Sunday, September 15, 2013

The Beast in the Corner Sept 15th 2013

I didn't post anything special about the anniversary of two attacks on America this past Wednesday (9/11/01 and 9/11/12) because I think that we all have our own thoughts and memories and emotions, and to be honest it was too emotional a day for me to be delving into it. I'm not going to go into the politics or the religion of the attacks. The war that these attacks were a part of is centuries old and while I have my opinions about it, this is not the place for them. What I will talk about, however, is the experience of being touched by death, especially in unexpected and sudden circumstances. 

Most of us can understand this because we've experienced it. Whether it is the sudden horrendous shock of watching on television as thousands of people are massacred, or the surreal experience of having a loved one die as you are trying to save them, it is a thing that changes us and changes our world... and no matter how many people have experienced the same thing, nobody can know exactly how we feel. We aren't the same person that we were before, nor will we ever be. Indeed, whether it involves three thousand strangers or one loved one, our world is changed. It is as if a traumatic bookmark has been placed in the volume of our life. Old pages have not been ripped out, but the turning point... the critical page has been folded and mutilated beyond recognition, and the binding bent and cracked at that point. The book will never be the same. It will never be new again. Never pristine.

In one of my more creative moments this week, I wrote something on my Facebook author page. It may seem somewhat morbid. If so, please forgive me. "An old death is a beast in a forgotten corner, waiting to be noticed."

That beast will never go away. That corner is part of our life... part of our soul, and the beast will live there forever, like any traumatic incident. All we can do is live our lives in recognition of the beast and the corner. We can't deny it, we can't get rid of it. All we can do is establish a peace with it so we can move on and make the most of the gift that is our life. It might help to remember that while others can't know exactly how you feel, most have experienced the same thing. Darkness can be easier to take if you don't go it alone. And it is also important to remember that even if a loved one is gone, you are not. You have a life and a destiny and gifts to give to the world. In my case, I have chosen to honor my late wife by getting my personal house in order and by making regular donations to good, reputable causes. It is my way of turning a negative into a positive. It is a way to embrace life in the face of death. 

Sunday, September 08, 2013

Adult or Mature? Sept 8th 2013

Just a quick extra note here. Some of you might expect me to talk about Syria here, but I'm not going to. It isn't my purpose to try to tell people what they should think about certain issues. These are very important to all of us and the world, and people of conscience should make their voices heard. But just as most of you know how I feel about this issue, I know that you all make decisions and form opinions with intelligence and compassion. I'm not going to try to improve on that :)

Last week I touched very briefly on the difference between 'maturity' and today's usage of 'adult'. I'd like to talk about that a bit more this week. Most people maintain hobbies of some kind, whether that involves sports, television, games or other activities. And of course there's nothing wrong with that. In a world that is increasingly tense and uncertain, harmless distraction is often the only thing that can relax us at the end of a long day or lower the blood pressure a bit on a day off. There's nothing immature or irresponsible about that as long as we keep it in perspective, don't hurt anyone and meet our responsibilities. So why am I going on about this? Because depending on your hobby of choice, some may decide that enjoying it means you haven't grown up yet. 

I beg to differ. What you do with your time off is your business. Maturity is, in my opinion, defined by the standards you set for yourself and how strictly you adhere to them. Do you clean yourself up, make your bed and present a positive image to the world? Have you given in to the temptation to wear flip flops and pajama pants to the store? Do you speak politely to people you meet? Do you harass the cashier at the grocery store because they ask if you need anything else or if you want to donate to some charity? (Having been a cashier I can tell you that they say these things because they are told to. They're doing their job). The point is, by caring about the image that you project to the world and presenting yourself as positively as you can, you are showing real maturity. By treating people with respect you are doing the real 'adult' thing.

If it seems like I go back to this subject often, it's because I think that a great many of our problems today are a result of a lack of basic respect for people with whom we disagree. People are going to disagree on things. Our free will makes that inevitable, but it also makes the world a better place. If everyone had the same opinion about everything, I believe that the world would be much poorer place. An interchange of ideas and opinions leads to innovative thinking and helps us to broaden our horizons. But many of us lack tolerance for opposing ideas. I'm not trying to say that we should accept every viewpoint. There are ideas in the world that must be opposed just as there are evil people who must be confronted and must not be tolerated. But there are also many people who have different opinions and interests with whom we can hold polite discussion and discourse. That is the key to acting like a real adult in the world. Presenting your own opinions and interests respectfully, allowing for opposing views and discussing them with reason rather than passion. And of course, presenting yourself to the world in a way that demonstrates the respect you have for yourself and others.

Sunday, September 01, 2013

Dignity Sept 1st 2013

"This above all — to thine own self be true"

"For the apparel oft proclaims the man"

Hamlet, Act One, scene iii
William Shakespeare

These two ideas have been stirring in my mind for the last few weeks, and thanks to Miley Cyrus they've finally coalesced into something hopefully coherent. I actually disagree with Shakespeare and Polonius about the apparel proclaiming the man. We all have dignity within us that cannot be hidden by old, worn clothing or taken by poverty or unfortunate circumstance. I spent a brief time decades ago in a homeless shelter. It was simply a case of misfortune. The only job I could find where I lived was a temporary job, and it ran out. I couldn't find another. So I needed a place to go for shelter and help while I got back on my feet. I did so, and then went back to the shelter to volunteer for the same amount of time that I had spent living there. It seemed the only decent thing to do. But the point is, while I was there, I got up early every day. I showered, I didn't drink, I didn't panhandle and I didn't blame the world for my problems. I accepted my circumstances and did the best I could to rise above them. Here's the point though. At no point during that experience did I use it as an excuse to let go of my dignity. I never gave up on success or prosperity BY MY OWN HAND. It was never a matter of, 'this is what life has done to me so now you have an obligation give me something'. It was always a matter of 'what can I do to survive and get out of here'. And I did. I kept myself clean, I found a job, I saved money and I got out. 

These days, however, you can't seem to walk down the street without seeing groups of people sitting at bus stops or around the corner from convenience stores drinking and laughing and bemoaning what the rich have done to them. Then they stop long enough to panhandle from you. You may have lost your job because of the economy. You may have been outsourced or laid off to protect a profit margin. That is all possible and if so it isn't your fault. But nobody is forcing you to sit out in public drinking and panhandling. You made that decision. You are responsible for that. You have given away your dignity in favor of a cheap beer or whatever else. That is your choice, but it also says something about your character. I sympathize and actually empathize with your circumstances, but we both know that you can deal with it better than that. I've actually talked to a few of our local homeless people, and some of them have talked about plans to get to where there are more jobs. To clean up and take control of their lives. That's fine, except that two months later, the same people are there, looking more worn and torn and tattered, drinking a little more and singing the same song about what they are going to do. There are people who will help, but you have to go to them and ask. That willingness to walk away from the corner, from the other homeless people, the drinking friends who live at the same bus stop or parking lot is called dignity. 

And Miley Cyrus. Miley Cyrus has given us a prime example of the fact that (just as poverty cannot rob you of it) riches and fans and noteriety cannot give you dignity. Just as a homeless person can show great dignity, a mega star who has millions of dollars can shed it quicker than she sheds her clothes. I find it curious that one tries to demonstrate her 'adulthood' by acting in a way that is anything but mature. Sort of the same logic as calling a strip club a 'gentleman's club'. It is in truth just the opposite. 

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Dreams... and Passings Aug 25th 2013

Two things this week, my friends. This week upcoming we as a nation are noting the 50th anniversary of Dr Martin Luther King Jr's "I Have a Dream" speech. This was a peaceful march on our nation's capital and a strong message to the country and our political leadership, and to the world as well. Its backdrop, the Lincoln Memorial was quite appropriate in the sense that it showed progress in the work begun by Lincoln to rid our country of the scourge of slavery and prejudice. But it also highlighted the immense challenges we still faced then, and sadly the great divide that we still have in this country. There are more good, color-blind people in this country than there were fifty years ago, but there are still bad people on both sides teaching their children to hate whatever is different. That dream is not dead, not by a long shot. But there is still a great deal of work to do. We can talk about changing laws, or writing new laws or repealing old laws until we are blue in the face, but nothing will change until we stop teaching our children that different equals evil or inferior, and that they can be defined by someone else. Dr King had the dream. It falls to us to make sure it comes true.

I'd also like to add a message for a friend that might also say something to anyone who has lost a loved one (and that would be just about everyone reading this I think)

As a matter of courtesy and respect for privacy, I'm not going to name any names.... But a rather famous man passed away a few days ago, and my friend knew him. They worked together at times, but they were also friends. And in the local observance of his passing, she was unable to make it to the funeral. We talked a bit last night about that, and this is how I feel about funerals and paying respects to our friends and loved ones. Funerals aren't really for the dead, they are for the living. If you had a relationship of any kind with someone who has passed away, you don't need to publicly mourn them. Our personal relationships aren't really public. They are private, in the heart and mind, and the way we pay our respects to someone's passing should perhaps reflect the way we knew them. If it helps you to celebrate their life with others in a public setting, that's fine. But it isn't necessary. And I honestly believe (but don't ask me to explain why) that our passed loved ones know and understand that we honor their lives and the effect that they have had on ours, no matter how we choose to do that. I dealt with my wife's passing privately. I made sure that our friends and family members knew, because it was their right to know. But the services I held were my own, in my own heart and in my home. My friend, celebrate your friend's life in the way that is right for you. He will know it and appreciate it. And you and I will drink a toast to his everlasting legacy :)

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Dream Big Aug 18th 2013

Someone asked me not too long ago what I would do for a living if I could choose. Well, sad to say, it isn't being a meat clerk. Don't get me wrong, I consider my job to be caring for my family and I love that job. The meat clerk thing is what makes it possible. I don't mind sweating and getting my hands dirty for my family. I've been in a position (more than once) when I didn't have that privilege, so I don't complain. However, given the choice I would certainly write for a living. But anyone who knows me knows that. Writing for me has always been a window to places I could never go. So I am finally taking serious steps in my life to make something productive of that writing. To that end, I am writing an original novel, and a friend is not only acting as an editor, but is also going to help me publish. For the first time. I'm very excited to be taking concrete steps to make a life-long dream come true. 

So, why have I bothered you with my story? Because I want to talk about your dreams for your life. Remember that we aren't just bags of flesh and water and chemicals. Yoda said it very well. Luminous beings are we! We have dreams and hopes. We have an undefinable spirit. We can love. We can exceed the sum of our parts. We can create. It doesn't really matter what our dreams are. They might be writing or acting or science related or athletic in nature. What does matter is that we pursue them. If you're going to dream big (and what's the point of not dreaming big?), do your homework. There's a good chance someone has done something similar. Use their learning experience to help guide you. That isn't a shortcut. It's working smart to complement working hard. Also remember that big dreams, like big journeys take planning and effort and patience. There will be those who try to discourage you, usually because they are secretly jealous that they aren't doing it. There will also be times when things just don't seem to be happening. Times when you feel like giving up, because of a lack of progress or because the road ahead looks too long and the obstacles too impossible. Just remember that you have a spark that cannot be defined by statistics or by others' jealousies. You are smart and strong, and you have a purpose in life and the strength and desire to achieve it. 

According to my faith, we are given dreams and desires by God that we are equipped to achieve. If you want to be an actor or a writer or an astrophysicist, then you have within you all of the talent and drive to get you there. You simply have to do the hard work. If it is truly your heart's desire, then never worry that you can't make it. 

Think about Sir Edmund Hillary climbing Mount Everest. He had to climb higher than anyone else. It would have been a harder and longer climb than anyone else had ever done. He faced hardships that nobody else ever had. He may have even thought along the way that he couldn't finish, but he did. Your dream is your own Mount Everest. It is huge and awe-inspiring, but it is also nothing more than a journey that with faith and strength and knowledge you are well-equipped to conquer. You are already a hero. Show the rest of us.

I'd just like to add this note about the actress Lisa Robin Kelly, who passed away a few days ago at the age of 43. It is easy to look at this, and similar incidents as nothing but the rich stars getting hooked on drugs or alcohol. Websites like TMZ have made an industry of catching these people in their worst moments and shining a bright light on them. I mean, would there even be a  TMZ if it weren't for Britney Spears or Lindsay Lohan? But here's the thing. They are people, like you and me. They have fears and hopes and dreams. As well as families and loved ones. They also have weaknesses, just like all of us. They are all of us. Part of the human family. They are simply people who have, like you do, and like I do, chinks in our armor. Weaknesses. We would do better to turn off TMZ and the entertainment shows and gossip mills and paparazzi and remember that in a sense we've lost a sister who, for all of her strengths and weaknesses and fame was really just a family member who was struck by tragedy and couldn't handle her life. Think about her (and others, like Cory Monteith) like they were our own family. And there but for the grace of God go all of us.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Worry Warrior Aug 11th 2013

"Worry is a dividend paid to disaster before the fact."

--Ian Fleming

A very good friend recently talked about the difference between being a warrior and a worrier. He had a very good point. I don't think he was talking about the more colorful kind of warrior (that some of my fellow Trekkies might be thinking about), but rather someone who is willing and prepared to take charge of their life. Does that conflict with my Christian beliefs? Not at all. God is the Lord of my life. He is my savior. I live to do His work, and I do that work with what He gave me. He gave me a mind with which to question and create and reason. He gave me legs with which to walk, arms with which to reach and hands with which to grasp. I believe that we were put here not to endure a mundane existence, but rather to conquer our environment and prosper. Yes, we will be faced with problems and challenges. According to my faith (and I repeat that to emphasize that I'm not trying to tell you what to believe), God does not stop us from sailing into storms, but He does give us sails and a wheel and compass to navigate the storms of life, and strong arms and hands to hold that wheel. And of course He gave us strong vessels to weather that storm.

So how do I make it through life's storms? Quite honestly, I don't always do it very well. I spend time worrying when I could be pushing ahead. It isn't easy, and I fail at times. But I am also learning to worry less about problems and either work to solve or address them or take them out of the equation if they are trivial. Important issues in our life always have solutions. That solution may simply be a way to survive an obstacle. Be prepared for that. For me, I know that God has put things in my path, not to conquer me or to be conquered by me, but in fact to help me to grow. Just like building muscles, we cannot grow as people without stretching ourselves. Straining our comfort zones a little. There are also challenges that we all face that we have the ability to overcome by looking at them objectively. Most problems broken down to their component parts can be dealt with. Not by worrying about them but by worrying at them. Trivial issues must be recognized for what they are and dropped when they become a distraction. I'm to saying to drop every trivial thing in your life. I am a great lover of trivia. Trivia can be wonderful and necessary vacation time for the mind. Not everything we think about and work at has to be important. But when those trivial matters get confused with important issues, we have to make sure we recognize them and be prepared to let them go. Life can be a battle of one kind or another, but we have the tools to win. We simply have to be willing to fight for that victory.

Sunday, August 04, 2013

"Cruel to be Kind" Aug 4th 2013

"I must be cruel, only to be kind"
William Shakespeare

"A little suffering is good for the soul."
-Leonard McCoy
"Star Trek" (2009)

Love comes in many forms and can be expressed in many ways. There is the very demonstrative romantic love, as well as the quiet love of family... even adopted family. There is the kind of love that moves a hero to sacrifice for a greater good (family, country or ideal). There is even the unique love that we feel for animals, and the unmistakable love that they feel for us. Really, there are probably as many kinds of love as their are kinds of people. But one of the hardest to understand and to endure is tough love. That love that makes us allow others to learn hard lessons or grow by struggling or suffering.

That sounds kind of harsh I suppose, but really, some of our most important lessons in life come not through victory, but defeat. We learn more through our mistakes than through our successes. Tough love can start when parents teach their children to work for their allowance. We all need to learn to contribute to a household, to know that the garbage doesn't take itself out. Dishes don't wash themselves, the dog or cat needs someone to actually put the food and water into dishes. All of these examples teach children it takes work to make a household function. That everyone needs to contribute. It also teaches them (and this is a lesson that many seemed to have forgotten) that if we want to have our own money in the world today we need to earn it. We must give something of value (our time and effort) in order to get paid. And with that money we can start to have degree of independence in our lives. As children that may be limited to being able to buy things that we want, but as we grow that naturally expands, and eventually as adults (hopefully) we understand that if we want to have individual freedom and self-determination, we must provide for ourselves. It is impossible to be dependent and independent at the same time. And while none of us can say that we are truly completely independent (no man is an island :) ), we can strive for independence. It is that effort that defines us.

Tough love is also demonstrated (as Hamlet did) by telling people truths that may make them uncomfortable or unhappy. If someone is making a mistake or doing something wrong, you are not demonstrating love for them by suppressing the truth from them. It may make embarrass someone or even anger them, but in the end, they will have the opportunity to grow, and they will know that you helped them. 

And of course, there comes a time when we have to give people the opportunity to succeed or fail. If someone is learning a trade or a skill, of course you have to allow them time to develop their talents. You have to coach them. But eventually you have to stop protecting them for failure. You have to take off the training wheels and let them either succeed or fail. 

Tough love is not always going to make you popular. People may think that you don't care about them, or that you enjoy watching them suffer. Indeed, they may never appreciate your good intentions. But being right or doing good or even loving isn't always about the easy popular route. It's about doing the right thing.