Thoughts At Large

Passionate thoughts on random topics

Category: 2016

My Christmas Wish List

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Before some of us had taken down our Christmas trees and we were familiar enough with 2016 to write it without first having written 2015, swearing, and changing it to 2016, David Bowie (1/10), Alan Rickman (1/14), and Glen Frey (1/18) had died. 2016 has, by most accounts, been a dreadful year. And after the awful 2014 and 2015, my family and I endured, 2016 seems like a fitting ending to a trio of personally miserable years, the melancholy of which somehow leached into the world in 2016.

My children say it is difficult to buy gifts for me. I agree. My Christmas wish list keeps getting shorter every year, and the items populating it more impossible to purchase. I want more time with my wife. I want more time with those whom I love and still surround me. I want 2017 celebrated for finding a cure for cancer and an end to war and hunger. I want a return toward admiring intelligence and compassion, rather than insipid popularity and uninformed conceit.

I don’t want to make America great again. I want us to want to make the world great now. And that begins by understanding the real problems facing the world and the real issues affecting its people. Not the top issues paid for by lobbyists and bought by elected officials.

We don’t seem to have found the answers to those problems and, thus, they remain on my wish list year after year. Perhaps 2017 will be the year. Anyway, that’s what I want for Christmas. Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays everyone.

Newtown- Four Years On

sandyhook-heart

I must preface this post by acknowledging I am not a gun violence victim (or a family member or friend of a gun violence victim) and, therefore, have no real understanding of its impact on anyone’s life. And while I can no more comprehend the destruction such violence imparts on a family any more than I could know what it is like to be an astronaut, anyone tangentially involved in the gun violence prevention movement has a story to tell. The story of what drove them to act.

My grandparents could relate every mundane activity that occurred on the day they heard about Pearl Harbor. My parents could describe the entire day when they heard about the assassination of President Kennedy. I can relate how desperately I wanted to gather up my twin second graders and wife and cuddle with them in the hours after the planes hit the World Trade Center on September 11th. And so too, I can recall the horror and sickening feelings I felt learning of the events of December 14, 2012, in Newtown, Connecticut.

Again, my story is no more significant than anyone else’s, but, for what it’s worth, here is what I recall.

It was going to be another long day at the University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston. After the always frenetic hour+ commute from Spring, TX, we began the day with my wife having blood drawn at 10:15. From the first-floor diagnostics lab, we proceeded to the imaging department on one of the upper floors where she would be undergoing a PET scan and a CT scan to quantify what effect (if any) her chemotherapy regimen was having on the determinedly marching cancer in her body. We settled into the waiting area for her name to be called. After a while, her name was finally called, and she was tapped with an IV for the tests and taken back to the imaging area leaving me alone. These tests take a long time to complete and were being done one after the other, so I knew I was in for long morning alone. I was able to snag one of the few desks I needed to connect my computer to work. After connecting to the internet and securing a connection with work, I pulled up CNN, as I always did, to see what was going on in the world outside the hospital.

The breaking news headline relayed reports of a school shooting in a place called Newtown, CT. Having graduated from the University of Connecticut, and knowing friends from across the state, I pulled up Google Maps to locate Newtown. I found it, a small community not far outside Danbury. The initial reports said that there were several casualties, but that not much was known, and the scene was still active. I remember pulling up the Hartford Courant’s website and the local television news websites to see if there was any better information. Reports were indicating that the shooting was at an elementary school and that there might be a child among the injured.

As we know, reports continued to be updated, first with five injured, then 10, then a report that many children may have been shot and some fatally. In the waiting area, where people tend to be friendly, if isolated, some with family or friends accompanying them to their procedure, others alone, looks began to be shared, as if we were all wondering if anyone else was aware of what was developing. Stares lingered a little longer than usual as if we were all sure that the horrible news we saw on our phones or computers was isolated to our nightmares and not actually what was really happening. We searched each other’s eyes in hopes that what we were reading was wrong. Waiting for someone to say it was all wrong. The reports continued to be updated. TV news crews had been dispatched and were on their way to the scene. A dozen killed. Then another update indicating maybe more. The scene had been secured, and the word was spread that the shooter was dead. I remember thinking that at least whatever horror he/she had unleashed was quashed and no one else would be injured. The number of wounded and killed continued to climb over the next hour into a dizzying number that I felt (hoped) must surely have been incorrect. There was no way anyone could kill the number of staff and children being reported. They were children! We all know how wildly exaggerated news reports tend to be in the midst of a situation. This couldn’t be true!

The waiting area became noticeably louder as people began to process and share what had happened. After several hours, my wife finally walked out from the back area of the imaging department, and as she walked toward me, I fought for the words to tell her what had happened. My eyes welled up with tears, and my throat was no longer capable of forming words. She was the one with cancer, undergoing all manner of torture to combat the disease, and here I was, hugging her and breaking down in tears. The ride home, as usual, regardless of the time of day took much longer than it needed to. I was quiet in the car. We did not have the radio on, listening to music as we always did. By the time we reached home, the final tallies were being calculated. Twenty-six dead, not including the perpetrator or his mother.

That evening, I was alone in my home office, shaking with anger. My wife entered to find me on my knees almost hyperventilating with rage. It was no longer enough to write about gun violence, I told her, I needed to get involved. She hugged me and said she understood and would help me as long as it didn’t consume me and send me into a deep depression. I promised, saying that I simply needed to do something. I knew it wouldn’t be me alone who felt that way that night. I knew thousands were already involved. I simply wanted to add my voice.

I had become angered enough by gun violence in America after the theater shooting in Aurora, CO the previous July 20th to write about it. The very first entry in this blog was simply a copy/paste of a blog entry written by one of the victims of that shooting, Jessica Ghawi. She had narrowly escaped a shooting in a mall in Toronto the previous June 2nd and wrote about the event and how grateful she felt.   The second to last paragraph of her entry reads:

“I say all the time that every moment we have to live our life is a blessing. So often I have found myself taking it for granted. Every hug from a family member. Every laugh we share with friends. Even the times of solitude are all blessings. Every second of every day is a gift. After Saturday evening, I know I truly understand how blessed I am for each second I am given.”

Forty-eight days later she was dead. I wish I had known Jessica. I was fortunate to meet her parents in October of 2015, six weeks after my wife’s death. They were as kind and compassionate as anyone I’ve ever met and doggedly determined to prevent gun violence. Sandy Phillips’ first question to me as she stepped out of her car was to ask how was I doing after my wife’s death. She had lost a child, and her involvement in the gun violence prevention movement was the reason I was meeting her, and yet here she was concerned about me! I had no idea she knew about my wife’s illness or death. She is an incredible individual and so is her husband, Lonnie.

So now we find ourselves four years out from the shooting in Newtown. There have been political victories and defeats in those four years and over 130,000 Americans killed by a gun over that period of time, including many in the over 200 school shootings since Newtown. The greatest shift in that time has been the involvement and organization of hundreds of thousands of people like me. People fed up with accepting gun deaths and injuries as part of “normal” American life. The gun lobby is still a juggernaut in Washington, D.C. and in state houses around the country, but it is no longer the only voice or position. Social change comes in glacially slow movements, but it comes all the same. I can never fully appreciate the scars this date has left on the family members and friends of those lost four years ago or in any of the other gun-related horrors before or since. July 20, 2012 and December 14, 2012 changed my life and forced me to add my voice to the thousands of others no longer willing to consent that gun deaths are acceptable. Four years on and the fight is not over, but we have never been so organized or vocal or determined.

Women

“That we have the vote means nothing. That we use it in the right way means everything.”  Lou Henry Hoover, First Lady of the United States 1929-1933

As we wind down to the end of a presidential campaign that feels as if it’s been going on since the early Bronze Age, the overarching story of this election can be summarized in one word – women.

It began with the nomination of a woman by one of the two major parties. It devolved into stories about the treatment of women by the nominee of the other major party. And it will be settled by the largest demographic within the voting public – women.

According to one recent poll, Hillary Clinton is leading among women by 33%. Eric Trump famously made the mistake of posting a map showing his father ahead nationally but omitting the fact that the map showed what the results would look like if only men voted. Here is that map:

if-only-men-voted

The map shows Mr. Trump winning the White House with an Electoral College tally of 350 versus 188 for Secretary Clinton. Unfortunately for Eric Trump, people noticed, and the response was savage. Here is the obverse map showing what the election results would look like if only women voted:

if only women voted.png

As you can see, Secretary Clinton would win the Electoral College with a staggering tally of 458 votes versus Mr. Trump’s meager 80 votes. And therein lies the story of this election. Women will decide the outcome. Here is Nate Silver’s FiveThirtyEight site on the potential effect this disparity would have on the general election:

“To put those numbers in perspective, that’s saying Trump would defeat Clinton among men by a margin similar to Dwight D. Eisenhower’s landslide victory over Adlai Stevenson in 1952, while Clinton would defeat Trump among women by a margin similar to … actually, there’s no good comparison, since no candidate has won a presidential election by more than 26 percentage points since the popular vote became a widespread means of voting in 1824. To get to 33 points, you’d have to take the Eisenhower-Stevenson margin and add Lyndon B. Johnson’s 23-point win over Barry Goldwater in 1964 on top of it.”

And while you may not like everything (or anything) about Secretary Clinton, she has worked hard to earn women’s votes. One of her greatest surrogates has been another woman, First Lady Michelle Obama, who has been phenomenally effective on the campaign trail. On the other hand, Mr. Trump has stumbled his way toward the election by demeaning women (among many other groups) and been accused of sexual assault by eleven women. And one of his greatest surrogates has been Mayor Guiliani who has himself had a checkered past with women and who recently suggested that Mr. Trump would be better for the United States “than a woman.” Considering that women constitute the largest voting block in America, wouldn’t it be better for Republicans to embrace women than to shun them if they ever hope to win the White House again. Especially given the inevitable demographic changes altering the United States, all of which favor Democrats and which Republicans have ignored to this point at their peril. Sorry, but gerrymandering can only take you so far.

2016 will be known as the year that a woman shattered one of the greatest glass ceilings left in the world, the American presidency, but perhaps it should be better known as the year that women used their collective voices to change the course of an election and therefore history.

365 Paper Cuts

 

bleeding heart

“I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”     ― Thomas A. Edison

It was one year ago tonight that my best friend died. God, it hurts to write that. It seems like a lifetime ago and also as if it happened last night. Not a day goes by that I don’t think of her. I rest my hand on her pillow every night before praying that sleep will gently take me away to her, but I never dream, about her or anything else. I have come a long way since that night in September, but in other ways, I feel I have never left that room. The kids and I have experienced the “year of firsts” without Lisa as if this is some magical milestone beyond which grief is forbidden to pass. I miss so much about her that my heart aches just thinking of the reasons.

I miss her laugh. I miss her smile. I miss her voice. I miss her nose. I miss her driving. I miss her honesty. I miss her eyes. I could go on for as long as my fingers can pass over this keyboard. Edison’s quote seem particularly applicable today because I don’t feel that I’ve survived one year without Lisa as much as I have endured 365 daily paper cuts without her that will never heal.

 

“Courage is being scared to death, but saddling up anyway.”     ― John Wayne

One thing I do not miss is the suffering she had to endure. I taped the above quote on the refrigerator of the house we rented in Texas during her first round of treatment. I put it on the fridge for her to see, but now I see that it was meant for me. From chemotherapy to surgery to radiation, she never questioned or hesitated. She enthusiastically embraced every option offered to her until her physician assistant (in tears) told her there were no more options. Lisa was prepared to do more, but medicine had failed her. I look back at that quote now and see that the courage I wanted her to embrace is now exactly what I must adopt to survive her death and carry on.

My brother was in the hospital recently for treatment of a minor infection. It was the first time I’d visited a hospital since Lisa’s death. I hadn’t given any thought to how visiting a hospital would affect me. It was just what you do when a family member is in the hospital. My children were both concerned how visiting the hospital would affect me. As soon as I walked through the doors, all of the emotions swarmed me. Fortunately, my brother was well enough to be discharged the next day. However, shortly after that, my mother in law was taken to the hospital because she bumped her head when she fell. It was nothing serious, she was only taken to the hospital due to a state regulated precautionary requirement, but it required me visiting another hospital in the same week. As I sat there with her, waiting for her discharge papers, I can’t tell you how much I wanted to get out of there. Nothing happens quickly in a hospital and the memories exposed while sitting there were not healthy. Everything took me back to Lisa and her seven years of treatment. After having called M.D. Anderson a second home during all of her cancer treatment, I can’t conceive of a situation where all of the hospital memories won’t come flooding back to hit me in the face. We knew every corner of that hospital and felt like unofficial ambassadors because we ended up helping newcomers so often. In the end, there was no longer anything they could do for her so we both went home where she would die. Thoughts of hospitals paralyze me now.

 

“Sometimes even to live is an act of courage.”     ― Seneca

Lisa’s suffering is over, and we’ve had a year to establish a life, living only with her memory. We have made progress because life goes on. The kids have graduated from college. We have moved back to Rhode Island. We live in a condo in an area we’re not familiar with but which is close enough to family and familiarity to provide some comfort. However, the idea of starting a life without her is at times challenging and at other times seemingly impossible. I still feel guilty for living. I feel guilty for never dreaming about her. I feel guilty for not making the most of this time with my kids, who will be gone this time next year. If our roles were reversed, I could imagine Lisa doing much better than I am now. I feel as if I’ve aged 50 years in the past 365 days. But life goes on, and I am trying to do the best I can. I hope the next year sees me and the kids continue to develop a new “normal” where we can laugh about the good times and not dwell on the bad; where we can think of Lisa as the beautiful, energetic whirlwind she was, full of flowing blond hair and a joie de vivre rather than the pained shell we saw at the end. I’ve survived 365 daily paper cuts without her. The wound will never heal but hopefully, the nerve endings will dull a bit. This week will be particularly strenuous. In addition to today’s commemoration, the kids’ birthday is Tuesday, and Lisa and my anniversary would have been Friday. At least I have the kids to lean on. I treasure my children and am so glad to have them around for the time that I do. They have gotten me this far. I can’t imagine where I’d be without them.

I’m ending this post with a poem by Hermann Hesse titled Stages. I hope you appreciate its message and hug your loved ones tighter today.

 

As every flower fades and as all youth

Departs, so life at every stage,

So every virtue, so our grasp of truth,

Blooms in its day and may not last forever.

Since life may summon us at every age

Be ready, heart, for parting, new endeavor,

Be ready bravely and without remorse

To find new light that old ties cannot give.

In all beginnings dwells a magic force

For guarding us and helping us to live.

Serenely let us move to distant places

And let no sentiments of home detain us.

The Cosmic Spirit seeks not to restrain us

But lifts us stage by stage to wider spaces.

If we accept a home of our own making,

Familiar habit makes for indolence.

We must prepare for parting and leave-taking

Or else remain the slave of permanence.

Even the hour of our death may send

Us speeding on to fresh and newer spaces,

And life may summon us to newer races.

So be it, heart: bid farewell without end.

He Who Hesitates is Me

Thou waitest for the spark from heaven! and we,

Light half-believers of our casual creeds,

Who never deeply felt, nor clearly will’d,

Whose insight never has borne fruit in deeds,

Whose vague resolves never have been fulfill’d;

For whom each year we see

Breeds new beginnings, disappointments new;

Who hesitate and falter life away,

And lose to-morrow the ground won to-day—

Ah! do not we, wanderer! await it too?

Matthew Arnold, The Scholar Gypsy, 1853

I used to love to write; not because I believe I have any more wisdom to impart than anyone else or am so confident in what I have to say that I feel it must be committed to paper. In fact, I adhere to Darwin’s belief that, “Ignorance more frequently begets confidence than does knowledge; it is those who know little, not those who know much, who so positively assert that this or that problem will never be solved by science.” However, I believe writing online is the practice of allowing a piece of you to fall onto the page for all to see. It is a way of exposing yourself to others and being willing to accept their criticism. There is a strong need to expel thoughts as printed words and to invite any ensuing discussion. What begins as a kernel of an idea ferments internally and eventually decants through the keyboard onto the page.

However, I feel that I have been reduced to a frozen mute since Lisa’s death. Where once ideas for discussion poured out of me, and I reveled in researching them in hopes of producing a cogent argument, now I find myself devoid of concepts. My mind utterly wanders, day after day. I have had a waterproof notepad in my shower since June (a gift from my children because so many of my ideas originated under the scalding water), and I still have nothing written on it. This paralysis is disorienting.  I want to write, but there are no strong theories upon which to expand.

I recognize the irony of writing a blog post about having nothing to write! But it is the process of thought rather than the finished product that has me worried. I hesitate now where I once forged ahead. That which I held dear has been taken from me. It is as if my confidence died with Lisa. Is this an aftershock of grief? Is this normal? Will it subside in time? I don’t know the answer to these questions, and it preys on my soul. No amount of concentration yields fertile ground upon which I can plant a question or thought in hopes of harvesting an argument. If he who hesitates is lost, then I need a map because all I do is mentally wander every day.

I understand this is not the most monumental problem to have. I have a roof over my head and a full belly. My children are safe and provided for, and we no longer cry over Lisa’s suffering, but this lack of confidence is dampening my efforts to establish a new life. Thank God for my children! They are the anchor holding this rudderless ship in port. Without them, I don’t want to think where I’d be. Where I am lost, they are home. It is simply this lack of confidence, this new hesitation which is hamstringing forward progress.

I have no conclusion to this post. I have no answers. It just feels good to put it down on paper.

To Live Again

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Friends, both near and far, have helped me navigate this past year without Lisa. For that, I will be forever grateful. The current world in which I now find myself is both dystopian and exciting, but mostly just foreign. No amount of research could prepare me for the world in which I now live. The changes I have endured over the past year have been as dramatic as they have been challenging. Moving from Texas back to Rhode Island was the smart thing to do, and I appreciate being near family more than I ever have. To be close to my mother, sister, and brother brings me comfort and peace as much as living in Rhode Island brings me reconciliation, familiarity, and appreciation.

Attempts at a social life have so far resulted in few successes and some crushing defeats. This is one area in my life where, while I am incredibly grateful to have my children at home with me, I know I have few prospects. Having the kids around since their graduation has kept me moving forward with purpose. Getting used to a new home is difficult enough, but to have to do it alone would have been far worse. Starting a new social life is very hard for me. I am not the most outgoing person in the world! But starting to reach beyond my comfort zone is what I now find myself confronted with if I ever want to “have a life.”

Unfortunately, a problem far greater for me beyond getting out of the house is my constant need to get out of my own head. This has always been an issue for me. I tend to overthink everything while pessimism erodes healthy feelings or hopes.  Some friends have been kind to me beyond all reason as if they signed a pledge with Lisa to look out for me. Other friends have been standoffish, probably unsure how to address my situation. I cannot blame them for their squeamishness; it is a difficult situation and one with no easy solution. I find myself mourning one friend in particular who ended things with me after telling me we were headed in different directions in life. She was right, but that doesn’t make the wound hurt any less.

I cannot help but think that I am destined to be alone now, and I’m not sure how I feel about that. On the one hand, I long to be in a relationship, feel I still have much to offer and need, while on the other hand, I feel guilty for having these thoughts because I will forever miss Lisa. One year has gone by now, and I’m both better than I was following her death and more confused than ever. I don’t know if this is normal, but the “normal” I am now living is very different than the normal under which we have been living for the past eight years. No longer do I see cancer hiding behind every smile, determined to undercut our happiness. No longer do I go to hospitals and doctor’s visits; no longer are we Hospice clients. But too, no longer do I have that epic battle to wage every day on behalf of someone for whom I would gladly have given my own life. I tend to do better when facing a crisis than normal life.

Ultimately, a new life will require me to get out of the house regularly and out of my head even more. Any thoughts on how I can do that would be greatly appreciated!

Two Stages, Two Women

On May 21, 1919, following years of efforts by thousands of suffragettes, the House of Representatives passed the 19th amendment. Two weeks later, the Senate passed the amendment.  On August 18, 1920, Tennessee became the 36th state to ratify the amendment, allowing the amendment to pass its final hurdle of obtaining the agreement of three-fourths of the states. Secretary of State Bainbridge Colby certified the ratification on August 26, 1920. A mere 27 years later a young girl was born in Chicago. She went on to become Secretary of State herself. And last night, Hillary Clinton accepted the nomination of her party for the office of President of the United States in Philadelphia.

Hillary Clinton

Two hundred seventy-five miles away in Providence, a 19-year-old was speaking before 6,000 people on the importance of education for young women across the globe. This young woman had been speaking out for the rights of girls to be educated since she was 11 years old. Her father owned a school in the Swat Valley in Pakistan, and while living under the control of the Taliban, this girl began a blog for the BBC’s Urdu service. On October 9, 2012, while riding home from school, two masked men boarded her bus, asked specifically for Malala Yousafzai by name and proceeded to shoot her in the head at point-blank range. The bullet traveled through her head to her neck and then her shoulder. Remarkably, she did not die. In critical condition, she was transferred for treatment to a hospital which specialized in military injuries in Birmingham, UK. In 2013, after being released from the hospital, she began the Malala Fund “to bring awareness to the social and economic impact of girls’ education and to empower girls to raise their voices, to unlock their potential and to demand change.” On December 10, 2014, Malala accepted the Nobel Peace Prize, becoming the youngest recipient of the prize.

Malala

Two women on two different stages on the same night. As I sat between my daughter and son, listening to Malala speak, I couldn’t help but be moved by the significance of the evening. Eleven months ago, my children lost their mother, my wife, to cancer and I could only think of how proud she would have been of them for being there in the audience listening to Malala. How they would have gone on and on with her about sexism in America and around the world; how each of them, strong in their own right, would have enjoyed talking with their mother about the importance of an education and the weight of the evening. We went out to dinner after the speech. We talked for over an about the value of believing in yourself and the significance of education. The conversation was witty, intelligent, and sophisticated. I can’t help but think that both Malala and my wife would have been pleased. I am so proud.

As Hillary Clinton said last night, “When there are no ceilings, the sky’s the limit.” No woman should be forced to think less of themselves than any man and no society should consider women an inferior subgroup. And no woman should ever be quieted for speaking out against what they believe are wrongs in the world that need to be corrected. Regardless of your political position, last night was a night for the ages as two women took two stages and promised to bring change to the country and the world. As Malala said last night, “The terrorists wanted to silence me forever. They made a really big mistake.”

 

Sick of the Sickness

Once again, the earth has been rocked from its axis by the deaths of our neighbors. It is becoming harder and harder to maintain a list in my head of these atrocities. Humans are finding ever more inventive ways of killing one another. In 2001, no one had ever thought to use an airplane as a weapon. Now we have trucks racing through crowds of people to kill them. And I worry we have become numb to the violence. We offer thoughts and prayers for a short time and then move on to the next act of violence forgetting the cost of the violence on those left behind. I’m sick over this.

I am also sick; sick of the violence, sick of the heartache, sick of the pain caused daily by anger, callousness, and hatred. The hatred we see across our country and the world has led us to a dangerous precipice. There are those in our country who yearn for the day when we can raise up arms against our government. There are those in our country who cannot wait for a race war to start. There are those in our country who shoot first and never stop to ask questions later. There are those in our country who no longer engage in civil discourse. There are those in our country who base their freedom on religious distinctions or skin color or geographic location or gender or age or any other subcategory of which we don’t find ourselves belonging. The same can be said about the world. Religious differences, nations of origin, and other random segregations pit us against one another. I am sick of it.

So what is the answer, because if we continue down this dangerous path, we are headed toward a breakdown of civilization here and across the world, and that never happens without millions dying in war? We have a presidential nominee who welcomes torture and xenophobia. The world has gotten smaller through technology and transportation, and yet we seem to be drifting farther and farther apart. Nationalism is the concept that your country is the best simply because of an accident of being born in a particular place. We cannot let this be our sole guiding principle. Neither can we exclude others because they believe in a different god than we do. Wouldn’t it be nice if God, if there is a god, finally reached out to us and set the record straight? Imagine the clarity we could glean from that. Nations that exist due to arbitrary lines on a map might see one another as neighbors instead of threats. We have this one world, and we are doing everything we can to destroy it. What will be the result of such acts on its inhabitants? It can’t end well. I am sick.

Carl Sagan wrote about our little planet based on a photograph of the Earth sent back by Voyager 1 as it left our corner of the solar system. It was about 4 billion miles from the earth at the time, and the Earth is a pale blue dot in the photograph. From that distance, there are no prejudices, there are no guns, and there are no countries. It is John Lennon’s Imagine in a photograph. How can we internalize these concepts? My dog knew love and only love. Why can’t we be as smart as my dog? I’m sick.

The sickness of prejudice, any prejudice, is a learned sin. We are not born that way. The hatred and anger we see in the world is kindled by an epistemic closure. We only listen to those with whom we already agree. Debate and conversation are dead. We answer disagreements with guns and claim to have stood our ground. We have a Congress that cannot agree to keep guns away from terrorists or fight the Zika virus but feel vindicated as they leave on a seven-week vacation. We have the most divided Congress in history. Obstructionism has been taken to a new art form by this Congress as a way of stymying anything this president puts forth. No amount of spin can paint this as anything other than sick. I’m sick to my stomach.

Everyone battles their own problems in life. Perhaps if we stopped to acknowledge that and give each other the benefit of the doubt before jumping to conclusions and anger, we might forestall the hatred permeating society. Perhaps if we stopped to acknowledge that we are all in this together, we can put the earth back on its axis and prevent us from slipping down that slope toward more sickness. Our health starts with each of us. Look inside to see the spots of hatred and purge them. Take the stump out of your eye before complaining about the splinter in your neighbor’s. It starts with you and me.

Enough Hatred

There are times in one’s life when we may feel that the world is coming apart at the seams. Life is difficult, and the reasons for our strife are complicated. Likewise, the remedies always seem burdensome and untimely. However, there is no excuse for us not trying to make the world a better place. Our children deserve it, and we should demand it for them.

For hatred does not cease by hatred at any time; hatred ceases by love – this is an old rule. –The Pali Canon, Twin Verses, no.5

This has been a week of such strife. The murder of black citizens at the hands of law enforcement, the assassination of law enforcement by a heavily armed citizen, and the vitriol expressed throughout social media has done nothing to heal society’s wounds. The naïve claim that love is the answer. And as simplistic as it may seem, they are correct. We should listen to them. Listen to the children who know no racism, no hatred. The comedian Denis Leary stated it best when he said, “Racism isn’t born, folks. It’s taught. I have a 2-year-old son. Know what he hates? Naps. End of list.”

Hatred stirreth up strifes: but love covereth all sins. –Proverbs

We look at the police and see their militarization. We look at American society and see a citizenry armed to the teeth. One begets the other, and this arms race sees no resolution other than a conflict between sides. Gun zealots seem to crave a chance to take up arms against a perceived tyranny of government. This is not unlike religious zealots hoping for an end of days within their lifetime. It is irrational and dangerous.

My life, my real life, was in danger, and not from anything other people might do but from the hatred I carried in my own heart. –James Baldwin

The result of all of this hatred is more hatred. It is a self-fulfilling prophecy. Politicians will make the most of this dissension and attempt to be the answer rather than listening and hearing the needs of their constituents. Where one is hurting, all are hurting. We must try to tamp down the anger and recognize what we all have in common. Under the skin, we are all the same. We are each composed of muscle, nerves, and bone. And a high powered firearm will tear through all of those components, never stopping to see the color of our skin. The carrying of firearms openly in public only caused greater confusion for law enforcement this week and did nothing to stop a deranged shooter. The “thoughts and prayers” of politicians didn’t do anything to bring back the dead or heal the wounded. Some of those politicians who spoke out in support of police officers ignored the reasons for the protests. Indeed, some blamed the protesters for inciting the violence, completely ignoring the reasons for the protests.

Politics, as a practice, whatever its professions, has always been the systematic organization of hatreds. –Henry Adams

Police departments throughout the country need to understand the causes of the anger and do their part to rid themselves of less than exemplary officers. The chief of police in Dallas said this week that his officers need to be perfect 100% of the time. He’s correct and is right in expecting nothing less from his officers. Nothing, nothing warrants the execution of police officers. And nothing warrants the execution of people of color by police at the levels we see year after year. Again, the militarization of police forces is being done in response to the ever more lethal weaponry obtained by citizens. No citizen needs an AR-15. There are no reasonable, rational arguments to support the ownership of these weapons by the public. I’ve heard them all and none of them hold up. On the other hand, I know people who have lost loved ones to the carnage that these weapons can inflict on the human body, whether they be six-year-olds in their classroom or innocent movie goers in a theater.

Lord, make me an instrument of Your peace. Where there is hatred let me sow love; where there is injury, pardon; where there is doubt, faith; where there is despair, hope; where there is darkness, light; and where there is sadness, joy. –Saint Francis of Assisi

Hatred will solve no problem. Anger will only cause grief. Our country has seen enough grief this week and this year. Let us put aside our prejudices and see those around us as simply people with their own problems and their own issues. Everyone is struggling with something. You cannot see it on their face, but it is there. Give them the benefit of your kindness and we will create the society our children expect of us. Enough with the hatred. Call me naïve and I will thank you.

 

National Day of Action

13495181_10208951353837365_94521619094688861_nToday, I was one of the thousands of people across the country to attend an event tied to the National Day of Action. I was fortunate enough to attend a sit-in with Congressmen Cicilline and Langevin, along with mayors, local elected officials, survivors, clergy, members of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, members of the Rhode Island Coalition Against Gun Violence, and my children.

We attended adorned in our Moms Demand Action swag and were surprised to see that Moms Demand Action founder Shannon Watts was there. We have been “friends” on Facebook for several years now, but with me having lived in Texas until three weeks ago, it was a wonderful surprise to see her here in our little state. Everyone started the event sitting in chairs in the auditorium at the Providence Public Safety building in downtown Providence, however, it became apparent that Congressman Cicilline, who had just attended the sit-in in the well of the US House of Representatives with civil rights legend Congressman John Lewis only the week before, wanted us to sit around him on the stage. So we all got up and went to the stage while Congressman Cicilline continued his comments. Today’s speakers included elected officials, clergy, survivors, and advocates. And then Shannon Watts got up to speak.

After having worked with Moms Demand Action for several years now, it was incredible to be in the same room with Shannon and more amazing to hear her speak about the reasons we were all there. Just by way of background, Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America was founded by Shannon in her kitchen as a Facebook page to vent her anger and frustration following the mass killing at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut in December of 2012. Quickly, her Facebook page grew into a grassroots movement. Today, there are over 3.4 million supporters and there are chapters in every state in the country. As I wrote in my previous entry, the tide is turning in this country toward those concerned with preventing gun violence and in opposition to those elected officials defending the desires of the previously dominant (and unobstructed) gun lobby. Change will not happen overnight, but it will happen. Taking the work of Mothers Against Drunk Driving as the foundation for this movement, remember that it took MADD many years to achieve a significant shift in public opinion and legislative action. As Shannon says, this is a marathon and not a sprint.

Having now seen the work of chapters in Rhode Island and Texas, it is apparent that there are passionate members of this organization in both states. I have no doubt but that this passion is replicated across the country in all chapters. I thought my friends in the Texas chapter had a much harder road ahead of them until I saw that the speaker of the Rhode Island House is an “A” rated NRA lapdog, not unlike the leadership in Texas. Several important and reasonable pieces of gun violence prevention legislation were left off the docket as the Rhode Island legislature wrapped up its most recent session. Shame on him.

Because the Republican leadership in the United States Congress, in both houses, has no intention of addressing gun violence, gun violence prevention organizations across the country are taking the fight to state houses. Across the country, sensible legislation is being passed against the wishes of the gun lobby, but in agreement with the wishes of the overwhelming majority of Americans (even the majority of gun owners). It was the intention of this National Day of Action to show the national Republican leadership that the people want there to be a vote on two key pieces of legislation. First, a bill limiting access of those on the no-fly list access to firearms, and second, closing the background check loophole allowing the purchase of guns online and at some gun shows.

It was incredible to meet Shannon today. She is as wonderful and determined in person as she is online. She not only remembered me from Facebook, but she remembered that my wife had died and offered me her condolences. I will continue to offer my help to this organization in whatever way they find valuable. Equally impressive, to me, was that my children were there with me because they wanted to be there. Everything I do in this movement is for the benefit of my children and the children of parents everywhere. To have my kids there, wearing their orange and Moms Demand Action t-shirts was heartwarming. Again, they were there because they wanted to be there. I was very proud.

As Congressman Cicilline introduced speaker after speaker, it became apparent that there were several gun rights activists at the back of the room glaring at the crowd. One wore a t-shirt that read Ban Idiots Not Guns. Now I’m not sure what that was supposed to convey, perhaps an allusion to those mentally compromised having access to guns, or maybe it was a comment on the people in the room. Another person tried a strawman argument with Congressman Cicilline at the end of the event, attempting to put words into the congressman’s mouth and then argued against them. Following Congressman Cicilline’s rebuttal, the crowd roared their approval and shouted down the individual, thus bringing the event to its proper conclusion.

I look forward to continuing to work for Moms Demand Action (and any other organization in Rhode Island) to put an end to the daily slaughter of 91 people in this country and the heartbreak it brings to their loved ones and friends. Nothing else is acceptable. Thank you to Congressman Cicilline, Congressman Langevin, Providence Mayor Elorza, Shannon and the moms from Moms Demand Action in Rhode Island. Together we will make a better tomorrow for our children. We are on the right side of history. It’s only a matter of time.