Monday, October 17, 2016

A Full Life

Michael P Zissimos

October 18, 1984 - December 30, 2014
October 18th is my nephew's birthday. He would have been 32 years old. I do miss him. Not just because the empty chair at family gatherings, but because of who he was.

Mike had a heart for special needs individuals. He had worked with the special needs ministry at his church. He also helped brain-injured adults relearn computer skills at his prior position in a rehabilitation facility. In reading posts on his memorial page, I came to realize how many people he helped. He didn't talk about helping people, he just did it. Mike loved God and he showed it by loving people.

Mostly I spent time with Mike as we gathered formally for birthdays and holidays. We saw a lot of each other informally as well. His childhood home was only half a mile from our first home. In the summer we often walked to his house.

Our get-togethers continued after he grew up. We had each other over for dinner. We went to the Detroit Auto Show. We traveled to Chicago together to visit his cousins. We enjoyed the attractions of downtown Chicago, especially Shedd's Aquarium.

Mike was a Detroit sports fan through and through. Like all Detroit sports fans, we complained about the Lions. We enjoyed ballgames at Comerica Park and that one last Wings game together at Joe Louis Arena.

Mike was also an avid motorcyclist. He used every opportunity to ride. He was a member of a riders' group at his church.

Mike liked superhero movies and parties.  Though I'm a "wet-blanket" when it comes to parties, I dressed up as Clark Kent for his 30th.

Mike had a Greek heritage,  but was fond of only only one Greek dish...lamb chops. So from time to time, Uncle Alex barbecued lamb chops for Mike.

I learned about many of the good things in Mike's life after he was gone. The qualities that made him special. His heart of gold. The small and largely unknown acts of kindness. It seems that we only hear and appreciate the good qualities of a person when they are gone.

"Strange isn't it? Each man's life touches so many others."
- Clarence (It's a Wonderful Life)

Mike's life had meaning and value. He gave meaning and value to those who may have had no value to society or who may have felt they lost their value. He added meaning and value to my life. So how do we, how do I,  honor his memory?

Forgive now...we don't know if we will have another opportunity
Love now...we don't know how long we have with others
Live now... Don't wait until the future...we don't know if we have it.

Mike's life was short, shorter than it should have been, but it was a full life, because he loved.

Saturday, October 1, 2016

Why am I Here? Perhaps as a Warning

I am the son of a refugee. My father fled Poland in 1939 just days after it was invaded by Nazi Germany and Soviet Russia. Horse-drawn artillery and wooden biplanes had no chance against the mechanized forces of two world powers. He decided to flee to Romania. As fighter planes approached to strafe those fleeing, he dove into a ditch for cover. He felt the repeated thump of machine gun bullets impacting the ground. After the planes left and he felt it was safe to get up,  he arose to discover every other person in the ditch was dead. He just happened to be in the place that was between rounds.

I can't help but be a student of history, since my life is the product of it. It seems so ironic that I owe my existence to the rise of demagogue. Eighty-three years ago in Europe a man rose to power on the promise of restored national glory, renewed economic prosperity, and the defeat of foreign and domestic foes. He knew how to channel the public angst into wild-eyed devotion. Crowds were spell-bound before him. There was only one catch....enemies had to be named and destroyed. The rest is history, so to speak.

So pardon me when I sense a darkening cloud casting its shadow over our country. A demagogue has arisen who knows how to work a crowd. He has said he will "Make America Great Again".  He has blown by all boundaries of civility, all the lines that his opponents and predecessors would not dare cross. The truth of what he says does not matter. His character does not matter. That he has stiffed countless people that have worked for him does not matter. That he says outrageous things about minorities, women, and even veterans is excused as forthrightness. He has named our enemies which somehow all happen to be people of color. He has talked about mass-roundups, internment, and deportations. He has talked about the exclusion and public marking of religious groups. He has talked about legitimizing racial profiling and searches. He has talked about muzzling the press because "they say bad things" about him.

Some of us are going to vote for him because we believe in him. Some of us are going to vote for him because we despise "her". Some of us will vote for him because we are afraid. Some of us are going to vote for him because he has thrown us a bone about some issue dear to our hearts. Some of us are going to stay home because our candidate lost the primaries. Some of us will stand on principle and vote third party. We will say to ourselves, "so what if he gets elected, we will only have to put up with him for four or eight years. What have we got to lose?" Everything!

Let's not delude ourselves about constitutional limits and protections or that we are a nation of laws. Constitutions, amendments, and protections of the law operate under the assumption of  a collective good will. That if things don't go my (our) way, we will live to fight another day through the legal process and perhaps through a change of national conscience. In our past, universal suffrage and the Civil Rights struggle were able to advance in this way. In our past however, there have also been reversals:  the Japaneses internment, Communist witch-hunts, and the Kent State massacre, to name a few. It doesn't take much to throw constitutional protections out the window when it suits a collective national will. Just a little fear will do it.

So why then am I here? I very nearly was not. Perhaps I'm here as a warning. History does repeat itself.