They can keep changing the rules, but we don’t have to be obedient. (Plus 3 sneak peeks into Book 8)

My 6-year-old tried to play chess with me at their school’s STEM night last week. I didn’t realize he knew the rules, and it turns out he doesn’t, because he produced a secret weapon: a 6-legged spider he’d made out of clay in his class earlier.

“This is spider-guy,” he announced. “And he can eat all of your little white guys there.”

Before I knew it, the clay creature had wiped a handful of my “white guys” off the board.20180501_182939.
So that’s how this was going to be played.

“Fine,” I said, and looked around for my secret weapon. “This is Stapler Man, and he can chomp your spider-guy.”

“Good job, Mom!” he cheered as I nudged his spider off the board, but then he plunked spider-guy back into play. “But my guy has 175 lives.”

“I see,” I said, and if he was going to change all the rules every minute, like a game of Calvin Ball in Calvin and Hobbes, so could I. “Stapler Man has 180 lives, and he’s coming after your king.”

My son sighed and said, “You can’t change the rules like that, Mom.”

“But you just did.”

He hesitated, seeing that if he turned things unfairly to his advantage, I might too. (Yeah, I’m that kind of mom.) “Let’s go see the salmon babies,” he said, and the game was over as we headed to the fish tanks.

In my sophomore English classes we’re reading All But My Life, about a 15-year-old Jewish girl who is forced into the Nazi labor camps and is one of the few who survives. Last week we read about the ever-changing rules in regards to Jews; they can’t own phones, or cars, or bikes, or even fountain pens. They have to turn over the gold, their goods, their houses. Signs go up: “Gardens only for Germans,” and “No dogs or Jews allowed.”

The rules change daily, to the advantage of the Nazis, but the Jews aren’t able to play that game back at them or they’re shot.

My students, while fascinated by the story, have asked why this “history” book is in our English curriculum. We talk about language—euphemisms, propaganda, etc.—but the class is also about thinking and analyzing.

So I’ll tell them, “This memoir isn’t only about history, but about language, about control, about the direction we’re going right now. How are you going to survive in a country where the rules are changing daily?”

We all see this—it’s no secret: the elite, in various organizations, are manipulating situations to fit what they want to have happen. It’s not about the good of the country, but the selfishness of a handful. The rest of us struggle to know if we can shift those rules again, or somehow subvert them.

In the book we’re reading, Gerda Weissmann begins to learn English on the sly, and even though she’s denied an education, her father teachers her out of the textbooks they still own in the privacy of their house. (Proving that homeschooling is for subversives.)

My parents grew up in Nazi Germany. Their families–not Jews and certainly not Nazis—realized early on Hitler was going to be disastrous for Germany. Quietly, privately, they tried to subvert the changing rules the elite imposed upon them. They had more chickens than allotted and hid them when the inspectors came; they had doctors write notes excusing their children from attending Hitler Youth; they traded cigarette and coffee rations (Mormons don’t use those) on the black market for more flour and sugar; and my great-grandfather blackmailed a Nazi recruiter who tried to secure his money for their cause. The Nazis never bothered him again.

In the Book of Mormon is a story about a group of followers of God who are oppressed by their government (Mosiah 24). They’re told they can’t pray or they’ll be executed. The people simply didn’t pray out loud, but in secret, knowing that God would still hear them. Quiet subversiveness when the rules are purposely stacked against them.

It seems almost daily that the rules are changing, that more and more laws are purposely designed to hold down one group while elevating another.

Unfair? Absolutely.

But the question is, how do we respond—individually and collectively—to the oppressive elite?

Maybe a situation is benign enough that we can pull out our own “stapler guy” and change the rules once again for more even odds.

Or maybe a problem is so grave that our defiance equates our death—politically, mentally, spiritually, or literally. That’s a much more difficult situation to manage.

But there seem to be many opportunities for outward obedience yet inward rebellion.
However, there should never, ever be quiet acceptance.

Because if we don’t even try to fight, then we’ve already given up and they win.

(Because I’m so eager to get you Book 8 “The Last Day” this summer, I’m giving you THREE sneak peeks!)

#1 Sneak Peek

“Oh yes, General.” Young Pere squinted with disdain. “That makes me want to call you ‘father.’ Hit me all you want, Thorne, but you can never change who I am or what you are. So choose the slagging canyon yourself.”

From the corner of his eye, Young Pere could see Hili beaming. But Thorne stood shocked, not used to such flagrant insubordination, and evidently didn’t know how to proceed.

Finally Thorne whispered, in as sinister a voice as he could muster, “I have one more thing to do with you, Shin. Then I will kill you myself. Nothing will give me greater pleasure. Your days are numbered, make no mistake about that!”

Young Pere nodded once, not at all intimidated. Thorne was full of unmet promises; just ask anyone he’d told he’d give a medal. He still owed Young Pere a few.

#2 Sneak Peek

Shin frowned at Sergeant Beaved. “So I’m supposed to go along with all of this?” 

“If you want to live, yes!”

“Is that what all of you do?” Shin exclaimed. “Just go along with whatever unbelievable and unlikely story preserves you for another day?”

“Yes,” Beaved said shortly. “Why not?”

“Living in lies? That doesn’t bother you?”

Beaved leaned in. “What bothers me is the idea of dying, Shin.”

“Doesn’t bother me,” he said, almost believably.

“Look, Shin, just . . .” Beaved groaned quietly. “I don’t know what the truth is myself, but I do know this: you have a chance to survive this. A small chance, getting smaller each time you open that big mouth of yours. But if I were you I’d cling to that chance, do whatever it takes to preserve your life. You can fix the lies later, if necessary, but you can’t if you’re dead.”

#3 Sneak Peek

“I’m as helpful as I know to be, Teach,” Shin said down to the man following him on the slope of the mountain.

“But one could be more helpful, Shin. Considering that Thorne has repeatedly threatened one of your security detail if you fail.”

Below him, Cloud Man bounced his head, oblivious that Thorne had threatened to bounce the vial head down the mountain if the private wouldn’t be more cooperative.

“Interesting,” Shin said as he searched for better footing. “Thorne’s so ‘noble’ as to force us to seek out Salem, and he’s so ‘noble’ that he’s also threatening one of his own soldier’s lives to do so. Perhaps I’m not that familiar with the definition of nobility. Enlighten me, Teach.”

He heard Teach moan below him again, maybe because of the question or because he was smacked by another tree branch. Hopefully both.

“Nobility. Doing that which the circumstances demand.”

“That’s it?”

“Language usage wasn’t my specialty in the university,” Teach admitted.

“What was your specialty?”

“I specialized in it all.”

Shin stifled a snort. “But not language usage?”

“Why bother? Everyone knows how to talk, don’t they?”

Shin reached for another scrubby brush. “So who decides ‘what circumstances demand’? When someone is acting in everyone’s best interests and not just out of his own selfishness?”

“Are you suggesting General Thorne is selfish?” Teach asked.

“Yes.”

The scoff behind him made Shin glance down.

Teach was aghast. “You actually admit that?”

“I said only what you’re thinking, Teach. What everyone on this hill is thinking but is too afraid to say.”

Don’t care what the world thinks: 7 steps in the pursuit of peace!

In a quest for a more peaceful existence (I really wish I could live in the world of Books 5 and 6 of my series), I’ve been eliminating that which causes undue stress. No, I’m not abandoning my house or nine children, but I’ve been thinking about my dad, how he was the most calm, pleasant, peaceful man I knew.

IMG_0529

My dad, Rudy Strebel, in 2007, holding a granddaughter.

Not that his life was easy—he suffered as a child in WWII Germany, then had a wife he dearly loved but who had frequent and violent bouts with PTSD from her traumatic life as a refugee. In their 50+ years of marriage, I never knew him to lose his temper with her but did his best to soothe her paranoia and terror, every time. And I can count on three fingers the amount of time he slightly raised his voice at me.

He chose to be peaceful, and he was also very careful as to what he let into his life. He didn’t read, watch, or listen to anything that could harm his spirit or drag him down.

He wasn’t ignorant of the world, but he purposely distanced himself  from it to remain unspotted as it splashed in filthy waters.

Lately I’ve been trying to pursue peace as he did, and have implemented ways to limit what weighs down my mind and soul. I’ve incorporated a number of minimalist ideas, and I’m finding greater calm in my life by doing the following:

  1. Unsubscribe! To those emails that entice you to see what’s on sale, what the latest thing is, what you “really don’t want to miss!”

Miss it anyway. Don’t be lured in, don’t be tricked into buying something simply because it’s a great deal, and don’t waste time reading what can’t elevate you. It’s all distracting, even just deleting it, having to swat it away like a pesky mosquito. Get rid of them altogether. I’ve been opening, scrolling down, and unsubscribing from dozens of emails–even from places where I still buy something once or twice a year–and my feeds are cleaner, sleeker, and calmer. All that remains now is that which is really important for me to consider.

2. Unfollow! Here’s an awesome feature on Facebook: stay friends, but stop seeing every little thing they do.

Image result for unfollow facebook

I’ve realized that I care only about my family (we have a secret group just for us), and some neighbors and friends who consistently demonstrate insight and humor–qualities I value.

The other hundreds of “friends”? I’ve unfollowed them. I can always check on them every few months if I feel the need (if I remember who they are).

In the meantime, I’ve cut out a mind-cluttering stream of whining, bragging, complaining, and comparing. It’s been like leaving junior high all over again–sweet relief!

Now I have a feed of primarily funny, inspiring, and heartfelt posts.

Twitter, Instagram, all those others? I don’t even go there, but you can also pare those down significantly to refine your life.

3. Tune out! I quit listening to the radio years ago and felt my blood pressure in the car normalize instantly. We never watch TV news, I skim the newspaper for only important news, and I’ve quit following nearly every online news outlet.

The result? The world keeps on churning but I don’t have to swim in that muck. I know what’s going on, but I observe only from a distance. Getting angry over the world doesn’t fix it. Stepping away from it, however, allows me to continue raising my family with peace of mind.

4. Ignore trends! Years ago, I quit following trends in home décor, clothing, and etc. by eliminating magazines and TV shows that told me what I had was out of date. How much more I love my house and wardrobe now that I’m not worried what the world thinks of it! And I’ve saved a lot of money, too.

And no one, ever, has said anything about me not being trendy enough. It’s like no one really cares.

5. Don’t participate! Like my dad, I’ve chosen to not listen to music that degrades or is “hard.” I listen to soundtracks and trailer albums instead. I read only books that satisfy and uplift; one summer, I sent back nearly a dozen library books after their first chapters because they were smutty, suggestive, or crude. I don’t watch rated-R movies or anything excessively violent, vulgar, or profane. All of that introduces anger and angst to my soul, qualities I’m purposely ushering out.

Yes, it’s sometimes hard to find something current to watch or read, but there are also a lot of classics out there waiting to be discovered. I’m also taking up my dad’s habit to read more biographies of truly great people, and more doctrinal works that teach me deeper about the nature of God.

6. Choose kindness! This one can be tough, especially for me because I inherited my mother’s cynical mind and tongue (when she was well, she was acerbic and hilarious). My father, however, while full of dad-jokes (he invented them all), was also unfailingly kind, even to his end. He suffered from Alzheimer’s, but the staff at his assisted living center said that while many in his condition became angry or violent, my dad never did. It was as if his mind had been choosing for so long to be kind that it simply didn’t understand rudeness.

Kindness softens the soul, and when I’m kind to people, especially strangers, sweet peace comes. As an introvert, I don’t like talking to people and tend to be abrupt with strangers, especially when I’m checking out with my groceries. I need this t-shirt:

Introverts t-shirt

But I’m trying harder to smile genuinely, thank sincerely, and respond to their questions with more than two-word answers.

I’m also trying to consider everyone with a kinder heart, and a more generous attitude. Even just thinking kindly brings peace.

7. Be quiet! No, not “kindly shut up,” but I mean, take time to be quiet and disconnect. Yesterday it was 85 degrees, so I took my 5-year-old son to a splash pad. I watched him for 45 minutes racing the sprays and screaming when the water went up his nose. He dried off for ten minutes and we watched a front-loader moving dirt the whole time, seeing how much dirt he dropped as he drove.

It was “quiet” in that I wasn’t listening to music, or playing on my phone, nor was I even reading. I was simply enjoying the water splashing, the boy yelling (happily), and the truck moving dirt. Purely peaceful, purely disconnected from the bigger world. I could focus on the most important part of the world, right in front of me. 

I am finding greater quiet and calm in my life in a world that’s increasingly not, and I’m always looking for new strategies. What works for you? How do you eliminate the world and its nonsense, and find peace and serenity instead?

“We don’t care about what the world thinks of us, Young Pere. You know that. We left it behind and have never regretted it.”

Peto realized there were many pure men and women, but they couldn’t exist in the polluted world.

~ Book 6, Flight of the Wounded Falcon      

Two logical reasons why I bizarrely thank canning jars . . . and everything else

I didn’t realize until I was older that we had a weird tradition in our house. It was mandatory that when a canning jar popped, no matter what part of the house my mother was in, she’d shout, “Thank you!”

If she wasn’t home, that duty fell to me, and I didn’t always want to do it.

My mother, a refugee from Germany after WWII, learned how to can after she came to America. But she was always worried about sealing the jars properly, so she’d watch the jars, waiting for the lid to pop up indicating that it had sealed. Relieved, my mother would exclaim, “Oh, thank you!”

Over the years, it became a habit to thank each jar for sealing properly, and I grew up knowing that when the jars popped in the kitchen, “Thank you!” needed to be shouted. Otherwise, who knew what evil would transpire?

I thought the tradition was ridiculous, especially when I discovered that no one else did this.

When I was twelve, Mom pulled out a batch of pears, then went outside to pick strawberries. It was then that a cooling jar popped, and . . .  I was the only one to hear it.

I knew what was expected—that I should thank it, but how stupid was that? Thanking an inanimate object?

The house became very quiet and still, as if waiting for me to thank the jar for its kindness in sealing, but I wasn’t going to do it, not going to—

“Thank you,” I finally whispered, because the cosmos seemed to demand it.

Two more jars popped cheerfully after that, and I thanked each of them. Fortunately my mom came back into the house and asked urgently, “Did any pop?”

“Yes, and I thanked them,” I said sheepishly.

She thanked each of the jars herself anyway, just to be sure.

It wasn’t until about ten years later, when I tried canning for the first time, that I eagerly and worriedly watched for my first can of tomatoes to signal its sealing. When it did, I cried out, “Oh, thank you!”

And immediately I understood. And immediately I was hooked.

You see, I began to thank all kinds of things; our old vans when they start without spluttering (I frequently pat them on the dashboard, telling them what good vehicles they are); the driver’s side window of my minivan when it decides to go up when I push the button—especially when it starts raining; my printer when it communicates with my laptop and actually prints something; when the traffic light stays green for a second longer; when there’s a 2-for-1 sale on my favorite bagged salad—all of that gets an audible, “Thank you!”

Yes, even in the grocery store.

I’ve found myself saying “Thank you!” when:
my sons’ favorite t-shirts are on sale;
that 50% off coupon is still good at the fabric store;
the berries produce;
the bread rises;
I get to the pot just before it boils over; and
when the stain comes out in the laundry.

Because everything deserves thanks, animate or inanimate.

It’s contagious. My oldest daughter confessed that when she cans, she also calls out “Thank you!” each time a jar pops; another child thanks the scooter when it starts up; and the other day I heard my four-year-old thank his Legos for going together.

There are numerous studies showing the spiritual/psychological/emotional improvements when we count our blessings, but here are the reasons why I became hooked on thanking the world:

  • It immediately makes me happy. Think of every time you say thank you, or someone says it to you. There is always—always—a hint of a smile (or maybe a huge one, depending upon the situation).

I have yet to witness a sincere expression of thanks without accompanying happiness.

  • I feel in harmony with the world when I thank it, and that makes me peaceful. So what if it’s weird to thank the automatic door for opening; I do so anyway. It might not have opened, and that may have made me grumpy as I wrestled with doors, trying to leave the store.

But something kind and helpful happened for me, as it does every day, so I show gratitude. It does nothing for the item I thank, but it does ME a world of good: I see the world as a kind and helpful place, which in many,  many ways it still is.

I need to remind myself that there is peace, even during horrific times, or I’ll hide in my closet terrified of the world.

My mom told me once of fleeing the Soviets when they were taking over her hometown of Neisse (Nysa), now in Poland. She was a teenager, fleeing all alone to the west, and had only a sausage in her backpack for food. She found a mother and her child willing to shelter her for the night, and she shared her sausage with them. She thanked the woman for safety from the Soviets, and the woman thanked her for giving them something to eat when she had literally nothing left.

And for that evening, for them, the world was at peace. I don’t know about you, but I desperately want that kind of peace in a world growing more hostile. My mom always remembered that night fondly, when she realized that kindness still existed, and so did God.

Yvonne N Strebel 1

(My  mom, a few years later, in happier times in Munich.)

So really, it’s not so much thanking the world as an inanimate object, either; it’s thanking, in many different ways, the Creator of it all.

“Thank you,” Perrin said again to the forest, wondering if anyone was there to hear it.

Back behind a clump of pines, a man in white and gray mottled clothing nodded. “You’re welcome, sir. My pleasure and honor.” ~Book One: The Forest at the Edge of the World

why-i-thank-the-jars

 

I hate guns, but there’s something I hate even more (A pacifist’s confession)

I hate guns.

They terrify me. They kill, indiscriminately, even in the hands of the most skilled and trained users.

I hate their shape, their noise, and the smell of the cleaning agents.

My neighborhood is filled with gun-lovers. Hunters, cops, concealed-weapon holders—I’m surrounded by them. I wish I knew who stored loaded handguns in their houses, because I wouldn’t let my kids play there. All of that frightens me, to no end.

Many of my extended family are gun-nuts. They own arsenals. They’re gunsmiths. Bullets are stockpiled as plentifully as toilet paper is stock piled in my house.

Even my husband owns guns. I require that they remain dismantled, and stored in various parts of the house, because I hate them.

There are far too many accidental shootings and deaths. I don’t want anyone to come running to my aid, wielding a firearm, because I fear they’d shoot an innocent bystander in my behalf.

I’ve never shot a gun, but all of my kids have. My son is in the military, and two of his brothers intend to follow him. I’ve handled our family guns a couple of times, only by wrapping an old towel around them. I distrust weapons of all kinds.

You may choose to be offended by this, but I also tend to distrust gun enthusiasts. Some strike me as insecure bullies, hiding behind their weapons in a childish display of bravado and strength. Look at me! Look at the size of my caliber! There’s definitely something Freudian, and something cowardly, about those who feel their many guns give them power.

I’m a bit of a pacifist, if you hadn’t noticed. I crave peace.

I’m struck by the calm countenances I see in those who eschew violence: Ghandi, the Dalai Lama, and many others who would rather take a hit rather than deliver one. My father, who taught me to hate guns, was the most peaceful man I ever knew.

Yet, there’s something that terrifies me even more than guns: those who want to disarm my family and neighbors, while still remaining armed themselves

I prefer “The Office’s” version of a Mexican standoff: no guns.

It’s the clichéd Mexican standoff: no one dares to drop their weapon, because it’ll leave them vulnerable. I have to confess, those are the scenes in movies I hate the most. I can’t see any peaceful resolution, and you just know someone’s gonna get hit, probably when they’re walking away.

It’s that hypocrisy that makes me nervous.

It’s the same hypocrisy that I see in the elite of America: those with the money and the power and the influence. Those who make laws and entertainment and products we don’t think we can live without.

Those who are trying, at all costs, to take away from us so that they can have more.

You know who I’m talking about, so I won’t name names, but here’s a brief rundown of what they do:

  • They push for Common Core in the public schools, while sending their children to private schools which don’t follow those standards.
  • They insist on sharing the wealth, but just not theirs, because they still maintain mansions, expensive cars, and designer clothing.
  • They cry about climate change, yet pick up their conservation awards via private jets and gas-guzzling SUVs.
  • They won’t carry guns, but their bodyguards do.
  • They want to disarm America, but not those in their circles of influence.

A hypocrite is the kind of politician who would cut down a redwood tree, then mount the stump and make a speech for conservation. ~Adelai E. Stevensen

It’s the same pattern we’ve seen in history, time and time again. America may not have an aristocracy like there was in the French Revolution, but . . . No, wait. We do. They’re based in Hollywood and Washington, D.C.

How difficult it is to avoid having a special standard for oneself. ~C. S. Lewis

These are very dangerous, very powerful people. For many years I’ve tried to give them the benefit of the doubt. So often I’ve defended those who want more gun restriction and laws, not because I agree with their politics (I don’t, at all) but because I sincerely believe that peace can’t happen when so many options for violence surround us.

I thought the elite of America felt that way as well.

But they duped me.

A hypocrite despises those whom he deceives, but has no respect for himself. He would make a dupe of himself too, if he could. ~William Hazlitt

They’re not interested in peace, for everyone. They’re interested only in control, for themselves. You can’t achieve that control if those below you are afforded any power.

My very peaceful father grew up during WWII, in very violent Nazi Germany. His father, a civilian, went nowhere without his sidearm (contrary to popular memes, Hitler did not disarm all of Germany; only the Jews). My parents, both later citizens of America, frequently commented how naive Americans were, how overly trusting we are of those in power, and how little we understand of the horrors of a totalitarian regime.

“This is what politics is about, right? We help the people discover the threat to their security, then we provide them with a solution. Granted, we create the threat that sends them scurrying to us for help . . .” ~Book 4: The Falcon in the Barn

This is why, no matter how much I personally hate guns, I reluctantly, begrudgingly, miserably agree that taking away all of the guns out of the hands of the public will be more disastrous than the bouts of violence we have now.

“Politicians care only about two kinds of people: those who bring them wealth and power, and those who threaten to take it away.” ~Book 3: The Mansions of Idumea

politicians and power

To the elite of America, I promise that this lowly, inconsequential, middle-aged mother of nine who will never willingly touch a firearm will, once again, support your calls for increased gun legislation and even disarmament, on one condition:

Put down your guns first.

But we all know that’s not going to happen.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’ll do what I usually do during a scene of a Mexican standoff: run to my bedroom and hide in the closet until it’s all over.

I’ll likely be there for a very long time.

(~Book 5, Safety Assured Leaving East of Medicetti, is now available at Amazon and Smashwords and here)

Why didn’t you do anything to stop him?

“Why didn’t you do anything to stop him?”

That’s what people frequently asked my father. He immigrated to America in the 1950s, and had a subtle yet clear German accent.  “Why didn’t you stop Hitler when you noticed he was ruining everything? He completely changed Germany, and you did nothing about it!”

My dad would answer, calmly and rationally (even though some of those who asked were hardly calm or rational in their verbal attacks). “First, I was born in 1931, so I wasn’t too influential in the politics of the 1930s and 1940s. Second, what could we have done?”

That question has weighed heavily on my mind these past few years as I’ve watched facets of our government morph into something I don’t recognize as America anymore.

Now, this is NOT an Obama-is-Hitler post. But the questions asked of my father have been clanking around in my mind for some time now. “Why aren’t we doing something?”

I won’t go into details of what worries me in our government (except to whine that the ironically named Affordable Care Act isn’t affordable, doesn’t care, and is completely an act; and that the impending immigration reform via executive order [read: tyrannical mandate] would infuriate my immigrant parents who jumped through all kinds of hoops to come to America legally).

But I won’t be surprised when, in years from now, our children ask the same question: “Why didn’t you stop him when you noticed he was ruining everything? He completely changed America, and you did nothing about it!”

IMG_3277

Don’t worry; my baby girl wasn’t traumatized for too long.

Now I freely admit that not everything about Obama is bad. No one is wholly evil (even Darth Vader had a few soft spots).

Personally, we have benefited immensely from the Income Based Repayment program for student loan payments, signed into law by Obama in 2009. Without that, we’d be living in a cardboard box right now, while a huge chunk of our income went to pay off our student loans. I’m grateful for this program and pray that it lasts.

My father, too, was grateful for the Autobahn and Volkswagen, initiatives of Hitler to help the common man. And in many ways, Hitler was a man of morality. He never smoked or drank alcohol, and instituted a “Fast day” where citizens fasted for a meal and were encouraged to give the food they didn’t eat to the poor. Hitler increased education, reduced unemployment, rebuilt Germany’s infrastructure, and—contrary to popular belief and internet memes—relaxed Germany’s gun laws so that more citizens could be armed and even purchase guns at younger ages (the Jews, however, he disarmed, unsurprisingly).

In 2004, my dad was asked to speak to the fourth graders at a local school, and he told them that, “Hitler was a very convincing and inspiring speaker, and he could convert many of his listeners to his ideologies.  . . . Depression, unemployment, and poverty were rampant, and he wanted to turn things around.” And he did.

And that’s when Germans decided he wasn’t such a bad chap . . . until things started to shift.

And that’s when it was too late. Germany was becoming a country unrecognizable to its citizens. Within just twelve years, he changed everything, while Germans stared in disbelief wondering what just happened.

I worry that it’s happening here, too. The Constitution was established to keep our borders safe so that citizens could live their lives as their consciences dictated. But we’ve been drifting away from that for some time now, and considering historically that no republic has lasted intact longer than 200 years, I suppose it’s time for us to implode. As Alexis de Tocqueville wrote, “The American Republic will endure until the day Congress discovers that it can bribe the public with the public’s money.”

I’m definitely no politician, primarily because I feel my heart rate increase, along with my blood pressure, when I read what’s changing in our country. How the Constitution is disregarded. How the Supreme Court overreaches. How states’ wishes and votes are overturned by judges not even in their states. And how the president can do just about anything he wishes through an executive order, while Congress bickers and does nothing.

When Ronald Reagan said, “The scariest sentence in the English language is, ‘I’m from the government, and I’m here to help,’” he was prophetic.

It is the duty of the patriot to protect his country from its government.
~Thomas Paine

My father told the fourth graders: “At Hitler’s rallies the masses shouted, ‘Leader, command; we follow you!’ With this shout, Germans surrendered their reasoning power and forgot to think for themselves. Later we found out that actors with loud voices were interspersed in the crowd, and at the right moments they shouted this cry and the crowd repeated it.”

Are we all just going along with the crowd as well? Because a few well-placed voices are shouting that it’s ok to follow blindly, to let Common Core decide our children’s education, or that the wife of the president can declare how many calories my kids eat at lunch?

I believe there are more instances of the abridgment of the freedom of the people by the gradual and silent encroachment of those in power, than by violent and sudden usurpation.
~President James Madison

We have no excuse for doing nothing about the abridgement of freedoms we’re experiencing. Again, from my dad: “How was it that Hitler had such tight control over the whole nation? The answer lies with the Gestapo, or State Secret Police. Midnight visitors might show up and take that person in ‘protective custody,’ and they wound up in a nearby concentration camp. Smart people knew how to keep silent.”

We’re smart people (perhaps) and we don’t have to keep silent. We don’t have a Gestapo (but we do have an IRS, which Tea Party members would be happy to tell you about).

The Constitution is not an instrument for the government to restrain the people; it is an instrument for the people to restrain the government — lest it come to dominate our lives and interests.
~Patrick Henry

But we do have social media, we have forums, we have ways to complain and protest—many more than we had in the 1960s when they really knew how to protest—yet nothing’s improving. Political parties squabble uselessly, and we citizens suffer for it. Those who hold religious and moral values are increasingly persecuted for not embracing behaviors we deem against the will of God. And despite our public protests on social media, we’re losing.

If ever time should come, when vain and aspiring men shall possess the highest seats in Government, our country will stand in need of its experienced patriots to prevent its ruin.
~Samuel Adams

So how do we do prevent our country’s ruin? What would Samuel Adams do? Thomas Jefferson? I’m sincerely asking for ideas.

I also ask this since I can’t ask my father, who’s still alive at age 83, but whose mind is gone because of Alzheimer’s. Back when George Bush declared war on Iraq, Dad wrote a letter to the editor of his local newspaper stating his concerns about the action, and also wrote to the White House. He was proud of the response he received from Washington, and that his letter was published in the paper, but was discouraged that we still went to war. Twice.

Repeatedly he told me as I was growing up that we had to speak up when we thought something wasn’t right in our country. “We didn’t have that possibility in Germany, but we do in America.”

He was so proud to be an American citizen. He served in the Army, always voted, wrote many letters to politicians, and had the phone numbers for Oren Hatch’s office and the White House on his phone list. And he called them!

dad confused

Dad, and his classic, “Oh, brother . . .” look of dismay.

Later, he amended his answer when people asked him why he didn’t do anything about Hitler. “I was a child in WWII, but as an adult I make sure my opinion is heard. I became an American citizen because I love this country and believe in the pursuit of freedom for everyone. What are YOU doing to make sure this country remains free?” 

Strange as this sounds, I’m glad Dad’s awareness and memory is impaired. He’d be dismayed to see how we’ve strayed from the Constitution he dutifully studied. He’d be wringing his hands in worry that history was repeating itself, trusting a man who thought much more of himself than he should, and took upon him much more power than was ever intended.

Most of all, I still hear him saying, “Why didn’t you do anything to stop him?”

America will never be destroyed from the outside. If we falter and lose our freedoms, it will be because we destroyed ourselves.
~Abraham Lincoln

People tend to trust whoever sets themselves up as the authorities, but at some point each person needs to look at what’s claimed and test it. Is the sunset really pink, or is it more of an orange? What do you see?

Did the government deserve her trust? They acted as if they already had it, Mahrree thought cynically. As if they could just take it, not earn it. And no one was questioning that, were they? They collect our trust as easily as they collect our taxes. We wanted them to succeed so we trust them blindly. Foolishly. And they’re using that. If people stop arguing, stop thinking, and are just willing to take—to trust—whatever the authority dishes out, they’ll accept just about anything— 
~The Forest at the Edge of the World (book 1)

 

“She knew that in a very real way, she controlled the world. At least, she controlled the way her students would see it.”

“That’s right, sweety—that’s a dog. Doggies are bad. They will always bite you, even if they look nice. Keep walking . . .”

That was the conversation I overheard between a mom and her three-year-old daughter yesterday. I was pushing my son in a stroller past them, and glanced over at the evil beast behind a massive fence.
It was a small, fluffy mixed breed dog, panting happily, not snapping at all.

Not that I’m a huge fan of dogs—I tolerate them, at best—but I worry when an adult passes along their fears, irrational or not, to their children.

I cringed, but the damage had been done.
The child shuddered obediently and gripped her mother’s hand as they rushed home. The girl had been indoctrinated.

The thing is, we all indoctrinate our children, in good ways and bad.
I’ve heard some adults argue that “religious nuts” brainwash their kids into believing in their faith, but it’s still propaganda when adults persuade children to not believe in anything at all.

As parents we literally present the world to our children—a view which they then spend the rest of their lives believing or disproving, or talking to a therapist about.
A difficult question then is, What view of the world have I given to my children?

My mother was a classic case of paranoia run amok. Suffering in Germany as a child during WWII, losing her parents, her grandmother, and several cousins to the war, seeing some of her family interred in concentration camps, then escaping from her home (now a part of Poland) to the west by herself as a 16-year-old, just one day ahead of the invading Russians, is going to leave some scars.

Unfortunately, she refused to have those scars looked at, insisting every time we tried to get her treatment for her Post Traumatic Stress Disorder that she had things under control.
She didn’t.
She feared the world. She was afraid of people in uniforms (she hated the Boy Scouts—just like Hitler Youth, she claimed), people in stores (you never know why they’re looking at you), and people just chatting in the halls at church (she knew they were gossiping about her). Every person was a potential threat to her happiness, as it were.

Sometimes she was fine, going for months being cheerful and even joining in the conversations with other women in our neighborhood.
Then suddenly something would snap again—we never knew what the trigger was—and for many months and even years she was sure everyone hated her for her German accent, and that someone was coming to get her.

All of that rubs off on a kid, and even though I learned to distance myself from her delusions and paranoia as a teenager, I still feel my chest tighten when I see a group of women and I think I’m supposed to talk to them.
But rhetoric courses I took in college demonstrated how each person views the world in a different way and, most importantly, those views can change.

In my mom’s later years, her paranoia blossomed—one of the lesser-common side effects of Parkinson’s disease is hallucinations. And she did them magnificently.

My 40th birthday will always be memorable because she called to wish me a happy birthday, then said, “Well, your father’s all but out of the family now since I discovered he’s been having affairs.” The man was 78 at the time. My mom also complained about the listening devices in the house, the person living in the attic demanding sugar, and the horrible statue garden my brother and his wife had put up in the backyard.

My older sister called me two hours later to say, “I just had Mom committed to the mental hospital to stabilize her. How’s that for a birthday present?”

Now, four years later, my mother barely knows where she is or who she is. As her life slips away, I mourn for her that she never fully knew just how wonderful it could be. The world held her hostage since she was a little girl. She never knew how to change her view of the world, nor did she fully realize that for the past sixty-plus years she had a very easy life. All she could focus on was her fear.

That’s why I cringed when I heard that mother yesterday telling her daughter to be afraid of dogs. Undoubtedly she’s had some trauma in her past that she never got over, but to pass those fears on to someone innocent?
To taint an entire collection of creatures with just one ugly color because of a bias?
To assume that we as adults truly know how everything is, and that we’re completely correct in all our assumptions?

I don’t know whether to call that prejudice, or arrogance, or ignorance.
Whatever it is, it needs to be resolved to give our kids a fair and fighting chance.
And that’s probably the toughest thing for a parent to do.