Paul's Heart

Life As A Dad, And A Survivor

Archive for the category “Politics”

I Will Always Remember

There are moments in our lives, that will forever change our perspectives, our fears, but hopefully not who we are.

I was not born when John F. Kennedy was shot.  And I was too young to understand the Vietnam war when it happened.  The first major event in history during my life, occurred in January of 1986, the space shuttle Challenger disaster.  I was working retail in a mail, when the mall music was interrupted by an announcement, that left everyone inside of my store, standing silent.  The Challenger had exploded shortly after lift off, killing all members aboard.  You could tell the impact this had on everyone, even without seeing it on a television, the description of the event, the horrific tragedy, the loss of the crew.  This particular mission was special because for the first time, it had a regular civilian as part of its crew, a teacher.  I do not remember how long we all stood in silence, not moving, paralyzed but what we could only imagine what others were seeing.

September 11, 2001 would be the second day in my life, that I would not forget where I was, what I was doing, and what had happened.  Only this time, I witnessed it, live on television.

Like everyone else that day, just going about our normal routines, I was at work.  We had a regularly scheduled break at 8:55am, but it was not unusual for some to begin their break earlier.  I had made my way downstairs to our smaller break room area, a small nook with four chairs, a counter top, and a small television.  As I turned the corner after exiting the elevator, I was surprised to see a huge crowd bursting from the limits of the small area.  Perhaps a birthday was being celebrated or some other reason for so many to be present.

As I got nearer, I could tell there was no celebrating.  In fact, everyone was quiet.  The attention of all was directed at the small television that normally was a source of fun and laughter.  Except for this time.

We could only watch the NBC affiliate out of Philadelphia.  The Today show had just announced that a plane had crashed into Tower 1 of the World Trade Center.  At the time, all we could think about was how awful a tragedy this was to have happened, what could have caused the jet to fly so low, and not be able to avoid the skyscraper.  And as quickly as some started to theorize about a possible terror attack, we all witnessed the second plane crashing into the second tower.

Though the broadcasters would not come and say it, each and every one of us in that break room, and likely in the world, knew we were under some sort of attack.  By who, by what?  We all watched and waited to see where the next target would be.

We all just continued to stand around watching this even unfold, as emergencies were declared, restrictions put in place, and then even more unthinkable, the collapsing of the towers, and two more planes crashing, all determined to be part of the same terroristic plot.

Our break time had rolled into our lunch break at 11am before any of us knew it.  We were all in shock.  How could this be?

I lived two hours away from New York City, but I had traveled there plenty of times.  And I will never forget the first time I came out of the Lincoln Tunnel, seeing the new skyline, without the Twin Towers.  But my memories of that day pale in comparison to those who lost loved ones that day.

Another first for me, knowing someone who had perished in such a historical, and tragic event.  Throughout the different aspects of my life, I would quickly realize those who had been on those fateful planes, first responders – people who basically went into a war zone, and friends who either lived in Manhattan or worked there.

We are reminded every year to “never forget.”  Whether there in person, or viewing the tragedy on television, this is something impossible to forget.  My daughters are now at an age in school, they are learning about what happened that day, before and after.  To talk about this with my daughters, I have the same emotion and impact, as when my grandparents would tell me the day the bombs were dropped on Japan, and yes, when Kennedy was shot.

I know I am not the only one who never wants to see another “9/11”.  And that is why it is important to never forget.  To never let it happen again, and to remember all who lost their lives, and those who lost loved ones.

Labor Day – Unions… A Matter Of Life And Death

Ah yes, Labor Day.  The unofficial end of Summer.  The return to school.  A long weekend of parties and picnics.  And this year, unfortunately, a nightmare for the eastern coast of the United States and the Bahamas dealing with a major hurricane, Dorian.

Many believe that Labor Day is about just taking the day off, because you are a worker.  Officially, Labor Day is a Federal holiday, which we ALL enjoy, dedicated to the labor movement and organized labor, also known as “unions.”  That is right.  If you are anti-union, you can stop reading right now, and get to work.  Well, after you read this post, because my post today is more than just about a labor movement.  It meant the difference to me with life and death.

In November of 1988, I was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma.  I was working at the time for an appliance parts distributor.  I thought I was lucky because I had health insurance.  The truth is, the insurance was not good enough.  But again, I was lucky, because I had an employer who cared.  I was not just a number, or an expense.  In today’s work culture, employees are nothing more than something to affect the bottom line.  My employer recognized that I needed better health insurance, and took the initiative and got it, because of me.  His decision however, actually benefited everyone in the company.  Everyone ended up with the better health insurance.

As time would go on, I would change jobs, and no longer in cancer treatment, I was no longer able to get any employer to give me health insurance because I was considered too much of a health risk, a liability.  That is, until March of 1997, when I was hired by a major pharmaceutical company.  As a new employee, following my probationary period, I would officially become a union member, the third generation involved in a union.  And with the benefit of being in a union, I automatically qualified for health insurance, something everyone else had denied me, because they could (at the time before the Affordable Care Act came to be).  A union health insurance plan is a “group” plan, which means that everyone gets covered.  Risks are combined with healthy individuals, and insurance companies hopefully were able to minimize their losses because of the large memberships.

So how did my union save my life?  I was roughly nine years out as a survivor of Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, but my health was good.  I had gotten by without health insurance.  And for ten years after I joined my union, I remained pretty healthy.

But in 2008, I got the shock of my life, when it was discovered that the treatments I went through for my cancer, had been causing late effects that had finally developed to a point to require attention, in a big way.  I was diagnosed with a “widow maker” heart blockage caused by radiation therapy I had received eighteen years earlier.  Were in not for the great health coverage I now had, and the number of tests that needed to be done on a “healthy 42 year-old”, I would have died.  Over the years since, I have had to deal with several more medical emergencies that have come up, all from my cancer past.  But without having the health insurance provided by my company and union, I would not be typing this post.

I get why people want to demonize unions.  But I strongly support unions and what they do for workers.  Think about it.  Back in the 1950’s people did not have to work three jobs to make ends meet.  Today workers struggle doing similar work to the 1950’s for salaries that in no way kept up with the rate of inflation.  And in spite of CEO’s making millions, they still force employees to work for minimum wage, or less.  Because of unions, group insurance coverage was pretty much guaranteed without being discriminated against.  And just as important, an employee had backing to prevent being reprimanded for anything other than work performance, such as chronic health issues.  Of course, unions were the ones who fought to improve working conditions, overtime rates and so much more.

And without my membership in the Steelworker’s union, I definitely would not be here, right now, paying respect to the holiday that acknowledges the labor movement.

Happy Labor Day.

Happier Times Remembered In Hong Kong

Being an adoptive parent of an international child, I have an understanding as well as at least some experience understanding the culture of the country where my daughters come from.  During my first trip to China, I learned first hand, the many misconceptions that I had about the country, and learned some new things as well.

Knowing that I would be travelling out of the country, I notified the bank of the credit card that I would be using for the trip, that purchases would indeed be showing up, in person, outside of the US, during a certain time period.  At that point, I thought I had taken care of everything.  I was ready to go.

To match my enthusiasm, I received good news from the adoption agency, that the trip was being moved up three days earlier.  I definitely had no problem becoming a Dad officially sooner.

We landed at the Hong Kong airport and were met by our guide for this brief leg of the trip before heading to mainland China.  We made our way to the hotel at the airport to get as good a night sleep as we could.  More good news.  Instead of meeting our children two days later, we were going to fly into mainland China, check in to the hotel, and then proceed right away to meet our children.  It is impossible to describe the excitement.

I got to enjoy that excitement approximately ten minutes.  As it was my turn to check in to the hotel, and handed over my credit card to secure my room, the attendant behind the counter responded, “card declined.”  Not sure what I had heard, I just automatically told him to “try it again.”  His response was the same.  Panicked, because I had taken care of everything to make sure the card worked before I left, I demanded “try again.”  The third time was not the charm, as it was declined again.  Long story short, eventually after 3 stressful days, the confusion would be straightened out, but for the purposes of this post, that is a different story.

It was at that time that I learned about Hong Kong, a former property of Brittain, that although Hong Kong is considered a “free” country, it is also part of China.  The expression goes, “one country, two systems.”  Obviously, the one system being a democratic free society even with its own currency, the other Communist.  Yes, people, Communism still exists though today the word “dictatorship” is more commonly used.  Either way, Hong Kong is considered part of China.

What I had cleared with my credit card company, was that I would be travelling to China on a certain date.  But remember, I traveled three days earlier than I was scheduled, and unknowing to the fact, that Hong Kong would be considered separate from China.  Two different facts than I had presented to my credit card bank.  And it made a difference as the bank killed my credit card after trying to check into the hotel.

That is why, when I overheard the news about protests at the Hong Kong airport, and many countries issuing warnings about travel to Hong Kong, I wanted to find out more what was happening.  And though Hong Kong is on the other side of the world, the events occurring right now should be of concern to Americans.  Because the people of Hong Kong are fighting for one thing and one thing only, their freedom.

For the most part, protesters have been peaceful, just numerous in size and gathering.  Admittedly, there have been reports of some clashing between authorities, and at least five deaths recorded (all suicides).

As I said, Hong Kong, while part of Communist China, is considered a “free country”.  The issue at hand, is that China wants to issue an extradition policy that would result in offenders in Hong Kong, being extradited to mainland China to face their charges.  Again, China is Communist, and their courts and punishments are often at the center of human right violations.  And this is what the people of Hong Kong are fighting to prevent.

I am sure that there have been other issues between Hong Kong and China, but this is one that is grabbing international headlines.  Given China’s size and power, it is likely that the policy will be instituted, which will only be another chip away at the democracy that the people of Hong Kong have been enjoying for so long.

I have so many happy memories of Hong Kong.  And having been through the airport, I have a crystal clear image of the chaos and crowds now filling the airport.  The islands of Hong Kong, yes, they are islands, are beautiful with the architecturally unique skyscrapers, peaceful temples and statues, all the while an excitement of many other big cities.

I hope that this current crisis in Hong Kong gets resolved, and resolved as peacefully as possible.  But as the people of Hong Kong will tell you, freedom is worth fighting for.

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