better than chocolate-America the Beautiful & J.T.

For a middle aged woman like me, it doesn’t get much better than James Taylor singing American the Beautiful at the second inauguration of Barack Obama.  It’s up there with chocolate and chardonnay, an afternoon on the Seine and under the covers with my lover.

The simple pleasures. Acoustic. Mellow. Sweet.

Oh, beautiful, for spacious skies

As he delivers that breathless line on the podium in Washington D.C., I feel the expanse of possibility

For amber waves of grain

And the comfort of the familiar

For purple mountain majesty

And the pride of this country, passing leadership peaceably

Above the fruited plain

And the blessings that abound

America! America!

The name of the Beloved

God shed his grace on thee

This “noble experiment”

And crown thy good with brotherhood

In a place where tolerance thrives

From sea to shining sea.

James finished his tender rendition of America the Beautiful there, but in an interview with Charlie Rose just before the inauguration, he referenced the significance of another verse:

America! America!
God mend thine ev’ry flaw,
Confirm thy soul in self-control,
Thy liberty in law.

I feel a deep sense of satisfaction inside when a musician whose music has been ministering to me all my life lends his voice on behalf of that which is good and true and enduring.

“I really love this president,” James says. “I love what it says about America, that we were able to elect this man.”

Happy Valentines USA!

(Don’t forget: the State of the Union address, tomorrow night: 2/12/13 Lincoln’s birthday.)

Kelly Salasin, Februrary 2013

The Courage to Change–a child’s response to the Sandy Hook massacre

“There are too many men with enough courage to kill one another,

and not enough men with the courage to stop the violence.”

Lee van Laer


On Friday, when I learned of the shooting, I wanted to drive to the elementary school in my own town and retrieve my son.  It wasn’t that I was afraid.  We live over a hundred miles away from Newtown, CT.  I just wanted to bring him home. Because I could.

Instead, I let him finish the day and enjoy his long-awaited “Friday Free Time” with classmates. While I endured the wait, my heart broke for the parents who wouldn’t welcome home their children that day. Or any day after.

When my own son finally walked through the door, I exhaled, and drew him onto my lap to explain why I had been crying. His tears silently joined mine, and then so did his anger.

When we had exhausted both, I suggested we light a candle…
but instead of one, Aidan dashed around the house to collect a candle for each child, for each life lost, including the prinicipal. He loves his principal too.

Even as far as Pakistan, fellow school boys were lighting candles for the lives stolen.

The President reflected on this global mourning during the Prayer Service in Newtown last night:

I can only hope it helps for you to know that you’re not alone in your grief, that our world, too, has been torn apart.

He went on to say that our first job is caring for our children:

If we don’t get that right, we don’t get anything right. That’s how, as a society, we will be judged.

But we aren’t getting it right. And to be honest, I’m not sure we can, especially when I witness us reach back for the comfort of Mr. Roger’s words or when we over-reach toward heroes.

It’s time to sober up with the facts–not only about guns: 94,871 people shot in this country this year, but also about ourselves: We believe in killing. It’s part of our national fabric. We celebrate it in history, in video games, in theaters, and in warfare around the world.

And yet, I don’t believe the situation is hopeless; because I don’t think that we have the right to collapse into such self-pity after first-graders were murdered during morning circle.

Yes, it is complex. It is terribly complex. But one component is simple. Let’s start there.

Compare the U.S. to Japan, where almost no one owns a gun:

In 2008, the U.S. had over 12 thousand firearm-related homicides while Japan had only 11–about half of how many children lost their lives in a few moments in Newtown. Incidentally, 587 Americans (including children) were killed in 2008 just by guns that had discharged accidentally. (Read more.)

We don’t even need to go anywhere near the extreme of Japan when it comes to fireaarms. We can look at Australia, where they only banned assault weapons.

In the 18 years before the law, Australia suffered 13 mass shootings – but not one in the 14 years after the law took full effect.  (Read more.)

I know that some in our country are too afraid to give up their rights to weaponry. They cite a history of domination by dictators in the face of unarmed civilians around the world. I feel their fear. I understand it. They want to protect us.

What they won’t face is that our greatest enemy is–within. We are actually killing each other (and ourselves) with the weapons we claim as our protection:

  • A gun in the home is more likely to be used in a homicide, suicide, or unintentional shooting than to be used in self-defense.
  • Of youths who committed suicide with firearms, 82% obtained the firearm from their home.
  • The risk of homicide is three times higher in homes with firearms.
  • Gun death rates are 7 times higher in the states with the highest household gun ownership.(Read more.)
  • More Americans die in gun homicides and suicides in six months than have died in the last 25 years in every terrorist attack and the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq combined. (Read more.)

So the real question is this: Will we stop pretending that this is about our right to protection?

Or are we prepared, as President Obama asked, to say this:

Such violence visited on our children year after year after year is somehow the price of our freedom.

“NO!” my 12-year-old cries out to his President.

Aidan isn’t interested in “freedom” that takes his life at the school and at the mall and in the movie theater and at the mosque; nor does he want the the honor of meeting the President of the United States in response to the random death of his little sister or mother or grandmother or teacher.

This freedom for violence disgraces us as a Nation:

Since I’ve been President, this is the fourth time we have come together to comfort a grieving community torn apart by mass shootings, fourth time we’ve hugged survivors, the fourth time we’ve consoled the families of victims.

Isn’t it ironic how many uniformed men, with impressive weaponry, appeared at Sandy Hook–too late.  How devastating to be prepared–for nothing. My heart breaks for them and for the fathers who weren’t there to protect their daughters. For the mothers who couldn’t comfort their sons as they lay bleeding. For the first-responders who found almost no one there to rescue.

Though dozens of ambulances raced toward the school, only a few departed with such purpose. The hospital was readily prepared to care for massive casualties, but only two adults and two children arrived–the latter pronounced dead inside their doors. There was nothing for the highly trained doctors and nurses to do.

Contrast that with what happened in Central China on the same day: 22 school children were attacked by a man wielding a knife. Some of the injuries were serious. The act of violence despicable. The terror horrifying.

While this readily points to the truth that madmen can always challenge our resources, this doesn’t mean that we can’t limit theirs.  The bodies of those 22 children are being cared for–in a hospital–instead of deposited–in the ground.

If there’s even one step we can take to save another child or another parent or another town from the grief that’s visited Tucson and Aurora and Oak Creek and Newtown and communities from Columbine to Blacksburg before that, then surely we have an obligation to try.

“You GO!” my son hollers to his President.

In the coming weeks, I’ll use whatever power this office holds to engage my fellow citizens, from law enforcement, to mental health professionals, to parents and educators, in an effort aimed at preventing more tragedies like this, because what choice do we have? We can’t accept events like this as routine.

Can we admit to ourselves that this kind of violence has become routine?

By the end of this day, two-hundred and forty-four people will have been shot; an average so common place as not to receive national attention.

The massacre in Newtown simply brings to light what happens in the land of the “free” every day:

There have been an endless series of deadly shootings across the country, almost daily reports of victims, many of them children, in small towns and in big cities all across America, victims whose — much of the time their only fault was being at the wrong place at the wrong time.

We can’t tolerate this anymore. These tragedies must end. And to end them, we must change.

“Yes…” my son whispers back, as he embraces me.

(Kelly Salasin, December 17, 2012)

More on guns and the USA:

Batman & Bullets

Death as Entertainment (murder in schools)

Which Wolf (Co-op Murder)

My Favorite Republicans (Obama & gun laws)

Parenting without Power (or a gun)

An Apology

I can’t place it, but I know that today is something other than the day before my birthday–and then I remember: Pearl Harbor—and then Michael Moore posts from Hiroshima on Twitter, saying:

In Hiroshima 2 day. Coincidentally, it’s Pearl Harbor Day. I hear from back home the pundits beating the drums again 4 war. Nothing changes.

His discouraging words bring me back to President Obama’s speech at West Point last month.  I listened to it  from my Facebook account at the doctor’s office where I can snag a high speed connection.

Is that live?” another patient asks, overhearing the President’s voice. I explain that it’s not, and that I’m just getting to it now because I don’t have television reception at home.

The doctor asks the receptionist to leave her office door open so that she can listen too. “I caught part of it in the airport,” she calls out from her desk,  “But I’d like to hear more.”

I love the sound of his voice,” says another patient.

In response, I complain that as much as I want to pay attention, speeches always put me to sleep.

As an educator, it occurs to me that politicians might be able to make these moments more participatory.  They could split everyone into pairs and have them ask each other:

What would you do?

Then Obama could call on a few people to share their wisdom and take a survey of hands to see who agrees.

After the speech, my politically astute teen gets word of the increase of troops to Afghanistan and confides to his father on the drive home from school that he’s worried about the draft. He’s only 14.   But I think about it too.  We’ve never even let him play with guns.

I no longer hold full responsibility for the world my beloved child inherits–as  his choices have begun to define it too.  An older classmate is in Afghanistan right now.  My son asks about the “action” that this guy might get to see.  He figures times of peace must be pretty boring for soldiers.

I think back to a conversation on war I had with some women friends.  One, a documentarist, suggests that we simply bring all the soldiers home and see what happens.

But that won’t address the hunger some have for fighting,” I offer, adding that I think we need to find other channels for that warrior energy.

I wonder how it might look if our armed forces directed the youth’s need for action into combating other threats– like disaster, environmental degradation, poverty.

But what of the thirst for killing, I wonder?

This week a 17 year old boy was tried as an adult for the murder of his ten-year old brother.  The parents didn’t attend the trial, but they supported the conviction at which they lost a second son.  The boys had been wrestling and the teen strangled his younger brother in a hold–to satiate a desire to kill.

Is Michael Moore right?  Has nothing changed?  Will nothing change?

I don’t know, but I do know that we cannot collapse into defeat.  As Gandhi says, We must  be the change we want to see in the world—and that begins in our own hearts.

My memory turns toward a tiny park on a hill in the Berkshires of Massachusetts—where my own troubled mind was filled with the hope of peace.

I sit on a bench beside a young Japanese woman named Seiko.  She and I are among 25 students training to be YogaDance instructors at Kripalu’s Healing Center in Lenox.

We have been assigned as partners with the task of supporting each other with our journey at Kripalu by taking a walk together.

On the path through the woods, Seiko tells me that she has been unable to find the song, “Over the Rainbow.” She asks if I can sing it for her so that she can practice the dance prayer she has created for our class.

I laugh at the thought of me singing while she dances, but I agree, especially because Seiko is a ballerina and I’d enjoy the treat of watching her move to that beautiful tune.

We come to a tiny park with a single bench under the shade of a thickly-trunked tree.  Before we begin, I tell Seiko that there is something I must say.  There among the mountains, I turn toward my new Japanese friend, and timidly offer,

I want to apologize for dropping the bomb on your country.

Seiko is taken aback by my unexpected words.  She asks me to repeat myself.  And I do– with tears stinging my eyes.  Although I am twenty years her elder, Seiko responds to me with a the tenderness of a mother,

You don’t have to apologize for that, Kelly.  You and I weren’t even born.

I know,” I say, “but it’s important for me to say these words to someone from your country.”

Tears fill Seiko’s eyes as she replies in a whisper,

No one has ever apologized to me for that before, thank you…

I begin to sing, and Seiko begins to dance under the broad branches of a firmly rooted tree,

Somewhere over the rainbow…

Kelly Salasin


Sarah Palin & me

Imagine my liberal surprise when I discovered that the latest reader on my blog was referred by the site: the Sarah Palin Information Blog.

My curiosity tossed caution aside, and I ventured over to “the other side,” to see what was what.

Oh…  it was just another Word Press Blog that was automatically–though unintentionally–linked to one of my  WP posts because of similar content:  Health Care–albeit with opposing views.

I quickly left that glowing red site for more familiar tones, but then felt compelled to return to the logic of “their” argument.

And that’s all I found:

logic and argument.

It was sound and sturdy, but had no heart.

As a Magna Cum Laude graduate myself, I know how to argue, but as a 45 year old mother, I choose to rely on my heart– and my heart knows this:

The time has come for us to act more fully on behalf of others–not because it makes a better bottom line or because it offers the best argument of its time, but because there is heart in it.  It comes from the RIGHT place.

Health care isn’t a Republican issue or a Democrat issue or even an Obama issue, it is a human rights issue– and there’s nothing human or “right”  in Sarah Palin’s rebuke of health care for all.

Kelly Salasin

To read, Sarah Palin and Me, Part II (who knew there would be a part two!), click here.

Philly, Foreign & Familiar

Kelly Salasin

In the span of one season, this unlikely sports fan is back in the stands at another professional baseball game– this time in Philadelphia.

Two decades in New England has made this mid-Atlantic city a stranger to me.   From parking-lot tailgaters to street cops to peddlers, the faces and attitudes in Philly are rough around the edges, but the connections are warmer than up north.

The air is warmer too– and filled with water.  My mountain-loving skin finds this steamy heat oppressive but I remind myself that I was once from the sea.

Cheesesteaks, soft pretzels and fries welcome me home.  Philly is a family-friendly stadium that competes with Fenway’s vintage charm with it’s own affordable seats, playgrounds and two dollar kids’ franks.  A ballpark says a lot about a city.

The huxters’ calls in the galleys are more robust than in Boston and yet more subdued in the stands where the attention is on the game. Field facing concessions and standing-room only counters keep all eyes on the players.

Philadelphia gets right into the action with a chorus of boos after the lead batter for the Cardinals slides safely into second. “It’s starting already,” someone cries in self pity, as if the “out” was entitled rather than earned.  Before inning ends, Victorina steals second– and is sent back to first.  The Phillies coach is out of the dugout and the umpire is in his face.  A sense of familiarity sweeps over me with this characteristic intrusion of personal space rarely experienced in New England.

When Ryan Howard steps up to bat, the man behind me calls, “C’mon big boy.”  There’s an emphasis on “boy” that reveals a prejudice barely under the surface.  This is a city close to the Mason-Dixon line.  Given this culture’s worship of big-name players, I can’t figure how racism jives inside their heads.

My own mind flashes to the nice white folks I knew growing up–the ones who dropped bombs like, “I’d never let a black hand in my mouth,” when the new dentist moved to town;  or “I hope I don’t get a nigger roomate,” when going off to college; or  “I don’t want a black man in my daughter’s wedding,” when the fiance brought  home his law partner.

With the election of a black president, I imagine something’s had to change in the psyche of this downtrodden city.   Just before Obama’s victory and after he passed through the town, Philly claimed their own power at the World Series– after 1oo collective sports seasons without a championship title.

I watch Philly take their new place in sports history with each throw of the relief pitcher, lifting him off the mound in their enthusiasm.  Standing together, they rattle the batter into a third out and return to their seats– satisfied– certain of their influence on the game.

A ballpark Liberty Bell rings for every home run and joyous faces are streamed on the big screen while a summer soundtrack grooves.  We belt out “Wildwood Days” and I reclaim this old home as mine.

At the seventh inning stretch, The Luau Girls dance on top of the duogout; and after two years of living among Red Sox fans,  I proudly sing out for the Phillies with “Take Me Out to the Ballgame.” The  2009 Championship is in the air and I can’t wait to see these faces after a second win.

It was the afternoon of the last game of the 2008 Series when I reached back to Philly from my home in Vermont with this impassioned, but uncharacteristic post on a sport’s blog:

Philadelphia is the city of “brotherly love”– and the birthplace of our Nation.It is also home to the Philadelphia Phillies whose win tonight will clinch the Series.I can’t help but feel that this long-awaited triumph for Philly is aligned with the rebirth of Passion and Participation witnessed around this upcoming election.  Let us not forget that what we stand for as a Country is beyond the success or failure of any political party or candidate.  We the people are the ONES who demonstrate what it is to be American:  standing up for liberty and justice for ALL.Let’s reclaim that beautiful tender mission as we head into a new era of global interdependence.  And while we’re at it, GO Phillies!  May their win tonight create a surge in the tide for reclaiming our country’s Spirit with Obama’s leadership.

While I’ve never understood the link between baseball, patriotism, dollars and breasts, I did appreciate the instrumental version of the National Anthem offered by the middle-aged women in grass skirts and coconut bras.  Crossing the Delaware on the Walt Whitman, I felt a surge of pride for this foreign and familiar city.

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