Yearly Archives: 2012

Forty years ago, on December 31, 1972, Pittsburgh Pirates rightfielder Roberto Clemente perished in an airplane crash, on a fateful mission to deliver relief supplies to Nicaraguan earthquake victims.  Why was Clemente on the plane?  Author David Maraniss wrote that  Clemente wanted to ensure the supplies were not stolen by the Somoza dictatorship.

Roberto Clemente had been my hero long before this final humanitarian effort of his.  It wasn’t his clutch hitting or rifle arm that inspired me — though like thousands of other boys, I always had Roberto in mind when I threw the ball in from the outfield. Rather it was Clemente’s heart, pride and sense of purpose I admired most.  He set an example not how to achieve greatness but how to be great.  ”Any time you have an opportunity to make things better and you don’t, then you are wasting your time on this Earth,” Clemente said.

December 31 should be known as Roberto Clemente Day, a day we remember to challenge ourselves to do something great, like Roberto, for those in great need.

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One summer, when I was 8 or 9 years old, a girl was visiting her grandmother just up the street from my house in Western Pennsylvania.  Her name was Ellen.  Her grandmother’s last name might have been Ruskin.  The only things I remember about Ellen are coloring in coloring books on her grandmother’s sun-porch, her sandy-colored hair, and ice-cream or popsicle stains on her T-shirt.  Ellen’s that is.

Ellen: if you remember this and if you care to admit having a bow-legged, pointy-headed playmate down the street, please leave a comment.  I have no agenda in doing this little experiment other than seeing whether the world is as small as they say.  If you, Ellen, granddaughter of kindly Mrs. Ruskin of Clen-Moore Boulevard, happen to Google yourself now and again, you have a moderate chance of finding this little nugget.

Faithful readers of The 100 Billionth Person: if Ellen ever discovers this and comments, you and the rest of the internet will be the first to know.  It will probably be because she searched for “bow-legged pointy-headed kid.”

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• When you hear someone has died of “natural causes,” don’t believe it.  The true cause is unblessed sneezes.  Think how many times you sneeze when no one is around to bless you.  After a while, they add up.

• The parting gesture made by a losing political candidate to his disappointed crowd should henceforth be known as “the wave of the futile.”

• The Inuits supposedly have several different words for snow, reflecting its importance in their culture.  Americans have lone gunman, deranged gunman, heavily-armed gunman, and too many other ways to describe something we shouldn’t need to.

• I have existed on this planet for almost 60 years now.  There is not enough space on this page to list all of the Arab-Israeli wars and conflicts that have taken place since I was born (but you can see the list here).  Middle East peace in my lifetime?  At this pace, doubtful.

• Same-sex marriage is legal in eight states and the District of Columbia.  Over 42 million people reside in these states and enjoy the right (if not all the privileges) to marry the person of their choice.  That is only 13.6% of the U.S. population.  Long road ahead.

• Life is too short to drink yesterday’s coffee.

• First we give our babies thrill-rides by hoisting them way up in the air.  Then we surprise them with games of peek-a-boo.  Then we fool them with stories about Santa Claus and flying reindeer.  Then we make them cry when Frosty the Snowman melts.  No wonder they don’t trust us when they grow up.

• The extent to which “you are your brother’s keeper” is humanity’s essential question.  That each person answers it his own way implies there is no universal answer.  Shall it be, “From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs” (Louis Blanc, 1839, and Karl Marx, 1875) or “He who does not work, neither shall he eat” (2 Thessalonians 3:10)?  Is my “brother” the person related to me, the person next door, the person who lives in my city or country, or the person of another color and culture halfway around the world?  Do I seek him out or wait for him to come to me?  And how much of my time and resources do I offer?  How an individual answers these questions is largely what defines him.

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