Recovery, Happy first-day-of-Kwanzaa, and don’t forget Boxing Day!

And just like that, it’s over. Except for the digging out . . . and except that for some of us, it’s NOT over.

Happy Kwanzaa!

If you celebrate Kwanzaa, of course, the holiday has only just begun! Today is the day to especially celebrate Umoja, or Unity–something we all could use a good deal more of, in my home country of the United States.

At the basis of unity is shared respect and–yes–love.

And Boxing Day!

Don’t forget today is ALSO Boxing Day in much of the English-speaking world! This year, more than ever, it might be a great moment to consider a large, charitable donation.

IMAGES: Many thanks to Brian Gordon and his Fowl Language cartoons, for today’s grin, to Jeffrey St. Clair via LinkedIn and SlideShare for the beautiful Umoja Unity design, and to the Tumblr of Adam Hernandez AKA “Slim Baby!” (via Pinterest), with thanks to TinEye Reverse Image Search, for the Cornel West quote and image.

For Companion Animals

Day Six: Gratitude for Companion Animals

When placed up there next to some of the other massive issues (yesterday I was talking about global food security, for example), the blessing of having a companion animal in one’s home at first doesn’t seem to be in exactly the same league.

But human-animal bonds are ancient and strong. I have argued on this blog in the past that the history and development of humans would have been considerably different without domesticated animals–especially dogs (dogs are my ultimate favorite animals, so I admit I’m sorely biased).

It’s a really incomplete picture to leave out cats, horses/donkeys/mules, cattle/oxen/water buffaloes, sheep, goats, swine, chickens and other poultry, rabbits, guinea pigs, camels, and llamas, though. Indeed, without mice, rats, and other animals, our medical history also would have progressed much differently.

But this post is particularly concerned with companion animals–the very dearest pets, the ones we invite into our homes, and often consider to be members of the family. Readers of this series with exceptionally good memories will recall from the latter paragraphs of Monday’s post that I do consider ours to be family members.

We have several decades’ worth of studies that affirm their value, at this point, though the unenlightened in Western society still all too often insist “it’s just an animal.” Poor things: they simply have no idea.

I can personally attest to the importance of companion animals for meeting people and staving off loneliness (yes, that’s me in the photo above, with my current dog Jake). The very best way to meet people in our neighborhood is to take the dog out for a walk.

As to staving off loneliness? My dearly-loved Chihuahua-MinPin mix (who stayed right beside me through three successive bouts of pneumonia one horrible winter, and who still is featured in my Facebook profile pic) died the Christmas before both of my kids moved away to college and took all the other resident animals with them. With my Beloved working extremely long hours, if I hadn’t gotten my little Iggy-girl Brenna that following November I think I’d have gone into an even deeper depression from sheer loneliness.

My daughter spent more than a year, living mostly–except for her animals–alone in California, doing hard, undervalued work as a caregiver to an elderly relative. She did make friends, but her animals helped keep her sane. They still do, even as she faces new challenges.

I also can attest to the beneficial effects of companion animals on children. In my family’s case, two Border Collies and a Bernese Mountain Dog-shepherd mix helped my Beloved and me rear our kids, assisted by several cats and an assortment of gerbils and hooded rats (at our church, my daughter became known as the “gerbil-whisperer” for good reason!).

It is perhaps needless to say that I believe that the initiatives to use therapy animals for everything from the “reading dogs” who help beginning readers strengthen their skills to the “comfort animals” who visit hospitals and hospicesdisaster sites, and nursing homes are well-advised to tap into the almost-magical connection humans have with companion animals.

I’m a strong believer in the value of the human-animal bond. As our society splinters into ever-smaller family units and as people “cocoon” in their homes more and more (the telecommuting fad seems to have peaked, but internet sales still continue to gain on actual face-to-face shopping in brick-and-mortar retail stores), humans’ essential, social-animal nature hasn’t changed. It’s healthier to connect with an animal than with nothing and no one at all. I could argue that our animals are one of the last things keeping us connected to ourselves.

The health benefits of companion-animal ownership–both mental and physical health–are well-documented and hard to dispute. The soul-benefits are harder to define, but no less important.

IMAGES: The “Seven Days of Gratitude” design is my own creation, for well or ill. If for some reason You’d like to use it, please feel free to do so, but I request attribution and a link back to this post. Likewise, the three quotes from Allan M. Beck and Marshall Meyers all were extracted from an article by “Anna” on Ethical Pets The Blog, but the photos are variously by my daughter and me, of ourselves and some of the dogs in our lives. I did the design work for all three of those quote-images. Feel free to re-post them, but please include an attribution and a link back to this post. Thanks! The Jane Goodall quote image is from the Eco Watch site, from a post by “True Activist” last April. The Anatole France quote image is from One Green Planet (featuring a photo by Wendy Piersall), via Pinterest. Many thanks to all!

For Food Security

Day Five: For Food Security

I feel more conflicted about this one than I have about my previous gratitude topics. Not that food security is not a marvelous blessing–it truly is, in every sense of the word. 

But I’m aware that all around me–in my community, across my nation, and around the world, there are many, many people who do not share this blessing.

To express public gratitude for it, in the knowledge of such widespread lack, almost feels like gloating. That’s not my intention at all. If I could, I’d extend this blessing to everyone in the world, so that no one anywhere has to go to bed hungry, or wonder where their next meal will come from.

Here in the USA, today is Thanksgiving. Everyone in the country is presumed to be eating their fill, then waddling into the next room to zone out in a “food coma” while watching American football games. However, despite the best efforts of community charities, not everyone will be able to do that. Statesman Jacques Diouf put it well:

Everyone alive should be acknowledged to have a basic human right to adequate, nutritious food. That this is ignored, pushed aside as inconvenient, left to the vaguaries of climate change, governmental style or unregulated capitalism, or even actively subverted so hunger can be used as a weapon is inexcusable. Yes, people have been doing it for millennia; it’s a crime against humanity every single time, in my opinion.

How can persons of conscience work to fight food insecurity? Acknowledging that we who can eat well are blessed, we can make charitable donations on both the local (link to find US agencies) and international (this link: UN) level to help fill immediate shortfalls.

But we also must advocate for longer-range goals: 

Creating systemic improvement is a large, difficult goal, fraught with practical difficulties, cultural pitfalls, and unintended results. It also is desperately necessary, as long as people anywhere are hungry.

Creating changes in public opinion is a way to begin. Funding empirical studies by unbiased researchers is a reasonable step forward. Involving all involved parties in design of solutions is a reasonable, respectful necessity that is likeliest to result in the best solutions. Many initiatives have already begun. We all must work together to bring the best ones to fruition.

IMAGES: The “Seven Days of Gratitude” design is my own creation, for well or ill. If for some reason You’d like to use it, please feel free to do so, but I request attribution and a link back to this post. The “Food security definition” quote by Pattie Baker is from Quozio, via Pinterest; her book Food for My Daughters is available from Amazon Smile and other fine booksellers. The Jacques Diouf quote is identified as sourced from Live58, though I couldn’t find it on their site; I did find it on the website for GRIID (the Grand Rapids Institute for Information Democracy). The quote from Ray Offenheiser of Oxfam America is courtesy of The Huffington Post, via Pinterest. Many thanks to all!

For Religious Freedom

Day One: Grateful for Religious Freedom

On many calendars, this is the first day of the week, so I figure this is a good place to start my Seven Days of Gratitude project for the week of the US Thanksgiving holiday. Throughout my life, gratitude and thankfulness have repeatedly come up as important themes. I welcome this holiday each year as an opportunity to explore them once again.

My daughter recently started a “Gratitude Journal,” a daily recording of at least one thing each day for which she is thankful. Thinking about her project has given me my theme. As a practicing Christian, it is my belief that I have myriad blessings each day to celebrate with joy and thanksgiving to my God.

Massive among of those blessings, for me, it the United States Bill of Rights guarantee that I may practice my religious faith freely, without fear of persecution. It should be a source of great joy to everyone in the USA that this not only is guaranteed to me, but to everyone in my country, whatever tradition of faith–or however much absence of religious expression–they cherish.

Ironically, I think this is the single most important reason why so many people in the United States still say they believe in God (89%, according to a 2016 Gallup Poll. Compare that to most other industrialized nations, many of which have long histories of state religions). It seems to me that if you are free to believe in the God of your innermost spiritual being, you are more able to find reasons to believe in any God at all.

Or not. And that won’t get you thrown in prison either, thank . . . the Bill of Rights.

Our strength, yet again, lies in our diversity. That’s why I shudder when I hear people say “America is a Christian nation!” Many of the founders may indeed have been some variety of Christian (pretty broadly defined, though: consider how many were Deists, or how Thomas Jefferson felt free to create his own “good parts” version of the New Testament), but asserting any specific religion as “the” American religion would have been “fighting words” to them.

And rightly so. I believe that all of us in the United States should be deeply thankful for our guarantee of religious freedomand I believe that we must remember and defend it, any time we see the rights of any religious community under attack. Bad as that is, though, I think it’s even worse when the values of any particular religion are imposed upon others, especially by people acting in the name of some level of government. Any advocacy for either abuse should be “fighting words” for all true Americans.

IMAGES: The “Seven Days of Gratitude” design is my own creation, for well or ill. If for some reason You’d like to use it, please feel free to do so, but I request attribution and a link back to this post. The illustrated quote from Sir Patrick Stewart is courtesy of We F**king Love Atheism. Many thanks!

Respect

How do you celebrate Veterans Day? How should we? I think that varies with the individual or family, whether one is or is not a veteran, and sometimes which war hits closest to home for us.

A Veterans Day parade in Milwaukee, WI, complete with banners, flags and uniforms.

Certainly there’s nothing wrong with a good parade, honor ceremony, or display of the flag. In many places you can buy a remembrance poppy, evoking memories of World War I, and a tradition in English-speaking countries since the 1920s.

I sometimes feel that the trappings of patriotism–the outward signs, such as a flag pin on a lapel or a patriotic meme on a Facebook wall–get more focus than actual, substantive ways to support veterans and their families.

Last year I posted some thoughts on how to thank veterans that might be worth another look, if you’re so inclined. But it seems to me that we as a nation need to think long and hard about how we treat our active-duty military personnel and our veterans. It’s easy to wave a flag and say “Thank you,” and I’m sure many feel good to be publicly appreciated–but is that the supportiveness they truly need?

If we, as citizens and taxpayers think veterans should be better-served than they currently are, we first should educate ourselves about where the needs truly lie–then get active on a local, state, and national level. To me, that’s the best form of patriotism: the hands-on, trying-to-make-it-better kind. P.S. Did you vote for better government last Tuesday?

If we’re paying enlisted personnel a living wage, why do so many of them end up as prey to the predatory payday lenders whose businesses cluster near military bases?

Back in 2011, I wrote about dilapidated schools on military basesMany were still struggling to improve their facilities as recently as 2015, though academic scores were rising.

If we’re so grateful as a nation to our veterans, why don’t more employers make a point of hiring them

Why are there so many homeless veterans? Also, what can ordinary citizens do to help them? Why are social and mental-health services spread so thin that veterans too often fall through the gaps?

Why do so many veterans commit suicide? How can we stem this trend?

Looks elegant–but are we making it REAL? That’s an open question, I fear.

It seems clear to me that we still have many serious “system upgrades” to put in place, before any “thank you for your service” we say won’t be at risk of seeming kind of hollow, to all too many of our returned warriors.

No matter how sincerely we mean it.

IMAGES: Many thanks to Honor Our Military (based in Milwaukee, WI) for the photo from their 2014 Veterans Day Parade; to the Remembrance Day Pinterest page and Pin for the poppy-themed thought (photo sourced from Hubpages); and to Ultimate Medical Academy via Pinterest for the quote image about real heroes. Thanks are also due to Diply via Pinterest for the Mark Twain quote about patriotismFinally, I am grateful to the National Veterans Foundation for the “dog tags” Thank You image.

Forgetting is not an option

Remembering September 11, 2001

We saw the worst of humanity that day. But we also saw some of the best. I hope you’ll enjoy this tribute, with actual footage from that day at Ground Zero.

You also might appreciate this short National Geographic production about United Flight 93

Unfortunately, many 9/11 heroes are still “layin’ it all on the line.” A variety of respiratory illnesses and cancers have been linked to the pollution encountered by both survivors and first responders. But the trauma experienced that day has left many with PTSD and other mental health effects, as well. Last year, on the 15th anniversary, CBS News ran this item:

Clearly, not all sacrifices are made in a blaze of glory that ends quickly. The lingering effects of our collective trauma from that day still haven’t played out.

VIDEO: Many thanks to Allec Joshua Ibay on YouTube, for the “Everyday Heroes” musical tribute to the first responders at Ground Zero. The song that gives the video so much of its emotional power, please note, is by Dave Carroll, who is not credited on Ibay’s video (however, Ibay’s images are more focused on the events of 9/11/01 than the video Carroll posted). You can buy Carroll’s single or album on Amazon. Thanks also to The CBS Evening News and YouTube, for the video about first responders’ mental health. Additional thanks to CBS News for the image of the firefighter at Ground Zero.

Visual thoughts on disasters

This is one of those days when pictures shout louder than words ever could.

Damage from Hurricane Harvey could require years of cleanup. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)
Western states in flames (KHQ-NBC Q6)
I think I recognize this road in San Juan, from my trip there in July! Good luck, my friends!! (Alvin Baez/Reuters)
A final thought.

For your consideration: Prayers for the victims, local first responders, volunteers, and trained disaster responders are always helpful (if you believe in their power, which I do). But don’t stop there!

America’s Charities Disaster Recovery Fund-Hurricane Harvey 

Wildfire relief efforts in Washington state 

Charity Navigator Hurricane Irma

The American Red Cross

ASPCA Disaster Response

IMAGES: Many thanks to The Washington ExaminerAP Photos, and photographer David J. Phillip for the photo of Freddi Ochoa in his Houston, TX front yard. I also appreciate the vivid map from KHQ in in Spokane, WA, showing all the fires wreaking havoc in the Northwestern US on the day before I wrote this post. I especially thank ABC News, photographer Alvin Baez, and Reuters, for the horrifying photo from San Juan, PR. And I appreciate ShareQuotes4You and meetville.com for the Mollie Marti quote.