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Let’s Define The President’s phrase “Meaningful Action”

We, My fellow Americans, are not a nation of deep thinkers.  We’re just not.  We’ll spend our time building opinions on who should win “The Voice,” or a couple of hours debating the relative pros and cons of the BCS and think this passes for serious consideration.  Even better, we’ve become a nation of “reposters,” passing along clearly outdated, inaccurate, or partially accurate stories which outrage us on Facebook without ever deciding to do our own fact checking before doing so.

We want to treat childhood obesity by banning “Big Gulps,” and mandating what kind of lunch goes to school.  We blame the Xbox.  How about the idea that in 1970 Americans consumed 2160 calories daily on a per capita basis compared with 2674 in 2008, and that we expend less energy while doing so.  We have built suburbs where the only means by which to get around is via automobile.  We bus our kids to school instead of having them walk.  We don’t know our neighbors, so our kids don’t play outside – they go on pre-arranged play dates in a familiar others’ home.  Our whole way of life – up to and including how we’ve built our neighborhoods – plays a role, but we decide that the coke machine in the high school café is the culprit. Meanwhile no one is reconsidering how we build our neighborhoods.

When a tragedy like that which visited Newtown Connecticut occurs, even before the grief has subsided, we have political pundits on both sides of the gun control debate and frankly the mental health profession staking their ground for the debate that will ultimately occur.  We allow ourselves to be polarized to believe there is but one cause and effect to such a senseless tragedy.  There is not.

The President told us the day of that tragedy it is time for meaningful action, where upon the analysis from the pundits was “make no mistake, the President was talking about ‘gun control.’”   I am willing to give the President the benefit of the doubt when he says “meaningful action,” and as such I don’t know what makes me angrier – that the pundit went to that place so quickly, or that he might be right.  The question, then, is “what is meaningful action?”

Meaningful action is not a simply debate on gun control.  We continue that debate on the bumpers of cars all across this country.  Meaningful action is not a vast expansion of mental health benefits to an already expansive health care reform mandate.  I’m not entirely sure “meaningful action” is within the purview of the Federal government, but I’m quite certain “gun control” is not where the conversation should start.

The second amendment was the framers’ guarantee that the American people could protect themselves from the government.  A gun control debate is really a question of how much of your constitutional protections you want to cede back to the government from which the founders sought protection in the first place.  I know – I’ve seen infographics on Facebook about how many more deaths occur in the US due to gun violence in any other industrial country.  Fact is, I don’t know of another industrial country that has the constitutional right to own a gun – Haiti, Mexico, and Guatemala do.  It’s part of our constitution – for the politicians out there, if you’re going to accuse each other cowardice for not doing what we need to do for gun control then I challenge you to propose rescinding the second amendment and let’s have that debate.

Meaningful action should be a meaningful debate – serious consideration on ALL of the factors that could lead a young man to slaughter his own family and then visit evil upon elementary school innocents – and determining what is the Federal Government’s role (if any), the State governments role, and most important our own INDIVIDIUAL roles.  This man was able to execute his plan because he had access to guns – perhaps the question is what his plan would have looked like if he didn’t have access to guns.  Doubtless, seeing the violence inflicted, it would have been just as vile just executed in a different way.   We do know this school shooter killed himself when he knew the first responders were approaching – I wonder what his tack would have been had he to consider that any of the adults in that building could have been an armed first responder.

We want so much to fix that which is wrong, but we spend exactly no time thinking about the cumulative effects of everything that’s wrong.

In the aftermath of 9/11, we allowed the Federal government to turn our airports into military encampments, and ultimately federalize security.  Frankly, we’re no better protected than we were 12 years ago – we just have the Federal government controlling the system.  We allowed the Bush administration to pass the Patriot Act, which granted the government sweeping powers – in other words we allowed the government to restrict our personal liberties and gain control.  Political opportunism knows few bounds.

We need meaningful action and thought about accessibility to mental health services, to be sure, but we also need meaningful action and thought about what causes dispossession and disconnect leading someone to seek mental health services.  The shooter here was the 20-year old son of a public school teacher; because he was under age 26 (under heath care reform), we would have been eligible to have been on his mothers health insurance – insurance which if it is typical of most public employee plans, would have included relatively rich mental health benefits.  Access here was not the issue, and while that is not the case in every instance, the fact remains that even if this is a “mental health issue,” the cause and effects are broad and the solutions are myriad.  The answer is not “better MH funding.”  It seems to me that individual responsibility comes to bear here, those closest to him had to know something was wrong; it further seems to me that if there is a funding issue for MH Services, it would be access to general education for those living with a loved one with mental illness.  Last on this point, that’s just my view on this case and my own prejudices – lets have that data-driven conversation, put our assertions aside and see what the data tell us.  THEN we can form our opinions on what the data are and debate that.

In response to massive house foreclosures, the government made it easier to refinance underwater homes if mortgage payments were late.  So those who overbought their homes, and could no longer pay their inflated mortgages and stopped paying, could keep those houses.  Meanwhile, those who were bought a responsibly priced home, kept making mortgage payments when hard times hit, couldn’t refinance because they were current on their mortgages.  It’s exactly these counter-intuitive results I’m warning of and arguing against.

We don’t need a response to violence of one person.  We need a broad understanding of the consequences of the structures we have in place – we need to be thinking about these issues before we have a school shooting, not in response to one.  We need to thoughtfully consider ALL aspects of what our society has built instead of slapping yet another series of regulations down to cure the problems caused by the aggregate.

My heart breaks for the families and the children of Newtown, Connecticut.

Election Day

Every 4 years we cast a ballot for electors for the President of the United States.  4 years ago, the candidate (technically the electors) for whom I voted were not elected, but I was proud of my country for demonstrating how far we had come as a nation.  I will not be voting for our President this year either, but it doesn’t change the fact our incumbent President is a person of color and that is what makes this country great.

That said, here is my ballot:

Electors for President of the United States: Gary Johnson / Jim Gray – Libertarian 

I believe the two party system in the United States is a corruption of what the United States should be.  We have two institutional parties manipulating politics toward their own ends – voting on issues and not solutions.  We allow politicians to give us a false choice of one or the other.

“Don’t waste your vote” is a fallacy.  The utter arrogance to hear Al Gore complain that Ralph Nader cost him the Presidency or George HW Bush complain Ross Perot cost him reelection – it presumes that the Presidency belongs to one of two parties, that people casting a ballot for someone more aligned with their beliefs somehow bastardizes the result.

I am voting for Gary Johnson because his articulated positions are more inline with my beliefs than those of any other candidate.  He’s a legitimate candidate, having been the 2-term governor of New Mexico as well as having built his own company.   He stands for the reduction of government power and control.  He stands for the freedom of making your own choices and taking your own consequences.   GaryJohnson2012.com

Massachusetts Senator: Scott Brown – Republican

Senator Brown has had 2 years to put a stamp on the Senate.  It’s been an unremarkable 2 years (particularly given that at least the last 1 year has been spent campaigning), but I like what I have seen from him.  I believe he is a genuine person who wants to do a good job for the people of Massachusetts.  I want to know what he would do with a full term.  I found the whole Elizabeth Warren ancestry issue to be a red herring, and more than slightly offensive – that died the death it deserved to die.  That said, I find the Warren campaign’s distortion of Brown’s record to be equally as offensive.

All in all, I’m going to vote for a candidate who has expressed and demonstrated a willingness to work across the aisle over a candidate running on keeping the other party at bay (as noted above, I believe 2-party politics to be a corruption of what politicians are elected to do) every time.  ScottBrown.com

Referendum Questions:

Massachusetts “Right to Repair” Initiative, Question 1 -  Yes.  This is the intersection between the auto makers’ intellectual property and my access to data I create.  I willingly choose to give away data to such sources as Facebook and Google because they provide a service for which I do not pay; I have bought my car, as part of that cost I expect I am buying the access to the data created by that car.  The legislature passed a compromise bill in July – to my mind, that bill is not comprehensive enough.  I will vote “YES” on this bill.

Massachusetts “Death with Dignity” Initiative, Question 2 - Yes. We should have the right to control our end of life decisions.  Beyond the sound bites, one truth remains: the individual should control his/her destiny on his/her own volition when faced with an incurable disease.  There is no mandate on a doctor – an individual doctor does not have to write a prescription and can choose not to treat a patient in this way. Death is a uniquely personal experience and an individual deserves the authority to make his/her own choices around it.

Massachusetts Medical Marijuana Initiative, Question 3 - Yes.  I don’t believe marijuana should be criminalized to begin with, however in this case if there’s a positive use for it there’s no reason a doctor should not be allowed to prescribe it.   The Massachusetts Chiefs of Police are against the question, largely because of their concerns about distribution, or in other words control – which I believe is part of the problem.  Attorney General Coakley is concerned passage would lead to a “headache” ensuring it’s not “abused,” a concern that would be eliminated if the sale of marijuana were controlled as is the sale of tobacco or alcohol.

The rest of my ballot resembles a Soviet ballot – for all of the other positions, save one, there is but one person running for office.

The one that has more than one candidate (on my ballot) is for Representative in General Court (or Representative to the State legislature); this office has 3 candidates running: a Democrat (incumbent), a Republican, and an Independent.  I’m planning to vote for the Independent, because he’s a little wacky – a little far out – but because he seems genuine and a true counter balance to the overwhelmingly Democratic legislature in Boston.  He has been an elected member of my hometown’s light board for 15 years and a volunteer for NEADS Dogs for Deaf and Disabled Americans and Canines for Combat Veterans for 30.  He’s a small business owner, and has some solid ideas for growing small business – the economic generator this country needs.  And he thinks this experience is qualification for government.  In the ideal world, and in the vision of those who created our system – it is qualification for government.  And he’s got a great name…even if his website is broken.  He says some things I don’t agree with, but he says a lot that I do – and he’s not aligned with either of the major parties.  I’m of a mind to give this man a shot. “Winn Handy.”  I like it.

The Here and Now

My dog has cancer.  Stage 4 Lymphoma.  A month ago, he started having diarrhea and vomiting.  We went through all kinds of tests until this past week when we had some really invasive tests.

The thought that he could have cancer had crossed my mind in passing once or twice, but I brushed it aside.  I keep telling myself we have made the right decisions based on the information we have had.  It still doesn’t feel good.  How could I not see that my beautiful little dog was slowing down?

I’m watching him now – so lethargic, not eating.  It hurts so much to see him like this.

When we’ve been away and come home, he comes running down the stairs – you can hear his nails clicking on the stairs, *click, click, click*, as he comes rocketing down to greet us at the door – and when he arrives, he’s so happy to see us his rear end flops around the way a bigger dog’s tail might.

I’m looking at him – that beautiful dog, that guy that makes me smile to just say his name – and I just want to burst into tears.

I know I expected far more time with him.  He’s only  halfway through his life expectancy and we thought he would see our family grow up just a little more.  A week ago, we had no reason to believe he wouldn’t.  Today, we’re wondering if he’ll be with us for Thanksgiving.  He’s never done anything but bring us sunshine, and love, but I look at him and my heart breaks just a little more.

I’m so sad, so heartbroken.

I remember the day we brought him home – he was maybe 2 months old, maybe 3-and-a-half pounds; smaller than my slipper.  He picked us out, and he had a (comparatively) big lump of poop on his head.  He wanted to be with us and he’s never known another family, never lived anywhere but in our home.  The day we brought him home, we promised him we would take care of him his whole life – this would be his forever home and that he would never live anywhere else.  I guess we just thought we were making a longer commitment.

On Thursday night we got the news – we could have left him at the hospital to start treatment on Friday or take him home.  We decided to take him home to consider our options – we were assured that if we started treatment on Monday vs. Friday it would be fine.  We decided upon a course of treatment, but couldn’t begin on Friday – we had to wait until Monday.  We’re now questioning why we didn’t start on Friday as he seems so much more lethargic today.  We just have to remember we’re making the best decisions with the information we have at the time we make them.

In the meantime, we’re just trying to make him as comfortable as possible and spend as much time as possible with him – taking the time to love him.  We’re happy when he gives us the smallest sign – he’s failed to eat his all time favorites like peanut butter and cheese.   We’re feeding him bites of leftover chicken every 10-15 minutes – anything to get low-carb calories into him.

I want so much to see him happy and healthy again.  When we take him in the car, we let him out of the house – from which he bolts, and runs around the block of houses, a smile you can almost see on his face.  I know he’s never going to be “healthy” again, but I’m hoping we will see him happy.  I love this dog so much – he’s the sweetest, most gentle animal – and I’m incredibly sad, but the worst part is that I know I’m being incredibly selfish.  He has no expectation, he just has the here and now.  Here’s to the here and now, Pokey.

2012 Boston Red Sox

2012  was an abominable season for the Boston Red Sox – 69 wins, the worst season since 1965 (a season in which the team lost 100 games).  That’s bad.  The 16th worst team in franchise history in winning percentage.  To put that in a little context, this is a franchise with 112 seasons of baseball in the record books – 86% of its seasons have been better.  The only other time the Sox had a worse record in a 162-game season was 1965, going 62-100.

This team gets a bit of a pass however because there have been some truly abhorrent teams in the franchise’s history – the 111-loss 1932 squad; the 107-loss 1926 team; and 105-game losers in 1906 and 1925.  And those were years in which 154-games made up a season.  Exceptionally bad teams, 1906 especially so considering two years previous they had won the American League and three years previous the World Series.

All of which said, let’s mitigate the mitigation: While over the existence of the franchise 86% of it’s seasons have been better,  its the worst season in the last 42% of its existence.  Of the 11-seasons in team history that were worse, 10 occurred in the first 50% of the teams history, from 1901-1956.  Only 2 have occurred in the second 50% of the teams history.

The first year manager of the 1965 squad, Billy Herman, got another year to manage.  The 1966 Sox managed to lose only 90-games – the same number as the 1964 team.  Despite the disappointing September of 2011, the Sox finished with a 90-72 record – a far higher perch from which to fall in one season.  Which makes the 2012 squad that much more disappointing.  Before the crash of September 2011, the Sox looked like a 100+ game winner.  First year manager Bobby Valentine was clearly not coming back for a second bite of the apple.

Going back, the closest drop of that magnitude I can see between two seasons is 1953 (84 wins) to 1954 (69 wins) and then into the 1940’s for an even worse set of contiguous season pairings – 1942 (93 wins) to 1943 (68 wins) unless you want to include the drop between 1946 (104 wins) and 1947 (83 wins).  What makes 1946 so remarkable, and what mitigates 1954 and 1943 somewhat, is that those were 154-game seasons, so the win/loss % is better for 1954 and 1943 than for 2012.

Very disappointing year indeed.

1932 43 111 0.279 64 Did not make playoffs Last place in American League
1926 46 107 0.300 44½ Did not make playoffs Last place in American League
1925 47 105 0.309 49½ Did not make playoffs Last place in American League
1906 49 105 0.318 45½ Did not make playoffs Last place in American League
1927 51 103 0.331 59 Did not make playoffs Last place in American League
1930 52 102 0.337 50 Did not make playoffs Last place in American League
1928 57 96 0.372 43½ Did not make playoffs Last place in American League
1929 58 96 0.376 48 Did not make playoffs Last place in American League
1965 62 100 0.382 40 Did not make playoffs 9th place in American League
1907 59 90 0.395 32½ Did not make playoffs 7th place in American League
1922 61 93 0.396 33 Did not make playoffs Last place in American League
1923 61 91 0.401 37 Did not make playoffs Last place in American League
1931 62 90 0.407 45 Did not make playoffs 6th place in American League
1960 65 89 0.422 32 Did not make playoffs 7th place in American League
1933 63 86 0.423 34½ Did not make playoffs 7th place in American League
2012 69 93 0.426 26 Did not make playoffs 5th place in American League East
1924 67 87 0.435 25 Did not make playoffs 7th place in American League
1966 72 90 0.444 26 Did not make playoffs 9th place in American League
1964 72 90 0.444 27 Did not make playoffs 7th place in American League
1943 68 84 0.447 29 Did not make playoffs 7th place in American League
1954 69 85 0.448 42 Did not make playoffs 4th place in American League
1992 73 89 0.450 23 Did not make playoffs Last place in American League East
1945 71 83 0.461 17½ Did not make playoffs 7th place in American League
1994[d] 54 61 0.469 17 Playoffs cancelled. 5th place in American League East
1961 76 86 0.469 33 Did not make playoffs 6th place in American League
1920 72 81 0.470 25½ Did not make playoffs 5th place in American League
1963 76 85 0.472 28 Did not make playoffs 7th place in American League
1962 76 84 0.475 19 Did not make playoffs 8th place in American League
1997 78 84 0.481 20 Did not make playoffs 4th place in American League East
1987 78 84 0.481 20 Did not make playoffs 5th place in American League East
1983 78 84 0.481 20 Did not make playoffs 6th place in American League East
1936 74 80 0.481 28½ Did not make playoffs 6th place in American League
1919 66 71 0.481 20½ Did not make playoffs 6th place in American League
1959 75 79 0.487 19 Did not make playoffs 5th place in American League
1921 75 79 0.487 23½ Did not make playoffs 5th place in American League
1908 75 79 0.487 15½ Did not make playoffs 5th place in American League
1993 80 82 0.493 15 Did not make playoffs 5th place in American League East
1952 76 78 0.493 19 Did not make playoffs 6th place in American League
1985 81 81 0.500 18½ Did not make playoffs 6th place in American League East
1944 77 77 0.500 12 Did not make playoffs 4th place in American League
1934 76 76 0.500 24 Did not make playoffs 4th place in American League
2001 82 79 0.509 13½ Did not make playoffs 2nd place in American League East
1911 78 75 0.509 24 Did not make playoffs Tied for 4th place in American League
1935 78 75 0.510 16 Did not make playoffs 4th place in American League
1989 83 79 0.512 6 Did not make playoffs 3rd place in American League East
1976 83 79 0.512 15½ Did not make playoffs 3rd place in American League East
1958 79 75 0.512 13 Did not make playoffs 3rd place in American League
1905 78 74 0.513 16 Did not make playoffs 4th place in American League
1991 84 78 0.518 7 Did not make playoffs 2nd place in American League East
1980 83 77 0.518 19 Did not make playoffs 5th place in American League East
1974 84 78 0.518 7 Did not make playoffs 3rd place in American League East
2000 85 77 0.524 Did not make playoffs 2nd place in American League East
1996 85 77 0.524 7 Did not make playoffs 3rd place in American League East
1971 85 77 0.524 18 Did not make playoffs 3rd place in American League East
1937 80 72 0.526 21 Did not make playoffs 5th place in American League
1913 79 71 0.526 15½ Did not make playoffs 4th place in American League
1910 81 72 0.529 22½ Did not make playoffs 4th place in American League
2006 86 76 0.530 11 Did not make playoffs 3rd place in American League East
1984 86 76 0.530 18 Did not make playoffs 4th place in American League East
1968 86 76 0.530 17 Did not make playoffs 3rd place in American League
1957 82 72 0.532 16 Did not make playoffs 3rd place in American League
1940 82 72 0.532 8 Did not make playoffs 4th place in American League
1981[c] 59 49 0.535 Did not make playoffs 5th place in American League East
1970 87 75 0.537 21 Did not make playoffs 3rd place in American League East
1969 87 75 0.537 22 Did not make playoffs 3rd place in American League East
1947 83 71 0.538 14 Did not make playoffs 3rd place in American League
1990 88 74 0.543  — Lost ALCS to Oakland 1st place in American League East
1956 84 70 0.545 13 Did not make playoffs 4th place in American League
1955 84 70 0.545 12 Did not make playoffs 4th place in American League
1941 84 70 0.545 17 Did not make playoffs 2nd place in American League
1972 85 70 0.548 ½ Did not make playoffs 2nd place in American League East
2010 89 73 0.549 7 Did not make playoffs 3rd place in American League East
1988 89 73 0.549  — Lost ALCS to Oakland 1st place in American League East
1982 89 73 0.549 6 Did not make playoffs 3rd place in American League East
1973 89 73 0.549 8 Did not make playoffs 2nd place in American League East
1953 84 69 0.549 16 Did not make playoffs 4th place in American League
2011 90 72 0.556 7 Did not make playoffs 3rd place in American League East
1902 77 60 0.562 Did not make playoffs 3rd place in American League
1951 87 67 0.564 11 Did not make playoffs 3rd place in American League
1998 92 70 0.567 22 Lost ALDS to Cleveland 2nd place in American League East (Wild card)
1967 92 70 0.567 Lost World Series to St. Louis 1st place in American League
1979 91 69 0.568 11½ Did not make playoffs 3rd place in American League East
2002 93 69 0.574 10½ Did not make playoffs 2nd place in American League East
1999 94 68 0.580 4 Lost ALCS to New York 2nd place in American League East (Wild card)
1901 79 57 0.580 4 Did not make playoffs 2nd place, behind the Detroit Tigers
1909 88 63 0.582 Did not make playoffs 3rd place in American League
2009 95 67 0.586 8 Lost ALDS to Los Angeles 2nd place in American League East (Wild Card)
2008 95 67 0.586 2 Lost ALCS to Tampa Bay 2nd place in American League East (Wild Card)
2005 95 67 0.586 —[e] Lost ALDS to Chicago 2nd place in American League East (Wild card)
2003 95 67 0.586 6 Lost ALCS to New York 2nd place in American League East (Wild card)
1939 89 62 0.589 17 Did not make playoffs 2nd place in American League
1986 95 66 0.590  — Lost World Series to New York 1st place in American League East
1916 91 63 0.590  — Won World Series 1st place in American League
1938 88 61 0.591 Did not make playoffs 2nd place in American League
2007 96 66 0.592 Won World Series 1st place in American League East
1917 90 62 0.592 9 Did not make playoffs 2nd place in American League
1975 95 65 0.593  — Lost World Series to Cincinnati 1st place in American League East
1914 91 62 0.594 Did not make playoffs 2nd place in American League
1918 75 51 0.595  — Won World Series 1st place in American League
1995 86 58 0.597  — Lost ALDS to Cleveland 1st place in American League East
1977 97 64 0.602 Did not make playoffs Tied for 2nd place in American League East
2004 98 64 0.605 3 Won World Series 2nd place in American League East (Wild card)
1978 99 64 0.607 1 Did not make playoffs 2nd place in American League East
1950 94 60 0.610 4 Did not make playoffs 3rd place in American League
1942 93 59 0.611 9 Did not make playoffs 2nd place in American League
1904 95 59 0.616  — World Series canceled[b] 1st place in American League
1948 96 59 0.619 1 Did not make playoffs 2nd place in American League
1949 96 58 0.623 1 Did not make playoffs 2nd place in American League
1903 91 47 0.659  — Won World Series 1st place in American League
1915 101 50 0.668  — Won World Series 1st place in American League
1946 104 50 0.675  — Lost in World Series to St. Louis 1st place in American League
1912 105 47 0.690  — Won World Series 1st place in American League

Adolescence

Growing up is hard.  I mean really hard.  Adolescence is such a strange time when one is trying to figure out the world, processing all kinds of things.  Feeling the way between other people and independence.  Its a confusing and weird time; looking back all those challenges and questions that seemed so novel and overwhelming seem so routine in retrospect, yet at the time they are all challenges to self definition.

It’s a time when a person is figuring out who he or she is.  Where do you want to go to college?  What do you want to do? No one knows what they want to do when they’re so busy trying to figure out who they are.  I wonder, then, what it must be like for a person who is already trying to figure out where or if they fit in, to realize they might not.  How hard must it be for a person, already struggling with identity issues, to realize that they might be gay.

“As a kid, before I ever hit puberty, I always knew I was “different”.  While every kid thinks they are different for many reasons, I nonetheless KNEW I was different in a different sort of way.  I could go in to all the variables of how I was different, but suffice it to say, I knew at a very early age that I had to be guarded about who I was because of people’s prejudices.  I knew the syllogism without having the slightest clue as to what a syllogism was: Odd people are treated horribly.  I was odd.  Therefore I would be treated badly if anybody knew I was odd.  ” Quora post

I can’t imagine how hard adolescence must be carrying that as a realization or belief.  Adolescence was hard enough for me, and I carried no such questions, perceptions or doubts.  I never had to sit down with my parents and have a “conversation” that I wasn’t going to bring home a girl because I was gay.  I never had to wonder or worry if my parents were going to reject me.  It’s awkward enough to imagine sitting down and having a conversation with the parents about sexuality and feelings never mind discussing a topic that they’re unprepared for, that could possibly shatter their dreams for you, and one after which you may be judged.

I have always believed it is my job as a parent to prepare this child for adulthood.  Its a special relationship, parent to child, because it evolves and changes so much. Time moves so quickly that it is easy to lose sight of the fact that the little baby you once nurtured is growing into their own person.  There comes a point where it doesn’t matter what you want for that child – what matters is what they want, and its your job to help them find what they want or need wherever that takes them.

I wish that we didn’t make it so hard on people who may not be what society wants them to be.  Every passing joke must make it that much harder for a young person who feels they might be different, and when mom and dad make those comments it separates them from their child that much more.  And yet these things happen so blithely.

I want to think that if either of my kids brought home a same sex “friend” it wouldn’t result in any major, earth shattering conversation – it would be met with the same awkwardness bringing home any “friend” elicits.  If your kid can’t explore who they are with you as witness, it doesn’t mean they’re not exploring – it means you’re keeping them away.  It’s not them, its you.

I don’t know how I would handle it, but I know I love my children and no matter what I feel about it, it’s my job to accept them as people.  And that’s where we fall down as parents all the time, and I’m not of a mind to fall down.  The fact of the matter is that these children are growing up and making their life decisions whether or not I’m included, and I want to be included – no matter what.

Through early morning fog I see

I consider myself to be a fortunately sheltered person.  In the greater scheme of things, relatively few truly horrible things have come into my life, or those I love.  I have known but one person, many years after our acquaintance in college, who was found murdered.  I’ve known a few young people who had passed far too soon and too young, but through natural causes.  I’ve never had to identify the remains of someone I knew or cared for or loved nor have I ever had to process the death of someone I’ve known who had died from accident or manslaughter or suicide.

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, among adolescents suicide is the third leading cause of death for people between the ages of 15 and 24  in the United States, a rate of 6.9 suicides per 100,000 people in that demographic and it is by far more common among young men than young women.  A sadly not-uncommon occurrence, but a devastating one for those left in its wake.

And so it was that this past weekend an apparently popular and athletically gifted young man made that choice.

I had never met him and knew him only by extension and yet I am greatly saddened by this – I’ve met his brother, an apparently fine young man himself, and am told his parents are some of the most wonderful people you would want to meet.  I am told that by my teenage daughter, a fine young woman in her own right and one whose impressions hold great credibility with me – any family warranting her approval is one to be approved.  Yet, somehow this young man decided that there was but one way out of his pain.

It breaks my heart to believe someone so young with so much greatness in his future made this decision.  It breaks my heart that he would leave his family and community at such a loss, and that he could be so tormented inside as to do the unspeakable.  To the outside, he left no apparent signs that he was troubled – always seen with a smile on his face.  My mind races to so many places considering him: the despair, anguish and helplessness his parents must be feeling; how his brothers are feeling; how his loss will affect those closest and those near to him.

Consider, in his family’s faith, suicide is an unpardonable sin: “He who commits suicide by throttling shall keep on throttling himself in the Hell Fire (forever) and he who commits suicide by stabbing himself shall keep on stabbing himself in the Hell-Fire.”  Imagine then to a family of faith countenancing a beloved son facing an eternity in hell, never to be joined with them in the heaven of their faith.

There is so much to fear when children begin their adolescent journey, and as a parent, so many opportunities to look back and wish for that “do over” – how many times have I replayed situations in my head and wished I had made better parenting decisions.  I want so desperately to be a good father and I worry so much whether I have been and whether I’ve made the right choices along the way.  I can’t imagine the journey these apparently “nicest people you’d ever want to meet” must be making right now.  At the start of the weekend, they were parents to several star athletes and gifted students with so much promise in their future – at the end of the weekend, they had lost a child to his own hand.  The anguish must be immeasurable and is unfathomable to those of us who have never made that journey.

On Sunday afternoon, the High School had been opened for students to meet with grief counselors – and many took the opportunity.  It saddens me to know that they had to do that.  With those of us who are older, we can be angry for the selfishness involved in a suicide – it’s hard to be angry with an adolescent for that; adolescents don’t often have fully developed critical reasoning capacities – often its in their nature to be selfish.  My heart breaks for his family, and my heart breaks for his community.  So many unanswered questions and so many young lives left to process the unfathomable.

I hope I’ve built a relationship with my daughter that includes an ability to talk to me about anything – I don’t know that I have, and that scares me.  I feel such sadness thinking about the guilt and anguish his parents must be feeling, and how the lives of his brothers – and those around him – have changed.

I do know this – I will never miss the opportunity to tell my children that I love them.  Life can do great damage to you if you don’t believe you are loved or lovable.  Suicide is not painless.

Public Speaking

I’m a competent public speaker – meaning I don’t think I say “um” a lot (I might) and I don’t get so nervous as to lose my train of thought.  Give me a small group and I’m quite comfortable – it’s well within my comfort zone to be able to present to a group of say 10 people.  I make eye contact, and carry on a conversation on a topic I’m familiar with.  I can be funny and engaging.

Give me a larger group – say 35 – and I’ve lost my comfort zone.  This isn’t to say I stumble over my words, or lose my grip, but it is to say that it’s no longer an intimate conversation.  And I still see maybe a handful of people.  To the point that while giving a presentation this week to a group of people who really didn’t want to be there about a topic that can make people a little uncomfortable, I had someone fall asleep.  And I didn’t even notice.  Because she wasn’t one of the people I could “see.”

Now, I suppose it speaks volumes that I was so engaging that someone decided it was better to fall asleep than to listen – in my own mind I can rationalize that in all kinds of different ways, and besides, that’s not within the scope of this post – but in the end the fact of the matter is that I just didn’t even notice.  

It was no longer a “conversation,” but a presentation.  I’ve never spoken to a BIG group – Bill Clinton or Laurie Ruettimann - but I’ve done a little large group speaking; the one talk of this kind which I’m most proud was the eulogy at my father’s funeral.  But even then, I saw a few faces and was so concerned that what I was saying wasn’t registering with them that I failed to notice the church’s AV system had crapped out.  Of the group of people who came to honor my dad and to support my family, I was so nervous I had only seen a handful.  The larger the group the tighter and smaller my line of vision – almost like looking through a paper tube, where I can see only the few people I focus on.  

I wonder if this is a typical thing, or if its a part of that introvert-pretending-to-be-an-extrovert thing.  I don’t worry about stomping up to be the focus of attention, I worry about goofing up.  When I put myself in position to be a public speaker, I know what I’m capable of presenting and capable of discussing – but inside I think I go through this inner turmoil worrying that I’m going to get a “stumper” question that I can’t answer or just go about the topic at hand all wrong.  Imagining the audience in their underwear doesn’t help – I don’t “see” them.  I’m worrying more about giving the presentation and realizing I’m in my underwear…or worse, wearing the emperor’s clothes.

 

Little Things Make a Big Difference

Today was the 25th anniversary of a high school friend losing his mother.  He recalls learning of his mothers’ passing in 1987, sitting in front of a classroom door…recalling it “as if it happened yesterday.”  I was reminded of this somewhat by accident.  I don’t remember the day – for me it sits in the back of my mind as just another day in late junior year of high school.  For him, his whole world changed.

What strikes me about this is that he tells me, “You were there that day.   I really appreciated your genuineness. Little things make a big difference, and you did make a difference for me that day. You may not even remember. But I do.”  I don’t remember.  I can’t imagine my 17-year-old self having any degree of genuiness in sharing grief with another young man whose world had just changed.

I didn’t dare ask him for details – he was reliving a grief on the anniversary of his mother’s passing, and it was not about me – but I have to admit wanting to know what I could possibly have said or demonstrated to him to have caused him to recall a genuine response and to have made a difference for this young man.  This was at a point in my life when nothing truly bad had ever happened to me.  I had both grandfathers pass away within months of each other when I was but 8-years old, but other than that my life was relatively untouched by trauma.  I had no point of reference, and no word in my vocabulary for “empathy,” never mind a true ability to demonstrate it.  I apparently had said or done something right at the right time.

I have no idea what it could have been, but he remembers it…and says that I made a difference.  I’m not sure I know how that makes me feel.  I don’t know if I should take pride in knowing that at some point in my life I have made a difference for one person at one point in time, or I should be ashamed not to know what it was.  I had to triangulate a bit to realize that I would have been there, and I felt badly not to have remembered what surely would have been significant news in our small high school – I can’t remember an announcement, nothing.  But there I apparently was.  Wednesday, March 27, 1987.

I’m still not sure I know how I feel about failing to remember, but it does speak to this truth: you never know what small gesture will live on behind you, whether or not you remember.  Kindness and, indeed, slights, can be remembered a long time and it is a choice we continuously make in choosing our path.  I can’t believe he would have remembered something that surely was but a small gesture, especially given the magnitude of the experience for him, but he does which only makes it that much more important to remember to demonstrate kindness – no matter how small – to someone at any chance you can.  When else can a small gesture, a small emotional investment, and brief time commitment live on for 25 years or longer?  When thought about in these terms, however that genuiness took shape all those years ago it could have only lasted a few moments – a few moments which were fleeting moments of time regardless of how they were spent – but those moments live on.  An exponential return of time for a few wisely spent moments by a then young man, and recalled not at all by the now middle-aged man.

Little things mean a lot – a point driven home once again.

Dying as a Life Lesson

I think about  my dad a lot.  I can’t believe it’s been almost 4-years since he passed away – 4 years – and there’s not really a day that goes by that I don’t think about him in some manner, shape, or form.

He wasn’t “taken” from me, although I do think he left us before his time.   I know people who have had their loved ones taken from them, and I cannot imagine the pain of all that unfinished business.

He slowly grew older, and weaker, and time and his body just caught up.  Most likely his most important lesson to me was his last.  While we’re growing up, a parents’ role is to give you the tools you need to be an adult.  Some of us do better imparting that knowledge, and those skills better than others, but by and large that’s a parent’s job.  The very last thing he did was show me how to grow older and how to die.

Seems a morbid thing, but truly, that too is an important job of a parent.  He faced his illness, made the decisions he felt he had to make regarding his treatment and he knew when enough was enough.  When blood transfusions could not replace the blood cells his body was losing , and it was clear that treatment was really just prolonging the inevitable, he decided it was time to stop fighting.  He had spent a lifetime arranging his affairs, and it was time.

He was a remarkable man and I hope that I have the strength and the force of character to face my own mortality as he did.  He was a role model to me in so many ways and looking back, it really didn’t surprise me that he handled his situation as he did.  He accepted his fate long before I did, and he showed me the way.  It takes a very special person to do that, and I thank him for giving me that example.

I don’t get to his grave nearly enough, but I do speak to him every day even if it is just in passing.  How many times could I have used his advice and guidance over the last 3+ years?  Almost every day, but I have also applied lessons he gave me almost every day too.  He gave me the tools, sometimes I have to reach back an apply them, but he gave them to me. Oftentimes, I would be much better off if I more actively practiced his lessons, but because of him there has never been a situation I have been unable to handle.

I love you, Dad, and yeah, I still miss you like crazy.  I wish there was some way I could let you know somehow how truly special and important a person you were.  I hope I can do so in giving your grandchildren the example you gave me.

Googling.

In 2006, the verb “To Google” entered the Oxford English Dictionary.  I know this because I googled the definition.  One wonders if “Google” has entered the realm of “Xerox,” “Kleenex,” “Kool-Aid” and “Scotch Tape.”  Its funny how language develops.

“Google” is a thoroughly made up word, a malaprop of “googol” - 10,­000,­000,­000,­000,­000,­000,­000,­000,­000,­000,­000,­000,­000,­000,­000,­000,­000,­000,­000,­000,­000,­000,­000,­000,­000,­000,­000,­000,­000,­000,­000,­000,­000 -  chosen ultimately because the .com domain was available.   It gained its meaning because of the power of the Google algorithms in finding information on the web – their approach was so different from other search engines, it allowed for differentiating names from other entries.  The difficulty of differentiating a product or service to such a degree the best way to describe it is to use its own name in a self-referential cycle.

One might think this would be an exceptional thing for a company – to have its name become so familiar that it becomes part of our everyday lexicon – but to the corporate types it represents a threat to the control of the name.  Quite the conundrum that.

Advertisers spend so much time and money to differentiate their product.  Google spent almost no money and wound up with the same result.

I know, this is old news, but it got me thinking.

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