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Observations: Do they really represent us?

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image From the U.S. Capitol Rotunda: How can anyone work here and not be moved to do their best for this nation? What would this man think of us? Photo Mitch Traphagen

Contrary to growing conventional wisdom, there are good people in Congress but those good people need to start doing more...


A man who owns 28 poison ivy-eating goats, domesticated ruminants that were reportedly popular with tourists, removed them from their volunteer, do-good task at the Gateway National Recreation Area at Sandy Hook, New Jersey. With the government shutdown, the owner of the goats felt that the federal government would not be able to take care of them. The recreation area is among the hundreds of federal parks and areas that were closed last week with the shutdown.

So basically, the United States of America is believed, perhaps rightly so, to be unable to care for some goats. Now consider that this nation is the world’s most powerful country, a superpower.  How well do those two memes square up? We are embarrassing ourselves, to say the least.

There is little of anything good that could be said of Washington, DC these days. Our elected representatives have failed us in dramatic (overly dramatic, if you ask me) fashion. Party before country has become the norm and money is everything. Forget about all that “of the people, by the people, for the people” stuff. President Lincoln is gone. These days, we the people don’t appear to mean jack.

I know there are good people in Congress — I’ve met them. There are even at least one or two right here in the Tampa Bay area. But good people and Congress don’t seem to be a mix that’s working today. The lunatics are now apparently running the asylum.

Despite that the world thinks we’ve gone mad, despite that our elected so-called leaders are putting our nation and thousands of innocent lives at risk through cancelled clinical trials for cancer treatments to those wondering how they will put food on the table without a paycheck, I still believe that people are inherently good. The headlines just seem to favor the greedy, the lunatics and the power-hungry. But that’s not who we are.

Jay Russell was driving to work in the predawn darkness on a lonely country road in Kansas. Along the way, he was surprised to see a woman walking along the highway. She had apparently gotten a ride to work at 5 a.m., and was laid off by 5:15 a.m., too late for a ride home. By 6:30 a.m., she had walked five of the ten miles home. Jay drove her the rest of the way. He stopped, he got involved, and he went out of his way to help someone he didn’t know.

In a suburban Minneapolis Dairy Queen, a 19-year-old manager noticed that a visually impaired customer had dropped a $20 bill on the floor. Before he could pick it up to return it to the customer, he saw a woman picking it up. But instead of returning it, she slipped the bill into her purse. He told her to give the money back. She refused and he refused to serve her. And then he walked over to the visually impaired customer and gave him a $20 bill from his own pocket, telling the man he had dropped it.

Mariella Smith and her husband Tres, both of Ruskin, were traveling in Turkey recently. While seeing the sights in the city of Antalya, Mariella decided to see a mosque. All visitors are required to remove their shoes before entering and little cubbies are provided for that purpose. Upon leaving, she noticed that her shoes were gone. Someone had stolen them. They were in the middle of a very large city with a long walk to their hotel and she had no shoes. While she was standing out in the street barefoot, lamenting her problem with her husband, a woman wearing a Muslim style headscarf and a long dress overheard their conversation. The woman ducked into her shop and pulled out a pair of shoes. She gave them to Mariella. 

“They were old leather mules, well-worn but comfy — that fit me well,” Mariella said.

The woman refused payment for the shoes. Mariella bought a new pair at a shoe store and made the effort to return the shoes to the woman, thanking her in Turkish, “Tesekkur ederim.”

The two women, with lives worlds apart in every sense, shared a smile together. In this case, two women, both with good hearts, found each other in a time of need. Despite what you may read or think, the world is not a bad place.

All of the above are small acts in the big picture, perhaps, but all are telling that not everyone is out merely for themselves.

Compare all of that with the talking heads we see sniping each other on the nightly news. The Founding Fathers designed the means to enact or remove legislation but they most certainly did not see this crop coming. Enough already. Contrary to growing conventional wisdom, there are good people in Congress but those good people need to start doing more — they need to step up to the plate, despite the fact that the pitcher on the mound is wild and crazy enough to hit them rather than honestly throwing the ball over the plate. Right now, Congress is just an embarrassment and worse, it is actively flushing this great nation down the toilet in the name of pride and party politics.

The stories above show people stepping up to make things better, saying to strangers, “I have your back.” Congress needs to try that. They need to start putting we the people and this nation ahead of themselves. Jay, Mariella, you, your children and grandchildren deserve better than what we are getting from some of them.

I know that people are inherently good; I am living proof. In my life, I’ve had far more people help me than hurt me.

Somehow those in power need to be reminded just what it is they are doing, just who and what they are representing: good and decent people like you in a great nation like this.

Perhaps it was, as the New York Times reported on Monday, best summed up in the Senate chamber by Chaplain Barry Black, a former U.S. Navy Rear Admiral, in the opening prayer: We acknowledge our transgressions, our shortcomings, our smugness, our selfishness and our pride. Deliver us from the hypocrisy of attempting to sound reasonable while being unreasonable.


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