Monday, January 21, 2013

Together -- A Commentary on The Inaugural Address

Being as 1) this is my blog, 2) I happen to love President Barack Hussein Obama, and 3) I was almost in DC for the Inauguration, I have decided to write a commentary on his Inaugural Address on 21 January 2013. 

If you don't like that, don't read the post. Otherwise, deal with it. 

Let me start by saying what already may be self-evident -- I can be somewhat outspoken when it comes to my liberal identity and ideology. This is especially true in Utah. Some find this offsetting; others find it amusing. Regardless, I am a liberal, and a proud one. I believe that economic problems will be solved as we seek comprehensive solutions to issues of education and income inequality. When you educate a nation effectively, progress has a solid foothold. When people have equal opportunity in every aspect of their lives, then perhaps we can begin to realize the potential to be a great nation of equals, or as Reagan put it, a "shining city on a hill."

The President's address was not at all similar to his first address. This address came after a vicious and contentious previous four years and a vitriolic election. Nonetheless, the President emerged as the clear victor, speaking to America's changing demography, hopes, aspirations, and expectations. The nation did not, my dear friends, choose wickedness. It chose progress. After the election, my Facebook feed was covered in quotes from the Book of Mormon about the voice of the people choosing wickedness. Dear friends, I could have easily pointed to several more scriptures demonstrating how the Lord would have been pleased with the outcome of the election. Deal with it. In the words of one wise Seminary teacher (prior to the election...oh the irony), "The person who wins the election will be the person the Lord wanted." 

Side Note: I don't know that God really cares about outcomes of elections. He respects a nifty little thing called agency.

Enough of a tangent. To the speech. 

The President outlined his vision for the next four years, a vision that is both progressive and controversial. It is a vision that has echoed across generations, and one that we have yet to fully realize. His speech was the continuation of the dream of patriots and revolutionaries from "Seneca Falls, and Selma, and Stonewall." 

Yes. Stonewall -- a flashpoint in the gays rights movement -- was included by the President of the United States. It is, perhaps, one of the greatest civil rights issues of our time. In my mind, it is on par with the right of every child to receive a quality education, regardless of his ZIP code -- another issue the President addressed. 

"Our journey is not complete until..." 

Until peace is achieved through evaluation and compromise, not through explosion and conflict.

"We will show the courage to try and resolve our differences with other nations peacefully –- not because we are naïve about the dangers we face, but because engagement can more durably lift suspicion and fear." 

Until each child has the opportunity for an education that prepares him for college. 

Until, regardless of your race, ethnicity, socioeconomic status, sexual orientation, or religious affiliation (or lack thereof) you have the opportunity to realize the American dream. 

"We are true to our creed when a little girl born into the bleakest poverty knows that she has the same chance to succeed as anybody else, because she is an American; she is free, and she is equal, not just in the eyes of God but also in our own."

Until you cannot be denied care because of your medical history. Until mental health is adequate for a nation struggling to cope with anxiety, depression, and all other mental illnesses. 

Until the threat of violence does not echo in either the halls of suburban schools or the streets of the inner city. 

"Our journey is not complete until all our children, from the streets of Detroit to the hills of Appalachia, to the quiet lanes of Newtown, know that they are cared for and cherished and always safe from harm."

Contrary to most Inaugural rhetoric, the President did not choose the path of least resistance. He spoke, yes, of American hope and idealism, but he also spoke of hard things. He did not speak of "a collection of Red States and Blue States." He did not attempt a JFK address, choosing instead a line of rhetoric similar to FDR. Our generation is no longer a generation of war, but a generation driven towards peace and progress. We are a generation open to finding solutions for the social issues and problems of our day. No longer do we turn a blind eye to the problems surrounding us, choosing instead to dream of Camelot. The issues the President has chosen to take on are not easy, but that in no way makes them wrong. The process of change is never easy. Mr. Obama seems to have learned that in his first term, with substantial help from Congress. 

"We must act, knowing that our work will be imperfect. We must act, knowing that today’s victories will be only partial and that it will be up to those who stand here in four years and 40 years and 400 years hence to advance the timeless spirit once conferred to us in a spare Philadelphia hall."

And so, it is with faith that the President has taken upon him the task ahead. It is the recognition both of imperfection and responsibility that has inspired a nation to believe in change, to believe in moving forward, so that the next four, 40, and 400 years can be better than the last. That, ladies and gentlemen, is the purpose of life. It is to hope for a better future and then act in accordance with that hope. That's what you can expect in the next four years. The wheels of progress have begun to move again. 

This is our generation's task. Together.

Friday, January 11, 2013

Romania: One Year Later

This is Romania to Me
It has been a year since I had the blessed opportunity to live and work in Romania for several months. A lot has transpired since then. Romania continues to be both a source of comfort and hope as well as a source of gentle prodding. I'm not going to focus on those things, however. Rather, I want to relate to you some of my thoughts from experiences as they happened. I do this not to boast, but to process. I feel like that's the only reason I blog anymore. "I go to the [blog] when my heart is lonely..." Or something...

SIDE NOTE: There are lots of entries. Don't feel obligated to read them all. I recommend: 2 January, 30-31 January, 20 February, 15 March, 22 March.

2 January 2012 – Blackfoot, Idaho, United States 
I am going to Romania because…I’m not sure. I want to make a difference in the world. More than that, I feel that this is how I can fulfill what I feel Heavenly Father expects me to do with my life. I think that the kids I will work with are there for me, not necessarily me for them. Heavenly Father has given me this opportunity, in part, so that I can learn how to open myself up to others again. Since my mission, I’ve been very closed with other people. I keep a lot inside, including my emotions, which makes it difficult for me to connect with others and vice versa.

18 January 2012 – Wednesday – Iași, Romania
Feelings about Romania so far: 1) I am super intimidated about speaking to people. This frustrates me because I don’t want to rely on Kevin. 2) It’s sort of a funny place – no order to the streets, buildings, or architecture. 3) 10 people is a lot to travel with. It sort of stresses me out.

23 January 2012 – Monday – Iași, Romania
First day at the hospital! What an adventure it was. I attempted to change into my scrubs in the hospital bathroom, but it was pretty disgusting. Ugg. The smell was overpowering and there was stuff on the floor that I don’t even want to know what it was.

25 January 2012 – Wednesday – Iași, Romania
Today was our first day at the orphanage, and let me tell you, it was a whole lot better than I had anticipated it being. The orphanage has great facilities, very modern treatment programs, and pretty good overall conditions. It was pleasantly surprising to me. I had thought that the orphanage would be a lot worse than the hospital, but it is definitely the other way around. The kids there really do just light up when they recognize the blue scrubs.

The hospital was tough for me today. It really shouldn’t have been, but I’ve been sort of in a funk lately with my Romanian, my drive, and basically a lot of other things. I held little babies for most of the time at the hospital. I wish that understood what causes people to abandon their children. I wish that I could understand why my little boy today was un copi fara mama. I wish I could comprehend what it means to be a parent, to create and care for something that is part of you. I didn’t want to leave my little boy today. I don’t even know if he had a name. What do I have to offer my little boy? I won’t be here for him after April. I don’t know where he will be. His eyes and beautiful hair, his chubby cheeks and his smile that is foarte frumos. I see him and wonder what his life will be like, what his chances will be, and where he will end up.

This is a really weird entry. It’s been kind of one of those days where you just sort of feel lost personally, physically, everything. What can I offer my kids? I’m only here for 90 days. I play with them the same way others do, I tell them the same things, I wear the same things. These are my thoughts currently.   

30 January 2012 – Monday – Iași, Romania

I spent all of my time at the hospital with a beautiful little girl. She is a sweet little girl and a great listener. I often have existential conversations with her. Today, I talked with a mom in the room and it was a semi-intelligent conversation (minor victory). My Romanian is coming along little by little. Anyway, today I thought about (and telepathically communicated with my little girl) the words in “I Am a Child of God.” My little girl doesn’t have parents kind and dear right now. I don’t know where they are. She is a child of God. Sometimes, I think He and I are the only ones who really know that she exists. I feel like I have too many questions sometimes. I’m sure Heavenly Father just sort of shakes His head at the questions I ask. One of my concerns before coming to Romania was that it would leave me with more questions than answers and further exacerbate the problematic/skeptical relationship I have with God already.

Little girl of mine, I hope that one day you have parents who are kind and dear. I hope that you don’t have to spend the rest of your life in a hospital or orphanage bed. I hope that you have more than just God who takes notice of you. 

31 January 2012 – Tuesday – Iasi, Romania
I couldn’t hold my little girl today at the hospital. The mom I talked to yesterday said that she cried too much after I left and the nurse told me to just change her and go. I was pretty bummed by that, no lie. The song of the day was the last verse of “Away in a Manger,” that says, “And stay by my cradle till morning is nigh.” I wish that I could stay with my little girl till morning is nigh. I wish the moms in her room would take compassion on her, and comfort her when she cries. I wish from the depths of my heart that someone would be by her cradle each night to calm her fears and watch over her.

Sometimes, I feel like I get into a funk with things. I don’t feel like it’s anxiety. That seems to be pretty in check at the moment. There are some things I do not understand about life and the plan thereof. Perhaps that is my lot in life, to not understand things.

1 February 2012 – Wednesday – Iasi, Romania 
Sometimes, I think that I think too much. That is essentially the conclusion I have come to as of late. I think that soon I will need to take some time to decompress and come to terms with who I am becoming here. Also, I think I will need to address some unspoken questions that have yet to be answered.  

20 February 2012 – Monday – Romania

The Saint's Journey
At the monastery in Sucevița, there is a painting of people ascending a series of steps (like a ladder) with hosts of angels guiding them up, and Christ waiting to welcome them at the top. Before I left, I asked a nun, in Romanian, what that meant. She explained to me (in Romanian, and I understood!) that it is a representation of our journey through life. Each step brings us closer to God. There are some who had/were being pulled off the steps by demons and devilish creatures. Some people fall off the path towards God. For those that remain, the nun explained, Christ is there waiting to welcome them into heaven. It was very much like the iron rod concept in Mormonism.

The nun and I continued to talk in Romanian and she asked what faith I was, what I was doing here, and if I was visiting lots of the monasteries in the region. I was grateful to be able to explain how I felt the Spirt of God as I walked the grounds of the beautiful monastery, and how even though I was not Orthodox, that I believe in Jesus Christ. This lady was a kind soul, a devout believer. Her dedication, and more importantly, her love to and of God was evident. She wanted each of us to feel that love.

I am grateful to know that God judges us on what we learn here in this life. My nun friend clings to the truth that she has with all of her heart. She does a better job than I do at holding to principles of truth. Heavenly Father will bless her for that.

15 March 2012 – Thursday – Iasi, Romania
At the hospital, Kevin and I went to the seventh floor to the place I was on Tuesday. The little boy was content for the first hour or so, but then he started crying hysterically. I didn’t want to pick him up because that often facilitates more crying when you put the kid back down. Eventually though, out of frustration and/or pity, I picked him up. The poor little guy clung to my neck and chest like a small infant, not a year-and-a-half old, wrapping himself around me. He just sobbed and sobbed. I just held him, talking to him, telling him things would be OK, and that I was there for him. It was a spiritual experience because for a moment, I saw myself with my own son sometime in the future. I saw myself in the window holding my own child instead of someone else’s, rocking him to sleep, wiping his tears away, and putting his fears to rest. It was the first time in my life I felt like I could be a father, and a good one, not a deadbeat sperm donor. My little friend has had a rough life. No one has been there for him consistently, and he needs that. He has so much on his psychological plate, and he’s only been alive for a little while, maybe a year or just a little more. How could I have been so impatient with him? Of all people, I should understand that people are complex individuals, often with problems not visible to the human eye. I should have been more kind and loving to him initially. I’m sorry. I apologized so many times to my little guy.

25 March 2012 – Sunday – Iasi, Romania
Despite massive congestion in the nose, my talk in church went off fairly well. I’d say that it went off without a hitch, but it didn’t. I accidentally started reading a scripture a few chapters away from where I meant. It took me a bit to realize it, but when I did, it was sort of an OOPS moment. I even said, My bad,” in the middle of my talk. It made my day when members came up and said, Thank you for your talk in Romanian! You did so well!” I am still pretty happy about it. My good friend Gabi even Bravo-ed my talk. He is great. I like to talk with him because he is patient with my speaking. I just really felt on cloud nine today after my talk. If you make the effort to do things that are difficult, Heavenly Father opens a way for you to accomplish them. Sounds sort of like a scripture, right? Probably because it is true.

2 April 2012 – Monday – Iasi, Romania
I don’t know how I’m going to leave this place in just over a week. I don’t know how I’m going to be able to leave  any of my kids. I don’t know how I’m going to be able to say goodbye to my little boy at the hospital. I don’t know what I’m going to do. The work I have been doing here has felt redemptive, especially during those times when I struggled with life. For once in my life, I was and am doing something good. These children are special spirits that I have come to love more than anything. They have allowed me to heal my soul and to feel close to God. Sometimes, when I am at the hospital, I feel more of God’s love than I have personally felt in a long time. When I am at the hospital, Heavenly Father gives me tender mercies from time to time, showing me visions of my future children being held in my arms, rocking them to sleep, and quieting their fears

This experience has made me want to be a father, a good father. I want to be there for my kids, to let them know that I love them more than anything. I want my kids to know that I will always be there for them, that nothing they do would make me love them any less. I want my kids to be able to run to me when they are sad, burdened, disappointed, or sorry. I want my kids to know that I will wipe away their tears. Romania has taught me how to be a parent like Heavenly Father. These are all things that Heavenly Father does for me, and He wants me to realize that.

And so, these are my thoughts as I prepare to leave. I don’t want to think about it any more. Maybe I’ll just live in denial about it for a while. That is all I have to say about that.

11 April 2012 – Wednesday – Iasi, Romania – THE LAST ORPHANAGE DAY
 Children With Minds 
As I went to say goodbye, I took time to tell all of the kids goodbye. I just hugged my little prince for a minute and told him over and over that I loved him. Two of the other boys, of course, both wanted hugs after that. Of course I obliged. one of the workers told me over and over that I needed to be careful with my future neice. As we were leaving, another of the ladies said, “Fii copii cu minte.” That means, “Be well-behaved children.” It can also be interpreted as:  

“Be children with minds.” 

I really like that last interpretation.

Romania means a lot to me still. It has shaped the decisions I have made about my career and my personal life. It has impacted my spirituality, my psychology, and my thought process. I want to be the kind of person my kids would be proud of. I want to be a child with a mind. I don't know that I have lived up to that ideal in the last year, but there is always room for growth and change -- There is always another hill ahead. May we each strive to be children with minds.