I got an early morning phone call today from my nephew. He said "Hi Uncle Rick, it's Ty." There was an ugly pause and then he said "I am calling to let you know Ron passed today".
Ron is my older brother. He and his wife live in Billings Montana. We talk on the phone often, but because of the logistics, I haven't see my brother in a long time. He has an extended family, most of whom live in Montana, so our families only see each other when there is a wedding or a death in the family.
I was speechless. Eventually I said "Wow, I am sorry."
Ty, my brothers youngest, is in many ways the patriarch of the Montana Elkin Family. Ron had three kids, a daughter who lives with her husband and three kids in Seattle. His oldest son Cory, also lives in Billings. Ron's daughter, Cameron, the oldest of the siblings, moved away years ago (presumably to escape the 'small town' atmosphere), has successfully carved out a niche for her family in the Great Northwest.
The circumstances surrounding the sudden and unexpected death of an otherwise healthy 73 year old won't be known for awhile. His wife Holly was away on business. When she couldn't get him to respond to phone and text messages, she asked a neighbor to check on him. Until a report is issued, we won't know what actually took his life.
But he had a great life. He and I had spent many hours reminiscing about our younger days. He was especially grateful for his loving parents and how supportive they had always been. Ron was the oldest son, and as we all know, first borns are often over-achievers. That is what he was, always a perfectionist, never satisfied with mediocrity. He had to be the best at everything. He was a clothes hog, always dressed well, always sharply creased slacks and penny loafers. He would wear a blazer to fly from Billings to Denver. He hated the way people wore sweatpants in airports.
I remember Ron wearing freshly ironed Madras button-down sports shirts to high school for years. Eventually the Madras ink-dyed fashion trend died out, but Ron never gave up his wardrobe. Twenty years later, the fad returned and he was back in business.
Ron never gained weight. I hated him for that. He could drink a six pack of beer a day and never feel bloated or gain a pound. I remember one time, when I was probably 10, Ron had his driver's license and had joined a car club. He had a bunch of the club guys over one weekend when the folks went skiing. I opened the refrigerator and low and behold it was full of Miller beer bottles!
Just then Ron came up behind me and said "You didn't see that!"
As kids, my brother protected me and shared adventures with me. Our family was very active and so we spent a good deal of time together. But as we got older, he went into high school sports, and I went skiing on weekends with my folks, we became estranged. When he went off to the University of Southern California in 1964, and I was becoming a high school hippie, we spoke less and less.
I was, on the other hand, avoiding Vietnam, voting for George McGovern and wondering off the proverbial 'white privilege' plantation. He worried about me.
But he was always there for me.
He was always the conservative lettermen, the successful businessman and the active family man, attending school and sporting events, birthdays and especially Christmas get togethers. When I graduated High School and was deciding where to go to college, he was the first resource I had. I didn't have any outstanding grades or achievements to get me into a prestigious school, but I wanted to go out on my own and live on campus. He told me to just go to Cal State Long Beach. It would serve my needs, be reasonably inexpensive and give me space to grow up.
He was absolutely right. I am certain I would have flunked out of any other school. I was able to stay in touch with my folks and local friends and still maintain my autonomy.
For the next eight years I immersed myself in the ski shop business in LA. Eventually I resented making the store owners lots of money so I sought to do my own thing. In 1977, when I moved to San Diego and we went into the ski business together, I was given complete autonomy to do whatever I thought necessary to make the business work. He provided the financing and the bookkeeping, but he trusted me to do the buying. I wonder if he ever really understood how much that meant to me…
Eventually he moved to Montana and semi-retired in a small ski resort community. He wanted to be involved with his kids as they grew up and also wanted to avoid the total, all consuming commitment required to be a top commercial real estate agent in Southern California. Most people thought he was crazy to walk away from such a lucrative market, but his instincts turned out be a good.
Rons marriage to Ann didn't work out, but I know they have maintained a healthy love for each other, and I know their kids all know that too. They have a great group of friends and family in Billings and around the country. Like our folks, Ron and I have always treasured our relationships with family and close friends.
So I lost my brother today, but I will always have a brother in life.
This is an excerpt from my book Trump's Reckoning.
"The way to love anything is to realize that it may be lost."
Gilbert K. Chesterton
Ask any American what are the three most important things in their life, and most will list Faith, Family, Friends, Love of Country, or their marriage, or any number of things.
I am just as certain that for too many of us, Freedom won't make the list.
How can that be? Because without freedom, we may not be able to practice or express our faith. Without freedom, it can be hard to determine who your real friends are. Without freedom, all you have is family, and that can be compromised when authoritarians decide to split up the family because it threatens their command and control. Isn't splitting up the family of undocumented immigrants by immigration authorities one of the main objections liberals have to ending illegal immigration?
Illegals live in a state of fear because they are subject to law enforcement coming along and changing everything about their lives. Imagine if all Americans lived like that!
And the history of freedom is that once people lose it, it is near impossible to restore.
So for me, Freedom is number one on my list. It is the trunk from which all of the branches of our human experience grow. For me, freedom opens the doors, faith escorts us through fear of dying, and family escorts us through the fear of living.
As Americans, we are privileged to be free and prosperous. None of which was accidental. We paid a steep price in human suffering and sacrifice to achieve it. And we live under a burden because unlike every other nation or creed on the globe, we carry the torch of freedom. We have been given the gift of it by our forefathers, and since it has proven to be the most enduring and peace-nurturing idea ever invented by man, we feel compelled to share it. But we have to preserve it first, so it can be shared.
To protect it, we have to face the fact that other human beings hate freedom. They worship doctrine. They are uncomfortable with freedom and try to end it wherever they find it. And in our modern world, there are people who are determined to return everyone to a dark era of rule by theocracy.
I fear that too many Americans have become complacent about the need to fight for freedom. To better inform those of whom I speak, I suggest thinking about our country, America, as our family. If you knew there was a threat to your family, how far would you go to protect a parent or a sibling? I know, for example, that I would throw myself in front of a bus if I knew I had to to save my Mother. I would not hesitate. That is a tangible choice that offers me no alternatives, because she gave me life. She is me and I am her.
I believe it is the duty of all Americans to pass on the gift that we have been given by each generation before us. Thinking this way helps us to understand why we need to be patriotic. It is a condition we need to nurture in order to fulfill our obligations to promote the exportation of freedom, and to assure that our children have the same opportunity to live free.
As much as we love freedom, and the lifestyle it affords, we have a debt to pay, and it is something we all must, at some point, confront. Are we willing to continue to pay that debt, to lead the world out of depravity and servitude? Or are too many Americans under the delusion that freedom is now as free and natural as sunlight? And that the need to fight wars to preserve it is an outdated idea?
Will the average American embrace their duty, to do what is necessary now, or will we wait till the indomitable spirit of freedom is damaged beyond redemption? As Winston Churchill said, "Americans will always do the right thing, after they have exhausted all the alternatives."
Let's hope he was right about that.
I like to frame the discussions about our freedom as an extension of my family. I call the concept Familyism. What makes Familyism so important, and more illustrative is that it represents something tangible. Freedom is a condition, a state of being, but not something you can touch or hug. Unlike freedom, which is an idea, your family is real and close to you.
Familyism can make heroes out of us all. It can provide courage and strength just when it is needed. It is superglue for love. It is what drives our volunteer service men and woman to superhuman efforts, and to lay down their own precious lives if necessary.
We fight for four country, and sometimes we die so our family can live in freedom.
If only we could understand that it works for all Americans as we are all Family. There is no reason for us to suffer the indignities and pain of a dysfunctional family. We have too much in common, and though we have our internecine disputes, our jealousies, our resentments and our fears, when there is a threat to our existence, I have no doubt most of us would jump in front of that bullet without hesitation to save our Nation.
When Cathy and I went to New York City during the 15 year anniversary of 911, we learned to use Uber. One of the best things about that was speaking with the different drivers, all residents of Manhattan to get their perspective of the Big Apple before and since that tragic day.
One of our drivers was an Israeli national who was driving a delivery truck directly into the area when the first plane crashed into the South Tower. He immediately called his wife as she was working across the street from the World Trade Center and he wanted to see what she knew and be sure she was safe.
His story was incredible as he eventually raced to the scene to dig out survivors, while not knowing if his wife had made it out of her office or even escaped the explosion. She was not an Israeli national but was a native New Yorker, and although she did escape unharmed by the attack, he said she was ultimately victimized.
As we exited his car he said "I have no problem sleeping at night because I grew up in Israel with bombs going off everywhere all of the time. But my wife, having been so insulated from war living in America, is to this day traumatized by her memory of 911 and has serious insomnia. She watched people leap from the top floors to their death to escape the flames."
As we watch the bombing of Israel today it is frightening how insensitive many Americans have become to the anti-semitism and bigotry our Jewish allies have to endure every single day of their existence. And equally disturbing is the selective amnesia many Americans seem to have about 911 and the fact that it was an attack designed to ultimately undermine our unity and moral strength and solidarity with Israel.
Almost 20 years later and Israel is still under relentless attack and America today is more divided than at any time since the Civil War.