Immigration Draw Not a New Issue

I’m sitting around a small table at my dad’s retirement home. He’s on the far corner, and three women finish out the seats.

“You know,” he said, gesturing across the table, “her family is third-generation on the island.”

On Galveston Island, the term BOI – or born on island – carries an earned level of respect for hardened resiliency in the face of deadly hurricanes and dangerous flooding. A sandbar is, by nature – and because of nature – is a curious place to build a town.

I look to a woman sitting to my left, her eyes like small orbs of light, smiles with sparkle of shyness.

“Yes,” she says. “My great-grandfather came over from Germany, my great-grandmother from Switzerland.”

A teenager, her great-grandmother crossed the Atlantic alone and with few prospects.

“Why did she emigrate?” I asked.

“To get a job,” she said.

Her words were so matter-of-fact – and timely.

Immigration is a problematic discussion these days as hundreds of thousands of people migrate toward the United States. Some legally, others not. But in the end, their reasons generally fall into a small number of categories. And from my experience, the motivate drawing my dad’s friend’s great-grandmother is a powerful draw: a job.

As much as the United States like to say we the world’s beacon for hope, we have never fully achieved the words etched into the Statue of Liberty.

“Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free” is a big ask of a nation that is in a constant state of reinvention. Wide-open immigration, as alluded to in these words, is more aspirational than reality. Managing immigration, right down to my mother’s in 1952, is filled with hoops, standards, and commitments. My uncle, a US citizen, even signed a document to the government promising my mother would find gainful employment and never burden the American people.

The allure for a better life in the United States burns worldwide with the intensity of a supernova. Given an opportunity to support themselves and provide for your family can be a powerful magnet compared to four corners of this big round world.

It is impossible for me to fully appreciate what it is like to live in a world those so desperate to come to America endure. If you’ve traveled beyond national borders, you will quickly be embarrassed at the sheer scale of wealth we enjoy in this country. And by wealth, I mean running water we can drink, the food we toss out on trash day, and petty disagreements pick with one another over shades of grey.

Right now, tens of thousands are attempting to migrate to America because of a bi-directional problem: away from poverty, despair, and persecution, and towards a place where they believe self-sufficiency and self-destiny can happen.

This problem will not resolve with angry words, but addressing both ends driving the problem. Only then can we fulfill the destiny of our promise etched on the Statue of Liberty.

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Hate A Word Worth Addressing

I rarely use the word hate.

“Be careful how you use the word hate,” my mom would say. “Hate is a terrible word and should use sparingly in life.”

I picture this conversation at the circular dinner table in the kitchen and me – again – leaving my brussels sprouts to go stone cold. And as a kid learning the ever-changing language boundaries, the words seemed appropriate for a vegetable tasting like the blades of grass outside the window.

“You can say you don’t like something, but save the word hate for rare cases,” she said.

Over the years, she drilled into me to avoid using the word, as if radioactive and would harm others. Words, she helped me understand, can carry unintended meanings, lasting pain, and penetrating hurt. Use them carefully, she said.

Which brings me to a reflexive feeling in my body when hearing the term hate crime. I hear my mother’s words and warnings in my head. And as embarrassing as I must admit, she’d agree with the increasing usage in the modern-day.

My calendar contains many useful features, one reminding me of the themes designated for the coming days and months. Most times, the subjects are meaningful, others not so much.

But in a timely sense, one popped up this week, and when viewed under the light of current events, brought my mom’s words back home. May is Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month.

Hate crimes are heinous. By definition, a hate crime is a crime that typically involves violence motivated by prejudice based on race, religion, sexual orientation, or other grounds.

I thought of a recent report of a large man New York City man beating a 65-year old Asian American woman to the ground. His actions were not dislike, but hate.

Or the death of a 25-year old Black man running the streets of Brunswick, Georgia, after two adult men jumped from their vehicle. This too, was not dislike but actions deeply anchored in hate.

Recently a friend joined me for coffee. His wisdom of the world includes being of a generation ahead of me. I enjoy and respect his point of view.

“Racism is about all about power,” he said. “The act of putting someone below you in the levels of life.”

My friend is a kind man with a good heart. His words opened up a new understanding of what drives people to cross the line from dislike to hate. According to him, the age-old premise of individuals jockeying for position against people who are different from them or know little. Doing so lays a fertile foundation for hate to grow.

The growing frequency of hate crimes concerns me. Hate crimes are not new, but today we are better at attaching the definition to such motivated actions. Bringing such crimes to public light can be a good thing. True hate should burn under the light of day.

But I hate hate crimes – use I am sure my mother would agree.

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Kids Become Adults, but Will Always Be Children

At what point do you stop referring to your children as kids?

My wife and I are parents of two beautiful children. Both are now fully-fledged, card-carrying adults with health insurance and FICO scores.

But too often, when speaking with other adults, I catch myself referring to our children as kids – which, as adults, they are not.

In conversations with others, the term spills out of my mouth like an out-of-tune piano, trying but unable to hit the right note.

My wife and I feel blessed with two children we like and enjoy hanging around. Both own solid work ethics are honest to a fault and carry generous hearts.

But those kids – the same ones who trustingly stood on top of my feet learning to ride a skateboard or sounded out words during bedtime readings – are long gone. Only now they text photos of them standing atop an 8-hour hike up and down a mountainside or holding kitten they rescued from a bush.

In our neighborhood, my wife and I are now the older folks on the block. The soundtrack of our street features kids chasing one another with lightsabers and the occasional afternoon of hand-blown bubbles dancing across our fence line. A Big Wheel parked on the sidewalk, baseball in the street, and Halloween costumes in July don’t register as odd.

Our children are now long gone, one in a different time zone, the other deep into another stage of adulthood. A game of catch buried in the distant past, and the old costumes tucked away in storage boxes are increasingly considered collector’s items.

“Kids” is an odd but universal term. The word children, however, is both literal and dryly scientific. While the latter is timeless, the former eventually asks to go out the door like an impatient puppy. And out of respect, we need to do so.

But as a parent, this is hard to unwind the space between our ears.

I remember as a kid nothing chafed like being relegated to the kid’s table for a holiday meal. My brother and cousins all jockeyed for the day we’d be invited to sit at the big table with the adults, the place where the laughter ran as thick and heavy as brown gravy. One day, we trusted, we move up to the adult’s table.

Reality proved otherwise. Christmas after Christmas, Thanksgiving after Thanksgiving, our holiday’s included a card table in the living room or shaky plastic television trays. As kids, we were stuck in limbo waiting for the call to join the big table.

The spell of being considered a kid, it seems, didn’t fade until marriage and bringing your own into the world. Doing so earned you a past trip Pass and Go, collect your $200, and grab a chair at the adult’s table.

I guess the most beautiful memories of life will always anchor our sense of being. And if being a parent is means we will always have kids, so be it.

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Learning to Play The Hop Critical In Life

In life, like baseball, you need to learn to play the hops.

Last week a friend told me about when a simple piece of advice whispered on the sidelines of a high school basketball game seemed to pivot his son’s perspective on life.

“We’re at his high school basketball game, and he’s giving it his all – but frustrated,” he said.

At halftime, my friend made his way down from the bleachers and pulled his son aside.

“Listen,” he said. “You’re trying too hard, trying to force things. Let the game come to you.”

As the game continued, my friend’s son began adjusting to his surroundings – or the game, leading to better results.

Or, as others will say, he learned to play the hops in life.

We like to think we are in control of life, right down to the smallest of details. And while our attitudes and actions are powerful predictors of outcome, so are those lesser-known moments of responding to the unexpected.

Learning to field a ground ball is a good training exercise for life. Unlike those manicured lawns in the major leagues, most of us learned to play on fields populated with dirt clods, a lost piece of gravel, and scraggly weeds.

I remember taking to the field and a coach striking downward on the ball, sending the ball skidding across the dirt.

“Pick it clean,” he’d say.

And as hard as I’d try, the ball generally won. Getting my feet and glove into position, occasionally the ball would elect to take a last-minute detour either under my glove or hop up and bounce off my bony chest. Afterward, I’d smart, say a few words, and kick the dirt.

“Play the hop Woolsey,” he said.

At the time, I did not know his words would accompany me decades after leaving the dirt field behind.

The best players on the diamond learn to remain loose, almost rubbery, in their approach to a ground ball. To them, nine out of ten times, the ball will do as expected. But that one time, remaining flexible in their preparation allows them to adjust and embrace the bounce. They play the hop, not the expected.

As an adult, I could relate to my friend’s son. Going into life, you feel there is a formula – you do this action, the expected occurs. You say the right thing, and the desired outcome happens. But every once in a while, life to throws you a wild pitch. And how we respond – or play the hops in life – becomes a valuable predictor of success.

Playing the hops isn’t about life breaking you down, but rather embracing the flow, turning momentum or circumstances to your advantage.

Much like learning to bounce a bad hop off your chest, life plays out on an unpredictable playing field. Staying flexible allows you to use the inertia of circumstances to fuel your progress. Dirt clods are everywhere. How we play them, however, greatly determines the outcome of the game.

Play the hop.

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Life Without Instruction Books Challenging

At 93-years old, my dad is looking for an instruction book. 

He’s not wrong. Nearly everything he owned came with a printed booklet explaining how to either set, operate, or trouble-shoot his purchase. And in our childhood home, we kept a library’s worth bursting from a single drawer.

I’m sitting in his apartment, him looking down at his new cellphone.

“Where’s the instruction book?” he said. “Certainly one came with the box.” 

I tell him no, but he might find an answer by going online.

“There are user guides and websites with lots of helpful suggestions,” I said. 

He looks at me, his nose pointed down, eyes pointed up – the same look he employed a hundred times when he smelled childhood fib coming his way. 

“No instruction book? How am I supposed to know how to fix it when it goes haywire?” 

I think back to memories of our television going kaput and him dragging up from the basement a cardboard box filled with mysterious vacuum tubes and beeping handheld devices. A familiar musk always escaped into the air as he lifted the tatted brown lids. I can still hear the soundtrack of clinking and clanking of tubes, much like a mad scientist in a desperate search of that one special ingredient. 

If it was electronic and broken, my dad was convinced he could fix the problem. And for the most part, he could. If it came apart, it could surely go back together. Televisions, radios, cars. His generation believed you only disposed of an item after the threads wore clear through or the smoke coming out of the back spooked my mom too much. 

On this day he’s looking down at his hand, a small electronic device with more computing power than sent men to the moon, and comes without a printed instruction book. 

He goes silent, mulling his options.

“Guess all I can do is play around with it,” he said.

Our son recently came by for the weekend. Afterwards I found myself in my dad’s shoes. 

Crawling around below the bedroom nightstand, he fidgeted with cords and entered digits into my cell phone.

“There,” he said, “all you have to do is to ask the nightstand to turn on or off.”

After a half-century of reaching to twist a thumb-sized switch, my son my son was rewriting the instruction book on me. 

I asked the small disc-shaped device to turn on the lights. The light illuminated the white lampshade. I asked the same disk to turn off the light. The shade darkened on cue. 

Pushing down my initial hesitation to this change, I accepted his world creeping into mine, me either getting aboard or getting left behind.

That night I find myself repeating the instructions several times, the device’s actions sensitive to my specific words. Pangs of uncertainty populate my confidence as I try to remember the exact commands. I called out several times. Frustrated, I twisted the nob. 

If only I had an instruction book.

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Vaccines Lead to a Return of Hugs and Handshakes

The second COVID shot a couple of hours in her, my wife found an odd sensation rolling across her.

“I didn’t expect to feel so differently after the second shot,” she said. “Like a sense of calm coming over me.”

With the expanding percentage of vaccine shots in arms, life is also changing between our ears.

“Not that I feel immune or anything, but having the vaccine reduced some of my anxiousness.”

Getting the vaccine is a personal decision – a decision not to be debated in this space. But I will say the other side – or getting the vaccination – does feel different.

If you asked me what I missed most over the past year, I could sum it up in two words: hugs and handshakes.

Human touch is so essential to humans. To deny ourselves the intimacy of coming into physical contact with others weighed heavily on me last year. The currency of hugs and handshakes will always outweigh a fist bump or elbow tap.

Recently I shared a hug with a community friend visiting my office.

We’ve known each other for many years and work together on behalf of the community. My friend is a beautiful soul and a friendship I cherish.

Our minds instinctively remembered how we’ve always shared a hug after seeing each other – but this time, we hesitated. But after discovering we both carried the first shot, we jumped – or leaned in – towards each other.

“You know,” she said. “That is the first hug I’ve shared with almost anyone in nearly a year.

Humans need human contact. In our mind, heart, and soul, the magic of a caring touch is powerful. Getting back to hugs and handshakes is going to be a big deal for all of us.

One of the most compelling photos of 2020 to me showed two people attempting to share a comforting warm touch through a cool pane of glass. If I recall correctly, the picture includes an elderly parent in a care center with their adult child standing outside the building and looking in.

No doubt this same sort of image somewhat replicated millions of times worldwide – be it children and parents, family members in a hospital, or even two strangers offing hope to one another on the street. Human touch is a universal currency we can all value.

For me, the past year’s circumstances limited my wife and me from seeing and hugging our adult children. Both living out to town, the personal calculation proved too steep – at least in our eyes. Never did I need a hug so badly for them as during the past year.

Guess what is on the agenda for the next several months: Hitting the road and getting those long-overdue hugs on the other end. My wife and I will continue to practice safety measures, but if we’ve learned anything in the past year, time is fleeting.

And after last year, do I ever need a hug. 

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COVID and Pasta One Year Later

One year ago, my wife and I went out for our anniversary dinner, only to see the first bricks of life as we knew it crumbling before our eyes.

Tucked into a quiet Italian restaurant, we shared the room with barely another soul. Across the room, we could see the owner, her head resting in the palms of her hands, elbows planted on the counter.

“I’ve had 60 cancellations tonight,” she said.

Her words proved no match for the pain projected in her voice.

Around the corner in the kitchen were special orders of perishables, extra staff and plans for an exceptional night.

But in the afternoon, the phone began ringing and did not stop.

COVID, previously a deadly virus spreading across the national news channels, now was in our neighborhood. Businesses were closing up, and, in this case, a nearby theater abruptly canceled the show that was anchoring the reservations.

There are moments in life we never forget where we were when they happened. Generally, there is a clearly defined moment on the shared clock — say the moment the second plane struck the Twin Towers. But with COVID, the virus seeped into our daily life and psyche in tiny degrees, like the boiling of water.

On that night, sitting in the restaurant for our anniversary dinner, the pot was finally boiling — and not with pasta.

At the time, we thought our nation would be impervious to the virus, or at least not face the scale of disruption playing across the television screens, newspapers and newsfeeds. But we were wrong.

A year later, and with more than 500,000 U.S. deaths related to COVID, I still wrestle with wrapping my head around the sheer number of lives lost, impacted or changed forever.

While the virus proves somewhat discriminating in terms of the lives it takes, there are no such selective criteria for the families and businesses shattered. No one, at least at this point, can say the pandemic did not impact them.

I remember an out-of-state friend drove this home during a call several months ago.

“Early in the summer, I didn’t know of anyone who had the virus,” he said. “By fall, I’d heard of several people who had gotten sick. Now I know more people who got it than I can count — and several died.”

Posting blame is not helpful. Dealing with the present is our only option. And encouragingly, we see signs of improvement in confirmed cases and death totals. But as we slowly regain our footing in this new normal, we need to remember how far this went in such a short time.

Practicing safe behaviors, determining whether COVID shots are for you and continuing to be respectful of others will be here for the foreseeable future.

And for my wife and me, we are headed back to the little Italian restaurant one year later. The restaurant and we traveled similar but different roads for the past 12 months but, importantly, we’re still standing and moving forward.

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Vaccine Drive Illustrates Sense of Community

I could not shake the feeling of sitting awash in a moment of history in the making.

This week joined volunteers at the Galveston County Health Departments’ mass COVID vaccination site in League City. With more than 2,000 expected to receive their initial shots, the human faces were as diverse and colorful as tiles in a piece of mosaic art. Each face, each smile, carrying a distinctive path to moment.

My job was to work with a team of volunteers fanning out deep into the traffic, checking paperwork, confirming names, and placing bracelets on the wrists of qualifying individuals.

“Thank you, and God bless you.”

While the grey skies drizzled throughout the day, the warmth of smiles and kind words inside the cars insulated me from the cold.

Lines were long, but the payoff would represent a decisive step to protect them from the dangerous virus, which has taken over 500,000 American lives.

On a human level, spending a day looking into the eyes of people eager to get their first shot proves emotionally powerful. You see the lines on their faces, the wrinkles around the eyes, and the occasional tear welling up as the plastic bracelet snaps around their wrist.

A white full-size pickup truck pulls up, a sheriff’s deputy behind the wheel, his beige western hat nodding to the passenger. There sits a quiet older man wearing a blue WWII veteran’s hat. As I confirm his name, I can’t help but imagine what his eyes witnessed up to this moment and how he must feel. As a member of The Greatest Generation, he is here, again, front and center in a vital moment of history.

The bracelet snaps around his thin wrist; he thanks the volunteer and the truck pulls forward – the soldier’s next personal moment in history one step closer.

And then there are the cars filled with adult children driving their elderly parents for appointments, some playing the translator’s role. And with each interaction, you are reminded of the rich and powerful melting pot of our region. So many individual backstories, but all aligned with one purpose on this day.

Long lines extend beyond my view, but people are excited and almost – if I say – giddy. Today is their day, the opportunity to protect themselves, their friends, and their loved ones. Their effort is every bit as important as the volunteers working the site. They, too, were playing a critical role in pushing back the COVID threat.

And then, behind the scenes, are volunteer health care workers: retired medical doctors, nurses, and others showing up to play their part. And long after the lines ended on my side, they continued for the better part of an hour.

Thanks to the Galveston County Health Department, the volunteers, and everyone who played a part in receiving their initial shots this week. Each contribution is critical.

This vaccine effort is our moment in history, each shot bringing us closer to winning this war against the virus.

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If you wish to learn more about volunteering, please visit https://gcoem.org/volunteers-needed-for-covid-19-vaccine-hub-sites

Warm Hearts Melt Icy Conditions

The worst of times seem to bring out the best in people.

This week’s deep freeze event set records in not only temperatures but in levels of pain and frustration for people across Texas. Overnight, water, electricity, and heat became the most valuable commodities on most people’s minds. And for many, the pain and memories will remain in the present long after the temperatures return to normal.

But we need to not let the memories of the most honest of human gestures melt away with the ice and snow. No, we need to make ourselves pause and give the better nature of people the respect due. For those anonymous hands and voices can make the difference between despair or inspiration.

My experiences are probably no different in intent from those of others, but the cumulative effect on others is what makes our community special.

This week I know of a husband and wife living in dangerously cold conditions, declining offers from friends and others to leave their home. And while understandable, here is where an angel with hot home-made pasta dish landed.

People who tend to help others tend to have oversized hearts and undersized egos. Their concern and motivations, rooted in the servant leadership calling, allows them to selflessly and effortlessly work to help others. Self-attention is the last thing they want.

But word gets around.

This individual drove across icy roads to deliver a hot meal to the husband and wife iced into their home. Days without electricity and heat are difficult; for people with few options, a home-cooked meal is a godsend. And navigating frozen steps to deliver is, pardon the pun, icing on the cake. I also heard of another person opening up a small rental house they owned to help others get much-needed showers and heat.

Personally, one friend came over to our house to show me how to properly prepare a specific outside plumbing fixture, while another allowed me to tap his reserve of dry firewood for days.

But I’ll bet my list is pale compared to what you are hearing. As challenging as circumstances can be, people tend to rise and help each other and those in need. No matter how difficult, our better instincts and actions – however humble and not wanting attention – win out the day.

For every scuffle in line for gasoline, there dozens of acts of kindness going on around them. A nod to the next car, allowing them in, to another offering a tip on how to manage flushing toilets without running water. The shared experiences of kindness will always outweigh the isolated incidents of selfishness.

Importantly, let us not forget there remains a lot of pain and need out there. Commit to focusing not on what you lack but on those who lack more than you. Making a positive difference in the world each day can be a simple as asking around. Call your Salvation Army. Call your local houses of worship. Be the difference.

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Deep Dish For Deep Love

For Valentine’s Day, my wife and I are going to bake a homemade pizza. And to be truthful, we do not know how this will work out. But the tradition of a low-key Valentine’s Day is alive and well in our home.

Understand we love Valentine’s Day as much as the next person. And over the year, we played a role in keeping the greeting cards in business. But for extravagant gifts, not so much.

Being as we are now on our 39th Valentine’s Day together, the holiday remains stubbornly low-key. For decades we would watch a splotched VHS version of Disney’s Lady and the Tramp on a small television screen and order a budget-friendly delivery pizza. As perennially broke college kids, you do the best you can with what you have. And as for money, again, the best generally came in the simplest of terms.

As the years passed along and circumstances improved, I learned bringing home a dozen red roses more likely to put me in the doghouse than her arms. The cost of the crimson red sirens of love during high season hung over the holiday like a low-country fog, seeping into every crack and cranny of the holiday. A total backfire and one I learned not to repeat.

The funny thing about traveling side-by-side most of your life with the same person is no matter how the circumstances change, you essentially remain rooted in the humble ground where you began.

Mark that down as reason number 1,382 that I love that woman so much.

I am confident we could win a million-dollar lottery, and she would remain grounded and unselfish. Go find a way to help someone who needs a hand, she would tell me. Make a difference; we have a roof over our heads and shoes on our feet.

One of our most prized Valentine’s Day decorations cost mere pennies to bring into our lives.

Created with a leftover red poster board and a can of black spray paint, we would not trade the artwork for anything from the Louvre Museum in Paris. The honest emotion and simplicity, the letters scrawled on the hand-trimmed heart-shaped board are priceless to us. Now faded and a veteran of nearly a dozen moves around the county, the artwork adorns our fireplace this year.

The letters are simple as if carved into a fencepost: LW + MW

As I said, this year, we will be baking a deep-dish Chicago-style pizza from scratch. A culinary experiment, and we have no idea how this will work out. But we do know, no matter what, the memories in our minds will last far beyond those of our tastebuds. Many times, you define success is by the moments you create, not the outcome.

Valentine’s Day is for lovers. Jump in, make memories, and never forget happiness does not always come with a receipt.

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