Monday, June 28, 2010
Today we mourn a man who spent more time in Congress than any other individual in the history of our nation.
Sen. Robert Byrd began his service in the House of Representatives in 1953 and was elected to the Senate six years later. His long fight for the primacy of the legislative branch of our government ended at 3 a.m. this morning.
But Byrd’s greatest contribution to our nation wasn’t the length of his tenure, the money that he funneled to improve the conditions of those living in abject poverty in West Virginia, his staunch opposition to imperialistic military adventures, his steadfast support of health care reform or even the soaring speeches he delivered to his colleagues on the Senate floor.
No, the most important thing this former Ku Klux Klan organizer gave to us was the hope that we are all worthy of redemption.
I’ll save the details for the history books. It is enough to say that Byrd was a supporter of the greatest home-grown terrorist organization in the history of the United States. In latter years that association would have effectively, and appropriately, precluded his election. In West Virgina, in the 1950s, it likely facilitated his ascent.
It’s not precisely clear to me when Byrd changed, but he did so nonetheless. In 1964, he filibustered against the Civil Rights Act. But by 2004, he had won the endorsement of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, which noted that Byrd was one of just 17 senators that had supported its stance on every bill of interest to the NAACP.
He came to be known as the "Conscience of the Senate." And although some called him the “Guilty Conscience,” I’m not sure it matters, except as a lesson for us all on what it means to be human.
We all make mistakes. Sometimes we make mistakes so grave that they will stay with us for the rest of our lives. But while we, and others, may never forget those failings, we don’t have to repeat them.
We can change. We can be better than who were yesterday, and better still than who we are today. We can admit that we have been wrong. We can ask forgiveness. And then we can earn it.
One day at a time.
Sunday, June 27, 2010
Thursday, June 17, 2010
It was 92 degrees outside. And under my black cap and gown, I was sweating like a hippo on a treadmill.
I didn’t attend the commencement ceremony when I completed my undergraduate education. I didn’t really see the point. It was all just pomp and circumstance. A piece of paper. A name read on a loudspeaker. A walk across a stage for a piece of paper. And nothing more.
By the time I had completed my graduate studies, I had reconsidered. But on Sunday, as I stepped onto the broiling football field at California State University East Bay, I was all but certain that I'd made a mistake.
Then I saw you, perched in your mother’s arms and waving ferociously as I walked by in the processional.
And it all made sense again.
You probably won’t remember any of what went on Sunday. You slept through most of the ceremony, after all, (and I can’t really blame you — I wanted to sleep, too.) But I’m glad you were there, because it’s important to your mother and me that you understand, from an early age, just how important learning is in our family.
You have been blessed with privileges that most of the world will never know. Among the greatest of those privileges is the ability to seek and obtain an education.
Do not disrespect that privilege.
Learn. And when you’re done with that, learn some more.
And then more. And more. And more.
You don’t have to collect degrees like baseball trading cards. You don’t have to have a J.D., an M.B.A. or a Ph.D. And, in some limited circumstances, I would understand if you passed by a formal education altogether.
But do not pass up an opportunity to learn.
Read and write. Speak and listen. Discuss and debate. Ask questions. Ask questions. Ask questions. For these are the ways — the good ways, that is — in which our species differentiates itself from all others on this planet.
When you stop learning, you stop living.
Thursday, June 3, 2010
I would like to allow you to choose your own path.
So if you love to dance, please dance.
And if you love math, by all means, solve the Goldbach Conjecture.
And if want to do Kung-Fu, go ahead and kick butt.
Likewise, if you don't like spinach, I'll only make you try it — I won't shove it down your throat.
And if you don't like baseball, I won't make you swing for the fences.
And if you don't like the snow, I won't make you ski.
And if you don't like soccer...
... I think we're going to have some issues.
I love the beautiful game. I love to play it. I love to watch it. I love to talk about it.
And, since the moment we learned you were coming, I've loved to dream about watching you play it.
Today, that dream came true. You had your very first soccer practice. And, if I do say so myself, you played like a champ.
With seven days to go before World Cup 2010 begins in South Africa, I'm afraid it might be a bit too late to make the U.S. team.
But with four years until the next cup, in Brazil, I think there's plenty of time.