ISIS is busy "radicalizing" the mentally or socially challenged worldwide via the internet. One of its consistent themes is that the U.S. is in decline as a heartless, materialistic infidel producing aimless and purposeless young people with disdain for the needs of others, especially the poor and the elderly.
ISIS is wrong and this column aims to prove it.
A week or so ago, the ambient air temperature in southern California dropped near freezing. Shortly after Thanksgiving, an 82 year old man named Ron Lallone sat warming himself next to a metal fire pit outside his mobile home in Calabasas, California. A member of the Coast Guard auxillary, Ron is beloved by all of his neighbors in the so-called "Calabasas Village mobile home park" that has been carved out of leased land in the drought stricken mountains outside LA.
Since retirement from the responsibility of park manager (an assignment Ron performed, it is sometimes whispered, with too much generosity to satisfy even considerate owners), Ron would welcome friend and stranger alike to his front porch. Ron's affable smile, obvious good heart, and inexhaustible tales of duty in war and peace seldom left the porch empty.
It can be hard for Ron to get around. The pain that accompanies needed, but costly and iffy, knee surgery is increasingly hard to mask behind Ron's "oh, I'm fine." Ron is a specialist in setting aside his needs for those of others. Sometimes, though, that left Ron a little short, like over the last few months when he reluctantly omitted paying the insurance on his 1970s mobile home or "trailer" as the more well-to-do denizens of nearby gated communities sometimes persist in referring to mobile units. The de-classe moniker is inaccurate since the homes manufactured in factory and assembled typically in two or three sections on-site, seldom move after being once located. Of course, it was imprudent of Ron to let his insurance go unpaid, but doing so allowed him to provide small kindnesses for his children and grandchildren as well as numerous daily acts of hospitality toward neighbors facing their own unexpected medical or personal needs.
And so it was, on the Sunday after Thanksgiving, Ron shared the warmth of his personality as usual, but on this occasion, he also offered a warming fire against a highly unusual cold front that has settled into the canyons. Climate change? Perhaps. If you asked Ron, he would give his measured opinion only after thoughtfully hearing your own. Ron's thinking easily revealed an intelligent, curious mind that was well-read in the books of the day. When the last neighbor had wandered away around 10:30 p.m. Ron went inside and sat down as his aching knees pleaded for what he thought would be momentary relief; deep sleep, however, quickly pushed aside that limitation. It was in the shroud and darkness of that sound sleep that tragedy lurked. The next sound Ron heard were the shouts and frenetic pounding of Justin Greenwald, a young man in his teens from a few doors away. Dazed, Ron went toward the sound, which was highly fortunate for his mobile home was engulfed in fire, and had but a scarce more time had passed, Ron would have too.
Gratitude for public service well-accomplished has seldom been articulated by our presidential candidates on the national platform, so let it not be absent in a story that would have been far more tragic had LAFD Engine Co. 68 not have responded in the timely and extraordinarily capable way it did. Even the relatively mild winds of that evening without smart containment could have devastated the park and well beyond.
You might say Justin and Ron are both "seniors." For Justin, 17, the description is his grade level in high school; for Ron, it the euphemism an aging population uses for "old guy." Nevertheless, in this terror-challenged time when ISIS recruiters portray America and the west generally as one in which the young often ignore or annoy the old, or vice versa, Justin frequently enjoyed quiet moments of conversation with Ron. The neighbors knew Justin to be a bright lad, and it is anticipated that some highly regarded college or university will soon be dispatching an acceptance letter to Justin. If there was any doubt of his merit of admittance, it is nonexistent now. Having spent the summer in Israel and the middle-east, Justin had personally witnessed what happens when misguided religious or ideological belief consistently obscures the singular truth of human nature: that if we are to make it collectively, we need to be there for others individually. Justin was there for Ron when fire nearly walked off with this beautiful life, and the university that is wise enough to admit him will be welcoming a true hero.
Ron is presently sleeping upon the pull-out sofa beds of his neighbors. He is very grateful. While he sheepishly accepts the few gifts of clothing and food immediate neighbors have been able to muster, he is understandably at a loss to know how, without insurance, he will be able to remove the debris from the land he leases from the park owners, let alone rebuild. That is the point of this short essay A man who represents so much of what is best in us, deserves that best in us to survive. An account has been established to receive assistance, and it occurred to me that a positive response to the immediate needs from the larger community is the most powerful rejection of the dark cynicism being propagated by ISIS.
In this, let us reaffirm what Eleanor Roosevelt said long ago: "Where, after all, do universal human rights begin? In small places, close to home - so close and so small that they cannot be seen on any maps of the world. Yet they are the world of the individual person; the neighborhood he lives in; the school or college he attends; the factory, farm, or office where he works. Such are the places where every man, woman, and child seeks equal justice, equal opportunity, equal dignity without discrimination. Unless these rights have meaning there, they have little meaning anywhere. Without concerted citizen action to uphold them close to home, we shall look in vain for progress in the larger world." Ron, of course, does not view the help of his neighbors as a right. Like most of us, he goes about his business on any given day in a spirit of independence and self-reliance. Yet, a nation honoring human right in those "small places, close to home" is more, not less, likely to extend a helping hand there in genuine times of need as well.
Helping another - during religious holidays or on an ordinary day -- is far more likely to bring peace on earth than walls along borders, the compelled registration or exclusion of those different from us, or the never costless "boots on the ground." To everything there is a season, and while the barbarism of San Bernardino or Paris sadly reveals how dependent every civilized nation remains upon force to defend itself against distant antagonists, the nearby opportunities to help Ron and others like him in need, supply the singular affirmation of "love thy neighbor," which is likely the only certain antidote to the fundamentalist hatreds.
Please give generously - even sharing "change" from a holiday purchase is welcome. An account for Ron has been set up via gofundme.com