Late Autumn Hike

December 8, 2017

crunching leaves echo

through the bleak abandoned woods

i watch my breath rise

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the frosty window

November 23, 2017

thankfulness

is sipping

warm coffee

as my loved ones

softly snore

upstairs

a single streak of sunlight

penetrates the frosty window

with more soon on the way

Memory From a Past Life

November 12, 2017


In some past life I vividly recall sprinting in fear through a field of land mines just before dawn.

I came to a sudden halt when the light crested over the horizon, and through the smoky mist, a stunning orange sky began to slowly win the battle against the blackness that had been surrounding me.

Tiny pieces of sun flickered off the dewey amber grass, revealing the many bodies of fresh young troops lying near — damp and dead — frozen in time. 

Looking around I saw things you would never want to see. 

Things you don’t want to know. 

Things I refuse to tell. 

I ached with guilt for finding such peaceful beauty in this devastating scene. I sobbed hard, forever changed, as no man should ever have to be. 

No longer noticing the stench of decay, I inhaled deep cleansing wafts of the country air. I wiped the sweat and tears from my filthy face, feeling a bewildering sense of hope. 

A defiant step forward was misplaced, and my arms and legs were suddenly gone. I remember enjoying the sunrise a few short moments longer. 

Despite everything then and since, somewhere — hidden deep away– I still manage to carry some hope today. 


I’m probably overreacting. It’s probably no big deal. This too shall certainly pass. Still, I’m genuinely concerned about the direction our country is heading. What direction, you ask? Increasing violence? Decreasing human rights? Social security running out? Healthcare in limbo? The economy? The threat of terrorism? These are all extremely valid concerns, but I’m most troubled by how we seem to be losing any interest in kindness and mutual respect, and seem to get off on being hateful. 

For the record, I’m not attacking or blaming any one group. I can point a finger at Republicans, Democrats, Christians, Muslims, Jews, athiests, jocks, freaks, nerds, and geeks. Oh, and even me. We all seem to be on the bandwagon of hate — even if we don’t see it, or worse, somehow justify it. Is this magnified and blown out of proportion by the media? Definitely. However, is it real? You better believe it. 

We live in a time when our president tweets hateful messages on a daily basis, religious leaders post discriminatory messages on Facebook, and the news media is on the constant lookout for any controversial, disappointing, or downright hateful news. We are possibly as divided nationally as we’ve been since the Civil War, and there is little evidence indicating improvement anytime soon. I truly fear that in the not too distant future it will be considered acceptable for bank tellers to look us in the eyes, smile, and say, “Thanks so much for banking with us, and go fuck yourself.” 

Despite our very serious problems, all hope is not yet lost. I know for a fact that there are great people doing incredible things every day. We may not all share the same political, religious, or economic views, but there are people putting kindness first. Every single day. It’s not sexy, it’s not popular, but it’s happening, and it needs to get noticed. It needs attention so it can gain traction. This matters — maybe more than anyone realizes. 

It’s not always easy to be genuinely kind and respectful. In fact, it’s damn hard. It’s far easier to lash out, to try to prove a point, to try to make someone feel small, while we make ourselves feel clever. I struggle with it regularly. Taking the high road is sometimes an agonizing climb, but I’m always proud of myself for getting to the top. What people forget — or maybe haven’t learned — is that it feels good to be kind, even to people you disagree with or simply don’t like. If we truly gave everyone a chance, we might just discover that we get along with far more people than we thought. 

I think I was born a realist. I know we will never see eye to eye on everything or be just like one another. Man, I’m glad because life would be awfully boring. I’ve chosen to be an optimist, partly because it just feels better, but also because it forces me work at being a better person. I hope we (and we includes me) can put an effort towards being kind and respectful, because we are all in this together. This is life people, it’s not a drill. Can we agree to stop judging those who are different? Can we let people — as long as they are not directly harming anyone — do what makes them happy? Can we not only accept those who are different from us, but actually wish them the best, and then expect the same in return? 

We all think our opinion is right. We all have beliefs we think others should follow. Many see this as conviction, a positive, the only way. I will continue to do my best to make my conviction kindness. When I’m kind and respectful I always feel like I’m doing what’s right. 

If we care about our nation’s well-being, I hope we will not just agree to disagree, but learn to sincerely respect each other and be honestly kind to one another. This isn’t easy and won’t happen overnight. It takes practice. It requires trying to see the world through the eyes of others, even if we don’t always like the view. We can choose kindness. Don’t jump ship — we can change our course — it’s not too late. However, it’s a big ship, it’s a pain in the ass to steer, and we all must have a hand on the helm. 

Today is International Day of Peace. This year’s theme is “The Sustainable Development Goals: Building Blocks for Peace,” and emphasizes ending poverty, protecting the planet, and creating prosperity for all. These are nice, lofty goals, and I hope significant progress is made in each area.

However, today — and every day — I think it’s important to focus on what peace really means. What begins the process of ending poverty, protecting the planet, and creating prosperity? What makes people want to be better as a whole? What can you and I do on a daily basis to make a difference?

One of my favorite quotes comes from Mother Teresa: “What can you do to promote world peace? Go home and love your family.” In other words, teach those close to you the importance of loving our families, our neighbors, and ourselves. Show kindness and respect to everyone. Take responsibility for our neighborhoods. If we all did this on a local, personal level, it would naturally start to take hold globally. Perhaps this sounds naive and over-simplified, but to me it makes perfect sense. Some are doing it already, and seeing results. But not enough.

When we tune into any news source, we are bombarded with stories of violence and hate. It’s true that the good news — and there is good news — doesn’t get the airtime it deserves, but there are a lot of bad things going on out there on this planet we must share. If everyone had been brought up being taught the need for kindness and generosity, would we have different newscasts today? If criminals had a parent or someone else tucking them in at night, saying “I love you,” would the world be a better place? If you and I made an effort to simply genuinely smile and say “hello” to the many different people we encounter each day, would it make a tiny impact? The answer is definitely yes.

If you find that these things are difficult for you to do, I have to think that you may need to make peace with yourself. It took me many years to figure it out, but I can promise you that being kind will not only make a difference to those around you, it will also change your own life in ways you can’t imagine. Forgiveness is a breath of fresh air. Positivity trumps negativity every time. And, most importantly, loving feels so much better than hating. To any naysayers rolling your eyes and assuming I’m some kind of tree-hugger, I assure you that peace has nothing to do with being a hippie. Peace is about being happy, and happiness is damn nice.

So on International Day of Peace, please go home and love your family. Make it a priority to teach — and show — those around you the importance of love, kindness, respect, and generosity. These are truly sustainable goals. Spreading love in our own home is the first and best building block to peace. Pass it on.

 

Photo Credit: wallpaperup.com

 
As I try to keep my head above water in the ever-cresting tide of gun violence, I posted a simple observation about guns on Facebook this week:

Despite the strange popularity of handguns and assault rifles, I can’t recall hearing any uplifting, feel-good stories about them — just murders, suicides, avoidable accidents, and other tragedies. I can’t wrap my little brain around the fascination with devices designed specifically to kill humans.

Within minutes of posting this, “friends” I haven’t heard from in years were coming out of the woodwork in defense of the sacred and beloved Second Amendment. One or two comments were a reasonable attempt to defend this Almighty Right, but most were basically calling me an unpatriotic idiot. One family member even commented that I shouldn’t post such “nonsense,” and that my dad would be upset with me. I laughed out loud at this one. Oh, is my daddy going to be upset? (By the way, he’s not.)

If you read my post again you’ll notice that I never mentioned anything about gun control or the Second Amendment, yet that is where so many gun supporters — gun lovers — took it. So this got me thinking about both the Constitution and safety, as well as the current state of our nation.

First, let’s talk about the Constitution. The Second Amendment is a hot topic. Most who support the right to bear arms claim that we must never give up this right. I, like most people in favor of gun control, do not want to see this right given up or have all guns confiscated. But let’s look beyond the term “gun control” for a moment, and focus on the Constitution. When the Bill of Rights was ratified in 1791 our country had been independent from England for only eight years. Militias were still in regular use, despite being somewhat frowned upon by some (including George Washington). The army and navy, both established in 1775, were still in their infancy. Guns were regularly used for hunting as a source of food, and were typically very long (and difficult to hide), single shot muskets that had to be slowly loaded through the muzzle.

When I process all of this information, the right to bear arms in 1791 makes perfect sense. We weren’t packing semi-automatic handguns in our pants or carrying assault rifles that can spray hundreds of bullets per minute. But hey, maybe our incredibly wise founding fathers, the framers of our Constitution, would have been okay with the average farmer or blacksmith owning these types of weapons, too.

I’m sure that gun-lusters — wait, that’s not fair, Constitutionalists is a better term — are also familiar with and in favor of all the other amendments. I have to assume that they think all amendments are equally important and relevant today. Like the Third Amendment, which limits the government’s ability to use our homes to house soldiers during wartime without the consent of the owner (FYI, this practice is completely forbidden during times of peace). This doesn’t seem very relevant today, but I guess you never know when we might be at war, and a law could (legally) be passed to force us to let soldiers occupy our homes. Completely irrelevant today — and wrong, yet widely accepted by our all-knowing founding fathers — is the exclusion of rights for minorities and women in the Constitution. In fact, many of these enlightened men owned slaves. Oddly, this is rarely mentioned by those supporting the Second Amendment and/or Constitution today. When brought up, some will remark that, “It’s just how things were back then.” I have to chuckle when I hear this because it only supports my point. It’s also strange how modern gunslingers, while using the rights of the Constitution and the Second Amendment as their defense against gun control, simultaneously bash those using their First Amendment right to express opinions in favor of it.

*Quick side note: the First Amendment also covers freedom of religion. Is it just me or are many pistol-packers also very religious Christians? I mean, what’s up with that? Doesn’t God have their backs?

The term”gun control” almost always refers to an effort to make guns and gun ownership safer, in turn making our country a safer place to live freely. It should not be associated with banning all guns, as many jump to conclude. I seriously ask what is wrong with increasing safety measures? Why should it be easier to buy a gun than to buy a car, or even get a license to drive? Why can someone on a terrorist watch list purchase a gun legally? Why should any dude — with no training and potentially no good judgement or common sense — be able to buy an assault rifle that trained military personnel have accidents with? What’s wrong with increased safety?

For example, no right-minded person says:

Henry Ford, our brilliant forefather in the automobile industry, didn’t have life-saving seat belts in his cars. And that’s why we shouldn’t have them today. It’s just that simple. By the way, the laws of the road are infringing on my freedom. Before you know it the government is just going to take away our cars. 

Football used to be played without helmets or pads. That’s how it should be today. Batting helmets, catchers’ gear, and gloves in baseball…stupid. Sports today are too safe and that’s why no one wants to play or watch them. Pretty soon the government is just going to ban sports. 

Don’t even get me started on the absurdity of things like building and fire codes…it’s all just the government taking away my right to get hurt. I refuse to give up my rights!

I suppose it’s true that bad guys, not guns, purposely kill people. Guns just make it much easier for them to kill more people. Potentially many more. If you are one of the gun supporters who say a bad guy will use a baseball bat if he doesn’t have a gun, my response is simple — I’ll take my chances with the bat, and bats don’t make good weapons for mass-murders. Bats do create some great feel-good stories in baseball, however. Handguns and assault rifles serve a purpose in the military and for police — even though sometimes these service-people are bad people who abuse their power. I personally see no reason for any civilian to own any weapon capable of literally shredding a body in seconds, however I am willing to listen to respectful, intelligent arguments to the contrary. Most in favor of these assault weapons chastise Democrats for their disapproving stance, yet many Republicans, including Ronald Reagan, have also openly opposed them. There is no reason for this to be a Republican or Democrat issue. Violence is an American problem.

Good guys have handguns and sometimes protect themselves from bad guys. Good guys use rifles for hunting and feeding their families. Children and adults are regularly involved in deadly yet avoidable accidents involving guns that good, responsible people own. In these cases, I would argue that guns — not just bad guys — do in fact kill people. Guns also make suicide much easier, although I will concede that people who want to end their lives will find a way without guns.

Here’s the deal, guns are made for one purpose — to kill. Sometimes this killing is for protection or food. Sometimes it’s not. I stand by my original Facebook post. I simply can’t comprehend the fascination with devices used to end human life. Why do so many people find guns to be so cool? Why do so many people immediately get defensive — no, downright angry — at the mere mention of changing gun laws? We live in a scary, messed-up world. Guns will never go away, but if we can’t unite as Americans and at least have a dialogue about making guns and gun ownership safer, we are going to have a much bigger problem on our hands. Progress only happens with change. I hope it’s not already too late.

Hating Isn’t Helping

March 22, 2016


More sickening, heartbreaking news. This time it’s a terrorist attack in Nice, France. Tomorrow it could be in Rome, London, the Middle East, or even the middle of America. Mother Teresa said, “I alone cannot change the world, but I can cast a stone across the waters to create many ripples.” She of course was referring to ripples of kindness, love, and compassion, but right now it seems the only ripples most of us see and feel are those of hate, fear, and chaos. These ripples are becoming waves, dividing both our nation and the world.

Let me remind some of you — I worry a growing number of you — that the creation of hate, fear, chaos, and division is exactly what terrorists lust after. I’m in no way suggesting that we turn a blind eye, but we must not allow hate to breed upon itself. We can’t allow ourselves to wrongly assume that all Muslims hate Christians, and we must let it be known that the majority of Christians (and the rest of our diverse population) do not hate Muslims. Remember who the enemy is. It is a relatively small group of extremists, cast out by friends and family who once loved them. These people who have turned their backs to terrorists are now being judged as inherently evil by too many Americans. Let us not get caught up in the hatred. If we decide all Muslims — or any other group of people as a whole — are bad, we are only playing into the hands of terrorism. We are literally making new enemies out of innocent people, many of whom are living peaceful, productive lives in the United States.

The division of our country is as dangerous to us as terrorism; possibly even more so. Obviously there is media sensationalism, but the rift between our political parties, races, religions, and nationalities is truly a widening fissure. It is a gap that will soon become difficult to bridge. Anyone reading this has heard the phrase Make America Great Again. If we sincerely want America to be great again, we must stand together. We can (and will) disagree, but we cannot disrespect. We must believe that most people — at home and abroad — are inherently good, then fight against evil, terrorism, and oppression as a united front. Only then will we be great again. Only then will we have a chance to succeed.

Some will say I’m naive and dreaming of some unrealistic utopia, but that is not the case at all. In fact, I’m a realist. Hate is a strong force that will never completely cease to exist, but adding more hate — even under good intentions — only strengthens its power. Please join me in casting stones of kindness and compassion. I alone can only make small ripples, but together we can make a mighty tide. Hating just simply isn’t helping.