Thoughts At Large

Passionate thoughts on random topics

Tag: Life

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!

Sparks and Shadows

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I hesitate to mention this, but I think there may be sparks returning to my life. I say I hesitate to mention this because there is still the inevitable sadness, anger, and pain. However, for the first time in forever, I’m starting to see the flashes of life returning to me. I know I must go on. I know I must live. I have that option denied to Lisa and must make the best of it.

Friends have helped immensely in bringing me to this point. They have been patient and compassionate, insistent and decisive, unlike me. But I’m getting there.

One effect of these flashes is the shadow it places on my old life. This can be very exhilarating if the flash blots out the pain of these past seven years or if it casts a warm shadow on a pleasant memory. Sparks of a new life are all around me. Now I need to corral them into a consistent fire that will keep me warm and light my way. Wish me luck.

Phoenix (or Ashes and Brambles)

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Too often during this process of grieving, I have been angry. As I addressed in the last post, I had been charged with creating an imaginary entity to which I can assign the anger. I chose God. The next chapter in this process is to determine what will make me happy. How do I want my life to look in five years? As one who has been burned by planning in the past, with ashes the only remaining vestiges of the future I once built, this is an immeasurably more difficult assignment.

I want my children to be happy and successful in whatever endeavor they choose. I want them to live wherever they want but I want them to remain close to me emotionally. I want to be the person from whom they seek advice or from whom they seek comfort when life throws them a nasty curve. Outside of that, I want to continue in my job, which brings me joy and satisfaction. I would like to travel. I want Sam to be my tour guide in Italy and Cam to be my guide in the UK. I would like to learn French or Italian. Not because I plan on living there of traveling extensively, but because I have always had problems learning a foreign language and I like the challenge. I would like to learn to play the piano. I would like to read all of the classics. I would like to learn art history.

But will doing these things make me happy? What will people say of me five years from now? Will they say that I survived my wife’s death well? Will they say that I was able to move on and formed a new life outside of my new identity as a widower? Will I be alone? Will I find love again? Will I survive?

The answers to these questions plague me. In many ways, the question is the same: What will make me happy and what will people think of me five years from now? These both boil down to having a fulfilling life following a major upheaval. When I applied for the job I currently hold, I was asked by my boss’s boss where I saw myself in five years. That was four years ago. Rather than dazzle him with my ambition and tell him that I wanted his job in five years, I reflected on the future which lay in tatters before me. And so, I told him that I did not know where I would be in five years. That I respected that I was new to the company and that I would need to learn the company and the industry before laying out a career path. I don’t know if that was the perfect answer, but he told me I was correct to temper my ambitions with reality. I got the job.

Today I feel that I am being asked the same question. Where do I want to be in five years? But rather than a career path question, this is a life path question. Again, I feel that I must have the same response. I need to learn the landscape of this new life, acknowledging that it is new and different than the life I lived before. In many ways, I am newborn. I have the second part of my life before me. But I must respect that I have little in the way of plans or ambitions that bear any resemblance to the life I led before. True, I’ve always wanted to travel, but now I face the prospect of travelling alone or as a third wheel when my children take their eventual families on vacation. This does not excite me. It’s a little like being the afterthought invitation for a party after you’ve heard about the party but hadn’t been originally invited.  Other ambitions (reading, learning a foreign language, playing the piano) are nice wishes, not life plans. True, they will bring me joy and occupy my time, but are these life plans? I don’t know. My life plans before were to work until I was ready to retire, then Lisa and I would travel together around the country and around the world, with or without the kids, depending on their station in life. We would spend our time in our home together or on the Cape. But as I pull at that thread now, there is little desire to travel alone and the thought of an empty, silent home (soon to also be devoid of our little white ball of canine love) terrifies me.

And so, to this question, I have no firm response. The future before me is a blank slate, equal parts terror and excitement. Perhaps over time, I will see the shimmering outline of a path through the thicket, but right now there are only brambles and thorns, silence and loneliness. And so I read my classics, look forward to studying piano, and tackling French or Italian. My future, in ashes, will rise like the phoenix, whether I want it to or not, whether I plan it or not. Better to have a say in the process than be overrun with other’s expectations. To the question, how do I want people to see me in five years, I can only say that I hope they see me as living my life, a different life, maybe a better life maybe not, but a life denied my wife.

I Hate This Life

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The bell strikes one. We take no note of time                                                             But from its loss.                                                                                                                                 – Edward Young, Night Thoughts. Night I, l. 55, 1742.

I hate this life. In fact, it is “life” only in name. I continue to inhale and exhale and my heart continues to beat, but I really only exist. The day begins with my alarm at 4 am. I open my eyes to the empty space in bed where Lisa used to sleep. I get ready for work and feed Delbow, whose pancreatitis and pneumonia are being treated but for whom I can do nothing. I leave for work at 5 am and listen to a book on the way. At work, I am either busy or try to stay busy until 3 pm when I drive home listening to the same book. I open the door and greet Delbow, giving him a cookie. I change and sit in the living room. It is 4:30. And time stops.

I prepare everything for the next morning. I ready Delbow’s medications. I feed him. I feed myself. It is all mechanical, devoid of interest. The house is no longer a home. It sits unused. The gardens are overgrown and weedy. All of Lisa’s belongings still reside where she left them. Her glasses. Her purse. Her walker stands folded in the laundry room. I watch television because it passes the time. It too is lifeless. Hours of “How It’s Made” on the Science channel. After an interminable amount of time, I look up. It is 7:30. Is it too early to go to bed? To escape this mental prison? I go to bed deciding to read a book. My mind is incapable of concentrating these days and I gloss over a page of text before realizing I have absorbed nothing of the story. I put the book down. I cannot sleep yet. I turn the television back on. There is a Modern Family repeat on. I’ve seen it twelve times before. I anticipate the lines of the show, wishing I could  sleep. Finally, after a marathon of Modern Family and The Big Bang Theory reruns, I turn off the television and shut off the light. My mind races and thinks of all things Lisa. I cry. At some point, I fall asleep.

Oh, I know what Lisa would say. First, she would give me a Cher to Nicholas Cage in Moonstruck slap and tell me to snap out of it.Then she would tell me that I need to live because I can and she cannot. She would tell me that I have to stay healthy, physically and mentally, for the kids. That they are relying on me and taking coping cues from me.  I don’t want sympathy. I don’t want a shoulder upon which to cry. I want Lisa. Everything will get easier with time, they say. Time. I have time! I have too much time and not enough answers. I understand all of these things in my head, but my heart is broken and empty, grieving for what it cannot have.

At 3 am the phone rings. It is Samantha. She has had a bad dream about Lisa and wants to talk it out. I am grateful for her call. She relates the details of the dream and I cry too. How can I not? It is heartbreaking. I tell her I hate this life and she says she understands. We talk about her art and try to change the subject. Eventually, she says she feels better and apologizes for calling. I tell her I’m glad she called and she says she can go back to sleep. I say I love you, she says she loves me, and she hangs up. It is 3:40. I lay there replaying the conversation until the alarm goes off at 4 when I look over at the empty space where Lisa used to sleep. Rinse. Wash. Repeat.

James Brady

spotlight-image-1James Brady died today.

For those too young to remember, Mr. Brady was President Reagan’s White House Press Secretary.

On Monday, March 30, 1981, only 69 days into his presidency, a disturbed young man fired a $12.95 revolver six times in 1.7 seconds. One of his “Devastator”-brand bullets, designed to explode on impact struck Mr. Brady above the left eye and detonated inside his skull.  Another round struck the president under his armpit. Fortunately, the president recovered, but Mr. Brady suffered a horrible head wound and was left partially paralyzed and bound to his wheelchair for the rest of his life.  Mr. Brady died today. Not every gun violence victim dies at the scene and the story never ends when the smoke clears.

In 1985, Sarah Brady joined the gun control movement, rising to chair The Center to Prevent Handgun Violence in 1991. However, it was not her husband’s shooting that got Mrs. Brady involved. To quote her:

 “Most people think I got seriously involved in the gun violence issue when Jim was shot. But it was actually another incident that started my active participation with gun violence prevention efforts.

It was back in the summer of 1985. Our family was visiting Jim’s hometown, Centralia, Illinois. At that time, our son Scott was just six years old. We had some friends who owned a construction company and they had a lovely home at the edge of town that had a swimming pool.

One day, our friend and an employee stopped by in a company pickup truck and asked if Scott and I would like to go out to the house for a swim. We thought that was a great idea. Scott got in first, and I climbed in behind him. He picked up off the seat what looked like a toy gun, and started waving it around, and I thought this was a perfect chance to talk to him about safety. So I took the little gun from him, intending to say he must never point even a toy gun at anyone.

As soon as I got it into my hand, I realized it was no toy. It was a fully-loaded Saturday-night special, very much like the one that had shot Jim. I cannot even begin to describe the rage that went through me. To think that my precious little boy had come so close to tragedy.

From that day on, I decided that much more needed to be done to help keep children safe from guns. And since that time, I have fought against the gun lobby and anyone else who wants guns “anywhere, at any time for any one.”

Forty-three different men have risen to become president of the United States. Four of them have been shot to death.  Two more have been wounded by gunfire and five more were shot at, but the assassin missed. That’s eleven out of 43. As president, you have a better than 25% chance of being shot at, shot and wounded or shot and killed. And this is a person protected by the best trained, best equipped individuals in the world.

Gun violence takes a crushing toll on surviving victims, family members (turned caregivers), friends, lost opportunities, lifelong pain, PTSD, massive medical bills and countless dreams left shattered on countless days of life’s calendar.

Mr. and Mrs. Brady did not ask for this route, but they cut a path through a dangerous, well defended forest and paved the way for the rest of us to forge a better tomorrow where dreams do not explode with a bullet’s impact. Mr. Brady died today, but their work continues.

My Confession

I have a confession to make. It’s not one I’m proud of, especially given my small participation in trying to reduce gun violence in America. On May 23rd, in Santa Barbara, a gunman killed six people and then himself on a college campus. On June 5th, in Seattle, a gunman killed one person on a college campus. On June 8th, in Las Vegas, a couple killed three people, including two police officers and then themselves. And yesterday, in Troutdale, Oregon, a student killed another student and then himself. Oh, and on June 3rd, in New Brunswick, Canada, a gunman killed three police officers. Nineteen days have passed since the murders in Santa Barbara. Eighteen people died in those 5 incidents.

According to the Brady Campaign, on average, 86 people are killed by gun violence in America every day (33 are murdered and another 50 kill themselves). Every day another 205 are shot and survive (including 148 shot during an assault, 10 suicide attempts and 45 “accidents”). To annualize those numbers is to understand the magnitude of our psychosis. 31,346 people are killed due to gun violence every year. Another 74,835 are injured, but survive. That amounts to over 100,000 Americans victims of gun violence every year.

In the 543 days since 20 six- and seven-year olds were murdered along with six of their teachers at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut on December 14, 2012, there have been 74 school shootings. Seventy four! If the chart below of school shootings doesn’t scare the bejeezus out of you, you have liquid nitrogen running through your veins.

Yesterday, President Obama said, “The country has to do some soul searching about this. This is becoming the norm, and we take it for granted, in ways that as a parent are terrifying to me.” Ah, but all of these people must be crazy, whispered the 2A “patriots.” To wit, the president said, “The United States does not have a monopoly on crazy people.”

The United States has a gun homicide rate 20 times higher than other developed countries. Surely, we are not to believe that we have 20 times more mentally troubled people than these other developed countries. Their reply, “It’s the person not the gun. A gun is an inanimate object. If it weren’t for the gun, they would find another method.” To wit, I would refer you to author Steven King’s response in his book Guns:

 “I read a jaw-dropping online defense of these weapons from a California woman recently. Guns, she said, are just tools. Like spoons, she said. Would you outlaw spoons simply because some people use them to eat too much? Lady, let’s see you try to kill twenty school kids with a fucking spoon.”

There are over 300,000,000 guns in America. If having a gun made people safer, America would be the safest country on the planet. We’re not. Not even close.

The White House tweeted the following comment from the president yesterday:

So, my question to you is this: What will it take? The slaughter of 20 school children didn’t do it. Eighty six deaths and 205 injuries a day hasn’t done it.  Seriously, what will it take for us to say, “Enough”?  Is there a number? Is there a victim? Are we content with this and numb to the stories? Have we swallowed the “good guy” line from the NRA and now consider these deaths and injuries collateral damage and friendly fire in order for us to “exercise” our “God given” Second Amendment right? Or are we ready to insist on change? Will we demand a better, safer future for our children? As one of the millions who work every day to bring about change I believe we deserve, I hope so, because here is my confession: I have muddled the most recent shootings. I can’t keep them straight in my head. I feel horrible for the victims, family members and friends of the victims, because they deserve to be remembered. I just can’t keep them straight anymore. I demand better of myself and my country. What about you?

A Conversation With My Daughter

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“Taught from their infancy that beauty is woman’s sceptre, the mind shapes itself to the body, and roaming round its gilt cage, only seeks to adorn its prison.”

Mary Wollstonecraft, A Vindication of the Rights of Woman

I am lucky. As a heterosexual, white, American man, I found, out of the millions of available women, the best. Does that sound right? “I,” “I found,” “I am lucky.” Let me try to rephrase that. A strong, compassionate, brilliant woman, a woman with talent and brains and limited tolerance for fools, a woman destined to positively impact the lives of countless people, chose me. Better. Although I was right, I was/am lucky.

I had the most incredible conversation with my 19 year old daughter last night. It was a text message conversation, but, in many ways, the technology was not a barrier to thought or feelings, but an aid. Perhaps it is the inherent delay in responding or the necessity to distill thoughts into typed words. Whatever the cause, the effect was blinding, pure logic bathed in compassion. The subject: Feminism.

Again, I’m a guy. But that does not preclude me from discussing or even embracing feminism. Ultimately, feminism is one wavelength within the light spectrum of equality.

Plato wrote in The Republic,“If women are expected to do the same work as men, we must teach them the same things.” That was in 380 B.C.

On October 9, 2012, Malala Yousafzai was shot in the head by the Taliban on her school bus for having the audacity to think, “Let us pick up our books and our pens,” I said. “They are our most powerful weapons. One child, one teacher, one book and one pen can change the world.” (I Am Malala: The Girl Who Stood Up for Education and Was Shot by the Taliban)

Clearly, in 2,392 years we have done little to evolve as humans. Why do some (males and females) see feminists as the enemy? Why have some vilified them as militant, anti-men?

To help answer this question, I need to back up to a 30,000 foot view of “civilized society.” My daughter is an artist, and the best kind. She is infused with talent, an incredible work ethic blended with a strong desire to learn and stirred by passion; truly a recipe for greatness, both as an artist and as a compassionate human. As we chatted last night we wandered into a metaphor that, I think carries some veracity. The idea that while seeing all issues in pure black and white is easy (read: requires little or no thought), it is boring and excludes the rainbow of colors that make life (and art) joyful. Seeing (or rather acknowledging) the gray in an issue requires us to pause and consider differing opinions, perspectives and, potentially, shaking the ledge upon which we base our morals. It is neither comfortable nor easy, but it is necessary and should be required! Somewhere along the line, Descartes argument cogito ergo sum (I think therefore I am) has been bludgeoned into “I am, therefore I need not think.” How sad.

Feminism is not the charge of a select group of women but rather the obligation of all rational thinkers, therefore, all of humankind. Where it is the weak minded and threatened man who disdains feminists, so too is it the weak minded and male-oriented, society-molded female who defends organized subjugation. To subjugate one is to imprison all. Eleanor Roosevelt said it best, “”No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.” Our willing abdication of thought may inevitably lead to an Orwellian future of newspeak, doublethink, thoughtcrimes and perpetual war. How far down this road are we already? Who wants to drive?

I am proud of my daughter. She is strong-willed, passionate and compassionate, thinks for herself and wants to make the world a better place. If that is the definition of a feminist, sign me up.

Gold

Gold barsWe live in a disposable economy; neither secret nor revelation there! We also live in a society where we, through technology and media, demand instant gratification and are easily bored with work and distracted by shiny objects. It is easier to walk away from a problem than wrestle with it, but seldom right. It is easier to think of oneself rather than another, but rarely without consequence. We eschew effort as well as personal responsibility and popular culture celebrates this behavior. The existentialist will tell you that we are all, in fact, islands; that no one can truly appreciate what we, as individuals, think or feel. At the same time, however, we are all cogs in the various and intricate machinery we know as society.

Many of us, either through nature or nurture, seek to live our lives with the company of another; to see if the teeth on our cog mesh with those of another’s, thereby (it is hoped) creating a larger, stronger organism. It is often a disruptive union, calling on an island to expose its perceived weaknesses to another in hopes of reuniting Pangaea and weathering life’s storms together. Marriage forces two individuals to add the moniker “couple” to themselves, making each participant defend the ethos of the other before society while at the same time trying to maintain their own sense of self. And therein, lies one of the two reasons these unions fail. Statistics tell us that half of marriages fail. Maybe “fail” is not the right word. When reduced to basics, the individual cogs simply do not work together, despite love’s miasma and an individual’s sometimes tortuous effort. There are many different reasons for these failures, not all of them assignable to one party or the other. However, “facts is facts.” According to the 2010 census, only 82% of Americans who married reached their 5 year anniversary. Sixty-five percent made it to 10 years. Fifty-two percent made it to 15 years.

Of course, divorce is not the only reason that couples fail to reach these milestones. The other way that marriages end is through the death of one partner. You needn’t look at an actuarial table to see that as people get older the overall number of them still living decreases. You may have graduated 43rd in your high school class, but with enough luck and a genetic lottery winning ticket, someday you will be 1st! George Burns wasn’t the tallest in his high school at graduation, but by living to 99 he assumed that title from all those who were taller but preceded him in death. Consequently, the number of couples reaching higher milestones drops significantly as the years pass. Only 33% of couples reach their 25th anniversary, again, through a combination of avoiding death and divorce. Only 20% of couples reach their 35th anniversary. Of course, while only two things can end a marriage, either divorce or death, not even death can hold sway over love. The remaining cog may still turn as part of society but it forever misses the other.

This September, I will celebrate my 25th wedding anniversary with the woman whose cog fit mine; who softened the rough teeth of my cog and kept our machine moving where teeth on my cog were missing or broken. To reach such a height is to know the wonder, pain, strength and suffering that sharing your life with another affords. Experience can neither be taught nor bequeathed and, for those who make it through, would not be traded for all the world’s gold. The tapestry we have woven together, comprised of the countless threads we call memories, warms me, comforts me and leads me toward tomorrow’s challenges armed with confidence.

Tomorrow also marks a milestone fewer than 5% of couples attain. My parents celebrate their 50th wedding anniversary. In a society where we are encouraged to trade our gold for cash, it is nice to see a couple whose determination to face life’s challenges as one reach their Golden Anniversary, a milestone more treasured than treasure; something forged in life’s furnace like no one else’s, answerable to no one else and more precious than cash. No life is easy, no journey without challenges, but it is the challenges that create character and we celebrate couples who have weathered these challenges and persevered. Thanks to my wife, and the story we are still writing, and my parents whose own book is now gold gilded, I understand a quote from Dr. Seuss today better than yesterday and hope to appreciate it better tomorrow than today.

 “You know you’re in love when you can’t fall asleep because reality is finally better than your dreams.”

Happy anniversary to my parents and Lisa, I love you.

Inertia

Bullet Flag

It has been one year since the awful events of December 14, 2012 occurred at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut. One year since a disturbed individual availed himself of the arsenal his mother had legally purchased and shattered families in the little New England town and horrified individuals throughout the country and the world. Reaction was swift (except for the NRA) and all signs pointed to a paradigm shift occurring in the long argued battle over gun rights in America.

However, it proved to be a difficult year, not just for the families forced to endure each holiday or family event without their loved one. Indeed, for these uncounted victims, while they did not lose their lives on that fateful day, they certainly lost the lives they had known and the futures for which they had planned and expected. Daily events, done thousands of times before, took on a new, mechanical air as they searched to redefine “normal.” It is for these people and the loved ones they have lost that many people joined the voices of those calling for change. As I searched for some way to understand the past year’s events, the term “inertia” kept clawing into my mind. And so, using the words of Sir Isaac Newton, I begin:

“Every body perseveres in its state of rest, or of uniform motion in a right line, unless it is compelled to change that state by forces impressed thereon.” Axioms or Laws of Motion, Law I, Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy, page 12, Sir Isaac Newton, 5 July 1687

Prior to the multiple, brutal mass shootings of 2012, organizations such as the Brady Campaign To Prevent Gun Violence and its legislative arm the Legal Action Project have been fighting the ever increasingly extremist positions of the NRA in courts across the country securing minor victories against a tide of right wing battles which have resulted in concealed carry becoming legal in all 50 states, open carry laws spreading like spilled blood across the country and stand your ground laws allowing shoot first confrontations to become immune to punishment and rationale to the paranoid. In addition, the NRA has systematically enticed Congress to reduce funding for firearm violence research, rendered impotent the ATF and exempted gun manufacturers from all product liability responsibility; this seismic shift occurring despite the screams of those opposing the proliferation of guns and warning of their inevitable violent toll on society. However, to the general public, raised on and catered to by sound bites and instant gratification, these long-term societal changes went unnoticed.

To use Newton’s terminology, the body (society) persevered in a state of rest (miasmic banality) WHILE it was (quietly) compelled to change that state by forces (NRA) impressed thereon. In effect, while we were distracted by other crises being broadcast 24/7 on cable news, it took the events of 2012 for us to realize not only the playing field had changed, but that we were in the third quarter of a different sport. In doing so, lives were lost, families destroyed and history altered. Shame on us.

 “The alteration of motion is ever proportional to the motive force impressed; and is made in the direction of the right line in which that force is impressed.”  Axioms or Laws of Motion, Law II, Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy, page 12, Sir Isaac Newton, 5 July 1687

Many people began to wake up following the midnight movie theater shooting in Aurora, Colorado on July 20th. Most did not. The momentum created by the murders culminated in prayer vigils, moments of silence and an increase in gun sales across the country, including in Aurora.

Unfortunately, it would take another, even more mind-twisting event to wake the majority of Americans.  Only 147 days later, another disturbed individual, armed with a weapon of war, laid bare America as a gun violence dystopia to a disbelieving world. Suddenly, there was an outrage that flashed longer than a prayer filled candlelight vigil, longer than a moment of silence. People from across the country looked directly at the entities responsible for allowing this type of future to unfold: the gun lobby and the elected officials that they owned. Ever aware of their behind the scenes effectiveness and ability to outlast the public, the gun lobby “pleaded” with America not to politicize the tragedy arguing that it was not the right time to discuss legislation when so many families were in immediate pain. Unbelievably, and counter to all rational thinking, the NRA responded by saying the cure for gun violence was more guns. More cancer is not the cure for cancer. Drilling more holes in the bottom of the boat is not the cure for a sinking vessel. Eating more steak is not the cure for heart disease. But according to the NRA, more guns will cure America of its gun violence. Across the country, the sound of gears, springs and cogs could be heard crashing out of the logical brains of rational people.

Over the following months, a groundswell of accidental activists began asking, aloud, what could be done to change our society, to create a future where our children were safe from the hail of bullets in a country awash in firearms. The well-oiled machine that is the gun lobby sent forth their legion of followers with canned arguments too short to fill a bumper sticker and too simplistic to defend. Here, Newton’s second law of motion became evident. The trajectory the gun lobby had set the country upon was being impressed upon with a motive force from the majority of Americans not beholden to a gun metal deity. The new activists credited those who had been fighting all along for their successes and acknowledge, in Newton’s own words that, “If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of Giants.”

“To every Action there is always opposed an equal Reaction: or the mutual actions of two bodies upon each other are always equal, and directed to contrary parts.” Axioms or Laws of Motion, Law III, Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy, page 13, Sir Isaac Newton, 5 July 1687

However, as predicted and anticipated by the gun lobby, America’s fickle attention wandered to other crises. Gun safety legislation, considered unassailable in December, sputtered and crashed when the gun lobby reminded Senate Republicans (and a few Democrats in red states) who owned them. And this is when the most amazing part of the story occurred. Those accidental activists demanding gun safety did not fold up their tents and go home. To the chagrin of the gun lobby, the activists absorbed the legislative loss, considered it a learning opportunity and realized that the change they saw as necessary and obvious would not be achieved immediately. It was a marathon, not a sprint. Again, to quote Newton, “Men build too many walls and not enough bridges.”

It was this event, the recognition of the gun safety activists that change would take time, which brings us to the question of whether we will remain in Newton’s third law of motion or see further movement because of his second. Will the opposing forces on the gun issue in America push against each other in a long-term stalemate, or will one side emit enough force to alter the trajectory of this issue?

Rather than demand change from the existing politicians locally and nationally, the activists have begun developing campaigns to elect a legislature more conducive to change. Rather than have a hissy-fit and demand a recall when a vote goes against their wishes, activists have embraced a longer term agenda of electing those who will act in the best interest of society and not the best interest of gun manufacturers. They have also sought to change our communities, not through legislation, but with the pressure of the pocketbook. Corporations are being pressured to provide safe shopping environments for their customers devoid of the testosterone-fueled paranoid shouldering their beloved bazooka.

Interestingly enough, the push back seen by the gun enthusiasts has been in the form of misogynistic berating of activists, the creation of “bleeding” gun targets in the image of the president and female gun safety activists and groups of gun-toting enthusiasts parading through towns and posing outside gun safety activist meetings. Is this the best approach the gun lobby can muster? Evidence suggests that these pedantic actions expose the gun lobby as the far right wing paranoids they are. Attacking ones opponent rather than their position will not win arguments. As Cicero said, “He only employs his passion who can make no use of his reason.”

And so here we are, one year out from the horrors of December 14, 2012. Which of Newton’s laws of motion will prevail? Perhaps Newton himself predicted the outcome when he said, “I can calculate the motion of heavenly bodies but not the madness of people.” May logic overcome vitriol and compassion trump paranoia.

The Wolfe of Main Street

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“You can’t go back home to your family, back home to your childhood … back home to a young man’s dreams of glory and of fame … back home to places in the country, back home to the old forms and systems of things which once seemed everlasting but which are changing all the time – back home to the escapes of Time and Memory.”

Published in 1940, two years after the loquacious author Thomas Wolfe unexpectedly died, You Can’t Go Home Again belongs to a select group of novels whose title has entered American speech as a catch phrase. Catch-22 also enjoys this status of being a book few have read but we all seem to use the phrase in daily life with a winking acknowledgment.

We all know what “you can’t go home again” means, but a deeper understanding of the sentiment behind the phrase yields a bountiful crop of compassionate undergrowth.

To begin with the obvious, anyone returning to their hometown following a period away notices the changes. Gone is the local drug store, replaced by a pharmacy chain. Gone is the chain toy store you once protested against when it bought out the local toy store. Gone is the barber shop at which you used to get your hair cut, where they had to use the booster seat to allow you to sit high enough for the barber, who doubled as your neighbor. Mom and Pop stores are eaten by chains, which are, in turn, swallowed by larger chains; themselves prey to the threat from the internet and online shopping. Sure, the ice cream parlor still remains, but the menu has changed, the furnishings updated, the uniforms different and the charm captured by childhood gone. Restaurants change name, fields become strip malls and the potato farm beyond the outfield has grown into a neighborhood.

Still, the phrase refers to to time not distance or travel. How often is the frustration of the dieter who weighs themselves daily validated by the comments of those who do not see the individual on a daily basis? How many times do we catch our reflection in the morning mirror wondering who that old person is staring back? So too, is the change of “home” incremental yet perpetual.  Daily life contains checklists, both mental and written, which drive our actions.

  • Get up at 6:00, eat breakfast, shower, shave, dress
  • Run to the supermarket (we need bananas and bread (critical))
  • Must stop at the Post Office to drop off the package to ensure it arrives at Aunt Clara’s before her birthday on Tuesday
  • I’d like to get to Barnes & Noble to pick up that new book Charlie was raving about
  • Dinner with the group tonight (whose house is it at?)
  • Get to bed at a “decent” time tonight. That twitch in my lower eye lid is driving me crazy.

Seldom do we slow down enough to see how much has changed. Perhaps this is done on purpose. Each of us carries a mental picture of everyone else in their mind. Ask yourself, “When was this “picture” snapped?” My image of my grandfather (my father’s father) was snapped in his basement, hovering over his workbench. When was that? 1970-something? My image of my grandmother (my father’s mother) is of her sitting at her kitchen table scratching at the incessant itching in her hands, offering me one snack after another. When was that? My image of my other grandmother (my mother’s mother) resides in actual snapshots; photographs I’ve seen which merge with stories I’ve heard from those older than me, and thus capable of holding a memory. And so it is with everyone I’ve ever met. Name someone and I will unconsciously recall a moment in time and an age of that person at which they are forever frozen. This is one of the conundrums I have with the concept of heaven. Should I die and be admitted to the ultimate club and see my paternal great-grandmother (who, in my youth seemed to be Methuselah’s age when she died), how old would she seem to me? And at what age would she appear to her great-grandmother who died when my great-grandmother was in cloth diapers in Italy?

Memories rush up to meet us without recall demands made; the mystique of “family” softened by the endless waves of time. There is a promontory rock in my hometown against which an endless line of waves crash. This rock has endured wave upon wave since before my birth and will endure them for countless millennia after I die, with little change to the rock. Ovid said, ““Dripping water hollows out stone, not through force but through persistence.” Persistence measured in thousands of years eludes my capacity of comprehension.

And while Main Street changes over time, we cannot forget that it is a two-way street. Those exposed to the daily changes accept them as the new “normal.” Times change and we have to keep up! The reinsertion of the returning local into this new equation causes an unintentional sheering of expectations from memory. The resident expects the returning friend/relative to merge with the existing daily life to which they have become accustomed through the gradual hollowing out of the stone of the local landscape. The collision of the returning individual’s memory with the resident’s daily reality, coupled with the mental image we carry of the individual, can yield conflict and confusion. Family mystique is usually best carried by those who have physically had to relocate. A myth develops over time of something the individual perceives as having been taken from them, whereas the reality is simply human beings in one small community clashing and embracing, subject to the baggage we all carry. Grudges are held, “hatred” festers, blame is assigned and emotional distance creates a gulf where no physical distance exists. To the physically removed family member, these animosities seem petty and counterproductive. Consider the view of the astronaut aboard the International Space Station looking through the port hole at the earth as it passes constantly from daylight into night and back again. How meaningless do our conflicts seem from afar? How insignificant do national borders seem, religious differences resulting in warfare, the skin color or sex of one ant from another? Unfortunately, few of us have the ability to step back and observe from such a height, even figuratively. Wolfe expands upon his catch phrase below:

 Some things will never change. Some things will always be the same. Lean down your ear upon the earth and listen.

The voice of forest water in the night, a woman’s laughter in the dark, the clean, hard rattle of raked gravel, the cricketing stitch of midday in hot meadows, the delicate web of children’s voices in bright air–these things will never change.

The glitter of sunlight on roughened water, the glory of the stars, the innocence of morning, the smell of the sea in harbors, the feathery blur and smoky buddings of young boughs, and something there that comes and goes and never can be captured, the thorn of spring, the sharp and tongueless cry–these things will always be the same.

All things belonging to the earth will never change–the leaf, the blade, the flower, the wind that cries and sleeps and wakes again, the trees whose stiff arms clash and tremble in the dark, and the dust of lovers long since buried in the earth–all things proceeding from the earth to seasons, all things that lapse and change and come again upon the earth–these things will always be the same, for they come up from the earth that never changes, they go back into the earth that lasts forever. Only the earth endures, but it endures forever.

The tarantula, the adder, and the asp will also never change. Pain and death will always be the same. But under the pavements trembling like a pulse, under the buildings trembling like a cry, under the waste of time, under the hoof of the beast above the broken bones of cities, there will be something growing like a flower, something bursting from the earth again, forever deathless, faithful, coming into life again like April.”

Can all of this be summarized as “stop to smell the roses?” Maybe, but we never seem to take the time to add it to our list of things to do.

We can go home again, if only in our memories, and there, we have never left.