Out and About (Sort of): Retirement—Too Soon? By Howard Freedlander

I read with interest recently The Star Democrat article about Judge William Hugh Adkins III’s retirement, particularly his thoughts about having to retire as a Talbot County District Court judge at age 70. I would opine that, if possible, he would have ruled against the state-mandated decision.

He also said he would miss the clerk’s staff. He said in the interview that ‘that (working with his staff) is probably the one thing I miss the most.’ He retired on Nov. 9, 2017. His 70th birthday was the next day.

Two weeks ago, a county friend asked me about my nearly seven-year retirement, prompting my normal response that I am engrossed by my non-profit board participation and university alumni activities. That’s my hobby, along with writing this earthshaking column. I told him I do not fish or hunt or garden or boat or play golf or paint landscapes or cook or build furniture or do crossword puzzles.

This friend said he had read that there is a direct nexus between longevity and social connectivity: you live longer if you have constant human contact. Human relations provide lifeblood; without constant contact, you can die too early.

Depression brought on by loneliness is a killer. Studies have confirmed this assertion.

Familiar with studies about living longer through multiple human relationships, I suggested to my friend that being alone gardening, for example, might provide life-extending happiness to an introvert. He seemed surprised since he and others know that I am a card-carrying extrovert.

Introverts have a crying need to be alone while understanding that some human contact is nourishing and necessary. It would seem logical to me that solitary activities offer life-giving sustenance to people with hobbies that involve no more than one person.

Now, I realize that all of us are amalgams of outgoing and introverted personalities. We fill our needs differently and, I hope, happily.

When I retired, I dreaded the idea of being alone for hours on end. Like Judge Adkins, I missed the human interaction implicit in my job. I worried about the onset of depression. I worried about being useful. I worried about being a burden to my working wife, daughters and former associates. Though I love to read, I can’t do it for hours on end. Some people can.

Now, my days are filled with activity and conversation, sometimes too much so. Depression is a distant concern.

Back to Judge Hugh Adkins. The judicial age limit of 70 is arbitrary, based on a different theory before modern medicine and sensible life choices changed the once debilitating aging process. I recall some years ago speaking with a just-retired airline pilot for a major airline, who complained bitterly about having to stop doing what he loved doing and presumably did well. At the time, the retirement age for commercial pilots was 60; it now is 65.

Adkins’ argument, as stated in the newspaper article, is even stronger and more logical when you realize that retired district and circuit court judges continue to have busy schedules; if they wish; they serve in other county courts experiencing case overloads. They are not comparable to substitute teachers (no offense intended); they are still expected to render justice in a competent and unimpeachable manner—while 70 and older.

And they are entirely capable of doing so.

An age limit of 70 for Maryland’s judges seems foolhardy to me. It ignores the mental acuity and deep experience of our judges. It should be raised.

A good friend serves on the federal District Court. He is 70, with no compulsion to retire.

When I worked especially hard (though it was mostly fun) in 2016-2017 as class president and reunion co-chair of my 50th college reunion, I was surprised by how many fundraising calls I made to classmates at their offices. They seemed only remotely interested in my life as a retiree. They were fully engaged in their legal, corporate and real estate development careers. Our conversations were short and sweet They were busy earing a paycheck.

So, what have I learned since I retired nearly seven years ago?

Your skills and brain are still sharp at 65 or 70 or 65. Names may be harder to remember. At times, thoughts may be more challenging to complete. Thanks to modern medicine and healthy lifestyle, one’s numerical age matters less than it did in days of yore.

Your need, however, for human contact has no age limit, maybe less so for introverts. Loneliness can lead to depression, as often stated by experts.

I love retirement. I love my non-profit and university alumni engagement. I love glorifying my age, not bemoaning it.

And it’s fun to travel outside the constraints of a prescribed vacation—and also spend time with grandchildren who like designated babysitters and constant encouragers.

As for human contact, I’ve got plenty. I even enjoy some quiet time. But not too much.

Columnist Howard Freedlander retired in 2011 as Deputy State Treasurer of the State of Maryland.  Previously, he was the executive officer of the Maryland National Guard. He  also served as community editor for Chesapeake Publishing, lastly at the Queen Anne’s Record-Observer.  In retirement, Howard serves on the boards of several non-profits on the Eastern Shore, Annapolis and Philadelphia.

Out and About (Sort of): “First Draft of History’ by Howard Freedlander

The gripping movie, The Post, described and portrayed a historic time in American history in terms of pitting national security against freedom of the press. It did so in a fast-paced presentation of a courageous newspaper run by a publisher still tentative in her decisions, and a president determined to block publication of reports that described a war that had few moorings in truth.

Based upon the fraught publication of the highly classified “Pentagon Papers,” the much-heralded movie portrays a precedent-setting battle between a major newspaper and the White House. As one of the characters in the movies said, media coverages of daily news—whether local, state, national and international—represents the “first draft of history.” This initial documentation, later interpreted by historians, can be a sloppy one.

The Pentagon Papers detailed faulty and deceptive decisions about a divisive war that ripped apart our country. It remained undercover for a reason.

Daniel Ellsberg, a Defense Department military analyst, was a hero to many, a menace to others. He covertly removed the Pentagon Papers from the Pentagon, initiating a constitutional crisis.

The movie’s plot line was also about assumption of huge responsibility by a woman, Katherine “Kay” Graham, who had never been encouraged to believe she could be a business leader. She lacked confidence at first, patronized by men and highly respected by women…

Ironically, women’s issues were bubbling to the surface at the time., Kay Graham epitomized the struggle, as well as small but significant victories. She became a role model, as captured by a scene in the Supreme Court building during the hearing about the legality of publishing the Pentagon Papers.

Steven Spielberg, a renowned director, is a genius in telling history in a remarkably accurate and dramatic way. He is an accomplished storyteller, using an exacting camera, superb script and world-class cast to seek and achieve commercial and artistic success. Saving Private Ryan, Lincoln, Bridge of Spies and Schindler’s List are among his best works for this viewer.

The gutsy publication of the Pentagon Papers came amidst the conversion of the family-owned Washington Post into a public corporation dominated by men obsessed with the possible degradation of value (stock price) spurred by a constitutional crisis over the strength of the First Amendment. Kay Graham overcame the “bankers’” objections.

Tom Hanks was an aggressive, ambitious, take- no prisoners Ben Bradlee, the Post’s combative executive editor. Meryl Streep portrayed a tentative, frightened and insecure Kay Graham who grew mightily into her role as a publisher imbued with class and steely determination. Her presence on the screen evolved as her confidence increased.

For full disclosure, I read Mrs. Graham’s Pulitzer-prize winning autobiography, Personal History, some years ago and came away impressed with her startling candor. She was easy to admire and respect.

To state the obvious, Hanks and Streep are premier actors whose range of cinema characters is astounding. They never fail to capture the essence of their roles and an audience’s rapt attention.

The news operation as portrayed in the movie resonated with tension, creativity and single-minded attention to news gathering and dissemination. The newsroom wreaked of an unquenchable thirst and hunger for newsworthy information; the “budget” meetings (selecting top stories) accurately portrayed competition between string-willed editors and the press and composition rooms (still using lead type) reflected deadline pressure.

Scenes in the movie brought me back to my newspaper days when I often stood by the presses to await my paper, particularly if I thought it was a good one. It was exciting watching an inanimate printing press produce a living document that could affect readers’ lives and connect a community.

The movie absolutely captivated me. Did it portray Nixon as a manipulative and vengeful president prone to misrepresentation? Yes. Was Ben Bradlee careless and ruthless, determined to situate the Post as comparable to the New York Times? Yes. He was reckless, driven to impose his will on the Post.

Some might draw parallels between Nixon and Donald Trump in light of their views of the media and the First Amendment. Nixon was paranoid, insecure and intelligent. Certainly, our current president has similar traits, lacking, however, Nixon’s keen intelligence and in-depth curiosity.

Freedom of the press remains a battleground, unfortunately,

Evident creative flaws in the movie were not readily apparent to me. One obvious criticism of the content might be the lack of appreciation of the government’s argument against the release of stolen classified documents that showed the Vietnam War to be rife with the deception that resulted in the loss of 58,000 American lives.

The movie posited the use of stolen documents was justified by the light placed upon corrupt government decisions. That might be so, but that can become troublesome, leading to Edward Snowden’s release of classified documents/codes to Wikileaks regarding because he disagreed with U.S. foreign policy.

Arrogance was present on both sides, the Post and the White House, during the Pentagon Papers episode. Though former Defense Secretary Robert McNamara and probably Richard Nixon knew that success in Vietnam was wildly exaggerated, they didn’t want to admit failure. And though Katherine Graham and Ben Bradlee knew they were on thin legal ice, they proceeded in the name of the First Amendment.

It’s important not to hide shoddy journalism behind the veil of the freedom of the press; fortunately, that was not the case here.

Spielberg’s direction focuses on historic authenticity while ensuring the drama is commercially appealing, even spellbinding. He’s one of the best.

Eating popcorn almost seems disrespectful. Spielberg gains and keeps your rapt attention.

Columnist Howard Freedlander retired in 2011 as Deputy State Treasurer of the State of Maryland. Previously, he was the executive officer of the Maryland National Guard. He also served as community editor for Chesapeake Publishing, lastly at the Queen Anne’s Record-Observer. In retirement, Howard serves on the boards of several non-profits on the Eastern Shore, Annapolis and Philadelphia.

Out and About (Sort of) Friendship Howard Freedlander

Last week my wife and I traveled to Jacksonville, FL to spend a few days with the widow of a friend whom I met when I was an 18-year-old college freshman. He died suddenly on June 6, 2010 of a heart aneurysm.

We became very good friends as adults, as I participated in his wedding, he attended mine and we attended children’s weddings. We talked frequently. Our politics were similar.

He also served as a mentor during my conversion in my late 40s from Judaism to Episcopalism. Shortly after he graduated from college, he converted from Judaism to Roman Catholicism. I never knew he was considering what would have seemed to me at the time to be a radical step.

His death deeply affected me. Still does. I delivered one of two eulogies at his funeral nearly eight years ago. Last week, at I walked into the family house in which his wife and daughter still live, I choked up a bit. I’ve visited several times since 2010; this time I felt his presence, more than ever. I don’t know why.

I often think about friendship. I wonder why it’s important for me and my wife to visit Jacksonville and spend time with my friend’s family and friends. Why not let go and strengthen the living friendships and forsake the past?

I wish I had an answer.

Friendship is a transitory passage. Once strong relationships oftentimes weaken or dissipate. It just happens. Explanation is unknown, or at least mystifying. What was the breaking point? And then, just as mysteriously, a friendship reawakens, or a new one emerges.

For me and maybe others, friendships often can be easier to maintain and cultivate than relationships with family members, who sometimes can be constant irritants. Friends provide a wonderfully satisfying dimension to life. In fact, life is emptier and less fulfilling without friends who feel no need to be as judgmental and burdensome as family members.

When I think about my longtime friend in Jacksonville, where he was raised and reared his family, I retain memories of a top-quality person who liked to smile, exuded optimism, reveled in the real estate development business and devoted himself to the community he loved.

I recall the night before the funeral, during a visitation at the funeral home, that a young woman stood up when the priest welcomed testimony and spoke about my friend’s gentlemanly demeanor when she would help him at a clothing store he patronized. That this young lady would take the time to attend a solemn event and then talk about a customer who treated her nicely—and liked to buy expensive clothes— that left a lasting impression on me. Bill’s kind treatment of others never wavered.

He died too young. He left family and friends grieving the loss of an exceedingly good and decent person who rarely spoke ill of anyone.

As my wife, my friend’s widow and I walked the Ponte Vedra Beach outside Jacksonville on a cool, breezy day, looking at the rippling waves and foam-covered beach, I thought that friendship doesn’t end at the water’s edge, that a person’s soul surrounds you whenever memories penetrate your mind and heart.

Some say that the good die young. Perhaps that’s true in too many instances.

The obverse is that the nasty folks remain to contaminate the world with their belligerence. I’m just not sure that that observation is accurate, or even helpful facing a friend’s death. That is not to say that I didn’t feel angry about the death of a person who improved, not degraded and besmirched the world in which we live.

I did and still do.

So, I was happy to continue my friendship in Jacksonville. I could quietly pay reverence to a longtime friend and enjoy his family and friends. I even agreed to take two of his books about Winston Churchill. He loved to buy thick tomes, though I don’t know if he read them.

I grieve by smiling internally. My friend would have disliked sadness.

Good friends are still alive in our memories—and funny stories that grow more humorous with time.

Columnist Howard Freedlander retired in 2011 as Deputy State Treasurer of the State of Maryland. Previously, he was the executive officer of the Maryland National Guard. He also served as community editor for Chesapeake Publishing, lastly at the Queen Anne’s Record-Observer. In retirement, Howard serves on the boards of several non-profits on the Eastern Shore, Annapolis and Philadelphia.

Rest for a Shepherd by Howard Freedlander

The past Sunday was the last day as worship leader for the Rev. Dr. Bill Ortt, our rector at Christ Church, Easton, before he embarks on a four-and-a-half-month sabbatical.

What is a sabbatical, a reality for the academic and religious communities and a mostly foreign concept for all other occupations?

Rev. Dr. Bill Ortt

Knowing for months about Father Bill’s planned absence from ecclesiastical duties at the Episcopal church at Harrison and South streets, I began to wonder about the meaning and value of a sabbatical. It’s a break, a respite from daily work responsibilities. It’s intended, at least in the religious world, to offer a minister or priest a leave of absence to pursue reflection and personal and professional renewal.

It can and should be fun, with time for serious, soul-searching thought mixed in as the person sees fit.

When I think about the life of a parish priest, I realize it’s satisfying on one hand and ceaseless on the other.

Your flock never stops needing you. You help people navigate personal crises and maybe find God amid distress. That fills the heart with gratefulness for the chance to help and sustain a person in urgent need.

You deal daily with life and death situations. You also are leading and managing an enterprise dependent on paid staff and earnest parishioners. And your secular duties are driven by a budget and financial challenges.

Your life as a religious leader requires a 24-hour alert status. You must be ready at any time to respond to congregants’ personal emergencies. However hard you establish professional and personal boundaries, you constantly and continually serve God by serving others.

You punch no card at the beginning or end of the day. You don’t work overtime. You work all the time.

Your own family may suffer.

Your own needs are secondary at times.

You have chosen a life of interminable, heartful service and fealty to others.

Sometimes, you need a respite. Sometimes, you need to refresh and renew yourself. Sometimes, you need to allow your flock, your parish, to take a break from you and use a sabbatical to examine itself and its relationship with God and its messenger. You grow, and the congregation grows.

From my scant knowledge of sabbaticals, they seem slightly akin to vacations that all of us have enjoyed during our careers to “recharge the batteries.” I think, however, that sabbaticals for religious leaders differ significantly.

As I see it, were I a clergy-person devotes to shepherding and sustaining my parishioners, I would use the gift of an unusual amount of time away from church to figure how I could better serve my parishioners’ needs as a spiritual anchor while retaining my own equanimity. Balance is difficult.

Bill Ortt has served a growing, vibrant church with tremendous and talented dedication for 18 years. Ensuring that the parish is attuned to the community’s pressing needs, Bill established a 5 p.m.service on Saturday—itself unusual for an Episcopal church—that also provides a refuge and sanctuary for the addiction and recovery community. It’s a remarkable thing to witness.

And by the way, Bill has conducted three other services on Sunday morning.

Change is difficult, as all of us know. Christ Church parishioners will face a near future without its constant worship leader. Interim priests will fill the void. Bill Ortt will face days and weeks without any responsibility as a religious leader. Adjustment will be necessary on both sides.

As I listened to Father Bill the past Sunday morning, I realized he was eager to begin his sabbatical and apprehensive as well. He seemed driven to assure the congregation that he and they will cope well with the “rest.” I thought for a moment that I was listening to a military commander saying farewell to his troops and wishing them a productive future. Of course, in this instance, the “commander” is returning; he may find the ground has shifted a bit, understandably.

For most of us, a sabbatical is not an option. We soldier on. We seek solace and contemplation where and when we can find it. We pray for self-improvement and personal and spiritual renewal. We may seek a different tack to our careers and personal lives.

Godspeed to Bill Ortt. Fair winds to staff and congregants as they face waves of change and challenges.

Columnist Howard Freedlander retired in 2011 as Deputy State Treasurer of the State of Maryland.  Previously, he was the executive officer of the Maryland National Guard. He  also served as community editor for Chesapeake Publishing, lastly at the Queen Anne’s Record-Observer.  In retirement, Howard serves on the boards of several non-profits on the Eastern Shore, Annapolis and Philadelphia.

Out and About (Sort of): “Grin of Salt” by Howard Freedlander

Nine days ago I watched my seven-year-old grandson play ice hockey at the Talbot County Community Center. It was thrilling and wrenching at the same time.

I loved his enthusiasm, his skating skills, his scrappiness, his desire to win and his positive attitude. An Annapolis resident, he was playing in his grandparents’ backyard, following in the footsteps of his mother, who once upon a time displayed her keen athletic skills on Talbot County field hockey and softball fields. I was bursting with pride—though far abler to restrain my sometimes obnoxious behavior once on full display 20-30 years ago.

I stood in the shadows, happily so.

As I watched my grandson, I thought about his age and mine. My years to watch him grow as a person and athlete are limited. In, say, ten years, I wonder if I will be able to enjoy standing around a cold skating rink. I wonder if I will require too much attention, more than I would want or like.

At this point, a friend quickly approaching his 88th birthday, would frown upon my gloomy forecast. A biker, hiker, and traveler, he would recommend taking full advantage of the moment. Rightly so, he would scoff at viewing age as an impediment or source of despair.

But I think that grandchildren compel you to look into the future and realize, perhaps painfully so, that a grandparent’s role will be restricted by time on earth—and common sense. By the latter, I’m suggesting the obvious: a grandchild’s parents are the principal actors in this production called life. We grandparents are but bit players. We are merely supporting characters who must speak our lines carefully and unobtrusively.

As I ponder the finiteness of life, I also think about my 17-year-old grandson, who is spending a high school year abroad in Toulouse, France. Before he left last August, he applied to two colleges. He asked me to advocate for him with one of the schools. He was accepted by both. He has chosen the one attended by his mother, needing no boost to gain admission.

My efforts, though appreciated, clearly did not sway his decision. He decided on his own. He’s a young man empowered to forge his own path, to achieve and fail in his own. His grandfather must accept that fact.

At the risk of courting self-pity, I have to accept that as a grandfather my influence is minuscule. Truth be known, when my daughters were college age, I came to realize that I simply was an unpaid consultant whose advice bore questionable value to them.

All of this retrospection leads me to the worthy concept of legacy. In my self-appointed status as a senior statesman, I have to place credence in hope and belief. I have to hope that my grandchildren will lead honorable and productive lives. My belief in their parents and their values gives me confidence that my grandchildren will stumble, fall, get up, achieve and repeat this sequence over and over again.

Giving up will not be an option, however tempting it might seem at the moment.

Aging, passages of time and generational transfer can easily lead to empty clichés and hopeless pondering. I will avoid that temptation. I will continue to view time with grandchildren, whether at a Christmas pageant or sports event or graduation—or a family gathering—as something to enjoy and savor at the moment.

I will always be glad to voice positive encouragement. I will assign any inkling of criticism to my “unspoken” file. The one where discretion overrules possibly hurtful comments.

To quote my favorite philosopher and legendary baseball catcher, Yogi Berra, please take my thoughts with a “grin of salt.” It’s better that way.

Columnist Howard Freedlander retired in 2011 as Deputy State Treasurer of the State of Maryland.  Previously, he was the executive officer of the Maryland National Guard. He  also served as community editor for Chesapeake Publishing, lastly at the Queen Anne’s Record-Observer.  In retirement, Howard serves on the boards of several non-profits on the Eastern Shore, Annapolis and Philadelphia.

Out and About (Sort of): Look to Annapolis… please by Howard Freedlander

For many of us, the drama and dysfunction in our nation’s Capital are often captivating, comparable to a soap opera that grows increasingly more alarming in each daily episode. That won’t change, at least for another three years.

To glimpse a smidgeon of sanity and periodic good governance, I recommend that readers pay close attention to the 2018 General Assembly, now in its seventh of 90 days. Allow me to explain why I offer this antidote to the utter craziness and absurdity in Washington, DC.

First, the Maryland legislature must address the windfall, possibly millions of dollars, that will come the state’s way due to the recently enacted federal tax reform. This is a bad-news-good-news scenario: Marylanders will lose the ability to deduct local and state taxes up to $10,000—for example, state and local income, sales, real estate or property taxes. Hence, the state is expecting a windfall from the collection of dollars that previously had been deductible.

If for only this reason, all Marylanders should pay attention to this year’s legislative session. It’s your money and mine that will be the subject of lengthy discussion. And this will occur in an election year. Politics is always the backdrop in Annapolis. For this session, it will dominate the deliberations.

From what I’ve read, Gov. Larry Hogan is designing a proposal that may recommend returning the money to taxpayers. Democrats are leery. They are concerned about potential federal cuts to social programs, such as the Children’s Health Insurance Program, which covers low-income youth and may run out of money in April.

So, the windfall will be double-edged. While a bipartisan solution would be ideal, such an expectation may seem fanciful in an election year. The popular Gov. Hogan is seeking re-election; Democrats are loath to provide the governor bragging rights for a proposal that seems simple and equitable—returning money to taxpayers who will have to spend more due to federal tax reform—without examining the downside of distributing money that may be needed to plug holes created by spending cuts in Washington.

Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller said the legislature plans to gather a group of tax experts to analyze the new federal tax law. He also predicted this year’s 436th session will be particularly “contentious…this tax plan to going to cause us a fit,,,I ask for God’s help.”

Another reason that Marylanders should pay attention this year to the state legislature provides entertaining political theater. Gov., Hogan has proved to be a skillful politician appealing not only to Republicans but Democrats and Independents alike. Senator Mike Miller, who has served more than 30 years as president of the State Senate, is a canny, shrewd politician who has been a thorn in the side of Democrat and Republican governors. His House of Delegates counterpart, Speaker Mike Busch, too is a fervent Democrat who leads a body of legislators more liberal than those in the State Senate.

Will election-year politics rear its head in the 2018 General Assembly? You betcha. It won’t take long. With the infusion of a windfall of money due to federal tax reform opposed and derided by Democrats, discussion will be lively and hyper-partisan. I hope, amid the inevitable uproar, that taxpayers will benefit from sound and wise decisions.

Gov. Hogan will need to get personally involved in finding an equitable solution to the tax bite to be felt by Maryland citizens. While partisanship will be a major undercurrent, pocketbook politics should drive both parties. Miller and Busch need to protect their flank too.

Before the session ends in April, the legislature must address what many women legislators, staffers and lobbyists consider so abhorrent, and that is engrained sexual harassment in Annapolis. As is true in Congress, no longer can sexual misconduct be tolerated, viewed as permissible in a culture that has not taken allegations of sexual harassment as seriously as it should. More credible reporting, oversight and punishment are undeniably necessary.

I mentioned at the outside that a focus on the current legislative session might be a relief from the circus-like environment in Washington. More correctly, the Maryland General Assembly, though hyper-partisan, typically offers solutions easier to enact than down the road in Washington with more immediate and apparent impact.

Follow the money. Millions of dollars in new money can be a curse.

Sen. Miller solicited God’s help. I hope that common sense, flavored by omnipresent politics, will play a role.

Columnist Howard Freedlander retired in 2011 as Deputy State Treasurer of the State of Maryland.  Previously, he was the executive officer of the Maryland National Guard. He  also served as community editor for Chesapeake Publishing, lastly at the Queen Anne’s Record-Observer.  In retirement, Howard serves on the boards of several non-profits on the Eastern Shore, Annapolis and Philadelphia.

 

 

 

Out and About (Sort of): Words Matter by Howard Freedlander

During 2017, I probably wrote roughly 10,000 words in my weekly Talbot Spy column. There were times I was tempted to quote something in entirety, sometimes thinking my words were inadequate to express my thoughts and opinions. However, I always remained committed to my own prose, though frequently including quotations that might be helpful as clarification or amplification.

For this column, I’m yielding almost entirely to another speaker, in this case an Episcopal priest, the Rev. James R. Harlan, rector of the Church of Bethesda-by-the Sea in Palm Beach, Fl. Sitting in the third row during Father Harlan’s Christmas Eve sermon were President and Mrs. Trump. They had been married at this church in 2005.

“In the beginning, in the beginning before and beyond you and me before and beyond this country, and this culture, before and beyond even this planet: in the beginning, the Gospel According to John tells us, was the Word. The Evangelist takes us all the way back, all the way back, to the beginning to put this evening’s celebration in the right context. Back to the beginning where God spoke and there was light. God need only say the word and the world comes into being. That is the power of God’s creativity and love.

Our words are perhaps not so awe inspiring, but we know don’t we? We know the power of speech, of words.

Nelson Mandela the great champion of racial equality in South Africa, who was imprisoned for almost three decades for standing up to a government that was repressing and racist and all of that. Nelson Mandela knew the power of words. He said: “It is never my custom to use words lightly. If 27 years in prison have done anything to us it was to use the silence of solitude to make us understand how precious words are and how real speech is in its impact on the way people live and die.

Words matter. The book of Proverbs talks often about the power of words. Proverbs 18, for example says death and life are in the power of the tongue. Words can build up or tear down. Words can speak truth or obfuscate truth. Words convey information, emotion, motivation.

When God created the universe, the book of Genesis tells us God did so by the Word, speaking saying, “Let there be light.” And there was. That word of God, that word through which God loved and lovingly brought this whole world into being, that word became flesh to live among us to live within us, in Jesus Christ. The word of God is more powerful and more transforming than any word you or I could possibly utter. And the gospel according to John tells us that that Word brings light, pure light, light that casts away the darkness of fear and pain. Light that offers the only real possibility of reconciling with enemies, of welcoming strangers, of truly loving one another, of truly knowing ourselves.

Your words and mine too often give voice to and empower the darkness that sometimes seems to loom so large. Your words and mine can have as much destructive and divisive potential as creative and healing potential. But God’s Word, made flesh in Jesus, whose incarnation we celebrate on this holy night, that word is perfect and pure light.

That word is light that casts out darkness and fear. That word creates within and around us love and peace. That word enlightens us to see who we truly are: beloved children of God. And herein lies, I think, the greatest miracle about this light, this light of God’s love. This light that became flesh in Jesus is also within you and me. The light of God’s love and Jesus is at the core of who we truly are. That creative healing light of God’s love is longing to shine forth from within you and from within me to bring light to our lives and to the world.

That light of the love of God in Christ wants to shine through to enlighten our minds to bring peace to our hearts to heal our deepest hurts.

I wonder tonight where is that light of God’s love shining most brightly for you? Don’t get consumed or distracted by the darkness, even though I know that sometimes it seems difficult to ignore. Tonight and tomorrow and on from there, let’s testify, let’s bear witness like John did to the light of God’s love that we know in Jesus Christ. Let’s testify in word and action that no one need feel confined to the darkness. Not you, not me, not any person is beyond the light-filled touch of the word of God and Jesus Christ. Let’s let that light shine in our words and our actions in our love for every human being. Let’s let that light shining through us be our gifts to ourselves, to our families and friends, and to the world this Christmas.”

I can’t pretend to emulate the Rev. Harlan’s scriptural interpretation. As someone, though, who spews thousands of words in this column and so many more in my daily conversations, I am sensitive about the power of words to heal and hurt, care and console, deride and decry and cheer and chide. I’m aware how a simple hello or personal inquiry can allow the recipient to feel better about oneself. I’ve seen where the absence of words—as in disregarding someone by failing to acknowledge the person’s presence—is hurtful.

We’ve all seen how the poisonous nature of words contaminates public discourse. The unfortunate result is a lack of comity and two-way communication. Words of friendship and understanding cease, nullifying the potential for constructive action and results.

Father Harlan deliberately uses the words “light” and “darkness” to connote God’s will to propagate an environment where love and compassion (light) triumph over hate and discord (darkness). Harlan’s point, stated so gracefully within his sermon, is that words are the vehicle for friendship and love, generosity of spirit, expression of grace and, yes, peace and tranquility.

Because all of us are imperfect, insecure human beings, our words often express our personal flaws. As I interpret Father Harlan’s Christmas Eve message, our words matter in our sometimes difficult and divisive lives.

All of us are messengers of goodness and glee, gloom and gracelessness. We can choose.

Columnist Howard Freedlander retired in 2011 as Deputy State Treasurer of the State of Maryland.  Previously, he was the executive officer of the Maryland National Guard. He  also served as community editor for Chesapeake Publishing, lastly at the Queen Anne’s Record-Observer.  In retirement, Howard serves on the boards of several non-profits on the Eastern Shore, Annapolis and Philadelphia.

Out and About (Sort of): “Start spreading the news… New York, New York” by Howard Freedlander

Frank Sinatra’s iconic Grammy Award-winning song rang in my ears during a three-day Christmas visit to a place where “I wanna wake up in a city, that doesn’t sleep And you find I’m king of the hill, top of the heap.”

There’s no place like it, where mobs of people somehow coexist, where there’s constant gridlock, yet it’s exciting, tiring, enervating, aggravating and exhilarating. All at the same time.

Police presence, naturally enough, was notable and noticeable, human and metallic as in many police cars parked conspicuously and inconveniently at midtown intersections.

And, yes, it was dreadfully cold, but so what? We were in New York City during Christmas.

We enjoyed a birthday lunch at the American Girl Doll Store in Rockefeller Center for my five-year-old granddaughter, amid an amazing and head-spinning merchandising and marketing experience…My granddaughter Lizzie seemed to soak it all in and remained relatively calm. Her seven-year-old brother seemed oblivious, playing with Legos purchased to keep him occupied while his sister was queen of the heap.

We had dinner with my college roommate, with whom I reconnected about seven years ago, at the historic Algonquin Hotel, a well-known literary hangout in the 1920s. Still, the friendship connection is real. We both see things we like about each other. Our political views are remarkably similar.

Our visit to the Downton Abbey exhibit, sponsored by Viking Cruises, was simply wonderful, helping us retain a link to an unforgettable TV series, once which shone a spotlight on British aristocracy during a time in the early part of the 20th century when the landed gentry was facing extreme changes in their lives and lifestyles. Life as lords of the manor was becoming frayed and fractured by lack of sufficient money, sometimes requiring marriages to wealthy American women. World War I brought socioeconomic changes to Britain. While class distinctions were still real, they were facing serious, unavoidable societal challenges.

A 30-block walk one day to Zabar’s on the West Side was energizing despite the bracingly cold temperatures and well worth it for enjoyment of the delicious offerings at this well-known and  well-appreciated specialty food store.

A visit to NYC forces you to leave your comfort zone and enjoy the delight and detriment of one of the world’s largest and most diverse cities. Its charm and frenetic outpouring of activities cannot be matched. Coming home to the Eastern Shore provides a return to normalcy as measured by a slower pace, more humane streetscape and a pervasive calm.

My mother was born in Lower Manhattan, the child of immigrants trying to find their way in a new and strange country. She never lost her love for New York and its zesty and palpitating lifestyle. She always treasured an urban environment.

I find myself in a nostalgic twilight zone in New York, trying to imagine my grandparents’ lives in the tenements of Lower Manhattan, surrounded by other immigrants adjusting to lives thousands of miles away from East European programs. I try to imagine the difficulty of learning a new language, not to speak of strange customs and expectations. I try to imagine finding a job and climbing the ladder of success. Were my grandparents riven with anxiety? Or were they just determined to succeed in a strange new world, obstacles be damned?

I think about assimilation, the overriding desire to fit in, to claim their piece of the American Dream, to create a huge physical and mental space between the new and old worlds.

New York still invites innovation, ambition, determination, and imagination. It pulsates with activity, daring residents to claim a niche and work hard to succeed and grow in a dramatically competitive environment. It’s not for the faint of heart. It’s not for everyone.

New York is not America, nor vice versa. It does not identify our nation; it’s a throbbing piece of real estate and human endeavor. It’s a magnet for short-long-term visitors and devotees. But it’s not the sole source of knowledge and know-how. It’s not the only barometer of business, cultural, academic, literary, medical and social achievement.

I like visiting New York City. I also like going home. I marvel at a huge city that works and flourishes. It’s s a world-class urban venue. It possesses a magic that can be copied, but not duplicated. It also invites you to go home and compare your life in a less hectic but still stimulating part of our diverse country.

I feel drawn to return to NYC. But not too soon.

Columnist Howard Freedlander retired in 2011 as Deputy State Treasurer of the State of Maryland.  Previously, he was the executive officer of the Maryland National Guard. He  also served as community editor for Chesapeake Publishing, lastly at the Queen Anne’s Record-Observer.  In retirement, Howard serves on the boards of several non-profits on the Eastern Shore, Annapolis and Philadelphia.

Out and About (Sort of): Is it Just Me? by Howard Freedlander

Does anyone else feel a malaise in morale and spirit in our country? Is it just me?

Does anyone else feel embarrassed in our loss of moral authority and respect in our fragile world? Is it just me?

Does anyone else feel a lack of trust in our national political leadership? Is it just me?

As I think about 2017, as the days wind down, I feel a certain emptiness, an emotional sluggishness. I go to the gym twice a week for an hour each to restore and strengthen my aging body. But my mind and heart continue to experience a void in optimism and pride.

Choosing sides is more important than finding common ground. Extremism is valued more than compromise. Bigotry overrides generosity of spirit. Catering to hatred and prejudice supersedes appeals to decency and compassion.

Of course, the source of my angst is our president. His performance in office, inextricably tied to his shameful behavior—symbolized by his constant tweets of thin-skinned ad hominem condemnation– has no connection to rational leadership. Whenever you think that his personal attacks cannot get any worse, they do.

Any sense of community and shared sacrifice falls victim to self-absorption and selfishness.

So, what is good and generous in our divisive, dysfunctional body politic?

Locally, I look happily at the long list of people and groups donating to the Brighter Christmas Fund, sponsored by The Star Democrat. I think about Easton Utilities and its decorating the town. I marvel at the year-in, year-out efficacy of the Marine Corps Toys for Tots.

I feel uplifted by belonging to the Mid-Shore community with its sense of concern for neighbors and preservation of our human-oriented lifestyle and quality of life.

In the face of a president who feels no allegiance to truth, facts and civilized behavior, I believe that our society is placing greater emphasis than ever before on freedom of the press, the rule of law, government checks and balances and the inviolate nature of our court system.

And our democracy still flourishes, as exemplified by an increasing activism by citizens of differing political points of view and closely fought elections throughout our country.

Though discouraged and disgusted by our president, I retain faith in our shaky system. I believe that decency and common sense will prevail despite threats posed by poisonous partisanship, pervasive self-interest, and amoral behavior. I well understand the danger presented by naiveté; we have to fight for the triumph of grace and grit over incompetence and narcissism.

During the past few weeks, I must admit that I have watched more than my share of sappy, mushy Hallmark Christmas movies. Plot lines are similar. Despite some resistance, the Christmas spirit prevails. Grief over lost relationships yields to faith and trust in others. Christmas “miracles” are commonplace in these predictable movies.

While the Hallmark movies provide a mindless escape from life’s worries and heartaches, they also offer a viewpoint that cynics might disparage. However, they do place a premium on goodness and generosity.

The upcoming year will arrive without the bells and whistles of Christmas celebrations. Life will return to normal. No more gift-wrapping for a year. No more retail addiction.

The questions posed at the outset of this column demote pessimism and despair. Leadership at the White House is defective, if not destructive. As am an optimist, I must believe that voices of reason in Congress and the intrinsic value of an independent judiciary will provide much-need ballast to our roiling ship of state.

The New York Yankees catcher and accidental philosopher, Yogi Berra, once said, “The future ain’t what it used to be.” Whatever that means, Yogi had a point, I think: we can’t predict the future, but maybe we can influence it for the better.

That’s my take. After all, Yogi also said, “We have deep depth.”

Columnist Howard Freedlander retired in 2011 as Deputy State Treasurer of the State of Maryland.  Previously, he was the executive officer of the Maryland National Guard. He  also served as community editor for Chesapeake Publishing, lastly at the Queen Anne’s Record-Observer.  In retirement, Howard serves on the boards of several non-profits on the Eastern Shore, Annapolis and Philadelphia.

Out and About (Sort of): Blitzmas by Howard Freedlander

As this is my last column prior to Christmas, I thought I would write about a time in history, nearly 78 years ago, when people living in another country celebrated Christmas surrounded by terror imposed by a man intent on destroying democracy. Lives and morality didn’t matter.

Like other stories about this blessed holiday, hope and resilience rang out as undeniable traits and virtues of good people under merciless and mortal attack. This story also illustrates the tribal instincts of people sharing a calamity, determined to celebrate their communal heritage, regardless of their station in life.

As many readers will figure out, I am referring to Britain in December 1940. Between September and November, London had witnessed 57 consecutive nights of bombing by the German Luftwaffe. Air raids by German forces destroyed large sections not only of London but also of Birmingham, Bristol., Southampton, Manchester, Sheffield, Portsmouth, Gosport and Leicester. Assuming this disastrous onslaught would not pause on Christmas Day, a million Britons spent Christmas Eve in London in underground air-raid shelters.

According to reports in Time Magazine and British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) about “Blizmas,” Christmas parties ‘were elaborate communal affairs with mass harmony singing, skits and dancing.’ Of course, typical Christmas activities did cease. Streetside caroling was canceled due to relentless bombing and blackouts. Expensive goose and turkey were supplanted by ‘cheap Empire beef and mutton.’

Determined Britons continued some festive traditions. For example, parents still took their small children (‘moppets’) to musical theater productions known as ‘Christmas Pantomimes’ in London.

As I learned 50 years ago while doing graduate work at Manchester University in northern England, the British are nothing if not resolute and maybe even a bit stubborn. They do not wilt in the face of pressure or tragedy. They persist and persevere. The German blitz failed to vanquish British spirit and resolve.

During World War II, many urban families sent their children to the country to flee the bombing raids. Gifts often were homemade and practical. Children’s toys frequently were made from recycled materials. In 1941, the Ministry of Supply forbade the use of paper for gift-wrapping, cutting down on the surprise factor.

Postal workers were in short supply due to the war, requiring smaller staff to handle the onslaught of extra letters and parcels. Less space was available on the railways, where it was needed to transport troops and uniforms.

Many American troops stationed in England during the war spent Christmas with British families, often bringing much-welcomed gifts of food to rationing-restricted families.

The National Savings Committee distributed posters encouraging saving, frowning upon superfluous spending and promoting public investment in the British war effort.

The British War Relief Society, an umbrella organization encompassing numerous small charities that popped up across the United States to provide the British with clothes, food and other types of non-military aid, served as an administrative office and central location for money and supplies. Money and supplies would then be distributed to organizations in areas that had suffered badly during the Blitz.

As an example of the Britons’ constant supply of humor is an iconic photograph showing a couple kissing under the mistletoe, wearing gas masks. Could British resilience, leavened with good-natured fun, be any better displayed?

Christmas is a special holiday, strongly resistant to wartime misfortune. Yes, it must adjust periodically to a highly restrictive environment. It may even have to go underground. But its celebrants, young and old, will find ways to enjoy its festive aspects.

To families whose sons and daughters are serving overseas, I wish them a joyous holiday season. It’s difficult when loved ones are away from home, perhaps serving in dangerous parts of the world.

To families suffering from economic and health-related hardship, I wish you happiness amid stress. The stories related in The Star Democrat on behalf of the Brighter Christmas Fund are heart-wrenching.

To friends whose spouses are suffering health challenges, I wish you grace and contentment as you confront emotional pain.
And, finally, I extend holiday greetings to all of you who take the time away from your seasonal preparations to read this column. Thank God we can celebrate Christmas in peace.

Columnist Howard Freedlander retired in 2011 as Deputy State Treasurer of the State of Maryland. Previously, he was the executive officer of the Maryland National Guard. He also served as community editor for Chesapeake Publishing, lastly at the Queen Anne’s Record-Observer. In retirement, Howard serves on the boards of several non-profits on the Eastern Shore, Annapolis and Philadelphia.