Category Archives: politics

Clear Blue Skies

Clear Blue Skies

I remember the clear blue sky. I was hiking along the Highline Trail at Glacier National Park.  Mountain goats and sheep dotted the rugged landscape. The day before I had hiked on the other side of the mountain, the other side of the Continental Divide, climbing almost straight up, it seemed to me, along waterfalls past several glacial lakes to the lower edge of Grinnell Glacier.  Looking up I could see an arête, a narrow sharp ridge, far above, with wisps of clouds seeming to surround it.

But this day I was on the other side of the mountain. To the left were sheer cliffs at times, but this was a much gentler climb. This trail slowly rose from the valley floor to the heights. On the right the mountains bent slowly, and in the curves mount goats grazed peacefully on the sparse grass. After an hour or so I came to a marker pointing to the right. “To Continental Divide – 0.6 mi.” was all it said. The short but steep trail led to a sharp edge of rock standing straight up out of the fairly gentle surroundings – a sheer wall separating one side of the mountain from the other.  I had to get up there and look over the other side. The trail was all rock and made the vertical rise the day before seem child’s play. The bright sun highlighted the tan, almost copper, stone against a brilliant blue sky.

I am a hiker not a climber so all I could do was scramble quickly, loose rock, echoing down as I approached the top, perhaps I would get there before I thought about it and got scared. And then I reached the arête. I swung one leg over the top and straddled the slender ridge.  I looked over and realized that I was looking down at the hike I had done the day before. Starting at a much greater elevation for this hike, I hadn’t realized how high I was. There far below me were the seven milky-green glacial lakes I had passed the day before, and the waterfalls. And Grinnell Glacier.  Down below me were wisps of clouds.

But here the skies were clear. As I looked back the way I had come, I saw only a clear blue sky. A brilliant, blinding blue. It seemed as though I could see forever. There was a brisk wind blowing. My perch was precarious, I was literally sitting on the Continental Divide.

I had never felt more alive, more free. I wanted to stay there. There was a tremendous sense of exhilaration.  I felt as though I could do anything.

 I heard a voice calling. Get down from there. You will kill yourself. But I didn’t want to let go of that amazing sense of immortality and power. Unable to move except with great caution, still I felt totally liberated.  Completely invulnerable.

With a certain sadness, I carefully lifted my leg back over the ledge and set it back down on the safer side of the mountain.  It was impossible to walk slowly. The loose rock slid under my feet as I practically slid back to the Highline Trail. Gravity taking me back with greater force than I could have imagined.

Clear blue skies bring back other memories. Mornings when it seemed the world was safe, peaceful lunches in a garden café. Moments which could be shattered in an instant.

And so on this date I remember another day with clear blue skies. A day when the peace was shattered and our national sense of invulnerability was destroyed, and as a nation we chose forever it seems to live in fear  – to yield to darker, more timid voices, that would entangle us in war and homeland insecurity.

But I prefer when I hear of clear blue skies to think of that moment of exhilaration, that feeling of possibility – a time when all choices are still before us.

Leonard Grossman- September 11, 2012



A Few More Minutes

“Would you like a few more minutes?” How many times have you heard those words when a waitperson notices what he or she thinks is indecision in your face when she has finished rattling off the specials? I have been asked that question in tony restaurants in River North and in greasy spoons on the west side. “Would you like a few more minutes?”
Often the server is right and if the menu is complex or I am more than usually overwhelmed (or underwhelmed) by the choices, I accept and she leaves the table, often for far longer than is necessary. But sometimes the server is misreading something else in my expression and I am ready to order.
If I am in a particularly mischievous mood the question may elicit a quite different response. “Would you like a few more minutes?” “Yes! Not right now, but there may come a time when I could really use a few more minutes. Can I save them for then?”
Now I suppose when I first played this game, which usually confuses the waitress, I may have almost subconsciously thought of the ultimate end – the time when may I need an angel to sit on the edge of the bed and grant me time to compose myself for the ultimate deadline. But after many years, the response has lost its ability to stir deeper thoughts and theological implications, at least most of the time.

But on another level I realize “a few more minutes” is what I want or need most often in life – even when I am not procrastinating.
So often, every day, even several times a day, I have a plan, a schedule, things to be done, places to go. But unless I am very early and schedule large amounts of time in between events I usually run out of time. One thing runs over into another.
I have a pretty regular routine. I get up, shower, check my email and websites and then head out to the synagogue for the morning minyan. The service is at 7:30 or 7:45 every morning, depending on the day of the week. I get up just before 6:00 and the Temple is just six minutes from the house. But on so many mornings I find myself at the keyboard answering just one more email or checking one more blog or… or…. And then I arrive just moments after the opening prayer. It has gotten to the point that the people at the minyan look up and smile in mock amazement if I arrive a few minutes before the service begins. In response, I sometimes say that I am just really late for the previous day.
It is not that I lose track of time, but that it goes so quickly and I keep thinking there is time for just one more thing. And then I look at the clock and think, “If only I could have a few more minutes.” Just once I would like to arrive at OLLI a few minutes before my first class and not out of breath.
But if my wish were to be granted it would have to be something I could not build into my plans. It would have to be there after the fact, in the moment, when I have already committed to finishing one thing and should already be on to the next. It is then that I need time to open up and free the space and world around me. If it were earlier, the “few more minutes” would find me in the same quandary. No. The extra time can only come when I am already late.
I should really proof read this one more time, but . . . Where is that waitress when I really need her?
Leonard Grossman May 17, 2011

A simple watch.

Clean design, white face with burgundy dots for numbers.
But as the hour hand touched each dot I noticed a small stick figure
pop-up on the face.
At each hour more figures appeared, corresponding to the number of the hour.
Stick figures, but lithe and athletic.
By three o’clock they began tossing a ball around.
At four, another.
They played as if their lives depended on it.
But they were tiny figures on a watch. What if the ball got away?
Then I looked closer:
A fine filament connected one to the other.
As one tossed a ball, it traveled along a thread to another, keeping it in bounds.
As the hours passed, more figures and more balls.
By six o’clock, the filaments entangled all.
At nine the players valiantly continued play
Though they were entangled in the mesh they were creating.
All connected each to each, each hour their numbers increased.
With each throw they became more tightly bound.
As the hour approached midnight a new fear.
When the clock struck would the face become blank again?
Would life be wiped out? or start all over? or would…?
Tic, tic, tic, tic, tic, tic, tic…..

It is not the wind

It is not the wind.

The house shudders. A cold front is moving across the Midwest. Tiny snow crystals blown by high winds have returned. I hear a wail as it comes down the street, the cold drafts seeping through the walls.

But it is not the wind that I hear and it is not the cold that chills me and frightens me.

It is not the wind that woke me. What I hear is the wail of a thousand children, a thousand thousand children and their parents for whom the safety net has just been removed, from whom hope has just been stolen

I am up in the middle of the night, shaking and in tears at what I fear is the end of the most promising presidency since my childhood. How sad that it seems that it was only our projection on the blank slate of Barack Obama – large shadows of finger puppets projected by a flashlight on a back yard sheet

The President has written himself into a straight jacket from which, I fear he will not be able to get free. His is not Houdini. How can he start a desperately needed jobs program and cut domestic spending? How can he pass the most needed health care reform without initial increases in costs even if they might ultimately result in savings? How can the economy be restored without stimulating small business and entrepreneurs? How can families survive without extensions of unemployment insurance, and food stamps and job training and . . . and . . .

We have waited a year for bold action. We should have known better. Bold action is more than rhetoric.

When I saw the headline in my email Monday night, “President Obama Rather Be Really Good One Term President – ABC News,” I knew another shoe would drop. It reminded me of all the Presidents who have boasted of doing the hard thing when it would have been easier to do what was popular – In each case they were doing what they thought would be popular instead of the right thing.

I pray that I am wrong, that it was only a nightmare and in the morning I will find I imagined it all or that somehow I am missing something and that Wednesday night he will make sense of it all and soar again.

But I fear it is not just the wind that keeps me awake tonight.

Praise where praise is overdue: Obama on Israel

Those who follow this blog may be forgiven if they were under the impression that I am hostile to President Obama but they would be mistaken. Barack Obama was the first candidate for president for whom I ever voted with enthusiasm. If I have been critical here it is because I expect much and there are issues on which his positions or actions have been troubling.
But there is one area where he deserves special commendation and he isn’t getting enough — his policies toward Israel and Palestine.

I am a strong supporter of Israel and not that many years ago considered moving there, but ever since Nixon I have been aware of a strange phenomenon. Candidates who are touted as “good for Israel” usually aren’t. Such candidates usually encourage Israel’s worst tendencies. I won’t pretend the issues are easy but the American policy for many years of supporting (or at least turning a blind or winking eye toward) Israel’s expansion of the settlements has done Israel much harm. Resolutions of the conflicts that would have been merely difficult years ago have been greatly complicated by Israel’s constant expansion into the West Bank and around Jerusalem. It may be a form of tough love and it may be almost too late but Obama’s clear position on settlement policy is a beath of fresh air after years of stagnation. An interesting recent article on the subject can be found in Thursday’s piece by M.J. Rosenberg in the Israel Policy Forum.

So, thank you President Obama. Perhaps our children will be able to see the day when two states live in peace side by side as a result of your courage (and a lot of hard work and risk on behalf of both Israelis, Palestinians and their neighbors).

Tarnished Medal of Freedom.

I know that Sandra Day O’ Connor has many accomplishments and I am sure that other presidents have given the Medal of Freedom to unworthy recipients but there is a special ring of hell reserved for the cabal that engineered the coup d’état that installed George W. Bush. O’Connor was one of the gang of five who gave the world eight years of horror and destroyed the reputation of this country and its role as a leader in integrity and human rights.

Only now can we call it futile

Imagine, if you will, a gray-haired petty bureaucrat
Walking in a steady gray rain
Black umbrella in his right hand,
Rigid, upright.
In his left a black briefcase
Which contains the book he has just finished reading.

He walks slowly, matching the rain,
The angle of the umbrella and his posture
and the color of the sky and the angle of the rain
Match the upright Miesian columns
Of the government buildings clustered there.

The last pages of the book haunt. It ends
as Hannah Arendt leaves Germany by train at last
The same month his mother left by boat.

Each alone. Fifty thousand Jews left Germany that year.
Each alone.
Each leaving thousands behind who could or would not see.

Two centuries earlier an age of Enlightenment had begun there.
Now who is enlightened?
What is the lesson?

The book is called “The Pity of It All.” But it is misnamed.
It is full of hope and irony as well.
Only now can we call it futile.
We think we are different today.
Or are all hope and enlightenment doomed.
How are we to know whether we too are fools, he wonders.
Walking slowly in the rain, his umbrella upright
Amid the Federal columns.