Twenty-Twelve

I know I talk a lot.  A lot about stuff that is full of nuance and from most people’s perspective boring.  I like the intricacies of law, and how things work and fit together; I spend a lot of time thinking about those things.  What I’m not particularly good at is being introspective and being reflective.  

As we near the end of another year, I’ve wanted to be thoughtful, introspective and reflective about the past year.  2012 was a pretty good year – a very good year all together – for my family and me after a particularly difficult 2011; a fitting comparison being the pendulum that swings one way and then to another.

Some things remain: Family-wise, we’re healthy, we’re together.  We have a wonderful home. And we’re perhaps a stronger unit for having followed the journey.  Over the years, we’ve weathered ups and downs – 2012 represented a much needed up year.   

Our beloved family dog was diagnosed with leukemia in November and we feared we would lose him before the end of the year.  Thankfully, we had the resources – including the necessary funds, but not to be overlooked the amazing Tufts Veterinary Hospital nearby – to get him the treatment he needed.  We obviously don’t know what the future holds, but we do know that he has more time left with us.  We are truly blessed to share our lives with this wonderful creature; his diagnosis has made us even more aware of how blessed we are to have him.

Our children are healthy and thriving.  2013 will see the oldest graduate from High School and onto the start of the rest of her life.  We were able to give her the freedom an automobile represents, as well as the responsibility.  She has before her a world of opportunity, which includes a world of responsibility and 2012 has demonstrated that while she’s somewhat reticent about accepting either of those things, she’s demonstrating that she has the capacity to accept them.  

We’ve been able to sustain and improve our home – the only home our son has ever known.  With continued good fortune, it may be the only home he knows for some time.  He has expanded our connections here, 2012 had several people enter our lives because he was busy doing what young boys do – make friends.  I am so thankful for the people and friends in my life, and particularly thankful for my little boy, who shows me every day the power of imagination and the importance parent have in a child’s life – some day he will no longer be a child and the first part of our jobs as parents will be done.  Until that time, though, I intend to love every minute of his childhood.

We were able to share in the wedding of friends who now live a half-planet away.  Through the love and affection of people we consider family, though with entirely different lineages and without true blood relations, we shared a wonderful time with two people who mean the world to us, shared the world with our son, and cemented a bond between our two families I hope will last several lifetimes.  

The last gift 2012 gave us has been each other.  Life as a family has always been challenging, and sometimes people let those challenges pull them apart.  Other times those life challenges are opportunities to do hard work and come together.  So far, we’ve been successful in navigating life’s challenges; it hasn’t always been easy, but it has demonstrated our capacities to weather storms and emerge together.  

Sure, 2012 saw its share of storms, but overall it gave us another year of experience and it gave us so very much for which to be thankful.   2012 represented a year in which the good vastly outweighed the bad; the positive outweighed the negative; and the rough waters never got so rough as to breach the dams.  We should be so fortunate every year.

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.