This Quiet Passion

It is a love, a desire, a response to silence,

for so many occasions,

while the skies do glance the usual,

always, the emotions might trigger,

might respond,

could offer a storm of wrath,

or perhaps,

when least we anticipate,

a light rain, to cleanse our soul,

allow our lives to breathe,

beyond the casual haze

of a summer day.

 

I stood in front of my emotions today,

asked a question,

perhaps stoic in my way,

I wondered just how far

we might have to travel

in order,

to participate in the aftermath

of chaos,

for it screams that phenomena

stayed with my being,

for as many days as the summer

holds true to an autumn.

 

While now I rest my weary soul,

the fortune of time offers sweet Grace,

when age becomes validation,

and hearts do forever listen.

I have traveled far and wide,

and yet there is a stillness,

may overcome me in evening’s tide,

as will the serendipity of passion,

an surreal reality as I stand here before you,

wanting only solace from a sweet panic.

 

In life, we do lead with thoughtful enterprise,

a notion, an ideal,

oft times an inspiration,

to market goodness,

to experience that

goodness,

to know such character

is infamy

when stood alongside

true character.

When passion speaks its favor,

our world, a planet, a state, a society,

a mosaic,

we are all

so much – so little – so together,

 

We can be universal,

we may align, smile, gesture, accord

each other …

we can be one.

The ‘Not Yet’ Reality of Racism

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Boston rally – photo credit – CNN

A dear friend once used the phrase ‘not yet’ to suggest a descriptive moment in our lives that though I will not describe that context, I will explore the phrase as it pertains to our lives in America today. As I write this commentary, I notice a massive gathering of protesters in Boston to represent all sides in light of the Charlottesville tragedy. To be clear, it has been reported that this Boston ‘Freedom’ rally was planned in advance to last week’s hate melee in Virginia; however, at the same time, authorities are said to be prepared for outbreaks, and have given notice to all participants.

I’m personally very happy to see this gathering, and my wishes are for a completely peaceful representation. After all, wouldn’t it be refreshing to be able to say this evening, tens of thousands of protesters gathered in Boston Commons without incident? We can only hope, but in the meantime, let’s talk about the ‘not yet’ factor of racism in America. After all, a score of you reading this right now may be sitting in your chair at home or in the office, or sharing drinks or coffee with friends having a dialogue, expounding upon the issues that haunt our country’s racial divide, but just aren’t quite ready to become involved. Many of you might even be saying, I believe the issue exists, but I just don’t want to become … not yet.

After Charlottesville and the notable incidents that will appear to evolve from today’s rallies, my suggestion would be that the time is now. We can all in less than five minutes name a string of current events that impact the racial divide in America. It is time to stop suggesting we are over reacting and begin to address the issues that exist in our society today. Right now, today as I write this I feel a stronger tension than I did as a child growing up in the 60’s. Granted I wasn’t yet in my teens, but I listened to my older siblings, and watched the news with a very well informed mother and father.

The fact that civil rights set such a precedent in the 60’s gives cause to argue that what is happening today in our world is throwing all of that effort out the window. It would seem today, we are right back where we started with open violence attached to racial discrimination. There are no filters, and our children, the young people growing up with this mindset should be our primary concern.

What scares me the most is the actions that happen behind closed doors, just like the very pub or coffee shop you are sitting in right now. Those conversations need to be geared toward reframing our thinking, to understand what ‘love’ means as opposed to the insidious nature of ‘hate’ in America. Time magazine recently published a cover page with the American flag and the heading ‘Hate in America’ as its bi-line. I scratched out hate and wrote love above it and posted it on Facebook, but then took it down because of copyright infringement.

We need to start to dialogue together, to inform one another of the long-term effects of racism, not as much our future but how the past has impacted a way of thinking today, that will not improve if society doesn’t begin to collectively listen. Let’s ignore the ‘not yet’ and begin to act now.

In the meantime, let’s wish for peaceful strolls throughout some major metropolitan cities where protesters are presently laying emphasis on the cause for peace and unity throughout this gorgeous Saturday afternoon.

 

 

The Need to Recognize Historical Trauma

Germany_Luebeck_St_Mary_melted_bells

Germany – Luebeck,  Air Raid 1942

Many years ago, during a trip to Europe, I discovered a reality that would change my life forever. The year was 1985, and a portion of my travels was spent in Germany. In a visit to St. Mary’s Church in Lubeck, West Germany I discovered a broken and melted bell that was left in its destroyed condition in the sanctuary to symbolize the bombing of Lubeck on March 29th, 1942.

As a tourist I was humbled by the fact this bell tower was constructed sometime during the 12th century. I was a visiting traveler from a country built upon a freedom of little more than 200 years of independence. However, that would not be the specific revelation I would come away with as a euro-rail traveling twenty something American. What I discovered next was probably the most humbling aspect of my two months travel throughout western Europe.

As I strolled the streets of Hamburg, attended a Christmas festival in Nuremburg, and even walked the somber stone memorials to the victims of the 1972 Munich Olympic festival, I suddenly began to notice an inordinate number of German males in their late 50’s or older with missing limbs, prosthetic arms, legs, or dependent upon wheel chairs to move themselves throughout their daily routine. I then connected everything, from the bell tower to the male population, these were leftover symbols of WWII. This was a time when German lives were turned upside down because of Hitler’s Nazi takeover. Their lives were forever altered and the impacts that the men and women of Germany endured would last a lifetime and be carried over in the lives of their children and future families well beyond the history of the war.

I was 25 years old at the time, and had never experienced such stark realities in my short life in the United States. Certainly, there were historic moments, the assassinations of MLK, Malcolm X, JFK & RFK, and countless other life changing events including the Kent State massacre and the murder of my personal idol, John Lennon. What I had not experienced though was the historical trauma of the war. I had not experienced the dissemination of the Jewish population throughout Europe during the holocaust. I was 16 years away from the horrific reality of 9/11.

I did experience the trauma of Vietnam through the eyes and struggles of an older brother who became one of the hundreds of thousands of military men and women who received no recognition for their valiant efforts in a senseless war. I certainly do not minimize the lives of all of the family and friends impacted by the perils of that state of confusion. For the sake of this writing though, I want to remain focused on the Nazi nation of WWII.

During my travels I began to recognize how many of the lives of the people I noticed living throughout Germany would be affected forever. They would pass on the confusion of their trauma to their children and the society that evolved beyond that horrific time.

So I do wonder about that time as I speculate the vitriolic response to the events of Charlottesville, Virginia. Throughout my adult life I have often heard the phrase, ‘get over it’ when referencing the systemic nature of racism in America. The one that jumps out at me the most is the accusation that none of our Black Americans have ever experienced slavery, so why keep mulling over the past? Because the past is still the present, and many of the children and families we live, work and laugh with today, had family that were part of the slave industry, much like children of WWII, much like any aspect of oppression that exists in our world today.

It is time we stop tossing blame at other communities, other groups that would like to bring racism into the conversation and start listening instead. I am often accused of ‘white guilt’ because I am that entitled white guy that has not experienced the direct impact of discrimination in my life. It is true, but I still see it. I see it in my classroom, in my community, in my society.

It is unfortunate that we have a POTUS that would like to blend the issues rather than take a stand against known evil – White Supremacists, Neo-Nazi factions, anti-Semitic groups and all hate groups that would rather tear apart the fabric of our country rather than learn to recognize acceptance and love.

The only silver lining in all of this horror is there does seem to be an increased dialogue in social media that would rather address the divisions in our country instead of fueling the hate that separates our lives. We can only pray the dialogue might continue in a proactive and positive manner … forever.

How Will Society React

Justine

Justine Ruszczyk

 

In Minneapolis, a white, blonde woman, of means was gunned down by a Somali police officer. Let me say this a different way. A woman in a dark alley was recently shot dead by a cop on patrol in south Minneapolis. Or I could say, after making a call to 911, a woman in certain distress approached a responding squad car, and the officer in the passenger side, fired his weapon across his partner through a window, and she died in the alley of a fatal wound. How do the three descriptions differ from each other? One might wonder which context of this absolute tragedy will matter in the outcome.

Here is the truth. We live in a society that places priority on means. In other words, money does play a role in how situations of tragedy are handled. However, there are many other variables in play here. This isn’t about a white police officer gunning down a person of color, without explanation or cause. This is actually about an officer of color ending the life of an attractive blonde woman. Take the blonde out of the story, this is the story of a woman being gunned down for no apparent reason. Either way it is described, there will be no pleasant outcome. We don’t know there wasn’t a reason because both officers in the patrol had their body cams turned off, another variable.

We don’t know the motivation for the gunshot because it was dark, the woman approached the vehicle, there was no dash cam, and apparently no witnesses beyond the officers and the woman. We are as a society asked to appreciate the reasoning and risk, and thereby respect the duress of our police departments when responding to any call, in any circumstance. I was gently reminded of this weeks ago, when writing about the Philando Castile verdict, how an officer is clearly always walking into danger, whether it be a routine traffic stop, or an already identified point of threat. So this commentary is not about our police force and their right or wrong doings.

This commentary is about how our society is going to handle this current crisis. How is social media going to react? What will be the chain of priority when handling this investigation? Does it take more precedent than the string of killings that have occurred on our streets in the last month, not including the twin cities but across the country? How do we decide that one case matters more than countless others? God help us, that we live in a world that the color of our skin creates a definition of what we determine to be important.

The clear fact is that a woman died at the hands of our police force. The truth is no one knows why except for the officers involved and in circumstances of such terrible outcome, in the moment of haste, worry, concern, personal threat, even their hearts were certainly adrenaline driven in the moment. On the surface we can be quite sure there was a lot of tension and panic involved. In the end though, a woman is dead, and another police force is under scrutiny, and the twin cities has become national news.

So, how do we go forward? Some people might pray to help themselves find calm and balance and heal. Some are pragmatic and will return to their lives and this will be a sad afterthought. Some will move out of the neighborhood, change the locks, buy home security systems, take self defense. Some will remain quietly nervous for the rest of their lives.

We as a society need somehow to respond to one another, and recognize this isn’t a race issue, not a gender based issue, not an easily explainable issue. What is true is that a young woman has lost her life and the treasures of her future and her fiance, family and friends are forever altered. We can try to move forward. We can try to find understanding, empathy, and peace throughout the confusion. There is no easy solution, there is only reality, and the acknowledgment of horrific human error.

Philando Castile

castile

NY Daily photo credit

I recently told a friend of mine I have sometime wished I was black, and as the words left my mouth, the expression on his face indicated to me he was immediately offended. I knew I’d made a horrific presumption, and felt compelled to find him a little later on to continue our dialogue.  I wasn’t really sure what I was asking, but he sat me down and asked me a question.

He said, ‘as you sit in that chair, do you feel like you would be where you are, as a black man, including your personality and everything you are today?’

I had to think about the question. I had to get past trying to find the right answer and really think about how I was going to respond. I did not know what my answer could possibly be because I have never been a person of color. I have always been white.

This afternoon, when I first heard the news of the verdict in the shooting of Philando Castile, I felt immediately sick to my stomach. For a year I have replayed that viral video in my mind, imagining only one outcome. I believed the officer would be found guilty of manslaughter. I thought it was an easily defined case. I felt like I had come to know Philando through all the news reports and the expose’s of his life and the stories his community had expressed of who he was in our society. But I forgot one simple truth. He was a black man pulled over for a routine traffic stop. He was suspected of being involved in a robbery based upon his description. The only solid evidence that suggested he had been involved in the burglary was the color of his skin.

If that had been me, a white guy, with a gun pointed at my body by a peace officer, I am willing to bet, I could have said everything Philando expressed in the final minutes of his life, and I could have reached with my right arm and found my I.D. without the officer feeling compelled to discharge seven bullets into my body. This officer didn’t simply fire a couple of rounds, He fired seven times at point blank range. And there in that moment, while his girlfriend recorded the whole incident, Philando Castile died.

Justice seemed evident in this case, I didn’t even imagine the jury would take as long as they did to come back with a verdict. I only imagined it would be an open and shut case. That was until I saw the jury selection. I knew that when we had a jury of over 20 white people and two people of color, the case for Philando had taken a dangerous turn. I knew that when the officer was coached to cry in the witness stand, Philando’s integrity was in trouble.

I also knew I couldn’t get out of my car as a white man and express my sorrow and rage to any person of color without coming off patronizing. So instead, I called another friend, and told him he was the first person that came to my mind. Now this friend asked me if I was surprised by the verdict. I think I waffled my answer and said something like, “Well, yeah, I guess, well no, well I’m just sad.”

He agreed with my sentiments, and then began to speak of the systemic failure of our society to recognize the inherent discrimination of the African- American culture. Interestingly, he didn’t blame the cop that gunned down an innocent man. Instead he talked about how our society (his African-American culture) has to become proactive in changing the mindset of how we cope with our discrimination. He immediately prayed that there would be no acting out and a peaceful protest might occur.

I agreed with him and thanked him for letting me listen to his ideals, those of which I have always respected and believed. I finished the call, and sat in my car, and thought about what I would do next. All I could think about was how sad I was with the outcome of the day’s events. All I could do was feel like a white guy trying to wrap my head around this horrific tragedy. I still don’t have any answers, except only to say I’m sorry Philando, I am truly sorry this happened to you.

A Farewell Plea

If the world turn suddenly brilliant with fire,

what would be the response, a natural desire.

if in armageddon we are selectively defined,

what matters the moments where we wined.

 

While we imagine buildings collapse, lives lost

in this magical spectacle of an embryonic frost,

is the notions of survival even an able cause

when with certainty our lives bely natural laws.

 

There is the element of human nature in us all,

we strive to be real, to connect, to stand tall,

in the midst of turmoil, sadness, a chronic display

of gratitude only arrives when it is judgment day.

 

If that be true, perhaps every moment is a lease,

Oh to recognize the greater value of global peace.

Why “13 Reasons Why” Is Important

13

In the fine arts we are encouraged to go big with our ideas, to allow emphasis on the issue, the illusion, the piece of art being presented on the stage. The purpose is designed to get the point across to the audience, or keep them engaged. The true compliment to an artwork, no matter the venue, is that people continue the discussion beyond the actual event.

Watching 13 Reasons Why, a controversial Netflix series really blew my mind. I felt like I was back in my high school again, experiencing the turmoil that a teenager goes through trying to adjust, fit in, survive the utter chaos of peer rejection and acceptance, all in the same day, every day.

About half way through the series, episode 6, or tape 3 I was riveted to every moment. Watching Clay struggle with the reality of losing his friend was compelling. I watched the behavior of his circle of people, I won’t call them friends, because so often in this period of a teenager’s life it is difficult to define who a true friend is. 13 did an excellent job exploring that aspect of high school.

I felt like I was the student in the room, experiencing the pain that comes with pressure and bullying. While the world goes on around a teenager, their internal struggle is never really revealed, and 13 explored that well enough to suggest this is real behavior. I thought all the characters fit the proper stereotypes.

The parents of each character as they unfolded in the show seemed normal. What I mean is they depicted the dysfunction of raising a family, holding a job, keeping up with or losing touch with their responsibility. I think the relationship that tore me up the most was Justin and his mom, I felt his pain as he leaned against the wall and she closed the door on their communication.

The administrators of the school seemed effectively overwhelmed by their task. There was the initial counselor who basically didn’t get tenure and then the new guy came in and gradually established their grounding as a central figure. In the end, it was clear things were beyond his control. Imagine the guilt we feel as teachers when we realize we missed something, that if we had just … we can settle behind the reality that our role in the classroom is to deliver our curriculum. Clearly that was demonstrated in 13 Reasons Why, but at the same time, we could recognize the vulnerability that children experienced around adults that were not involved. Or, if they were, they didn’t have a clue.

As I suggested in the beginning, in order to keep an audience, a piece has to have big moments. In television plot lines are imperative, and this is where I began to lose my direct connection to the characters in 13. Everything that could possibly happen, did, all impacting this small group of peers. Why such a micro-managed focus on the energy of a typical high school? Because the ability to attach pain and suffering to familiar characters helps get the point across to the audience.

If we accepted our buy in to the characters then everything they went through was plausible. Much like the movie Crash years ago where a diverse populace all experienced tragedies and successes within a literal block of L.A., though perhaps not possible, the experience the characters endured was certainly believable in the right context.

In 13, the key to this story is they deal with every aspect of being a teenager – confusion with sexual identity, clear cognizance of sexual preference and the societal scrutiny, the lifestyle of a jock, of a nerd, a geek, an outlier, a weirdo, In every aspect of student or teenager, the experiences seemed real and tragic.

What is an important takeaway is to recognize the behaviors demonstrated throughout this series were pretty spot on for the most part. The story line of the tapes could actually happen, though the possibility of getting through a dozen involved students probably not likely. But, they all maintained their characters with a haunting consistency.

Finally, let’s not forget this is about suicide, and the helplessness that everyone feels with a loss they believe they are responsible for. Even though in the real world we always blame the person who takes their own life. The movie itself defined the act as weak. I found it interesting that the young woman who revealed her cuttings on her arms, suggested she was doing it right, that suicide is a cop out. I’ve worked with cutters in my hospital work, and there was always a distinction between real and attention seeking, vertical and horizontal cuts as so eerily demonstrated in the series.

13 might be perceived as a segment of peers in a typical high school all being responsible for Hannah’s death, but if that is a takeaway, it is possibly wrong. It really is the remarkable telling of a young person’s struggle to define themselves while walking through life in a world of hurt, and having the fortune to play out the process with direct and frightening evidence, ironically replayed in cassettes with haunting truth.

I believe this series, beyond the embellishment and soap opera moments, is vitally important, certainly not for the eyes of children under 12 – not yet, even though we think they’re ready. It is a wonderfully tragic piece to create healthy dialogue, whether the characters are realistic or not. I was moved.