Friday, February 19, 2021

SHOOTERS, SANDERS, AND HOOP MEMORIES

                                SHOOTERS, SANDERS, AND HOOP MEMORIES

Actor Dennis Hopper played a wonderful character named “Shooter” in the basketball movie Hoosiers, which also starred Gene Hackman and Barbara Hershey. The classic sports flick was inspired by the small town Indiana basketball culture of the early 1950s.

Shooter was the alcoholic father of a player on the Hickory High School team, coached by the Hackman character. Early on, Shooter recollected his moment of potential hoop glory when as a high school senior he had the ball for a last-second shot during the state basketball tournament that would have won the game.

“Around the rim and out,” lamented Shooter as he took another sip on his beer. His missed shot forever haunted him.

We all have our sports stories—mostly boring to others, but precious to us.

Anyone who has ever made a hole-in-one certainly has license to relive their wonderful moment at the 19th Hole. Just not too often.

But special sports memories are sometimes shareable. Especially when you write a sports column and face an approaching deadline.

Which brings me to Tom “Satch” Sanders.

A longtime Boston Celtic whose #16 hangs in the Boston Garden rafters, Sanders and fellow Celtic forward Don Nelson (#19) used to run the Nelson-Sanders Basketball School, which I attended one summer in Manchester with some of my Groveton High School hoop teammates.

The 6-foot-6 Sanders had just completed his 13th and final season with the Celtics, and during a lull in the schedule he was shooting some balls with some campers. I approached the NBA standout and challenged him to play me one-on-one. Sanders laughed and rolled his eyes. He was probably used to young guns challenging him in this fashion.

“All right,” he finally responded. “Let’s do this.”

He agreed to play “Make it, take it.” Seven baskets wins. The Celtic star quickly and easily went up 5-0. But then he missed a shot which I rebounded and I dribbled out to the top of the key and sized up my opponent, who was known as a premier NBA defensive forward.

I launched a jumper from 20 feet.

Swish.

Then another.

Around the rim and in.

Then I dribbled right and launched another 20 footer, which went in off the backboard. Lucky shot.

Sanders laughed and threw me the ball and came out to swallow me up defensively. I faked another jumper and managed to dart by him for a runner from close in.

5-4.

A crowd had started to gather, which usually brought out the best in me. I was “in the zone,” suddenly oozing with confidence. I tried another jumper which Sanders partially blocked but I beat him to the loose ball and went in for a layup.

5-5.

By this time there were many campers watching us and cheering me on. Perfect.

Sanders threw me the ball and I faked left and drove right and launched a running fifteen foot hook shot from the baseline.

Swish. 6-5.

Now I had a chance for the winning shot. Full of confidence, “in the zone,” inspired by the growing crowd of onlookers, and visualizing victory, I again drove right and launched another long hook shot.

Off the backboard, around the rim … and IN !

Game!

Sanders stared at me, then laughed and just shook his head.

A college basketball coach was watching. He approached me and asked what my post-high school plans were. A golden moment.

Sanders went on to coach at Harvard for a while before returning to the Boston Garden’s parquet floor to coach the Celtics.

Years later, some fraternity brothers and I went to a Celtics-Spurs game at the Garden. Of course we enjoyed a libation or two on the way to Boston. Once inside the Garden one friend and I went down to stand on the historic parquet. We noticed a couple empty press seats at the scorers table. (This was before the Larry Bird era. The Celtics weren’t very good and seats were easy to find.)

We waited for someone to send us away from the table but no one did. So we stayed there with perfect seats for the first half. Sanders was still head coach and at halftime he walked by the scorers table and did a double take when he saw me sitting there.

“Groveton Slim!” said Sanders. “Are you still shooting that hook shot?”

My friend’s jaw dropped. Another golden sports moment.

Shooter would have been proud.


   
(Alamy.Com)                                                     (Getty.com)


                                                                                                                


Sunday, January 3, 2021

NEVILLE CHAMBERLAIN, MEDIA BIAS, AND CANDLES

                            NEVILLE CHAMBERLAIN, MEDIA BIAS, AND CANDLES

 
By Mike Moffett
 
 
Former Congressman Lamar S. Smith echoed the sentiments of many when he stated that “The greatest threat to America is liberal media bias.
 
Likeminded thinkers have written many books, compiled numerous statistics, and created mountains of evidence purporting to document the leftist slant in American news reporting. Google away if you’re interested. 
 
An independent and credible media establishment is vital to successful democracy. Our founders understood this and freedom of speech was enshrined in the very first amendment to our constitution. An independent media publicly holds government accountable to the people. When press freedoms are extinguished then tyrannical governments create their own news realities. Think Joseph Goebbels, Baghdad Bob, or any Pravda editor. Not coincidentally, things ended badly for the aforementioned and their totalitarian regimes.
 
But democracies are immune to such fates, correct?
 
Emphatically no. Congressman Smith was on to something. Eternal vigilance is indeed the price of liberty. Some history can illuminate.
 
Ponder a case study of conservative media bias that proved deadly and tragic.
 
During the late 1930s, Tory British Prime Ministers Stanley Baldwin and Neville Chamberlain presided over a parliament dominated by conservatives. Faced with a growing threat from Germany and the Nazis, this conservative establishment conducted a policy of appeasement, seeking to placate Adolf Hitler by giving him what he wanted in hoping to avoid war. In retrospect, the Tory policies were disastrous, leading to mankind’s greatest conflagration. But most Brits had little idea of what was unfolding.
 
Conservatives dominated not only parliament but also the British newspaper world—as well as the British Broadcasting Corporation. Tory whips cracked hard to kill news or commentary that conflicted with conservative policies or the Tory line. Voices of prescient statesmen like Winston Churchill were suppressed. Those who warned of true German intent were ridiculed as warmongers.
 
Opposition Liberal/Labor newspapers were also cowed, due to political, financial, and other considerations. Subsequently, most Brits remained perilously uninformed.
 
Famed American journalist Martha Gellhorn traveled throughout Europe during the 1930s and was horrified by the growing Nazi danger. But she was equally horrified during a visit to England to find that due to conservative news suppression most Brits had little idea of the existential threat they faced. (Read Lynne Olson’s “Troublesome Young Men.”)
 
Instead of preparing for conflict, Chamberlain and company continued their largely unchallenged and disastrous appeasement policies—aided and abetted by that dominant conservative media bias. Fortunately, after war finally broke out, the emergence of Churchill as prime minister along with the English Channel, German miscalculations, and an eventual Grand Alliance eventually saved Britain and western civilization.
 
So democracies can certainly be failed by their “free” press. So is Lamar Smith correct in claiming that liberal media bias now threatens our country, as conservative media bias earlier almost ruined Britain?
 
A 2020 Gallup Poll indicated only 9% of Americans have “a great deal” of trust in our media, while 60% have little or no trust in our press people. That our media establishment overwhelmingly opposed President Trump was quite obvious (Google away). While Trump deserves a measure of blame for his brawling approach and for picking fights with publishers who buy ink by the barrel, what ever happened to objective journalism? Don’t expect good answers from the likes of ABC’s George Stephanopoulos, or from other network news people, most of whom, like Stephanopoulos, are liberals—if not former Democrat operatives.
 
Did the Trump administration receive due attention re: achieving energy independence? For amazing Middle East peace breakthroughs? For record stock market and employment numbers? For successfully supporting the development of a COVID vaccine that became available months earlier than originally projected?
 
But did the Biden campaign receive due scrutiny on a wide range of issues?
 
Eventually historians will weigh in and their judgments will likely be harsh. Objective journalism has demonstrably given way to institutional partisan advocacy. A similar dynamic exists in academia, but that’s another column.
 
The Lamar Smiths of the world fear that our overwhelmingly liberal media establishment will veer our country onto a dangerous road leading to statist socialism, less freedom, a loss of our national identity, and disaster.
 
A new Washington Post slogan claims that “Democracy dies in Darkness.” I agree. Lights need to be shined. Thankfully, Churchill and his followers figuratively lit enough candles to show the way to victory, despite the disastrous conservative media bias of the 1930s.
 
The time has come to shine light on the dangers of current liberal media bias in America.
 
Thank you for allowing me to light this one candle here at this time.





Neville Chamberlain and Adolf Hitler (N.Y. Times.Com)
 

Monday, August 24, 2020

"Hurricane" Hanson - N.H. Soccer Star!

 

LOUDON’S BENAIAH “HURRICANE” HANSON

HOPING TO MAKE SOCCER HISTORY



 

Loudon is known far and wide for its New Hampshire Motor Speedway and NASCAR racing. But someday, perhaps soon, it may also be known as the home of Benaiah Hanson.

Who?

Benaiah Hanson. As he’s a 14-year-old soccer player—as opposed to a decades-old racing institution—you probably haven’t heard of him. Not yet. Until now. 

Benaiah is presently in Texas, living a soccer dream with the Dallas Texans U15 Boys Academy of the ECNL (Elite Clubs National League), a home to national champions of youth soccer. 

So why didn’t Benaiah stay closer to home with Major League Soccer’s New England Revolution Academy? The answer is that he was looking for a career pathway that would not limit him to only U.S. Major League Soccer, but one that could also include international opportunities.   And he'd already exhibited his soccer brilliance with the Revolution’s U-13 and U-14 teams on the same Gillette Stadium turf where Tom Brady sought a different football glory.

But Benaiah’s remarkable sports journey is only just beginning—and an inspiring story it is.

Rwanda Calls

The story starts in Africa, where in 2006 baby Benaiah lived at the Home of Hope Orphanage in Kigali, Rwanda.

Enter Pete and Heidi Hanson. The Hansons were Concord High graduates, Class of ’89, although they didn’t really know each other then. Pete was a quarterback/defensive back for the Crimson Tide football team and later played at Plymouth State. Heidi was also a sports enthusiast who went on to Endicott College. Their paths crossed at a karaoke night at Concord’s Szechaun Garden Restaurant during Thanksgiving weekend of 1999. They soon wed and in 2000 welcomed their first child into the world—Asia Grace Hanson.

Devout Christians who attend Grace Capital Church in Pembroke, the Hansons sought to help and serve others and so became licensed foster parents. Their first call was for Macie Mae, a three-day old baby whom they fostered in 2004 before adopting her in 2008.

Concurrently, Pete and Heidi learned about African youngsters in desperate need from a missionary couple who visited their church. The Hansons sensed calls for help from Rwanda and so they tried to answer those “calls.” They spoke with a Gilford couple who’d gone through the independent African adoption process and then committed themselves to adopting a needy Rwandan baby.

Actually two. A family friend mentioned the idea of perhaps saving two lives, if they were going to travel all the way to Africa. Figuring there was always room for one more, Pete and Heidi changed their adoption application dossier to reflect their desire to adopt two babies and bring them to America. This required serious fund-raising, lots of paperwork, prayers, and frustrating unanswered phone calls to Kigali. But telephones (and prayers) were eventually answered and arrangements were successfully made. In 2008 the Hansons brought Benaiah and Luke to New Hampshire.

As many folks associate Loudon with NASCAR, so too do many people associate Rwanda with genocide. Almost a million Rwandans died during a horrific 1994 civil war between Hutu and Tutsi factions. Many thought the country would never recover. But a new nation arose from the ashes and bloodshed that inspired and gave hope to the world. The country rebuilt and demonstrated enlightened progress. In 2008, the same year that Benaiah and Luke came to America, Rwanda became the first country in the world to elect a legislature featuring a female majority.

That Benaiah (Tutsi) and Luke (Hutu) would become brothers underscored Rwanda’s post-genocidal progress while providing hope for so many seeking inspiration.

So in the fall of 2008 Benaiah Hurricane Hanson and Luke Washington Hanson came to Loudon, joining Macie Mae and Asia Grace in Pete and Heidi’s growing family

Another foster baby, born in 2008, would join the family permanently in 2012—Jacob Maverick Hanson.

To the Soccer Pitch

At age 7 Benaiah began playing on Loudon Freedom's U-9 Club team. Already demonstrating blazing speed, “Hurricane” Hanson helped the team go undefeated. He soon attracted the attention of the Seacoast Express United Club and eventually settled into his natural position of striker. 

Benaiah’s parents home-schooled their children, stressing character, coachability and fitness. So it was no surprise that “Hurricane” quickly became popular with teammates and coaches—for both his talent and his “team-first” mindset. He became well-known in New Hampshire’s youth soccer world and in the fall of 2017, at the age of eleven, moved up to play for Seacoast Development Academy team out of Epping. Not intimidated by more polished players (none were faster), Benaiah scored five goals in his second game for his new team. Then four goals in his third game. Then four goals in fourth game. After moving up to the Academy’s “A” team he scored four goals against Valeo FC, a  feeder team to the New England Revolution. This put the young Loudoner on the MLS radar screen.

In April of 2018, at the age of 12, Benaiah was invited to Gillette Stadium for a workout sponsored by the Revolution. The Hansons were euphoric. They admittedly didn’t understand everything that was happening but knew something special was unfolding. But four days before the Foxborough workout a major setback occurred. Benaiah broke his leg during a home game in Epping.

Now what?

“We prayed about it,” explained Heidi. “We told the Revolution about the injury but they said to come anyway.”

It turned out that surgery was unnecessary and the leg was set. The Hansons made the long drive to Foxborough while Benaiah agonized about the missed opportunity to show the Revolution what he could do. Pete, Heidi, and “Hurricane” expected a pro forma discussion with the soccer officials and then a long ride back to Loudon. But they were stunned when a team official offered Benaiah a spot on the organization’s 18-member Development Academy U-13 roster for the fall.

“Don’t worry about not being able to work out for us today,” said the official. “We’re very aware of Benaiah’s abilities.”

The ride back to Loudon turned out to be a happy one. Benaiah did everything he was supposed to do to recover, eventually working out with Phil Tuttle’s Elite Player Performance Soccer organization in Concord during that summer. That fall he’d score nine goals in nine games, which included his first action on the Gillette Stadium field. 

When winter came, “Hurricane” continued to play indoors, to include a game against an English team sponsored by the legendary Manchester United organization. Despite being double-teamed by bigger Brits, Benaiah scored a goal in a 5-4 loss before a huge crowd.



On to Texas

In 2019 Benaiah played on the Revs’ U-14 team as a 13-year-old and even moved up to U-15 for three games, scoring a goal. During his fall season he was invited to do independent training with The Pro Project, out of Massachusetts, which became instrumental in his continued rapid development this past year. There he trained with older, faster, bigger and more skilled players on a regular basis. Film analysis helped him to view the sport strategically  

2020 beckoned as a break-through year. And then …

COVID-19.

The pandemic that turned the sports-world upside down also disrupted “Hurricane Hanson’s” world. New England soccer plans and schedules were modified or cancelled. Benaiah suffered extreme 2020 sports frustration—along with countless others in this year of the Coronavirus.

The Hansons prayed on things and then, as in 2018, a surprise opportunity manifested itself. After hearing about the Dallas Texans soccer organization from a friend, Pete and Heidi reached out to a Dallas coach. The ECNL’s Texans U15 Boys Academy based out of Farmers Branch, Texas, offered Benaiah a roster spot.  So Pete, Heidi and Hurricane traveled to the Lone Star State on August 2 and learned that the organization already had a preseason slate of “friendlies” scheduled. The team favors a fast-paced European style of soccer—well-suited to Benaiah’s skills. That the club plays outdoors on grass year-round was another plus.

“The organization was wonderful to Pete, Benaiah and me,” explained Heidi. “They knew we faced a tough decision, dealing with many pros and cons. We all love New England. But because we were friends with a family with a son on the team, we finally decided that Texas was the place for Benaiah to continue his journey.”

Articulate and well-read, Benaiah is a thinker and dreamer who is already working on a book with mythological inspiration. He appears to be a major home-schooling success story, a young man that almost any university would love to enroll. His eyes sparkle as he describes his favorite soccer moments, including a “meg” against Manchester United—where he pushed a ball between an opponent’s legs and then outraced him to the ball.

That 2008 plane ticket that brought “Hurricane Hanson” to America from a Rwandan orphanage has led to a soccer ticket that just might take Benaiah anywhere. He admits to dreaming about a spot on the American Men’s National Team someday.

It was pointed out to “Hurricane” that he’d only be 16 years old when the next World Cup competition takes place in Qatar in 2022.

“That’s correct” replied Benaiah with a big smile, and that soccer sparkle in his eye.

                                                                 #####





(Photos by Chris Aduama)


Saturday, July 18, 2020

A Police Story

The following story also appeared in the Concord (N.H.) Monitor on 7/15/2020
and on the front page of the the Weirs Times on 7/16/2020 https://weirs.com/


JEREMY LEVY AND A POLICE STORY
By Mike Moffett
Los Angeles native Jeremy Levy was 19 that day in 1992 when he drove to an L.A. junior high school where his mother taught to pick her up and make sure she got home safely. But as they stopped briefly at a Wilshire Boulevard intersection, the Levys were terrified by an approaching mob. Protesters advanced up the street, smashing every storefront window and every parked car. Unlucky pedestrians were assaulted. Terrified, Jeremy gunned the car’s engine, whipped around a barricade, and took an alternate route home.
The violent scenes of anarchy were seared into Levy’s memory. It was May 4 and the rioters were enraged by the acquittal of L.A. police officers accused of brutality in a videotaped beating of motorist Rodney King. Sixty-three people died in the chaos while many hundreds more suffered severe injuries.
Levy knew that force was needed to counter the mob violence but he understood that it was excessive police force that sparked the conflagration in the first place. And so it was that he first recognized a dichotomy that’s challenged so many communities for so many years. How can those charged with maintaining order do so while still retaining the humanity and compassion essential to effective law enforcement?
To Protect and Serve?
Raised in L.A. County, Levy was imbued with a sense of duty to help those in need. Hence his trip on that May 4 to protect his mother. And the imagery of that awful day actually propelled him on a journey where he eventually became a policeman himself—one who’d later receive national recognition for his work.
Young Levy took a job at Macy’s Department Store in what he described as “loss prevention,” monitoring video screens to catch shoplifters. While protecting store property he learned that there was a spectrum of potential responses to thievery. Not every miscreant needed to “have the book thrown at them.” Levy felt that while some thieves were incorrigible others could be steered in better directions with firm but compassionate action. He discovered a rewarding balance whereby property was protected without permanently damaging every perpetrator.
Levy went on to earn an EMT license and then sought to become a City of Los Angeles Park Ranger/Patrol Officer in 1994. Despite some wonderful qualifications he was not hired. He tried again in 1995 and was again turned away, essentially due to race, as it was explained to him. Levy is white, and the focus was on minority hiring, in part in response to the King riots. The rejection was frustrating but it gave him useful insights. He tried again in 1996 and was finally selected.
While patrolling the trails of Griffith Park Levy further developed his interpersonal skills in responding to all manner of public situations. He moved on to work in San Fernando Valley before leaving the Rangers to attend a Federal Law Enforcement Academy in Petaluma, Calif. This positioned him for a seasonal law enforcement opportunity as a federal ranger at Lake Mead, Nevada—near Las Vegas.
“It was a crazy job,” recalled Levy. “There were many accidents, deaths and drownings but our presence there saved some people and that was incredibly rewarding.”
In 1999 Levy decided to go “all in” with law enforcement and was accepted at a Nevada police academy. Sixty cadets started with 40 completing the training—including Levy. He was now a cop with the famous Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department. LVMPD featured around 2500 officers tasked with the unique challenges of policing Sin City.
Levy worked downtown from 2001-07. The work was sometimes boring but often exciting. With experience came better judgement and the enhanced interpersonal skills so important to successful police officers. Inevitably there were stressful and dangerous situations and not all Levy’s colleagues could cope with it all. But Jeremy realized that he seemed to have “the right stuff.”
“There are few things more rewarding than saving lives,” explained Levy. “And we saved a lot of lives.”
As one of many examples, Levy described how he prevented a jumper from hurling himself off the top of a parking garage, eventually grabbing the man as he was about to leap to his death. The jumper later thanked Levy for intervening the way he did at a desperate time. 
"Dealing with delirious or delusional people has too often resulted in officers deploying firearms when peaceful approaches may work," observed Levy.
Levy’s compassionate instincts and laudatory record reflected the best of his Crisis Intervention Training (CIT) with the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill (NAMI). His efforts earned him recognition as 2005 Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department CIT Officer-of-the-Year and then 2006 National CIT Officer-of-the-Year.
 Then in 2007 he was rewarded for his unique talents when he was named as an LVMPD Peer Counselor, a job he’d hold until 2020, helping numerous officers suffering from PTSD with all the associated interpersonal pathologies. Levy explained that while Ph.D/therapists certainly are well educated they can't necessarily relate to clients or patients in the same way as a peer who knows what its like on the streets.
Job stress often leads to depression and addiction," said Levy. "Some cops head down a road towards suicide. I want to think we helped many of them turn around and choose life over death.”
Levy also lauded officers' families and pointed out that the stress of police work takes a heavy toll. The divorce rate for police officers is around 80%. 
"Officers receive medals and recognition for heroic acts but medals should also go to their spouses who hang in there with them."
Levy explained that both male and female officers run a higher risk of broken relationships—not only with spouses but also with children, friends and relatives. 
"The suicide rate for police is twice the national average" added Levy. "And rates of alcoholism and prescription drug abuse are also disproportionately high. Daily exposure to traumatic scenes is just not healthy."
Levy feels that academies do well at teaching policing but wishes they could somehow also educate family members as to how to better live with police officers.
10/1
The expression “9/11” sadly resonates with most Americans over the age of 25. But Las Vegas cops also have “10/1.” October 1, 2017 was the day that Stephen Paddock barricaded himself at the Mandalay Bay Resort and opened fire on a large crowd of music fans attending a festival below his suite on the 32nd floor. Fifty eight people died immediately while 413 were wounded, with hundreds more injuries occurring during the subsequent panic. It was the worst mass shooting ever in the western hemisphere.
The casualties included police officers and Levy was quickly en route to provide support at various hospitals.
“It was horrific,” recounted the veteran policeman. “The hospital lobbies were littered with countless seat belts, of all things, as they were used as tourniquets in so many vehicles that rushed victims to the hospitals.”
The tragedy’s aftermath reinforced Levy’s faith in the innate spirit that animates communities in response to tragedy and carnage.
“It seemed like everyone in Las Vegas pulled together, at least for a while,” said Levy. “Kindness and hugs abounded.”
The sobering reminder of human mortality unified the people of Las Vegas, regardless of race or status. Folks seemed to better appreciate the first responders who put their lives on the line to serve and protect.
“Most cops are very sensitive but they often mask that sensitivity to project the strength that people expect from them,” explained Levy. “Internalizing emotions can take a toll that sometimes leads to outbursts in certain circumstances. That’s what I dealt with in 12 years of peer counseling.”
Levy explained that many policemen struggle with a challenging “identity duality.”
“We want the bad guys to fear us and the good folks to love us. But the good and bad are not always so easy to differentiate. It takes a toll and many cops develop emotional armor and sometimes cynicism to get by. Some deal with things better than others. And yes, some cops get brutalized by the demands and do bad things. But it’s hard to see people define all police by the actions of the worst cops.”
Levy added that 2020 has been an especially challenging year for law enforcement.
“Most cops are caring human beings who want to be valued,” said Levy. “They struggle with being vilified after putting their lives on the line.”
Levy’s troubled by calls to defund or eliminate police and having witnessed so much—from the King riots in L.A. to 10/1 in Las Vegas—he cringes at the notion of the thin blue line being erased. He knows the danger that would bring to every community.
“Police brutality is a symptom, not a cause of societal problems,” Levy added. “We need to focus on root causes.”
Levy retired from LVMPD earlier this year and now lives with wife Jacqueline and son Jaxon in Orange County, Calif.
“I needed to decompress a bit and recharge my batteries after being responsible for the emotional well-being of 2500 cops.”
Still, Levy remains an advocate for his brothers and sisters on their beats.
"The disconnect between some communities and police pains me. If only people better understood the true spirit of police officers and their motivation to serve and their desire to be valued. Too many officers are walking wounded with broken hearts that need healing."  
But Levy emphasized that he has no major regrets and is very proud of his career in law enforcement.
“There’s nothing more rewarding than saving lives and I think we cops save a lot of lives, in many different ways.” 
Starting, perhaps, with Levy’s own mother back in 1992.
#####
(Weirs Times columnist Mike Moffett was introduced to Jeremy Levy at an Orange County coffee shop by his friend and co-author Fahim Fazli—a veteran Hollywood actor. The above story came about following a conversation there.)


  Mike Moffett and Jeremy Levy at an Orange County coffee shop, along with "Gracie."


Saturday, April 4, 2020

OPTIMISM, GRATITUDE, AND BABE RUTH


OPTIMISM, GRATITUDE, AND BABE RUTH


“Optimism—even, and perhaps especially in the face of difficulty—has long been an American hallmark.” – Pamela Druckerman, Franco-American journalist and author

Yes, an optimist sees a glass as half-full while a pessimist sees the same glass as half-empty. And during unsettled times both perspectives manifest themselves. But while realism is important, optimism is healthy. As long-suffering Brooklyn Dodger fans used to say, “Just wait ‘till next year!”

Then there’s optimism’s first cousin—gratitude.

As Amy Collette—author of The Gratitude Connection—put it: “Gratitude is a powerful catalyst for happiness. It’s the spark that lights a fire of joy in your soul.”

Yes.

But to experience real gratitude one needs context. One can’t truly appreciate blessings unless one knows what it’s like without those blessings—which brings us to our current COVID-19 pandemic.

If Americans knew more history, they’d have more context, gratitude, and optimism.

Two months ago, most folks were probably unaware of the 1918 influenza pandemic which killed scores of millions. Now people know much more about a deadly scourge many times worse than what we’re now facing.

My grandmother, Yvette Lussier, lost a younger sibling to that 1918 pandemic.

Then she lost another.

And then another.

It was a sad month for the Lussier family up in St. Liboire, Quebec, when they had to bury three children. But current circumstances that remind us of past events can teach us important history and provide context yielding gratitude and hopeful optimism.

Obviously I’m grateful Yvette survived. And Americans today probably have it better than 99% of the people who ever walked the earth. Indeed, until midway through the last century, most human lives were “nasty, brutish, and short,” to quote Thomas Hobbes.

A recent book rates a plug here: WAR FEVER: Boston, Baseball, and America in the Shadow of the Great War, by Randy Roberts and Johnny Smith. It profiles three Boston people—symphony conductor Karl Muck, Harvard law school grad Charles Whittlesey, and Red Sox star Babe Ruth—and how 1918 and World War I changed their lives and subsequently our world.

Muck was a Boston Symphony Orchestra conductor who was arrested for pro-German sympathies, imprisoned, and then deported. His story is a reminder about how civil liberties need to be protected in times of crisis.

Whittlesey joined the U.S. Army in 1917 and as a major commanded the “Lost Battalion,” a 600 man army unit that was cut off and surrounded by Germans in September of 1918. Whittlesey and his men refused to surrender, despite going four days without food or water. Eventually 194 unwounded survivors were rescued. Their story helped inspire Americans to victory two months later.

Babe Ruth, of course, became the penultimate American sports hero in 1918. That was the season that Ruth—perhaps baseball’s best pitcher—started playing regularly in the field. He led the Major Leagues in home runs that year as Boston won the World Series in a season that was cut-short due to the flu epidemic, similar to this year’s MLB schedule being curtailed by COVID-19.

Ruth took on each day with gusto and experienced life to its fullest. His optimism and joie de vivre served him well. He set another home run record for the Red Sox in 1919 before going on to some other team where he became an American icon. I don’t think he’d have flourished had he been a pessimist.

So this time of quarantines and social distancing affords us opportunities to ponder history and find context to make us wiser, better, humbler—and perhaps more optimistic as 2020 unfolds.

And as those Brooklyn Dodger fans used to say: “Just wait ‘til next year!”


(A.P.)