A Teenager Committed Suicide

Yesterday, a former student took his own life. The circumstances are horrific to realize that life had come to such terms. It is also ironic for many people including myself. We all have dark moments that cause us to imagine a deadly option. This young man somehow felt there was no one he could speak to that might help him through his crisis. In my life the issue of suicide has always been thought to be a cop-out and an easy option, a valueless choice for those around their lives.

I have students crying in the hallways today. I had a student contact me yesterday evening in tears – we spoke for several minutes, and I invited him to come by. This situation has impacted a lot of people including those that have the feelings themselves. Nobody really knows what a person is going through when they choose this deadly way to stop the pain. Nobody knows the tears in the final moments because we just don’t understand. I do.

I believe suicide is a mental illness beyond the circumstances of finality for a person suffering from inevitable mortality. That is the only time when such an act seems feasible. I say that again knowing in my own life there are times when the world I live in becomes exhausting and I no longer like the loneliness I feel. I am especially mortified by this situation with our student. He touched a lot of lives. I watched him laugh both in the classroom and with his friends. I watched him be successful in his love of sports in the events he participated. I watched people groom his life.

Today, I see the outcome. I sense the family and their reaction not as a close friend but as a person that appreciates the grief they feel. I understand why students are at a loss in their actions as they try to wrap their heads around his loss.

Suicide is something that everyone needs to acknowledge is a terrible way to end a person’s life. If someone reaches out be there for them, because the moment you take that for granted they may take action on something they didn’t have a chance to rethink or turn away from the act. Sadly one must though realize the end game is not their responsibility. A call, a visit, a wellness check may be all that is needed. Let them know they are not alone and they have a possible firm ledge to step back onto, let them find their own professional guidance.

Do not abandon a person when they are at their seeming lowest. Look for the signs and be there no matter the effect the notion might have on your own life.

The victim needs your real love.

The Scrutiny of Self Loathing

People generally believe we bring our pain upon ourselves, the decisions, choices we make. As true as that might be we want also to be responsible for shaking off the doom and gloom that keeps us down. There the difficult task arises in how we acknowledge our own fear in moving forward when caught in the web of self-deceit. We convince ourselves through various measures we are destined to live this way.

Take addiction for a moment and identify patterned behavior. The addict is easily drawn toward what feels good, the easiest route to pleasure. It is more often than not an addict’s choice to stay within the boundary of self loathing than give themselves a fighting chance of a good life. The drug, the habit, the glass of scotch, far too easy to attain and outweigh the risk of facing the contempt their lives become under the influence of a self-destructive pursuit they are unable to see until it explodes their lives and those around them.

A choice also has to be made by the messenger. I choose to write this why, because I have seen its impact on the lives of those around me? I also see on a daily basis the nature of addiction and how it determines day to day decisions in my own life. Not the observation of a friend, me.

On any given day I can be wrapped up in memory of poor decisions I made years ago that haunt me still today, most people would say, let it go you were a kid way back then. That’s true but I still made the choice.

Today I think about self-loathing and the impact it has on my life. Last night in my episodic frame of mind I thought about solutions that did simply scare the hell out of me. Too often we are in the middle of something and rather than face it we literally swallow it and move on. I choose to face it but I have no false pretense of an easy road ahead, I made a phone call last night that helped me move beyond a state of mind that was dragging me down so fast I was drowning before my ankles ever felt the water. Then in a bizarre dream overnight I was holding a device in my hand on stage that blew up and I was suddenly gasping for air in and out of consciousness. I take some dreams for granted, that one not so much.

Perhaps a metaphorical bomb in a crazy dream is what it takes to realize sometimes a jumpstart is needed to feel better and take action. For me self-loathing is no fun. I will choose a different path.

For the reader I ask two favors – one that you might take from this story some benefit for your own life and two that you raise your awareness around family, friend, colleague, neighbor and offer a hand rather than reject that reach with our well planted bootstrap society. Sometimes the boots will not go on.

This post is for everyone and is not about you!

The Beauty of Culture and Our Changing Society

Tonight, I had the opportunity to watch something rather wonderful. I wasn’t alone, we all viewed what represents the identity of who we are, how we represent, what is truly special about our school district.

Tonight, Shakopee High School, held a culture fest, one that celebrated a host of different ethnic groups that as a collective whole did speak to the beauty of our diversity. There were dances, puppetry, singers that modeled cultural mores produced by a student body that exists beyond the classroom. They smiled, they hugged one another, they reached out to a marvelous gathering of people from all walks of life.

Parents came to support their children. There were people that might not walk into a high school because there could be apprehension due to cultural differences that are sometime intimidating because of language barriers and matters of equity and diversity. There were visitors, faculty, administrators who attended and spoke to one another and celebrated students who came up to them and shook hands, gave high fives, smiled and laughed and beamed with pride and courage for what they were accomplishing together as a collective whole.

To be a teacher in this school district is a special blessing in the sense that we get the chance to interact with a student body that teaches us how to recognize and understand culture beyond what is sometime taken for granted. I am so proud of our students and the organizers of our Culture Fest.

A celebration of identity is truly important when realizing the beauty of how we can interact and engage together to showcase talent, passion, and a desire to be accepted in our constantly changing society. We can be extremely proud of our district and who we are and the golden opportunity we have to offer something special to a remarkable and invaluable student body.

“We Are All Human”

I’ve been thinking about New Zealand along with the rest of us since Friday morning.

Yesterday evening I was sitting in a coffee shop that is a frequent meeting place for a group of Somali men. I go there often enough to recognize their faces and exchange pleasantries. Last night was different. They along with a community of their family, friends, colleagues had to endure the tragedy of a mass shooting in New Zealand where 50 (current count) people of Muslim faith where gunned down in senseless violence by a white terrorist. The killer carried with him a manifesto that attributed the influence of our current POTUS and his remarks toward the Muslim faith. The dead are sons, daughters, mothers, fathers, co-workers, colleagues, neighbors, grandparents, elders, friends … the list goes on and ought to sound familiar to everyone. They are people, like you and me.

I am a high school English teacher. Earlier in the day, my students watched a Ted Talk by Suzanne Barakat titled Islamophobia which spoke to the loss of her brother, his wife and their friend in a senseless shooting in North Carolina in 2015. Same situation, different white terrorist, a hate crime against the Muslim faith. Looking at her Facebook page today, I discovered her brother and his wife and friend were killed four years ago on February 10th, 2015. Just over a month ago, and her comment on her page last night after the news of the New Zealand tragedy was very brief, “I can’t. I just can’t.” I have to wonder how frightened or angry or defeated she feels today.

As I left the coffee shop last night, I looked at the men in conversation together and felt compelled to approach them. I told them they were all in my heart, and they thanked me and nodded their heads in understanding. One man looked at me and said, ‘We are all human,” and I shook his hand and he said it again.

We are all just human beings. Is there any other explanation to give people of the Muslim faith, or people of color, or people that are different than ourselves a reason to be respected? One of the messages from Suzanne Barakat is to speak to your neighbors. Even if it feels like a small gesture , she said it will have miles of impact. It is a start, and today, the healing needs to begin.

We are all simply human beings.

Please practice love today.

 


 

Islamophobia – Suzanne Barakat

On The Issue of Talent and Race

difference


Recently, I shared a news article that highlighted the posting oftwo of our newest appointed City Councilors. The pitch of the article was to suggest we are breaking barriers by electing our first person of color to a political seat in the city’s government.

Ironically and thankfully there was little push back to my share and far more support, though I do have to bring attention to the commentary that did evolve. In order to get there I have to tell a story.

When I was twelve my family traveled to the East Coast, where we stayed with my cousins. God love my cousins but I really didn’t know them and I certainly wasn’t aware of their cultural views. One night my cousin of same age and I took a walk about the corner store where we encountered some black kids hanging out, just being teenagers. I asked my cousin if he knew them and he said no and in doing so dropped the ‘n’ word, that being the first time I had heard it in direct context as it impacted my life. I felt immediately nervous and couldn’t get past it the remainder of the night. I clearly knew my cousin’s views as we returned from the store and I felt fear for the first time in my life.

The next day, our family toured Harlem. I turned to my mom in the back seat and said, as a naive 12 year old, ‘those were the kids I saw last night.’ She told me of course they could not have been, and I said to her, ‘yes, mom, the same black kids on the corner.’

My mother then turned to me and said, ‘Listen to me, you didn’t see those kids last night and you certainly didn’t see those ‘black kids’ on the corner, you saw kids last night, and they were different kids from a different neighborhood.’ The point she was making of course is that I saw kids, playing on the corner, just people, the significance of color in my mom’s mind and her lesson to me was that it didn’t hold any bearing. She was telling me they are human beings just like anyone else in our world.

So why do I struggle today with the reality that yes, the skill set they bring to their position ought to be precedent?

I raise this issue because when my mother told me that story, it was 1972 and we were in the midst of racial turmoil. The Civil Rights Act was meant to begin to create an alliance between people of all walks of life. Yes, Martin Luther King Jr. did say, “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.” So yes I agree 100 %.

The issue I cannot agree with is that nearly 50 years later, we are still fighting to acknowledge that people need to be judged by the content of their character. It seems we still live in a society that will not allow that mindset to grow.

We must continue to grow. Congratulations to our two newest members of the City Council – May your contributions be filled with promise and fortune to continue to move this beautiful community in the right direction.

I Remember John Lennon

Lennon

I’m listening to ‘Mind Games’ right now. I woke this morning imagining I would write about John Lennon, this being the 38th year since he was gunned down outside the Dakota in New York City. I’ve since visited the site many times over the years, and every time there is an ominous takeaway that speaks to the terror of that single night.

I look up at the building itself – the one with gargoyles streaming the rooftops, a structuredakota my mom always said was her favorite building in the city, and I look for the white shutters, the flats that represent Yoko’s property, and I think that very possibly she is in there right now. Hers is a private world, deservedly so given the circumstances.

Not minutes before I sat down to this idea, I received the above picture of John Lennon on my timeline from my dear friend John. The timing was important, because 38 years ago on this night, I walked into my job at the health care center where he and I worked, and he approached me as we were changing shifts and told me the news. See I didn’t hear it from Howard Cosell on Monday Night Football, or on any of the airwaves on my car radio. I was listening to a tape – it was probably a Lennon song.

I lived and breathed John Lennon as a young adult. I dressed like him, people told me I had his look, so I bought the glasses, grew out my hair, still have an old pair of aviator frames I’d like to repair some day in his honor of course. I truly believed I was going to meet him someday. I grew up with the Beatles and slowly my love for their music evolved into being completely taken by Lennon because of his lyrical prowess. He spoke to the world, he spoke to the family, he spoke to woman, he spoke to children, he spoke to me.

I think one of the things that fascinated me the most about Lennon at that time – I was 21 years old – was how he had turned his life around and was again producing music that was relevant to the society around him. This time it was about family. He had just produced Double Fantasy, and I sent it to my brother for Christmas, because all it spoke of was love and harmony, and that was something I thought everyone was in need of, badly. Three weeks later he was dead on the street, a statistic, a victim of a Saturday night special in the hands of a sick, psychotic, fan.

That night in the mental health ward of the hospital I worked in all I did was watch the news. I can remember walking in the door of the hospital, I have dreams about it today, because the whole night was surreal. This man, who I idolized was suddenly gone, and all of his words were now left to memory. All we could do is replay his magic and imagine. My friend John, told me the news, gave me a hug, and walked out into the night, his shift over, and mine just beginning. No one could know the impact this night might and would have on so many lives in the years to come.

Today is significant to me I suppose because for the first time in a long while, I’m thinking about not only the circumstances around his death, but also what his loss has left us with for the last three decades. The simple fact is he was killed by a gunman who had no business carrying the weapon he had, especially not on the streets of Manhattan. johnposter1His whole purpose was to destroy the life of another human being, but not just anyone, only a person at the time who was passionately speaking of the concept of love.

There are people who will remind me of John Lennon’s abusive past – there is history, and it cannot be denied; however, I’m reminded of the concept of forgiveness, and again love. I look at the life of John Lennon, and I realize a person of his capacity was capable of recreating and mending his world, and not for just his own benefit, but more importantly for the benefit of those who endeared him, who believed his message was whole, and he was consumed with trying – attempting to right the wrongs he had created in his own personal life. He spoke to such are the dynamics of the human condition, and I listened with my heart and soul. Having lived a life of misgivings myself, I needed hope like anyone else.

I remember a couple of days went by and I hadn’t cried. Christmas was nearing now, and the holidays were upon us.happy xmas I remember being lost, still clinging on to something that no longer existed, wondering if it were possible that somehow all of this were really a dream. I suppose I felt the way young adults did who were my age when JFK died, or MLK Jr., Malcolm X, RFK – countless mentors in our lives who were cut down by assassins with no regard for human life beyond their own.

I was driving out of a Shop-Ko store in my hometown when ‘Happy Xmas’ came on the radio. My eyes began to water and I knew I wasn’t going to navigate onto the highway so I pulled my car over and I listened to the song and I cried. I remember I cried hard, because all of that emotion I had been holding onto in grief and confusion suddenly poured out of me. It was snowing out, and thankfully I wasn’t visible to anyone. I was just a car in the parking lot, but I stayed there for a long time. I remember at that point twisting the dial on the radio and it wasn’t difficult to find the song again and again all day, all afternoon, all evening … we were all simply lost.

So today, I’m listening to Happy Xmas again, having visited the Dakota in New York, having walked through Central Park and paused by Strawberry Fields, having continued to write with a passion that John Lennon taught me when I was a young and misguided youth willing to make many mistakes in the future that are now the baggage of my time. But there is a message I do forever hold dear to my heart and soul

“It matters not who you love, where you love, why you love, when you love or how you love, it matters only that you love.” – John Lennon

I listen to his words, and I am grateful. I believe.

Happy Xmas everyone.

… and Love.


photography – various sources on the internet

Moving Toward Happiness

Moving Company

a review 


Recently walking past a housekeeper with my bags, we left our hotel on the 23rd floor of a room in Manhattan. I nodded good-bye and thank you, and she smiled for a moment but I wondered how long the grin remained the second we went around the corner. I didn’t stop to think about what goes through her mind on a daily basis as she cleans up after me and everyone else that nods to her along the way.

In The Moving Company’s current production of The 4 Seasons, at The Lab Theater, the lives of three human beings caught in the trappings of their own seeming mendacity of hope suggest an essential value we often like to avoid. Like the housekeeper we know exists, yet they are gone when we disappear in our own lives, the three characters in this fictional hotel experience life through the poignancy of summer, fall, winter, & spring, and inside each season, the human condition speaks to the turmoil we all experience no matter our level of responsibility or status in society.

These three clean up after us daily, they unplug our used toilets, gather our soiled linens, and bathe in our afterward when the season wanes and they are left alone with their own simple lives. Each character has a question and while driven by the music of Vivaldi, their actions speak to the pain that exists when hope is just out of reach, when the light disappears, when happiness cannot be attained within the mundane reality of trying to survive. There is a rhythm to their world, and the music allows us to imagine their truths are as complicated as anyone’s own. The everyman is brought to life.

The Moving Company speaks to the reality of a generalized world, while exposing our current political turmoil and the hypocrisy of the haves when measured against the have nots. The judicial system is brought into question, while the seeming confusion of how leadership is chosen by ignorance is explored in the eyes of three normal lives.

We walk past the housekeeper every day, and the spirit of always seeking the beautiful despite the disdainful existence of their lives is played out on stage with a quiet humor. The talents of Heidi Bakke, Joy Dolo, and Steven Epp  play out the illusion we choose or do not choose to maintain when carving out our own lives. The balance of live theatre under the direction of Dominique Serrand once again compels and demands an audience to think, rather than simply walk past the reality of our own existence. In a world where hope is easily forgotten, is it still attainable? Will we remember two or three hundred years from today about the purpose of our lives?

The Moving Company raises the question with a blend of delightful humor spread thin by the painful struggle within the human condition. We are left entertained yet in a constant with silent wonder.



 

‘The 4 Seasons’ performed by The Moving Company

The Lab Theater – November 1 – December 2, 2018.

A Reminder

Over ten years ago, I dropped my son and daughter off to school, in tears, as I was saying good bye for a month of treatment. It was probably the hardest day of my life. My son was twelve, my daughter almost 16, and I was nearly 50 years old, and wondering if in that moment was I the child or were my teenagers? The phenomena of addiction is something that a person cannot predict when in the throes of its powerful grip. What can  be predicted though is the outcome if the right choices are made.

I was triggered tonight watching a cop show where a father was taken away while his eight year old cried in confusion, not understanding what was happening. It made me think of my son, and the quivering he had one morning in family group when he admitted his fear of his dad not coming home. That was one of the first moments I realized the brevity of my actions. The second was celebrating my daughter’s 16th birthday in a sterile guest room of the treatment center.

There are two directions I might go to help define the impact my actions had on that fateful day. My arrogance might have driven me away from my children, but I realized how important they were to me. I realized their unconditional love, teenagers having no idea what was happening with their father but still loving him, and wanting him in their lives meant the world to me, and yet, I still didn’t get it.

I went through weeks of intensive therapy to understand just why it was that addiction had taken over my life. I recognized the people closest to me were the ones I was pushing away. I understood eventually there was nothing more I wanted in my life than a second chance with my kids. I realized addiction had consumed me.

Not everyone gets the same opportunity to right their lives. I’m not perfect by any stretch, but I do understand the difference between good and bad choices. I made some bad choices and fortunately found the resources to find a way toward recovery. It is not easy, but seeing a crying child tonight helped to again see how lucky I am, and how important it is for all of us to understand the critical scope of addiction and our need to say strong while making good choices.

Just some thoughts watching television create yet another example of the power that illusion has upon the fragile nature of our reality.

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.

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.