In a few days’ time, we will all do what we have rationalized is our duty.

We’ll observe moments of silence.  We’ll watch memorial services on CNN.  Doubtlessly we will all take to Facebook and Twitter and do the usual song-and-dance:  blah blah never forget blah blah say a prayer for the families blah blah hug your children.  Maybe we’ll even throw in an ever-so-heartfelt meme, maybe one with that Mr. Rogers quote about the helpers, just to show how really pious we are.

We’ll say all the right things.  We’ll gamely try to look appropriately solemn and mournful.

What a crock it will all be.  What utter garbage the whole sorry pageant will be.

We’re all going to try so hard to out-sad each other this December 14, the one-year anniversary of the gunning down of 20 little children and 6 teachers at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut.  We’re all going to want to show everyone how enlightened and sensitive we are, how we’ve  learned so much since that day, as if the slaughter of 26 people, 20 of them hardly more than babies, was somehow done with the express purpose of being a moment for our personal growth.

Well if we’re so terribly sad, so damn heartbroken over the events in Newtown of a year ago, why in the bloody hell have we done absolutely nothing since?  If we’re supposed to be so ever so troubled by what happened on that day of agony, a day that 26 sets of parents have relived and will relive every single day of their lives for the rest of their lives, why have we barely lifted a finger to reduce the chance of it happening again?

Here’s what I think the really fitting message for the one-year anniversary of Sandy Hook would be:

We failed.  We desecrated the memories of those 26 people and made the torture their families are enduring and will always endure worse.  If it’s possible for the murder of 6-year-old children to be more meaningless, we somehow accomplished it.  We’ve done virtually zero to prevent it from happening again.

Oh but Connecticut passed a few tougher gun lawsAndrew Cuomo and the state of New York did something.

That’s all very good.  It really and truly is.  It isn’t anywhere close to enough and I think we all know it.

We had a chance in the days immediately following December 14, 2012.  We experienced the kind of shock and revulsion that finally make us say “that’s enough.”  It doesn’t ever make what shocked and reviled us worth it.   But it does at least cause the kind of sickening and shaming that gets us moving in the right direction.  Birmingham 1963Omagh 1998The Archdiocese of Boston 2002.  In each case, unspeakable savagery.  In each case, enough people felt enough of a kick to their guts and hearts and brains to start working to make better something they might never have cared about before, like civil rights for all Americans, peace with justice in northern Ireland, or a Catholic Church that rates its members and its mission more important than the reputations of a few self-serving bishops.

There was a chance Newtown 2012 could have been added it to that list. A pure horror, pointless except perhaps for the way it spurred others to do some good so that the horror might not be repeated.  We squandered it miserably.   Unless you know about any rational humane gun legislation we’ve passed anywhere besides the too-little-too-late business in Connecticut and New York.   Maybe you’ve heard about successful efforts on a national level to create laws pertaining to guns  that in some way reflect a sense of basic decency and even the tiniest respect for human life.  If so,  please let me in on it in the comments section.  I seem to have missed it.

I didn’t miss that braying jackass LaPierre blaming everyone and everything in all of existence besides himself and that thuggish National Rifle Association of his for massacres like the one at Newtown and those that have followed it.  I sure remember his fighting like mad against any ideas around gun control supported by mountains of evidence and common logic.  I caught every bit of our continued fetishization of the Second Amendment as if that was the only part of the Constitution that counted and everything else was just a P.S.   I’ve seen sincere efforts at meaningful gun legislation turn half-assed mighty quick and I’ve seen us make our usual round of mealy-mouthed tenth-rate excuses for why we can’t do better.  I’ve seen us snivel and grovel before pro-gun zealots, knowing full well that the snivelers and grovelers are in little danger of not being re-elected.  I’ve seen us continue to reverence guns and those who use them in a way that everything from God to the human spirit can only aspire to.

In short, I’ve seen us crap out and fold on anything close to a moral stand on guns the way we always always do.

It was supposed to be different.  All those children that look every bit as much like yours as they do like mine turned into bullet-ridden corpses.  That was supposed to the moment when we said “that’s enough.  This can’t keep happening.  We’re a civilization for God’s sake.  This can’t keep happening in a civilization, at least not in a halfway worthwhile one.”

Well that didn’t happen.  We failed.  We inexcusably and pathetically failed.   Not just our elected officials.  Not just the NRA.  I did.  You did.  Everyone did.  And it does not become no one’s sin just because it’s everyone’s sin.   Our complete indifference to what happened at Newtown is on all of us.  If we weren’t indifferent or worse than indifferent, we would have done more.  As it is,  little kids were butchered like animals and we didn’t give one good damn.  Yes, if we had given one good damn, another Newtown might still happen.  Car accidents will still happen no matter what, but I’m pretty sure we’d like for people to keep working on making cars safer.   That we can’t prevent all gun violence doesn’t make it okay to not trouble to prevent any of it.

People are being killed every day the same way they were that nightmare day in Connecticut almost one year ago.   It can happen less if we were angrier.  If we were guiltier.  If we didn’t always figure that it must be someone other than the guy I voted for that’s the problem and well hey, I voted, I tried.  If we were willing to maybe hurt someone’s feelings by responding sensibly but passionately to some brute who calls anyone who makes the radical suggestion that military-style weapons shouldn’t be easier to obtain than a driver’s license  limp-wristed and un-American.  If we ever took a look at our values and ideas and considered the possibility that some of them might be just flat wrong.   If we could finally see some jerk with a gun as just some jerk with a gun and not a bad-ass.  If we cared about anything other than a live broadcast of The Sound of Freaking Music for longer than a week.

Right now, I’m not counting on it happening.  If Newtown didn’t bother us– and obviously it didn’t, not really–nothing will.

The lesson of December 14, 2012?

What failures we are.  What cowards we are.  What hypocrites we are.

More people die.  More little children are casually blown to smithereens.   We don’t get sick of it.  We don’t care.

Sometimes I wonder how God can stand to even look at us.

My son Jonesy has a little plastic baseball he won at Chuck E. Cheese that we take to the park all the time.  We’ve thrown it around plenty.  I’ll shape my hands into a mitt or hold out my actual glove and say “put it right in Dad’s hands buddy, as hard as you can.”  I couldn’t help but notice that the kid could hurry it up but good into Dad’s hands.  Now as much I wanted to start imagining Jonesy on the mound at Citi Field (or Fenway; or PNC Park; or Tropicana Field; I’m not picky, honest) even I, who judges baseball to be the greatest thing in the whole wide world, slowed down enough to down enough to say to myself “well, he’s my son, so naturally I think he throws hard.”  But now we’re hearing from his physical therapist at school that he has a very strong throwing arm– a left-handed throwing arm.

The physical therapist at Jonesy’s school is a perfectly nice woman and very good at what she does.  That’s why I feel a bit bad that the rest of my family will now blame her for what she’s unleashed.

To answer the question I have been asked by nearly everyone in one form or another since these findings were reported on my wife’s Facebook page,no I am not staring at the phone waiting for the Mets to call (or the Red Sox; or the Padres; or Diamondbacks; again, any team will be just fine, really).  But regardless of my love for baseball,  I now have a positive obligation as a parent to at least introduce my son to a sport which will allow his physical talent to find expression and baseball is as good a one as any.  And obviously somebody’s kids make it to the Majors. so maybe it will be my kid.

In honor of both that possibility and this  October 21st, 2013, the state occasion of my son Jones Patrick Lilly’s fourth birthday, I will lay out for the record my hopes and sage counsel for Jonesy Lilly, future ace left-hander for some Major League ballclub.

Important stuff first, son.

I hope you don’t throw a curveball until you’re eighteen at the youngest.  Your arm will still be growing all through high school and I don’t want you anywhere near Tommy John surgery if you can help it.  You can by not even thinking about throwing a breaking pitch until you’re in college.  Before then, a fastball and change-up will be plenty.

I hope even when you’re a ten-year veteran they’ll still be teaching the wise words of Ray Miller, a pitching coach for the Pirates back before you were even an idea to your mother and me:  work quickly, change speeds, throw strikes.  It’s good advice for any pitcher, regardless of his natural ability.

Your coaches and mangers will teach you that you need to pitch inside to win and they’ll be as right then as they are now.  You don’t want hitters going up there feeling comfortable and the only way they won’t be comfortable is if you give them a reason not to be.   I just hope you’ll know that there’s a way to do that without coming up near anybody’s head.

Even more important stuff next boyo.

You’ll be perfectly free to sign with any team you like when you become a free agent.  There’s nothing wrong with that.   No matter who you play for, you’ll have the right to sign for as much money as some owner is willing to pay you and that’s as it should be. I just hope you remember to be very grateful:  God will have blessed you with a gift that allows you to be paid millions to play a game.  Remember also that it wasn’t always this way.   There was a time when the owners would have had you at their mercy.  A lot of players, some you’ve heard of, some you haven’t, did an awful lot of work to get you the sweet deal you’ll  have and the nicest thing they were called was un-American.  You might be a millionaire, but you’ll still a union man.  It runs in the family, going back to your great-grandfather’s organizing days.

And before you make any decisions about where you sign when you hit free agency, just remember that if you, my daughter-in-law, and my grandchildren are happy where you are and the organization is treating you right, that’s worth something.

No matter how many Cy Youngs you win or how many World Series you pitch in, I hope you still go speechless when old Tom Seaver totters into the clubhouse (I bet he’ll look great pushing 100)  and that you still smile at all the memories conjured up for you when you look up at David Wright’s retired number 5 that should be hanging up on the wall at Citi Field by the time you’re in the bigs.   You’re part of a story that began long before you and will continue long after you.  I hope I and your grandfathers and uncles and everyone you learned the game from did a a decent job teaching you about what came before.    I remember hearing once about a poll of active Major Leaguers that showed that some pathetically small percentage of players knew who Jackie Robinson was.  I don’t remember what the exact number was.  I just remember wondering how in the bloody hell it wasn’t 100.  If I have my way, you’ll know exactly who Jackie Robinson was and who Gil Hodges was and who Hank Aaron was and…well you get the idea.  Or will have when I’m through.

I hope you find yourself a good catcher and that you two stay together on the same team for a long long while.    Seaver and Grote.  Carlton and McCarver.   Tiant and Fisk.  A whole lot of lucky Reds pitchers and Bench.  And of course you’ll have grown up watching Matt Harvey and Travis d’Arnaud all those years.   There’s no friendship like the one between pitcher and catcher.

The most important stuff to finish up lad.

I hope that the whole jock-nerd dynamic is a thing of the past by the time you grow up, but that’s probably a longshot.  I just hope you remember, Mr. Successful Athlete, that your dad is a huge Star Trek fan and played plenty of Dungeons and Dragons growing up and if I have anything to say about it, the same will be true for you.  Of course if I have anything to say about it, you’ll know that kindness, just plain old kindness, is the most important quality any person can have.  I’m not too worried though.  The four-year-old you is off to a great start in that department.

I hope you’re still going to Mass every Sunday but that you don’t turn into one of these weirdos that feels compelled to thank God on camera after you pitch a shutout.   I can’t sit here and tell you that I’ve never prayed for a little help for the Mets and I’ll probably say the Rosary from  your first pitch to your last in every outing you ever have.  Our blessed Lord tells us that even the hairs on your head are numbered and if that’s true and as it is I would move heaven and Earth to make you happy, can you imagine how God feels about you?  Nevertheless, I would hope He would have bigger things occupying His mind than you beating the Astros.  Besides, if you thank God  on TV after every win, don’t you necessarily have to go on TV and ask him why He has forsaken you after every loss?

I hope you make a commercial that starts with you saying something like “Hi, this is Jonesy Lilly of the New York Mets (or whichever team; I swear, whichever team).  I was diagnosed as being on the autism spectrum when I was a year and a half old but thanks to my own determination and hard work and with the help of some great teachers, I was able to live out my dream of making it to the Major Leagues.”  Something like that.  Then announce that this season you’ll be donating $1000 to an autism awareness foundation for every strikeout.  I know you know you’re wonderful just exactly the way you are, but not every kid on the spectrum knows that.  You’ll be able to help them realize that and you should.

I hope I do a good enough job with you that everyone from your Little League coach to your big-league manager raves about how they wish every player they had was like you.  Remember, whether it’s Mr. Leach in t-ball or John Farrell, you do like skip tells you.

I hope I do a good enough job with me that I’m not driving your skipper crazy by telling him every five minutes how he should be handling you or that I’m not yelling at umpires or other parents or any of the other nonsense that would just make you wind up hating the game and resenting me.

I hope when you give your speech at the BBWA dinner to accept your Cy Young Award and when you give your champagne-soaked interview after you’ve won Game 7 of the World Series and you when you’re up at the podium in Cooperstown, the very first person you thank is your mother.  Trust me , anything you ever get right you’ll be getting mostly from her and it’ll will in all likelihood be her who racked up six figures in miles driving you to practice after practice and game after game.  And when she rushes out of the stands hysterical because that liner back through the middle caught your square on the knee, you be nice and pretend not to be embarrassed.  I know all your high school teammates will be looking on– who are we kidding son, this is your mom we’re talking about, it could just easily happen as you’re pitching in the All-Star Game at Wrigley Field– but let her do it.  She’s your mother.  No further explanation should be required here.  She’s your mother.

I know no one will believe me when I say this, but if I have to revise this whole missive because  you became anything from an actuary to a modern interpretive dancer, I’m fine with it.  I can’t help but hope you’ll pitch in the Majors, win a bunch of Cy Youngs, pitch and win a bunch of World Series games, end up in the Hall, the whole bit.  But mostly I just hope you’re happy and healthy.  You’re both those things today at age four and there is nothing in the whole of God’s own cosmos I wouldn’t do for you to stay that way all the days of your life.  You’re just a great kid and from the second you came into my life you’ve unlocked whole new levels of unconditional love and wellsprings of joy I had no idea existed.

You know how much I love baseball?

No comparison to you.  Nowhere near.  Like comparing the ’62 Mets and the ’86 Mets.

I’ll make sure you understand how profound that difference is.

Anyway…I love you little boy.

Like most people who love baseball, I discovered the game primarily through my father.  I had brothers and uncles who chipped in and indeed a mom, an aunt, a sister, and a sister-in-law who helped out as well.  It takes a village to raise a child who can explain the infield fly rule.  But as is the case with just about everyone who loves the game, it was my dad who really wired me up for it.  Naturally, I have a collection of memories that would rate as Hallmark-level saccharine if they hadn’t actually happened: playing catch in the backyard, going to Clifton Park, the ballfield a block from my house in Sea Cliff, New York, to work on my hitting, going to a ton of games together including my first one (a rain-soaked Fireworks Night back in 1980; Mets 7, Expos 5 at Shea; half the teams and the ballpark involved no longer exist).  It’s a classic everyday American myth and it really was a huge part of my upbringing: my dad and baseball.

Now while for sure my father taught me to love the game itself, I never really credited (many, including my wife would substitute the word “charged”) him with my passion for the team I love, the New York Mets.  For one thing, the Mets are not my dad’s first team.  Born and raised in Brooklyn, he was a diehard Dodgers’ fan who came of age when the Boys of Summer were at the apex of their glory in the late 40s and early 50s.    After Walter O’Malley cheerfully yanked my father’s still-beating heart from his chest when the soulless little skinflint did his Horace Greeley routine and took the Dodgers west, my dad like a great many traumatized Dodgers’ fans threw his lot in with the Mets when they were born in 1962.  I always knew my dad liked the Mets just fine.  He was happy when they won, attended games at Shea Stadium regularly, and the Mets had a place of honor on his television and his car radio.  He still follows them as closely as I do, always has.  But even as a kid, I always had the sense that the Mets weren’t quite his team in the same way that they were my team.   The Mets would do– National League, not the Yankees, and Queens was nice enough– but there could only be one Brooklyn Dodgers to anyone who remembered them, at least the way I figured it based on the stories he and my mom and my aunts and uncles told.

For another thing, while from a very early age there were things my dad was devoted to– my mom, us kids, the Church, his country, organized labor, Irish republicanism, the Democratic Party, more or less in that order– I never really thought he was passionate about anything.  That’s because to my razor-narrow little kid and teenager brain, you were only passionate about something if you screamed and yelled and carried on like a lunatic about it, the way I did, and still do, scream and yell and carry on like a lunatic about the Mets.   My dad never screamed, yelled, or carried on like a lunatic about anything.  It’s only as an adult that I was able to look back and realize that what I mistook for a lack of zeal was in fact only his preternatural calm about absolutely everything that ever happened anywhere near him.   I can remember us visiting family in Ireland, having to drive over the border to the north,  and my dad making pleasant small talk with a British soldier who was holding an awfully realistic-looking automatic rifle about two inches from my father’s nose.   There is a family legend involving one of my siblings as a toddler practicing letters on the living room wall.  My mom was understandably livid.  My dad just wanted to know how the kid’s handwriting looked.

This is my father.  He is simply one very reserved cool customer.   Not to impugn the Dohertys, but I have to figure the run-your-mouth-like-a-total-nutbar gene that had has such a field day in my cells all these years must come from my mother’s side of the family because I sure didn’t get such blabbermouth tendencies from my dad.  He doesn’t say much and is generally  very relaxed, not one to run too or too cold.

All of which finally brings me to my favorite baseball-related memory involving Dad.  He lost his mind during Game 7 of the 1986 World Series.

Now as anyone who has known me inside of five minutes can tell you, every Mets’ game is like Game 7 of the World Series to me.  I’ve broken major pieces of furniture over games in May.   Once while watching a mid-season game in a bar with some non-Mets’ fan friends, one person who didn’t know me well looked at me flipping out and asked “what, does he have money on this game?”  A friend replied, “no money, just his soul!” I was screaming and yelling and carrying on like a lunatic, the way I do every day from April to October.   As a kid when I would launch into an episode after a loss, my dad would pretty much ignore it.  When I would launch into an episode after a win, my dad would high-five with me, but even then I could sort of sense that he was just humoring me as I all but behanded him while “Celebration” by Kool and the Gang blared over the PA system at Shea.   He reacted to wins and losses the same way he reacted to everything else:  barely.  I would never say so, but I would often think to myself something on the order of: “dude, did you see that or didn’t you?  Fourteen innings, a brawl, like 207 ejections, and they pulled it out!  Why aren’t you helping me wake up the whole neighborhood right now?”  It never occurred to me that no matter who was making the noise, he would be the one to talk to the cops so he had a vested interest in quashing the celebrating and the agonizing.

So I never saw my dad as a passionate Mets’ fan, at least not by my standards.  And then Game 7 happened.

Dad and I were lucky enough to be on hand at Shea for Game 7 in 1986 between the Mets and the Red Sox. Considering how every game was like Game 7 to me, you can imagine how I acting during an actual Game 7.  I yelled with every pitch Ron Darling threw in the first inning.  I cheerfully participated in the sardonic standing ovation afforded Bill Buckner (still kind of regret that one).  I despaired to the point of tears when the Red Sox built an early 3-0 lead.  I revived– loudly– when Sid Fernandez authored arguably the most clutch middle relief performance in baseball history.  I went bonkers when a Keith Hernandez single made it 3-2 in the 6th, utterly bats when Ray Knight gave the Mets their first lead with a home run in the 7th, stark raving mad when Daryl Strawberry added an insurance run in the 8th with a homer of his own.  Through most of it, my dad was his usual laid-back taciturn self.

And then at one moment, he wasn’t.

I’m still not sure, but it was either Rafael Santana’s single to make it 5-3 Mets in the 7th or Jesse Orosco’s butcher-boy act that resulted in an RBI single to make it 8-5 Mets in the 8th.  I know it had to have been a play in which a runner raced home from second on a base hit because at one point I looked over to the seat next to me– and saw my dad standing on it.

Maybe you still don’t quite understand what I’m saying here.  My father was standing on his seat at a baseball game.  Yelling.  Screaming.  Carrying on like a lunatic.  I swear he was waving the runner around third every bit as manically as Bud Harrelson was in third base coach’s box.  I and about 50,000 other people present were flipping out each in his or her own way, but none of those people were my man-of-few-words cool-as-the-other-side-of-the-pillow dad.   For a few seconds, he looked like I did all the time.  And what is still to this day best of all, he looked like he was having a great time doing it.  When I high-fived him some minutes later after Jesse Orosco struck out Marty Barrett for the final out, I knew he wasn’t humoring me this time.  He was as over the moon as I was.  He had watched his team, his team, our team, win the whole thing.  Strangely, to this day I don’t know if he was there in ’55 when the first team that was his team won the World Series, so I don’t know if he had ever experienced anything like this before.  Sadly, I know neither of us has  experienced it since.

The night of October 27, 1986 I was a newly-minted thirteen-year old.  I would go on in my teen years and even my young adult years to have plenty of moments when I would be convinced that my dad didn’t get it, whatever “it” happened to be at the time.  In those instances, I would’ve done well to remember that night at Game 7.  My dad clearly got it.   He absolutely understood how I felt, felt the same himself.  He just chose to save his emotional bullets for the really important moments, like Game 7 of the World Series, whereas I was a weirdo 24/7.   I’m sure he did and still does understand how I feel in lots of other ways. We’ve always had baseball and the Mets in common.  We have even more in common today, with both us fathers now, both of four children as it turns out.  I think I understand his way of doing business better now too.    Consider this: a couple of weeks ago my son Eamon drew on a closet door in pencil and I didn’t bat an eye.

Consider this also: there was that night at Shea Stadium, during the World Series, when my dad jumped on his seat.

Okay, that does it!  You!  Jane Democrat!  My office!  Now!

Joe Republican!  You too!  On the double!


Okay fine, Jose Republicano, in my office!  Yes, yes, I know, you’re just trying to show you’ve “evolved”  on immigration.  Like anybody buys that for a second.  But that’s another story.

I have had it, just had it with both of you.  I’m used to feeling that way about Republicans, but now that the Democrats are driving me up the wall just as much, I can’t take it anymore.  So the two of you, just sit there and shut up.

Now look Jane, God knows I don’t need any convincing when it comes to the Tea Party.  I know perfectly well how backward their ideas are.   I know that  treating even the tiniest amount of government spending for even the most humane reasons like it’s a sign the cossacks are about to beat our doors down to demand the tsar’s tribute is flat crazy.  I know a bunch of suburban and rural middle and upper class white people talking about how they’re oppressed and fancying themselves modern-day minutemen  rockets way past laughable all the way to grotesquely absurd.  I know that anyone who whines about their Constitutional rights and then admits that they can’t actually explain what those rights are because they don’t study the Constitution is an utter joke.

Oh don’t look at me like that Jose, deep down you can’t abide those weirdos any more than I can.

None of that, none of that, makes the  IRS taking an extra look at them that they weren’t taking at everyone else okay. And if any part of this President’s administration was in on that, than this has President has been breathtakingly unjust.  It is breathtakingly unjust because if they can do it to the Tea Party, they can do it to labor unions or to, or to someone we actually like and isn’t composed top-to-bottom of total nutbars.  We’re still in the who-knew-what-when stage of things, so maybe Barack Obama isn’t that involved.  Even if he isn’t this happened on his watch and this is quite fairly on him.

Hold your righteously indignant horses Janey, I’m just warming up.

In a way, I could almost see scrutinizing a Tea Party organization with a little more care if you’re the IRS.  After all, we’re talking about a group of people who make no bones about how they think paying taxes is evil.  Moreover, the IRS has to play by rules that are a little hard to decipher when it comes to deciding who gets to be tax exempt and who doesn’t.  There is absolutely no excuse and no reason for the White House to go scooping up the phone records of the Associated Press.  That is slugging the First Amendment, the very best thing about this country, right in the gut.  It is part of  what it starting to sure seem like a  pattern of paranoia and securocratic behavior with this administration.

Ooh, what, did I shock you Jane Democrat?  Did I punch a hole in that creepy-looking “Hope” portrait of yours? You’re going to sit there and say you don’t see it too?  The NDAA? Drone strikes that can happen even to American citizens without due process?  Guantanamo Bay still doing a brisk business? Now the AP, just about the most respected reputable news organization in the land has its phone records seized by the government? I thought we voted this garbage out in 2008.  So much of this President’s national security policy is right out of George W. Bush’s playbook which seems to have been published in northern Ireland some time in the late 70s and early 80s.

If you and I are going to derive any good from the nonsense of the last few weeks Janey, it might be this:  it should sober us up enough to realize that much as we admire this President, the search for the ultimate liberal super-hero has not come to a conclusion after all.  There is so much to like about Barack Obama:  a slow but steady economic recovery, a reasonable sorting out of the health care train wreck, a responsible extrication from the madness of the Iraq war, one less Osama bin Laden in the world.  It’s all good stuff and he deserves to be remembered for it.  He also deserves to be remembered for the NDAA, drone strikes, and whatever role his administration  might have played in this latest assault on free speech to occur in the history of the alleged land of the free.    Just because he has a few check marks on his Good Little Liberal Scorecard for supporting gun control (eventually), same sex marriage (when he got around to it) and supporting women in the workplace (especially with all those women he has in his Cabinet– oh wait…) does not mean he’s God’s gift to progressives like he’s made out to be.   We’re always waiting for the Messiah, for a new FDR minus the segregated armed forces and Japanese internment camps, the new JFK minus the philandering, hell we’d settle for the new Bill Clinton minus the philandering.  We’re still waiting.  Barack Obama has his minuses too.  As liberals, it’s past time for us to figure that out.

Get back into your seat Joe Republican.  I’m coming to you yet.

Let’s you and I get one thing perfectly straight.  Yes, it’s wrong those Tea Party groups were picked on.  It was wrong that some Fox reporter was singed by a DOJ spotlight.  None of it, not one little scrap of it, magically transforms your backward cruel ideas into good ones.  The most amazing thing about all these scandals was that it caused what I thought to be a sheer impossibility to happen:  it got people rooting for the Tea Party.  Sean Hannity was actually right about something.  Oh that reminds me, I need to get my clock fixed.

And just cool your jets on all the Nixon comparisons.  Okay, this looks pretty crappy for Eric Holder but until we have a trail of criminals that leads straight to the Oval Office, you’re out of line.  And by the way, as I recall you guys loved that bitter little hobgoblin.

You also loved this control-freak overreach business when George W. Bush was doing it.  Don’t get on your high horse about liberty and the Constitution and freedom when you’re the same guys that gave us warrantless wiretapping and the Patriot Act.  At some level, you’re not angry about the attack on the First Amendment this mess represents.  You’re angry because you wish you’d thought of it first.

You probably think this all makes Barack Obama the Soviet-style premier you’ve all shrieked to high heaven he was from the second the man took the Oath.  It doesn’t and it’s the safest bet under the sun to figure nothing he does ever will.  It just makes  him a flawed Democrat in the White House.  The first President I can clearly remember is Jimmy Carter so really this is nothing new for me.

The problem with you both Joe and Jane is that when one of you gets even a little bit of power anywhere, you seem to make it a priority to use that power to sew the other one’s mouth shut and when you’re the one with the stitching on your lips, you cry foul but when you’re the one wielding the needle and thread you’re just protecting national security or tightening up in-house leaks or some such excuse.   We’re supposed to let everyone have their say and report the facts here.  When the say someone has or the facts being reported aren’t ones you like, you’re supposed to talk more, not try to shut the other guy up.  No one has a perfect record on this.  We’re all of us always trying to take the First Amendment away from one another.

So cool it with the self-righteous song-and-dance.  Both of you.
By the way, I’m well aware of the irony of having criticized you both for not respecting freedom of expression by telling you early on to “sit down and shut up” and don’t bother pointing it out.

Right up front:  if you’re a member of Martin Richard’s family, Krystle Campbell’s family, Lingzhi Liu’s family, Sean Collier’s family, or if you’re any of the hundreds of people injured by the Boston Marathon bombings, this doesn’t apply to you.  I’d have some nerve trying to tell any of you how to feel about anything related to the hell you’re in right now.

The rest of us on the other hand…well, we need to get over it.  At any rate, we need to be over it enough to not care where in the hell they bury Tamerlan Tsarnaev.

We’ve insisted that we’re better than the barbarians who did what they did in Copley Square on April 15th.  We are.  We’ve told anyone who would listen that we’re Boston Strong.  We are.

So shouldn’t we have been Boston strong enough not to have done something as barbaric as let someone’s body lie around and rot for days on end because that someone hurt us terribly and therefore by our holy judgement deserved it?

When you refuse burial of the body of your enemy, you’re exacting a fairly pointless revenge.  You’re not doing anything that will change anything, heal anybody, resurrect anybody.  You just want to do something hurtful to make a point because you’re consumed by frustration and outrage and…

And what is it that terrorists do again?

Everyone connected with the Boston community, even those not directly affected by the bombings, has the right to some bitterness.  We’re allowed to  feel an emotion best summed up by the words “may he rot in hell.”  We’re not allowed to give voice to it or do our best to act on it by holding up a burial. 

If we’re going to do that, or if we’re going to start beating up people we think are Muslim because we believed the sheer idiocy of  “not every Muslim is a terrorist, but every terrorist is a Muslim” (I first heard that from Gerry Callahan, but it could’ve authored by any number of right-wing lunkheads) or if we’re going to be so hateful as to suggest that Tamerlan Tsarnaev’s widow be arrested simply for wearing a hijab, I am once again forced to ask this question:

Can we at long last give up the delusion that we’re in any way a Christian nation?

Christian behavior is the kind of thing the law enforcement professionals who faced down Dzhokhar Tsarnaev five days after the bombings did.  They combed the streets of Watertown not as a death squad out to even the score  but as police trying to make an arrest.  You’re not supposed to kill anyone when you make an arrest.  You’re supposed to secure someone dangerous before anyone else gets hurt.  After he was arrested EMTs and doctors and nurses moved heaven and Earth to save Dzhokhar Tsarnaev’s life.  That’s Christian behavior.  All of it was laying down your life for your friends and loving your enemies.  You can look that up right in the Gospel.

As living Christian values goes, or just as being decent and fine and noble goes, how does that compare with say pitching a bitch because you don’t want Tamerlan Tsarnaev taking up space in a Cambridge cemetery?

I think the men and women who arrested Dzhokhar Tsarnaev and those who saved his life are who we really are here in Massachusetts, in this nation, in this world.  I think the first responders and the blood donors and the anthem singers  are who we really are.   Somewhere there is a man who has donated his grave to Tamerlan Tsarnaev.  We should all hope to be exactly like him when we grow up (and Sean Hannity has probably already called him a traitor).  The best of us is us.  Experience and the optimism that is part-and-parcel of being a practicing-if-thoroughly-flawed Christian has taught me that.

I know people who attack random Muslims aren’t us. I know those who think they’re somehow serving justice by insisting Tamerlan’s Tsarnaev’s family go through a nightmare trying to lay their justly infamous son to rest aren’t us.   I know the likes of Ann Coulter speak for a tiny nasty and irrational minority and they aren’t us.

But they’re here.  Once again, they’re here.  They’ve insisted on their stage time  in this tragic play as they always seem to at times like this.  The world  will notice them.  The part of the world that sees the Tsarnaev brothers as heroes will notice them and say “see, look at that!  They talk this big game about how they’re so enlightened, so superior, and look at that!”

I just we all can remember, especially in remembering April 15, 2013, that we are called to better, to be who we really are:  as Bostonians, as the people of Massachusetts, as Americans, but mostly as, in the words of Charles Dickens, “fellow travelers to the grave”– the human race.

The race to which we belong and to which Tamerlan Tsarnaev also belonged.

In twenty-four hours, almost everything that has needed saying has been said.

The gruesome first-hand reports.  The heartbreaking eulogies.  The inspiring stories of heroism, selflessness, and and just plain common decency.   The kindly offers of thoughts and prayers. The patriotic expressions of solidarity.   The defiant statements that are all variations on the theme of “we will not yield” virtually shouted by the people of Boston, perfectly in keeping with the flinty no-nonsense essentially blue-collar character of the city.  That’s all been done and generally done better than I ever could.

Here’s all I have to add to all those stories:  remember.

Remember the stories themselves of course, but remember every thought and emotion you experienced as you heard or read them.

It won’t make anything better for the Richards family or the Campbell family or the family of an as-yet-unnamed BU student from China.  Their worlds are broken and will never be whole again.  We can comfort, we can support, but we can never make anything better for them.

There’s a lot we can make better.  There’s a lot of good we can do.  It will never make what happened in Copley Square on Monday April 15, 2013 worth it.  But there’s a lot of good we can do.

We can do the good we failed to do after September 11, 2001.

For a few moments there in September and into October 2001, we had it.  Someone came out nowhere and ripped our guts out and we cried out in anguish and anger but we cried out together.  We each turned to the other and said “I’ll get you through this the best I can and you’ll get me through this the best you can.”  No one gave one good damn about whether the person whose shoulder you were leaning on was from a different political affiliation, a different race, a different religion, a different sexual orientation, a different anything.  That was  an American and you needed another American and another American needed you.  We treated each other just a touch more decently.  We didn’t complain as much about traffic.  We said “thank you” at the grocery store  a little more.   We stood in open-mouthed awe of first responders who not only did the most difficult and dangerous work there was to do but after they did it just shrugged and said “What else was I going to do?  This is my job.”  We cried out for justice, but we just wanted a piece of the people who did this to us, no one else.  The world understood and generally supported us.  Just for a second there, we realized that whole magazines about Britney Spears weren’t worth reading and reality shows were garbage and even I figured out that a baseball game was just a freaking game.  We treated each other better because the other, no matter who he or she was, was grieving just like we were.  We saw the pointless crap for what it was because we were thrown headlong into a world in which we had no idea if we’d ever see the people we loved most again when they merely went to work.  Nothing mattered more than telling the people closest to us how important they were to us.  We fell in love with our homes and our country, imperfect though they were,  maybe for the first time.  We wanted to make absolutely sure that cops and firefighters and EMTs knew that we thought they were made of steel, even if we’d sometimes treated them like the enemy in the past.

Every time we felt like being petty or vain or crass or mean-spirited, we remembered everything we saw and heard and read that day and we brought ourselves up short.   We remembered the grief.  We remembered the inspiration afforded us by the brave and the kindly. We remembered our patriotism. We remembered how we seemed to call one another to do a bit better now, to live out the liberty we knew had been attacked, to be better Americans, better people.

And then we didn’t.

We gave into the fear and the blind rage and the prejudice we swore we wouldn’t succumb to because that’s how our enemies behaved and it would never be us.   We came up with the Patriot Act, tolerated warrantless wire-tapping, picked a needless fight with Iraq. The rest of the world saw what we were up to and became alienated.   We were fine with profiling anyone with dark skin and a beard who bought an airline ticket, went absolutely bananas because some Muslims wanted to build a mosque kind of sort somewhat near the World Trade Center.   Even now, we have the NDAA and drones can take out American citizens just like that in the name of combating terrorism.   We went back to being thoroughly uncivil and nasty to each other.   We started caring about utter nonsense all out of proportion just like we had on September 10, 2001.

It’s possible that I’m idealizing the late summer and early fall of 2001.  I’m not saying we had crossed over into Jordan after 9/11 and then gradually crossed back.  But I truly believe for a moment there we were better.  I was there.  We were there.  In the first days and weeks after September 11th, we were responding in as right a way as you can.

In these first hours and days after April 15th, we’re getting it right again.

Open a newspaper, turn on a radio or a television, scroll through your Facebook newsfeed, and you’ll see it.   Marthon runners make it 26 miles and then just keep going to Mass General to give blood, living out in a whole new way Christ’s command in the Gospel to go the extra mile.  First responders act with courage I know the rest of us don’t have because I can barely believe they have it.  Two soldiers home from Afghanistan join in rescue efforts just like they were on regular duty.  People offers of meals and hot showers to people who couldn’t otherwise access them.  Frantic tweets and text messages zoom all over the country  to make sure someone was all right.  Candlelight vigils.  Tributes from everyone from the Chicago Tribune to Jon Stewart, every bit of it well-earned.  Prideful snarls about Boston’s toughness and resiliency, every bit of it iron-clad true.

We’re doing the right things, saying the right things, and reacting the right way.   The world is watching Boston and marveling at it.

Remember this.   Remember your grief and your inspiration and your pride.  Remember how all these stories make you feel and what they make you think.  Not just this week.  Weeks from now.  Months from now.  Years from now.  When the temptation to sink back into fear and hatred returns with a little time.  When we feel like letting ourselves off the hook from the sense of obligation we have now to be better.

Store all this up.  Let a little piece of all of us dwell in this time forever.  It will hurt.  We should let it.  Then we’ll remember.  Then maybe this time we’ll get it right for than just a few weeks.

May we all remember.

If you really want to rehabilitate your image, if you really want your enemies to suddenly start singing your praises even though all they’ve ever done is condemn you, all you need to do is die.

The death of Margaret Thatcher proved that yesterday.

From every corner of the globe, all we’ve heard about for twenty-four hours is the trail-blazing female head of government, the tough old free market advocate and cold warrior, the straight-shooting stateswoman who rose from being a humble grocer’s daughter to Baroness Thatcher.

For the whole of her political life, she was inflexible, arrogant, reactionary, and downright belligerent.  She’s dead now.  Just like that, she’s outspoken, principled, determined, and downright brave.

I’m an Irish Catholic, raised along the lines of powerful Irish Catholic values.  Bearing that in mind, my reaction to Thatcher’s death ought to come as no surprise:

May the Lord have mercy on her soul.

I’m an Irish Catholic.  I don’t wish anyone dead.  I know the comfortable acceptable stereotype says I’m supposed to be tribal and hold grudges in perpetuity over the smallest grievance.  Forgive me if I don’t hold to the script.

Forgive me also if I choose not to participate in the frantic wailing revisionism.  Forgive me if I choose to remember Margaret Thatcher as she was, not as we’ve suddenly decided, out of hypocritical politeness, we’d like her to have been.  Forgive me if I choose not to unsay today what I said yesterday about Margaret Thatcher just because today she is dead.

This is not tribal.  This is not holding a grudge in perpetuity over the smallest grievance.  When it come to the Irish, the grievances against Margaret Thatcher are titanic.

It could be fairly argued that the period of Thatcher’s premiership was the nadir of the euphemistically-named Troubles in the north of Ireland, if not the nadir of the whole Anglo-Irish relationship in the twentieth century.  That has everything to do with her, her policies, and frankly her attitudes, especially as they concerned the Irish.

For all her supposed disdain for the aristocracy, this middle-class woman was an empire lady through and through.  She believed in those good old colony days of a British Empire on which the sun never set.  She adored the Victorian values from the days when Britain was the mightiest nation on Earth.  Her attitude toward the colonized was classic British Empire: you are inferior.  Your culture, your laws, your language, everything about you is inferior to us.  We are civilization’s greatest achievement and you should be thanking your lucky stars that we are permitting you the privilege of being one of us.  If we catch you being anything other than properly grateful, we will treat you like the criminals you are.

That’s exactly the attitude Thatcher had toward Britain’s oldest, last and arguably most brutalized colony.

You saw it in her manic embrace of the Britain’s criminalization policy toward the republican movement in northern Ireland.   Anyone who objects to British rule is a criminal.   Anyone who breaks the Queen’s peace will feel the Queen’s vengeance.  Who gives a damn about their bellyaching about an apartheid system designed with the express purpose of keeping nationalists and republicans in second-class status? The desperation that young men and women might be driven to under those circumstances is irrelevant.  They’re breaking British law.  You don’t try to understand people who break British law.  You don’t try to do anything repair any alleged injustices in that law because there are no injustices.  It’s British law.  British law must be followed.  Anyone who can’t do that needs to be thrown to bloodthirsty interrogators, jury-less courts, and modified rules of evidence.  They need to be treated no better than petty thieves or rapists.  Put them into jail and make them wear convict’s uniforms.  If they protest, beat them down.  If they protest again, beat them down harder.  Let them wear blankets, sleep in their filth, starve themselves.  Do whatever is necessary until the Irish understand that they’re a conquered crushed people who’d better start cringing before their betters.

That was Margaret Thatcher’s attitude toward northern Ireland, or at least her attitude toward the nationalist and republican communities.    The loyalists?  They were just zealous defenders of the realm to her.  Oh, she did some of the song-and-dance about Britain being some poor put-upon referee caught between warring tribes of savages but if they wanted to kill some upstart human rights lawyer, so much the better.  You needed the loyalists to keep those treacherous Fenians in line.

This all might sound like an oversimplification of Thatcher’s northern Ireland policies.  Then again, Thatcher’s policies toward Ireland were very simple.  Sinn Fein and the IRA were the “men of violence” and that was that. Murder is murder as she so  self-righteously asserted.  Nationalists and republicans were enemies of the British Empire.  For Thatcher the empire lady, dealing with enemies was simple.

And as  she ran into people like Bobby Sands and Gerry Adams and Danny Morrison, people who wouldn’t cringe for her, who could outmatch her resolve, it galled her.

She didn’t get it.  She couldn’t figure out what these dirty little terrorists were ready to fight and die for.  All this for Ireland?  Dirty protests and hunger strikes and election campaigns to counteract “Rule Britannia”?  At a meeting with Irish Cardinal Tomas O Fiach during the 1981 hunger strikes, Thatcher browbeat the Cardinal about the north and said she thought the hunger strikers were just trying to prove their manhood.  The idea of principled Irish people with the courage of their convictions was beyond her comprehension.  Courage and principle were British values, alien to the Irish as far as she was concerned.  She asked O Fiach, apparently in all seriousness, why the Irish couldn’t be “friendly” just like the Germans were, even though they had once been enemies of the Crown.  O Fiach told her the Germans could afford to be friendly since the British were no longer in occupation of the Ruhr.  I can only imagine the blank stare His Eminence must have received.

All this is Margaret Thatcher’s legacy in Ireland.  It is a legacy that directly led to a portion of the Anglo-Irish conflict as vicious as any in its 800 year history.  It is a legacy of repression, divisiveness, cruelty, and sheer bloodthirstiness.  For all the niceties being parroted over the last 24 hours, that is her record.  That cannot and should not be rewritten.   That is Margaret Thatcher.

Baroness Thatcher quoted the Prayer of St. Francis as she took office at 10 Downing Street.  The almighty nerve of the woman.  Perhaps she went to her grave genuinely believing she lived that prayer out.  Certainly many others seem to think she did.   Anyone who knows the facts, certainly the facts in Ireland, knows that she sowed hatred instead of love, injury instead of pardon, despair instead of hope, and darkness instead of light.

But may the Lord have mercy on your soul, Margaret Thatcher.

It won’t change what you did.

We know.


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