The Fall used to be my favorite season. Filled with hope, it promises new beginnings. It is the time that students come back to school, bright eyed, full of energy, expectations and hormones. The theatre season also begins anew each Fall and we anxiously look for the new August Wilson, Wendy Wasserstein, or Charlie Smalls. But, lately autumnal memories have made the season bittersweet for me.
It was in the Fall over ten years ago that I watched as my father drown in the sewage spewing into his lungs from cancer. It was in the Fall, four years ago that we lost Alison,our oldest daughter, to an aneurysm which exploded in her chest after an operation. During another Fall our friend August Wilson died from liver cancer.
And this last week, though it is not quite Fall we mourned the death of Bill Cahir. His untimely death (are there timely deaths ?) under enemy fire in Afghanistan left our community bereft of a true patriot. He had been killed attempting to secure a safe environment for last week’s national election. Bill was an 86 graduate of State College High and 1990 honors grad from Penn State. At PSU he was a columnist for the Daily Collegiate, a newspaper writer, like myself, at the beginning of his career.
I met Bill and his lovely wife, Rene, last year when he was running for Congress in the Democratic primary. He didn’t win, finishing a respectful second in a three person race. Those who should know, say that had he chose to run again, he would have won. But, instead he chose to serve his country in a different way. A marine sergeant, he signed up for his third tour of duty in the Middle East. He went so that other people in other places might experience the fruits of Democracy, so that other children would have a reason to hope and a chance to dream.
Sometimes those of us who have issues with war in general and that war in specific, fail to pay attention to the sacrifices of our young heroes who answer the call to duty. It is hard to remember that while we protest the war, we should honor the warrior.
Last Sunday several hundred of us came to celebrate and honor a life that was very special. Painfully we embraced Rene, pregnant with two children who will never have a chance to know their father in the flesh. But, we as a community should make sure that we keep their father’s spirit alive. Those of us who teach, must teach our young that it is honorable to serve their country, their community and the world.
This Sunday just past we laid to rest another hero who has passed - Senator Ted Kennedy. He committed his life as did his sibling before him to make the world better for the children, all of the world's children. He fought for eduction, health care, justice and equality. He fought against war, bigotry, narrow-minded economic policies and ignorance. The difference between he and his brothers was that Ted was blessed with the opportunity to live a long and productive life so that he could actually, cultivate, nourish and harvest some of the ideas he planted. For 47 years he gave voice to voiceless and helped empower the powerless. He was our most important Senator ever. Obama would not be President without his support and I certainly wouldn't where I am without his committment and struggle to make change .
He did not do it alone. No one can. But, he often found himself in the minority in the Senator. But that did not discourage him. While others were running away from the label liberal, he embraced it.
So this Fall does not come with just promise. It is also filled with sad memories. But, yet I am no less filled with resolve. If you would have a better world, teach your children well, the poets tell us. As I prepare for yet another semester beginning I hear the voices of my father, Alison, August, Wendy, Charlie, Ted, Bill sing. They echo the words of Arthur Miller from an earlier era, yes, they say – teach and nurture the children but remember they are ALL our children