Tuesday, December 22, 2009
The American way is a phrase that has become cliche. Most everybody has used it at one point or another, but does anybody really know what it means? What is the American way? Is it working overtime in order to pay for the mortgage? Is it driving an SUV around town to soccer practice or the grocery store? Does it entail selling someone on a ponzi scheme to get rich or is it doing whatever it takes to scrape by and put food on the table?
The American way while ambiguous, seems less about taking care of each other and more so about taking care of ourselves. Citizens in every neighborhood across this country have lost sight of civic responsibility and President Kennedy’s plea to “Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country.”
During the Vietnam War, there was a generation filled with those who fought and those who protested. There was an equal place for both hawk and dove as both represented a country that while divided, stood to support varying belief systems. Today, there are no such protesters who care enough to picket or oppose war. There are instead millions of Americans more concerned with shopping lists and stocking stuffers. The few chances these people have to make a difference, they overwhelmingly blow it off. How many times this Holiday season have you walked past the man standing out in the freezing cold ringing the salvation Army bell? What did he ask for, just some spare change right?
This year there was little discussion about how to defeat the Taliban and bring the US Soldier home. Any conversation that existed, didn’t leave the dinner tables or political debate podiums. No action was taken on the streets, few letters were mailed to our elected representatives and those that were mailed were most likely from family members who lost a loves one. Yet with little fanfare, the shift in direction from Iraq to Afghanistan happened before our very eyes and who knew it happened? Who knew that the President increased troop strength to 30,000 or that by August 31, 2010 he will have pulled out all combat troops from Iraq Completely? Who cares right? Christmas is just around the corner...not for our Soldiers.
For the American Soldier miles away from his or her hometown, December 25th will be another patrol through Helmand or Khandahar preventing the Taliban from gaining ground. It might be a holiday greeting card from a world away and a care package later. For the rest of us we’ll drink egg nog and see friends and family. We’ll go to church and sing Christmas Carol’s with verses like “peace on earth.”
Looking back at 2009, Americans weren’t interested that the wars overseas had gone seven years. For the 4th of July, we were enamored by the death of Michael Jackson. During thanksgiving we all talked about Tiger Woods. For Christmas why should we expect anyone to care about anything other than Bowl games and what’s under the Christmas tree? Why would anyone care about the troops overseas spending their holiday away from family? It wouldn’t be the “American way” that we have come to embrace and embody.
If I haven’t said it before, the war in Afghanistan is very, very personal to me. I hope one day that I can look back and say that I made some small sacrifice or contribution in making the world a better and safer place. I hope to one day look in the mirror and be proud that I stood for something. For now, I’ll have to settle for writing this blog with the hope that someone out there will hear this call to action. To those who read this, I urge you to take a stand for something that you believe in. I know 307 US service members in Afghanistan who did just that this year.
Monday, November 9, 2009
My brother is a Veteran of Desert Storm, Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom. In those wars he spent holidays, birthdays and anniversaries away from his family and loved ones. When I was at basketball practice in elementary school learning the mechanics of a lay-up my brother was busy controlling the skies while coordinating an assault on Saddam. Years later, while safely studying in my dorm room, I'd get an email from him halfway around the world and the one thing he wanted to know was, "How are the Red Sox doing?"
For the people who walk past my brother on a daily basis, they may never know that he had 5,716 flying hours aboard the E-3 AWACS or that 1,000 of those were in Combat. Even if they did, they probably wouldn't know what that meant.
What that meant is that my brother was the "eye in the sky," that ensured air superiority for two decades. It meant that while we were celebrating New Year's or eating our Turkey dinner and watching football, he was watching over us (literally). As an Airman, I know exactly what my brother has done and what it meant to our National security. As someone who lives and works in the Air Force and has seen the mediocre more so than the extraordinary, I feel more than comfortable calling my brother a hero. If you understood the things that he has done, he'd be your hero too.
If you spoke with my brother he probably wouldn't tell you about all of his time in the sandbox. He wouldn't mention that he is qualified on the .50 cal or that he did a ground deployment with the Army looking for IEDs. He would even skip the stories of when his aircraft was painted by a MIG-25 while patrolling the skies. Furthermore, he won't tell you about the lives he saved or the medals he was awarded for his actions in combat. Instead, he'd probably ask how your day was going and carry on about his.
On 29 October 2009, MSgt Michael Carroll retired from active duty to a life away from the deployments and time away from home. To a Warrior, a Hero and most importantly my Brother, I salute him and thank him for everything that he has sacrificed.
This Veteran's Day we will walk past many homes with American flags displayed prominently in front yards. Some communities may hold parades w/ Veterans marching proudly down the street. In the crowd will be Veterans like my brother who won't be wearing a uniform and may appear to be just another face in the crowd. If you get the chance and recognize someone smiling a little more than those around them or standing a bit taller during the National Anthem, reach out and say "thanks," our lives wouldn't be the same without them.
Thursday, October 22, 2009
Put any great leader under the microscope of scrutiny and flaws are bound to be revealed. Heroes would never live up to our standards if we did this to everyone of them. If we did, we'd just walk away disappointed. Historians have shown us repeatedly that with every great hero, there is a tragedy in all of them that cannot be ignored. As much as we'd like to see past these character deficiencies and see these great leaders as having an immortality about them, we come to find out that they like us are; all too human. For every great accomplishment that our Presidents have had, there has been a shadow that hangs over their glory. For every Declaration of Independence, Civil Rights legislation of economic boom there was a Sally Hemmings, Marilyn Monroe and Monica Lewinsky behind the scenes. This tradition isn't one from modern history. It starts with our first President whose life while noble and deserving of praise will be considered one filled with contradiction.
As I walked the grounds of Mt. Vernon on a beautiful fall afternoon with the Potomac set in the background and foliage lining the dirt paths, I couldn't help but notice the young school children walking past me. The fact that they were school children did not strike me since we can all learn a lot from Mt Vernon. The irony was that they were black school children, possibly descendants of slaves at some point and now were roaming free to honor a site that our Nation's first President called home.
At the time of his death George Washington had over 300 slaves working the five farms of his 8,000 acre plantation at Mt Vernon. The main mansion which was he inherited from his older step brother was Washington's most cherished possession. It should come as no surprise that he employed slaves. He was raised in an era when this was acceptable and many of the neighboring farmers were slave owners too. His happiness came from his property and his property was made possible by slave labor. These slaves, half of whom were women were given a ration of corn meal for their daily supplement and one working outfit and pair of shoes for the entire year. They worked six days a week from sun up to sun down. Meanwhile, at the top of the bowling green sat the Washington family as they wined and dined hundreds of guests annually. This was the man that is scattered throughout every history book about our country and whose name adorns hundreds of school buildings. For a leader and pioneer one would think he would have been above the fray.
Washington is a tragic figure in my opinion. He was revered so much that he was pulled out of retirement and voted unanimously as our first President. As General and hero of the revolutionary war, he was considered a National hero and rightfully so. Despite his influence he did nothing to stop the act of slavery. Historians can continue to debate whether a Civil War may have been prevented if Mr. Washington would have put an end to it. Instead, he quietly freed his slaves in his will but never saw what their freedom looked like. And so the contradiction of a man who fought for the freedom and liberty of Americans also owned human beings.
It's difficult for me to embrace Washington entirely. On the one hand, I see him as THE founder of our country who rallied 13 separate colonies and brought them together. On the other hand, I can't forgive how his conscience could accept slavery in the same way that I cannot forgive how FDR could imprison US citizens during WWII. These actions while justified through those who want to preserve their legacies cannot be softened by describing a bigger cause for which they served. The big issues were slavery and false imprisonment. Those are issues that thousands of Americans gave their lives for. Ask Martin Luther King, Robert Kennedy or the 70,000 Americans who died in the Civil War.
Slaves enabled history to tell the story of Washington. They ran his farm, cooked his food, washed his laundry, entertained his guests and made Mt Vernon what it is today. Over 200 years later we see the tables have turned. As I looked at the young school children walking past me, perhaps unaware of the Mt Vernon that I saw, I wondered who told their ancestors stories? Were they buried somewhere on the property, scattered about without acknowledgement of their existence? They weren't in history books. I never recall reading a book from one of his servants.
It's 2009, we have a new President. He is African-American and holds a position that I don't know that Washington would have ever imagined a black man would hold one day. President Obama set out to change history for his own reasons and finally white people are writing his story down too.
There is much that connects Washington to myself. He died December 14th, 1799 a day before my birthday. The steamboat that my grandfather owned on Lake Winnipesauke was named after him. Despite a few coincidental similarities and the admiration I have for the President and General, I do not forgive the "Man" who for all I know freed his slaves in the end to protect his legacy.
Nobody goes to Mt Vernon to see slavery's awful history. They go to see Washington. People ought to reconsider though and look past the man who owned a well managed estate and remember the people who made it possible for it to exist and made it possible for this country to do so as well. I'll concede that we may not have been a country without Washington, there's little to dispute that. He was a great military officer who commanded men who were risking their lives for the cause of liberty. This liberty though was not for all Americans and we ought not fool ourselves into thinking so. Women, blacks, poor? Liberty wasn't for them. It was for people who looked more like George Washington and lived in places more like Mt Vernon than the slave quarters that surrounded him.
Before I left the compound, I walked past landscapers who were installing along the path by one of Washington's farms. As I looked to see what else they were doing, I noticed that half of the workers were Mexican.
Native Americans were at Mt. Vernon first. They hunted in the forests and navigated the Potomac for fish. We know this because archaeologist have uncovered numerous artifacts dating before Mt. Vernon was built. African Americans moved in next with Washington and ran the entire operation. Today I saw a handful of Mexican Americans (who were getting compensated) working the same land. The tradition of labor in our country is one marked by a legacy of diversity. Although Washington may have been the one crossing the Delaware and riding the horse up front, these men were the backbone. This along with who the real George Washington was, we should never forget.
Tuesday, October 13, 2009
That number never really meant much to me until I went to visit “The Wall.” At 26, the wall has revitalized my patriotism and my sense of belonging to this country. It has a newer meaning filled with more importance and a greater impact on me than it did when I visited it tens years earlier. This time I walked past the wall, not on a mandatory field trip or an obligatory stop with my family, but as a service member who knows exactly what losing a friend to war feels like.
At 26 I have already lived longer than the average age of all those who died in Vietnam.. Their names are plentiful and chances are, many of us don’t know a thing about any of them. As I approached the first apex of the Memorial, I was overcome by emotion. First I was greeted at the dimly lit entrance way by a Vietnam Veteran who had served two tours there and who unselfishly acted as the unofficial gatekeeper. As he took several steps with me and passed on his knowledge, the only fact that stuck in my head was 58,195. With each step, I passed hundreds of names. I couldn’t even fathom how many there were. 58,195.
“When is this going to stop?” I kept asking myself. On paper 58,195 doesn’t seem incredibly high. Typing it on the keyboard requires 2 seconds of my time. The fact is that these men didn’t die on paper. They died on a real battlefield, they left real families behind and now they are forever etched in real granite. Their names live on at The Wall.
I made it a point to stop and stare at one name. Lawrence T. Borden. The name had never been significant to me before. Although to some family, this is a name brought up at the dinner table still. They honor him on Memorial Day, Veterans Day and all other holidays that remind them of him. I stopped and remembered his name because I didn’t know a single one of the 58,195 names that I had walked past. I thought I owed it to Mr. Borden and all of those who made the ultimate sacrifice to at least remember his. As I returned home I looked him up online. I found that he was SP4 Lawrence T. Borden, US Army from Charleston MA. He was killed on 13 Sep 1966 by hostile fire. For those who don’t know a single name on that wall...well now you do.
As I walked from monument to monument, I almost missed the Vietnam Memorial. Truth be told, it didn’t even cross my mind until a vendor recommended it to me. Even when I did look for it at night, I still almost missed it. The Memorial was dimly lit, there weren’t even whispers from the other tourists walking through. I didn’t dare take a picture of The Wall like I did the only Memorials. I didn’t feel right about making it about “my trip,” and the things “I saw.” Instead, I chose to write about how it made me feel and why those names are so worth remembering.
We have just closed in on the 8th year anniversary of the war in Afghanistan. Just like Vietnam, I have countless friends who don’t know a single name of someone who had died from that war. They carry on not because they are ignorant or naive, but because they are so able due to the sacrifice of so few. Her name is Roslyn Schulte. And now you know.
Saturday, September 12, 2009
As I look down my street, I see that my neighbors have also cut their grass. There we all are, perfectly trimmed and manicured homes in a row. In a small sense I feel more grown up as I see how I am fitting in around the neighborhood. It’s funny how personal responsibility tends to make us more anal about things.
When I was a kid I never had dreams of wanting to maintain a house, a career or anything of the sort. My ambitions were to do great things, set my own path and be original. Instead, I’ve caved in, sold out, drank too much of the kool-aid and have become one of “them.” And for what? Is it absolutely necessary that I maintain my yard week after week only to look at it from afar on ocassion from my kitchen window? It’s not like I’m out there running around, playing catch on it or anything. Like most things that we adults have...it’s for show.
I think back to the naive kid I once was and how complicated my grand ideas were. I try to retrace my steps to when I was 10, 14, 18 and I remember the passion I had for the things I loved. There are few interests outside of writing (such as this) that I continue to hold from childhood. Fast forward to today and I see how simple my mind works. I suppose, most of the things that I do are for selfish reasons. I want my carpet to be spotless, my truck filled with gas, my clothes pressed and my yard mowed. Is it worth anything in the end? Am I wasting precious moments of my life? Why Am I so worried and caught up in the minor details that society has deemed as necessary?
I don't hold the answer to those questions. Just as soon as I think I have made a turn in my life and that I am on track to do the right things, my past throws me a curveball and makes me step back and reevaluate what's most important. As I do that, I laugh at the man I see in the mirror now who views the world through a small scope and how everything affects "him," rather than how I can affect the world. As we grow older, I sometimes think we lose more than we gain.
If I had to do it all over again, I’d pick less grass and more daisies :)
If I had my life to live over again, I'd try to
make more mistakes next time. I would relax. I would
limber up. I would be sillier than I have been this
trip. I know of very few things I would take
seriously. I would take more trips. I would climb
more mountains, swim more rivers and watch more
sunsets. I would do more walking and looking. I would
eat more ice-cream and less beans. I would have more
actual troubles and fewer imaginary ones. You see, I
am one of those people who lives prophylactically and
sensibly and sanely hour after hour, day after day.
Oh, I've had my moments; and if I had to do it over
again, I'd have more of them. In fact, I'd try to
have nothing else. Just moments, one after another
instead of living so many years ahead each day. I
have been one of those people who never go anywhere
without a thermometer, a hot water bottle, a gargle,
a raincoat, aspirin and a parachute. If I had it to
do over again, I would go places, do things and
travel lighter than I have.
If I had my life to live over, I would start
barefooted earlier in the spring and stay that way
later in the fall. I would play hookey more, I
wouldn't make much good grades except by accident. I
would ride on more merry-go-rounds. I'd pick more
daisies. -- Don Herald.
Thursday, July 23, 2009
He was once described as a “coarse, dirty man, headstrong and bigoted.”
Aside from being bigoted, this introduction is a fair description of what Father Damien was. Separated from the rest of society, Father Damien spent his best years with those stricken with leprosy. While being considered coarse and dirty is far from the holy attributes that one would expect from a soon to be canonized Saint, that is just what he is.
Father Damien asked to go to Kalawao in 1873 in order to serve and comfort the six hundred leprosy sufferers at the isolated settlement on the island of Molokai. Newly arrived, full of vigor and health, the young priest took to his duties without the slightest hesitation while caring for people who most refused to acknowledge. Isolated from the rest of the population, these lepers were sent to Kalawao not to live but to die.
What was so remarkable about Father Damien was not his extraordinary ability as a preacher, for his words were simple and to the point. Nor was it his plain and rugged carpentry skills that he used to build much of the infrastructure from churches to residences. The most remarkable aspect about this man was his heart.
Father Damien can be best summarized by one of his biographers, Gavin Dawes who remarked, “He was no savant, no sophisticate, after all: just an earnest peasant hard at work in his own way for God.” With very few personal belongings or possessions, Father Damien took to God’s work with mostly a tool belt, bible and the clothes on his back. He asked for nothing in return but for the help towards his mission and the dignity of the people he had served. Although he died a peasant and a leper, this year we honor him as our newest Saint.
Last month as I stood before the grave site which once housed his body, I shook my head in disbelief at how such a person with such a common upbringing could take on a task with complete disregard for his own health and welfare and do uncommon things for people who had written off by the rest of the world. Today, his works still have meaning and are a great reminder to us that we can reach out and help strangers, comfort those less fortunate without an individual purpose other than to do God’s work.
As a Hawaiian prayer was being sung in the background by a group that will be going to the Vatican this fall, I thought to myself "remember this Josh: FEEL THIS." At that moment, it was just where I needed to be. I couldn't think of a better example of self sacrifice than the grave site before me.
Like Saint Theresa, Father Damien lived with a kind of humility that makes me feel like the most selfish human being on the planet. He lived and worked each day caring for the sickest people in the world, with the knowledge that he would never leave that island. Indeed, Father Damien would not leave Kalawao. He died of the very disease that he had worked so hard to stop. When asked if he wanted to be cured he replied no and instead saw leprosy as only shortening his road to heaven.
Up close Father Damien was not the saintly figure that we read about growing up. He was tough, impatient and came across as demanding, uncompromising and rude to outsiders. It has been said that “saints look better at a distance.” Although there may be some truth behind that statement, Father Damien is one that you want to get see up close. He is a figure whose heart and soul you want to touch. He is a man whose story only gets better and more intense as you begin to peel back the layers and investigate the man who gave all of himself for strangers. In fact, the more you know about Father Damien the more of his spirit will begin to be revealed. He helped those that were deemed "untouchable," and through his extraordinary strength this is exactly how I think he ought to be remembered.
Saturday, May 30, 2009
On May 20th, 2009 I lost a friend and comrade to an IED outside of Kabul Afghanistan. For the next several days I couldn’t shake the thought of her from my mind. Memorial Day brought new meaning this year and was another reminder of the connection that she will forever be associated with. Selfishly, I tried to think of every memory of her that I could as a way to remember how much she had meant to me and those around her. As I went through the rolodex of great memories, I could only dwell on the ones that I had missed. I thought about how I never sent her a care package or thought about her much while she was on her deployment. I thought about the times when I came up with excuses every time she had asked me to play tennis. I thought about our broken plans. I thought about the times when I scrolled past her name in my phone and never bothered to make that call. Indeed, the void memories that I didn’t have but “could have” had with her will haunt me for the rest of my life. I am overwhelmed by guilt and regret.
It’s amazing the simplicity of a phone call. Anyone can pick up a phone and touch a few buttons and in an instant get a hold of someone thousands of miles away. Today, we have resorted to less conventional and less personal methods such as email and the like. We pass up on the chance to talk to longtime friends thinking that they will always be there and that their number will never go away. Well…I’ve seen a number go away. Although her name and legacy will never escape my thoughts and prayers, I know I can never go back in time and make the calls that once seemed so easy to make. How ungrateful I was. How many times had I seen a number and blocked it? How many times had I allowed a call to go to voicemail and how many missed calls had I not returned?
How many calls had I not made?
I have a tendency to talk myself out of things. In fact, I’ve actually been quite adept at it. If I’m tired, I know exactly what cards to play to convince myself that I don’t have the energy to do something. When I’m scared about trying something new, I insert streams of my distorted logic to justify my fear. And when I’m thinking about calling back home to friends and family I’ll think more about the time difference and how busy the person on the other end is than about how much I’d really like to catch up.
And so the death of my friend has awakened me to a new appreciation for life. Instead of trying to get out of things, I’ve decided to take chances and simply say “yes,” when otherwise I would have said “no.” Next week my schedule is filled with plans that will encompass new adventures, perhaps some uncomfortable moments but nonetheless experiences that I wouldn’t have had if I hadn’t picked up my phone and reached out.
I picked up my phone today and called one of my best friends. As the phone rang I was nervous since I had not spoken to him in a while. With each ring I wondered if he’d pick up and for a moment, almost wished that it had just gone to voicemail. I was unsure what to say and thought of reasons for this impromptu and perhaps random phone call. I knew that by today’s standards calling a distant friend out of the blue just “because” is more unusual than it is common. After several rings, he picked up the phone and I heard his voice…I let out a sigh of relief. It didn’t seem to matter what we talked about, I was simply glad that I had not passed up on the moment. After almost not making that call, I can honestly say it was the best five minutes that I’ve spent all week. It didn’t take courage or wisdom. It just took a little bit of initiative and two people picking up their phones. I had almost lost sight of what is truly important in life.
I'm damn glad that I made that call today.
Wednesday, April 8, 2009
Ordinarily, the “shaka” is not a symbol that one gives much thought to. It merely means, aloha to those of us who reside in Hawaii. To the President, it too was probably unrehearsed but its impact on Hawaii could not have been better calculated. More than ever, the State of Hawaii felt a tremendous amount of pride as they saw a “local boy” reach the highest public office in the land. In a sense, many of them felt as though they too had made it.
The “shaka” moment should not over analyzed. It didn’t mean that he had won over those voters who disapproved of him back in Hawaii. It didn’t mean that he was going to appear at all public events in a showering of leis (which is customary) and it certainly didn’t mean that he was going to shape his policies around his home state. Essentially, what it represented was that he knew what the “shaka” meant and what it meant to the people of Hawaii. It was genuine and thoughtful and for that he deserves the gesture back.
In these uncertain economic times it’s unfortunate that other public officials and wall street executives haven’t followed suit in an attempt to reach out to the public. For many Americans this is a reminder of the gap between “us and them.” Someone responsible ought to show remorse, send out an olive branch and then find a way to relate with the way the rest of the country is living. Although there are some who are worse off than others, we are all in this mess together.
It seems obvious the sense of responsibility that needs to be displayed and yet none of these so-called leaders are taking that step. Americans know that there’s not a panacea for the ills of our economy but we do know more can be done that just throwing money at the problem. With all of the trillions of dollars that are being used to raise the deficit, Americans still walk away with the feeling of an empty stomach as if to say "here's your cash, now get out of my business."
This gap between what is logical and what is the "right thing to do" could be closed if we all saw each other as equals. Rather, we tend to believe that the amount of money someone holds in their bank account actually makes them more deserving of certain privileges or rights. We think, maybe their concerns and issues are a higher priority than those who work for minimum wage. This socially accepted practice of caring more about class and money has been the downfall of what was originally supposed to make America unique and prosperous to begin with...that is inalienable rights. Thus my proposal is for the big wigs with the big checkbooks to step out from behind their desks and to make a simple gesture...an apology. Sure, that's not going to revive someone's 401K, college fund or foreclosure, but it will show a little decency and is a step in the right direction.
Whether the President is traveling around the world and speaking with countries from Europe, Asia and the Middle East, or discussing policy on capital hill, he always finds a way to connect by reaching a common ground with those he speaks with. If wall street can take away anything from the President, it would be that a little “shaka” can go a long way. And if they choose to utilize such gestures, they need not be mere lip service. The act must be one of heartfelt consideration. Because after all, isn’t being considered all we want in the first place?
Tuesday, March 31, 2009
My journey to the Big Island with my friend John was not about sight seeing or trying to understand everything around me. It wasn’t about me at all. It was about John reconnecting his family to the island where he had grown up as he conducted family ceremonies that would one day be passed down to his children. To John and many Hawaiians who believe in the old ways, Ohana (family) is more than a common name, it is a way of a life. He and many of the traditional Hawaiians trace their genealogy back to several generations. It is in that lineage that they find the strength and wisdom in their daily lives. These ancestors are more than mere historical figures though, they are in fact the lifeline and driving force behind what one chooses to do or not to do.
I couldn’t help but attempt to draw comparisons between John’s family roots and my own. Each place we visited was a reminder that his family history was larger and more sacred than mine. It took several hours for me to accept that but eventually, I conceded that he had a stronger bond with his ancestors than I did with mine.
My friend John traces his genealogy back to King Kamehameha I. It’s a deep concept even for me to comprehend. And as much as I’d like to find records of my own, I know that they are in a distant land, attached to people that I do not know nor will ever relate to. And although cultural heritage is important to many families and in particular John’s, in my case it does not define who I am. I am not of the people whose genes or physical features I share. There are few lessons that they can teach me. The person that I am is the son of my parents; two people who make up the nucleus of my ancestry.
I have never been too close to any of my family members. I grew up as the youngest of four children which meant that my siblings were all grown up and out of the house shortly after I came along. Essentially, I grew up and perhaps was treated like an only child. To add to the family isolation, I have never been particularly close with any relative, save my oldest sister and grandfather. All things considered, I was raised solely by my parents. They were the guardian keepers who were responsible for my day to day interactions and they were the individuals who gave me opportunity. Between the two of them is where my loyalties rest and whom my life I owe.
My Mom and Dad never shared secret family recipes that had been passed down from generation to generation. Nor did they recite family prayers, mantras or epic stories. Instead, they showed me with their actions what being a responsible and compassionate person was all about. In that sense, they gave me a social heritage.
My social heritage started with my parents and has now been passed on to me. I have made no secret of my ambitions of returning back to my hometown in order to carry on their legacy of giving. It is a legacy that I am both comfortable with and proud of. I may not have ancient rituals, but I have the images of my parents sacrificing what they had for causes bigger than themselves. To me, my family name means more than what some individual who I had never met had done thousands of years before me. My family name is evident in the man that I see every time that I look into the mirror.
I do not have to consult a history book to draw lessons from my family's past, for I learned it all first hand from the people that matter most in my life. Whatever I do, I know it will have an impact on my life and whoever follows my footsteps. I must be the caretaker of this legacy so that everything that my parents worked for will not be forgotten. I am ready and prepared to step out and embrace what has been given to me. Since I have chosen to not re-connect with my past, I have instead decided on connecting with my family through the future. In those actions, I hope to make current and future generations proud of the path that I have chosen. Then when all is said and done, I intent to relax and of course “talk stories.”
Wednesday, March 18, 2009
When I attended Merrimack (2001-2005), there was a nickname that my friends and I gave to one particular student who we would often pass either in the cafeteria or throughout campus. While this nickname may have appeared to be narrow and possibly offensive, it also summed up the campus stereotype quite well. The name that we called this individual from afar was “black kid who didn’t play sports.” While there were several other black students at the time that fit into this category, he was the most visible. For four years my black friends and I joked about this phenomenon as we tacitly accepted the fact that black students on the Merrimack campus were few and far between and that those who did exist, were recruited solely to play sports. Looking back, it seemed like a sad commentary coming from a school that advertised itself as an equal opportunity institution that embraced diversity. Through pamphlets and advertisements the student body would read how “diverse” Merrimack was, that we had “X” amount of students from an “X” amount of countries or states. When I looked around my football locker room this was certainly evident. However, when I walked outside of it, I stepped out into a campus that was 99% White.
The irony of the recruiting efforts to attract students around the globe was that down the road from our school were two cities where minorities were the most prevalent (over 50% in Lawrence and Lowell); I saw very little evidence that Merrimack had an interest in these students.
Please don’t get me wrong. I thoroughly enjoyed being a student at Merrimack. It was an opportunity for me learn and make some of my lifetime friends. Based on my experience there, I feel as though this is an opportunity that should be given to other minority students as well. As we quickly enter an era where Whites will no longer be the majority race in this country (most studies contend this will happen by 2050) shouldn’t the campus look something like the “real world?” Moreover, in order for Merrimack to be that microcosm of the changing American society, wouldn’t it behoove the institution to start actively recruiting minorities for reasons other than having them play sports?
My father tells a story about his Alma Mater (HC) back in the 60’s, where a young black man by the name of Orion Douglas (now a judge) was recruited to play basketball. He was 6’8 and looked the part. He was recommended by some Jesuits from the High School he attended in Georgia, however, Holy Cross had never seen him play. For the four years that he was there he struggled athletically and never made the team. He did however, make solid grades and became a friendly face around the campus. Upon receiving his degree he asked to meet with the President of the school, Rev. Swords. Douglas told the President that he realized that if not for the color of his skin and his perceived ability to shoot a basketball that he probably would not have had the opportunity to go to a school of higher learning like Holy Cross. He wanted to see to it that there were others who had the same opportunity as he did. Rev. Swords agreed with Douglas and promised him from that day on that if he could recruit and find qualified black students with competitive grades, that he would pay for their tuition. The following year, the first student of this initiative was Clarence Thomas.
It took the vision and courage of a man like Rev. Swords to bring minority students to Holy Cross. It wasn’t idle chatter that drove the process, but an active commitment to make the goal a reality. I think this same model can be emulated at Merrimack an equally selective institution which like Holy Cross has a reputation for high academic standards.
I am not suggesting a term known to many as “affirmative action.” I know that the political arguments against such a phrase can divide communities. What I do think is possible, is to set a “goal” (not a quota) for encouraging more minorities to attend Merrimack and by showing them that Merrimack is a safe and open minded environment to learn. On the heels of our nation electing our first African-American President, I think that this initiative is more than possible. It sends a message to alumni and future students that the College accepts embraces and cultivates the beauty of diversity in the academic culture and that such diversity propels us forward along with the world.
I am equally concerned that by this economic recession, fewer minorities will be given the opportunity to study at a prestigious school like Merrimack, not because of aptitude but because of finances. Now is the time that minority students without the financial support can easily be forgotten and all progress that has been made could be lost. I challenge the College to make the commitment and to follow the Christian and Augustinian tradition that is fundamentally rooted in the curriculum and social life at Merrimack. Diversity at Merrimack means extending beyond the basketball court and football fields. It means a classroom filled with people from different socioeconomic backgrounds, ethnicities and religions.
As a minority, I put this challenge on the table and am willing to start a scholarship to support this vision if the College will decide to match whatever funds that I can garner. As a proud alumnus who has contributed in the past I am willing to put my money where my mouth is. Together we CAN do better.
Joshua J. Carroll
Class of 2005
Friday, February 27, 2009
The few that transcend the dichotomy that is birthplace or birthright are the ones that refuse to allow fate to determine their destiny. They are the individuals who have become dissatisfied with the status quo and unimpressed with the hands that they are dealt.
My best friend is one such person whose struggles were predetermined. I admired him ever since he told me his story about growing up on his own as a young teenager. Throughout the turmoil and obstacles, he overcame his situation and went on to graduate college and now is a successful businessman with a beautiful house, wife and newborn baby.
The first time I saw a picture of his son, my heart melted. It was a feeling that I couldn’t express with words as I kept going back to look at his picture again and again. I fell in love with him immediately as if he were family. Sure, I know legally “uncle,” is not a title that is recognized under the law and nor would anyone confuse us as relatives. Still, in my heart I have as much love for my best friend’s son as I have for my own nieces and nephews. The peculiar thing about it all is that I haven’t even met him yet.
I didn’t choose what family was going to adopt me. Like most things, I just lucked out as I look back at what I consider the biggest "break" of my life. To me, family cannot be defined by blood lines, legal documents or physical resemblance. It is based on the quality of relationships and the loyalty to those around us.
As a young adult, I have chosen those family members that I wish to be surrounded by and whom I reciprocate my love for. Not surprisingly, not all of them are in my family tree. Family is not a term that I use loosely. Considering someone a family member means that I embrace them and that they have embraced me back. Even though it appears harsh to disown a relative, I cannot in good conscience accept everyone with my last name as family. To do so is ingenious and an undermining of my definition of what family truly is.
My best friend is my brother. I don’t need to see it in writing to believe this truth. He has been there for the ups the downs and everything in between. His son begins the first chapter in his life on good footing because of the sacrifices of his father and it is because of the relationship that I have with his father, that I consider him family as well. One day I hope to tell him a little about his father’s past and the admiration that I have for him, so that he can be as thankful for having a father as I am for having a brother. All together family is about those who have your back when everyone else has turned theirs. It’s about loyalty, love and mutual respect. I can’t say for certain if my own family will expand, all I know is that the family that I have now is the family that I keep.
Thursday, February 12, 2009
It wasn’t until later that I did some research and learned more about the 1968 Mexico City Olympics and the Olympians John Carlos and Tommie Smith. Few photographs are as meaningful and powerful as that of those two men at that moment. Few photographs evoke the emotions of discontent and freedom of expression and those that do are not nearly as memorable. The display was both justified and uncomfortable as they tip toed the line of what it means to be patriotic. And despite all of the controversy that followed to include protests and the stripping of their medals that single act taught me more of what it means to be American than anything else that I can recall.
February marks the seldom celebrated, black history month. Although Americans recognize it as such, I would argue few really know why we can continually learn from the African-American experience. Today in schools, students are taught the civil rights movement capped off with Martin Luther King’s “I have a dream speech,” as if that marked the end of the struggle. A minority of us truly know what being oppressed means and why the struggle for acceptance is a fight that continues.
I am a believer in “the dream,” not because I am American and not because I am Asian but because I am both. I believe we can live in a country that is tolerant enough to accept our distinct backgrounds and the unique history that we share. No notion embodies more of the core American principles of freedom and the desires of our ancestors than the vision that Dr. King embraced. The fact that it is called “black history month,” does not diminish the overarching theme that I believe it represents. Just because we celebrate the contributions of black Americans does not mean that I don’t have stake in it. Ask me how many times that I have been unfairly judged scrutinized or called names simply because of what I look like and then tell me if you think I can relate.
What is most exceptional about this month is not that it is the shortest of the year and ironically features President’s Day (the celebration of our founding fathers), but that it honors a specific group of individuals who have risen from slavery to the oval office of the White House. Along with these people, I would argue that Hispanics, Asians, women and other minorities be considered as well.
This month honors those historical figures that have persevered and sacrificed in order to keep a heritage intact, and yet it also should celebrate those among us who take the fight forward and advance the cause of equality. Those people are not just people like our President but reach farther. In order for us to expand this month and give it more meaning and more resemblance of the truly diverse heritage that we hold as Americans, we ought to embrace a wider range of people. For every Jackie Robinson there is a Roberto Clemente for every Rosa Parks there is a Sally Ride and for every Barack Obama there is a Daniel Inouye.
It is this last man that I believe best summarizes the point that I wish to make. Read Daniel Inouye’s biography and perhaps you too will see parallels and the black history that is within all of us: http://inouye.senate.gov/bio.html
Monday, January 12, 2009
A lesser woman would have probably opted for a completely different path altogether but instead, this young mother left her baby at the doorsteps of strangers without the slightest notion of reward or compensation. She most likely left with the hope that this boy would grow up in a world more privileged and better suitable for the ambitions that she knew she could not provide. Just where did her strength and fortitude come from? I hope one day to find out.
Until recently when I heard Barack Obama’s “Dreams From My Father,” on CD, I hadn’t given much thought to my Korean background. I often shunned it and poked fun of how separated I was both geographically and culturally. For most of my life I had thought less about my ethnic heritage and more about the family that I inherited through my parents. Too many times I have failed to see a connection aside from physical traits that would have tied me back to the place where I was born. After all, what could such a place teach me anyways?
Obama’s story gave me a deep appreciation of my background. His story taught me that one can come from many different backgrounds and still have stake in each of those places that have shaped him or her. His lessons on race and inheritance brought me to believe that there is another side of my story out there that I ought not to avoid, but embrace openly.
Obama took off to Kenya shortly after his father’s death and before he enrolled into Harvard Law School. To him, there was something incomplete in his life. He knew that he could not continue to grow and move on without knowing his entire family story. He chose to go on a fact finding mission to find out just how everything came to be. He eventually came across the answers to some of his most pressing questions and came to appreciate the origins that he had never known. It was through this trip that he was able to find the deeper meaning to his heritage that went beyond simply the color of his skin.
I don’t know if I will ever have a similar experience by meeting the lady who gave me away. Right now that seems like such a large request. And so rather than thinking such grand ideas, I put things into manageable terms that seem more within reach. I’ll often ask myself how old she might be today or if she had other children. I picture her in my mind, although her face doesn’t come to my imagination and I wonder if she ever thinks about the choices that she made and in particular if she ever thinks about where I ended up and what had become of me. I know it’s vain of me to think that my life is at the forefront of those who brought me up in this world. If she thinks of me even a quarter as much as I’ve been thinking of her lately, then I know I owe it to her to find out just where I came from.
I could very well be moving to Korea next year as I put it on my list of assignments. I don’t know if I’ll ever end up walking up to her door and meeting distant relatives. I’m not even sure what I’d say to her if I did get that chance. I might have to settle for the small gains of trying the authentic food or learning about the history of Korea. Heck, I’ll start off by learning the language!
To say that I owe my birth mother a debt of gratitude is an understatement. In fact, I can no more disown her than I could my real mother. For both sacrificed enormously so that I could be where I am and who I am today and that is the beauty of mothers. For the good, responsible and kind hearted moms think about their children before themselves. I have two great examples of them in my life. If there was ever a person(s) that I owed more in this world aside from God, it would surely be them.
I often wonder what most people think when they see me for the first time. A Korean kid with an Irish last name who speaks with a slight New England accent. I know in many parts of the world, that doesn't even make much sense. Whatever it is that people think about when they first encounter me, I hope it is both a combination of the characteristics that I inherited from both sides of my past that are known and unknown to me. I hope I can continue to carry on my family name with pride and conviction while still respecting and representing the Korean ancestry that consumes me. I can no longer pretend to ignore my much distant past, it is time that I own up to what I am. Hopefully, others will not judge me or stove pipe me into a category based solely on what I look like or how I speak. Rather, we must all work to find that rich history that is within each and every one of us. Once that is revealed, we will begin to live with much more meaning and perspective.
I think we can all appreciate the type of person it must take to give their children up for adoption. There’s not a better example of “doing the right thing,” than that act. If we could all make such brave choices, then there’s no doubt that this world would embody that place that these mother's must have dreamed for their children.
Wednesday, January 7, 2009
Monday, January 5, 2009
MBA and the fisherman
A boat docked in a tiny Mexican village. An American tourist complimented the Mexican fisherman on the quality of his fish and asked how long it took him to catch them.
"Not very long," answered the Mexican.
"But then, why didn't you stay out longer and catch more?" asked the American.
The Mexican fisherman explained that his small catch was sufficient to meet his needs and those of his family.
The American asked, "But what do you do with the rest of your time?"
"I sleep late, fish a little, play with my children, and take a siesta with my wife. In the evenings, I go into the village to see my friends, have a few drinks, play the guitar, and sing a few songs...I have a full life."
The American interrupted, "I have an MBA from Harvard and I can help you! You should start by fishing longer every day. You can then sell the extra fish you catch. With the extra revenue, you can buy a bigger boat. With the extra money the larger boat will bring, you can buy a second one and a third one and so on until you have an entire fleet of trawlers. Instead of selling your fish to a middle man, you can negotiate directly with the processing plants and maybe even open your own plant. You can then leave this little village and move to Mexico City, Los Angeles, or even New York City. From there you can direct your huge enterprise."
"How long would that take?" asked the Mexican.
"Twenty, perhaps twenty-five years," replied the American.
"And after that?" "Afterwards?
That's when it gets really interesting," answered the American, laughing. "When your business gets really big, you can start selling stocks and make millions!" "Millions? Really? And after that?" "After that, you'll be able to retire, live in a tiny village near the coast, sleep late, play with your children, catch a few fish, take a siesta with your wife, and spend your evenings having a few drinks and enjoy your friends."