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And In the End…

and in the end

The Beatles were one of the great rock bands of all time, and they are a band I listened to throughout my life. Most of those who are familiar with me personally know that John Lennon is one of my all-time heroes, but it is surprising that the single lyric that I believe is the most beautiful and most important written in the 20th century was penned by Paul McCartney. It’s from the Abbey Road album and is simply put “And in the end the love you take is equal to the love you make.” What a beautiful sentiment. Even now, nearly forty years after I first heard it, just listening to McCartney warble it is enough to bring tears to my eyes. Of course, I’m an old softie in that regard.

And it is wrong. It is as hopeful a line as ever written but for most of us, there is an imbalance. Some of us take far more love than we make. Now, I don’t view this as referring to the act of making love; I believe it refers to love given and love received. Now, there are plenty of people who are close enough to balanced to make the line true for most, but when you think of Donald Trump, do you think he has given as much love as he has received? Or Mother Teresa? Or Ellen de Generes? Or even John Lennon?

Lennon was far from perfect. He wrote a song as hopeful as “Imagine” but on the same album  he excoriates McCartney with “How Do You Sleep.” The preaching of love and tolerance on one hand doesn’t mix well with the savaging he gives his old writing partner. I guess it’s easier to love people in general than people in particular.

Still, the sentiment is one to be admired. When I go out, I would like to have given more love than I receive. It’s not a desire to be a martyr or anything like that – trust me, I get plenty of love – but the world needs love, as Burt Bacharach – and John Lennon – have written. These days especially. Love seems to be in short supply. We may mock the hippies for their “peace and love” attitude, but I have to tell you they weren’t wrong on that score. Not that I’m ever going to embrace patchouli oil – that stuff stinks!

And I know, it’s so much easier said than done. I’m guilty of growling that people suck when I see them behave selfishly on the road, or elect another Republican to office. It’s easy to get caught up in the frustration, particular in an era when it feels like selfishness is encouraged and selflessness ridiculed. When being generous and kind is made fun of as a sucker’s game, we’re in trouble as a species.

That’s why we all need to take a step back. I don’t know if you believe in karma, but I do believe that the attitudes we send out are reflected back to us by the world. If you believe the world is out to get you then it likely is. If you believe that the world is a beautiful place then so it is. Sure, that’s not going to insulate you from getting burned – no matter how much love you send into the ether there will always be those who return harm. That’s the nature of the game folks. None of us are exempt from emotional hurt.

And yet what defines us is how we react. Do we lash out and say “Screw everybody, I’m hurt and now I’m going to hurt others instead of getting hurt” or do we get back on the horse and send out our love? Which one do you think makes the world a better place?

And that’s what it boils down to. Do we want to make the world a better place or do we just want to bitch about what a horrible hard place it is? It begins with us. We can’t force others to open the hearts and send good feelings into the world; we can only do it ourselves. We can’t legislate compassion but we can experience it. Rather than blaming the poor for their troubles, we can find ways to make their lives better, either through education or finding them work. Instead of getting angry at climate change deniers, we can take steps to reduce our own carbon footprints. Instead of complaining about politicians, we can actually go out there and find a candidate who is worthy of our support and go out there and vote for them. Talking the talk isn’t enough in this day and age; we have to walk the walk.

And in the end, we can show our love in all sorts of ways, using the skills and talents we are given. Singing a song out loud can brighten the day of someone who needs a pick-me-up; taking out some ice cold sodas to a bunch of guys working out in the summer heat is one way of spreading good karma even if you don’t believe in it; trust me, the act of doing someone a solid is enough to make you feel good for hours.

Lennon did write “All you need is love” and like McCartney he was wrong in that assessment; we need more than love. But we do need love, all of us. We crave it; we wither without it. A kind word or gesture can be as healing as medicine. Hugs can be the stuff of wonderful memories and can color our perception of life and the world around us. Some people write off serial huggers as kooks, but I think that I’d rather be kooky than rational in that regard.

The ills of the world are many and I don’t have any illusions that giving out more hugs and being kinder in general is going to cure many of them, if any. Maybe it’s just a karmic version of shouting into the abyss but by God I’d rather shout into the darkness than cower at it. There is far too much fear and anger and not enough love and compassion. I have to believe the world would be a much better place if we all just made the attempt to be sure that the love we make is at least a little more than the love we take. Isn’t it worth a try? The other way doesn’t seem to be working.

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We Will All Come Home

Last week, my wife and I visited New Orleans for the first time since Hurricane Katrina. In a way, the timing was a bit ironic – while we were there, the deadly tornado struck Joplin, Missouri, bringing back eerie thoughts of the devastation along the gulf back in 2005. We both love the Crescent City and the return was long overdue.

It reminded me of what a resilient species we are in spite of ourselves. New Orleans is far from the city it was in 2005, but they are most certainly back. Restaurants are full, the Quarter is jumping and they’re building an ambitious and magnificent World War II Museum that is sure to be a major tourist attraction for years to come.

But it wasn’t without cost. There are plenty of residents displaced by the disaster who still haven’t returned. The Ninth Ward remains devastated, although parts of it has been rebuilt largely due to charities like Habitat for Humanity and Brad Pitt’s Make It Right Foundation, which continue to raise money to build affordable housing in the area. Many residents are still bitter over the bungling of FEMA and other federal agencies, and of local and state agencies that mismanaged the situation in the critical days following the disaster, and recent findings that the Army Corps of Engineers may have contributed to the disaster with shoddy work on the levees.

No, the citizens of New Orleans were failed in numerous situations but not by the people of the United States and around the world, who gave generously to the stricken city and continue to do so. However, it is a tribute to the spirit of the Crescent City, the fierce devotion to their home and their willingness to make it home again after so much was lost. Famous sons and daughters of New Orleans, like Harry Connick Jr., Ellen de Generes and Branford Marsalis all rallied to the cause in a high-profile manner.

These days, life in New Orleans goes on. People celebrate birthdays at Commander’s Palace, enjoy bananas foster for breakfast at Brennan’s, stroll along the Mississippi at Riverwalk, go boating on Lake Pontchartrain, drive cabs, mow lawns, watch TV. For a good deal of the population, life has returned to normal although I’m sure they get tired of incessant questions from tourists about how they weathered Katrina.

New Orleans is a special place to begin with, but imagine it being your home. We all have an affinity to the place we live, even more so if we’re born there. Some places seem to exert an almost magical hold on the people who live there; San Francisco, Brooklyn, Boston, Detroit…people are rabid there about their home towns. So it is in New Orleans but considering what the city has been through – not just with Katrina and its aftermath, but also with the BP spill last year – that love has intensified and grown even more rabid. There’s nothing like a disaster, natural or otherwise, to bring people together.

New Orleans is a city unique in the world. It has the charm of Southern hospitality ingrained in it. It also has a 24 hour party attitude that brings to mind Las Vegas. There is also a musical heritage as important as that of Vienna and a culinary heritage up there with Paris. The people who live in New Orleans feel a great deal of pride for the city’s accomplishments, not the least of which was the Saints winning the Super Bowl last year.

That’s what home is all about. That’s what binds us to a community, a city – the feeling that we’re together in times both good and bad. It’s the sight of the house at the end of a hard day’s work, the feeling of ease as you turn on the lights against the encroaching darkness. The feeling that here is where you belong, in this place and with these people, is powerful. It’s not something to be discarded easily. In a culture which has become increasingly rootless, that feeling becomes all the more precious, that sense of belonging. We all need to feel that we know where home is. It’s not just where the heart is, but in the soil and in the air. It is a time and a place, and the people above all.

At the end of the day, we all want to go home, no matter where we are or what we’re doing. For those who were uprooted violently from their homes by Katrina in 2005 or in Joplin a couple of weeks ago, the feeling of losing one’s home shakes you to your very core. Still, I know that someday everyone who was forced to leave will come back someday. Come back home. It is where we belong, after all – and where we all deserve to be.