WHAT’S ON YOUR MIND? THOUGHTS ABOUT THE UNITED STATES

THOUGHTS ABOUT THE UNITED STATES AND ITS HISTORY

By Mark Seliber

I took 12 weeks away from BOLLI (and the rest of my regular life) this spring and traveled all around the United States.  If I were writing a detailed book about my journey, it’s working title would be:

     America: the Beautiful, the Stolen, the Resourceful,                            and the Generous

Here is a brief summary of what I gathered from my trip.

THE BEAUTIFUL

This is a great-looking country, and I’m glad I got to see so much of it in person.  The 48 contiguous states have land area similar to Europe, Canada, China, Brazil and Australia but, I suspect, more diverse terrain and features than all of them.  The mountains, canyons, plains, deserts, lakes, rivers, and coastlines are amazing.

THE STOLEN

A couple of years ago, I read an op-ed that attributed a large portion of this country’s historically great economic production to two thefts: land from the indigenous peoples and over two centuries of labor from African slaves.  I certainly saw much evidence of this in my travels.  The latter, from a long list of civil rights sites I visited – in particular, the Underground Railroad Center for Justice in Cincinnati, which laid out in great detail the history of the slave trade in North America, going all the way back to the first group of slaves sold by Portuguese traders in Jamestown Virginia in 1619.  The story of European and later United States appropriation of the ancestral lands of our first inhabitants also started in Jamestown.  I followed this thread throughout my travels–the French and Indian Wars and conflicting loyalties during the Revolutionary War; the Trail of Tears as native tribes were sent west of the Mississippi once the new United States expanded beyond the Appalachians; the further relocation of most of the tribes to Oklahoma Territory when the Homestead Act made the land in the Great Plains valuable; and finally the discovery of gold in the only remaining sovereign native land (the Black Hills of South Dakota), which led to Little Big Horn, Wounded Knee, Indian reservations, and boarding schools for native children where their culture and language was forbidden.

THE RESOURCEFUL – NATURAL RESOURCES AND GREAT INVENTIVENESS

The land of the United States certainly was blessed with abundant natural resources–salt, coal, iron ore, natural gas, oil, the fertile soil of the Great Plains, abundant forests for timber, gold, silver, copper, uranium, borax, and all kinds of other minerals.  And the American people quickly learned how to use all of these to their economic advantage.

A partial list of the great ideas invented or further developed by the ingenious and entrepreneurial minds of our countrymen and women includes:

The steamship, the cotton gin,  canals (like the Erie), the railroad, mechanical farming, mining, anesthesia (at Mass General), the telegraph, electricity, the telephone, the phonograph,  automobiles, assembly lines, airplanes, radios, radar, nuclear power (for better or worse), television, space exploration (including, of course, that moon landing we’re commemorating this month), and just about everything related to computers, the world wide web, the internet, smart phones, and artificial intelligence.

THE GENEROUS

In the last hundred years, as the most powerful nation on earth, the United States has been generous in supporting democracy around the world.  Entering World War I helped end the stalemate on the Western Front.  The United States supported Great Britain’s solo stand against Nazi Germany through the Lend-Lease program in 1940-1941 and then, of course, joined World War II after Pearl Harbor, helping to turn the tide in Europe with the D-Day invasion of 75 years ago.  Then after the War, the Marshall Plan enabled war-ravaged Europe to rebuild itself, and NATO and the United Nations managed to end the first Cold War.

But I witnessed the benefits of great things that our government has done to improve our lives over our history.  Again, here’s a list:

Public education (starting with my two alma maters, Boston Latin School and Harvard), land-grant colleges and universities, the Homestead Act (not so good for native peoples but good for settlers heading west for economic opportunity and independence), the transcontinental railroad, our national parks, canals and dams, and all the building done by the Civilian Conservation Corps as well as the WPA during the New Deal, Social Security and Medicare, the GI Bill for Education and low-cost housing loans after World War II, and the Interstate Highway System.

Individually and collectively, the people and government of the United States of America have done amazing things in the last nearly 250 years.  I remain confident that we have many more wonders in our future.

BOLLI Member Mark Seliber

Mark, a native of Boston, worked as an actuary for 35 years and retired in 2017.  He immediately joined BOLLI with his wife Rachel and has thrown himself into classes, performing in the theatrical productions, and writing presentations.

What’s On Your Mind? Lois’s Birthday Dream

MY BIRTHDAY DREAM

By Lois Sockol

It is the morning of my 86th birthday, and I open my eyes to a shower of  sunshine.  ‘Tis early.  No need to rise yet. Sinking still deeper into my pillow,  I close my eyes.  I’m walking in a forest, down a path awash in light.  Ahead of me is a giant oak. It is not until I approach that I notice that it’s bowed crown is draped in unseasonably yellowed leaves.  Deep, letter-like gashes mark its trunk R-O-N.  I wrap my arms around its bole and feel it pulsing.

Circling the venerable oak are four clusters of pines.  At the center of each is a strong regal twosome overlooking less mature pines. Letters are etched into the base of each.  I know their names.  It is a heartwarming, comforting site, the four clusters jointly surrounding, guarding the elderly oak.

I hug each before I continue, almost skippingly, down the path.  A bit further, to my right, stands an arch of trees reminiscent of a Temple. A powerful stream of light flows my way.  More tree clusters, all shapes and manner, surround me.  I peer more closely, stroking each trunk. Tall and firm stand my friends, a lifetime of playmates, companions, and soulmates.

Suddenly, a clearing appears.  A large lake, its translucent water shimmering before me.  I peer into its silvery blue surface. From its depth float figures, reaching almost to its surface.  My mother rises, her large blue eyes shining, her laughter bubbling up.  Beside her, his strong arm about her shoulders,  my father waves to me with his free hand.  He, too, is laughing.  But how can that be?  “No, no wait, don’t go,” I cry, my eyes locked to the spot as my parents sink back into the depths.  Almost immediately, my dear sister Ellen appears, taken from me too soon, before I had a chance to tell how much I loved her. She , too, now  laughs and reaches out to me. I lean forward to take her disappearing hand.

Within a breath, everything disappears.  I lose everything–my family, my friends, the forest, the lake, all gone.

I pull myself up from the floor where I lay next to my bed. Unhurt, just a bit achy. Why, why had my mind concocted such a fantasy?  What is my subconscious trying to tell me?  That surely we would meet again? That there is time to change the things I want to change?

The sound of the phone cuts through my thoughts.  Both phones, my cell and land line, calling to me simultaneously.

“Happy Birthday, Mom. We love you.”  Repeated again.  “Happy Birthday, Mom, we love you.”

All through the day, a bouquet of calls from grandchildren and sons. And I embrace them all.

Before night falls, I drive to my favorite walking spot, Cutler Park, where a forest of trees surrounds a large fresh water lake.  I smile. 86, like any age, new beginnings, new ending, choices.

BOLLI member (and Current Events SGL) Lois Sockol

Lois says, “I’ve been blessed with a marriage of 65 years.  We raised four boys we are proud of and  enjoy the reward of 9 grandchildren. Professionally, I taught public school for 25 years, published an instructional manual to aid teachers in teaching children who are high risk for learning to read, and conducted seminars on the teaching of reading. I have been active in my town of Needham as a Library Trustee and a Town Meeting member for 36 years.  And now, I have the joy of being a member of BOLLI!