Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Good Deed #8: Recycling for Mother Nature

This Saturday I will set sail to the beautiful Caribbean islands. As I thought about the paradise that awaited me on behalf of Mother Nature, I began to wonder what I was doing in return. After some contemplation I looked at my trash and knew that I had a few house keeping items that had to be taken care of before I left. One of these items being the recycling of plastic that I have neglected since I got here. Whether or not one buys into the whole global warming theory, any reasonable person can agree that recycling and taking care of Mother Earth is the right thing to do. It might shock some of you that only 23% of Americans recycle anything. With the world population continuing to rise and the natural resources diminishing at a constant rate before our eyes and wallets we ought to rethink and recycle. It takes approximately 100 years for plastic to decompose in a landfill but about 1 minutes to recycle. For those of you who think you don't make a difference by recycling, take a lesson from the young man and the starfish. It goes something like this:

There was once a wise old man who used to go to the ocean to do his writing. One day as he walked along the shore, he looked down the beach and saw a human figure moving like a dancer. As he got closer, he saw that it was a young man, and the young man wasn’t dancing, but instead was reaching down to the shore, picking up starfish, and very gently throwing them into the ocean. “Good morning! What are you doing?” asked the wise man. The young man paused, looked up, and replied, “Throwing starfish into the ocean. The sun is rising, and the tide is out. And if I don’t throw them in, they’ll die.” “But, young man, don’t you realize that there are miles of beach and thousands of starfish all along it? You can’t possibly make a difference!” The young man, listening politely, bent down and picked up another starfish, throwing it into the sea past the breaking waves. Turning to the old man, he modestly replied, "It made a difference for that one!"

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Good Deed#7: Saluting the Flag

Ask yourself when was the last time that you saluted the flag? Pause, think about it and then ask yourself when was the last time you saluted the flag out of respect, not obligation or prior to the first pitch at a baseball game but because you genuinely wanted to? This was a question I found myself asking this week during our squadron PT. After our group exercises our PT leader’s final instructions were to go for a run and meet up at 1625. To many of us this meant that we would have just enough time to cool down for a minute and then race back to the safety of our cars before retreat at 1630.

For my non-military friends, retreat is the retiring of the colors in which a base will play the National Anthem over the loud speakers. Military members that are outside are required to render the proper salute while in uniform upon the first tune that is played. Service members then turn and face the nearest flag or in the direction of where the music is coming from. Those not in uniform are required to stand at attention and place their right hand over their heart. This applies to when the National Anthem is played off base as well.

It may come as a surprise but most of us in uniform do not regularly salute the flag during retreat. In fact, in a lot of units it’s almost a game “who can time up their work day so that they can RETREAT from retreat.” Around the military you will often hear the phrase “I don’t want to get caught in retreat.” Caught huh? There are those who truly see saluting the very flag that they swore to defend as a hassle and impediment to their day. Instead, shouldn’t that be the very thing that kick starts it?

This past year I can literally count on my fingers how many times I’ve been outside for retreat. Subconsciously I probably know exactly why I’m shuffling around papers, pretending to do work at around that 1630. I think if my comrades were being honest with themselves, they would also admit that they do the same and that don’t voluntarily go out of their way for retreat.

During my run this past Tuesday I checked my watch several times to get my splits. Towards the end I toggled over to the actual time and started thinking about how much time we had left, when we were supposed to meet back up guessed it, thought about retreat and how longer it might take me to get to my car. Then as I started winding down I caught myself glancing to the black metal bracelet on my right wrist and began feeling ashamed for myself. I thought about Roz and her integrity. I though about how her inclination would be to get outside when our National Anthem was playing rather then finding ways to avoid it. I thought about all of those who had gone before me and sacrificed themselves so that the red, white and blue would always fly high. I thought about how complacent I had gotten and how I had taken the whole meaning of retreat for granted.

As I saw the rest of the squadron race by me to their cars, I slowly walked towards mine. I looked at my watch for the first time hoping to “catch retreat.” I waited awkwardly as others in their vehicles looked at me with suspicion and then I heard the music. I stuck my chest out, took pride in my appearance and saluted.

I consider saluting the flag as a “Good Deed” because service members don’t generally do it as I have sadly pointed out. There is so much meaning in doing so that I think many of us who have been in for some time have forgotten the essence of why we raised our right hand in the first place and how proud we were when we first rendered that salute to our flag.

The salute is one of the strongest signs of respect that a person can offer. It means that the person offering the salute recognizes that something before them is in a sense larger then themselves. The flag is the ultimate symbol of that idea. It outranks Colonels and Generals. Even our Commander in Chief has to render the proper courtesy to the flag. As a civilian you too can salute the flag. Although us military members have restrictions, you do not. Let it be as important to you as it was for all of those who shed blood to keep it flying. And the next time you see some unruly teenager talking or joking around during the playing of the National Anthem, tell them about one of our American heroes who aren’t coming back from the battlefields in Iraq and Afghanistan. Talk to them about World War I, World War II, Vietnam or whatever war you remember. Tell them about the Revolutionary War and what those Patriots sacrificed. For in those stories, that is where the meaning is embedded. That is exactly how serious saluting the American flag should be.

There are some who have chosen not to salute the flag such as Tommy Smith and John Carlos in the 1968 Mexican Olympics. And while I still believe that was one of the single most courageous acts of defiance about the treatment of blacks and ultimately a very powerful symbol, moments like that come once or twice in a lifetime. I can understand these circumstances, but as for the rest of us, you better give me a damn good reason not to.

Next time you hear the National Anthem in the distance or see a flag being raised or lowered by a neighbor, take a moment, reflect and pay your respects. If you start getting choke up or feel goosebumps, then you'll know exactly how I feel.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Good Deed #6: Sharing the Faith

During my last trip home to New Hampshire I went to Mass with my father. We parked in the same parking spot at Jack & Jill nursery school and walked through the same side entrance across from Holy Trinity. Like creatures of habit we even sat on the same right hand side of the church, somewhere in the middle-to-back section.

In my time away from St. Joseph’s, I had come to see that not much had changed since the days that I had attended regularly. The same faces smiled and greeted us as we walked in. The same songs were sung throughout the service, with Mrs. Keifer playing the same acoustic guitar and the same four chords and strums that I had heard while a student of hers in Kindergarten.

As I looked past the back of the gray and bald heads, I made the observation that other than a few toddlers, that I was the youngest person at Mass. Although I enjoy the familiarity and going back to my roots, the thought of an aging church with nobody representing them from my generation on a weekly basis made me very concerned for the future. It seems that Catholics are losing more members than they are bringing in.

Lately I have tried to educate my girlfriend about Christianity. Her natural curiosity has led to some interesting conversations about the Catholic Church and the origins of Christianity. Even though she has far more questions than I have answers for, I am encouraged that she is willing to explore her faith and tap into a spiritual side that has been dormant, awaiting to be awakened.

Two weeks ago we both attended our first Latin Mass in Washington, DC. It hadn’t been the first time that we had been to Mass together. Together we attempted to follow the Mass as best we could. Somewhere in between the Nicene Creed and communion, I received a feeling of purpose and belonging that wasn’t caused by the Sermon. It was a feeling that I got when I held out my hand and she grabbed hold.

This past Sunday I took my girlfriend to Mass with me at St. Mary’s in Goldsboro, North Carolina. It is through this activity together that I find one of the strongest bonds in our relationship. My girlfriend has restored a much needed fire within me. She has been eager for us to attend church each Sunday and has motivated me to be a better Christian and a catalyst for her spiritual exploration. Ultimately though she is going to have to find her way towards God and figure out for herself where she belongs and which section of church she feels most at home in. Throughout her journey, if the only real thing that I do to influence her is to hold her hand while we walk into church, then at least I'll know that I gave her the opportunity.

As Lent approaches I’m not so concerned with “what” to sacrifice as I am with the “who." The "who" is myself. And by doing so I am opening myself up to a power so much bigger than anything on earth. I have had wonderful experiences knowing that God is on my side and walking in step with me as I navigate through life. I was able to feel this because I listened. I’d like my girlfriend to hear the Good Word also by bringing her to Church. I’m thinking that’s a Good Deed, indeed.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Good Deed #5: Feeding a Stranger

The Boston Celtics beat the Washington Wizards 99-88 on Monday night at the Verizon Center in front of a sold out crowd. As I exited the arena along with the 20,000 other fans in attendance that night, I decided that I would get a bite to eat with my girlfriend who bought the tickets for us.

Like the previous days, Monday night’s temperature was in the 30s. As we briskly walked towards the ESPN Zone where we agreed to eat dinner, we came across a a pile of blankets tucked away in the dark entrance of a store that was closed up for the night. Without thinking much of who or what may be beneath those blankets, I continued on my way with a single target track aimed at the ESPN Zone which was now within visual range.

The next thing I heard was my girlfriend “I feel bad, let’s get him dinner.” My initial reaction was “no, I’m cold, I’m hungry and tired.” Just as soon as I was about to dismiss the idea, I thought of this blog and my reason for starting it in the first place. I then thought of who may be under those blankets and how “cold, hungry and tired,” they had been.

Conveniently there was a McDonald’s up ahead and so we slipped in and bought 3 McDouble cheeseburgers, 2 four-piece chicken nuggets and 2 waters.

“Excuse me,” I said as I stood over the pile of blankets, “I got you dinner tonight.” Slowly a women with one front tooth rolled over from shielding herself from the rest of the pedestrians walking past and said “thank you.” I don’t know who was more surprised. Was it the woman awakened by a complete stranger with a bag full of food or myself, who 10 minutes previously was only thinking about his own needs?

After a night where my girlfriend spent over $200 on tickets, $100 on a hotel room, $20 on parking, $50 on matching Paul Pierce shirts, $7.50 beers (x2), cotton candy, hot dogs, dinner for two at the ESPN Zone and games, money wasn’t something we could really complain about or use as an excuse for NOT doing something. The $5 we used for McDonald’s was ironically the best spent money all night.

I traveled 280 miles to Washington, DC to watch the Celtics play the Wizards and between Goldsboro, NC and DC, I never thought in a million years that spending $5 on a complete stranger was the thing that would bring me the most happiness. When the Celtics won I was excited but probably not more so than knowing that somebody had a hot meal that night who otherwise would have gone hungry.

Unfortunately, I was unable to watch Gilbert Arenas of the Washington Wizards play on Monday night since he and a fellow teammate were suspended for bringing guns into the locker room earlier in the season. Because of this, the commissioner David Stern suspended Arenas for the rest of the season. Each GAME that he misses will cost him $147,000.

I don't know what he would have spent that money on. But I do know that it sure could buy a lot of sandwiches.