A Terrible Week

I found myself crying a lot this week. I don’t mind a good cry, it can be rather cleansing. However, this emotion I experienced had layers. It had begun early in the weekend, the truth of a sudden turn in my life had reckoned itself to such a degree I felt for the first time I was unable to turn back. I realized pain, and sought some way to reduce the impact of my fears. But I couldn’t, the foundation had been laid down, and I was now faced with never being given another chance to redeem myself. I think the most difficult aspect of that reality was that I was confused with what was real and what now is illusion in my life.

Never is illusion an easy outlet to define. The term suggest we are ill in our own state of mind, to such a degree, we are compelled to create something out of nothing. In doing so, I remained stuck in my own quandary over how I lost someone I really loved. Everything in my life became one-sided, and I had no recourse. I was no longer connected to the security of our passage of time, and I was forced to imagine life without her.

And then it happened. Something bigger than any of us could ever predict. I lost two people in my community that recognized a certain culture buried in backlash and discrimination. Two people died under unusual circumstances. I watched someone I was very close to unravel, and it was difficult to experience. At the same time, I kept wanting some explanation in another part of my life that leaves me today, extremely alone.

I didn’t find relief, and tonight as I write these passage, there is still no peace.

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Two Lives – A Cultural Divide

Dedicated to the short lives of Bushra Abdi, 19, and Zeynab (Hapsa) Abdalla 19


girls


 

There are already open wounds

two young women lost their lives

their final moments

in a panic with 911.

 

We have these preliminary assumptions

the dead can no longer speak

a certain beauty will now forever

encompass the memory of their lives.

 

What happens in the middle of the morning

to find the soul and heart

crying for safety, lost in a certain mire

unable to see, perhaps without ability.

 

Now we have to listen

we have to hope in the midst of tragedy

no foul play, only the reality

of two lives ending in such a tragic way.

 

They perished in a city

in a hot bed of controversy

the marginalization of a society

lived and breathed until this day.

 

We will wonder the bystander

if there are questions to remain

perhaps two children in the throes

of living each day like their last.

 

They will be, were, are always loved

ours is not a place to judge

only find the peace of finding Grace

finding paths for their soul to rise.

I Looked Into the Eyes of a Dying Woman

cancer-sucks-pictures

The other day, I traveled across a state to say good-bye to a friend. I did it because I wanted her to realize just how worth it she is. I did it for the love I have for her and her children. I did it because I cared. But the trip wasn’t meant to be about me, it was a gesture of kindness for a person who now is faced with readying herself for the next chapter in her life – that out of body journey that we are left curious about yet, hold onto a faith of purpose in the next life.

Whenever I lose someone I am close to it gives me pause, as it naturally should. I am the guy that constantly walks around complaining about a life without everything I want, an unhappiness sometimes that if I am not careful can be revealed to those I am close to in life. To sit and witness a person who is losing their struggle in life and still smile and offer happiness to those loved ones around her is certainly a humbling experience.

I’m glad I made the drive. The day was beautiful, the moment saying good-bye was special. Seeing the love in the room was quite exceptional, a lot of tears, moments of reservation turned to immediate release, and then two children doting on their dying mother with every resource their body and mind would allow. I said to them at one point, you are both such gracious people filled with love and humility. I said, you had a great mentor and they both glanced at mom and weeped for a second. Smiles and hugs around realizing the day was nearer than anyone would like it to be.

I said my good-bye and hit the road for the drive back, the whole time processing what I had just done and why. I had no ulterior motive to see a young woman die before her time. I wanted to say good-bye and see the peace in her eyes. I wanted to know that death is a planned event no matter the impulsivity. We will all wonder why she had to be taken so soon, while others struggle on for years, or overcome the disease that threatens a life.

On the drive back, I cried, I cried hard. It felt refreshing, cleansing I suppose. It felt like I was allowing my feelings to come to the surface rather than suppressing them. I believe in that moment of weeping, I understood love in all of its abundance.

But the story doesn’t end there. Halfway into the drive I heard about the death of Senator John McCain. I certainly did not know him personally, did not ever meet him, but like everyone else, or the majority in our country, I do recognize him as a national hero. I witness the strength of character in his work ethic right up to the day of his departure. I read about his victories, sufferings and accomplishments, and suddenly I am aware of how his life was sacrificed for the better good. Much like my friend, in the end, his entire focus was helping people find their own peace with that goal in mind.

So that night, a Saturday night, I went through a lot of soul-searching. I recognized my own purpose and how these were moments of clarity that give me the strength to go on. Remember we always think about the resilience to go on when we lose someone we care or have compassion for. Much like John McCain, and my friend, life is precious, and we realize it in the worst of times.

And then it happened. The next day, we lost another kind soul. The superintendent of our school district died the day before we walked into our classrooms. Across the district there was  a numbness felt for a man that brought positivity in a time when that was the only way to heal many painful aspects of our district’s history. His tenure with us was brief, but in that time he brought real and genuine happiness into the lives of the people he touched. And his spirit did and will continue to touch many.

So, this weekend I was surrounded by cancer. I suppose it was a necessary passage of showing all of us that our lives are worth every  minute we have and to never take our time for granted. I look around the room and realize there are people that do not have the capacity to recognize the connection between life and death. For me, on this rather remarkable weekend of finding peace in the curiosity of the human condition, I am hoping I will find an eventual peace. I go forward hoping to resonate with the legacy of people brought down before their time, yet people that instilled love and purpose into my own life and the lives of all of those around us.

Godspeed our fragile humanity.

When A Friend’s Pain Defines Personal Purpose

I have a fairly good life. I am gainfully employed, live in a seemingly free country, with all the benefits of free speech and liberty. I have a family, we are all healthy. Our lives are determined by our actions. Given all of that reward I sometimes question my purpose, and I begin to doubt my ability, and I frame a rather skeptical outlook on my future. I’ll then beat myself up and struggle with the reality of my fortune. However, it is when I hear of the pain of someone in my life, close or connected that I really begin to recognize the gifts I have received. It is then I feel guilty for not appreciating what I have to live for.

That self-serving attitude causes a depression that can more often than not, be debilitating. I used to believe my depression was situational – created by short term events. I have now as I finish the 5th decade of my life realized my depression is clinical. I add fuel to it by recognizing an addictive personality – so many factors of my life have been defined by addiction. I feel fortunate to have responded to recovery in the manner I have. As a friend often says, life is good.

All that said, I believe life doesn’t really happen until you experience someone else’s pain. How many funerals have we walked away from where a person took their own life, and everyone is left with questions. It happens frequently and we are always sad, and for the moment, we do catalogue our own possibilities, and we do recognize how lucky our lives can be. But then reality sets in and life becomes again burdensome, and for me specifically I begin to question purpose.

Recently I was told of a friend’s battle with Stage 4 Pancreatic Cancer. This friend is someone I knew in a previous time, and our lives have gone many directions in the last ten years. However, the impact of this news has literally shut me down and made me reflect again on what is my purpose. She is a beautiful person with beautiful children, and I can guarantee she did not choose this path in her final days. She’s younger than me, and today I am faced with the reality of finding perspective.

I spent this last weekend in my hometown, and I watched a music festival that was a lot of fun. My wife and I enjoyed the blues, and I spent rare time with my extended family. Whenever I return to my hometown, I am flooded with childhood memories, couple that with time with my family and it can be precarious. We came home refreshed and in good spirits and the foreboding feeling I receive when returning to my world seemed to creep up slowly. I again began to experience my depression, and the choices I make in my life become centered, and I began to wonder about purpose.

It was then I received an email about my friend. She was diagnosed recently and her condition is untreatable. Here is the quandary. Where I spend the night questioning my purpose and allowing my depression to win, suddenly I hear of this person who has everything in the world to live for and she knows it will be taken away. She doesn’t want that, not now, not in the prime of her life. I thought about her pain all night, and I realized that any time I feel sorry for myself I need to think of my friend and recognize I have chances that other people do not.

People are given windows into the lives of others for a reason. In this case, my friend’s pain is unfortunately my saving grace. I am not debilitated, I am not suffering a terminal illness, I am not losing my mind. God help me that those factors always evade me. Instead I will take her challenge as an inspiration that in her toughness might I show some strength in recognizing I do have a purpose in this life. I do need to move forward if not just for her, for my own well being.

Let’s pray we all might continue to find our purpose and strength to exemplify the life our friends and family might not have the luxury to fully experience.

Trials Defining 45’s Racism

Racism 

noun

Prejudice, discrimination, or antagonism directed against someone of a different race based on the belief that one’s own race is superior.                    – Oxford English Dictionary

A friend of mine asked me recently to give a good definition of racism and what it means in our society. So I went to the best source I could – the Oxford English Dictionary. When I read the definition itself, I thought about my own prejudice, and wondered about my own bias, and then tried to translate that to the point of this commentary.

I only have to look as far as the first three words and I have found enough evidence to attach this derogatory practice to 45’s exploits over the last year and a half, and evidence would suggest we include the many years before he even imagined the highest position of office in the United States.

In the word ‘prejudice’ it is defined as ‘preconceived opinion’ not based upon reality. We are all familiar with the original stump speech that introduced a philosophy toward Mexicans with the following words, “they’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists. And some, I assume, are good people.” (Donald Trump 2016) Now any number of people will qualify that and say he did add the ‘good people’ in the end of the insult. Is that well enough? Or should we look more closely at the greater influence of the sentence – drugs, crime, rapists – and focus on how the words themselves impacted the response to his description of Mexican people to a crowd of supporters.

I want to say lathering supporters, but it took a few months for us to really begin to see his method, and today his campaign rallies time and time again, have become venues for spewing toxicity. I know this personally, because I did attend a rally earlier this year in Duluth MN and was appalled by the general pitch of the speech and crowd reaction. In that particular speech, there was no presentation of substance, only the same rhetoric we have grown accustomed to – hostility, isolation and blame. Therefore, his ‘preconceived opinion’ became the center point of his words and the crowd loved it. They relished it, and if anyone was in opposition, well they had better well keep their mouths shut, or have it shut permanently by rabid supporters. Incidentally, those rabid supporters would also receive direct support from the POTUS at the podium jeering them on.

See I find a problem with that. To me that is a clear case of bullying, and this is something that Donald Trump is the master of in his current position. If he doesn’t like someone, or they go against his own personal agenda, he will rip them apart with a lacking social decorum that leaves a lot of people feeling fear. Trust me when I say to all of those readers that are jumping on the bandwagon to pummel liberals, it is not simply a democratic issue. It is a national crisis that clearly blurs all party lines. To state it simply, 45 uses other people’s weaknesses to bolster his own agenda. That is prejudicial behavior.

Next word, discrimination. How many readers just suddenly had this wave of ‘this is too easy’ come over them when they associate that word with the POTUS? How about we begin with the NFL? Wait too easy, ok let’s talk about Maxine Waters and ‘low IQ.’ Not satisfied, well then moving on, how about Lebron James and education for youth versus cages on the Southern border. Oh, hot point, ok, well, then let’s just wrap it with calling a former White House aide, a woman, a dog. Fill in the missing blanks please.

Finally, when I first looked at the definition of racism as it applies, the word antagonism just lit a fire under me because there is so much evidence out there that Trump has expressed, suggested, mandated to describe his personal agenda with antagonizing people of a different social status, a different political background, a DIFFERENT color of skin. Quite apparently, Donald Trump ran his candidacy and now his current office on a platform of outward antagonism.

Remember, he did say, ‘fire the (s.o.b.) player’ that protests at an NFL game. Ignore the whole idea of free speech and the ability to demonstrate a peaceful protest. Hell, this is a person of stature and they should be held accountable. Paint it however way you like it, but the message that 45 is putting across is that the color of your skin in the NFL has merit to be criticized and thrown out with the trash. Yeah, that’s my opinion, and I say it clearly because the whole idea of supporting this man’s ignorance just makes me sick.

So we can do two things with the definition as it stands. We can take out the word ‘race’ and exchange it with ‘status’ for those of you that genuinely believe that Trump is not racist, but do have misgivings of how he treats people of a different stature than his own. Or we could leave the word ‘race’ in the definition of racism where it belongs.

The fact is, our leader of our country uses racist language to persons of color to antagonize and lather his crowd of supporters. While he stands before us and suggests he is cleaning out the swamp, what he is actually doing is lining his own pockets with the finest opportunity to create a financial network towards his benefit with not just the nation but the world, the global economy. He really could care less about race unless there is a benefit for him.

That said, I am not letting him off the hook. He has made far too many declarative statements toward people of color in so many capacities, and yes, he has lumped certain white people into his analogies and disgusting rhetoric. But right now, I don’t really care about the white people, because they don’t have to operate on a different level to make sure their lives are safe and fulfilling. They just, like me, will go out the door in the morning and begin their day without any worry of profiling or discrimination while a person of color walking down the street with them side by side will experience mental and physical roadblocks completely out of their control throughout their entire day.

Think about it for just a minute. This isn’t political. This is reality, and the sooner we begin to acknowledge it is NOT about us, and it is more about the people in our society that have been oppressed for the ages, the sooner we can begin to carry out a realistic and healing dialogue. The sooner we accept that just maybe the words coming out of this president’s mouth can be construed planned, methodical and easily perceived as racist, nothing ‘fake news’ about that – only a reality.

( to be sure I wrote this after a weekend blues festival – my apologies for rambling. )

What Really Means Love Today

Lately the news has been grim. We seem to be riding on this roller coaster of misinformation that draws our compassion in far too many directions. It really appears that on any given day we could lose sight of what is really important to us, based upon where we see our world headed. At least for me that is a fear. Sometimes I wonder if it just self- persecution or if my insight is really trying to match up with my intuitions.

I’ve always been a feeling person, one that operates from the heart. I can sit in my home and feel tears when a dad is making sure his daughter is ready for college, because that same emotion impacted me when my little girl started her first year of college away from home. I remember, I cried all the way home, a two hour drive where I really thought I had lost my world and I wasn’t ever going to have it back. But fortunately she did return a stronger and more confident, now, young woman, whom I am so very proud of.

My son has had a similar effect on my life. I have a picture of him and I standing on the shores of the Temperance river – me kneeling and he standing next to me with his Twins cap and a smile – pressed lips smile. We were together and we had just had a lot of fun and it was a moment frozen in time that for many years afterwards I would struggle because I wanted that time back. He grew up, found his own life and moved into the next chapter of his young adulthood. I thought I lost him, and there were many nights when I cried myself to sleep. But now today, he’s a strapping young man, and he has a good life, one that I can be extremely proud of.

It is those moments of reflection that I do understand the meaning of love. It is such moments that I look at the world around us and I wonder if everyone feels the same way I do. I wonder if people watch the news and they sometimes lose hope because there are so many wrong things happening, that our minds cannot wrap ourselves around them soon enough. In trying to do so, we forget those moments in our lives that have greater value. It is the people we love that we are close to and count on knowing and seeing throughout the various chapters of our lives.

I think that’s the piece we have to stay focused on. What is important is to know the love we already have and can feel in our family, our loved ones, those friends we are closest to, the people we know we can trust and count upon on a daily basis. I think by doing that we can by example be representative of a good, peaceful march upon the negativity that surrounds us.

I think we all need to practice love.

Talking About Suicide

The other day I ran into an old friend. We had begun laughing about a coffee clutch of several gentlemen we knew that would gather daily in the summer. We’d both joined a couple of times, knew them all about as well as we knew one another, just regulars at a little coffee shop in our neighborhood. I hadn’t seen him for quite some time, and he told me that the circumstances of that gathering were a sad memory. I said I agreed, because I knew one of them had taken his own life a few years back. He nodded, we both sort of looked at each other, and then he told me another one had as well around the same time.

See, there were six guys, they all had morning routines, but they met for that 20 minutes or so for coffee and laughs, sometimes hung over, often times more powerful than the one next in their earnest desire to present their lives to one another – friends, coffee, beautiful summer mornings. I wondered about the remaining four, and how their lives had changed losing two friends, two members of a coffee clutch that seemed to last forever. I wondered about the true nature of a man’s loneliness to bring themselves to such desperate a measure as is, suicide.

See there is a lot of argument out there. A very dear friend of mine lost his brother many years ago to suicide. He would argue it is not a selfish act, whereby society for the most part might disagree because of the world left behind. But it is truly more than selfishness, because I would be willing believe not one successful suicide would ever imagine the fallout their actions will leave behind them. I do have to believe more often than not the act is one of a victim’s desperation so much so, they are unable to see any other options.

My friend and I on this day talked about the tragedy, and he said to me that there is more to life. He reminded me of his brother that he watched in chemo in a hospital room fighting every day of his life for a chance to live, and the same for all of the patients on that cancer ward.

See its hard to put it in a simple box of explanation. There certainly are those circumstances that lead to a sort of euthanasia frame of mind when struggling with a terminal and painful disease, but that raises the question of how some of the most afflicted people in the world will provide a more genuine smile than a healthy human being at the top of their game.

Suicide isn’t selective, we both agreed as we finished our coffee ready to go about our day. I think what was important for both of us was the validation of our existence and the appreciation for knowing two people whose lives had touched us in different ways and had made decisions we would always struggle to understand. In the meantime, we’d had a good talk and were lifted again in that standstill moment of time.