Things Worth Fighting For

The white flakes of ash float down all around me in the crisp November air. If I didn’t know better and if the smoke wasn’t thick in the backdrop of the landscape, I could almost imagine it is snow as it settles without melting on the headstones that chase up and down the steep hill next to Lone Oak Church. Tomorrow is veterans day, and the solitary grave marker of a soldier is in front of me with a flag being tossed carelessly to and fro by an undecided wind. The colors are right, but this is not the flag that I look for at a veteran’s headstone.

Another peculiarity strikes me as I read the numbers etched into the white marble: March 18, 1910. Adam Chariker was 81 when he died. Not a young man. And not a veteran of the great wars in memory… but then my slow yankee mind begins to compile the facts. These stars and bars are not Old Glory. They are the demonized symbol of an internal struggle so great that we still bear the scars more than 150 years later.


It strikes me as poignant, this banner of Civil War, placed reverently at the grave of a soldier, a veteran of combat in the defense of his country. A warrior for a cause he believed in deeply enough to fight and kill other men - his own countrymen. We awaken now in the hangover of an historic election that has divided our nation in a way that perhaps it hasn’t been in these 150 years. And this little rebel flag brings tears to my eyes to remember the thousands and thousands of men and women who have fought and died on both sides of causes that were sacred to them.

Tomorrow is Veteran’s Day. It shakes me to think that in all of my respect and reverence for those who have served it is easy to overlook the American Soldiers who fought one another, brother against brother, father against son, in the bloodiest battles that this land has been forced to drink up, believing uto their last breath in what they fought for. It’s easy to discount their service because depending on which side of the Mason/Dixon line you live on, it’s too uncomfortable to condone their fight. To call a confederate soldier a patriot is as unpopular as calling a law enforcement officer a hero. Racists, right?

The civil war was not about slavery any more than modern violent protests are about racism or mass shootings are about guns. There is a deeper underlying issue that may be just as unsuccessfully resolved by modern lawmakers as it was by the blue and the grey so long ago. The battle between north and south was about self government, external control, and the fine line between too much and not enough of both. As long as we are human we will fight this fight, and the only battleground where we will find victory is the landscape of our own minds and hearts.

I stand along the fireline here in North Carolina, shoulder to shoulder with veterans of more than one war. I stand next to conservatives and liberals, libertarians and pacifists. I work alongside Yankees who will endure grueling hours and physical labor to save the goat barn of the descendant of a confederate infantryman from burning up. This is the great America - the people who break a sweat every day to fight the very real enemies. The teachers who insist on a generation more well educated than their own. The “uneducated” voters who changed the oil in your car and grew the kale you bought at Costco. The scientists and lawyers who battle in trenches, bathed in a different gore, for our protection and our salvation from perverse humans and pervasive diseases. The doctors, backhoe operators, linemen and priests who refuse to proliferate conjecture of the condition of our nation from their couches, but with the work of their hands and minds and hearts they generate change.

It is not about making America Great Again, because that so-called “greatness” was borne on the backs of slaves, of minorities struggling first to survive, then to succeed. It’s about being the Great America that we have always intended, and continuing towards the ever elusive mark. We are perhaps now as great as we’ve ever been, as states pass laws calling assault of a police officer a “non-violent” felony and replace the rights of individuals with a higher minimum wage. The war against racism is far from over, as is the war against ignorance, greed, sloth and corruption. We owe our veterans at least our best efforts to maintain a nation worth their fight. A people worth their hope.

Our president is a representation of who we are as a people, the good, the bad, and the very, very ugly. We have cast off restraint after years of bowing to the strong arm of money and power and we now stand, naked and exposed, like the emperor in his new clothes. The real fight for American Liberty and virtue is not in Afghanistan or Aleppo, it is here in our own homes and on our own streets, and we have just run into battle with weapons that we have no idea how to control. But we can learn, and we must. And we can love, and we must.

Things About My House

I have a pretty magical house. I don't know if you know that, but I do. It's not just the WWII Bomber nose ceiling fan and the collection of stolen signage of felonious proportions. It's not even the homey aura of too many dogs, cats, hedgehogs, guinea pigs and various and assorted other known and unknown pets that make it magical, although that helps. It's not the silvery sheen of unicorn breath (dried bloodhound drool) on every arm of every piece of furniture. It's not the rainbow of ABC gum on the DVD shelf donated by high school students from every continent in the world. It's not even the archeological collection of candy wrappers from holidays long forgotten underneath the couches.

If I had to pinpoint what really makes my house magical, it's the eery and unexplained phenomenon that happen when you're least expecting. Like late at night, or even 2:39 AM when you've almost just drifted off to sleep after a long shift at work and aching feet have kept you awake. It's when you hear the mysterious tinkling joy of a 6 month old kitten who found a jingle bell ball that some sadistic child purchased for him at the dollar store. It's the realization that there are 18.74 square miles of hard, resonant, bare floor directly under your bed on which to roll the jingle bell ball. You had no idea such vastness existed in your domicile until 2:39 in the morning when Jim Halpert started rolling his jingle bell ball back and forth underneath your bed for miles and miles and miles, as if the rolling and jingling could just go on forever... I mean, if you had known it was there, you would have certainly utilized it for storing all of those clothes that are organized neatly across your bedroom floor in an easy-access schematic for any occasion dressing. If you had known there were nearly 20 square miles of bare floor, you might have bought a throw rug or two. Or an acre or so of carpet, so that Jim Harpert would have something to scratch up and pee on when his litter box got moved outside by someone who was tired of looking at it and cleaning it out and all of the things that one grows tired of with litter boxes.

Magic, my friends. Like the wardrobe entrance to Narnia, the bare floor under my bed holds endless and mythical potential.

My house is also magical because it does that trick where if you find one leak and fix it, another one instantly develops several feet away in an entirely new location. Ceilings, plumbing fixtures, animals... you name it, the minute you clean one puddle up, a new one appears to replace it.

We also mysteriously breed flies here. Whether it's the rotting carcass of a forgotten pet underneath the furniture (maybe they drowned in candy wrappers) or whether Frank the Bloodhound has a collection of putrefying artifacts he has salvaged from the garbage hidden out of sight, I am not sure, but there is an army of flies multiplying somewhere and it's a little unnerving as the temperatures drop below survivable degrees for these insects.

There are technically only three people living here now, along with 8 creatures (not all inside!) that have names and a myriad of giant spiders that we refuse to acknowledge, but somehow, the house always looks like 17 college students live here. It's almost like a haunting. There's never anybody home between work and school and sports, but the sink is ALWAYS full of dishes and there's never a clean glass in the house. It's supernatural. Sometimes I wonder if the dogs have parties while we are gone, mixing drinks and chilling on the couches like a bunch of frat boys. It wouldn't surprise me. It would explain what happened to that liter of Fireball that was in the freezer. It would also explain how we go through 2 gallons of milk a week and four boxes of cold cereal. Probably Jim Halpert instigates all of it, prancing around on his hind feet like he's a celebrity monkey-person, drinking cinnamon whiskey and making all the messes. Cats. SMH.

Any way you cut it, it's magic. Upright walking cats and garbage mongering dogs, we do magic here. We dirty every dish without ever coming home and we provide endless horizons for feline antics all.night.long. All the cool stuff happens here.

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