Tuesday, December 25, 2018

Christmas 2018

Merry Christmas! And to my non-Christian friends, Happy Holidays! May we behold the spirit of the season, which is the spirit of peace and goodwill.

But first, let me briefly play Scrooge.

Even the most casual observer of current events knows that this nation and planet face crisis. The litany of troubles is long and they are grounded in the opposite of peace and good will: in discord and egoism. To which we could add greed, narcissism, prejudice, anger and hate.

And yet, as my late mother used to say: perhaps it is darkest before dawn. Perhaps the message of hope and redemption that is the story of Jesus’ birth and the foundational story of many other religions and belief systems is the story we should still tell.

As difficult as it sometimes can be reading the headlines, not to mention being in my line of work – journalism and public-affairs TV – in my heart, I still do.

The story of light and hope.

The Adoration of the Shepherds, pupil of Rembrandt.

I see it writ daily in a baby’s eyes, the joy of children and the selfless love of good parents. I see it in teachers and social workers and healthcare professionals and rescue personnel who risk their lives to save a stranger. I see it in artistic creation, in a great book, movie or TV show, in a comedian at the top of her or his game (we could all use a laugh, right?!) I see it in the quiet strength of people who live daily with medical and behavioral-health challenges. In people who toil at thankless jobs in order to support their families and hold the dream. In farmers, and in the clergy, scholars and scientists who dispel darkness and hold humanity high. In the generosity of philanthropists and those who practice Tikkun Olam. In my wife’s smile and her softly held hand. In my children and grandchildren and the colleagues and friends who fill and bless my life.

I see it in red sky at night, and in the birds and the gardens, slumbering now but counting on spring.
So that is my hope on this Christmas – hope.

Hope that these many forces of light, which in number vastly outnumber the dark, will prevail.  
Let me part with a quote from that great American storyteller, Bruce Springsteen, who closed his recent Broadway show this way:

 “Remember that the future is not yet written. So when things look dark, do as my mighty mom would insist. Lace up your dancing shoes and get to work.”

Come 2019, shall we?

Tuesday, December 18, 2018

Remembering my father, Roger Linwood Miller

Author's Note: I wrote this six years ago, on the occasion of the tenth anniversary of my father's death. Like his memory, it has withstood the test of time. I have slightly updated it for today, December 18, 2018, the 16th anniversary (plus one week!) of his death. Read the original here.
Roger L. Miller as a boy, early 1920s.
My Dad and Airplanes
by G. Wayne Miller

I live near an airport. Depending on wind direction and other variables, planes sometimes pass directly over my house as they climb into the sky. If I’m outside, I always look up, marveling at the wonder of flight. I’ve witnessed many amazing developments -- the end of the Cold War, the advent of the digital world, for example -- but except perhaps for space travel, which of course is rooted at Kitty Hawk, none can compare.

I also always think of my father, Roger L. Miller, who died 16 years (and one week) ago today.

Dad was a boy on May 20, 1927, when Charles Lindbergh took off in a single-engine plane from a field near New York City. Thirty-three-and-a-half hours later, he landed in Paris. That boy from a small Massachusetts town who became my father was astounded, like people all over the world. Lindbergh’s pioneering Atlantic crossing inspired him to get into aviation, and he wanted to do big things, maybe captain a plane or even head an airline. But the Great Depression, which forced him from college, diminished that dream. He drove a school bus to pay for trade school, where he became an airplane mechanic, which was his job as a wartime Navy enlisted man and during his entire civilian career. On this modest salary, he and my mother raised a family, sacrificing material things they surely desired.

My father was a smart and gentle man, not prone to harsh judgment, fond of a joke, a lover of newspapers and gardening and birds, chickadees especially. He was robust until a stroke in his 80s sent him to a nursing home, but I never heard him complain during those final, decrepit years. The last time I saw him conscious, he was reading his beloved Boston Globe, his old reading glasses uneven on his nose, from a hospital bed. The morning sun was shining through the window and for a moment, I held the unrealistic hope that he would make it through this latest distress. He died four days later, quietly, I am told. I was not there.

Like others who have lost loved ones, there are conversations I never had with my Dad that I probably should have. But near the end, we did say we loved each other, which was rare (he was, after all, a Yankee). I smoothed his brow and kissed him goodbye.

So on this 16th anniversary, I have no deep regrets. But I do have two impossible wishes.

My first is that Dad could have heard my eulogy, which I began writing that morning by his hospital bed. It spoke of quiet wisdom he imparted to his children, and of the respect and affection family and others held for him. In his modest way, he would have liked to hear it, I bet, for such praise was scarce when he was alive. But that is not how the story goes. We die and leave only memories, a strictly one-way experience. 

My second wish would be to tell Dad how his only son has fared in the last 16 years. I know he would have empathy for some bad times I went through and be proud that I made it. He would be happy that I found a woman I love, Yolanda, my wife now for four years and my best friend for more than a decade: someone, like him, who loves gardening and birds. He would be pleased that my three wonderful children, Rachel, Katy and Cal, are making their way in the world; and that he now has three great-granddaughters, Bella, Vivvie and Liv, wonderful girls all. In his humble way, he would be honored to know how frequently I, my sister Mary Lynne and my children remember and miss him. He would be saddened to learn that my other sister, his younger daughter, Lynda, died in 2015. But that is not how the story goes, either. We send thoughts to the dead, but the experience is one-way. We treasure photographs, but they do not speak.

Lately, I have been poring through boxes of black-and-white prints handed down from Dad’s side of my family. I am lucky to have them, more so that they were taken in the pre-digital age -- for I can touch them, as the people captured in them surely themselves did so long ago. I can imagine what they might say, if in fact they could speak.

Some of the scenes are unfamiliar to me: sailboats on a bay, a stream in winter, a couple posing on a hill, the woman dressed in fur-trimmed coat. But I recognize the house, which my grandfather, for whom I am named, built with his farmer’s hands; the coal stove that still heated the kitchen when I visited as a child; the birdhouses and flower gardens, which my sweet grandmother lovingly tended. I recognize my father, my uncle and my aunts, just children then in the 1920s. I peer at Dad in these portraits (he seems always to be smiling!), and the resemblance to photos of me at that age is startling, though I suppose it should not be.

A plane will fly over my house today, I am certain. When it does, I will go outside and think of young Dad, amazed that someone had taken the controls of an airplane in America and stepped out in France. A boy with a smile, his life all ahead of him.