Come Together

The Beatles released this song in 1969.  Some say John Lennon penned the song for Timothy Leary’s quest to become governor of California, while others insist he’s talking about all four of the Beatles.  Whomever he was talking about the message is clear.  Everyone has bad habits, quirks etc. but it’s time to get a grip and come together.

I thought about this as we prepare for Thanksgiving.  The first big Holiday of the year and the first time many families and friends will be getting together since summer.  It’s also the first time everyone will be around the table after this election cycle.  Holidays bring out the best and worst in us and the larger the family, the more assorted the characters.  This year could be a doozy.  With many Americans divided on several fronts you can guarantee more fireworks than Independence Day—and that’s just for Chicago White Sox and Cub fans!

I’ve been hearing from friends and acquaintances that some of their family members will not be attending Thanksgiving dinner under any circumstances because certain members of the family who will be present supported one presidential candidate and they cannot accept that.  Cannot accept is actually being kind.  The words and adjectives being used are repulsive.  If I can live through a Chicago Cubs World Series you can sit down and break bread with your family.

Here’s a newsflash.  We’ve been deciding the fate of our leader via elections in this country for over 200 years, and in each there was one winner and yes one loser.  In politics everyone doesn’t get a trophy.  If the President is doing a lousy job there are checks and balances in place to keep him or her on the straight and narrow.  For those who are educationally challenged in US government—elections happen every 4 years.  The greatest protest of all is silent and done in the privacy of the voting booth.  Well that’s true unless you live in Chicago and then all bets are off.

I brought up baseball and the World Series for a reason.  Baseball and voting in an election are not the same, although each year it seems like it is.  The fact is voting in an election is not like cheering for your favorite sports team.  In sports the winners get a trophy and lots of money.  Fans get boasting rights and in the case of the World Series, spend a fortune on team paraphernalia.  The country is at the heart of presidential elections.  It’s not my team is better than yours because whether your blue, red, green or in-between we’re all technically on the same team.  Team USA.  Or so I thought.  If Mary Matalin, a prominent Republic consultant, and James Carville, a prominent Democrat consultant, can be married for 23 years1 anyone can get along.

Whether you are a Cub fan or White Sox fan, a Democrat or Republican, this is the time to come together.  Some people will not be able to be home with their families and others are completely alone or hospitalized.  Others have lost a family member and don’t know how to “celebrate”.  I’m sure all these Americans would give anything to celebrate Thanksgiving with their missing or lost loved one.

If you are lucky enough to live in this country you have much to be thankful for.  So please leave your politics at home.  Celebrate that you can spend another Thanksgiving with your family and friends.  Thank God that you live in a country where you can change your leader every 4 years, speak freely for or against it, and it doesn’t lead to bloody revolutions as it does in other countries.

And to my friends who are White Sox fans—sit next to your relative or relatives who happen to be Cub fans and let them gloat.  We did it in 2005.  Give thanks to God for all you’ve received this year.  Everything is better with turkey, sweet potatoes, and pumpkin pie—even a Cubs World Series.  And remember, baseball season starts in just 4 short months!

1 Matalin and Carville were actually married on Thanksgiving Day, 1993



Where Were You When The World Stopped Turning?

Alan Jackson is one of my favorite country singer/songwriters. Most of his songs are about simple country living, but what affected him on September 11, 2001 cut deep—just like it did to all of us. As in his song, we remember exactly where we were and what we were doing when those planes crashed into the World Trade Center, the Pentagon, and a field in Pennsylvania. While Jackson may have been on stage prepping for a concert, most of us, like the innocent victims of the terrorists, were also at work or school just like any other day. But September 11, 2001 was no ordinary day.

It was a warm and sunny morning in Chicago. A university meeting was scheduled but I was too busy to go, so my student and I were alone in the office. I had my radio set to my favorite station when the DJ announced that a plane had hit the North Tower of the World Trade Center, and then a few minutes later another plane slammed into the South Tower. My student, who happened to be Muslim, knew exactly what happened. I’ll never forget the fear in his eyes when he shouted at me after the second plane hit, “Do you know what this is!”

I immediately picked up the phone and called my Dad. I wanted to hear his voice and make sure he turned the news on. My youngest daughter was with him. I remember how angry I was at her earlier because she claimed to be sick, but I didn’t believe her. I was now relieved she had stayed home with grandpa. My second call was to my eldest daughter’s high school. The shaky voice on the other end said the girls were OK and they were watching the coverage in their classrooms. My husband, a City of Chicago employee, called me. We both knew if a plane hit anywhere in Chicago, he’d have to go.

The university meeting ended abruptly after the third plane hit the Pentagon and employees returned to their offices in a panic. It was a day at work where no work was done. My radio was the only outside link we had. Rumors swirled that Chicago was next. Everyone was scared.

I worked just a half-day and returned home to an empty house. I turned on the television and for the first time watched in horror at what was happening. I cried watching victims jump because they believed it was the better alternative, seeing others waving white cloths out windows for help that would never come. I covered my mouth as the Towers came down, covering everything and everyone in white ash. It looked like a movie, but it was real. Later I sat outside and listened to the only music on the radio—patriotic music. It was eerily quiet as all planes had been grounded. When my eldest returned home from school she recounted how they kept hearing planes low overhead and they were terrified until the teacher reassured them their school was near a military facility.

Once the girls and my husband returned home we held tight, grateful just to be together. We watched the coverage of survivors walking around New York City with pictures of loved ones—praying they’d be found. We watched the endless streams of people walking miles across bridges to get home to other boroughs of New York or to New Jersey or Connecticut. The cameras took us inside New York and Washington D.C. hospitals where dedicated doctors and nurses tended the injured and regular folks donated blood. We saw police and firefighters, covered in ash, some sitting on curbs with their heads in their hands and others embracing each other. Three firefighters raised a small flag among the debris. It looked like the end of the world.

In the following days, we cheered as police and fire units from other cities and states rushed in to help. News stations interviewed scores of survivors of all races and religions but nobody saw the differences. It didn’t matter. We were one and we held on to each other for comfort and solace. The candlelight vigils followed. People of all backgrounds formed a human chain, some prayed or sang, while others remained silent, but all stood together. We’ll never forget President Bush’s “bullhorn” speech to the emergency workers at Ground Zero. Churches were full for the first time in years. Chances are if you had a Bible in your house it was in your hands. We vowed never to forget.

If you’re under the age of 18 you probably don’t remember, or you weren’t born. We have shielded our children from the horrific images of September 11th. A huge mistake and why so many Americans are back to the mindset of September 10th. As a child I was taught about Pearl Harbor. I wasn’t there but I’d learned about it, saw the actual footage, and even visited the memorial in Hawaii. But no one is educating our children that true evil exists in this world and will touch us—no punch, kick and knock us down again.

Where does God fit in? Everywhere. Many people cried to Him that day. His name the last words uttered by some. Many demanded to know how He could let this happen. I don’t have all the answers but I know He was there. I saw Him in the faces of those first responders who rushed into the Towers and the Pentagon. I saw Him on the face of the dying Catholic priest, Fire Chaplain Father Mychal Judge and on the faces of those who carried him from the Tower, where just earlier he was anointing firefighters and giving last rites to others. I know I saw God on the faces of all those survivors who carried co-workers from burning buildings or for those who gave comfort to strangers on the streets.

Jesus tells us in John 15:13, “No one can have greater love than to lay down his life for his friends.” Isn’t that what every lost first responder did? Isn’t that what the passengers of Flight 93 did? How many regular people sacrificed that day to save others? Many lost their lives saving co-workers and strangers. A few days after the attack, Franciscan Father Brian Jordan was blessing the remains at Ground Zero when a worker asked him, “Father, you want to see God’s House? Look over there.” At first Father Brian could not see anything but then he saw it. There was a long silence as several workers saw it too. What we now call the 9/11 Cross thrust into the ground. God was there.

St. Paul’s Chapel built in 1766 miraculously escaped destruction. Positioned on the edge of the World Trade Center site, it opened its doors to rescue workers, offered meals, cots, counseling and prayer. On April 30, 1789, President George Washington attended Thanksgiving service at St. Paul’s after his inauguration at Federal Hall on Wall Street. It was at that chapel that President Washington dedicated the United States of America to God, saying the nation would prosper and be protected as long as it remained committed to the will and purpose of God. Only two countries have such a covenant with God: the US and Israel. Do you think that was a coincidence? God was there.

Today I read that two days before the anniversary of 9/11 four Chicago suburban firefighters were suspended for refusing to remove a patriotic sticker of an American flag posted on their helmets and lockers. One came to America from Cuba and said his parents brought him here because the government told them what to do. Another suspended firefighter was an African-American whose father was an ex-Marine, ex-Vietnam Vet, while still another was Caucasian. You see how quickly we forget?

At the close of Jackson’s song, he quotes 1 Corinthians 13:13. “As it is, these remain, faith, hope and love, the three of them; and the greatest of them is love.” We especially loved our fellow man the day after September 11th and the days that followed. Do we still love them today?

Where were you when the world stopped turning on that September day?

Take Me Out To The Ball Game

I’m not ashamed to say I love baseball. It’s my favorite sport. Turn on any game and I’ll watch it. I’ve been a Chicago White Sox fan since I was old enough to throw a ball. For that I thank my late grandmother. Things I remember most about my grandmother are the delicious aromas that engulfed her kitchen, the radio on in the mornings turned to a station that played “old” music, the amounts of mouth-watering Italian food she cooked, and the kitchen television turned on to Channel 9 during baseball season. It didn’t matter if the White Sox or the Cubs were playing. At that time WGN broadcast both teams. I can still remember Jack Brickhouse yelling “Hey! Hey!”

If you’ve ever lived in Chicago, you know about the White Sox/Cubs rivalry. It can get heated at times and my grandmother was no exception. So why did she watch them? Well, it was baseball. And she loved cheering on the team who played against them. To give you an idea how far she took the rivalry, when the Cubs were in the pursuit of the National League pennant in 1969 my grandmother hung an effigy of Leo Durocher, the Cubs manager, out the front window of her second floor apartment.

The rivalry between Cubs/Sox fans is still alive and kicking. However, as much as we tease each other we still have God, the Bears, Blackhawks, Garrett’s popcorn, deep dish pizza, and genuine interest and care for each other. We have common ground.

One of the best days of my life was when the Chicago White Sox won the World Series in 2005. First, I cheered like mad, and then cried my eyes out just like every other White Sox fan. We cried remembering all our friends and family who didn’t live to see this great day. The first person I thought of was my grandmother.

It’s nine years later and the White Sox are about as far away from the World Series as it gets. Chicago has changed—the whole world has changed since 2005. We now are witness to true hatred. We see it playing out in the Middle East and it’s not a friendly rivalry between baseball fans. It’s deadly and it’s growing and if it’s not taken out it will be right here in the US. Unfortunately we are also seeing hatred here at home. We are allowing ourselves to be labeled and in a bad way. You are different than me in some way or have different ideas then me so I hate you.

Abraham Lincoln said the United States would never be defeated by an outside force. It would be defeated from within. And he was right. Remember September 11th? I remember watching survivors fleeing from the World Trade Towers covered in soot and ash and thinking to myself, I can’t tell if they’re black or white. Remember who we were on September 12th? I remember everyone holding on to each other and nobody cared what political party you liked, how much money you made or what color you were. Churches were full and people turned back to God. We all found common ground and we loved each other. What happened?

Chicago, once noted for its architecture, culture, great restaurants, and sports is now known for being the murder capital of the US. Years ago when I traveled, people would ask me how I could live in Chicago with Al Capone and gangsters running around. I used to laugh. They obviously didn’t know Capone had been dead for years. Now when I travel people ask how I could live in Chicago with all the crime. I tell them the murders and shootings do not represent all of Chicago. But they don’t believe me. There are actually people just a few miles away (I won’t name names) that keep a wide berth from Chicagoans.

But this week I have great hope that Chicago’s image can change and it has everything to do with baseball. Last week Chicago’s own Jackie Robinson West Little League baseball team won the US Championship. This team of 13 boys accomplished what no politician, activist, or community organizer could do. They united this City—Cub fan, White Sox fan, African-American, Hispanic, Asian, Caucasian, Democrat or Republican. Everyone was glued to the television to watch them play. And play they did. They never gave up. And they won with integrity and character. This was not only a win for these boys and their coaches; it was a win for their parents. They raised these boys to love God, be humble, to work hard, to trust in their teammates and coaches, and treat those around them like they would like to be treated.

Last week the City threw them the same victory party as they threw for the 2005 White Sox. I was there. So were all my co-workers and thousands, perhaps millions of Chicagoans. When those trolleys and buses drove by we saw excited young boys who had fulfilled their dream. That’s it. We didn’t see color, we saw champions. At the rally we heard from several pastors who spoke about these boys and credited their parents for raising them right. There were also speeches by countless politicians who did absolutely nothing, except try to capitalize off the boys’ win, and I was thrilled when the crowd started jeering them and yelling “we want the kids!”

This is who Chicago is. The City of Big Shoulders. The City That Works. The largest small town in the Midwest. We are a group of ethnically diverse neighborhoods that make up one metropolis. Together we have accomplished much. We arose from the ashes of the Great Fire and built this architectural gem we call home. We all look forward to the 90 days of summer and have all survived the blizzards from countless winters. We all celebrate Christmas, Cinco de Mayo, Taste of Polonia, Jazz and Gospel Fest, Greek Independence Day, Gay Pride Parade and St. Patrick’s Day to name a few. And we all celebrate the 4th of July – US Independence Day. We work together, play together and genuinely care about each other. We have common ground. We are Chicagoans and we can’t allow politicians, activists, outsiders and “well-meaning” insiders to tell us differently.

It’s one week after the win and there have already been 31 shootings in Chicago. The ball is in our court, Chicago. Do we remember who we were on 9/12? Do we remember who we were just last Tuesday when we cheered for a group of young boys, Jackie Robinson West Little League? I pray we remember when nothing divided us and baseball brought us together as one.