those gains.  Liberals want to use change to improve the general well being. Each side has valid ideas to contribute to the common good. But as long as we allow it, the only people who will prosper are the ones driving the wedge. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Greatest Show on Earth

At the time of this writing, parts of the federal government have been shut down for almost a month. Perhaps we’ll all get a refund on our taxes, though it’s more likely this time without government will cost us more in the same way that food without additives or preservatives costs more at the grocery.

Last year, “Tax Freedom Day,” the day when all of our tax obligations to federal, state and local authorities were met, was 19 April. Government spending in the US then, consumes about a third of the productivity of its citizens. Very little of that money, however, goes to compensate federal workers. Though the federal government is the nation’s single largest employer, excluding soldiers and postal workers, only 2 million Americans work for the government, or approximately .6% of our population.

During the partial shutdown, about 420,000 federal workers will work without pay, and approximately 380,000 will be furloughed. We grieve for those workers and their families. They do not deserve to be political pawns in this current contest of egos. Perhaps Congress can tell us why, given that the salaries of government workers are such a small fraction of the federal budget, the choice was made to withhold their pay but still meet other obligations.

Speaking of Congress, members will receive their paychecks on time (though Congressional staff members will not). About 100 of the 535 members of Congress have elected not to be paid during the shutdown, but fear not; about half of the members of Congress are millionaires, so they’ll be just fine.

Every day now, someone from mass media predicts impending doom should the shutdown continue. Government, it would seem, has become essential to our survival. Apparently we are in a codependent relationship with our own government. How and why this happened is a long story with numerous points of contention, but as for the “who,” that much is clear. Democrats and Republicans did it.

Every successive administration along with every Congress in living memory has managed to increase the size and coercive power of government, speeches and campaign promises aside. Quite recently that trend has begun to reverse. Partial credit for the slight reduction in the size of government can be given to the current Administration, but the reasons are more complicated and that is a story for another time.

If we are indeed at risk because of the sudden inactivity of our dysfunctional government, common sense would suggest that we need to return that portion of the economy appropriated by government back to the free market. However, if one should refer to that process as “privatization,” an adverse reaction would be triggered in those who prefer to socialize the economy.

The irony and the hypocrisy are palpable. Some of the same democrats who vilified President George Bush for his overreach when Homeland Security and the TSA were created are now predicting doom unless these very same agencies are restored to their full might. Some of the same republicans that helped orchestrate that huge increase in the size of government are pointing fingers at “tax and spend” democrats. Partisan politics trumps common sense as well as our national interest.

Ostensibly, this clash of egos is about border security, and again, the stink of hypocrisy is enough to peel back your lips. Just a few years ago, Senators Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, Chuck Schumer and a number of Democrats who now appear to oppose President Trump’s initiatives, all voted for the Secure Fence Act of 2006. The bill passed with bipartisan support. Now some of the same democrats who voted for the act have referred to any effort to impose a physical barrier at the border as “immoral.”

As for the Republicans, the US Chamber of Commerce, a conservative leaning organization which has historically supported Republicans and conservative Democrats, has lobbied repeatedly to block restrictions on immigration in order to maintain a continuous supply of cheap labor. Very little support or acknowledgment could be found among the Republicans for President Obama’s record deportation of our uninvited guests, or his expansion of detention facilities to hold them.

The point is, our elected leaders have been too busy spinning, posturing and seeking political advantage to make any real effort to solve the immigration problem. Republicans want to appear tough on securing the borders to play to their base, but without doing anything that would jeopardize the flow of cheap labor desired by their corporate masters. Democrats want to appear compassionate and avoid offending potential voters, but when they hold the reins of power they discover, like President Obama, the harsh realities of waves of human migration.

At the extremes we have at one end a President who, in order to fulfill his campaign promises, is threatening to declare a national emergency, seize private property and invoke military powers in order to bypass our system of government. This is a solution which may appeal to the extreme right today, but wait until a Democrat president does the same thing or worse in turn. At the other end of the spectrum are the young liberals calling for open borders and evoking discredited theories of socialism to solve the nation’s problems, all to be paid for under “modern economic theory,” which holds that sovereign governments have an unlimited ability to pay their bills simply by creating money.

It’s a circus, but the entertainment value diminishes in direct proportion to the human suffering it causes, not the least of which is the fear and anger driven like a wedge between partisan factions. If it isn’t the greatest show on earth, it certainly is the most expensive.


Write a reply…

The Right to be Happy

Benjamin Franklin said, “Remember not only to say the right thing in the right place, but far more difficult still, to leave unsaid the wrong thing at the tempting moment.”

The relationships we have with our fellow humans often present us with a choice between being right, and being happy. Every couple who has been married for more than a month knows this. But humans are and always have been naturally competitive, and we are often prideful as well. You know I’m right about that.

The insistence on being right affects not only individuals, but large groups of people. In politics, it has been institutionalized to a point of paralysis.  There were many times in our history when we became so adamant in our opinions that we eventually went to war to prove who was right.

In between breakups, divorces and wars we can, individually or collectively, regain some of the humility necessary to acquire new information or suffer someone else’s opinion. We usually enjoy periods of  general peace and prosperity under those conditions.

In the Age of Information, however, we have become quite confident again in our opinions, having googled every source that agrees with us, and opinion is joined at the hip to identity.  This is not a formula for happiness at a time when a fragmented national identity is struggling to reform. “There’s battle lines being drawn. Nobody’s right if everybody’s wrong,” and apparently being right is a zero-sum game. The broken news reports every day that we aren’t as happy as we used to be.

The trouble is, this competition of ideas is not fun. It isn’t a game anymore. It’s not even a sport.  We struggle to have even a civil debate, much less a cordial one. We are conditioned now to frame things, instead, in terms of conflict, to “fight” for our causes and “slam” our opponents. Or so it is reported, repeatedly, endlessly, and in detail.

It’s primarily verbal, of course, this fight to see our opinions prevail, this pixelated virtual reality of hostile adversaries fighting for what’s right. Too much media and not enough social, coming to you live and late breaking. But it’s all just theater, isn’t it? Well, it is until the pent-up unhappiness starts to affect our decision-making. Am I right?

There’s not much we can do about the theater. We can choose not to click on the provocative link, to ignore any headline that contains the words “fight” or “slam.” This goes directly to the prime motivation behind provocative headlines, as clicks are the life blood of corporate media.  But we’re addicted to drama. Media serves it up because we consume it, and addictions are not easy to overcome.

We can keep our opinions to ourselves. But that, too, is difficult when identity is ascendant and everyone we know is posting and tweeting like a flock of mockingbirds.

So if we can’t stop ourselves from consuming the drama, and if we just have to keep putting our opinions forward, what can we do to keep the peace? We’ll close with more timeless wisdom from Benjamin Franklin, who said, “I made it a rule to forbear all direct contradiction to the sentiments of others, and all positive assertion of my own. I even forbid myself, the use of every word or expression in the language that imported a fixed opinion, such as certainly, undoubtedly, etc., and I adopted, instead of them, I conceive, I apprehend, or I imagine a thing to be so or so, or it so appears to me at present. When another asserted something that I thought an error, I denied myself the pleasure of contradicting him abruptly, and of showing immediately some absurdity in his proposition.”

Ask anyone who has been happily married whether what Franklin said is true.

 

 

 

 

Forever War

About ten years ago it began to be popular so say “thank you for your service” to veterans and active duty members of the armed services. It was a sign of the maturing of our social consciousness, and sorely needed after a generation of Vietnam veterans came home to both apathy and hostility from a conflicted public. Many of us were learning at last to separate the soldier from the war, to support the former without condoning the latter.

We’ve had many opportunities to cultivate this particular insight, though we seem to need regular refresher courses.  In the Revolutionary War, War of 1812, Indian Wars, Mexican War, Civil War, Spanish American War, WWI, WWII, Korean War, Vietnam War, Persian Gulf War and the Global War on Terror, over 1.1 million American men and women lost their lives.

I was lucky to be in the Marine Corps during one of those rare periods in our recent history when the involvement of our armed forces in police actions and nation building was at a minimum. I was also fortunate never to send a child or a sibling off to war, or wait for a parent’s return, though there are many stories in my family about what it feels like to experience these things. Until recently, these were just stories, poignant, but long ago and far away.

Last week it became a lot more personal when I said goodbye to a friend on his way to one of those sandy places on the other side of the globe where we have sacrificed almost 7000 American lives and spent about a trillion dollars in the global war on terror.

My friend is a young man who had already chosen a path of service, just beginning his career as a police officer, just starting to settle into his new life and career,  but when his national guard unit was called up, with no hesitation and no regrets, he was prepared to go. At a recent holiday gathering I said goodbye to him with a lump in my throat.

It’s hard for me to imagine what his parents must be feeling, the worry and uncertainly that never completely goes away, the sleepless nights, the visceral anger, and the dull ache. Many of you know exactly what I’m talking about.

So yes, we support the troops, God bless them, and we sincerely thank them for their service. They are the best of us. But as our forever war drags on into its second decade, we remember also the sacrifices made by the families of those men and women who serve at the convenience of our government. The gratitude we extend to our soldiers should be shared generously with those who wait and worry and pray, and to those of you who do, thank you for your service as well.

Surely there is more that we can do beyond giving lip service to the gratitude we feel for someone else’s sacrifice.  Is it not also our duty as well as our right to require of our politicians who, on paper at least, work for us, that they end this forever war? That they cease making enemies for us to fight? That there be an accounting of the costs in blood and treasure for the sake of those young people who are about to join a war that began before they were born? Scarcely in the history of the world has one people existed as the natural enemy of another. Enemies are made on the Wall Streets of the world, not the Main Streets. Is it learned helplessness that keeps us silent, or are we content with sacrifice as long as it doesn’t affect us personally?

If you haven’t heard the term, “forever war,” it is perhaps a more honest description of what is otherwise known as the global war on terror. Eisenhower warned us about forever war in his farewell address to the nation. Yes, the seeds of forever war were planted a long time ago, but it was during the administrations of Bush, Clinton, Bush and Obama that the business of conflict was elevated to an art form.

How soon we forgot the events leading up to the capture and execution of Saddam Hussein, which opened  Pandora’s Box and destabilized the middle east for generations! Does anyone in America remember Clinton’s wars, the destruction of the Chinese embassy in Belgrade, cluster bombs in Serbian markets, the disruption of the Yugoslav economy and the destabilization of southeast Europe? Millions are alive in the Balkans who do remember. Tens of thousands are dead who don’t.

Does anyone remember the blatant lies about “weapons of mass destruction” in Iraq, or were we all soothed into forgetfulness by smiling photos of good friends, Bill Clinton and George H. W. Bush,  globe-trotting together? Did we get a warm, fuzzy feeling when George W. passed Michelle O. a piece of candy during John McCain’s funeral? Remember President Obama, the all time champion drone striker and weapons dealer, selling American arms all over the globe?  What about President Trump, who is on track to exceed even Obama’s world record at arms dealing?

And speaking of President Trump, blunt, unpredictable, unpopular President Trump, who was eviscerated for trying to normalize relations with Russia, attacked for pulling troops out of Syria and criticized for planning to reduce our presence in Afghanistan, what do we make of his actions? What do we make of the instantaneous push back of politics and punditry headlined and dramatized by mass media?

Who can say? What can we infer from the unified chorus of peace loving liberals, hawkish neoconservatives (republicans and democrats) and corporate media mouthpieces shouting their panic and outrage over the possibility that we might choose to remove thousands of our sons and daughters from harm’s way?

Yes, I know. Fight them over there, so we don’t have to fight them at home. We’ve heard that for almost 20 years now, long enough to expect that some kind of resolution be forthcoming.   Remember when Shelby Foote,  in that great Civil War Series,  told the story of a Confederate soldier talking to a Union soldier across the picket lines one night? The Yankee soldier asked the Rebel, “Hey Reb, why are you fighting?” The Rebel soldier answered, “Because you’re down here.”

Is it possible that maintaining military bases inside sovereign nations, supporting brutal dictators,  destroying economies, turning infrastructure into rubble and killing tens of thousands of civilians just might do more to cause terror than to prevent it?

But as the cards are shuffled and terrorists become allies and allies become adversaries,  and as decades of bombings, missile and drone strikes and sanctions finally begin to fragment and diminish those who “hate us because they hate freedom,” the forever war needs new enemies. Enter stage left, Russia and China.

The think tanks tell us that we need to fear Russian and Chinese hypersonic glide platforms capable of defeating most if not all of our countermeasures. Billions of dollars in research and development will be necessary to counter this threat, and if you invested in Lockheed Martin, you’ll be happy to know that they were just awarded a sizable contract to help us catch up.

Of course, fool-me-once citizens might have a few questions. Given that governments are capable of lying (remember WMD’s) we might reasonably ask if what they say is true. It might very well be true, but given that we spend more on defense than the next seven countries combined, is it not also reasonable to ask why we are playing catch up with someone we “defeated in the cold war?” I suppose money doesn’t buy what it used to, or maybe the ruble goes a lot farther in Russia than the dollar does here.  We might also ask why the recent Defense Department audit was off by trillions of dollars, but that’s another story.

One of the benefits of living in a nation which promotes free speech is that armchair diplomats and sofa-ops soldiers, and all kinds of people with no skin in the game, are free to express their opinions on any subject. Many of us are beginning to question how our opinions are formed. I want to respond to one opinion in particular.

Go ahead and tell me that we have to fight them over there, that it’s dangerous to consider disengaging from the nation destroying, widow making,  migrant producing enemy factory of forever war.  Tell me that we’re foolish to reduce tensions with well armed adversaries (and their relentless tweets and subversive Facebook posts). Tell me that you’re eager to send a son or daughter to fight. Tell me that you’re ready to volunteer yourself.

So, you’ve never served, never said goodbye to a son or a daughter, a husband or a wife or a parent as they left home to travel thousands of miles to a place where they will be almost universally despised, and where not even the nation they’re supposedly helping to “build” wants them to be there? You don’t even know anyone personally who served? Well. You must be a Congressman or a Senator (or a network commentator or a former president or presidential hopeful). If you are, there’s a better than 80% chance that you have no skin in the game of war. That’s right, for most of you whose responsibility it is to allow, or not to allow the sacrifice of American blood and treasure, it might as well be a game, because you suffer no consequences from your actions.

Go ahead and try to press your argument by enumerating all the returns that we (the tax paying public) have received from our multi-trillion dollar investment in destroying and rebuilding countries, and how the loss of 7000 American lives was worth the sacrifice. We’re not listening. We know who you are. We know you by the fruit of your labors. You came to Washington to do two things: To get reelected, and to work tirelessly to figure out ways to privatize profit while socializing risk.

Hopefully enough of us will see you for who you really are that we can send you back home.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Another Christmas Story

My mother loved her Christmas ornaments, and like many mothers she kept certain ones for many years. Carefully wrapped and stored away after the holidays, they would reappear just after Thanksgiving. Our Christmas tree hosted the most unlikely combinations of sparkling shapes; simple childhood gifts and class projects from the ghosts of Christmas Past. Some were cute, some gaudy, and to teenage eyes, embarrassing reminders of the youth we were so impatient to leave behind.

If we are lucky, we will collect memories of many embarrassing moments, and enjoy years of youth and innocence to remember and comfort us later in life; years when the wonders of life are many and the responsibilities few, years when Christmas vacation lasts the entire winter and Santa Claus is as real as the cookies and milk carefully placed next to the tree on Christmas Eve.

In the country, there are certain rites of passage that often accompany the holiday season, and as a young lad I was convinced that the Christmas day after my 12th birthday would bring that long hoped-for present so often desired by boys and girls lucky enough to grow up in the rural South. I was certain that  would be the year I received my first real firearm and be able to join the adults on a grownup deer hunt.

It must have taken someone a long time to wrap the long, beautifully decorated rectangular box I found under the tree that year, but I cannot for the life of me remember the color of the paper or the bow I so hastily tore away. I do remember every inch of the Harrington and Richardson single shot 20 gauge inside.

Soon to come was the excitement of waking up long before daylight on the morning of that first hunt and having a hunter’s breakfast, a cold bacon and egg sandwich, just me and my dad moving quietly in the kitchen trying not to wake up the house. I remember the way the stars sparkled in the crisp winter air; the ride in the old pickup from the farm to the hunting ground and the last minute advice on cover and concealment. I can still hear the crunch of dried twigs in the dark, and the whispered advice from Dad about how to balance my weight, placing my feet carefully to move silently.

I was well concealed before dawn, nested in pine straw and leaves with my back propped against a suitable tree with low hanging branches for cover. Time never passed more slowly or with greater anticipation as I listened, straining my ears for any telltale sounds that might signal the approach of my prey. When a deer finally did come near my location, well scouted by my dad in anticipation of this momentous event, the only sound I could hear was my heart pounding.

The flash was blinding and the blast deafening when I pulled the trigger. The gray shape of the deer disappeared into the mist and the pounding of my heart was replaced by a loud ringing in my ears as I struggled in vain to hear what direction my quarry might be headed. I had been warned that a spooked or wounded deer might run for quite a distance before settling down, and I was prepared to wait, quiet and watchful until I got my bearings again.

I waited with all the patience a 12-year old could muster, until I thought I heard a likely sound some distance from my vantage point.  I headed as quietly as I could in that direction. A thickening mist was rising from the ground and I could barely make out the shape of the trees. After half an hour of carefully picking my way through branch and bramble, I stepped into a small clearing just as I thought I saw the shape of my prey on the other side. I took one more step into the clearing for a better look, but I never got the chance.

Just as I stepped forward, the ground beneath my feet collapsed and I went straight down about four feet into a hole, landing hard on the flat of my feet with a thud. I saw stars for a moment, and as I blinked them away, looking up, I noticed with some trepidation that the end of my nose was about a foot away from an old moss covered tombstone.

I don’t know what congregation lived and died on that forgotten ground, abandoned long enough to grow a mature stand of timber. I don’t think I was ever able to equal the feat of acrobatics I performed when I shot straight up out of that sunken grave like a fish jumping out of water. I think I may have actually levitated when I came up out of that hole. I’m not sure that I have ever run away from a place so fast in my life. I have no memory of how I found my way back to the truck.

What I do remember is the sound of my dad’s joyful laughter as we drove back home that morning. He told me something then that I have always cherished, that though I may have missed my buck, I bagged a good story that would be worth a lot more to me as the years went by.

Memories are a lot like those favorite Christmas ornaments my mother kept so carefully. The number and variety we keep, the way we display them or keep them wrapped up and stored away, this is how we decorate the story of our lives. If we are fortunate, when we consider them all, the ones that sparkle, the unlikely shapes, the ones we are proud of and even the embarrassments, we will enjoy a bit of the same sense of celebration we feel when we look at a Christmas tree.