28 Days of Inspiration – Day 23

75th Anniversary Reunion of the Battle of Gettysburg

Last night the Chicago Cubs erased a 108-year championship drought in the 10th inning of game 7 of the World Series in Cleveland.  This effectively passed the torch of longest active championship droughts from the 1908 Chicago Cubs to the 1948 Cleveland Indians.

Just 5 years after the Cubs last World title, there was a gathering of Civil War veterans at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania for the 50th Anniversary of the battle.  There was consternation as to what may transpire when the some 53,000 veterans of the war – now aged men – from 46 states came together to mark the occasion.  However, according to the event’s Wikipedia page: “the peaceful reunion was repeatedly marked by events of Union–Confederate camaraderie.President Woodrow Wilson’s July 4 reunion address summarized the spirit: “We have found one another again as brothers and comrades in arms, enemies no longer, generous friends rather, our battles long past, the quarrel forgotten—except that we shall not forget the splendid valor.”

Twenty-five years later, there was one final reunion in 1938 for the 75th Anniversary of the battle.  My dad was a 7-year old boy.  I let that sink in from time to time; that my father was a little boy at a time civil war veterans – however few – still carried with them a time when the fate of this country was less than secure.

Capture.PNG
 On July 6,  John W. Cooper (91), a Confederate veteran of Largo FL., and Union veteran Daniel T. Price (91), of Marion, IN., and David T. Weaver (95), a Confederate veteran of Muldrow, OK passed away at a local hospital. photo from newspapers.com. Veterans’ stories from civilwartalk.com

The ensuing 25-years reduced the number of gathered civil war veterans from 53,000 to  about 2000. In 1913 there were about 8000 Confederate soldiers in attendance now there was an estimated 8000 total living veterans of the war – only about 70 gathered had actually fought at the battle of Gettysburg.

The veterans average age was 94 and they began arriving June 29 in 12 special Pullman trains.  Not on veteran died en route to the gathering, but two or three died before the celebration closed and five more passed away making their way home. It was apparently important for them to be there, at that place, one last time.

And this gets me to my point: it’s important to us as human beings to share experiences with others, it’s important to us to have goals and to have a meaning beyond ourselves.  It was somehow spiritually important to these men 50-years after fighting each other to come together and recognize the nation that remained.  It was important to share this common bond with others, even those who were on the opposite side of the conflict, and it was more important to share it than it was to have been on the victorious side.  It was more important to come together than to be “right.” 2000 veterans of 8000 still living – that’s a commitment beyond oneself.  90-year old men coming together for closure and for the historic record.  Above all, the healing for the good of the county – just one more time. For me, this event stands for the proposition that despite differences, despite having faced each other in anger, several times over the course of that 75 year period, these men gathered together to reflect on their service to their respective armies, and to bond together as brothers once again.  Time sometimes does heal old wounds, but the desire has to be there – as it was here.

It’s important to take those steps while you can.  By the end of August 1956, 7-champions after the Cleveland Indians had last won the World Series, the last of the civil war veterans had passed on: the last verifiable Confederate, Pleasant Crump, passed away on the last day of 1951, and the last surviving Union soldier Albert Woolson passed away August 2, 1956.

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28 Days of Inspiration – Day 22

Witold Pilecki Auschwitz Prisoner 4859

Unless you’re a particularly studious student of the second World War, you’ve not likely heard the name Witold Pilecki.  He was a Polish solider who was executed in 1948 for espionage and his story was largely supressed by the Polish government until 1989.  If you’re particularly astute, you’ll remember the Communist hold on Poland collapsed in 1989.

“The underground army was completely in disbelief about the horrors,” Storozynski explains. “About ovens, about gas chambers, about injections to murder people — people didn’t believe him. They thought he was exaggerating.”

NPR Story September 18, 2010

While his trial was largely a kangaroo court with a predetermined outcome, he after all WAS a foreign agent if you’re a 1940’s Stalinist – he remained loyal to the Polish government in exile – and given that the Stalinists did take over Poland for the better part of 50 years, if that had been all Pilecki had done I would still consider him to be an inspirational character; giving one’s life for the greater good while resisting injustice is always going to be a call for selflessness and to be better, which is a good reason despots wish to quash such rebellion.

But he had a greater role in the history of the 1940’s and indeed arguably saved the lives of millions of people.

Pilecki created a plan by which he would be incarcerated in the Auschwitz concentration camp and would then report back what was happening. It was through his work the world outside the Nazi diaspora learned that these were in fact not internment camps, but rather death camps.  While he was there, he joined an underground movement, built a radio transmitter built from smuggled parts, reported to the Polish resistance what the camp was, number of prisoners, conditions, and more. After three years of backbreaking work, he managed to break out of Auschwitz, with documents stolen from the Nazis in his possession.

I’ve been trying to live my life so that in the hour of my death I would rather feel joy, than fear.

— After the announcement of the death sentence, Bartłomiej Kuraś, Witold Pilecki – w Auschwitzu z własnej woli, „Ale Historia”, w: „Gazeta Wyborcza”, 22 kwietnia 2013.

Consider that he was a highly skilled operative who used his skills to build morale among the prisoners, and to provide the Polish government the information it would need to first defeat the Nazis, then the Communists, with the hope of returning to power.  When it became clear that the post-war would not see the return of the exiled government, he was ordered to cease his information gathering on the Communists and escape – orders he declined and was ultimately arrested.   He was tortured, but never revealed information on his fellow operatives.

Clearly he was a patriot of Free Poland, but because of his heroism, the world learned of what was happening in Nazi Germany, and galvanized the world against such heinous acts…by volunteering to be imprisoned.

28 Days of Inspiration – Day 6

George Washington Carver

When you do the common things in life in an uncommon way, you will command the attention of the world.

images-of-lynne-carverHistory remembers this man for his work with peanuts, but the backstory behind his breakthrough work is even more inspirational.  How he came to be in position to help those less fortunate, the rural poor and in the process perhaps saved the economy of the south. His family divided by slavery – we don’t even know his actual birth date or exactly who his father was; indeed “Carver” is the family name of the slaveholders who owned him and his family.

He was kidnapped along with his mother and sister from the plantation where the family were slaves, but only he was found and returned.  He was a sickly child and not very strong, as such the slaveholders kept him in the farmhouse and taught him to read, eventually sending him to school and later moving off the farm to go to high school.

Upon graduating from high school, and determined to engage a college education he applied for and was denied entrance to school owing to his race.  He worked odd jobs – farmhand, railroad work – to save money for that education, eventually enrolling at the first black student at Simpson College in Iowa where he was encouraged to enroll at what is now Iowa State University to study botany. Six years after starting his collegiate journey, he earned his Bachelor’s degree, and two years later a Masters’ Degree.

How far you go in life depends on your being tender with the young, compassionate with the aged, sympathetic with the striving and tolerant of the weak and strong. Because someday in your life you will have been all of these.
Read more at: http://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/quotes/g/georgewash106292.html

An inspirational story in and of itself, but there’s more.

He gave up his faculty position and its trappings, to go to work for the first African American college in the country, the Tuskegee Institute, to teach former slaves and where he developed work on crop rotation, rotating cotton and peanuts.  When peanut inventories grew too high and prices dropped, he developed 300 different products for their use and demand soared.

An uncommon man, at the time of his death, he left his entire life savings to the Tuskegee Institute.  He spent his life in dedication to others leveraging the education he had worked so hard to achieve.

References

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/George_Washington_Carver

http://www.biography.com/people/george-washington-carver-9240299

http://www.tuskegee.edu/about_us/legacy_of_fame/george_w_carver.aspx

28 Days of Inspiration – Day 5

Bhumibol Adulyadej

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from kyotoreview.org

 

King Bhumibol the Great  served for over 70 years as king of Thailand, a reign ending with his passing this week at age 88.  Consider the degree of change occurring in this southeast Asian country over the course of his lifetime and monarchy and realize he held this once remote, impoverished country together through the upheavals of coup d’etats, the Vietnam conflict, the bombings of Cambodia and Laos, Cambodian civil war – all going on around his country, without dragging it into the conflict.

 

Now, it’s hard to know just how genuine the Thai people’s reverence of their monarch is due to the lèse majesté laws in place – it’s illegal to criticize the king – but by most accounts it’s apparently quite genuine. He was seen as a stabilizing force in a country and region notoriously unstable.

When asked how he wanted to be remembered, he said on numerous occasions that he wanted to be seen as “useful,” to have acted for the poorest citizens.  Indeed he spent the 1960’s and 1970’s  deliberately visiting the rural poor, and learning of their needs.

He was born in the United States, educated in Switzerland, spoke English and French, but had no apparent desire to travel – there was too much to do at home. Due to political circumstances early on, he focused his attention on development projects, building away from agrarian to modern industry.

This was an apparently humble man who accidentally became king, and made the best use of his authority for his people as he saw it for more than 70 years.

28 Days of Inspiration – Day 4

James Stockdale

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Rear Admiral Stockdale in full dress uniform; US Navy File Photo  www.navy.mil/iew_image.asp?id+25931

The 1960’s are remembered for high profile assassinations, Beatles, love-ins, and Vietnam War protests. A lot is taught in school about the decade of the 60’s but never once did I learn anything about Admiral James Stockdale.

While young men here in the United States resisted military service, perhaps fled to Canada, Stockdale was imprisoned in North Vietnam.  He spent eight years in captivity from 1965-1973 after being shot down and was the highest ranking officer to be held captive there. To put that in perspective, as it turns out eight years was just about 10% of the man’s life.

On September 9, 1965 he ejected from his disabled plane over North Vietnam, landed in a small village, was beaten and taken prisoner.

He relied on stoicism to keep himself grounded and to keep from being defeated.  He was beaten with his shoulders dislocated, legs and back broken, and his will assaulted.  Yet he never gave an inch.  Consider this: as an admiral, he led prisoner resistance.  According to his Medal of Honor citation, he resisted participating in prisoner exploitation by deliberately disfiguring himself; he did this with a razor to cut his scalp and when the Vietnamese tried to cover that wound with a hat, he literally beat himself in the face until it became so swollen as to be unrecognizable.  He slit his own wrists, a near mortal wound, to demonstrate he would not capitulate. He was kept in solitary confinement in a small cell, lights on 24-hours a day, in leg shackles for the majority of those 8-years in captivity.

In Good to Great author Jim Collins talks about “the Stockdale Paradox.”  Simply put, it boils down to this quote:

“Retain faith that you will prevail in the end, regardless of the difficulties, and at the same time confront the most brutal facts of your current reality, whatever they might be.” — James Stockdale.

Those who didn’t make it out were the “optimists.” The men who retained optimism with the groundless belief that they would be out by Christmas, were continually defeated and eventually lost faith that they would make it out.  The idea was that in order to be able to be resilient and see what may lie beyond, one has to acknowledge the current situation objectively.  He knew how dire his situation was, but he still had the faith to believe he was going to make it through.  More to the point, he had to accept his situation as what he had to endure and what he was fighting through.  This wasn’t a temporary situation that would resolve itself with time, it was a static feature that was only going to change with his action.  And it wasn’t going to be overnight, there were no simple fixes.

He returned home, willed himself to health – presumably via the same force of will demonstrated in the paradox quote – and resumed his military career becoming a university President and scholar.

Whatever hard time you’re going through, I urge you to consider the lessons of James Stockdale.  Honor, integrity, resilience.

 

Why is the World Series “Best of 7”

Today’s World Series – the World Championship of Baseball – is a given. Except for the truncated 1994 season, a championship series has been played between the National League and the American League since 1905, with the first series between the two leagues having been held in 1903. Over the 109 World Series; 105 have been a best-of-7 affair. What of those other 4-series and why are there 7-games in the series?

The first World Series in 1903 was a best of 9-game arrangement between the American League Champion Boston Americans (later the Boston Red Sox) and the “Pittsburg” (sic) Pirates. When the American League (and reigning “World Champion”) Boston Americans could not make an arrangement with the National League Champion New York Giants, the series was not played, as the series was only arranged between clubs. While popular culture points to the interpersonal squabbles between the Boston and New York franchises, there was also a real disagreement over what the rules should be for a World Series – and the reluctance of the Giants to give credence to their in-town rival the Highlanders, who had lead the American League through much of the season before Boston pulled out the best record on the last day of the season.

In the aftermath of the failure to play a series in 1904, both leagues adopted rules for a World Series to begin in 1905, thus removing the possibility a mutually beneficial and lucrative Championship Series would not be played because of animus between people or teams or because of an argument against poorly thought out rules. The rules for the 1905 season included a “best-of-7” World’s Championship Series.

Baseball had played a significant role in the American war effort and at the end of 1918 – a season truncated by the first World War – the good will Major League Baseball had was at a high point. As the largest professional sports league, a war wearied country looked to baseball for enjoyment. According to Richard C. Crepeau in Baseball: America’s Diamond Mind, baseball had experienced a renaissance of sorts during the war as people who had not yet been exposed to the game had been for the first time. These soldiers coming back to the states provided an increased demand for the game.

In the 15-or-so years between the National League representative New York Giants refusing to meet the Boston Americans in what would have been the second World Series, the National League was now not only firmly behind a series, but firmly behind a longer series. Before the winter meetings in 1918, the National League proposed a “best-of-9” series with the idea being to increase revenue and exposure of the game; that motion that was passed at the December, 1918 meetings for the 1919 season.

Under this expansion, the 1919-1921 World Series’ were “best-of-9” series. In that very next World Series,the “Black Sox scandal” erupted and charges of gambling and investigations embroiled baseball for several years thereafter. At the 1921 Major League meetings, while the National League voted to retain the best-of-9, the American League voted to return to a best-of-7 series. When placed in the context of the “black sox” scandal – with it’s squandering of public good will after the first world war and amidst charges the expansion was more about greed than the game – one can easily see how the new Commissioner of Baseball, Kennesaw Mountain Landis, saw fit to cast the deciding vote as one to return to 7 games.

It took Major League Baseball’s expansion and subsequent alignment into divisions in 1969 before there was another expansion of the post season – 50 years with the only post season play being the best-of-7 World Series and when it did expand the post-season, it was the playoffs that expanded, not the World Series; baseball had traded the guarantee of at least one more game in the World Series (to win a best of 9, you must win 5 games) for the guarantee of what was at the time 6-more playoff games – 3 in the American League, 3 in the National League in a best-of-5 League Championship series. The “LCS” is now a best-of-7 series, with an additional layer of playoffs before even that additional round.

Nota bene, while the scandal over performance enhancing drugs and the Mitchell report was beginning to wind down, the then current commissioner of Baseball Allan “Bud” Selig was considering an expansion of the World Series – a proposal presented by player agent Scott Boras – to a best-of-9 format, ostensibly to increase exposure (by playing two games at neutral sites) and, undoubtedly to increase revenue. History does have a tendency to repeat itself.

REFERENCE

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1904_World_Series

http://sports.espn.go.com/mlb/alltime/worldseries

http://www.baseballlibrary.com/ballplayers/player.php?name=World_Series&page=chronology

http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_kmtpi/is_200707/ai_n19334686

http://books.google.com/books?hl=en&lr=&id=YrbYVcb7_xIC&oi=fnd&pg=
PR9&dq=%22Kennesaw+Mountain+Landis%22+world+series+1921&ots=
MFSV6hjUVH&sig=wM_JkVtfxZen_yZpd2xlTHnRpuE#PPA8,M1

September 11, 2001

During the disputed Presidential election of 2000, I registered with CNN for email alerts on breaking news. For about a month between November and into December of that year, I would receive numerous emails from CNN with news alerts. After the Supreme Court decided “Bush vs. Gore,” the email began to peter out and after George W. Bush became the 43rd President of the United States on January 20, 2001, I received close to no alerts going forward.

For me, the morning of Tuesday, September 11 began much the same way Monday, September 10 had. I drove the 20 minutes or so to work, arriving at about 8 AM. I fired up my computer and geared up for my day. At 8:20, maybe 8:30, I drove out to some client sites – pick-ups or deliveries or whatnot – and arrived back at my office at maybe 9:15. As I logged back into my computer, a string of CNN alerts appeared on my screen – the most recent at the top. I remember reading through them in chronological order. At first I was stunned, then shocked, and then scared.

In our small office, we were all glued to our computers – trying to figure out what had happened. A small television was set up in our conference room and we just sat and watched in amazement. Our offices were directly across the street from the Massachusetts State Police headquarters, which in turn was next door to the Massachusetts Emergency Management Authority. Military armored vehicles blocked access to each compound. The air space over the Boston suburb was silent – no incoming or outgoing flights allowed. It seemed like the world had stopped, save for the emergency response going on across the highway. My cell phone provided sporadic availability – the limited cell coverage at the time was clogged from use. The dial-up internet was slow – bandwidth being taxed as millions logged on to find out news.

It was a time of unbridled fear. I wanted my loved ones close – almost irrationally so. I couldn’t keep my 6-year old daughter any more safe than could her school, but I wanted to be the one keeping her safe. I worked for two Sikh gentlemen and with a host of Indian nationals; knowing an attack of this magnitude could not have come from within and realizing quickly that news outlets were speculating on Islamic extremists, I was afraid for their safety. Sikhs have no relation to the Islamic faith, yet they wear turbans as some Muslims do. I was afraid for ignorant retaliation – those who may be inclined to retaliate will not take the time to figure out who is the enemy. I was afraid for my employees, any one of whom could be the target of xenophobia and attack. I was afraid for the wellbeing of the business – if ownership didn’t feel safe making calls, and if clients were reticent about meeting, the company would shortly begin to fail. I remember telling one employee to be careful, not to display his Quran – horrible advice to have to dispense. Last, I was afraid for my country and what direction it would take.

We had assigned spaces in our parking lot: My space was the last in the row of our assigned spots. After September 11, I noticed the car usually parked in the assigned space next to mine had no longer been there. As it happens, the woman who owned that car and the owner of a business located in our building, began a business trip to Los Angeles the morning of September 11 onboard Flight 11 from Logan Airport. She died as the Boeing 767 crashed into the World Trade Center. Less than a month later, her company died without her guidance.

I would watch videos of the planes striking the World Trade Center over and over, and I sometimes felt overcome with this existential angst – but for the grace of God go I – and anger. I couldn’t fathom making the choices some were forced to make, between jumping out a window to certain death or remaining in a building waiting for certain death. I thought about the babies and children aboard those ill-fated flights and could only hope their parents could have somehow controlled their own fears to comfort their children. And I thought about my own child and the world she would be living in going forward. I wondered about my own strength in the face of adversity and how I would respond.

When air traffic resumed, we were subject to more intrusive security checks – and that was okay. We accepted it, the world, after all, had changed. It didn’t take much, though, to realize that it would not be long before we wouldn’t tolerate long security lines at the airport gate. It didn’t take much to realize how woefully unprepared we were as a nation to combat an attack on our own soil, and it didn’t take long to realize that to ramp up our preparedness, the government would have to take a more activist role.

Some ten plus years hence when I can stomach watching those video clips, I still hurt and I still fight back tears. So many innocent people lost because of random chance – they took a flight they just happened to book or went to work the same way they always did, or responded to an emergency call as part of their job. Countless more who made slightly different choices and were spared. The realization not everything is under your control – that the smallest choices can have enormous consequence – is a constant message.

I realize, too, that I cannot remember the slightest thing about my day on September 10, 2001. I was probably upset the Patriots had been smothered by the Bengals the day before, but other than that not one blessed thing. I remember September 11, 2001 in almost scary detail, and I think it sad that I spend so much time going about my business that I don’t take the opportunity to make sure I’m making the most of my time. And much like the rest of us, I resolve to change that, but quickly slide back into the old habits of complacency. I just hope it’s not another 9/11 event that jars me – or anyone else – out of their complacency. God bless the United States of America.