Saturday, May 30, 2009

Of Heaven and Hell...

It's a beautiful day of warm sun, blue sky, and billowing white May blossom in the hedges here in Ireland, and I'm in heaven!

Some of you may be wondering why I picked 'A far Green Country' as the title of my blog site (of which Shawn's Green Island is an offshoot). Well, I'll tell you, but I'm warning you now, this may be deep stuff! ;-)

It's derived from Gandalf's conversation with Pippin in J.R.R. Tolkien's "Return of the King". That's it. "That's all?" you say. Well, those of you who know me well will know that there's a story behind it, and likely a metaphysical one dealing with science, nature or the Unseen. Well, you're right. Here goes:

For a long time now, I have thought on the topics of heaven and hell. How not? I was brought up Catholic. Along with ever-present and immutable Guilt, we have the idea of of heaven and hell drummed into us from the time they splash those few drops of water on our tender, innocent heads until the time they recite it with smoke and ashes over our final resting place. So after these many years I have come to a conclusion...but then perhaps 'idea' is a better word than 'conclusion', as this 'conclusion' continues to evolve, much like my own research thesis, but that's another story...
As I was saying, after these many years, I've come to the the idea that heaven and hell are not discrete places of reward and punishment, but states of mind only. What? No God in all his staggering glory or Devil of flaming torment? No. Heaven and Hell are means of existence, and we pass through many variations of these two states of being during the course of our lifetimes. In his Commedia Divina, Dante Alighieri, writing in Renaissance Italy, described these variations as 'circles' through which a traveler must pass on his journey through life. Dante also describes a third state of being, formerly recognised by the Church as Purgatorio or purgatory, and which is now fallen out of vogue. Purgatory is an attempt to describe the agonising suspension of feeling that occurs in the absence of either Heaven's joy or Hell's torment. Dante had it right when he described human existence as a journey through hell, purgatory and then ultimately, to heaven, or Paradiso. All of us are in any one of these three states at any time in our lives.

Like Dante's autobiographical main character in the Commedia we are cautioned as we enter the dark Wood at birth, "lasciate ogni speranza, voi ch'entrate," to abandon all hope as we enter, for this world is more full of sorrow and weeping than we can ever hope to understand. How then do we as humans, told to abandon hope, still yet maintain hope to the very end, even as Dante did? We do so with the help of a guide, which we call our conscience, that voice of reason in a world of passion. Both Moses and the Buddha attempted to describe this Voice in the wilderness, each in their own words. From each of these individual interpretations of remarkable people, we get the Mosaic Commandments and Law of the West and the Eighfold Path of the far East. Yet each of us has our own Voice, our very own Virgil, and if we heed it, we shall safely pass the circles of hell and purgatory and come at last to the shores of Paradise, for which so much of our striving and longing has been; and so many of our best songs sung for.....Paradise, that white shore beyond the grey rain curtain of this world, where a far green country sits under a swift sunrise, is something we can achieve in this lifetime rather than waiting for it to come in the next...

So in the end, remember this: we make our own heavens and hells in this life, and we alone possess the key to our own happiness...

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Dear, Dirty Dublin

I found this poem by an anonymous author in Japan, and thought I'd post it here. It beautifully captures our dear, dirty Dublin with its rare flashes of beauty amidst the squalor, tourists and wet.

The Irish Cycle: Baile Átha Cliath

Dublin, sweet and slow,
I come and go
up and down your cobbled streets
as the rain, insistent,
dampens down the lights
and throws an orange fuzzy sheen
over half-seen sights,
over places I have been.
Grafton Street and Stephen’s Green,
so near and yet so far:
The Coombe, the Castle, Temple Bar,
shadows under the Traitors’ Gate.
Now crowds of loud young English
shout and laugh, then urinate
prodigiously, here on the street,
beside the peagreen Liffey
(sweet Anna Livia Plurabelle).
Never mind, they’re not in uniform,
and it's a great deal worse we’ve seen before:
insurrection, bloodshed, famine, war.
We have a fine collection of bullet holes
in our central city monuments.

So let the hen parties heave their guts out,
here, on the raincold cobbles:
let them stagger home and say,
what a wild fuckin time we had in Dublin!
And let them come back in ten years or so
with their fourth or fifth bloke,
let them come with all their kids in tow
and have another drink, another smoke,
and perhaps, perhaps, they'll have some peace
(for peace comes dropping slow)
and understand these words of MacNeice:

This never was my town,
I was not born or bred
Nor schooled here and she will not
Have me alive or dead
But yet she holds my mind
With her seedy elegance,
With her gentle veils of rain
And all her ghosts that walk
And all that hide behind
Her Georgian facades -
The catcalls and the pain,
The glamour of her squalor,
The bravado of her talk.

Sweeney’s, the chemist,
where Bloom forgot Molly’s lotion
is still in Lincoln Place
and so is the old post office
down on Westland Row:
O you naughty naughty boy!
I do not like that other world.
And please will you tell me
what perfume does your wife wear?
Bloom smell-sipped his glass of burgundy
at Davy Byrne’s, on Duke Street,
a disappointing place these days,
all gentrified. I well remember
how one of the old barmen
was kill’t telling me how Joyce, yer man,
would be writing away at the back table,
dat filthy buik, Allergies, or wha’ever.
Ah, would you fuck off, says I.
Yeh bleedin bowzy, says he,
I took yeh for a fuckin Yank.

Come to Amazing Tourist Dublin.
Stay at our three-and-a-half star hotels.
Eat like a pig, drink like a fish!
Later lumber along
our lazy languorous streets.

Buy things!

On your ambling aisy rambles
you can squint up the arses,
the cool marble behinds,
of female statues
at our staid and steady National Museum.
Bloom did, our wandering Jew,
so too can you.
No money, honey;
but even stone hearts slowly melt,
so smile, unbuckle your money belt,
and make a voluntary contribution.
Oops, sorry, Yanks,
no Dollars, thanks,
there’s an exchange-rate revolution!
Hang on to your cash, you’ll need it.
Do ye be jokin’ or wha’? indeed it
does seem strange, no proper answer,
comes like a dropkick in the balls
from a weedy reedy ballet dancer.

We stack up, still, the dead
next to my grandfathers,
my maiden aunts, cousins and uncles,
in the wild old sprawl of Glasnevin.
Poor poor Paddy Dignam!
(“No home is complete
without Plumtree’s Potted Meat”).
Poor poor betrayed Parnell.
O’Donovan Rossa.
Ah, Michael …
Macushla! … cut down at thirty-one,
our greatest chieftain since O’Neill!
Cut down, I might add,
by one of our own.
Why do we do this?
Ask Jonathan (Gulliver) Swift
who suggested, politely,
that the English should eat Irish babies,
help with the balance of payments,
keep the population down.
England thought he was serious,
and so did some of the Irish.
“Where can I sell me baby, sorr?”
Ah, fuck it, Michael.
We need you for our republican myths.
Maybe it was a good thing
you were killed so young.

Yerra, Carolan!
Tabhair dom do lamh.*
Give us an oul’ song!

Up on the flinty North Side,
Drumcondra, Marino, Whitehall,
sits my old local, The Goose,
just there by Sion Hill.
I’d be away three years, maybe more,
and I'd stroll into the gaff
and the lads’d say, where ya been?
Japan. O yeah? Me, I went to Benidorm,
two weeks with the new girlfriend,
fuckin magic! Right, it's my round,
and we’d talk and sing and laugh.
Sometimes An Taoiseach lounges in,
good old Bertie himself, backed up
by hard-looking thugs. “Yo!” says I,
“is it the Prime Minister or his bleedin twin?”
“Ah, Malachy!” says he, priding himself
on a memory for names, a head like tin.
“No,” says I, “isn’t it me myself?”
“O, Jayz, the astronomer … the geographer,
or was it the stamp collector?”
“B-b-b-bertie! You got it in one!”
After that, a pint, a good long chat,
here at home in Dublin Central:
he may be the grand prime minister,
but he knows where his home is at.

On Bridge Street, down by the City Walls
sits an ancient pub, the “Brazen Head”,
and many a time and oft have I lingered,
langered, within its stout-built chambers:
this is the oldest pub in Dublin, 1198.
About fifty yards away is the bridge,
the – ‘Atha Cliath’ – the Ford of the Hurdles
from which the city takes its name,
a river crossing on the ‘Sli Cualann’,
one of the five ancient roads of Ireland,
the path from Tara to Glendalough.
That helps explain the licence plates:
we are the citizens of “Baile Atha Cliath”,
and “Dubh-Linn”, which is also Irish,
is not where we live at all.

In the mean little streets near Christchurch,
winding and awkward to this day,
a government spy called Major Sirr
cornered the rebel Lord Fitzgerald,
and got himself stabbed for his pains.
Thirty-odd thousand died that year, 1798,
and thousands more were transported
in creaking hulks to Australia.
A bleak new setting for Irish prisoners
became the springboard of a new nation,
a new continent to transform:
America, America ...
not the same, but that came later.

Not many years before
the poor mad dean of Saint Patrick’s,
(the cathedral looms just down the road)
that entrepreneur, that pamphleteer,
that purveyor of roasted Irish babies,
was laid to rest, and now his epitaph
fairly bounces off the wall:
Hic depositum est corpus
Huyus Ecclesiae Cathedralis
Ubi saeva indignatio
Cor lacerare nequit
Abi Viator
Et imitare, si poteris
Strenuum pro virili
Libertatis Vindicatorem **

God, it’s an old country,
yet the weight comes down like a feather.
Nothing seems heavy, it drops down so lightly.
Freedom. Freedom, more than any other thing
is central. Central. You can go back through
all the old stories, the legends, the epics,
the Annals of the Four Masters, local histories,
and you can listen to the voices of the rebels,
all those who fought and died
four hundred, two hundred, one hundred years ago,
right on down to recent times.
You sense this will never change,
You know this will never change.

All the tubby little accountants,
the cross-looking women in large automobiles,
the fierce young sporting men,
the giggling schoolgirls,
the languid poets and philosophers,
the businessmen in suits,
the regulars in the pubs,
the girl secretaries,
the skangers and headbangers,
the bus drivers,
the radio and TV executives,
the Nigerians, the Chinese,
the actors, the musicians,
the polite young Poles,
the flower sellers,
the asylum seekers,
the Spanish students

can gather in the streets, burn down embassies.

Ancient city of an ancient land,
ringed right round by the ocean sea;
world powers may rise and fall around us,
and do as they like, just leave us be.

Brief notes:

- Dublin by Louis MacNeice

-- Turlough O’Carolan, blind harper (1670-1738). The title of this composition is “Give Me Your Hand” in English.

-- Bertie Ahern, Irish PM (An Taoiseach – The Leader)

-- The Brazen Head Pub

-- “Dubh-Linn” translates as Black-Pool, the remains of which (now drained) can be seen behind Dublin Castle.

-- Swift’s epitaph, translated from the Latin by W.B. Yeats:

Swift has sailed into his rest.
Savage indignation there
cannot lacerate his breast.
Imitate him if you dare,
world-besotted traveller.
He served human liberty.

-- Annals of the Four Masters, Irish chronicles, ca. 2000 BC - 1616 AD

Thursday, February 5, 2009

In loving memory...2 February 2009

"We are each of us a flower that fades from this Earth,

Only to bloom again in Heaven's garden..."

- my beloved grandmother,

Adrienne (Renne) Celestine Pytlak Ziemba

April 6, 1934 - January 24th, 2009

Well, I'm back in (snowy!) Dublin again after a brief return to Buffalo to pay my last respects to a wonderful woman and to be there for my family in these difficult times. One of the most remarkable things about her funeral (besides the beautiful flowers and the company) was the lack of openly displayed grief. Not that the grief wasn't there, simmering just under the surface, but rather that we were all gathered over those few days, in spite of the treacherous snowy weather, to celebrate the life of a beautiful woman who had touched upon so many other lives. In this manner, her funeral ceremony proved to be just the way she would have wanted it: an occasion to remember all the shared love and joy, and sorrow too, now forever mingled, before memory grows dim.

We knew that she lived for others quietly and with so much grace, just by being her kind and thoughtful self with the family (her husband, children and grandchildren were the centre of her world), but I think we were all somewhat shocked and moved by the great outpouring of love and sympathy that came from so many quarters. I guess we never realised that she was loved as much outside of the family as she was within it. We always knew she was a remarkable person, but I think we also felt, somewhat selfishly, that we alone were the objects of the love & laughter she showered upon us. But as it turns out, she had the same effect upon everyone who has ever known her. Grandma Renne had such a big heart that her love could not be contained by family alone and so she gave of it freely to other things of beauty she met in this world: to her friends, her neighbors, her patients, her pets, to the flowers and fruits of her garden, to the simple joy of living and to the odd fortunate stranger whose path just happened to cross hers. Once I was lucky enough to be that stranger, since she lived down the street from my aunt, but luck became a priceless treasure on the day she and Stan welcomed me into the family with open arms. I don't remember much from those early years, but I remember this as clearly as if it happened yesterday-she walked up to the table where I sat at their remarkable daughter's wedding to my father and bade me call her and Stan, 'Grandma' and 'Grandpa', giving me to know that I was to be their 'bonus grandchild', just as she reminded me again this Christmas before she passed away. I don't think I ever got the chance to tell her just how much that meant to a small boy who had never known his maternal grandmother, and who had been devastated by the recent loss of a grandfather who also happened to be his best friend. In spite of a tentative early start (I used to be afraid of her- she had a reputation in the neighborhood as a witch...if only on Halloween!), I came to love Grandma Renne and Grandpa Stan as my own grandparents. Hearing stories after her death and looking back, I now realise that the love had always been there, if sometimes without knowledge on my part. From the very first meeting when I was a small child, that love grew with the passing years, as surely as an acorn grows to a mighty oak. The oak still stands now and will continue to grow even though the life that nourished it early on has passed away. I only wish that we could have held such a celebration of her life while she was still with us, so that she would know, if she did not already know, just how much she was loved.... if only by me.

God saw you getting tired
When a cure was not meant to be.
So He put His arms around you
And whispered “Come to me.”

In tears we saw you sinking
We watched you fade away
Our hearts were almost broken
You fought so hard to stay.

But when we saw you sleeping
So peacefully free from pain,
We could not wish you back
To suffer so again.

A golden heart stopped beating,
Hard working hands were laid to rest.
God broke our hearts to prove to us
That He only takes the best.

So keep your arms around her, Lord
And give her special care,
Make up for all that she suffered
And all that seemed unfair....

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Love & Loss...

Today is a very sad day. As of 3.30pm yesterday afternoon, a wonderful woman, my adopted grandmother, Adrienne Ziemba, quietly and peacefully left the world after her long battle with pancreatic cancer. From the big bed where she lay, surrounded by her beautiful family, she has gone alone on the first steps of her journey, and with the same grace and towering strength that have sustained her all her life. No doubt many loved ones, including her father, our dear Dzia Dzia, her mother and her beloved baby brother, John await to surround her with endless love on the other side, just as her family did by her bedside, seeing her off with an immense outpouring of the same love she gave them. We should be thankful that she is no longer suffering the terrible pain that haunted her these last few weeks. But for us who cannot follow, the very sun seems somehow diminished as if she were its only reason for shining. Our lives will never be the same without her, as she was a kind and gentle soul, the very embodiment of life, laughter, and unconditional love. She will be sorely missed by many. Her strength and compassion I know will live on after her, in her daughters and son, and in all those whom she inspired with her kindness and her indomitable will. May God reward her for a lifetime of love and her gentle, selfless heart.

Do not stand at my grave and weep;
I am not there. I do not sleep.
I am a thousand winds that blow.
I am the diamond glints on snow.
I am the sunlight on ripened grain.
I am the gentle autumn rain.
When you awaken in the morning's hush
I am the swift uplifting rush
Of quiet birds in circled flight.
I am the soft stars that shine at night.
Do not stand at my grave and cry;
I am not there. I did not die.
Mary Elizabeth Frye

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Obama's Inaugural Speech

The words are the key to strength and grace, and he says it all here with hope and promise for the future....

My fellow citizens:
I stand here today humbled by the task before us, grateful for the trust you have bestowed, mindful of the sacrifices borne by our ancestors. I thank President Bush for his service to our nation, as well as the generosity and cooperation he has shown throughout this transition.
Forty-four Americans have now taken the presidential oath. The words have been spoken during rising tides of prosperity and the still waters of peace. Yet, every so often the oath is taken amidst gathering clouds and raging storms. At these moments, America has carried on not simply because of the skill or vision of those in high office, but because we the people have remained faithful to the ideals of our forebears, and true to our founding documents.
So it has been. So it must be with this generation of Americans.

That we are in the midst of crisis is now well understood. Our nation is at war, against a far-reaching network of violence and hatred. Our economy is badly weakened, a consequence of greed and irresponsibility on the part of some, but also our collective failure to make hard choices and prepare the nation for a new age. Homes have been lost; jobs shed; businesses shuttered. Our health care is too costly; our schools fail too many; and each day brings further evidence that the ways we use energy strengthen our adversaries and threaten our planet.
These are the indicators of crisis, subject to data and statistics. Less measurable but no less profound is a sapping of confidence across our land — a nagging fear that America's decline is inevitable, and that the next generation must lower its sights.
Today I say to you that the challenges we face are real. They are serious and they are many. They will not be met easily or in a short span of time. But know this, America — they will be met.
On this day, we gather because we have chosen hope over fear, unity of purpose over conflict and discord.
On this day, we come to proclaim an end to the petty grievances and false promises, the recriminations and worn out dogmas, that for far too long have strangled our politics.
We remain a young nation, but in the words of scripture, the time has come to set aside childish things. The time has come to reaffirm our enduring spirit; to choose our better history; to carry forward that precious gift, that noble idea, passed on from generation to generation: the God-given promise that all are equal, all are free and all deserve a chance to pursue their full measure of happiness.
In reaffirming the greatness of our nation, we understand that greatness is never a given. It must be earned. Our journey has never been one of shortcuts or settling for less. It has not been the path for the faint-hearted — for those who prefer leisure over work, or seek only the pleasures of riches and fame. Rather, it has been the risk-takers, the doers, the makers of things — some celebrated but more often men and women obscure in their labor, who have carried us up the long, rugged path towards prosperity and freedom.
For us, they packed up their few worldly possessions and traveled across oceans in search of a new life.
For us, they toiled in sweatshops and settled the West; endured the lash of the whip and plowed the hard earth.
For us, they fought and died, in places like Concord and Gettysburg; Normandy and Khe Sahn.
Time and again these men and women struggled and sacrificed and worked till their hands were raw so that we might live a better life. They saw America as bigger than the sum of our individual ambitions; greater than all the differences of birth or wealth or faction.
This is the journey we continue today. We remain the most prosperous, powerful nation on Earth. Our workers are no less productive than when this crisis began. Our minds are no less inventive, our goods and services no less needed than they were last week or last month or last year. Our capacity remains undiminished. But our time of standing pat, of protecting narrow interests and putting off unpleasant decisions — that time has surely passed. Starting today, we must pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off, and begin again the work of remaking America.
For everywhere we look, there is work to be done. The state of the economy calls for action, bold and swift, and we will act — not only to create new jobs, but to lay a new foundation for growth. We will build the roads and bridges, the electric grids and digital lines that feed our commerce and bind us together. We will restore science to its rightful place, and wield technology's wonders to raise health care's quality and lower its cost. We will harness the sun and the winds and the soil to fuel our cars and run our factories. And we will transform our schools and colleges and universities to meet the demands of a new age. All this we can do. And all this we will do.
Now, there are some who question the scale of our ambitions — who suggest that our system cannot tolerate too many big plans. Their memories are short. For they have forgotten what this country has already done; what free men and women can achieve when imagination is joined to common purpose, and necessity to courage.
What the cynics fail to understand is that the ground has shifted beneath them — that the stale political arguments that have consumed us for so long no longer apply. The question we ask today is not whether our government is too big or too small, but whether it works — whether it helps families find jobs at a decent wage, care they can afford, a retirement that is dignified. Where the answer is yes, we intend to move forward. Where the answer is no, programs will end. And those of us who manage the public's dollars will be held to account — to spend wisely, reform bad habits, and do our business in the light of day — because only then can we restore the vital trust between a people and their government.
Nor is the question before us whether the market is a force for good or ill. Its power to generate wealth and expand freedom is unmatched, but this crisis has reminded us that without a watchful eye, the market can spin out of control — and that a nation cannot prosper long when it favors only the prosperous. The success of our economy has always depended not just on the size of our gross domestic product, but on the reach of our prosperity; on our ability to extend opportunity to every willing heart — not out of charity, but because it is the surest route to our common good.
As for our common defense, we reject as false the choice between our safety and our ideals. Our founding fathers, faced with perils we can scarcely imagine, drafted a charter to assure the rule of law and the rights of man, a charter expanded by the blood of generations. Those ideals still light the world, and we will not give them up for expedience's sake. And so to all other peoples and governments who are watching today, from the grandest capitals to the small village where my father was born: know that America is a friend of each nation and every man, woman, and child who seeks a future of peace and dignity, and that we are ready to lead once more.
Recall that earlier generations faced down fascism and communism not just with missiles and tanks, but with sturdy alliances and enduring convictions. They understood that our power alone cannot protect us, nor does it entitle us to do as we please. Instead, they knew that our power grows through its prudent use; our security emanates from the justness of our cause, the force of our example, the tempering qualities of humility and restraint.
We are the keepers of this legacy. Guided by these principles once more, we can meet those new threats that demand even greater effort — even greater cooperation and understanding between nations. We will begin to responsibly leave Iraq to its people, and forge a hard-earned peace in Afghanistan. With old friends and former foes, we will work tirelessly to lessen the nuclear threat, and roll back the specter of a warming planet. We will not apologize for our way of life, nor will we waver in its defense, and for those who seek to advance their aims by inducing terror and slaughtering innocents, we say to you now that our spirit is stronger and cannot be broken; you cannot outlast us, and we will defeat you.
For we know that our patchwork heritage is a strength, not a weakness. We are a nation of Christians and Muslims, Jews and Hindus — and non-believers. We are shaped by every language and culture, drawn from every end of this Earth; and because we have tasted the bitter swill of civil war and segregation, and emerged from that dark chapter stronger and more united, we cannot help but believe that the old hatreds shall someday pass; that the lines of tribe shall soon dissolve; that as the world grows smaller, our common humanity shall reveal itself; and that America must play its role in ushering in a new era of peace.
To the Muslim world, we seek a new way forward, based on mutual interest and mutual respect. To those leaders around the globe who seek to sow conflict, or blame their society's ills on the West — know that your people will judge you on what you can build, not what you destroy. To those who cling to power through corruption and deceit and the silencing of dissent, know that you are on the wrong side of history; but that we will extend a hand if you are willing to unclench your fist.
To the people of poor nations, we pledge to work alongside you to make your farms flourish and let clean waters flow; to nourish starved bodies and feed hungry minds. And to those nations like ours that enjoy relative plenty, we say we can no longer afford indifference to suffering outside our borders; nor can we consume the world's resources without regard to effect. For the world has changed, and we must change with it.
As we consider the road that unfolds before us, we remember with humble gratitude those brave Americans who, at this very hour, patrol far-off deserts and distant mountains. They have something to tell us today, just as the fallen heroes who lie in Arlington whisper through the ages. We honor them not only because they are guardians of our liberty, but because they embody the spirit of service; a willingness to find meaning in something greater than themselves. And yet, at this moment — a moment that will define a generation — it is precisely this spirit that must inhabit us all.
For as much as government can do and must do, it is ultimately the faith and determination of the American people upon which this nation relies. It is the kindness to take in a stranger when the levees break, the selflessness of workers who would rather cut their hours than see a friend lose their job which sees us through our darkest hours. It is the firefighter's courage to storm a stairway filled with smoke, but also a parent's willingness to nurture a child, that finally decides our fate.
Our challenges may be new. The instruments with which we meet them may be new. But those values upon which our success depends — hard work and honesty, courage and fair play, tolerance and curiosity, loyalty and patriotism — these things are old. These things are true. They have been the quiet force of progress throughout our history. What is demanded then is a return to these truths. What is required of us now is a new era of responsibility — a recognition, on the part of every American, that we have duties to ourselves, our nation, and the world, duties that we do not grudgingly accept but rather seize gladly, firm in the knowledge that there is nothing so satisfying to the spirit, so defining of our character, than giving our all to a difficult task.
This is the price and the promise of citizenship.
This is the source of our confidence — the knowledge that God calls on us to shape an uncertain destiny.
This is the meaning of our liberty and our creed — why men and women and children of every race and every faith can join in celebration across this magnificent mall, and why a man whose father less than sixty years ago might not have been served at a local restaurant can now stand before you to take a most sacred oath.
So let us mark this day with remembrance, of who we are and how far we have traveled. In the year of America's birth, in the coldest of months, a small band of patriots huddled by dying campfires on the shores of an icy river. The capital was abandoned. The enemy was advancing. The snow was stained with blood. At a moment when the outcome of our revolution was most in doubt, the father of our nation ordered these words be read to the people:
"Let it be told to the future world ... that in the depth of winter, when nothing but hope and virtue could survive...that the city and the country, alarmed at one common danger, came forth to meet (it)."
America, in the face of our common dangers, in this winter of our hardship, let us remember these timeless words. With hope and virtue, let us brave once more the icy currents, and endure what storms may come. Let it be said by our children's children that when we were tested we refused to let this journey end, that we did not turn back nor did we falter; and with eyes fixed on the horizon and God's grace upon us, we carried forth that great gift of freedom and delivered it safely to future generations.

Copyright 2008 The Associated Press.
2009-01-20 12:09:47

Inauguration Day

The heavens are being scanned, and signs of favour from the Almighty are being sought after in these most auspicious times. Today, after eight long years of bungling by the outgoing administration, a new President rises to power in America. Hope permeates the air and the winds of change are poised to encircle our incredible shrinking globe. As with all great men who rise to the challenge when humanity stumbles, we have placed our collective faith (along with many doubts) in Barack Obama and his new Administration to help heal a world broken by nearly a century of wars, a failing, oil-based economy, corrupt politics and the ever-widening maw of globalisation which threatens to engulf the world in its relentless thirst for money and power. No Atlas ever carried a heaver burden than the burden of our hopes that he now must bear. Will he be the right man for the challenge? All the early signs seem to be in agreement that in spite of his youthful inexperience, he is indeed the right man for the job.

Thinking of the junior senator from Illinois brings to mind another young, inexperienced lawyer from Springfield, who, like Obama, had absolute confidence in the principles laid out by the Founding Fathers of the Constitution and who, over a century ago, also faced just as many odds and not a few prejudices in his own bid for the White House. Yet it's just as well for America that he was up for the challenge, for if he had not been, the country might be a very different place today. If not still wrestling with its early blight of slavery, it would most certainly be a single land split into more than one nation.

That man was Abraham Lincoln, and if not for his cleverness, honesty, stoicism, geniality, absolute faith in the goodness of people and his own ability to move others with brilliant oratory, America would be a land forever divided by the Civil War.

Obama has all these qualities of character and the challenges he faces today are no less than those faced by Lincoln. The nation is just as divided, this time idealogically so. Yet, unlike the Mason-Dixon line, ideology is fluid and ideas and the minds that hold them can be changed. In addition to a broken Treasury, two costly foreign wars to shore up a failing global economy based on oil, rising unemployment, chronic global cynicism and eroding standards of education, health care, quality of life, and the environment are all immense obstacles to overcome. To get the support he needs, like the former prairie state President, Obama has surrounded himself with the best and the brightest minds for the task, crossing party lines and including former rivals. In an example of history repeating itself, Obama has even made Secretary of State his own party rival, Senator Hillary Clinton of New York. In 1860, Abraham Lincoln had made a former contender for his party ticket and the White House, William Seward of New York, his Secretary of State and the two soon after became inseparable friends. Seward was invaluable to Lincoln during the Civil War and the Reconstruction that followed. Alaska, a.k.a. 'Seward's Folly' prior to the Gold Rush, owes its existence to this self-same Seward. Let us hope Clinton becomes like a Seward to Obama, and does not prove to be a thorn in his side or a producer of follies with her headstong nature.

A brilliant poem by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow perfectly captures the feeling of these times, just as it did when it was written, under the presidency of Abraham Lincoln:

THOU, too, sail on, O Ship of State!
Sail on, O Union, strong and great!
Humanity with all its fears,
With all the hopes of future years,
Is hanging breathless on thy fate!

We know what Master laid thy keel,
What Workmen wrought thy ribs of steel,
Who made each mast, and sail, and rope,
What anvils rang, what hammers beat,
In what a forge and what a heat
Were shaped the anchors of thy hope!

Fear not each sudden sound and shock,
’T is of the wave and not the rock;
’T is but the flapping of the sail,
And not a rent made by the gale!

In spite of rock and tempest’s roar,
In spite of false lights on the shore,
Sail on, nor fear to breast the sea!
Our hearts, our hopes, are all with thee,

Our hearts, our hopes, our prayers, our tears,
Our faith triumphant o’er our fears,
Are all with thee,—are all with thee!

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Support Palestinians by boycotting Israel!

Everyone must do their part to show Palestinians that we care and that we do NOT support Israel's genocidal murder of hundreds in Gaza (many of whom are innocent women and children). At the time of this writing, 919 Palestinians have been killed by Israelis, including 284 children & 100 women, with 4260 additional injured. We in America MUST not support Israel in any way! We must pressure our politicians not to give Israel more weapons of mass destruction and to finally put an end to this horrible recurring cycle of violence by resolving the Palestinian question once and for all, by ceasing to give aid to Israel, monetary or otherwise. Other than writing our Ministers, Senators, Congressmen and America's newly-elected President, how can we really hurt a country that thinks it is invincible, especially if our politicians refuse to listen to us? Take away the money of course! How? By boycotting Israeli goods and services. In addition to the list below, we should also boycott Israeli fruit and vegetables (which are especially prevalent in Europe, the UK and Ireland). You could even ring your local shops/supermarkets and ask them if they will take Israeli goods off their shelves. No more Sara Lee pies! Aw shucks!

But this is no laughing matter...

Please help us pressure Israel to end its murderous campaign of genocide and show solidarity for the Palestinian people....
Remember that for every life and/or freedom that has been lost, your own has been degraded.

(And thank you, Siobhan for your information and suggestion that all forums be used to educate people of the horrible events)

Time Warner
Apax Partners & Co Ltd
Estée Lauder
Johnson & Johnson
Lewis Trust Group Ltd
Marks & Spencer
News Corporation
Sara Lee
The Limited Inc

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Back in Éire after the holidays

10 January 2009

Well, I'm back in Dublin after long airport delays, a turbulent transatlantic crossing, and a very emotional last few days of my Christmas holiday in Buffalo. I had to say goodbye, with the foreknowledge that it may well be forever, to a remarkable woman whom I have loved as my own grandmother since the day she welcomed me with open arms into her wonderful family. I could not possibly love her more if she were my own flesh and blood. My heart still longs for a miracle and holds out hope that she will win the fight with the pancreatic cancer that is ravaging her, even as my mind attempts to prepare me for the seemingly inevitable. When will we ever find a cure for cancer? How many more of those dearest to me and to others will it hurt before we figure out how to control it?

All these thoughts and many more whirled about my head in the crossing from New York to Dublin, as we ascended amongst the silent, ghostly forms of passing clouds. Almost before I was aware, the night had passed swiftly and a cold sun rose, revealing a frozen and timeless world of cloud far below. Not long after, the plane began its slow, steady descent into the thick white turf and for a time, my mind went as blank as the luminous, misty world we were passing through. When I opened my eyes again, we had descended beneath the wall of cloud and my breath was stolen away by the otherworldly beauty of the soft, green land that was being unveiled beneath us. This is always my favorite part of the trip; the low flight over the countless geometrically-patterned fields coloured in every shade of green, while purple mountains loom in the haze and the rain-curtain of the world opens; a sudden, slender ray of sun pierces through the thick clouds and far off, a single field glitters like an emerald fallen into the lap of the land... and as always, my heart soars.
Is Éirinn, an ghrá mo chroí.