A Fork in the Road

Schoolmate shot in the head by another — playing with a rifle…

That was my first encounter with gun deaths as a kid. Absolutely preventable. There would be more — friends or relatives of friends. We are at a fork in the road. Fifty-eight deaths at a concert. We have been here before but we always take the wrong path forward. That path only leads us to another ugly fork in the road and we always take the wrong path forward — deeper into the abyss of gun violence — fork after fork after fork. We don’t have the guts to take the right path because the wrong one is the familiar way…we don’t know what we will find on the right path and there are forces at work that keep us from going that way. We seem to be running in circles but it is a straight path downward.

Coworker’s son accidentally shot and killed by his father in a hunting accident.

That was my second encounter with gun deaths…some years later. Very sad, devastating indeed, and truly an accident. About one-third of Americans own firearms. About half of that number own only one or two guns. Many are hunters who are careful people when handling their firearms. Accidents happen but not all that often. Many are also sport shooters who are drawn to competitions or enjoy target shooting as a hobby. They are also very careful and usually shoot in a safe and controlled environment. I am technically a gun owner because I own a black-powder flintlock pistol that I once used in target shooting almost thirty-five years ago. It hasn’t been fired in over thirty years but I keep it in a safe place. Hunters and sport shooters are not the problem — but could be part of the solution to the gun problem in America.

Staff member’s young brother shot and killed by a confused and fearful security guard.

My next encounter with a gun death was absolutely preventable. He was a young black kid, a pre-teen, playing where he shouldn’t but was viewed as a threat by a startled security guard. The boy was with friends and they were doing what kids do. Somehow there was confusion in the dark and the security guard had a gun and used it. Guns are everywhere and fear is a great motivator to use them even when there is no real danger. About 3% of Americans own half the guns in this country. That’s somewhere around 180+ million guns. The average among that group is seventeen guns but some own many more. So many more that the average for all gun owners is somewhere around eight per owner. Some of those gun owners are legitimate collectors. Some might be legitimate gun vendors. Some, maybe more than some, are compelled by fear or some misguided notion of paranoia. I had a neighbor who pulled a gun on a fellow driver in a road rage incident. He was usually a calm person and not excitable but something happened that made him think he needed a gun. Then something happened that made him think he needed to use the gun. No one was hurt in the incident but a short time later it turned out he had a brain tumor. There is a lot of fear pushing people to own guns, mostly hand guns, and most of it is unwarranted.

A close friend and colleague gunned down by a white supremacist when he answered the front door.

My fourth encounter with a gun violence death was not that long ago. A good friend and colleague  was killed — they call it “assassinated” because he was a government official — by a white supremacy nut job who apparently acted on orders from an Aryan Brotherhood cell. The case is still open though the shooter was killed in a car chase. Someone put him up to it. There are crackpots and gun-crazy people and criminals and mental cases who should never have access to a gun. Kids should never have unsupervised access to a gun. The more guns we have the more they are circulated and end up where they don’t belong. About a half-million guns are stolen in this country every year, from private gun owners or from gun shops. Last December two guys stole a large Ford truck and drove it through the wall of a local gun shop and stole “several” guns…the number was not reported. They got away with the guns and have never been apprehended. About 1,600 guns are stolen in America each day. As gun advocates like the NRA pressure state legislatures to roll back gun possession and control laws the theft rate in those states increases. The guns fall into a black-market pipeline that funnels them into cities with stricter controls. A gun is stolen every minute in America.

A former coworker’s husband, a law enforcement officer, shot himself in the head on a quiet day on a quiet street for no apparent reason — a suicide.

A person bent on committing suicide will often find a way to accomplish it unless there is some intervention. Having a gun handy will speed things up — no intervention possible. It often destroys more than one life.  I live and grew up in a middle class community. I had the benefits of being educated and gainfully employed non-stop for 36 years. I mostly lived in “white” neighborhoods where one would not expect a great deal of gun violence. I know more people who died from firearms than I know who died from traffic accidents. I’m sure my experience with gun deaths is almost nothing compared to the experience of someone living in a ghetto or barrio or a gang controlled neighborhood.

Double homicide — jilted guy shoots and kills his girlfriend and her husband as they come out their door to go to work…an ambush killing.

This happened two doors away from my daughter’s house in a small town in rural Missouri. Gun violence is not just a city thing. The guy got away and was finally caught several hundred miles away. He had a gun and thought it was OK to kill people and figured he could get away. If he didn’t have the gun he wouldn’t have been waiting in the dark to squeeze off a couple rounds into his “problem” people. He wouldn’t have considered that to be a solution to his problem. There are about 310,000,000 guns in America with more added every day. We need more guns like we need a hole in the head.

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Written on the Eve of the Next Mass Shooting

Who will it be this time?
The shooter, I mean.
My guess is it will be some guy with a problem.
His girlfriend doesn’t understand him.
He was bullied in school.
He lost his job and it wasn’t fair.
Somebody got too close or too slow on the road.
He’s a self-styled vigilante who doesn’t approve of “those people”.
His God told him to do it.

Who will it be this time?
The victims, I mean.
My guess is it will be ordinary people with ordinary problems.
His girlfriend doesn’t understand him.
She lost her job and it wasn’t fair.
He was bullied in school.
She was one of “those people”.
He was at the wrong place at the wrong time.
She worshiped the wrong God.

Who will it be this time?
The person who gave him the guns, I mean.
My guess it’s someone who is clueless…and guiltless.
Was it the dad who was fascinated with fire power?
Was it the mom frightened witless for her safety?
Was it the shop owner who was just making another sale?
Was it the anonymous online gun dealer?
Was it the guy in the alley with a trunk load of weapons?
Was it the neighbor who just left it lying around unsecured?

Who will it be this time?
The ones making lame excuses and feeble explanations.
My guess it will be the same ones we always hear.
The bought-off politicians.
The 2nd Amendment Constitutional crack-pots.
The gun rights fanatics…”If only they were all armed…”
The NRA spokesmen whose cold dead brains can’t fathom what’s happening?
The goof-ball local sheriff who suddenly has a crisis.
The wannabe candidate sucking up to voters.

Who will it be next time?

 

 

Nevertheless, She Persisted

malalaPersist_zpss3lpdzjzSometimes our language fails us in both words and concepts. My wife had a term she applied to some people she admired for their persistence and tenacity: “stick-to-it-ive-ness”. Not exactly the most elegant of terms but it conveys the concept, in her mind, better than anything else. I was, on a couple occasions, the recipient of that honor but perhaps fell short more than a few times. She certainly had that quality about her and outlasted my puny capacity quite often.

Men seem to value the sprint while women go for distance. There is something that seems almost as a biological and intellectual capacity in women to move on, ever forward, in an undaunted manner. Our species would have slithered into oblivion without that quality.

Down through the ages. with few exceptions, men have held the power. Men wrote the Bible and the Koran and other religious texts. Women made the ink. Men told the history of nations and sang songs of losers and winners. Women made the beer and carried the water. Men heaped praise and glory on their heroes. Women saw them all before they had their morning coffee. Men pranced off to war in fancy uniforms. Women bound up their wounds and cared for their orphans.

Only in the last decades of the 19th century did women begin to extricate themselves from constant servitude. Women were legally oppressed under English common law and the concept of coverture. Once married, a women essentially became part of her husband and ceased to exist as an individual. If unmarried, she could own property and conduct business and enter into contracts but not as a married woman. That power and authority resided in the husband. If you think back to the decades around 1800, it is largely single, unmarried women who stand out as writers and artists.

KEN7Men, for the most part, were perfectly content with the old customs and didn’t see a problem. Everything was fine…a well oiled machine. Why change? Some men still don’t get it. Surprisingly, some women don’t get it. But, nevertheless, they persisted. Women have made progress and have come to claim, inch by inch, equality with men in many fields. There have been setbacks and ongoing battles. There have been grave sacrifices.  Nevertheless, they persist. My daughter enjoys rights and freedoms that her great-grandmother never dreamed of. We are talking of a span of about 100 years of slow and persistent progress. Women still have a way to go even in what we would consider our enlightened western culture.

In other parts of the world the struggle is just starting or is taking a slightly different path. Progress won’t look the same everywhere. I don’t advocate for many non-profit organizations or projects but I do stand behind the ideas and efforts of The Girl Effect. There has to be a starting place…if doors won’t open, use a window.

 

 

 

 

 

A Chance Meeting on a Train

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The chance meetings or random coincidences always intrigue me. I’m travelling cross country by train and I‘ve met two writers already just as table-mates in the dining car. One, age nineteen, has two published books (what was I doing with my time at nineteen?). The other is a ghost writer and mostly now does short stories. The nineteen-year-old just started a university writing program so, who knows, she may never write again – or maybe be a great success. I knew her when…

I had lunch in the dining car yesterday with a lady from the island of Hawaii travelling to St. Louis, which happens to be my destination. As we talked, she shared some of her experiences of moving to Hawaii and what her immediate surroundings were like…plants and animals. There was also another lady sitting at a table across the aisle who was glancing over from time to time. It turned out that she also was also from the “Big Island” and they were, in fact, near neighbors. They lived in adjoining communities. So what are the odds of two people starting off on separate journeys from the same general place at different times and meeting in a dining car in New Mexico on an east-bound train? How many different things had to fall into place for that to happen? I suppose someone could figure out the odds with enough information but I’ve learned just to accept it.  Maybe a butterfly in Tibet flapped its wings and things fell into place. Maybe not.

My life is full of similar random coincidences that defy explanation. My late wife’s birthdate matches exactly with my brother’s wife’s birthdate…same day and year. They were born in the same state but not the same city. Also, totally unknown until later, my wife once worked for my sister-in-law’s mother when she was starting her career before I met her.

About a twenty years into my work life I was living in a small town and employed in government as a program manager. I had to hire a new secretary so I interviewed maybe a half dozen candidates. I hired a local woman from the small town and never really thought much about her background or family. In small towns one doesn’t pry into family connections unless the topic is initiated by the other person. My experience was that many people were related to each other either directly or by marriage and it was best not to express opinions or comments about someone. Now, realize that I was born and raised 150 miles away and had no prior connection to this town. That is what I thought until a chance conversation with my secretary revealed that we were both cousins to the same person. Somehow one of my cousins married her cousin and we were commonly related to their children. It was a second marriage for both of these cousins; both being divorced in different localities.

I also have two insurance agents, both living in that same small town that I moved to at age 27, and both of these agents share my birthday. One is exactly the same — day and year – and the other a few years later. They don’t know each other and work for different companies. There are other date-related coincidences: my dad died ten years, to the hour, before the 9/11 attack on the World Trade Center. I could list almost a dozen other odd, seemingly random occurrences but you get the idea.

I was recently reading a short passage from Tolstoy’s War and Peace in which he questions how things happen. Often we see things as planned and managed by a talented leader (in this case, Napoleon) but maybe that is an illusion. Maybe things are set in motion in another way. Maybe a peculiar string of random events led Napoleon to Moscow with a huge army. Maybe he was just along for the ride. We plan things and sometimes the plans work out and sometimes they don’t. “Serendipity” is one English language concept – to find something good by accident without seeking it. In history, one person’s serendipity is sometimes another person’s catastrophe. I suspect that concept is not unique to English speakers.

At any rate, things have an odd tendency to fall into place in ways that, while seemingly random, also give a hint that something else is in control. My daughter says that it is the angels at work. She got that idea from my wife who attributed certain happenings to an unseen hand…”Let it be – marvel but don’t question” was her philosophy. Maybe so. Maybe the angels are bored and play these games to keep busy.

Carl Gustave Jung, a clergyman’s son and prominent psychoanalyst, was also intrigued by these chance happenings and devised the concept of synchronicity. To his way of thinking, events do not need to have a causal relationship to have meaning — perhaps meaning eclipses cause? Out of all of these events that I’ve mentioned above, or others I haven’t described, or those others have experienced, none of them really had much of an impact. I didn’t change my behavior or plans in response to the events and it made no difference to other people whose lives intersected in the events. It is just a curiosity, sometimes with meaning to the observer, sometimes there is no meaning. Abraham Lincoln and Charles Darwin were born on the same day. Other than that one fact, there really isn’t anything else to say except that they both went on to change the course of history.

For a number of years, beginning in 1975, my wife and I would take a week-long vacation each year…maybe longer some years. The dates of our vacation coincided with a number of major events including the stock market crash, the death of Princess Diana, the death of John F. Kennedy Jr., the assassination of Anwar Sadat, disappearance (and death) of Jimmy Hoffa,  various plane crashes, coups  and military invasions. We would occasionally joke about the CIA or FBI wanting to track our movements — something big was going to happen if we took a vacation. We still took our vacation and we were finally able to shake off the “curse” about fifteen years ago. Nothing would happen when we went on a trip. It was sort of a let down…we didn’t have any special powers after all.

(Revised from the original posted at The Green Room, August, 2016)

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One Thousand Desert Winters

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The calendar on the wall kept watch alone

for one thousand desert winters

and one thousand desert summers.

Faithfully measuring out the seasons.

The rabbits and rock doves had their own calendars.

The coyotes took note of every moonrise.

Lizards were thankful for the morning sun.

Years passed, stars fell and crickets chirped

but no one watched the calendar.

 

Someone once kept a holy vigil.

They watched the calendar and the changing seasons.

That was long ago and for reasons we can only guess.

Things change slowly here in the desert. One can lose track.

Was it a secret place? Was it a sacred place?

This space of discourse between sun and stone

was witnessed by a silent scribe. Watch closely…take note.

Each morning was important – day in, day out.

The morning sun sent its dagger deeper, striking out the

old season and bringing forth the new.

 

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The Poplar Tree

It’s a windy day, blue and sunny.

I have a head cold and sit in the sun

hoping to bake it out of my skull.

The sun tries its best with warming rays.

But the wind intervenes. It’s October.

The warm days of summer are behind me

and I pull on a sweater.

 

I can still feel the heat of the sun even

with the autumn wind.

Almost dozing, I surrender to the present…

the sun, the wind, the sounds, and the smells…

I have a chicken boiling in the pot. Soup is in my future.

I see the treetops swaying in the wind.

That takes me back to other windy days.

 

Years, a lifetime,  ago there was a singular

Poplar tree on the edge of a forgotten cornfield;

abandoned with old stubble and rabbit tracks,

and sometimes snakes when the weather was right.

That tree – not an old rigid tree – was

almost thirty feet tall and straight and strong

but still flexed nimbly in the wind.

 

The Poplar came equipped with low branches

perfect for an eight-year-old to climb.

An Adventurer, a Sailor, a Flying Wallenda!

It could be anything but on windy days

it was a Pirate ship and I was up in the rigging

swaying back and forth as the ship bounded

through the waves.

 

Squinting toward the horizon,

I search for unsuspecting Galleons full of treasure;

full of spices, gold, jewels and who knows what else.

Maybe even a damsel or two?

Yo-Ho and Ahoy!! Avast me hearties!!

Hold fast and turn her about! What do I spy?

It’s my mother – the chicken soup is ready.

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The Pornography of Donald Trump

          Try as he will, he can’t stop looking. There is something forbidden yet strangely appealing about it. It goes against almost everything he learned at an early age. It is counter to what she once thought of herself. It is like the curious lure of pornography and the Trump supporter can’t look away. Donald Trump has a strange and pornographic lure. It is not so much the outward message as it is the inner thrill of hearing, or thinking that one hears, something that appeals to the darkest emotions. Trump grants permission to go to that place and live there. Trump, of course will deny it but continues unabated.
          Then there is the “us against them” lure…a hook that catches the Trump supporter like a fish being snagged in the sea. Then, once caught, they are reeled in with an appealing line of whoppers. The falsehoods first appeal like a forbidden dessert and then eventually become the bread and butter of a distorted belief system.
          Trump becomes the thing that granted and sustains the release of the darkness, fear and hatred that skulked hidden like a cinder in the human heart. Not to worry…Trump will make it all better. It is almost like a mantra. Maybe, for some, it’s more like a painkiller or release of endorphins to accept Donald Trump as their personal guardian and guide through the perceived world of unfairness and danger that surrounds them. They are enchanted by the message…that which once was, is no more and Trump will make it right. Never mind the lack of detail or precision on what exactly was lost or what exactly Trump will do to make things better. It is a cultish allegiance to a self-made prophet. David Koresh and Jim Jones worked a similar magic in religion but Trump stays in the realm of politics and social behavior. We have seen other facets of this same dazzling gem at other times and in other parts of the world and it never turns out well.
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