Sunday, May 19, 2013

REFLECTIONS ON RACE: A JOURNEY

    Awhile back, a U.S. Supreme Court Justice questioned the need for the Voting Rights Act, now that we have a Black president. The ramifications of such a statement are stunning and if nothing else, seemed to demand serious discourse to close the ever-widening gap that divides the body political. But it’s been my experience that argument rarely leads to agreement where such discussions are concerned, so there’s no way I’d step into that fray. Not here, at any rate. However, it did prompt me to reflect upon my own life where matters of race are concerned, and what I’ve learned upon the way.

    I spent my younger years in the Pacific Northwest. Swedes and Norwegians abounded. Blonde hair, blue eyes and porcelain skin were the order of the day. Fine people, all, for the most part, but most definitely White. I do not recall even seeing a person of color until a trip to Texas, when I was ten or so, brought me face-to-face with the realities of a Black and White world. My mother, siblings and I took a bus trip to see my grandparents in the town where Mama had been raised. There was a layover in Dallas and entering the Greyhound Bus Depot was like a step into foreign land. I wasn’t in Washington anymore.

    First to greet my eyes were the water fountains, clearly marked so as to assure no one could mistake which one was which. “Whites” one sign said, and nearby, “Coloreds”. Restrooms were similarly designated. Whites and Coloreds, Men and Women. We entered the one that said White Women, my brother being young enough to join Mama, my sister and me. There we languished, awaiting the bus to Denison. It was a big room with high ceilings, hard wooden benches and cold hard floors. There was nothing friendly or inviting about it, and I may have wondered if the Colored Women restroom was similarly uninviting. Surely it could not have been worse. I'm guessing now that I was wrong about that.

    But it was the shock brought by my introduction to the Ugly Face of Racism that had the most long-lasting effect.

    The last leg of our journey to Grandma and Grandpa’s house was on a city bus. When we boarded, my sister Margaret, 16 and an about-to-be teenage rebel of the first order, headed down the aisle toward the back of the bus, suitcase in hand. Mama’s alarmed expression told me there was trouble afoot.

    “Margaret!” she called in a stage whisper, then upped the volume to get my sister’s attention. “Margaret!”

    True to form, Margaret’s expression was surly. “What?” she growled, but did not slow down.

    “You need to get back up here with us!” Mama ordered. “You can’t sit back there.”

    “Why not?” my sister asked.

    The exchange was getting attention from the other passengers, who watched with interest.

    “Because,” Mama said, “in the South, only Coloreds sit in the back of the bus!”

    Whereupon, Margaret turned around, stomped back to the front, and fairly shouted, “Well, I’m sure as heck glad I don’t live in the South!”

    Years later, the full import of Coloreds in the Back of the Bus was brought home to me when national attention was drawn to a woman who refused to give up her seat on a bus in Alabama to a White man. Only then did I understand that assigning Black human beings to the rear of a common form of transportation went far beyond that. Blacks were required by law to turn over their seats to White human beings who wanted to occupy that space. A real head shaker, that one.

    But as my mother often told me, unless I’d been raised in the South, there was no way I could understand what it was like, living among the Coloreds.

    And Margaret’s words would ring in my head. “I’m sure as heck glad I don’t live in the South!”

    The older I got, the more I knew about my parents’ own and mostly well-hidden racism, and the less I liked it. We relocated from Washington to the outskirts of Denver. The school I attended was in a small school district, decidedly White, but there came the day when a kid of a different color joined the student body. He didn’t stay long, no surprise, I suppose, given the lack of acceptance he received from his fellow students. I’ve always felt badly about that particular turn of events, but the bottom line was, back in those days, a White girl simply did not interact with a Black boy, even anything as innocent as brief eye contact.

    Through the years, race relations in the South were evolving at a fevered pitch. The brave lady who would not give up her bus seat to a White springboarded a series of actions that were to change that Ugly Face of Racism, or at least drive it underground. The world watched as schools were segregated by force, which included armed guards escorting Black students to their classrooms. White students protested outside, vocalizing their objections in no uncertain terms. One Little Rock High School girl wearing a poodle skirt, her hair in a pony tail, her expression one of contempt and hatred, was interviewed by a reporter. “You’re such a pretty young lady,” he remarked. “Why are you so angry?” “Because,” she snarled, “I’m not going to school with no N-----rs!”

    But, unlike the Black boy who quickly exited my high school, those Black students in Little Rock and other Southern towns did not walk away. They stayed, Separate But Equal a thing of the past, and eventually pretty young White girls and their fellow White classmates did indeed go to school with Blacks, and who knows—unlike me in that Denver suburb school, they may have even talked to them. It took marches and beatings by cops and attacks by dogs and fire hoses, but the protestors kept their eyes on the prize and they prevailed. The Ugly Face of Racism remained, of course, but it no longer wrote the script for life in the South.

    With the passage of time, I became fully aware of the Black and White of my family dynamics. Daddy, bless his soul, had only disdain for Coloreds. It seemed a contradiction, given he was a Christian, a deacon in the Baptist church we attended, taught the men’s Sunday School class, served communion, led in prayer at church gatherings, and insisted we have family devotions each night. But the truth was out there—Daddy had no use for Coloreds. Oh, he thought they could be saved, but he was convinced they would have a separate place in heaven after they went to be with the Lord.

    We had conversations about this, during which came to understand the depth of my father’s racism and the underlying reason. Whites were superior, period. No matter the success of Coloreds, their accomplishments, intelligence, financial status, place in history, fame, contributions to society, they were still Coloreds, inferior to Whites. Period.

    When this fact about Daddy was imprinted on my brain, I avoided further discussions on the topic of race. Again, argument rarely leads to agreement, and besides, I told myself, my parents were raised in the South, where their racism was imprinted on their brains, set in stone for a lifetime. Silently, I thanked them for moving to Washington from Oklahoma when I was an infant. I wondered if, had I spent my childhood in the South, I might not have been that poodle-skirted pony-haired girl consumed by hatred, declaring I wasn’t going to go to school with “no N-----s”.

    Or, maybe I’d have joined with those who marched for freedom and equality for all. I’d like to think so, but I was far removed from that arena with all its attendant horrors, and could only watch the horrifying events unfold on a television screen. Blacks and Whites arrived from other states to join the fight. When I heard they rode in on charter buses, I thought, “I’ll bet they didn’t make the Blacks sit in the back!” Recalling the incident so many years before on that bus to Denison, I could not suppress a tiny smile.

    When the TV series "Roots" aired, I and I am sure millions of others had our level of consciousness raised about the Ugly Face of Racism that was Slavery. I’d read enough to know it was a factual if toned-down depiction of that scourge on our nation’s history, so when Daddy asked me, regarding Roots, if I thought Slavery was really all that bad, I said, my voice tinged with sadness, “Daddy, it was much, much worse.” I could only hope my words touched a nerve with him, but somehow I doubted it. Coloreds were, after all, inferior to Whites. Period.

    I need to make it clear my parents’ racism did not affect my love and regard for them. It was, in a way, the least of their faults when it came to our family dynamics. Accepting people for who they are can be a long-term project, with feelings ebbing and flowing like the tides. I took care of my parents in their later years, setting aside the issues that may have divided us. My sister maintained her Teenage Rebel status far too long into adulthood. When she at last overcame the inner pain that plagued her, she opted for good mental health and repairing broken family relationships. She died in a traffic accident, far too young, but by then had left us with a ton of positive memories. One of my favorites was her outspoken objection to not being allowed to ride in the back of that bus to Denison. She was no racist, that was for sure, and I have wondered if her path was set the day she declared she was glad she didn’t live in the South!

    My own path when it came to equality took twists and turns along the way. It was marked by blatant discrimination against women—equal pay? Forget it. Equal opportunities in the job market? Help Wanted Female, Help Wanted Male anyone? While I never marched in the streets or burned any bras, I was subject to that kind of discrimination in spades, so to speak, and I greatly admired those women who fought that good fight that finally brought about, for the most part, Equal Rights for Women. I was grateful to share in its benefits.

    I was also grateful that my parents, biased as they were, taught me to think for myself and reach my own conclusions. It didn’t take long, thankfully, for me to realize how awful it would be to be hated, discriminated, diminished, scorned and treated with disdain simply because of one’s color—the one immutable fact of life that cannot be changed. The ability to take pride in one’s efforts and accomplishments stripped away because you are Black. Martin Luther King, Jr. said it best—his dream was that we should be judged by the content of our character, not the color of our skin.

    I do not claim to be totally free of bias, even now. It could rear its ugly head unbidden, without me even understanding where it came from. But I can honestly say, or I hope I’m being honest, that for me a person’s race does not define who he or she is.

    If I do judge, it is those who do let that make a difference, and sadly, in spite of the strides and hard-fought battles for freedom and equality, the Ugly Head of Racism seems once again to be rearing itself over our country. I am appalled at the rhetoric: Slaves should have been grateful that their White masters provided them with all that wonderful lodging and food? Blacks should be subjected to what amounts to a poll tax to be allowed to vote? Schools should be segregated?

    And now that we have a Black president, voter rights laws should be struck down?

    Sorry, Mr. Supreme Court Justice, but for me you have just become that Ugly Face of Racism. Wish I could get in touch with my father, now that he’s been in heaven a few years and doubtless realizes everything he thought about “Coloreds” was wrong. I suspect he’s walking the Streets of Gold side by side with them. I’d have him send you a message from the God he served so faithfully all during his life:

    You are dead wrong, Mr. Supreme Court Justice. Rule on the side of truth, okay? As Jesus said, it will set us free.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

DIARY OF A WISE WOMAN...ETC.

DIARY OF A WISE WOMAN WHOSE DOGGED DETERMINATION AND ABILITY TO BEAR BURDENS SETS HER APART FROM…WELL, PRACTICALLY NO OTHER WOMAN WHO’S SURVIVED CHILDHOOD, ADULTHOOD, MOTHERHOOD, WIFEHOOD, NEIGHBORHOODS AND WORKPLACEHOOD—WHICH I’M SURE ISN’T EVEN A WORD.

When I was about nine years old, I began to chronicle my life, writing chapters for each awesome and stunning event as it transpired. Nowadays, it might have been a best seller. I mean, who could resist a book with an entire chapter devoted to “Glasses”? That covered the time when I was ten and a school-sponsored eye test discovered my eyesight was definitely problematic. A subsequent diagnosis revealed I was near-sighted and had astigmatism. Glasses were prescribed to remedy the condition, and for me, it was an episode worthy of an entire chapter in my autobiography, along with enthralling accounts titled “Second Grade”. “Our Cat Midge”. “The Time I Joined in Teasing a Classmate and Hated Myself for It”. “Third Grade: Gosh, I Miss Second Grade!” “I Follow the Lord in Baptism.” And then, of course, “Glasses”.
I was so excited that I had been prescribed eyewear I figured everyone I encountered would share my enthusiasm. Of course they did not, and in fact, most of those within my circle of family and acquaintances did not even notice. I would preen, grin, blink wildly behind those lenses and fondle the frames to call attention to this new addition to my face. Beyond the occasional, “Oh, look, it’s Four Eyes” from cousins around my age, it soon became obvious that for anyone but me and I suppose my parents, who had to pay for them, glasses were not a pivotal moment in my existence. “Glasses” became one of the shorter chapters in my life story.
Another lesson I learned was that those who cared about me were few and far between. Since my autobiography generated so little interest, I took to writing the story of a spunky little orphan girl in the wild, wild west and the challenges she faced on stage coach rides, eluding bad guys on horseback, and chewing wax. Yes, chewing wax, which in my endless pursuit of knowledge I learned was what people did prior to the advent of chewing gum. Later on, I became aware of chewing tobacco, but of course my spunky-yet-righteous heroine would have disdained popping a wad of tobacco leaves in her mouth and chomping away. Don’t know if the word “yucky” had reached the lexicon back in those days, but I’m sure the term “ladylike” was well established by then. Remember “Godey’s Lady’s Book”? It set the standard for refined women of the era. Since the editor’s model was Queen Victoria, it follows that females chewing tobacco would have been greeted with horror and immediately ostracized from the social circles to which they aspired.
Thus it was that my little orphan navigating the wilds of the west popped wax into her mouth rather than a chaw of hoobastank, as the tobacco was also known. Other details of her life were carefully recorded in my narrative, but I confess that to this day, I do not recall her name.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Thoughts on Letting Go

Recently I read an article by a Writers Digest editor on the topic, “Letting Go”. I was at once reminded of Philip Roth’s novel titled Letting Go, which I read eons ago and found to be a disturbing story with characters I could neither relate to nor begin to understand. A friend of mine, a college professor, had loaned me the book. When I finally worked my way through it, by then on the verge of a major depression, I asked my friend why the hell he recommended it. Or words to that effect. He replied that what he found so interesting was that here were these characters going through all these traumatic experiences and at the end of the book they hadn’t changed at all. In other words, what could have proven to be life-altering episodes made not a whit of difference in terms of the way they looked at or conducted their lives. Like I said—depressing!

At that time, the only other book by Philip Roth I’d read was Goodbye Columbus, which was made into a movie that got a lot of attention because of actor Ali McGraw’s scenes featuring full frontal nudity. Pretty shocking back in the sixties, for sure, but it is worth noting her co-star Richard Benjamin did no scenes in the same mode. Guess movie audiences weren’t ready for that, although I’m thinking it might have generated a lot more female viewers. The thing is, Philip Roth went on to write a lot of novels far more shocking and depressing than the two I read early on in his career. My college professor friend, who also loaned me Sometimes a Great Notion, another downer in my opinion, was no longer in my life and probably wouldn’t have recommended any more of Roth’s books anyhow. Fool me once, I guess. In one of Roth’s book the protagonist was so obsessed by women’s breasts that he finally turned into one. That alone made me glad I’d put him on my don’t-bother-to-read list when I did.

But I digress! Back to the WD editor’s article. He believes in the importance of letting go. His point is the importance of not holding on to stuff that holds us back from achieving great things. He listed tangible effects, such as junk, old food, clothes, books and toys.

He went on to include some intangibles, things you can’t throw in a box and haul to the dump—e-mails, expenses, and last but not least, grudges.

Regarding e-mails, the editor is right on target. We can delete e-mails with a click of a mouse, and he went on to say he regularly deletes e-mails from his deleted folder, because he believes in deleting things that have already been deleted. That makes sense, of course—clutter is clutter, and our cyberspace deserves cleaning out just as much as the space we occupy.

As for expenses, these days cutting them becomes easier and easier, most of all because the price of everything is soaring into the stratosphere. The reasons for this unchecked inflation that drives ordinary people into borderline poverty are too many to discuss here and besides they make me very-very angry. Suffice it to say, expenses can be cut, though some creative measures as to methodology are required. I’m finding this as depression-producing as a Philip Roth novel, but I must say the phrase Letting Go has often proved in my case to be life-altering indeed.

Now as to grudges, the WD editor states (and I hope I’m not guilty of plagiarizing here, but his words resonate with me), a lot of people have done a lot of horrible things to me over the years. But I know I'm not perfect—none of us is, come to think of it--and I’m sure I’ve stepped on toes and hurt more than a few feelings through the years. If you have trouble with letting go of things, I hope you can at least put some effort into this one. Forgive people who do you wrong. One of the saddest facts of our life on this earth is that all too soon the moment can come when mending fences, reconciling differences and taking actions that would mitigate grievances is no longer given to us. Death may be the great equalizer, but it also slams shut the door that might have been the way to knit together ties that have become unbound. Anger, resentment and regret are typical to us as human beings, and often justifiable in many ways. But grudges can be counterproductive and soul-sucking by their nature, and Letting Go is called for, if for nothing else our own good emotional health.

Again, I quote the WD editor, who ends his article with these words: Letting go of things can be scary and intimidating at first, but once you start releasing yourself from clutter, it can get addictive. It's totally liberating!

Words of wisdom that could prove indeed life-altering, Philip Roth notwithstanding!

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Yet Another Poem!

Once again, my Muse has directed me to wax poetic. This one has a story behind it. Well, first of all, as one might guess, it touches on the subject of a long-term relationship--not one that's gone bad, but rather has a firmly entrenched communication gap that is likely neither unusual when it comes down to it, but is certainly not intolerable. It is, as they say, what it is. The really cool "rest of the story" has to do with a workshop I attended several years ago conducted by Oregon's own (at the time) poet laureate, Lawson Inada. His poetry and writings are more than worth the read, if anyone has time, but this incredible man in one hour generated a level of enthusiasm and love for poetry I had not before experienced. When I registered for the workshop, the write-up about it said that Lawson welcomed participants to bring their poetry to share. Now--I'm no poet, as this piece doubtless confirms, but to my amazement, Lawson asked me to share my piece, and lo and behold, he decided we would read it together. Talk about a moment etched forever in my mind, one that never fails to bring a sense of joy and awe whenever it is recalled. Lawson read one line, I read the next, and while he did not pronounce it the best poem he'd ever read and declare I was the next Sylvia Plath (not a bad thing considering her life), I shall be forever honored to have shared that brief time "on stage" with him as together we read my words. So--that's it, folks. Nothing earth-stopping and certainly not a pivotal event in the history of mankind, but for me...well, it sorta was! So here it is, for your wondering eyes to feast upon:

Failure to Communicate

I've heard I'm from Venus
And you are from Mars
And while I'd love to think we're soaring
Out among the stars
I have this notion, for better or worse,
That more likely you and I live in a different universe.
While I aim for Andromeda
You plant your feet on Terra Firma.
I talk
You don't listen
I listen
You don't talk
Some days I think I'll just a long walk
Off this short pier we've danced on for 40 some years,
Put an end to all the frustration and tears.
It sounds appealing, release from the turmoil,
But I confess for me it's mostly internal.
It's been so long-standing, perhaps it's too late
To change it now, our failure to communicate.
So I'll plant my feet on Earth's solid ground
Keep my eyes on the future, the place where I'm bound
And maybe some day, out among the stars,
Our souls might just meet
On Venus or Mars.

Anita Lanning

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Aunt Hattie's Sucrier

For several generations, what we’ve always called Aunt Hattie’s Sugar Bowl has been in my family. Aunt Hattie was my father’s aunt, his mother’s (my grandmother’s) sister. I have no clue as to how or when she obtained the bowl, or for that matter, how my parents came to possess it. At any rate, it languished, well-wrapped and seldom used, for many years. It is quite lovely, Aunt Hattie’s sugar bowl, with an attractive design and a lovely contour marked by two curved handles. The best way to describe it is exquisite. When I hosted my mother and father’s 50th and 60th wedding anniversaries, Aunt Hattie’s Sugar Bowl graced the reception table. A few years ago, a friend who is an antique dealer agreed to check out its history. The only identifier were the words on the bottom of the sugar bowl: “T&R Boote Waterloo Potteries Burslem Staffordshire England Makers to Queen Victoria”. My friend learned that T&R Boote’s Waterloo Potteries had closed in 1906, after which they made only ceramic tiles, so the piece may have dated back to around 1900, perhaps even earlier.

Awhile back I came across a website of a company which, for a nominal fee, appraises antiques online. I decided to go for it, and e-mailed a photo of the sugar bowl along with the written information. Before long, I had my answer:

"Aunt Hattie’s Sugar Bowl" is actually a T&R Boote Limited Waterloo Pottery Sucrier. Its date is Circa 1900. It seems T&R Boote Ltd was founded in Burslem, Staffordshire in the 1840s and this is a typical example of their wares from around 1900. This type of tea ware was produced in large quantities and so individual pieces are inexpensive at auction.

Its value? $10-$20

So—part of the mystery is solved! I still have no idea where or when my great-aunt, who I remember as being very kind to me when I was young, came to own the sucrier. But at least I know that it was one of probably a million such pieces, and therefore of little monetary value. I could shrug and say “it figures”, but value aside, this sucrier remains a family treasure I don’t intend to part with, and probably wouldn’t have even if its worth were considerably higher. I’ll keep it safe, and who knows? Perhaps one day my children will use it at their parents’ 50th anniversary. I’m glad I had the appraisal done, because it clarified what I think I’ve always known--the real value of Aunt Hattie’s Sugar Bowl is far more than monetary!

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Sky Sounds

On occasion my Muse gently encourages me to wax poetic. Sometimes I listen and obey. This is one of those times.

Sky Sounds

Wisps of clouds move across a bright blue sky
Harmonic trails in their wake

Sun rays and moon beams join the chorus
On their journey to earth's surface

I tune the reception of my heart to the frequency
Let the melodies engulf me, fill my soul

Where some see shapes in clouds, I hear only music
Sky Sounds reverberate, reach my longing ears

My spirit lifts to rest on those clouds and I listen
As Mother Earth sings a lullaby to her children.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

CARRYING OUT THE CODE

CARRYING OUT THE CODE
Recently I heard there are those who advocate replacing the United States Constitution with the Ten Commandments, the ones found in Exodus, Chapter 20. According to the Old Testament, God gave to Moses those commandments on Mount Sinai, engraved upon stone tablets. They were laws by which the Nation of Israel, God’s chosen people, were to abide henceforth, following their miraculous delivery from slavery in Egypt.

It occurred to me that replacing our Constitution, which has served us well for over 200 years, with the Ten Commandments could present some interesting challenges, especially when it comes to enforcement.
Let's take those Commandments one by one:

I. I am the Lord thy God who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery. Thou shalt have no other gods before me.
As documented in the book of Genesis, this is the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, so Christians, Jews and Muslims will have no problems when it comes to defining God. Other religions guaranteed the right to practice their beliefs in this country could present a dilemma for officials whose job it is to make sure the Commandments are obeyed. Perhaps the country's leadership could simply declare that all religious organizations be required to include in the written tenets that they worship the God of the Old Testament and subscribe to His commandments. The challenge would involve monitoring and enforcement. Would we have "No Other Gods" troops who patrol places like Buddhist temples to make sure they are not ringing bells, chanting, striving for Nirvana? And what about atheists? Perhaps "no other gods" would not apply to those who believe in no god at all. I can see where a new government agency would be necessary to sort all this out and make sure the letter if not the spirit of the law is followed.

II. Thou shalt not make for yourselves any graven image.
Well, here's a dilemma! Does graven mean as in a carving or a sculpture? Would paintings be included? What about the Cistine Chapel in the Vatican with its extraordinary painting by Michaelangelo, the one of God's finger touching Adam's in that representation of the Creation of Man? Would our leaders be compelled to demand, "Pope Benedict, tear down that chapel!"? Or perhaps, since this would be a U.S. law and thus not applicable to other nations, we could only declare that any prints of Michaelangelo's magnificent mural in this country would of necessity have to be destroyed. And what about pictures of Jesus? Christians believe that he was not only the son of God but was God incarnate; therefore, any representations of him--paintings, statues, crucifixes, could by law not be permitted. The Graven Image Police would be busy invading art galleries and churches seizing contraband ranging from Dali's "The Last Supper" in the National Art Gallery to life-sized crosses bearing a sculpted Jesus suspended above altars in sanctuaries throughout the land. When they are all gathered in one place, the Graven Image Police could set them afire, destroying the last vestiges of this grievous affront to the Second Commandment.

III. Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain.
Enforcing this one could well take care of the country's unemployment rate. From sporting events to traffic jams, the "Curse-Not Cops" will have limitless areas to patrol. Again, some clarification as to definitions might be in order, since certain frequently-uttered words and phrases do not specifically take the Lord's name in vain but could be called cursing nonetheless. Perhaps much as speeding along highways and byways can result in a citation or not--it's really up to the law enforcement officer patrolling the roads--the Curse-Not Cops can use their discretion as to whether or not to cite the offender. Warning tickets might be a good start, since word will begin to get around about the seriousness of the offense and affect widespread behavioral changes. And since jails might be getting pretty jammed up as a result of other Ten Commandment infractions, the Curse-Not Cops could carry bars of soap with them and simply wash out the offenders' mouths. That'll teach 'em!

IV. Remember the Sabbath Day to keep it holy.
Again, the issue of definition arises. Jews practice the Sabbath from sundown Friday until sundown Saturday. Christian denominations tend to stick to Sunday Sabbaths, if you don't count Saturday evening masses, Wednesday night choir practice and prayer meetings, Thursday night young people's, Tuesday afternoon ladies Bible studies, and then there's Sunday School, Sunday night services and once-a-quarter business meetings, usually on Sunday nights. Oh, and then there are the Seventh Day Adventists, a Christian denomination that meets on Saturdays, as do most Muslim mosques. These differences could be addressed by focusing on the "holy" part, expanding on the Commandment by making businesses close every Saturday and Sunday so Christians, Jews and Muslims alike are not tempted to engage in unholy activities such as shopping, eating out at restaurants or gassing up their vehicles for Sabbath-Day drives. The complete list will have to be drawn up to be all inclusive. A committee could be formed to address this issue, made up of priests, ministers, Rabbis and Imams. Of course, no atheists, Buddhists or Zoroastrians need apply, and it can only be hoped they will find some reason to rejoice in the significant curtailment of activities available to them during those very long weekends.

V. Honor thy father and thy mother.
What a boon to mankind this will be! The "Honor Thy Father and Mother" enforcement squad will be one of the most popular of the Commandments Brigade. Every parent will have them on speed dial. Kids will quickly learn to control their tendency to mouth off at their folks, since the instructions God laid down on this topic later on (Exodus 21) specifies that anyone who curses his/her father or mother must be put to death. It's a given that children would not dare deck Mom or Pop, that would just be wrong, but it also would be, as Exodus 21 says, cause to be put to death.
At first glance, this Commandment seems pretty straightforward, but as codified down the line, there's more than meets the eye. Death to our offspring who talk back might seem a bit severe, but then again, knowing what's at stake if the Commandment is broken could go a long way toward inspiring children not to break them. Or at very least, more than once. Not to mention, siblings would most likely experience a rapid learning curve.

VI. Thou shalt not kill.
Short and to the point, and who would argue that this is not one of the most important of the Commandments. Why, it might even have been included in the U.S. Constitution. There certainly is a huge body of law covering this subject. But "thou shalt not kill", hanging out there by itself, could seem a bit ambiguous. We make the automatic assumption that it means not to kill another human being, but that necessitates a series of "What if?" scenarios. The New International Version of the Bible translates this Commandment, "You shall not murder," which couches it in more human terms and gives the "out", if you will, of addressing those "what ifs". The Lord clarifies it a bit in the next chapter of Exodus. "Anyone who strikes a man and kills him shall surely be put to death. However, if he does not do it intentionally, but God lets it happen, he is to flee to a place I will designate. But if a man schemes and kills another man deliberately, take him away from my altar and put him to death." Thus it seems that God made provision for incidents such as accidental deaths and self-defense. Later on in the Old Testament, Cities of Refuge were built where those who killed another without intent could escape to and live without retribution.

Enforcement of this Commandment seems rather uncomplicated on the face of it. Perhaps it would not even require a new layer of bureaucracy, amazing as that may seem. Possibly, the law enforcement entities now in place could continue to carry out their jobs as they have been--investigating crime, processing evidence, tracking down the bad guys, bringing them to justice. It's not clear if the law would be prosecuted differently or more effectively under the Ten Commandments than as it currently stands, except that Exodus 21 does talk about "a life for a life" in pretty unequivocal language. Judges and juries would be given no option but to mete out the death penalty to those who deliberately and intentionally kill, with the government carrying out the very act prohibited by the Commandment. A conundrum, indeed.

VII. Thou shalt not commit adultery.
Codifying this Commandment is easy. By definition, adultery is "voluntary sexual intercourse between a married person and a person who is not their spouse." Given the inclination to engage in adulterous relationships by government officials, high-profile publicity hounds such as actors and rock stars, and of course ordinary citizens around the country, enforcing this Commandment could necessitate a huge bureaucracy. The "Catch 'em in the Act" crew would be busy day and night, armed with cameras to document the nefarious deeds along with warrants for immediate arrests (just fill in the blanks with the offenders' names). Fortunately for most adulterers, the previous Commandment spares them the wrath of aggrieved spouses who might be inclined to dispatch them with all due haste and plead justifiable homicide. The penalty for breaking this Commandment, however, will need to be clarified early on. At one time in history, Jews stoned adulterers, although it seems it was just the female side of the offending couple who was put to death. Muslims, from all reports, still mete out that punishment. Christians among the populace rightly could be conflicted on the subject. Jesus not only forgave the woman caught in adultery, he further counseled that if a man lusts after a woman, he has already committed adultery in his heart. It's unclear if that would also be incorporated in the 7th Commandment, but seems doubtful that it would, at least until the time when the Thought Police Squadron is geared up and fully operational.

VIII. Thou shalt not steal.
Again, a law already on the books, so crime and punishment methodology is in place. Those accustomed to thoughtlessly palming the occasional paper clip, rubber band or pencil from their place of employment might be in for a rude awakening as details of this commandment are worked out, but the first time or two they're busted by the ubiquitous Theft Squad should prove sufficient to forestall any such future infractions. One could only hope those whose financial mismanagement recently bilked citizens out of millions of dollars in pensions and other investments might be held accountable for their actions.

IX. Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor.
I suspect a lot of time will be given over at first to the definition of "neighbor." If, however, the commandment is reduced to the lowest common denominator and stated simply, "Thou shalt not lie," the enforcement process will be greatly simplified. The False Witness Force would be on the job non-stop as soon as this commandment is codified, starting with, one would hope, the highest levels of government. Then they can storm IRS offices nationwide, where after endless hours poring through tax returns, the FWF can begin the task of rounding up and incarcerating approximately 80 percent of the populace. Jilted lovers will especially like this commandment, since those lying liars who swore, "Of course I'll respect you in the morning" would at last get their due.

X. Thou shalt not covet.
The Covet Cops will definitely be working overtime enforcing this one. Again, since the original commandment specifically refers to that which is our neighbor's, it might be well to simplify the definition dilemma by incorporating all Americans. Coveting would then be disallowed for the house, wife, ox, ass, man-and-maid-servant or anything that belongs to anyone. Period. And since the act of coveting is seldom overt, the ability to read others' thoughts will be required of the Covet Cops. Or--they could jump to their own conclusions based on the look in a person's eyes. Since wishing what someone else has were your own is a pretty common malady, it's safe to say an arrest of any person at any time could occur based on the fact that there's some coveting going on. Further, because the Ten Commandments pretty much declare all of us guilty as charged without having to go through the time and expense of a trial, that "innocent until proven guilty" business would be unnecessary. "You say you WEREN'T wishing Farmer Brown's ox was yours? Prove it!"
Clearly, the Ten Commandments present huge challenges not only to enforce but to follow. As Jesus said to the Pharisees, "Moses gave you the law, and yet you do not keep it." So as we can see, Commandment-breaking goes back a long way and there's not much reason to believe that instituting them instead of the Constitution would work much better. My recommendation is that we stick with the Constitution, as flawed and outdated a document as some believe it to be. The Preamble itself always gives me chills: "We the people of the United States, in order to form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America."

Then there’s the Bill of Rights, which affords all Americans the kind of freedoms unheard of in the world as it existed when those Founding Fathers penned the framework within which the new nation they were establishing would function and thrive. Maybe it would be prudent to heed that old saying, "If it ain't broke, don't fix it." Or that other old saw: "Be careful what you wish for. You might get it."