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Celoron, NY, United States
And by the way, everything in life is writable about if you have the outgoing guts to do it, and the imagination to improvise. The worst enemy to creativity is self-doubt. ~Sylvia Plath



A Tired Man
By Laura McCollough Moss

There was a particular cast to the eyes of Ellis Boyd “Red” Redding when he sat down before the parole board at Shawshank Prison having served forty years of a life sentence for a murder committed as a young man.  Played with characteristic brilliance by Morgan Freeman, Red abandoned the ruse of forced humility.  Instead, he laid bare the wisdom gained over decades of living with regret.  Reflecting on the misguided youth that he had been, Red said “I want to talk to him.  I want to try to talk some sense to him.  Tell him the way things are. But I can’t.   That kid’s long gone, and this old man is all that’s left.  I’ve got to live with that.”
Frank Darabont’s powerful script gave voice to Red’s transition from a thoughtless, cocky youth to a grown man who knew himself, and had taken full advantage of his incarceration to develop insight and a strong moral character.  I saw a distinct parallel to this memorable scene in the first presidential debate of 2012 (which aired October 3rd).  Barack Obama’s eyes mirrored feelings that Red experienced, and that I understood implicitly. 
I am a contemporary of Barack Obama; him, born August 4th, and me on October 26th of the year 1961.  While it is true that I have long been drawn to his intelligence, honest countenance, and personal and political values, there has always been that feeling that we could have taken Social Studies class together.  In a word, I get him.  I watched him react to Mitt Romney’s smarmy assault, and felt certain that I knew what he was feeling.
 Afterward, the commentary of liberal broadcasters was passionate.  Their president had disappointed them by failing to fight back.  Chris Matthews of MSNBC was incensed, and minced no words in his critique of Barack’s performance in the debate.  I have to say that even though I remained steadfast in support of my president, and I was, and am, proud of him, I too wondered why he did not object strenuously to some of Romney’s charges.  On the subject of Obamacare, when accused of pushing the Affordable Care Act through to legislation without regard for the tenth amendment to the Constitution, why did Obama not remind Mitt, and the audience, that the constitutionality of the Act had been upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court? When Romney repeatedly stated that, under Obamacare, those who were satisfied with their insurance coverage would see it changed, why did Barack neglect to mention the millions without coverage who have been granted access to quality healthcare? As a Registered Nurse, these were moments that distressed me, but there were others that I need not mention.  They are permeating the media today, and we all know what they were.
To close the loop, where does Red Redding come into this editorial?  Allow me to explain.  As I look at video clips from the debate, I see the same wise, tired, time-worn expression on the face of Barack Obama that I recalled from Morgan Freeman’s memorable scene in The Shawshank Redemption.  Barack realizes that he entered the office of President of the United States as a young, fully-charged, idealistic public servant.  He had every intention of fulfilling his promises of renewing hope and inspiring change.  What he found out is what all of us discover somewhere between forty and fifty.  He was forced to confront “the way things are”, as Red so eloquently expressed one of life’s largest lessons in so few words.
The way things are is that, as President, you aren’t given a free pass to construct the reality of your dreams.  There are countless others with a dog in the fight, with opinions of their own, and with leverage that you cannot ignore.  Barack has learned the full extent to which the leader of the free world must compromise, ingest partisan and idealogical excrement (how’s that for a euphemism?), and endure analysis and criticism of every spoken word, every gesture, and every decision.  Our president has aged visibly in office.  His hearty, confident, booming speaking style has given way to measured honesty.  He knows, now, that sober topics on which he is speaking are not grounds for self-aggrandizement or pandering.  He also grieves the pieces of himself that he has sacrificed in the fight for equality, empowerment and basic health and safety for all Americans.  There is no doubt in my mind that he is fully aware of his responsibility to the citizens of this country.  I believe accounts that he sits up late at night reading their letters, and loses sleep over their content. 
Barack Obama bore an expression of resignation that closely concealed a simmering indignation.  He met Mitt Romney’s glib smirk with a look that said “You have not been where I have been”.  Commentators who remarked that sitting presidents are unaccustomed to being challenged should consider how it must feel to be challenged on work that has claimed one’s very heart and soul.  Should Barack Obama have to explain what it was like to visit Joplin, Missouri, or Bagram Air Field in Afghanistan? Is he forced to express the responsibility he feels for the daily casualties of war, or the stress and risk accompanying the decision to assassinate an enemy?  Imagine what it is like to do the best you can at the most difficult job in the world, and to have the dissection and analysis of your every move be the full-time occupation of millions.  Under this microscope, Barack Obama has learned the ropes of American presidency.  There have to be moments when he doubts himself, as anyone would.  And it is impossible to encapsulate in a two-minute response in a debate all that went into a particular outcome.  Concessions were made for the greater good.  Ground-breaking, significant processes have been initiated (as in healthcare) for which it will take time and ongoing collaboration and development to reap full benefit.  Barack Obama owes Mitt Romney no explanation.
 “What do you really want to know? Am I sorry for what I did?”  I can almost hear Obama using Red’s words.  “There’s not a day goes by I don’t feel regret. Not because I’m in here or because you think I should. I look back on the way I was then…” 
It is my opinion that Barack Obama has reviewed his first four years in office.  He has asked himself whether the journey has been worthwhile, and whether he has risen to the challenges of office.  He can look proudly upon an admirable list of accomplishments hammered out along a harrowing road. And, when confronted by the likes of Mitt Romney, he feels no compulsion to prove himself.
(Red again)- Because, to tell you the truth, he doesn’t give a shit.



 Miss Whitney
By Laura McCollough Moss

The death of Whitney Houston has stirred controversy as the nation mourns a woman who many viewed as a flawed, troubled diva. Just as we saw in the period immediately following the death of Steve Jobs (a founder of Apple Inc.), facebook users are posting emotionally-charged images of brave men and women who have given their lives for our country; captioned with words to the effect that, in grieving the deaths of popular idols, we are somehow denigrating their memory. As a proud American citizen who has devoted some thought to the subject, I would like to try to put this issue into perspective.
On March 31st of 1991, Whitney Houston welcomed heroes of the Gulf War at a performance at Norfolk Naval Air Station, Virginia.  The video can be seen on YouTube, and although twenty years have passed, it was a beautiful broadcast that remains stirring and inspirational to this day. Her classic version of "The Star Spangled Banner" brought tears to the eyes of soldiers and civilians alike; and resurrected national pride.
Along with creative performing and visual artists who preceded Whitney, her contemporaries and those who have come after her, she has become embedded in the soundtrack of our lives. How many of our military heroes have sung and danced to Whitney's hits in Hummers, tanks and barracks, or attached special meaning to her songs? In "The Greatest Love of All", she sang:
Everybody's searching for a hero,
People need someone to look up to
I never found anyone who fulfilled my need.
A lonely place to be
So I learned to depend on me
When Whitney sang this song for members of the Navy, their response was tremendous.  Thousands of sailors swayed with heads held high, hands held up, and some waving flags, raptly enjoying the sincere and moving tribute.   Although Whitney's musical ministry and outreach diminished in later years due to her personal struggles, it cannot be disputed that she had a loving and giving heart, and that, through her limitless talent, she brought a great deal of pleasure and happiness not only to heroes, but to the world.
Our military heroes would be the last to place the value of their lives above hers; or anyone's for that matter. Humility is one of the hallmarks of heroism.  They fight and die for us all, and before that, they are human beings with the same love of American culture that we all possess.  The lives of soldiers are enriched by technology (yes, Apple products; and Microsoft's Skype), good music, hilarious and inspirational movies, books and magazines, the miracle of Kevlar and other life-saving equipment, Hershey's chocolate, and countless other of life's blessings. In that sense, for their service to those who serve us, individuals like Jobs and Houston are indeed heroes.  
As for Whitney's battle with drugs, alcohol, and self-destruction, our soldiers understand that as well. The re acclimation to society is a hard transition for men and women bruised by combat, and many of them wrestle the same demons.  Illness and addiction are not all that make up the person they plague, and  it is possible for them to coexist with traits of humanity, strength of character and sensitivity. The ones who are hurting understand this fact; unfortunately, the remainder of us often do not.  
The English poet John Donne (1572-1631) wrote: "Any man's death diminishes me, because I am involved in Mankind; And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee."
Our lives are diminished by the death of Miss Whitney Houston.  She was one among us, and out of appreciation and respect, we mourn her passing.



Love of a Lifetime
By Laura McCollough Moss
I was three-and-a-half years old in July of 1965. My brother Dan was two, and together we contracted whooping cough that summer.  We had raging fevers and coughed continuously, violently and to the point of vomiting.  This posed a problem for our very pregnant mother, because our brother Gil was on his way, unwilling to hold out until our crisis was averted.  He was born on July 22nd, too new and fragile to be exposed to us. That’s when Grandma Dorothy, my Dad’s mother, and Grandma Chase (given name, Ella), my Mom’s mother, sprang to the rescue. Dorothy traveled to our house and became full-time nursemaid to Dan and me. She cleaned up all that spewed forth from us and slept between us in bed at night. When we coughed to the point of near strangulation, she reached for us in the dark, pulling us to an upright position by the hair of our heads if she touched that first.  Terrified, she had to get us to sit up and resume breathing by whatever means necessary. Ella’s contribution was that of picking up newborn Gil at the hospital and taking him to her house.  The first order of business was soothing her crying, post-partum daughter through the separation from her baby and the return home to tend to three kids, two of them sick (brother Rick was eight, and healthy). Then, for two weeks she endured the sleepless nights of a new mother; feeding, changing, burping, cuddling and coping as best she could. We were lucky to have such loving and involved grandmothers. These were not women who phoned the job in, writing postcards from tropical vacations and signing birthday cards. They were there for us whenever we needed them; as we so often did throughout our growing-up years and beyond.
Fast-forward to the summer of 1979, the year I swooned over the seat of a young man’s Levi corduroys as he bent over, hard at work in the frozen food section of the Super Duper where we both worked.  We had been dating for a short time when, one day, Mike’s father called him.
“We’re going to go and take my Dad some money,” he told me.
I was eighteen, and the idea of giving my parents money, although we’d never had much, was foreign to me. “Why?”
 “He asked me for ten dollars for food,” Mike said.
 I went into his bedroom to fluff my hair or whatever I thought would make me appear a suitable companion for this man’s son.  I walked back into the kitchen to find my twenty-three year old future husband making a sandwich at the counter.
 “What are you doing?”
“I’m packing him a lunch,” he replied quietly.
 “But I thought you were taking him money for food?”
 He folded the paper bag closed. “He’s going to drink with the money. I want him to have something to eat.”
 I know today about alcoholic families and co-dependence, but what I witnessed was a child’s unconditional love. 
I was a young mother in 1982. My Katie was just over a year old, and I had enrolled in nursing school full-time in addition to my part-time job as a checkout girl. Mike did a great job taking care of her and keeping things in order at home, but I was often overwhelmed with work, guilt and responsibility. One night I had gone to bed exhausted. About an hour later, my baby was crying, and I went to her.  I had a city bus to catch in five or six hours, but I sat rocking my daughter while the world slept quietly and time stood still. Held tight against me with her feet in my lap, she was the perfect height to rest her head on my shoulder, breathing softly into my neck. I told myself that I would remember that night forever, and I have.  That was the night my life’s priorities were clearly revealed to me.
My son Jesse made the scene in 1988, and was two or three years old when I gashed my finger doing dishes. Dan, a bachelor at the time, was staying with us, and assured me that he had everything under control while I took myself to the Emergency Room for stitches. He busied himself finishing the dishes and, soon afterward, Jesse called to him from the bathroom.
“Uncle Dan, I need you to wipe me,” Jesse yelled.
Dan would go on to have two children and wipe many, many a fanny, but on that particular day he was a rookie.
“Sorry, Dukie,” he chuckled. “Uncle Dan doesn’t wipe.”
The kid cried, and Uncle Dan had no choice. The situation was addressed, however gingerly and reluctantly, and I returned home with my finger-splint just in time to hear the tale. 
“Sorry,” I laughed.
“No problem,” Dan said. “What could I do? He needed me.”
Love is easy when all is going well, but it is one of life’s profound, humbling lessons that few people love you enough to wipe your butt. 
My father was diagnosed with Squamous Cell lung cancer in August 2009, and the news rocked our worlds.  Mom had had breast cancer fifteen years earlier and had survived gratefully, but with the nagging fear of recurrence. His diagnosis took us completely by surprise. That evening, as we sat together absorbing the news, Bud said “I never thought I’d get cancer. Did you, Sue?”
Without missing a beat his wife of forty-nine years quipped, “Nope. I thought your driving would kill you.”
Bud got through surgery with a Stage 1b diagnosis. He had some post-operative complications, but within four months had come through the worst of it and was improving.  We dared hope that life would return to normal.  Literally the next day, Susie was also diagnosed with lung cancer. She had started with a harsh, nagging cough as my Dad recovered at home; she called it her ‘sympathy cough’.  It seemed impossible that this disease could strike us again within such a short time, but strike it did.  Mom’s outcome was very different, with far more extensive surgery, a Stage 4 diagnosis, a difficult post-operative period, medical rehabilitation, home care and, finally, Hospice care.  We took care of her together; my Dad, brothers, Aunts and Uncles, and me.  When she was feeling her worst we’d lie in bed with her, within easy reach.  My grandmothers’ legacy of loving care had come full circle. 
Susie died at home as she wished, in the wee hours of a Sunday morning in May 2010, at the age of seventy-one; within five months of her diagnosis, and nine months after my father’s.  Gil and I watched her draw her final breath, and although the pain that followed was unlike any we’d known, we realized that the love we shared hadn’t gone with her.  She had left it with us.  Throughout the time we had spent together there had been no drama, no arguments. We laughed and cried on a daily basis, and our bonds were strengthened, just as she wanted it. 
It seems, on the subject of love, that it has shown itself to me in a million ways over my lifetime.  There was not a singular moment when I understood its impact, but rather an accumulation of moments; each a small, transient miracle of its own.  I have been merely a conduit for the love that has come to and through me, and it is my happy privilege to pass it along.