Thursday, September 29, 2005

Salvo From Treetops

by Zinta Aistars

"Egles," watercolor, by Viestarts Aistars

To look out across the jag and clean cut of mountains,
to be wrapped in the damp cool of vapors and mists,
to be spiked through with treetops, impaled on sky,
heart swinging high and loose against clouds:
Earth blood surges through human veins.
We are the mud and dust of long ago myths,
legends unfolding, carrying
and being carried, bred and breeding,
birthed and birthing the infinite cycles
of a universe without end or beginning,
a story told from the middle and spiraling outward
for time without measure—
waking as She awakens,
sighing when She sighs,
rejoicing when She rejoices,
bleeding Her blood,
dying as She dies,
a silence imploding upon itself,
the mountain inside crumbling to sand,
to dust, to nothing, to less than
nothing, that very moment
when our prayer is said without one palm to soil,
one palm to sky.

Monday, September 26, 2005

How Much is That Doggie in the Window?

by Zinta Aistars

The Fate of Homeless Animals in Kalamazoo. Published in February 2003 issue of Encore magazine. (Photo of Suni catching snowflakes, see sidebars below.)

A din of howls, yelps, barks, whines, and soulful meows rises around me as I enter the room lined with steel cages. In several narrow rooms along a hallway in the Kalamazoo County Animal Shelter, over a hundred cages hold strays – dogs, cats, but at times more exotic animals, including snakes, hamsters, peacocks, or even livestock. Most of these strays are picked up throughout the greater Kalamazoo area. Some are brought in by their owners, no longer willing or able to give them a home. Others are removed from an abusive or neglectful environment. Still others are brought in because of a situation endangering themselves or other animals or humans. For almost all of these animals, death by injection awaits them in but a matter of days.

As I pass the cages, cat paws protrude as if to tap me on the shoulder. “Please look at me, please see me, please save me, please take me home with you.” Dogs of every color, shape, size, breed or mixed, watch my every step. Some watch in silence. Some bark at me. Others don’t look up at all. They curl in tight, miserable huddles at the backs of their cages, seemingly resigned to doom. I wonder: do they smell impending death? Do they know?

On Lake Street, just down the road from the Kalamazoo County Jail, the Kalamazoo County Animal Shelter houses approximately 6,000 animals per year. Only about 1,000 of these animals will find new homes. Another 1,000 are “redeemed” by their original owners in happy reunions. For most animals, however, this is the last stop before they are euthanized. Their only hope is a kind-hearted soul moved by their plight and willing to adopt them. For those who are brought in because of biting other animals or a human, there is no such hope. Their fate is sealed.

Val Gearhart, senior administrator assistant director at the Shelter, says: “We take in all strays, as long as they are from the greater Kalamazooarea. No animal is refused. Our hope is that they will be reunited with their owners or adopted by new ones, but unfortunately, most are not. We have discussed the possibility of becoming a no-kill shelter, but lack of funding at this time prohibits that.”

If an animal wears a tag or a license, Val says, the Shelter will call the number on the tag, or trace the license to the animal’s owner and contact them. Each animal brought in is also scanned for a microchip, a tiny device imbedded just beneath the skin that identifies the animal with a code that computer records can trace back to an owner. “We don’t find too many of these,” Val says, “as it is a relatively new way of tagging pets. But there are some, and the chips not only identify the owners of the animal, but also provide medical information.”

Every day, a veterinarian comes in to the Shelter to check new arrivals. Every animal is given a rabies shot, tested for worms, its general health evaluated. Injuries, if any, are treated. Costs for the medical treatments and shots are covered by the Kalamazoo Humane Society – and their funding in great part comes from donations, while funding for the Shelter comes from the County budget, as the Shelter is considered part of the County’s law enforcement agencies. Other financial needs are met through capital improvement funds. A small part of the Shelter’s income comes from fees paid for licensing pets, or fines incurred by a failure to purchase a license or other fees or fines associated with animal ownership. Adoption fees for dogs housed at the Shelter are $35 (including $5 for a license), $30 for cats. For animals not yet spayed or neutered, a fee must also be paid, the amount dependent on the new owner’s veterinarian of choice.

“Because of our emphasis on spaying and neutering animals,” Val says, “we are beginning to see a slight decrease in numbers of dogs brought to the Shelter. We like to think these are the results of encouraging pet owners to keep their animals from breeding indiscriminately. Even so, come spring, the Shelter is often full to capacity with both dog and cat litters. Puppies and kittens are usually adopted more quickly than adult animals, but too many must be destroyed for lack of a home.”

With a close collaboration with the Kalamazoo Humane Society (KHS), the Shelter refers to KHS those potential pet owners who wish to adopt, but lack the funds for spaying or neutering their pet. “Operation Fix-It” through KHS performs these procedures for minimal fees for owners who are able to show financial need.

“Pet population control is still one of the greatest problems,” Val says. A lack of understanding all that pet ownership involves, she continues, is another. Too often people buy pets, whether from a shelter or a pet shop, without fully considering all that owning a pet requires. “Someone interested in adopting a pet must first plan for owning that animal. They must have the budget for the care and maintenance of their pet. They should consider the size of the animal in terms of the living space they can offer it, and whether they have children or other pets, how the new pet will interact with the rest of the family. It’s important to think ahead about how a pet will fit into one’s lifestyle. A pet needs care and attention just as a child does. At least once a month, a new pet owner returns an animal to the Shelter because they failed to plan.”

A dog the size of a Saint Bernard but pure white in its coloring watches us as we pause by his cage. He is beautiful, his eyes bright with intelligence, his gaze sad with, it seems, an understanding of his fate. Val explains that the dog was brought in by his owner, who no longer was able or desired to care for the dog. Perhaps he, too, was an impulse buy – an irresistible bundle of cute puppy, growing into an animal rivaling a toy pony in size, outgrowing his owner’s ability or desire to care for him. Planning means considering not only the “cuteness factor” of a puppy or kitten, but also what they will become as a fully-grown animal.

“Most of us love our pets as we love any member of our family,” Val says. “But we see our share of abused and neglected animals, too. I traveled for several days with one of our animal control officers to see what they have to deal with answering calls that come in to our dispatchers. Most calls are complaints from neighbors, calling to report a dog barking, or running loose. We receive calls to report injured animals. But we also receive calls reporting animal cruelty. In many such cases we simply talk to the owners and do our best to ensure the situation is corrected, but in some circumstances, if we see that the animal is in distress, we will remove them.”

When the call is to report something like an animal left outside in the cold, or, in the summertime, reporting a dog locked inside a car and becoming dangerously overheated, the animal control officer attempts to educate the owner about more appropriate pet care. If the animal is in distress, however, because of beatings, starvation, or other abuse, steps can be taken to remove the animal in hopes of finding a better home.

“Many people have a view of the animal control officer as a ‘bad guy’ who picks up strays and has them put to sleep,” Val says. “But our officers do everything possible to help animals in distress, return lost pets to their owners, and rescue injured animals, bringing them in for medical care. It’s fair to say that pretty much every person who works at the Kalamazoo County Animal Shelter owns at least one pet that they adopted from the Shelter. Many of us own several pets that we found while working here. I have a dog and two cats at home, too,” Val smiles. “My children fell in love with a kitten brought into the Shelter with a deformed paw. After daily exercise and massage, Xander grew up to be a normal, healthy cat. We all wish we could do more…”

Burnout, she says, is a real problem for those who work at the Shelter. It can be difficult to work with the animals, feeding them, keeping their cages clean, caring for them, but then having to watch so many of them euthanized because no one has chosen to adopt them. After all efforts are made to either reunite pets with their owners or to find new and loving homes for them, most will never leave the Shelter alive. A veterinarian comes in daily to put animals to “sleep” if they have not been adopted after a period of seven days, sometimes longer if space allows.

“Aldonis Mezsets is one of our volunteers who comes in regularly to film animals up for adoption,” Val says. “Every week he prepares a new video of cats and dogs available for adoption. The video, called ‘Doggie in the Window,’ is aired on community access channel 21 every day from 10:30 noon. It’s only one way of our trying to let people know about the animals we have here. We are also currently working on a web site that we hope to have up and running in the early months of 2003, providing information about our services, but also posting photos of the many wonderful animals we have here waiting for someone to love them."

As Val and I stand talking, an orange and white cat limps over to us. Quasi is one of the strays that was brought into the Shelter but not adopted. With a crippled paw, no one was interested in taking the cat home, but the staff took pity on the cat and made her a pet of the Shelter. She twines and brushes around our ankles, purrs contentedly when I squat to scratch her white chin. Quasi is one of the lucky ones. Barbie, a gray cat, is the other Shelter pet, a sixteen-year-old feline who sleeps on her pillow and moves about slowly, showing her years.

Val says: “We try not to show favoritism, and we try not to grow too attached to the animals here, but sometimes it is impossible. Most of us work here because we care about animals, and we hope we can help them to live long and happy, healthy lives. Nothing makes us happier than to hand over a new pet to a loving home, or to reunite a lost animal with its family. We work with a network of other organizations whenever possible to help the animals. When we receive calls about wildlife, we might contact area zoos or rescue groups to care for these animals. We give talks at area high schools about responsible pet ownership and volunteer opportunities. We educate pet owners about how to treat animals properly. If we are too often left with no alternative but to euthanize animals, it is because their owners have been irresponsible about their care and maintenance, or because people allow their animals to breed indiscriminately, or because no one has adopted the animal.”

The Kalamazoo County Animal Shelter, along with director Ann Marie Kreuzer and assistant director Val Gearhart, employs seven animal control officers deputized through the county sheriff’s department, three office staff persons, two full-time and one part-time kennel staff persons, and many volunteers. Volunteers are trained at the Kalamazoo Humane Society.

“While we can always use more volunteers,” Val says, “we can especially use donations to the Shelter. Cash donations are appreciated, of course, but we also accept dog and cat food, both canned and dry, treats for puppies, carpet pieces, old towels and blankets for bedding, bleach and detergent to use for cleaning cages. If anyone has an interest in making a donation, in adopting a pet, or in general information, we’ll be happy to answer any questions.”

Quasi limps into a corner and settles in to give herself a wash. The din of howls and meows quiets for a moment as the few visitors to the Shelter disperse. A young woman, cuddling a kitten under the warmth of her sweater, leaves the hallway of cages to complete paperwork at the front desk for the kitten’s adoption. This one has been chosen to live. The others remain, waiting.

For more information, call 269-383-8775.

Foster Homes Provide Alternative to Euthanasia

Across town from the Kalamazoo County Animal Shelter, in a small store in Maple Hill Mall, is the headquarters for Kalamazoo Animal Rescue. Much like the Kalamazoo County Animal Shelter (KAR), they work to rescue cats and dogs from cases of abuse and neglect. Unlike the Shelter, the animals they rescue are never euthanized.

An all volunteer, non-profit organization founded in 1991 and funded solely by private donations and fund raising events, KAR functions in great part through the help of a network of volunteer foster homes for homeless animals awaiting adoption. Paula Lewis, one of approximately 90 volunteers currently working for KAR, rushes into the store with a bouncy beagle in tow. The beagle, happy over the outing and sniffing his surroundings curiously, perks up at the approach of a small child, hand outstretched. Could this be the one? Could this be… the hand that leads to home?

“We have about 35 foster homes in operation now,” Paula says, watching child and beagle in fascination with each other. “Mine among them. But we can always use more!”

Volunteers mill about the store, busy selling an array of tee shirts, mugs, and pet supplies. Like the foster homes for the animals, the store is temporary space. KAR’s lease is running out in early 2003, and they will need to find a new place, but in the interim, the network of foster homes and volunteers will continue.

On this evening at the KAR store, there appear to be many more human faces than animal faces. That, says Lisa Reeber, president of KAR, is the norm. Animals are normally to be found where they are most comfortable, in their foster homes, but they are brought in to the store on designated days to be viewed by the public, or they are taken to area pet stores to be seen, and hopefully adopted, by passersby. Volunteers also take available animals to radio and television stations to promote them and KAR.

Lisa explains: “Our goal is to provide animals the highest standard of care while seeking permanent homes for them. This not only includes housing and all the love and tenderness that goes along with living in a home instead of a steel cage, but also full veterinary care. All of our animals, without exception, are spayed or neutered prior to adoption.”

“We have turned away people, but we rarely turn away an animal,” Giti Henrie says. She is a volunteer at KAR, like everyone else, but also a board member. “All animals are taken in unless we have a shortage of homes, but if an animal is injured, it is given highest priority in placement. People, however, are a different story. We do not allow just anyone to adopt a pet. There are no on-the-spot adoptions; every potential owner is interviewed. We take time to talk with each person who wishes to adopt an animal, and we discuss living arrangements, the needs of both owner and pet, and we explore the level of commitment a person is willing to offer a pet. A pet is not something to be acquired on impulse. That pet will be a part of your family for maybe 15 or so years – that’s a long term commitment.”

With 150 to 200 phone calls coming in to KAR each month, the need for more volunteers and more fundraisers seems neverending. Julie Hirt is marketing coordinator for KAR, and she eagerly directs interested parties to KAR’s newsletter, “Rescue News”, and the informative web site – – that informs all who are interested about this alternative to bringing strays to the Kalamazoo County Animal Shelter. The site offers extensive information about the organization, features and photographs of available animals, hints on animal care, applications for volunteers, lists of needed volunteer services and donations, and news about upcoming events, including the popular “Fur Ball.”

“Since the inception of KAR,” Julie says, “we’ve placed around 3,000 animals in loving homes. We want people to know that there is an alternative to euthanasia for unwanted animals. We had a dog live in a foster home for seven years before it was finally adopted. Every animal deserves a good home. Here, there is no deadline to finding one.”

Kalamazoo Animal Rescue can be reached at 269.349.2325.

Dancing Puppy Paws on a Kitchen Floor

Lying back on my couch, I reached for the remote control, ready to enjoy an hour of relaxation at the end of a long workday. A bad habit, I suppose – I can’t resist constant channel surfing. But this time, my button caught on a channel. This was no movie, no colorful entertainment show. Channel 21 was showing what appeared to be a home video of a parade of animals. Someone was walking a dog across the television screen, urging the Alaskan Malamute to turn towards the camera. He was huge. He was gorgeous. I leaned in towards the television screen. The great face turned towards me, intelligent brown eyes seeming to meet mine, the handsome face resembling a wolf. The camera panned with him as he walked a few more steps. He was dragging his hind legs a bit. The limp was almost imperceptible, but it was there. His face turned towards the camera again. I was in love.

Suni – a version of the Latvian word “sunis” meaning dog – became mine a few days later. My two cats were skeptical about his arrival in our home, but Suni was, for all his size and power, as gentle as a teddy bear, allowing my tomcat, Tommy, to bat him across the nose a few times in greeting, and Jiggy, my black calico, to hiss at him her catty disapproval. It wasn’t long, however, before Suni became guardian of “his” two cats, and protected them, as well as the human members of his new family, against any danger or irritant that might cross our paths. He was a gentle soul, deeply affectionate, and I never doubted that he understood that he had been saved from euthanasia by a matter of days. The intelligence in his eyes told me he understood everything – and he was grateful.

Five years later, when Suni’s life was over, and brain seizures forced a heartrending decision to have him put to sleep, I held his handsome head in my arms as he drew his final breath and wept as one does when losing a cherished member of the family. I grieve for him still.

With the passage of time and a healing of heart, I returned again to the Kalamazoo County Animal Shelter. The loss of Suni left my home with a void only a dog could fill. Walking up and down the aisles, I peered into each steel cage. The din of desperate howls and meows was breaking my heart. If only I had room for more than one… Which to choose? Which one? I looked into each pair of eyes, searching for the connection. There was a plea in each pair. I said a silent prayer for each animal soul. All living beasts deserve to be loved. A young Chow mix stuck a damp nose between the bars and gave a soft whine. He was smaller than a full-blooded Chow, but his tongue, which is black in the Chow breed, was a spotted pink and black, showing his mix. His fur was matted and dirty. I asked a staff member if I could take the golden dog, his fur tinted just beneath with black, for a walk up and down the hall. I was given a leash, the cage was opened, and the dog bounded out with joy. Freedom! He hardly knew how to suppress his joy. Scampering up and down the hallway, he finally settled up against my knees. He seemed to think he belonged with me. Who was I to argue?

Some might say this was a lucky day for Guinnez. A reprieve. I say – lucky me. A house is not a home without the sound of dancing puppy paws on a kitchen floor.

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Bad Girl with Rubber Duck

by Zinta Aistars

With her highly controversial play, "Preaching to the Perverted," Holly Hughes returns to her alma mater to show off her ducks. Published in the Kalamazoo College alumni magazine, LuxEsto, Spring 2001.

Holly Hughes '77 stands in the door of the restaurant and slowly pulls off one leopard-skin glove, then the other.

It is the Saturday morning of her one performance of Preaching to the Perverted at the Nelda K. Balch Playhouse. Her hands shake slightly, her cropped blonde-streaked hair is a little disheveled, and she looks tired.

She is small. Surprisingly small. Hardly more than five feet. Standing there in the door with other customers bustling past and around her, Hughes appears to be someone who could use an arm of protection around her slight shoulders.

Protection for Holly Hughes? The spitfire? The wild woman? The controversial and much maligned Holly Hughes of the infamous NEA Four?

Playwright and performance artist, Hughes has been making her audiences squirm mercilessly with the itch of political, sexual, and intellectual discomfort for the past twelve years. In 1990, the National Endowment for the Arts revoked grants awarded to Hughes and three other artists: John Fleck, Karen Finley, and Tim Miller, citing "obscene and homoerotic content" in their work. All four sued the United States government to have their grants reinstated. Through several appeals, they won and won again. But in 1998, the Supreme Court overturned the verdict and once again revoked the grants, citing the "standards of decency" clause. It was the Supreme Court hearing that inspired her one-woman play, Preaching to the Perverted.

Holly Hughes orders breakfast: "Eddie's Special," a mess of scrambled eggs, sausage links, Belgian waffles. With hot sauce. The petite performance artist has an appetite.

"It's always great to come back to Kalamazoo College," she says, sipping coffee. She politely asks in a soft-spoken voice for the cream the waitress has forgotten. "Although by now I feel New York is home. I live in one apartment in Washington Heights with my partner, but I have another one in the East Village. But what I would really like, my fantasy, is to be an old lady living in a doublewide in upstate New York with fifty-five cats and dogs."

And there it is. That Holly Hughes laugh. She throws her head back and chortles, a resoundingly delicious and witchy cackle, and immediately heads turn. The waitress appears instantly with a bowl full of cream. The neighboring tables grow silent and lean in. The sun slants in a brighter ray of light through the window above.

Hughes has won many awards for her work. Her plays have garnered two Obie awards, a McKnight fellowship, grants from The Jerome Foundation and, yes, even several grants from the National Endowment of the Arts -- the year prior to the revoked grant, the same year as the revoked grant, and in the years following the revoked grant. She has had numerous works published by Grove Press, and she won the Lambda Book award in 1999. Kalamazoo College awarded her the Alumni Distinguished Achievement Award in 1995. Hughes has been a visiting professor at the University of Colorado, Yale, the College of William and Mary, and she currently is teaching women's studies at Harvard University.

"You know what the secret of success is at Kalamazoo College?" Hughes says. "We are risk-takers. Most educational theatre is very conservative, but Kalamazoo dares. Giving me that alumni award in 1995 - that was taking a very real risk. That took guts. I am very honored and humbled by that."

When Hughes was a student at Kalamazoo College, she majored in art, mentored by such art professors as Marcia Wood and Bernard Palchick (now vice president of development) - "So you can address all letters of complaint to them," Hughes lets out another well-rounded cackle. "They were both a tremendous influence on me, even though I no longer paint - that's my contribution to society. But I switched to theatre after I came to New York."

Theatre is Hughes' enduring love. She was introduced to the medium by accident, she says, when she came to WOW, the Women's One World Café in 1983, where she had her debut performance with The Well of Horniness. The difference between traditional theatre and performance art, she explains, is that the latter is more experimental, quasi-anarchistic, rebellious. Which suits her perfectly.

"If you're really committed to change," Hughes says, "then you must be committed to being uncomfortable."

Yet breakfast concludes not with a political bang, not with rainbow flags flying, but with friendly chatter about the gardening Hughes enjoys at her remote cabin in upstate New York, about the stray animals she routinely rescues from the cold streets of Manhattan, and the books she reads, a list of nonfiction tomes exploring differing cultures and recounting travel stories measured in physical distance or inner journeys of spiritual exploration.

Breakfast over, Hughes slips back into her leopard-skin gloves, first one, then the other, and flies off to meet with a group of anxiously awaiting Kalamazoo College theatre students.


In her application to Kalamazoo College, submitted in 1972, the eighteen-year-old Hughes writes her answer to the question of what she believes is the most important issue facing our society today: Apathy towards important issues. Our form of government cannot successfully operate without citizen participation, because our government is based on the will of the people.

In the Nelda K. Balch Playhouse audience, all seats are filled. At least 40 people wait in the lobby, hoping for an empty seat, but there are none. Many more called for the free tickets, but were reluctantly turned away for lack of space.

The lights dim. A spotlight trains on the empty stage. A deep male voice announces loudly over a public announcement system: "Good evening, ladies and gentlemen. Tonight, we are pleased to present Holly Hughes, no doubt best known as one of the NEA Four, NEA Four, NEA Four, NEA Four…"

A gunshot cracks, emitting a sharp smelling spume of smoke, and Holly Hughes stands center stage, having fired a pistol into the air, silencing the PA system. It is silenced.

Then for 90 minutes Hughes recounts the experience of facing the Supreme Court in a losing battle. To represent the nine justices, she sets nine yellow rubber ducks on the edge of a cardboard box.

Hughes: "And I realize that trying to talk to the Supreme Court is like trying to talk to my Dad's Kiwanis Club about art. Don't try to tell them about how artist and audiences are taxpayers too, don't get smart. Because we are not talking about the use of tax money here, we are talking an allowance. And as long as you live in this house, young lady, you are going to be following the rules: in by midnight and no making a mess with that Karen Finley in the back yard. I told you if you kept playing with that nasty Bobby Mapplethorpe and that bull whip somebody'd get hurt, didn't I? Didn't I? So don't come crying to me, young lady. You are grounded. You are so grounded."

Hughes has the audience at full attention. Throwing flags across the stage, prancing about in a rainbow-colored wig, holding out a purple Teletubby, wrapping herself in a flag of rainbow stripes, and tossing glitter and confetti, Hughes mesmerizes more than shocks. And the play makes her main point: the NEA grants were not revoked on the merit of the art but only because of the works' inclusion of homoerotic material, suggesting that the public arena of a theatre stage is closed to gay American men and women.

Receiving less discussion or attention than the controversy of her performance art, and deserving as much or more, is the simple fact that Holly Hughes can write - artistically and powerfully. Somewhere along the legal path, this fact of artistic merit, perhaps the only point of real relevance, was lost.

Thursday, September 15, 2005

A Call to a Patriot's Self-Examination

Essay by Zinta Aistars

This short essay was first written as a response to another, "The American Dream?" by J. Conrad Guest, posted on and later published on the e-zine, Bobbing Around in 2003. It is even more relevent today. The issue at hand is a call to all Americans, indeed, all global citizens, to examine ourselves for erosion of our freedoms as well as signs of the disease of ethnocentricism.


As one born of refugee parents who came to America from a war-torn nation, not seeking new frontiers, but simply running for their lives, I can say this: my family learned the values of this country, realized and respected much of that dream – the dream that was once America. I have grown up in a multicultural home, with two citizenships, and a profound love for both of my countries – the one where I was born, and the one where my most ancient roots have formed a long and complex tangle. Because the latter has for so many centuries suffered for a lack of the most basic freedoms as part of the Soviet Union, I have learned a unique appreciation for those freedoms that perhaps those who have never had to lose them sometimes take for granted. There lies my respect and love for this country. There, also, lies my fear that we will lose those freedoms for lack of understanding of what and how they are constructed, and how they are to be nurtured and protected.

One lesson I have learned from my heritage is the importance of self-examination. In order to protect a freedom, one must constantly maintain a vigilance over it – to watch for signs of erosion. I find the greatest patriots are not those of us who blindly thump our chests and spout nationalistic (and blindly ethnocentric) platitudes, but those of us who, however painful the process, look penetratingly at the face of our own government, scrutinize our own faces in the mirror, examine closely our own hearts, and forever test and retest our consciences for flaws and shortcomings. It is like the parent who spoils the child with an extravagance of lavish gifts… versus the parent who says a firm no to the child from time to time, and teaches the lesson instead, however difficult, that will prepare the child for a life of self-sufficiency and respect, for self and for others. Which is the truly loving parent? Which the one who sends forth a child into adulthood unprepared and spoilt? The patriot cares enough to be honest – with others and with him or herself, most of all.

Perhaps it is only at a time of testing, such as today is, that our own hearts are truly tested. Perhaps it is only then that we truly feel the extent of our own love for our country. It pains me deeply to see in today’s news on a global basis how far our image has been tainted. How did this happen? Erosion, disease… these are things that happen a granule of sand at a time, a single cell at a time. Hardly noticeable… until it is too late. Until there is an avalanche, until the body falls resoundingly to the ground.

As the global community continues to shrink, the process ever gathering speed as we are connected by technology in communications and transportation, it has become more crucial than ever for all cultures to be cognizant of each other. We must strive to understand our rights to be different in all that we are – in our cultures, in our spirituality, in our lifestyles. It is not our goal to Americanize the world. It is not our goal to convert all others to our ways. This is not a time for chest thumping. This is a time for the true patriot to rise up and take a stand. This is a time to seek out the flaw, find the source of the disease, and to attack it mercilessly.

Ah no, I am not speaking of the attack of the missile. I speak of the attack of the introspective spirit upon the disease that weakens it. We must not lose our American Dream. Fancy cars and designer jeans and immense houses be damned… I speak of our freedoms, our willingness to work towards excellence, our hearts to be open to understanding and compassion. This is our fight. If our global image is tarnished, it is up to each and every one of us to honestly and courageously examine the reasons why. Should we find the taint of corruption, or of greed, or a spirituality that has grown as hollow as it is shallow, then here lies our patriotic duty – to polish what is tarnished, to reevaluate what has lost all value, to fill the void that our spirits have become. Here, in our own front yards, lies our greatest battle – and it must be won.

It is painful to look inward. But we must, we must… It is our greatest dream that is at stake.