Monday, November 11, 2013

In honor of their service

I inherited a number of books from my Dad.

I have various book he read, various Bibles he owned and a collection of books and commentaries he used in his pastorate.

Out of all the books he passed on to me, there is only one that he personally presented to me and wanted me to have. It is a book called "Abundant Living". I've never read it and have barely looked at it.  It was given to my Dad by his Army buddy Bob Gough.

My Dad was a radio operator during World War II. Because of his skills as a radio man, he actually stayed behind longer then the rest of his company, much to his displeasure. By the time he reached Europe, the worst of the fighting was over. So Gough shipped out before my Dad and he never came back.

That book sits on a shelf with a number of other things of immense value to me. There's a ship model my grandfather never finished. There's various birds that my Uncle Doug made. There's "the box" that my grandfather left behind for Dad after going to the hospital with a heart attack. It had all my grandfather's pertinent papers.There's my Hitler Youth Knife, one of my Dad's war souvenirs. There's pendant that belonged to my great grandmother Douglass.

The book is an important keepsake not only because it was given to me by my Dad but because I know it was important to him. I know little about Bob Gough but I know he was a valuable friend to my Dad and at very young age. I can't image the feeling of loss he felt when he learned that his friend had been killed in action.

One thing I regret about my Dad is that I didn't talk to him a lot about his war experiences. Maybe he wouldn't have wanted talk about them anyway. But I know one viewing of Saving Private Ryan had him talking about WWII for days, especially if he came across a fellow veteran.

I've always been interested in the Revolutionary War and the Civil War but hadn't developed an interest or appreciation of the history of WWI or WW2.
Since my Dad died, I've learned a little more about that era. I've watched various movies and documentaries, including the Band of Brothers box set, which my Dad would have loved had he ever watched it. I have the Jeff Shaara books on WW2 that I bought for my Dad and now own. I may read those soon.

Learning what I have has given me a greater appreciation of the sacrifices of so many soldiers, including my Dad and his brothers Doug and Albert Mills. And my grandfather sacrificed so much, being a widower that watched his three boys go off to war. (That's my Dad and his brother Al to the right).
When I see how many good men died or were scarred for life from their experiences there, it amazes me that my Dad and his brothers all were able to make it home relatively unscathed.

As much as I'm thankful for their safe return, I'm grateful for their sacrifice and their service. My Dad was just a high school kid when he went off to war.  I can't imagine going off to a World War when I was that age. His brothers were not much older.

I'm glad that the cemetery where my Dad is buried does a nice job recognizing veterans and putting a flag by his stone. My Dad was proud of his service. And I'm proud of my Dad's service as well as that of my uncles. I wish I was able to go visit his grave today but will have to wait for the next time I'm at the coast.
I saw a story on the news the other day about the Gettysburg Address. Lincoln's speech talks about not letting the loss of life at Gettysburg to be in vain.

It made me think about the sacrifice and service of so many veterans, including my Dad and his brothers. (That's my Dad and his brother Doug in Kentucky to the left.)

 How do we truly honor what they have done for our country and our way of life? Do we serve and sacrifice for our country in similar ways?

Look at our country today. I don't even have to expand on the answer. It is shameful that this country has become what it has. Is this the kind of freedom people fought and died for? The bickering, the bipartisanship, the lack of care for doing what is best for our country and people, we're not uniting for the greater good. We spend too much time and energy trying to blame and hate the other side. Our energy is invested in making political points and gaining power instead of making us a better country and a better people.

 In many instances, but not all, we went to war to right a wrong. Our veterans served and died for something that was right. Are we striving to do what is right? Or are we more focused on what serves us best or feeds our wallets instead of our people.

People will tell you they "Support the troops" and they'll wave their flags and vow to never forget. But do they truly honor what our veterans did. Token propaganda and Facebook posts don't do it properly.

I will never serve in the military. I will never be able to sacrifice like my Dad and his brothers did. But I can honor them and their willingness by serving in my own way. I can feed off their bravery, their courage and their willingness to sacrifice for good.

I never talked with my Dad about it but I can imagine him saying to himself that he wanted to honor the memory of Bob Gough and his friend's sacrifice by living a life that would do that. My Dad ultimately did live a life of service, as a pastor, as a teacher and as a man of great strength and courage. I'm sure Bob Gough played a role in my Dad being the person that he became, and my Dad honored his memory as a result.

We can all serve. We can all sacrifice. We can all strive to do what is right in this world. We can all hope and work toward bettering our country. Those are my marching orders. I don't know all the ways I will and can make it happen, but I want my life and existence in this country to honor and reflect the bravery of the people that paved the way for me.

And someday, I hope people can be proud of my service.

Friday, November 1, 2013

Measuring Life

Somewhere in a notebook, tucked away amidst many other notebooks, is a particular song I wrote.

I think when the day comes that somebody inherits my so-called estate, their biggest haul will be pens and notebooks.

And in a lot of those notebooks, some of them dating back to high school and college, have tidbits of stories and songs written in them - as well as drawings of hockey players.

One of those songs I wrote years ago has a line in it that says "Now life is measured by what I haven't got", A pretty happy sentiment.

 When I think about the songs I used to write, I think of something Mike Ness of Social Distortion said during a Live at the Roxy show. He said "You all want to hear a happy song? Sorry, homey, we don't do no happy songs."

Of course, many of my favorite artists don't write happy songs. They write the dark, painful, introspective types. And that's what I used to do - even when I tried not to.

Anyway, I've been thinking about that line about life being measured but what I haven't got. I kind of recall thinking that was a pretty brilliant line back in the day. And maybe that was a good reflection of my mindset then.

But it isn't now. In fact, I try to think and see the opposite. I try not to dwell on what I don't have. I'd much rather embrace and enjoy what I do have.

I think it is easy for people to immediately worry about what is missing instead of recognizing what they possess. We're a society that bitches and moans first instead of being thankful and appreciative. We blame before we look for solutions. We look down at people instead of lifting up. We are fearful before we are brave. We worry before we are confident. We're angry instead of being joyful. We're programed to see the downside of things instead of looking at the great things in life.

I know people who see life in such a negative way that they're just consumed by that outlook. All they do is worry, be angry, complain and blame others for their misery.

I saw a study once on a news magazine show about how people could look through the headlines of the newspapers. Some would see the good things but most would consume the negative and build their outlook and world view from that.

That's not to say I don't have my disappointments and frustrations. I have them all the time. People that I expect better from let me down. People I don't expect to hurt me, do just that. People I hoped would support me as an author, by buying books or writing reviews that I needed, didn't do that for me. There are things in my life that I don't have and wish that I did.

It can be easy to look at other people's lives and wish I had this or that. But I try not to do that any longer. I don't measure life by what is missing. I measure it by what I've been blessed with.

 In all facets of life, I don't want a life like everybody else. I never do what everybody else does. I tend to bounce to the beat of my own drum and do so gleefully.  I want my own extraordinary life. I've realized that I have just that and it can be what I make it.

I was sitting on the deck at my cottage in Owls Head this summer. It was one of those glorious summer days that make me cherish the place more than I ever do. I thought of how fortunate I am to own and have such a place. I even contemplated the idea of if I could trade it for something else that I feel is lacking in my life, would I do it? Not a chance. I wouldn't trade the cottage for anything. It is truly a wonderful blessing in my life and I can't imagine what my life would be without it.

Another example has to do with my job. I'll sometimes hear about someone that I know getting a new job or succeeding in this or that career. I'll feel a twinge of jealousy and wish maybe I'd made that much money or had that kind of life and career. Then I stop myself. I've had the career I always wanted. How many people can say that? It has been a wonderful gift and opportunity to share my skills as a writer and journalist.  I've had some great experiences and memories in my career. I've met some wonderful people. I've done outstanding work and established myself as one of the best in the business and I've done it on my terms - with honesty and integrity and earning the respect and appreciation of the people that have read my work or dealt with me. How lucky am I to have all that?

I heard about a guy yesterday that called in to WEEI to talk about the Red Sox. He was complaining about Manager John Farrell - the day after the Red Sox won the World Series for the third time in 10 years and after being in last place a year ago.

Sure there are things we can gripe about. I see people complain all the time on Facebook. Their life is one prolonged misery it seems. But it is only that way if you look at it that way. That's what I've learned. Your perspective is what you see in it. If you don't like your perspective, change it.

I'm enjoying finding the little blessings of life. So many things I take for granted. I was driving back from a game recently and came across a beautiful sunset as I headed home along Route 4. It is part of nature that happens every day but it is always different and often awesome. So much of life is that way.

Life lets me down sometimes. People let me down often. It still bothers me sometimes. There are things in life I'd still like to have. There are voids I'd like to fill.

But I know God has given me what I need and has blessed me with so much else. When I measure life by the blessings and gifts I have, I'm not only lucky but also joyful and happy. I've realized that life measures up pretty good.