Never Too Late To Say Thanks

You never know.

Small gestures of the past may resurface one day and bring gratitude when you least expect it.

Library booktalks have brought me through five states, from Knoxville, Tennessee to Key West, Florida, and hundreds of meeting rooms and auditoriums. As they say in show biz — it’s my schtick, a fun gig that has paid off in more ways than one.

On occasion, I will spot a face in the audience from an early era of my life, an old police crony, a high school chum, an old girl friend, a former adversary, or some obscure soul upon whom I made a mark and never knew it. Last year, a long lost relative showed up at an Asheville library, one who I had never met.

Clearwater, Florida. 2004. The crowd was disappointingly small. As folks ambled in, they were surprised to see an older curly-haired fellow playing gypsy songs on a violin as he wandered around the room. “Are we in the wrong place?” a woman asked of the host.

“Oh, no. That’s the author. Have a seat,” replied the librarian.

The audience was attentive and lively as I embarked on my dissertation. One fellow sitting in the front row seemed intense, taciturn. He never took his eyes off me. In his forties, he reminded me of movie actor, John Malkovich, balding, eyebrows arched, lips pursed.

After more than an hour, the man raised his hand. “Mr. Frank. My father was Lee Paris. Do you remember him?” Oh oh. Thoughts scrambled into high gear. Who is this guy? Did I arrest his father? Was this a set-up, or some angry adversary here to exact revenge or humiliation? Lee Paris? The name was familiar, but I couldn’t place the face. So, I lied, “Yeah. Sure.”

“Can I speak with you after the talk?” he asked.

“Yes.” What does this guy want?

The man waited patiently as I signed books at the table. Then he approached with an extended hand. That was a relief. “You changed my life,” he said.

“I did?”

“Don’t you remember? My father owned a bar on Collins Avenue, some 30 or 40 years ago.”

Then it struck me. Of course, Lee Paris, a small, stocky, gentle man who shot a wicked game of billiards. Always complaining about bad business, wishing for legalized gambling in the state which would never come. A good man.

The fellow could see the confusion in my eyes.

“Excuse me?” Then I asked, “You say I changed your life? How?”

His eyes were deep and sincere. “When I was seventeen, I was going nowhere. My life was drugs, getting into trouble, no direction. My dad called you and asked if you would come and talk to me.”

“I don’t remember that,” I replied.

“You came. I’ll never forget it. You scared the heck out of me and left an impression I’ll never forget. You let me know where I was heading unless I changed my ways, and that I better do something, even if it meant joining the service. Being a cop and all, you knew what you were talking about. So I joined the navy, and it straightened my life from certain disaster.”

I was stunned. “I remember your mom and dad, but I don’t remember that.”

“Doesn’t matter, ” he said, eyes welling. “Your appearance here was advertised and I just wanted to come and thank you.” With that, came a gentle bear hug transferring the warmth of his feelings to me. I turned my head as tears started to flow from my own eyes.

“Thank you,” I said. ” I wish I could remember.”
 

Wow.

Off duty or on, police officers are often called upon in the troubled lives of friends, neighbors and acquaintances, to intervene, or offer advice, consolation, or counsel a troubled kid. It is the unofficial part of the job. Most cops don’t give it a second thought.

As I drove across Interstate 4 that afternoon, my mind swarmed, wondering about those had made a difference in my life, yet I never took the time to say thanks.

Sergeant Paul Rosenthal came to mind first. A tall, bulky man, shot multiple times in World War II, he had become a career cop running the extraditions desk in Warrants Bureau. He not only showed me the ropes, he had been there for me when I was shot, and again when I suffered the loss of my mother, both times above and beyond the call of duty.

So I made a special journey to Miami to have lunch with the crusty old retiree. It had been more than 40 years. Walking laboriously with a cane, he asked why I arranged this rendezvous, out of the blue. I told him about my encounter with Lee Paris’ son. It had taught me an important lesson. “I learned that there are some people in this world I still owe a debt of gratitude, and never said thanks. And you’re one of them.” The old sarge welled up with tears, and I felt good. He felt good. We hugged. We smiled.

Good deeds, however small, will come back around when they are least expected. But it’s also a reminder that time runs short, and we need to thank all those who have cared, loved, sacrificed and stood up for us when we needed them the most… while we still can.

You just never know.

THE POWER OF LOVE

Now that more than six years have passed, the tragedy of 9/11 has become old news. It’s off the charts, a memory only to those who are already in high school. We have moved on to more important issues in the election year: Health care, education, immigration, social security and, of course, the wars overseas. We think of 9/11 now, more like we think about Pearl Harbor, a day that will live in infamy, but not in our daily lives.

To me, the memory lingers as though it was yesterday. I was flying over the Atlantic when the terrorist planes struck the World Trade Center. One second, I was comfortably writing a letter in seat 26A of a British Airways flight from London to Charlotte, and then next second, the pilot was telling us all that we were being diverted, and our plane was to land in some remote place called Moncton, New Brunswick. Moncton, New Brunswick?

     My world changed in an instance. Totally confused, the first thought that came to mind, was trying to reach my wife. I didn’t understand why I had suddenly lost control over my life and the only thing that was important now, was my family and my life’s partner who I loved and who loved me. I spent the next three days with over two thousand passengers from twenty-two flights, in a hockey coliseum, watching the repeated images on the huge television screen of people being murdered in an act of terror. Every one of those people had one mission in mind: To be reunited with the people they love.

A life-changing incident of gigantic proportions like this tends to put all matters into perspective. We all go about our daily lives in a zone, meeting obligations every day, work, maintenance and taking our families for granted, because they are…well, just there. No more. I stepped back and realized what was most important in this world. Nothing comes close.

Love.

Preachers can preach, fist-pumpers can raise hell, generals can deploy armies and political leaders can inspire followers, but the single most powerful force anywhere, is “Love.”

Love is the first craving of the newborn and the last of the dying. Love is what all human beings seek to give and yearn to receive throughout our lives. It is basic to our nature. All of us, the bad and the good. Prisons are filled with people who never had the chance to experience in the true meaning of love. Children who are deprived of love are often those who go astray. Children who experience love are the ones who usually grow into healthy adults. Love is the fuel of the soul. It is the ultimate need. And I would still like to believe that love conquers all.

No child is born a Christian, a Muslim a Jew or an atheist. No child is born with beliefs. They are but living computers, assembled from birth without the first program until they become indoctrinated by those who impose ideals of their choosing. Much like other religions, children who are born into the Islamic faith have no choices, because their minds will be manipulated from birth. Within the radical sect of Islam, these children are not only taught to love, they are taught to hate those who do not believe as they do. By the time they are grown, their mind-set is fixed. It’s not their fault. Many become terrorists, much like the nineteen radicals who sacrificed their lives to kill 3,000 innocent people on 9/11. We see, now that suicide bombers have proliferated, that a great population of haters have multiplied by the millions around the world, because they were indoctrinated from birth by their extremist fathers.

The stories are far an few between, but inspiring nonetheless, about native mideasterners who have seen the light, and learned that Christians and Jews and even atheists, are all loving people, and not the monsters they were taught to believe. One such, Lebanese born, Brigitte Gabriel, wrote a book “Because They Hate,” a must read for anyone who has questions about the power and plight of radicals around the world. In her story, she grew up fearful of Jews because she was indoctrinated from birth to believe they were horrible people. Then, in her late teens, she had an encounter with an Israeli hospital where she learned how loving these people were.

Some friends have said that God was with me that fateful day in September of 2001, because my flight from England landed safely in Moncton, New Brunswick. Every time I hear that, I wonder why God was not with the 3,000 innocent people who were snuffed out in one single episode of mass murder. I suppose there are answers. We’ll never know for sure.

The world had been invaded, not by a foreign government, not by a political dissident, but by a virus that has infected over sixty countries in this world, and maybe more. It’s an evil that lurks in the shadows, camouflaged as you and me. They are evil because they hate us, as much as they love their God, to whom they serve. Fanaticism is nothing new, but this brand of fanatics have proven they have the means to create havoc on both sides of the Atlantic. This is no longer a distant television broadcast from Israel or Northern Ireland. It’s no longer about “them”. It’s about “us”.

My lifetime has seen many wars and conflicts, WWII, Korea, Viet Nam, Grenada, Bosnia, Desert Storm, etc., but they were always somewhere else. This time, I am frightened. Because I know our enemies are out there, waiting for the right moment to kill you and me.

It is far from over.

Following the terror attack, patriotism blossomed all over this nation like a field of flowers in spring. It was good to see we are all really one after all, regardless of race, creed, or religion. It was good to see those flags flying. It was good to see people lighting candles, holding hands and sharing the love among us. For despite our political or ethnic differences, we are all still Americans who love our country and love one another, seeking peace and prosperity for all.

The enemy should not underestimate the power of love that exists in this great nation. After the eleventh of September, we saw it emerge like a great sunrise over the eastern horizon, shining brighter than ever before. We should not lose that glow. It is our greatest weapon. It makes us invincible.

Consider the final act of many victims in those moments of terror, in offices or on airplanes, picking up a cell phone, desperate to call someone they cared about, knowing their deaths were but seconds away. In their final breaths, they all had but a single message to convey: “I love you.”

I cannot help but wonder how long it had been since many had spoken those words.

Perhaps, it’s time we all reflect. As Valentine’s Day draws near, why don’t we all stop watching television for a moment, or put down that newspaper and make the time to look at your partner, your mother or father, your child, or your friend directly in the eyes, and utter those magic words: “I love you.”

THE TWELVE BEST HAPPENINGS OF 2007

On the 27th of this month, I published the Worst Happenings of 2007. Now, it’s time to think positive. I know, nobody asked, but here goes.

* Regardless of one’s position on the Iraq war, there is no argument that the change in strategy and in leadership has produced positive results, with American deaths down from 121 in the month of May, to sixteen thus far in December, albeit sixteen too many. The rising outrage of Sunni and Shiia citizens within Iraq has led to revolt against al Qaeda, thus giving us hope for an end to the conflict in the near future.

* Long overdue resignations of Bush lackies, Karl Rove, Alberto Gonzalez and Donald Rumsfeld, all positive changes that will provide more confidence from Americans in the remaining year GWB is in office.

* Abortions in the U.S. have dropped to under 1.3 million, the lowest since Roe v. Wade in 1973. All this, as a result of more education and treatment, without enacting new and unnecessary laws banning abortions which would give rise to a black market.

* Teenage substance abuse. According to the Ethics and Public Policy Center in Washington, teenagers are drinking less and smoking less than every before. Also, drug use among teens has fallen 23 percent wince the 1990’s, and more than 50 percent for certain drugs, i.e., LSD and Ecstacy. Another sign that strong messages and more education works.

* France elected a new president that is far more friendly to the U.S. than Chirac. That can only spell good news for the future if we nurture that relationship.

* Professional sports have given us outstanding role models with Tiger Woods, Roger Federer, Tim Duncan, Bart Favre, Lance Armstrong and the likes of baseballers Cal Ripken Jr. and Tony Gwynn, pure gentlemen and of high integrity, inducted into the Hall of Fame. As well, the sportswriters of America rightfully rejected Mark (“I’m not here to talk about the past”) McGuire’s bid for the same Hall. Hopefully, that will send a message to all the other cheaters, and to any kids who even think about it.

* The voice of animal rights groups were heard loud and clear above the fray of celebrity, when footballer Michael Vick was arrested and convicted for running dog fight arenas, and personally brutalizing animals for folly.

* Death rates from cancer are on the steady decline for men, women and children, dropping more than two percent a year since 2002, all thanks to advances in early detection and better treatment. All those donations for research are paying off.

* New Jersey lawmakers joined thirteen other states in outlawing the death penalty. That’s one more state where it is now guaranteed that no innocent person can ever be mistakenly executed by the government.

* Thanks to the ongoing efforts of experts, scholars and patriots like Brigitte Gabriel, Frank Gaffney, Robert Spencer, Harvey Kushner, and more, greater awareness is rising among the American people about the ominous threat of radical Islam within the borders of the United States, and what we should be doing about it.

* Hurricanes, tornadoes, earthquakes and volcanic eruptions were relatively silent in 2007. No national disaster ripped through America in the likes of Hurricane Katrina. (California fires are not considered “natural” disaster).

* My grandson, Jason Mekena Frank, now 22, joined 30,000 other soldiers who came home alive and safe from an overseas war.

Okay, that’s a few items for thinking positive. How about you?

THE TWELVE WORST HAPPENINGS OF 2007

I know. Nobody asked. But here is my list of the worst happenings of 2007.

* Over 900 American heroes brought home in flag-draped caskets, (bringing the war total to 3,900) plus another 3,000 blind, legless, armless or otherwise maimed for life. This tragedy, from a war even more controversial than Viet Nam, where so many scholars from both sides of the aisle tell us how an administration cherry-picked and manipulated intelligence to justify the unjustifiable.

* Osama Bin Laden remains at large and powerful as ever. This, more than six years after the 9/11 attacks on the shores of the United States. Yet, we spent fifty times as much in lives, money and military resources going after another depot who did not attack America.

* The presidential campaign. Countries like Canada and the UK dedicate four to eight weeks on a political campaign. In the U.S., with the primary system, the presidential campaign is a drawn-out, two-year, media-driven horse race with a new poll virtually every day.

* The debates. Dumb questions take up the time that should be allotted for more important issues. “What does America mean to you?” Please. “Do you accept the Bible as truth?” Would any candidate dare say, No? Same old rhetoric, too many candidates spread too thin. It’s pure media, no substance. (Not much in the way of candidates either)

* Radical Islam continues to infiltrate the infrastructure of this country while America sleeps and government turns a blind eye wishing not to be seen as offending a “religion.” Meanwhile, the Trojan Horse has rooted in, in all four corners of North America, sure to become a monumental issue in future years, as it has in Europe. Yet, not one question is asked about this urgent issue in the debates.

* Dishonesty in government insults the intelligence of the American people. With a housing market collapsed, the crisis in mortgages, gas prices soaring over $3 a gallon which will surely spark infLation, and an $8 trillion debt, the government has the gall to tell us the economy is good.

* Media sensationalism. How many times do we have to know about the substance abuse and driving habits of dingies like Britney Spears, Lindsey Lohan and Paris Hilton, who are constantly jammed down our throats by networks who obviously can’t find anything more important to report on.

* Illegal immigration continues unharnessed as government continues to talk and do nothing. More than 12 million illegals are melted into the nation, mainly by a government that has refused to prosecute employers who hire into the construction, agricultural and other labor-intensive industries. While the anti-amnestors neutralize the amnestors, our social and health care services are raped, non-taxpayers are using our educational services, and illegals occupy 21 percent of cells in federal prisons. (That doesn’t include state prisons)

* A Justice Department that has chosen a policy of supporting and coddling thieves, robbers, rapists, drug dealers — many illegal alien — just to convict police officers who have dedicated their lives to public service. Numerous career cops, oft decorated for valor, have been targeted by rabid prosecutors to pacify governments of other nations, most notably, Mexico. The most famous of whom: Ignacio Ramos and Jose Compean, are serving more than a decade in prison for doing their job. There are many others.

* President Bush pardoned thieves and crooks from prison, many with political connections, but not Ramos and Compean, despite the pleas from thousands of Americans and overwhelming evidence that the Justice Department acted wrongly. Meanwhile, Scooter Libby never serves one day in jail, as the president calls his sentence “too harsh.”

* The tragic Virginia Tech shootings/killings of 32 people by a certified psycho who still managed to get his hands on a pair of guns after passing through background checks that had no record of his mental history. NRA, where are you?

* The War on Drugs continues to fuel an exhausted criminal justice system which now houses 2.3 million people in jails and prisons, more than half of whom are serving time for non-violent crimes, mostly possession of drugs. More than $185 billion a year is expended to support this crisis, not to mention the ancillary ripple effect it has on our social services and welfare systems. Yet, we continue on with a losing strategy, and it’s not ever mentioned in the presidential debates.

Did I leave something out?

ANTI-GAY BIGOTRY IS ALIVE AND WELL

“AIDS is not just God’s punishment for homosexuals; it is God’s punishment for the society that tolerates homosexuals.”

Rev. Jerry Falwell, Christian evangelist

Remember when a gay caballero was defined as a happy Spaniard? Today, if you told a Miami Cuban he was gay, you might be peering down the bore of a .380 Barretta semi-automatic. Tune in to the nostalgia channel sometime and listen to the dialogue in movies of the 1930’s, Fred Astaire or Claudette Colbert exclaiming, “Oh, they had a gay time at the party.” Imagine your spouse hearing about your gay time at the office party?

The modern era has arrived. Being “gay” is now irreversibly defined. So has the omnipresence of gays in all walks of society, which some folks don’t like very much.

“The New York Times and Washington Post are both infested with homosexuals themselves. Just about every person down there is a homosexual or lesbian.”

— Jesse Helms, former U.S. Senator (deceased)

Securing the basic rights of all Americans has been the cornerstone achievement of the twentieth century. Yet, bigots still claim that traditional values of family and decency are being violated. When racial segregation was effectively banished, and women emerged from the kitchen, those horrible homosexuals brazenly followed suit and demanded an end to discrimination. Oh no, some even want to be married…to each other.

“Don’t use the word ‘gay’ unless it’s an acronym for – Got Aids Yet?”

— Rep. Bob Dornan, former U.S. Congressman

Bigotry and hatred is healthy as ever as nitwits try to convince us that Hurricane Katrina was God’s punishment to America for tolerating homosexuality. Many say the same about September 11th. We deserved it!

The problem, is that millions of people within mid-stream America feed into that kind of garbage and then go on to teach their children the same rhetoric as though it was from the mouth of God Himself. Follow the teachings of the Bible, say the bigoted evangelists, and love one another. But wait — it’s okay to hate homosexuals. I suppose “love” needs an asterisk.

The righteous right, led by the likes of Rev. Jerry Falwell and Rev. Pat Robertson, have enjoyed huge followings, espousing hatred in the name of God. So are their clones of 2007. They carefully watch the responses of political candidates when they are asked about gay rights, gay marriage, and gays in the military. Because the Falwell-types represent huge numbers, the candidates tap dance around every question trying to appeal to both sides of the fence.

“Many of those people involved with Adolph Hitler were Satanists, many of them were homosexuals – the two things seem to go together.”— Rev. Pat Robertson, Christian evangelist

I was introduced to prejudice and discrimination in my youth as a normal outgrowth of mainstream society in the post-war 1950’s. I accepted the premise that “queers were bad and all homosexuals were perverts.” Then I grew up, removed the blinders and took a closer look at what the human race has yielded. Whether we accept it or not, same-sex love is all around us, a part of our every day lives, our history and our present. It fills our book shelves and our museums, entertains us, and educates us. The righteous right turns their heads from the fact that many of the most influential and talented human beings that ever walked the face of this earth were homosexual.

I have enjoyed poems by Gertrude Stein and novels by Willa Cather or Truman Capote, gay authors each. I recall the wonderful showmanship of Liberace and marveled at his virtuoso. I took my family to see Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker ballet and a concert of The Pathetique symphony, aware that these were the creations of a tormented homosexual who once entered into a legal, ill-fated marriage to quell the wrath of Russian bigots.

Religious zealots would have us boycott the music of Elton John or all movies starring Montgomery Clift, Rock Hudson, Lawrence Olivier or Danny Kaye and bury their memory like they never existed. While we’re at it, let’s rid ourselves of such epic creations as Leonard Bernstein’s West Side Story or Tennessee Williams’ Cat On a Hot Tin Roof, both products of gay writers. Still, they applaud athletes like Greg Louganis and Martina Navratilova, willing always to disregard their lifestyles when it was time to be entertained.

Alfred Kinsey, in his study of 1948, reported that one in ten were homosexual. Other estimates put the numbers anywhere between five and ten percent. If only five percent of America is, in fact, homosexual, that’s fifteen million citizens, and the true number is probably double that. That’s a lot of people to hate. That’s a lot of people to discriminate against. That’s more people in the U.S. than Jews and Muslims combined. That’s more people than many of the states in this country. These folks certainly aren’t going away.

“Hear the word of the Lord, America, fag-enablers are worse than the fags themselves, and will be punished in the everlasting lake of fire!”— Rev. Fred Phelps, Christian evangelist.

The pompous says homosexuality a choice of lifestyle and suggests that all gay persons should reform and immediately revert to being a heterosexual. That is like telling a black person to be white or to force a lefty to be right-handed.

Why would anyone make a choice to be outcast, degraded and discriminated against for life? Gay friends tell me they would have preferred the straight life had they a choice. Such was not the lot they drew. Yet, they live and breathe our air, pay taxes and bleed red, just like the rest of us.

As the evangelical right postulates before the cameras and congregations, followers should bear in mind that many of those pretty perms and cuts were the creation of gay hairdressers, or that the sculpture sitting on their mantel was created by a gay artist, or the face that appears on a one dollar coin was that of a non-heterosexual woman.

While in Europe, I marveled at the most magnificent creations of religious art in the world, DaVinci’s Last Supper, Michelangelo’s statue of David, his Pieta and the wondrous ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, some say all inspired by the hand of God. If they were, in fact, so inspired, then the almighty Himself must have anointed those who the righteous would otherwise condemn.

Think about that, folks.

“Homosexuality is a crime against humanity.”

— Paul Cameron, famed psychologist