Today Is My 60th Birthday

The calendar says my body is 60 years old,
but my mind thinks it is younger, truth be told.
My 86-year-old father tells me I’ll have lots more.
My grandchildren consider me to be a dinosaur.

Sixty years…six decades…I’ve now lived through.
I was born in 1944 in the midst of World War II.
My childhood was happy. I played as kids should –
outside, running, biking, staying as active as I could.

Bigotry was an accepted way of life – back of the bus,
separate water fountains and schools, no eating with us,
Negroes in their place. Along came Martin Luther King
and federal court rulings…Integration was the right thing!

I lost friends and alienated family with my liberal view,
when I said, if I were colored, I’d be a Black Panther, too.
High school was a bore. I wanted to be challenged more.
University was a breath of fresh air, opening door after door.

I eloped with my high school sweetheart at age nineteen,
convinced like most young men that I could handle that scene.
I finished a B.S. and M.S. in Microbiology before Uncle Sam
came drafting. Seemed my government needed me in Vietnam.

Vietnam – what a scam! The South Vietnamese were corrupt
and cowardly. There was no frigging way for democracy to erupt.
Since I was a captain, I was awarded medals, even a Bronze Star…
for nothing. The Army is better for officers than enlisted by far.

Back to university for my Ph.D. in 1973, then off to go freeze
on a fellowship in London, Canada. We Americans didn’t please
Canadians too much. We had bad cheese and were too warlike
for their taste. Disapproval…when without us Russia could strike!

Back to the South and a 29-year career teaching and doing research
at LSUHSC-Shreveport…a noble profession, but men who besmirch
its honor abound. An education and holding high position do not assure
honesty and character are found. At every level of society, some are pure.

After three children, my wife and I fell out of love…time for a divorce,
a traumatic time for all concerned. One must protect the kids, of course.
Several years later I married again…my soul mate, my life’s true love.
I have a step-son – being a good step-parent is the hardest job I know of.

Now my four children are all grown. My wife and I are empty nesters,
both retired. I’ve traveled a long road. I’ve learned hate only festers
inside you, poisoning your soul. Love lifts you up and brings happiness.
So, why don’t more people love more and hate less? What’s your guess?

I’ve seen a lot of changes during my life, from the trivial to the sublime.
I watched TV on a black and white set with three fuzzy channels. Time
was kept by winding your watch. Telephones were party lines shared
with separate rings. A missed call -- they’d call back, so no one cared.

No one you knew had ever flown in a plane. There was no Interstate
highway, no computers and no Internet. Yet, those times were great!
Life was simpler when I was young – less stress, no drugs, no drive-by
shootings or gang wars, people were friendlier, sex couldn’t make you die.

Our leaders never seem to learn. Why did we learn nothing from Vietnam?
You can’t win their hearts and minds by destroying a country with bombs.
Our nation never seems to overcome its racism and bigotry. Sure, things are
better – integration is the law, opportunities for minorities are better by far.

Yet, too many “Christians” still harbor prejudice in the world today. How do
you explain how a WASP can hold disdain for a Hispanic, a Black, or a Jew
in their heart? Have they failed to realize Jesus was a Jew? Still too many
harbor racial bigotry and poison the minds of their children…far too many.

I guess what I’ve learned is that progress may put a new face on society,
but people will always be people – inside them is still found a great variety
of emotions and logical thinking. Some are evil and mean. Some are good.
Treat others so all who knew you will say you lived as good as you could…

Harry Edward Gilleland      10.30.04