Thursday, January 31, 2008

A Student's Wisdom

One of my former students, who goes by the nickname Tez, posted this on his Myspace page the other day. After graduating from Stanford Law, he is practicing in Chicago. One of my favorite memories of him was when the library ladies were whispering about whether to call him "African-American," "Afro-American," "Black," or what. I motioned him over and asked him what he wanted to be called. He said, "Call me Tez," and walked back to the table where he was working.

I broke his essay into smaller paragraphs for easier reading.

Here are Tez's words:


I wanted to take a few minutes to comment on something of great personal significance that occurred during the presidential primary in South Carolina yesterday evening. Many of you who know me know that I don’t talk about race often. I generally prefer to elevate the discourse beyond it. But considering this week in which we have both celebrated Dr. King’s legacy and also endured a bitter political discussion with serious racial overtones, I thought I’d comment on yesterday’s events in my old home state.

I very much believe in a country and a world where race is neither a hindrance nor of any consequence—not to say a color-blind country, after all I bemoan blindness and ignorance of all kind—but a country where something like race with such a powerful and pervasive history and effect can be acknowledged, understood, and ultimately made a non-issue. A country where as Dr. King said people are judged not on their color but on the content of their character. I believe in such a country and I saw evidence of its coming last night.

Some may assume that this day has already passed and that race is already a non-issue. And while I love their optimism, my life has shone a different picture. The world is changing but real change happens slowly.

As some may know, I grew up in many places, but mostly in the South—namely South Carolina. First, in Charleston, North Charleston, then the small town of Summerville. It was in these early days in South Carolina that I was introduced violently and vividly to the concept of race. The notion of race was born for me one sad day on a playground when little southern kids taunted me, harassed me for being black, calling me every name under the sun but my own, and told me to go back to Africa where they said I belonged, where their parents had taught them I belonged, despite the fact that my family has been on this land for 350 years.

It was in those days in South Carolina where I saw the Klu Klux Klan march through the streets of Monks Corner and Goose Creek, where I was forced into that vicious world of hate and prejudice. And since that time, in this day and age, both in the north and south, I’ve faced countless acts of racism, been called the n word more times than I know, had bottles and stones and bricks thrown at me, threats of nooses pointed in my direction, and even death threats towards my family members simply for moving into a neighborhood where we were different.

But yesterday, with so many pundits and talking-heads describing how the primary vote broke along racial lines, and all this talk about what role race and gender would play in the South Carolina election, I saw something else. There was one statistic that jumped out at me, that in this southern state where I was introduced to racism, in this former Confederate stronghold, one simple statistic gave me such a palpable sense of hope—that even in this place, the younger generations are rejecting a tradition of ignorance and prejudice and moving on towards something better. That although white voters in SC over 65 yrs old overwhelmingly favored any white candidate, literally one-half of white voters 30 and under in South Carolina actually voted yesterday for a black person to be President of the United States! (Compare this to the nominal 5-10 percent Jesse Jackson got in 88' when he won the state)

This statistic could easily be missed by some who were born and raised in the north with the luxuries of a different heritage, or for those whom the issue of race was not forced upon them. But for those of us who have endured the emotional beatings and let downs of a different southern culture with different rules that change at a glacial pace, this is something special, a sign of a new day. I emphatically reject the juvenile politics of racial identity that so much of the media focused on leading up to this primary, and I don't mean to overstate results from a democratic primary.

The point is not that these young voters chose a particular candidate over another, but instead that they were willing to actually consider all three candidates at all, where less than twenty years ago when I lived there, they would not have. This election is another clear sign that positive change is still occurring. The young are rejecting the misguided ways of the past. And that even in the most unlikely places, and in this perilous age of red states and blue states, the sons and daughters of the South have been willing to open their hearts and minds to a new day of tolerance and open-mindedness. For me, this is a great sign for the future of this country and for what we can be, that we will be able to see beyond the divisions of race, religion, sexual orientation, and gender and see each other for our ideas, values, and commonalities.

I would love to say that my influence in his words shows through, to take some credit. I can't. Rather, I admire his wisdom.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Brief Update

I am getting along somewhat better. Daughter Shannon and her boyfriend Ray came over for brunch and helped me get a shower, which involved struggling with me up the stairs, finding a couple of milk crates for me to sit on, taping a plastic bag over my cast, and getting me in and out of the tub. I offered to trade our split level for her single story house, but she didn't think I was serious. And maybe I wasn't, but she has a lovely walk in shower. . . .

Ann said I was reasonably discrete and Shannon kept her eyes on the ceiling, which of course, was the least of my worries. She promised to help take care of me in my old age, but I didn't think it would be so soon. God bless her!

Of course, you have to read why "I am the problem" below to understand this. As always, feel free to comment below.

I am the problem

My wife has had a rough couple of days. She’s worried, concerned, overworked, and exhausted.

And it’s all my fault.

Friday was bright and clear, cold and crisp. I woke up when I woke up, put on my robe, let the dogs out, found my indoor-outdoor slippers from L.L.Bean, opened the garage door, and stepped down the driveway to pick up the newspapers.

Three steps and I went ass over teakettle. I found myself flat on my back staring with surprise into the cloudless, clear blue sky. My right food was stuck underneath me and my robe was flapping around me. I could well have been arrested if a cop had driven by or a neighbor had complained.

I took a breath, pulled my foot out from under me, rolled over onto my stomach, crawled into the grass and stood up. I hobbled down to the end of the driveway and got the papers, hobbled back and spread salt so the ice, invisible as it was, would melt, and went inside to have a cuppa and read the Chicago Tribune. My wife came down from her shower, and I told her what happened. My ankle was sprained or twisted, I said. She looked at it, already beginning to bruise and swell, and got an old cane from the basement with the promise to wrap it later. I hobbled upstairs to take my shower, balancing precariously in the tub, got dressed, hobbled back downstairs, and she wrapped my ankle/foot with an Ace bandage.

We went to breakfast with our neighbors, a regular Friday morning ritual, and they suggested it might be broken. As long as I didn’t put weight on it, it didn’t really hurt and I pooh-poohed the idea. But Ann insisted we call our chiropractor buddy, who told us to come in immediately for X-rays. He took the pictures, developed them, showed us the four breaks and scheduled me for an appointment with an orthopod that afternoon.

I went in to the orthopod's office, got a cast – a NON-WALKING cast - and more X-rays to make sure the bone hadn’t shifted. The doctor and his staff couldn’t have been more accommodating, more pleasant. Ann wheeled me to the car and took me home.

Getting into the house from the garage, up one step, was close to being nightmarish because it was too high for me to hop, and I couldn’t find anything to grab on to. We finally got me inside, ensconced on the couch in the family room and Ann went to buy a pair of crutches.

I can get around fine on the crutches as long as I don’t try stairs. The first night I pushed myself up the three steps from the family room and couldn’t stand. I had to crawl to the stairs to the second floor, push myself up that filight, and figure out how to get on a chair so I could stand and eventually get to the bedroom. Not only was it not a pretty sight, it was totally exhausting. For Ann as well as for me.

Saturday carpenter friend Randy Oyster carried a bed from upstairs to the family room and I’m sleeping there, close to the television, a huge book case, the four-season sun porch where I eat my meals, a half bath, and the bed.

I don’t see me living like this for the next six weeks, but I’m finding stairs impossible. And not having a shower or washing my hair is going to drive me crazy – and chase away any potential visitors.

Ann is far more bummed out than I am. She lets the dogs in and out, fixes my meals, brings me a glass of water or milk when I need it. Milk to help bones knit, of course. I never drink milk otherwise. And does everything else she always does. She is pretty tired already. She needs to go to work just to get some rest and get me off her mind.

In the meantime, I appreciate any visitors, with or without their dogs, and I wouldn’t mid a burly nurse who could carry me upstairs and shower me once in a while, either.

So we’ll see how long I make it before I end up at the funny farm. One, I hope, all on one floor. I’ll keep you posted.

As always, feel free to comment below.

Monday, January 7, 2008


I don’t have much of a mind for specific dates. A few obvious ones stick with me. September 11, of course. The Fourth of July. Christmas, December 25. November 22, the day Kennedy was shot, the day I first learned that the world is not as fair and wonderful as I thought it was, the day my generation lost its innocence.

And January 7, 1993.

That was the day Daniel, our son, our only child, died in a stupid, tragic accident when he was at college. It was a day I learned once again that the world isn’t fair. At all.

Today is a warm day in January in Chicago. A beautiful day to be out with the dogs, although it’s a little muddy at the dog park. It doesn’t seem a lot different from a lot of other days, and it isn’t. The clouds scud across the sky in a way that reminds me of good film making. The air smells like wet dog, at least in my back yard where we haven’t cleaned up frozen dog poop for weeks, and it’s not going to happen today either.

Today is totally different and totally the same from all other days for my wife and me. We got up and put one foot in front of the other. There was a time when we could barely do that. We took our showers, and washed our hair, and put on our clothes. We drank our breakfast coffee and read the morning newspapers.

Ann and I don’t talk about the anniversary because it is too painful, but it looms large between us, and we acknowledge it with little kindnesses. I may do an extra load of wash while Ann works. We have lunch, we take naps, just like every day. Perhaps we have a stiffer drink than usual. Perhaps we are more silent, or perhaps chattier, today. Perhaps we are crankier or more patient.

And in truth, this anniversary is not as bad as it could be or as bad as it has been in the past. The second anniversary was the worst because that was when the realization hit that every day after it we would live in a world without Daniel. Without his college graduation. Without his wedding. Without his children. Without his house in the suburbs or his loft in the city.

The pain of the finality has eased, blunted, softened. We are surrounded by people who love us and whom we love. Tim, whose parents died when he was in high school, gave us his two sons to grandparent. He was the first who really saved our lives. David is already in college. And Jonathan, the younger of the two boys, really the two young men, has so many of Daniel’s mannerisms, and looks like him in so many situations, that it’s uncanny and sometimes makes my heart pause and my throat tighten.

Derek and Shannon saved our lives when they asked me to be their chosen dad. I will be forever grateful! Derek went to Annapolis and then had a six-year tour of duty in the Navy. My blood pressure went up when he spent his six months in the Gulf, and came back down when he returned to the States. He was at NORAD in Cheyenne Mountain on 9-11, and grounded the commercial flights that day on his supervisor’s command. He talked with Colin Powell, and Donald Rumsfeld, and Dick Cheney, and George Bush. After his tour of duty was over he went to Veterinary School at the University of Illinois and graduated last spring. He is back in Colorado working as an intern in a veterinary emergency hospital. (Can you tell how proud we are of our Derek?) His sister Shannon, whom we love no less deeply, lives less than a mile from us, and we see her frequently, have dog play dates, and depend on her more than we should. She bought her own house, earned a masters degree, is Phi Beta Kappa, all those good things that make us proud of her, too.

Of course, we continue to "get by with a little help from our other friends," to quote an old Beetles song. They support us in a variety of ways. Our church community, our wonderful neighbors, old friends and new friends, people we worked and work with: they all extend themselves in ways they don’t recognize or understand. They are angels unawares.

Which is not to say we don’t miss Daniel. We miss him terribly. The weeks leading up to the anniversary, the anticipation, are always worse than the day itself. I dream about him and weep in my dreams. My eyes well up at unexpected times and a dagger of fresh grief carves another hole in my heart. But it happens less often than it used to.

Today is a beautiful day. It reminds me of the day the terrorists attacked the twin towers in that it is so ordinary. That day I went outside and looked at the blue sky, void then of airplanes, looked at the flowers in bloom, looked at the green grass and the green trees, and wondered how everything could be so much the same when life had shattered. I took the dogs this morning to the dog park, and talked with Pat and Connie, with Fred, with Petra, and felt the same way.

Life has changed, but it still looks the same.

As always, I welcome your comments, by first name, first and last, or anonymously.


Because we had not yet reached the point
Where I could say, "I love you,"
And hear you say it back –
You punched my fat biceps
Gave me your sly half smile
Or merely walked away –
We had not fought
To reach a father-son accommodation
The way I did when I was nearly thirty-five,
And my dad was sixty-six or so.

I shall screw your name and dates
On a gold leaf plate
To your cherry wood urn
This some soon time and mutter prayers
Now that you’ve been dead a year.
Commemoration, but not reconciliation.

The voids between the words
Scream different things to me:
Not adult, but in the making;
Not cremains, but ashes;
Not lost, but dead;
And especially, Eternally Nineteen.

Please feel free, as always, to comment below:

© WDMoser. Printed with permission. No part of this poem may be reproduced in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means without written permission from the author.

Tuesday, January 1, 2008


Happy New Year from the frozen north – at least the south suburbs of Chicago! The photo to the right is this morning's view from my office window.

When I got up this morning reasonably early, despite having been out for New Year’s Eve (We had old fart New Year’s with our neighbors. At midnight my wife and I kissed each other, said we had to go home and go to bed, and we did.), the world was completely new. It was soft, silent, white, and clean, the way each new year, indeed each new day, should be. No one told me I had to go to work, no major projects loomed before me, nothing of importance lay left undone from last year.

I felt compelled to come out to my office and write though. People ask writers why we write, and the answer always is because we have to. I had to come out and write because I had been away from my office for the last week and the words are pushing out of my fingers.

At this time of year that I generally feel pressure to make New Year’s resolutions. The news media exhort us to change our lives with the new year. Friends ask us what our resolutions are. It’s kind of like Lent: What have I given up this year?

But I’m not making resolutions this year. I do not hereby resolve to lose twenty (or fifty or one hundred twenty) pounds. I do not hereby resolve to get to the health club every day and work out from the time it opens until lunch. I do not hereby resolve to watch more television news or less television or something like that. I do not hereby resolve anything.

Rather, I’ve decided to work on my intentions. I intend to be more patient, more kind, more faithful in all the ways that count, slower to anger and quicker with praise. To myself and other people, particularly the service people I use more frequently in my old age.

My resolutions usually fail because once I break one, I give up. I didn’t lose the weight so what the hell, I’m going to eat that whole box of chocolates and enjoy myself and put further temptation out of my way. I missed a day at the health club, and I can’t stand up after three or five or eight hours of exercise, so what the hell, I won’t bother going back. I suspect most people give up after breaking a resolution, so they don’t fulfill their resolutions in the end. It isn’t a matter of will power, it’s a matter of human nature (I know, dear readers and former students, I know. That was a comma splice. And I used a sentence fragment in the previous paragraph. Once you learn the rules, you learn how to break them for special effect).

If I fail in my intentions, I haven’t completely lost my way in this beautiful, soft pristine new year. Instead, I have erred (pronounced urd, not aired, please) and I can continue with my intentions next time.

As I see you and talk to you I hope I am more patient, more kind, more faithful, slower to anger and quicker with praise. Happy New Year.

Please click comments below and post your resolutions or intentions. I hope to hear from you.