(This essay was originally published by The Newport Daily News on October 11, 2018.)
Dear Readers, I am stunned to look at my calendar and realize I shall this month reach the distinguished age of 70. Tell me how this can be.
I have seen so many things: the sunrise over rice paddies in South Korea, horses running wild in the high desert in New Mexico, the majestic, soaring cathedral in Cologne, sting rays off the Grand Cayman Islands, Trafalgar Square in London, the Green Mountains of Vermont, the church where Martin Luther protested against the Roman Catholic Church, the chambers at Dachau, the statue of David in Florence, and the Swiss Alps.
I have ridden on the wonderful, winding Rhine River in Germany, Lake Winnipesauke, NH, the canals in Venice, the Caribbean, the battleship Iowa, and the canals of Amsterdam.
I have experienced so many thrills: the birth of three children and the pleasure of watching all three have their own children. I have wrestled with all my grandsons and bounced all my granddaughters on my knee. I have served our country at home and for seven years abroad—for six in Germany and for one in South Korea. Here at home I have lived with and have come to know the people of Virginia, Georgia, New York state, and Washington, DC. Because of my time abroad, I have been immersed in two other cultures and came to know them. This has given me great perspective on our American culture, the strong points but also its weak points. One can gain great insight in to one’s own country by living in another.
I have learned that in the grand choice we must all face between people and things, I have taken the former and it has served me well. In my experience a focus on things and stuff leads to the desire for more stuff, and more stuff. One can launch into infinite comparisons between one’s own stuff and the stuff of others. There is no future in this. Greg Mortenson in Three Cups of Tea was correct: human relationships are most important.
The ancient Greeks were correct in seeking balance. One of the two most frequent responses from their authoritative oracle at Delphi was meden agan: nothing too much. And then there are the immortal words of Miss Piggy: Never eat more than you can lift.
Speaking of eating, I have eaten eggs, grits, and biscuits in Georgia, ribs in St. Louis, kimchee in Korea, shrimp and grits in New Orleans, Schnitzel mit pommes frites und ein Bier in Germany, pasta in Positano, Italy, and Johnny Cakes and Macoun apples here in New England.
I thank the American citizen and system for providing not only my undergraduate education at West Point, but also my graduate education at Johns Hopkins University and the Naval War College. West Point changed me not only from a young citizen to a soldier but also from a boy to a man.
I thank my immediate and extended family—mostly deceased—and community in Hasbrouck Heights, NJ, for the support, nurture, and examples they provided me. I believe that solid families and communities are the incubators not only for men and women of character but also for good citizens—the lifeblood of a successful civilization. If America is to sustain itself it must restore more of our broken families and communities. As a country then, we shall have the foundation, character, and courage to make the right decisions about our future.
I thank my undergraduate students at Salve Regina University for their attention and eagerness to learn, for keeping me young, and for still laughing at my jokes.
I thank you, my readers, also for your attention, your faith, and your kind words about my essays these past seven years of writing for this newspaper. I hope it shall continue for another hundred.
As a citizen, I still believe in duty, honor, country and in America as an exceptional country. I agree with Senator John McCain in his final letter to us all: “Liberty, equal justice, and respect for the dignity of all people….” “We are citizens of the world’s greatest republic, a nation of ideals, not blood and soil.” “We have helped liberate more people from tyranny and poverty than ever before in history….”
He ended with words of inspiration: “Do not despair of our present difficulties. We believe always in the promise and greatness of America because nothing is inevitable here. Americans never quit, we never surrender, we never hide from history. We make history.”
Fred Zilian (zilianblog.com; Twitter: @FredZilian) is an adjunct professor at Salve Regina University, an opinion contributor for The Hill, and a monthly columnist for The Newport Daily News.