Thoughts At Large

Passionate thoughts on random topics

Tag: Guilt

Jesus Shrugged

Jesus Shrugged

Six months ago today a young man with a history of mental illness, knowing his mother owned a legally obtained arsenal, shot and killed her, took these weapons designed to obliterate human flesh and proceeded to an elementary school where he shot his way in, murdered six dedicated educators and blew the faces off of 20 terrified six year old children with between 3 and 11 bullets each.

The fact that words could ever be arranged in this order, in one run-on sentence, capable of painting a scene of horror beyond Hollywood’s imagination (or sense of propriety) should have shocked us. Neither Edgar Allan Poe nor Stephen King could (nor would) conjure up a story with this plot, so sick is the premise. And yet, this sentence describes America in the 21st century. Worse yet is the reaction we had. We did nothing. “Pray,” our politicians told us. Any other solution is a knee-jerk reaction, anti-American, unpatriotic and unconstitutional. We allowed the seeds to be planted years ago by the NRA (and others) which today have blossomed into the paralysis we see in Washington, the evisceration of existing law and the flooding of America with firepower and an absence of responsibility.

While neither Hank Reardon, Dagney Taggert, Jim Taggert nor any other characters in Ayn Rand’s myopic, self-centered, Gold-is-the-new-God, dystopian, It’s-all-about-Me, fantasy have children, the rest of society seeks a balance between personal and societal advancement. Personal responsibility, the overriding theme of Atlas Shrugged, is rewarded in personal wealth. This shallow, simplistic idea only works in the abstract world of fiction. In reality, we are all part of an ant colony whose success or failure depends not only on our own participation and success, but on the participation and success of the other ants.

And in spite of this, the Tea Party (the new Republican party of Ted Cruz, Rand Paul and Marco Rubio) seeks to add Atlas Shrugged as the new, New Testament. The King Ted version of the Bible. Jesus Shrugged. God, guns and screw everybody else. I’ve got mine, you get yours. You’re on your own. Come and take it. Molon Labe.

181 days have passed since the (still incomprehensible) horror took place at Sandy Hook Elementary School. Spineless Republicans and Democrats in the Senate, afraid for their NRA rating (and the cash that accompanies it) and catering to the dullest, most simplistic but vociferous, absolutist, “patriotic” constituents, snubbed every attempt to clutch rationality from the jaws of paranoia and closeted racism, lied about imaginary gun registries, drove up gun sales with inflammatory rhetoric, ignored tear-stained relatives, friends or victims of gun violence declared “victory” for the Second Amendment and chuckled as “King Obama” lost. It is if any battle is worth political annihilation of the republic as long as this president loses, topic (or victims) be damned. How very patriotic.

Gun ownership in this country is down to less than one-third of households and yet gun sales continue to climb. If fewer people own guns, but guns continue to sell, it can only be surmised that the same people are buying more guns, which begs the question, how many guns can one shoot at once? It seems to me that the NRA needs to team up with doctors to develop an accelerated evolutionary path for these “patriots” so they can grow additional index fingers with which to pull triggers. Anything less is unconstitutional and against their God-given right as guaranteed under the Second Amendment and conferred upon them in the new, new testament.

America’s best days are ahead of it, but only if we stop trying to live in the past.

Six months with no action. Shame on Congress, shame on us.

Two Inches

Light travels at 671 million miles per hour. The sun is 93 million miles away from the earth. That means that if the sun exploded, we would not see it for 8 minutes and 19 seconds. A light year is the distance that light can travel in one earth year. This equates to 5,878,625 million miles, or roughly 6 quadrillion miles. The universe is estimated at about 93 billion light years across. How insignificant do you feel?

An electron is less than 1/1000 the diameter of a proton. A proton has a diameter of approximately 1/25,000,000,000,000 inch. Consider that there are about 7,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 electrons in the average human body. How colossal do you feel?

Cancer is the unchecked growth of mutated cells in an organism. Once established and supplied with their own blood source, these neoplasms or tumors replicate out of control. It typically takes 1,000,000,000 cancer cells in a tumor for it to be detectable using physical examination or conventional radiology.

It is against that backdrop that we humans can feel like the center of the universe in one breath and like cosmic dust in the next. We can feel like masters of our own dominion on the inhale and poker chips in a biological warfare game on the exhale. We spend our lives pushing against both our physical and mental limitations, shaping the imaginary form of what we can control in an effort to appreciate our daily lives and mollify our aspirations of significance, if not eternal life through posterity.

We all begin life believing we are the most important creature on earth. Over time, we struggle to accept that we must share this public stage; that the applause we hear is only ours to share. Eventually, we realize that the mark we make on the world is ours to carve and that we may use no tools save those of our own intelligence. We claw with our fingernails at an indifferent earth, paying the price of birth, baring the scars of experience (the blood-stained reminders of our successes and the rescued wisdom gleaned from our defeats) before giving way to those behind us. Life is a disorderly queue and each surviving generation steps ever forward to take the place of those who have gone before us.

And yet, with all of the collective knowledge humanity has amassed, cancer , biology and the march of time relentlessly cuts us down with concern for neither our individual accomplishments nor mankind’s self-appointed importance. None of which prevents us from fighting it. We bargain, promise, diet, pray, in essence, delude ourselves into thinking that chemistry, physics and biology are somehow under the purview of our control. Nowhere is this more evident than when disease or chance affects those we love the most. A willing suspension of belief absorbs us; we somehow seek mystical ways of trading places with our afflicted loved ones, to take the proverbial bullet on their behalf, ignoring the axiomatic in favor of the absurd.

It is this hopeless sensation that I feel when embracing my wife, whose cancerous tumors lay two inches below the skin’s surface, bent on their suicidal quest to metastasize beyond her lungs. Were I able, in that enveloping hug, I would pull the cancer out of her lungs through her back and into my fingertips, freeing her of the daily pain and altered future demanded of her illness. Willingly, I would cut off my hand, burn the cancerous appendage and celebrate the event in song and dance if it would help my wife.  All for the sake of two inches. How long would it take light to travel those two inches? How many electrons, were they capable of being paused and lined up, would it take to traverse those two inches? For the sake of those two inches, I am helpless.  Two inches.

Road Rage

I must admit to a certain bias.  Not to open the age old rift, but I fancy dogs more than cats. While I can accept the anthropomorphic attributes of wisdom, solitude and supremacy that we impose on cats in an effort to embrace them as something other than the self-centered, personality restricted, hangers-on that they truly are, I rather prefer the capricious, attention seeking, connection of a dog. The dog yearns to become part of a family, to participate in activities, offers affection and seeks attention.  Is this any different than me?  And while I anthropomorphize them and admit to attributing human emotion to their actions and reactions, I will not apologize.

I confess that I was fortunate enough to have been raised with dogs, and while their names (Bozo, Booker and Pandora) mean nothing to you, they engender warmth and familiarity on par with that of siblings to me.  Their deaths were no less painful than those of my grandparents, having occurred during the same era of my life. Now, as a father, the addition of our dog Delbow to our family offered no less enchantment.  When we welcomed him into our hearts, he was only eight weeks old and my twins were only nine years old.  Missing only the white picket fence, our future was a pastoral Rockwell painting.

Unfortunately, the past nine years has seen us leave our wonderful home, family and friends in Rhode Island and move to Texas to fight my wife’s aggressive, single-minded (though unfathomably suicidal) breast cancer, forced my children to uproot their lives and face parental mortality sooner than should be required and witnessed the various medical afflictions with which our beloved dog has had to endure (from blindness in one eye due to a retinal detachment, to emergency surgery to save the other, to two tibial plateau leveling osteotomies following two ruptured cranial cruciate ligaments, to surgery and radiation for a cancerous tumor in his neck).  In short, the life we had planned vaporized with the unwelcomed arrival of that insidious cancer and we have done our best to remain a family, drawing strength from each in our times of weakness under some unnecessarily painful and harrowing conditions. My wife fights on, my children pursue their lives and Delbow continues to offer his boundless affection.

It is against this backdrop that I share with you now my vexations at the way in which dogs are treated here in Texas (or at least in the area I travel daily to and from work). Not a week seems to elapse without my seeing the body of a dog lying by the side of the road. My anger comes in waves, my heart breaking.  Unanswerable questions flood my mind.  What home did this dog belong to? What must the family be thinking? Do they know their dog is missing? Do they know he is dead? Are there children in the home, facing the loss of their beloved boon companion? How could they not have secured their dog? Did he escape by accident? Did someone leave the door or gate open and now must endure the timeless misery of guilt?  Why does he lie there, day after day? Does no one care to retrieve him?

Sometimes the dog looks like he simply put his head down on the side of the road and slipped into a peaceful eternal slumber.  Other times, the carnage left by the accident leaves me hoping that pain was inhibited at the moment of impact. Either way, there is no excuse for these creatures to remain in their final repose for weeks on end. Soon bloated and fetid, and eventually transforming into a fur bag holding only bones, accumulating the dust and road grime wafting ever over them each day, they seem to linger there, pleading for exemption, crying in silent strains for finality as I hurry on my way, unable to avoid the scene, unable to look away.  Like some highway of death, this well-traveled road tears anew the gash in my heart every time I see the next victim.  Left there to die, and just left there.  Will I become accustomed to this over time?  Will I no longer see death’s hand by the side of the road?  Will I no longer have all of these questions surge through my mind?  I hope not. To have your heart broken requires a heart to begin with and and while mine tears anew, I defend against the nerve dulling scars and callouses that repetition imparts.  I am grateful for my Delbow and yearn to get home to give back to him that which he freely offers.

Killer Words

“Bully.”  What does that word make you think of?  Someone in particular, a story in the news, your past, yourself?  What about “Intimidation?”  What does that make you think of? “Assault?” “Coersion?” “Extortion?” What about phrases like “mob-mentality” or “balance of power” or “cyberbullying?”

Words have meanings and these meanings are the combined perceptions, prejudices and mores we assign to them, either consciously or inadvertently.  “Bullying” tends to take on the framework of childhood, to be equivocated, downplayed, “kids just being kids.” We typically think of our own lives, the times we were teased, taunted, called-out and called names.  “Toughen-up,” we were told, “Stand up to the bully and he will never bother you again.”  Unfortunately, these equivocations, this preconceived framework of childhood embarrassment betray us and we ignore the effect it has on the individual.  Bullying, in either its verbal, social or physical manifestation would be called harassment, stalking, coercion, extortion, blackmail or assault were it to happen to an adult.  Why, then, do we ignore one and summon the police for the other?  Again, it is the framework we build around the words.

If we relegate bullying to childhood (and young adulthood), we must also acknowledge that this is the time in an individual’s life when they are most vulnerable to the machinations of mobs.  Self-conscious in their physical appearance and their emotional well-being exposed, they magnify every kernel of attention, often distorting it to meet their current frame of mind.  We call it “peer pressure,” a nice, succinct phrase we too eagerly dismiss.  We’ve all been there, we all survived.  Kids!  What can you do?

Unfortunately, we don’t all survive.  Many of us are scared, either physically or mentally due to the effects of this early life assault.  We carry the bitterness of being a victim into adulthood; our self-esteem forever damaged.  We doubt ourselves, limiting our potential and stunting our development, both social, emotional and financial.

Some of us do not survive at all.  According to the Centers for Disease Control, suicide is the third leading cause of death among Americans aged 15-24.  Preliminary 2010 data shows that this amounted to 4,559 kids killing themselves.  3,784 boys whose parents will be destroyed forever and 775 girls whose parents will blame themselves forever, condemned to a lifetime of lost opportunities with acid in their stomach, muscles twisted into perpetual pain and a hole in their heart that will never know comfort.  A lifetime of events left as shattered dreams instead of captured memories.  And why?  Because another individual or group did not “like” their son or daughter?  They did not wear the right clothes, listen to the right music, play the right sport, do the right drugs or drink the right alcohol?  Did they dare to think for themselves, and in doing so become ostracized to the point of complete emotional isolation, the perfect incubator for irrational teenage thoughts to propagate?  The majority of these deaths occur with the explosion of a gun and a bullet tearing into the skull of the child their parent would willingly throw themselves in front of a train to protect.

There is an ongoing debate as to whether cyber bullying should carry the same penalties as bullying, as if the environment in which it is inflicted has any bearing on its effect.  Again, it is the equivocation of words.  The damage is the same, so too should be the penalty.  Worse, the internet never sleeps and feeds upon itself.  One posting has the potential to metastasize into thousands, creating an exponential damage multiplier on its victim.  “Libel.”  “Slander.”  “Extortion.”  “Stalking.”  “Inciting violence.”  “Mob mentality.”  “Coercion.”  “Blackmail.”  “Assault.”  These terms should replace the innocuous “bullying” (or cyber bullying).  Let’s not get trapped in a naming convention when we should be acknowledging the symptoms and acting appropriately.

Amanda Todd killed herself last Wednesday.  She was 15 years old.  Her YouTube video, posted five weeks before she took her life, showed a series of hand written cards outlining her plight and finishing with these words:

I have nobody.

I need someone.

My name is Amanda Todd.

Tell me again how bullying is just a rite of passage, a childhood gauntlet through which we all pass, always made the stronger for surviving?  Tell Amanda’s parents.

A Bug’s Life

I saw a bug yesterday, a beetle actually.  It was in the parking garage attached to my building at work.  It was black and shiny, almost iridescent, about an inch long.  It lay on its back, legs flailing helplessly, trying to right itself.  I flashed my badge at the sensor on the door and walked by, my morning coffee in one hand, my lunch bag and computer bag in the other.  It was 7:15 AM.  At 5:30 PM, pleased with the day’s accomplishments and eager to get home, dreading the hour commute, but looking forward to seeing my wife and dog, I left the building and walked to the garage.  There, in the same spot I had seen it earlier in the day; lay the beetle, now motionless.  It was dead.  Why had I not helped it?  Why did I feel guilty?  It was only a bug.  I had stepped on, swatted at or killed hundreds of bugs in my lifetime. Why did I feel guilty?   As I walked into work this morning, I looked for the beetle, half hoping not to see it.  Why does it still bother me?