Saturday, March 28, 2015

Ted Cruz at Liberty University...one week later

I waited almost a week to write this. I know I tend to be emotional and passionate and I realized immediately how seeing Senator Cruz’ speech at Liberty University had affected me. So I waited.
I waited as the press tried to create a diversionary tactic with the whole “The Student Body was force to listen” thing. (The student body is required to attend ALL convocation services…not just this one. The scheduled speaker was Gov. Terry McAuliffe…no staunch conservative by any means.)  They said he was rehearsed. If by rehearsed, you mean, “without teleprompters, and speaking from his heart and not from his handler’s cue cards” than I guess he was rehearsed.
I waited until the din had died down and life here at Liberty had returned to normal. Six weeks until Commencement, building projects, customers for me to serve, etc.
My daughter is spending the weekend with some church friends, and so I have time to do the thing I love. To write. So here goes. My take on Ted Cruz’ speech at Liberty University and how it impacted me.
I suppose there should be a brief summary for those new readers of my blogs. Much of what I have to say here isn't as impactful if you don’t know my back story. So here it is:
I spent ten years in the mortgage industry. The last one was the beginning of a nightmare. The industry collapsed and then the economy collapsed and being in the mortgage business was like riding in the bow of the Titanic when it hit the iceberg…I took the hardest hit.
I spent the next 6 years, first stumbling around punch-drunk at the loss of my career, then my home, and then my self-respect. I lived in my car for 4 ½ of those six years because a guy in his mid to late forties, with only two years of a pre-med degree, and who had spent the last ten years of his life in an industry that was now all but gone, isn't the first guy hired in a bad economy. I slept in my car and showered at the county rec center. I did odd jobs. I shivered in the dark some times and walked for hours when there was nowhere to go to escape the horrible, overwhelming sadness, and shame of being a homeless man. But I had three things that kept me going and would not let me quit. My daughter, and my Faith, and the work ethic that being the grandson of immigrants built in me. I completed my  Bachelor’s degree through my alma mater (Liberty University) and their online program. I pressure washed driveways and washed windows and even built a chicken coop to earn some money. I shivered in the dark in the winter and sweltered in the summer. There were days when I could not look at my own reflection as I passed a shop window. I had folks who I thought were my friends abandon me, and folks who I didn't realize were such good friends reach out when I was ready to give up and encourage me.
I was too stubborn to quit, partly because I have always risen to the top, through hard work, and mostly because I knew my daughter was watching, and I’d be damned if I’d let her see me live out my days beaten by this world. So I fought on.
Six years after losing my home, almost to the day, I moved my daughter and I into our first real place to live. She had been living with her mom until last May when we moved to Virginia and I went to work for Liberty. So I understand struggle and I appreciate hardship and hard work and determination.
That’s my frame of reference as I write this. You needed to know that if you hadn't already…
     So I sat in Convo as Senator Ted Cruz announced his candidacy for President. I guess the first thing that occurred to me was that here I was, at 51 years old, experiencing history. How many people can say they have ever been there when a candidate announced his Presidential intentions? Not many. I was experiencing history and I knew it. Whether I vote for Senator Cruz remains to be seen at this juncture. But being there was special, and I wish the kids who whined about being “forced” to sit through it would realize this.
Now…my thoughts on the speech.
I reiterate, I don’t know yet if I will vote for Cruz. But his speech moved me to tears on several occasions and here’s why…it was American.
I am the grandson of immigrants on both sides of my family. Three of my four grandparents were born in Europe and my maternal grandmother was born here not long after her parents arrived. I grew up with the stories and the legends and the ethic and the deep, abiding, intrinsic love for this country that comes from being reminded how very lucky…how blessed, we are to be here.
Blessed.
You aren't supposed to say that anymore. You aren’t supposed to attach God’s favor or blessing to this land anymore. Liberals have hated it for years and nowadays, even “evangelicals” shudder at it. It’s so enlightened to argue that God never had His hand on this country, or we were never favored by Providence. Our very history would refute that, but we have shrunk from it nonetheless. Now, to be clear, we are not “favored nation” like Israel was. God did not make some pact with our founding fathers. But we were, without question, begun by Christian men who desired a land where CHRISTIANITY would be the predominant religion and the effects of that Faith would permeate society. We were never to be a Theocracy, but rather an “Evangelistocracy,” (my own word) a land where the free practice of Christian beliefs would be protected in such a way that it would influence our society and our government for good.
For about 190 years or so, this worked well. Somewhere in the late 50’s we drifted from this faith and our society began to change for the worse. We lost sight of right and wrong, good and evil. We lost sight of ourselves.
We lost connection to those immigrant stories that made up the fabric from which this nation was sewn. Stories like my own grandfather who was born on the boat on the way from the Ukraine. Or my paternal grandfather who stole aboard a freighter out of Gaeta with a forged birth certificate that said he was 16 when he was, in fact, only 13. He landed in Chester, PA, Processed through customs, and worked for the railroads for a while. During WWI, he returned to Italy to fight for the Allies, because he was ineligible to fight for the US Army. He stole a locomotive once, during an encampment and got busted down. He returned after the war, learned the plumbing trade, and met my grandmother in Philadelphia, where she lived next door to a singer by the name of Mario Lanza, married her and had 14 kids.
Fourteen.
I have an Aunt who ran away to join the circus. Yeah…that really happened. I have an uncle who played Delco Rough Touch with Vince Papale. I have an uncle who can grow a car by planting a handful of screws and some motor oil…he has the greenest thumb on earth.
We have stories. Stories of struggle and lack and poverty. But also of victory, and hard work and success. We felt loss and tasted victory. Those stories got me through the darkest six years of my life. Not the government. Not a handout. Not section 8 housing and an EBT card. It was hard. I hurt. I wanted to quit. But I had stories that made up my heritage and I chose to live up to them.
Last Monday, Senator Cruz stood before our student body and told his stories. His immigrant dad who escaped Cuba to find only opportunity. No handouts. No entitlement programs…only opportunity. But he seized it and made something of himself.
Senator Cruz’ mom hails from the same town I grew up in after my mother married and we moved from Philadelphia. She too came from a large immigrant family in Wilmington, DE. When the norms of society were against her, she too seized the opportunities and made something for herself that defied what everyone likely expected of her.
Opportunities.
In that inspiring speech, I never once heard about handouts, buyouts, sellouts, or entitlements. I never heard about what we were owed by the government. Except to get out of our way and let us succeed on our own.
I heard a man who lived the way I lived. Who worked for what he got and when he couldn’t get it, he didn’t whine, cry, or sue anyone. He just worked a little harder until he could get it.
I heard a man embracing the ethic my grandparents held to. The ethic I hold to. My grandfather died at 77 years old, having just gotten down off a roof he was repairing for a customer. At 77.
Ted Cruz spoke about returning us to a time when your pride was a good thing. When having a dream was only part of the story…working for that dream was the other part. He spoke of an America where the government listens to us. Listens to us. A government that is busy giving away the candy store is too busy to listen. They are working from the assumption that they know better what we need than we do.
He spoke of secure borders. Now listen…I have immigrant blood. But we all came here legally, respecting the sovereign borders of the US and we went through the system the way we were supposed to. I grew up in a neighborhood made almost entirely of immigrants. I love that thread of our fabric. But I want it to be handled properly…or we lose it all.
Ted Cruz’ story reminded me of my own, in so many ways. Maybe that’s why I fought back tears so many times as he spoke. Underneath it all, I heard a man who loves this country deeply…as I do.
When I say I love this country, it’s only because there aren’t any other words to use to describe it. I love this country. I cry at the National Anthem. I salute the flag when I see it. I thank every soldier I ever come across. I reflect on Memorial Day and Independence Day. I love this country.
I love the opportunities she affords. I love that, regardless of what liberals say, if you want to succeed here, you can find a way. Ted Cruz gets it. He wants us to be that country again. He wants me to succeed. He determines a successful government not by how many citizens are dependent on it, but by how independent its citizens are from it.
I was inspired. Inspired because I heard at least one politician who still has a deep abiding love for this country burning in his heart. I’m sure Ted Cruz is not perfect. But to me, that one thing…that DNA level love for America…is enough to overcome any shortcomings. And I was inspired because after six years of hell, I have sometimes wondered if I made the right choice. If living the hard life was the right thing. If maybe I shouldn't have gotten a section 8 house, an EBT card, and an Obama-phone. Ted Cruz reminded me that I made the right choice in the hardship I endured. 
Whether he wins election or not, his speech renewed some hope in my own soul. Hope that there are some people out there who still love this land like I do. Like my grandparents did. Hopefully, like you, the reader, do.

God Bless America.

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