The last best hope

The World War II Memorial, with the Lincoln Memorial in the distance, March 2005

The World War II Memorial, with the Lincoln Memorial in the distance, March 2005

“The fiery trial through which we pass, will light us down, in honor or dishonor, to the latest generation…We shall nobly save, or meanly lose, the last best, hope of earth.”
Abraham Lincoln

First time visitors to Washington DC often notice that the various monuments located near the mall appear much closer to each other on the maps than they prove to be when strolling between them.  It’s an activity best suited to those who are able to walk at least a few miles, and is definitely more appealing in good weather.

Despite the inconvenience of having to cross a lot of terrain to get to these memorials, there’s something fitting about the distances between them.  Walking is conducive to the sober reflection that properly accompanies the history represented by such iconic sights.  It’s far too easy to forget the suffering and sacrifices of people who came before us, caught up as we are in daily concerns that seem petty compared to the endurance required of past generations.

I like to read and remember history when I’m feeling sorry for myself.  It gives me perspective on my individual woes, gratitude for all that I tend to take for granted, and inspiration from the perseverance and courage shown by people who have survived far more cataclysmic times.  I hope you will make time to visit a nearby memorial, or read a biography or history of some pivotal moment in the past.  Those who came before us were far from perfect, but there is much to honor and celebrate in their stories, which made possible our own.

One year ago today:

The day of liberation


  1. bobmielke

    I don’t know where I stand anymore with regard to the wars our country fights. In World War II there were clear enemies, threats to our nation who attacked us. We struck back to protect our freedoms and defend our nation.

    In Vietnam, Iraq and now Afghanistan our reasons for sending our young in harms way are questionable at best. What weapons of mass destruction? Where did the evil communist in Vietnam go? Sadly, to the shelves of our stores like WalMart, destroying our textile industry. I fought for that?

    • Bob, I agree with you that it’s hard to know what to think about this whole question of war. Even in seemingly obvious situations such as World War II, there are ambiguities and possibly senseless sacrifices (see the discussion in the comments on this post about Iwo Jima). Also, while the aggressors may sometimes be obvious, the rank and file soldiers and civilians are the ones who suffer, often without truly agreeing with their leaders’ ambitions (see the movies Empire of the Sun or The Book Thief, but not if you want something reassuring and cheerful).

      On the other hand, it’s very easy to look back with benefit of hindsight and see clearly where disastrous mistakes were made. Suffice it to say that I never want to be in the position of one who has to call the shots in such situations. It’s beyond me why and how anyone could ever want to be President or any other political leader. I much prefer to throw myself on the mercy of God and pray earnestly that our world leaders will do what is best for the citizens who are at the mercy of their decisions.

      One thing to consider that may (or may not) bring you comfort: if erstwhile enemies are indeed transacting business together through Walmart, perhaps the economic might of capitalism has made inroads toward peaceful coexistence that napalm and carnage could not. Walmart may not be perfect, but at least it’s (relatively) bloodless. Sweatshops and human rights concerns notwithstanding, any step away from nuclear annihilation and towards some form of economic cooperation has to be, if not ideal, at least preferable to hostility and mayhem.

      • bobmielke

        Just for the record I’m not picking on WalMart per se but department stores in general. Here in Oregon we have Fred Meyer stores that carry few if any American made clothes but instead sell clothes from China, Cambodia & Vietnam, all communist countries. I worked in textiles for 13 years before they were forced out of business by those countries and their “favored nation” status.

        • Yes, the price pressures are something that seemingly few stores can resist for very long. It’s that way in many industries that are outsourced in various ways. Without getting into politics too much let’s just say it’s a complex issue with many, many factors including minimum wage and health care mandates placed on American businesses that make it extremely hard for them to compete with countries that can do the same work for a fraction of the cost.

          Almost every industry and profession has been hit with enormous changes in one way or another in the past few decades. Having worked for five years at Rich’s (a wonderful department store that was an Atlanta institution for decades, yet no longer exists since it was bought out by Macy’s) I can attest to the tremendous changes in retailing since the 70’s. I also can remember when it was wonderful to work for an airline, but I don’t think I’d want to do it now. The military has endured one draw down after another in the nearly 30 years Jeff has been in the Air Force, and contrary to what some people think, defense cuts don’t primarily come from eliminating bombers and $200 toilet seats; they come out of the daily work and lives of the people who are in the service. As the many people out of work can tell us, it’s a pretty tough world and it’s easy to get really upset just thinking about it.

          About the only thing we can do is get used to the “new normal” — nothing is permanent except change — and try to focus on things that are better now than they used to be. For me, this is pretty obvious right now. If Matt had been born ten years earlier than he was, with the same heart condition, he would most likely not be alive now. If Jeff had been diagnosed with the same type of cancer as recently as ten years ago, he would almost certainly not be alive now. Most of us can find similar things to be thankful for. I totally sympathize with your concerns and sadness over what has happened to many American industries, but hopefully that timeless Yankee ingenuity will kick in and we will have lots of new businesses to take the place of the old ones.

          And yes, it’s almost impossible not to be a bit cynical about the almighty dollar and its ability to overcome moral scruples and higher principles, especially ones that wars have supposedly been fought over. Unfortunately, (and I guess fortunately too) that power of the dollar is ultimately what makes capitalism work, and the “communist” countries who do business with us are proof of that. I guess my obsession with living frugally is partly based on my fear of being personally controlled by the same financial gods.

          • bobmielke

            I have deliberately removed myself from the grid. I own nothing, I owe nothing. I don’t even need to file tax forms much less pay taxes. I qualify for every government handout and program yet use none of them. I prefer to live a spartan life, unaffected by moves made by politicians.

            • That sounds like a pretty good recipe for sanity to me. 🙂

  2. Larry

    We are thinking of all three of you this morning and happy Matt had a better day yesterday. Do you know if today your going to be able to make a big step forward and move out of the CICU? Everyone here in Tennessee is prayerful that the positive steps will continue. Grandmother said to tell Matt that she loves him. Update us when you can, thanks.

    • Thanks Larry, Matt had a good night last night and we are expecting him to leave the CICU sometime today. I gave Matt Grandmother’s message and he said to tell her “I love you Grandmother, thank you for praying for me.” (His exact words.) 🙂

  3. singleseatfighterpilot

    You didn’t even mention Millard Filmore, nor that pivotal moment provided by the unforgettable Richard E. Nixon.

    • Millard Fillmore has got to be the Rodney Dangerfield of U.S. Presidents. As for Nixon, which “pivotal moment” are you referring to? There were many, but my favorite one was the visit to China. That was his finest hour.

  4. Sheila

    Good morning, Julia. I’m so happy to read that Matt is steadily improving. Please give him a big “thumbs up” from Sheila, Bill, and Walter. 🙂 You’ve captured the two memorials so beautifully! Bill will be meeting his brothers in Washington on Thursday for the New Canaan Society meeting. I’m sure their dad is smiling on them! More blessings today….Sheila

    • Sheila, I had never heard of the New Canaan Society, but I looked them up and it looks like a worthwhile group. I love their logo of the archer! Matt is feeling much better today and the doctors say he’s still on track to move out of the CICU. Hooray!

      • Sheila

        Ditto to that Hooray! 🙂 I so hope and pray for a restful night. Since we share the Tennesseean bond, I wanted to share that our nephew, that works in DC, in Lamar Alexander’s office, will be joining his dad and uncles this weekend. So special! I wanted to add that Stephanie remarked today that our online meeting has evolved into a special friendship that is really a life’s blessing! Yes, indeed! I so hope that Jeff is doing well. 🙂 We continue to pray…. often!

        • Thanks so much, Sheila! I hope all the guys have a great weekend. Let us know if you ever head up this way to see your nephew. Jeff said he is doing OK after chemo today; a bit sick, but he insists on coming back to the hospital tomorrow morning (he is taking a couple of days off). Matt is doing well and that makes me so happy. 😀 I am very grateful for your friendship and your prayers!!

  5. Visiting monuments is a special kind of experience. Our imagination, the stories we have heard, all come alive and our minds become highly engaged. It’s more fun if there is a companion who can enjoy them in the same way.

    • Yes, it’s a good way of being mentally immersed in the events and people they commemorate. Even the more abstract designs can have real impact. I agree with you that it’s more fun to have someone to share the experience.

  6. So proud to see that Matt is feeling better. Hopefully, he is in a regular room by now. Tell him we love him and are praying for him.

    • Hi Janice, we just got to a regular room about an hour ago. Matt is feeling good and eating his first real food tonight (holding it down so far). He is watching TV and smiling a lot. Thanks so much for the prayers!

  7. MaryAnn

    It was a great blessing for us to visit Washington DC for our 1st time, when we took our 2 oldest grandchildren. They were the only “grands” at that time: Aaron, age 7 & Amanda age 6. Aaron was very impressed with the amount of references to God on the Lincoln Memorial.
    Amanda loved the stairs up to the top of Washington Monument. I want to visit again & again! Praising God for Matt’s improvements! I love him SO!!!

    • Mary Ann, I think it’s wonderful that you were able to visit DC with your grandchildren. Tell Amanda I have NEVER climbed the stairs at the Washington Monument, and have no plans to do so anytime soon! 😀 Matt is feeling good tonight and eating his first real meal since one week ago tonight. We are so thankful and happy to have him getting back to normal! We appreciate your prayers and your being here with us!

  8. raynard

    How did I miss this blog? Senior moment maybe?( lol I use that one on a senior in my church and “she rolled her eyes as she laughed). Going to have to make a trip back to D.C last time it was in support of my brother in law who is a pastor attending a conference. I did visit the Lincoln and Jefferson Memorials along with The Vietnam Memorial and Holocust Museum.. Be Blessed

    • Raynard, I’ve been having “senior moments” for awhile now although people 20-30 years my senior laugh at me too when I say that. According to them, it doesn’t get any better 😀 but maybe it matters less. All those places you mentioned are well worth seeing. I have been to all of them several times and they never lose their impact. Hope you are having a good week.

  9. Michael

    Fred Meyers sells communist clothing? Oh my. Number one store in our neighborhood- or nook of the woods.
    One of the blessings of “our time” is the advancement of medical research and treatment modalities. When I lived in Eastern Washington, one day I visited a historic graveyard. Over half of the graves had death dates with a 1918 year listing. Guess what? Flu pandemic that year killed off 30% of the world populations. That would not happen today or so let us pray. And along those lines, I was reading that even now they have come up with a possible treatment for progeria- the terrible condition that took Dr. Kushner’s- author of “When Bad things happen to Good People”- eleven year old son- Nathan.

    • Michael, in my opinion, clothing for sale in an American department store is ipso facto not communist clothing, unless it looks something like this, and maybe not even then. Of course I might get an argument here, but even the idea of which countries are communist is a question that has become very blurry.

      We do forget how deadly the flu was at one time, and still is to certain populations who have immune systems that are compromised by disease or age. It can be very revealing to study the headstones in an old cemetery or graveyard. One thing that always jumps out at me is how very many children died. From the time Drew had his first of only a few ear infections, I have been tremendously thankful for antibiotics, anesthesia and other things it’s easy to forget. One of Matt’s cardiologists told me several years ago that eventually patients such as Matt might be able to have replacement heart valves grown from their own harvested cells – thus possibly eliminating the problems inherent with replacement valves. And yes, to answer your earlier question, the tricuspid is the least-replaced valve, the largest and potentially the trickiest, with probably the least success in terms of long term prognosis. Matt is among a relative few who is now on his second bioprosthetic tricuspid valve in his heart.

  10. I’m so looking forward to visiting these places with you Julia. Australians have just showed their respect and remembrance for those men and women who’ve served. Canada’s ‘Day of Remembrance’ is in November. I think these days are even more important than ever, to continue to show young people born in the last 4 of 5 decades why they’re able to enjoy the lives we do.

    • Yes, I agree; things are changing so rapidly that most young people could not begin to imagine what previous generations endured. I can’t wait until you are able to come! I’ve been making mental notes about what you might want to see and do. There is so much! You might want to take the first day just riding around on one of those “off and on” tour buses to get quick look at all the major sites (especially since there is no parking anywhere near most of them), and then decide which (if any) you will want to revisit. Planning will be lots of fun 🙂 besides making the best use of your time here. Just be sure to bring at least two different pairs of good walking shoes!

      • Oh, I didn’t realize they had those on and off buses in Washington. They’re great for seeing a bunch of sites very easily. We’ve used that option in London and San Francisco where parking or driving would have been to intimidating. I know we’ll both look forward to it and spending time with you and hopefully meeting your guys too. We were talking about our Victoria hookup today and can’t wait for that to come in August. xk

        • Jeff and I fell in love with Victoria and have always wanted to go back. We managed to miss going to Butchart Gardens and I have never completely gotten over that 😀 so it’s a great excuse to go back. I assume you will go there – it ought to be fabulous in August.

          • We will absolutely go to Butchart Gardens, I know Alys was there a long time ago but we’re both excited to visit again. I’m having such a good visit with you, but am I keeping you up? It’s 11:38 here and so very very late for you.

            • Well as you can see, I went to bed sometime before this comment came in. Matt was up a bit later than usual last night and so I was staying up to keep an eye on him before I went to sleep, and let the time get away from me. I had no idea it had gotten that late! Then wouldn’t you know, we had a “alarm fest” at about 6 a.m. this morning. Telemetry alarms going off again and again until I finally gave up and quit trying to sleep. When I asked the nurses to try to do something about all these alarms going off and nobody coming to turn them off, they said “Oh, don’t worry, those are just nuisance alarms!” They got THAT right – MY nuisance, obviously not theirs. It’s as if it’s OK to ignore those maddening beeps as long as only something minor like sleep is at stake. SHEESH!

              • SHEESH yes! You must feel somewhat comfortable there (unfortunately due to many return visits) because I think I might panic if an alarm continually rang but no one arrived to check. I hope you’re able to rest during some period of the day when you miss out on a restful night. Do you not go on Daylight Savings time Julia? when it was 11:38pm here, it was 1:38pm there (according to the date and time tag on my gravatar) For some reason I thought you were 3 hours ahead of me. Glad to hear Matt’s feeling better too xoK

                • We are on EDT (Eastern Daylight Time) but aren’t you on Mountain time? That’s just a two hour difference. CA is 3 hours ahead. There are only 4 times zones in the USA. This means you won’t have as bad a case of jet lag when you come. 🙂 Basically most of Matt’s telemetry alarms are not very scary by now since his heart rhythms have always been so idiosyncratic; as long as he is not truly in flutter or tachycardia they know it’s probably just that his pacer is not capturing. He’s a real puzzle to anyone who is unfamiliar with his very unique cardiac wiring, and that’s one reason why continuity is so important in terms of his medical care. The telemetry is set up to avoid false negatives (they would rather have alarms that weren’t needed than not have alarms that ARE needed, for obvious reasons) and there’s not an easy way to override the way they are programmed. Of course, this sets up a “boy who cried wolf” scenario but I have been assured that the nurses know what particulars to be wary of. They told me they have set the alarms to ring only to the nurse’s station tonight, not in our room, so we’ll see if we can get some more sleep.

                  • sweet dreams to ‘all ya all’ down there 😀 xoxo

                    • Or as we used to say when we were little: “Night-night, sleep tight, don’t let the bed bugs bite.” Did you say that too, or is that another southern thing? As a disclaimer, we NEVER had bed bugs, and in fact, I thought they were extinct or mythical until recent years when I have been reading that they are making a big comeback!

                    • We did say that Julia. I also thought they were a myth until I watched a spooky Oprah one day long long ago. I used to love shopping good will for vintage stuff, now you really need to check first. They’ve even been found in movie cinema’s…..eck.

                    • Yes, I had a friend who told me horror stories about bed bugs that made me afraid to travel – luckily I had forgotten all about it by the time I next stayed in a hotel. One of those things it’s probably best not to think about too much…

  11. Amy

    Well this sounds like a good day. What happened during the night? Are you still in the regular room? Gosh I hate the ups and downs for you. Keep me posted. Love, A

    • Yes, the ups and downs are part of the experience, and no matter how much I tell myself to expect them, they always catch me off guard. Matt had a good day on Tuesday but that night he was in agony and there were other worrisome developments. However, he seems to have stabilized somewhat now. He’s asleep while I’m writing this, which is always healing. Thanks for being here with us and caring!

      • I’m sorry to read that Matt has been in pain. How agonizing for both of you. I’m glad he stabilized (as of the above writing) and hope it continues forward.

        • Yes, everything is SOOOO much easier now that the pain is under control. He doesn’t complain so it’s usually too late by the time we can tell he’s feeling bad. This hospital life is getting to be a drag, but at least Matt seems to feel well most of the time, which is the most important thing. (I did convince them to turn off the alarms in our room last night so they would just ring at the nurse’s station, hee-hee…we actually got a few hours of sleep!)

          • Thank goodness for that. Sleep makes everything a bit more bearable. I hope you are getting out to take a walk and to get a change of venue.

            • Thanks Alys, I am hoping to take a short walk in just a little while. I started answering these comments hours ago, but kept getting interrupted! Time becomes very confused in the hospital – I have a hard time even remembering what day of the week it is.

              • I’m sure it is very disorienting. Is today a better day?

                • Yes, today has been better in most ways, though Matt has been a bit grumpier. He got his chest tubes out and we hope he will be able to go home tomorrow!

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