What Happened in America?

In the wake of the death of George Floyd at the hands of the Minneapolis Police Department – more specifically an individual in the police force, rhetoric is being tossed around with ignorance and thoughtful dialogue. The unfortunate nature of protest has turned ugly after the sun goes down across the country slowly burying the original narrative – the death of a black man under the blatant force of a white police officer.

When does the abuse stop, or when does the courage to speak of the need for reform begin? How do we keep a momentum necessary to pursue the ideals of social justice long after the dust settles? I’m already worried. The instituted curfews and the greater presence of police, national guard, state patrol is quite evident and their job has occurred in a swift fashion. But when the streets clear of an angry, frustrated, oppressed population in our city and across the nation, what happens next? Who wins, who loses? The adage that I’ve grown up with my entire life is that POC will continue to be the forgotten population, the discriminated presence, the victims of a systemic flaw in our society.

Every day people stand with each other on Lake street participating in the clean up. Society is standing with one another rather than excluding themselves or segregating their lives because of lethal differences with one another. This appears to be an optimistic gesture of people coming together as one, but it needs to last beyond the final dustpan carrying the soot of loss to the city dump.

Conversations have to begin and they have to be maintained to become a stronger precedent than simply patting ourselves on the back and saying we participated, and now let’s get on the lake with our boat and go fishing – go ahead but keep the conversation happening.

I’ve been trying to wrap my head around how to write about this since the day George Floyd lost his life, and our horizon and the narrative has changed so dramatically over the course of a week. At first I would have suggested that the violence and looting were indicative of years of oppression, and to a degree I still support that thinking. But the uglier violence has not only buried part of the ideal of protesting the scrutiny against Blacks, it has also given people an opportunity to not concern themselves about the oppression of the Black community.

The one piece that I have heard throughout social media is the need for White people to start listening rather than continually verbalizing their angst. Allow yourselves to realize you may very well be experiencing anxiety and confusion, but rather than speak what you believe a powerful diatribe of the problem, instead, take a moment and listen. We live in a society that scrutinizes people’s ability to listen rather than speak. We live in a society that is bent on believing they need to be heard and known to be saying the right thing. The problem is we don’t.

We have no idea how the Black experience is in contrast to our own White privilege. That’s where it begins. “In a contrary movement, the modern world transforms the person who listens into an inferior human being” (Robert Cardinal Sarah, The Power of Silence). We need to allow people to listen. We need to suggest people listen. I’m writing what I believe in this essay and I could criticize myself with the hypocrisy of what I am saying in light of what I suggest, in that I just need to shut up and listen.

Our society has an opportunity in respect to the tragedy of George Floyd losing his life in a violent matter. We have seen it time and time again, there is no disputing that the horrific nature of George Floyd’s death is another in a long string of incomprehensible treatment of people of color. The action itself continues the systemic nature of a broken society, and this week’s protests were an inevitable reality that needed to happen and needs to be the catalyst towards strong conversations ahead.

We need to allow ourselves to be further educated than believing the myths we live.


© Thom Amundsen 6/2020

 

The Strength of a Statesman

obama

Last night I couldn’t wait to hear what former President Obama would say to our nation of 2020 graduates. He has always, since that first stump speech, tried to provide a positive perspective on our lives. Whether people would like to simply reduce his words to only rhetoric, the fact remains they are his own, whether rehearsed or spontaneous. I think it is important to recognize how a public figure in our lives can become a Statesman, and just how much strength that gives them in respect to who they are today compared to a past life so often referenced.

I noticed on social media last night and this morning all the raves and support President Obama received after his speeches yesterday to the “graduates of Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs), and to the high school graduates of 2020” (Wanda Fleming Notebook). I heard people say things like, “God I miss him” or “so down to earth” as he once again put words of possibility into the young hearts of America.

The students listened, and we do all continue to listen to his words. Certainly there will always be disagreement, and I respect that; however, if done in malice then all we do is break down what anyone tries to say no matter their capacity before our lives. I think with Obama we get the true nature of a man who knows how to work a crowd, but when given the opportunity does it with character and integrity. There isn’t a wow factor in his words as much as a hope and promise. He would like people to find a way, again, to smile and realize there is much to believe in ahead of us all, young and old.

To me, those are the components of a Statesman in our country, and what is important to realize is that this person or any persons who can reach such capacity are not going away. Their words still remain, it is up to us to listen or pass off. Last night I listened.

In my life I have watched many people in positions of power become Statesmen in their next lives as we speak to everyone’s newest chapter. When President Carter left office, he was quietly ridiculed by people that were the seeming nuts and bolts of governmental machinations. He went silent into the distance, and then became the gentle giant he is today, as one of our more powerful Statesmen in the country. One of his foundations, ‘Habitat for Humanity’ has a sublime history supporting our impoverished and homeless not only across the United States and America but the World. This all happened because of the passion of a man that believed in his country, in the fellowship of man. President Carter believed in doing what is right for society, not himself.

I believe I have seen this in nearly every President that has left office after having an either illustrious or embarrassing experience as the leader of our country. I have always believed myself to have moderate views on politics, most would look at me and shout liberal, very few would imagine conservative. Maybe it has to do with the clothes I wear, the length of my hair, my own insecurity with a philosophy, but the fact is I believe in people far sooner than I do any political affiliate. I feel for the human condition long before I attach myself to any religious orthodoxy. I think our ability to remain open to everything that happens around us is a key element to surviving not only this life-changing pandemic but everything we experience in our lives.

I watched as President Nixon became a criminal in the eyes of America, and then years later began to receive acknowledgement with his prowess for foreign diplomacy despite his alleged personal perils running the country. I will not believe he passed on in disgrace, more a Statesman. President Kennedy really didn’t get a chance. I reference him only because he was the first President I experienced as a toddler. I became increasingly aware with age.

I have watched both Bushes become recognized for not simply their philanthropy but their kindness toward what we find to be our world. I never thought I would say that about either, certainly not ‘W’ but now today, I do, because I listen to who they became and have become since leaving office. Perhaps they don’t stand before a podium nearly as often as some, but when they do, their voices are heard and they are respected by everyone. Will we be able to say that about every person that leaves the most visible and powerful position of office in America? For me, that reality is what caused Obama’s words to so resonate yesterday evening.

Even Ronald Reagan left an endearing legacy while his mind struggled to pass gently into the night. The thing about Reagan is he was the same man that entered the office of the Presidency that later left. He did not attempt to make himself something that he was not.

A person does not have to agree with politics to recognize the beauty in human nature. For two decades I lived in a neighborhood of mostly conservative republicans whom today I consider close friends well beyond our political views. We can even talk about politics together without upsetting each other, undermining one another, abusing our right and privilege to exist in and around society together. I thank my family for that attitude because from the moment I could speak, I learned how to defend myself and listen to others with true passion.

I think the values that have allowed us to carve out some niche of who we are today, do evolve from listening to those speakers. They are not just ‘holding the codes’ are capable of ‘pressing the button’ on our survival or demise. True speakers in my lifetime are the one who long after their visible duties have been retired, continue to embrace a world with words of logic, of consciousness of kindness.

Last night, I believe that was President Obama’s motive, and I am grateful. During this time of confusion, hardship, fear as doors begin their opening, there are a lot of posts reflecting what life will be like when we do re-enter society. Please do not imagine for a moment that people’s struggles today are temporary. It is a frightening prospect to know what this pandemic has done to so many lives already struggling long before the outbreak occurred.

Despite fear and the unknown, the strongest belief I wish to hear day in and day out is – Be Kind.

I believe that was Barack Obama’s motive yesterday, and he wakes with the same today.


© Thom Amundsen 5/2020

Thoughts in a Covid-19 World

I haven’t felt like writing for quite some time, but today I received the inspiration I was pleading, and so it goes that I want to talk about this Covid-19 crisis that we will seemingly endure for quite some time. It will change our world, our lives. The number of positives today reach 169 in Minnesota alone, not to speak of the enormous numbers across the world.

Our lives are impacted as we all get used to this self-quarantine in our homes. The temps outside are just shy of my desire to take my bicycle out, though newly tuned, I am thinking at least a short ride in the late afternoon when the temperature peaks. That would seem a freely healthy move inside this isolation.

I am a coffeeshop guy and I went through early withdrawal with the words of our Governor shutting down any inside seating. It makes frightening sense to me now as I watch the numbers and their daily rise. It is important to recognize these are real people and not simply numbers. People’s lives across the world are changed, forever. People have lost loved ones like a germ warfare attack throughout Europe and now having reached the states, it is clearly an epidemic not seen since perhaps the Polio outbreak.

I’m a teacher so I don’t have to go into work. We are planning to go online with our courses in a couple of weeks, not only finishing a quarter but perhaps completing the school year online. I haven’t wrapped my head around that. At the same time I appreciate the time off to get my head straight with my own personal life, I realize our work, as experimental as it is, so vastly impacts the lives of our students. I hope to give them a solid foundation for their education in both core and elective classes.

I run a  theatre program that will shut down for the spring if these effected lives do not begin a downturn in the weeks ahead. I don’t see that happening anytime soon. As I sit here with a mild cough, I get nervous, and wonder about the thousands of lives in Minnesota already infected. Again, I’m only focusing locally, because really that is all my brain can muster right now. Looking out my window, I know that on everyone’s mind outside that walks by, is the virus. We are living a summer blockbuster. The only difference is it is real.

I think as a teacher, someone said recently, maybe now our profession will be appreciated when families are stuck at home rather than sending their children to school. Well then I would say all of those people in all professions need to be respected for the impact staying home has on their livelihood, and then don’t forget the medical personnel in all capacities who are dedicating their lives to curbing the spread of a virus that they cannot even clearly see a vaccine that will brings this to a halt.

My car has 12 miles of gas left in it before empty, and I am not in any huge hurry to go fill the tank. There really is no need, unless I decide to just take a drive and never get out. That might be in the near future if the temperatures don’t rise and my bicycle remains hanging in the garage.

I wish everyone peace during this very difficult time. I hope you may all hold your family and friends near your heart and soul. I hope those alone don’t feel completely invisible to our society and world, and realize there are many in the same circumstance. I hope people may find their peace of mind within themselves and use faith and prayer, your chosen method of processing this incredible violation upon the human condition..

On a lighter note, I hope Netflix does not shut down.

Peace everyone,


@ Thom Amundsen 3/2020

Walking Upon Time

A reflection spoke prophetic synapse unwind

while the world in mechanical fashion

carried on, carried on inside the mind

sweet redemption await for years of burden.

 

If we could match our inside with the now

would it be easier in a balance

could  heart remind background

our vision, sad eyes, might forever shine.

 

The institution of a societal trial expectation

would the human condition consider

within a framed reference a spiritual

Mecca will always await sendentary soul

 

Wake now to her wondrous a natural task

for all entitlement is a waste

rather a commitment to peace

inside the stranger element of response

 

Our lives, create reawakened possibilities

would that every symbiotic paths beyond

 

 

Thinking the Essence of Man

Who are we

he said

over a beer with a friend,

troubled by the circumstance

of a gender bending

authority

in his mind,

yet

in another’s

an opportunity

perhaps to find Grace

between man and woman,

to know some

spiritual guidance

will take our lives much further

then simple rejection.

 

Oh, but simple is not truth,

this analogy

seems a convenient

escape beyond our

self-described realism.

 

Man is not alone,

in a sweet testament

could if found

embark upon a journey

perhaps a sojourn

of forgiveness

to know only that

she

might, may, could, will be

a savior

in the fault

of human pride

the human condition

as it plays out

ego.

My Issue With Vaping

Recently, I presented a collaboration with colleagues on the dangers of vaping. Alongside we also explored rhetoric in advertising. An examples was a fifties picture of a pack of Viceroy cigarettes, with a dentist promoting the idea of using filters to protect our teeth and body. The premise was meant to identify safety in ingesting tobacco. We live in that time again of false representation, or we might easily acknowledge the practice has never gone away.

I remember as a child, or young teen, cigarette ads were banned from television commercials because somewhere along the line, someone with influence managed to convince the producers this method a dangerous precedent, especially given the impact on teenagers.

I was a heavy smoker from my late teens until around 15 years ago. There have been many gifts to my life that have occurred because of my decision to stop smoking. I can breathe again, without rasp, without a chronic cough, without the fear of blackening my lungs. I had a medical procedure nearly a decade ago. I had quit smoking a few years before hand, and so during the testing I feared they would find spots on my lungs. I was fortunate to live with the resiliency of our body’s capacity to recover their full health. Certainly not always the case. No spots, no memory of years of cigarette smoking.

So what does all of this have to do with vaping in today’s society? In my own personal life I feel fortunate to have quit smoking years before the trend began. Had I been a smoker I would have been one of the first to buy a vape device. I’m a trend junkie, and it would have been the right transition because it might have seemed and looked rather cool. I feel fortunate as I read the increasing evidence of its damaging impact on society, people, our teens.

I write about this today, because I came across a picture of this young woman laying in a hospital bed with tubes, diagnostics and oxygen at her nearby. The commentary to follow the photo is sad, supportive, hopeful and at times cruel. The idea of a person in a hospital clinging to their lives as being weak is reprehensible. The very nature of what we do not know about vaping and its unknown ingestion of chemicals just in simple terms scares the hell out of me.

So, two things pop into my mind about this picture. One, my immediate compassion for this young woman’s welfare. The very fact that even if the picture is photo-shopped or exaggerated, the truth is there are people in her position in hospitals across the country experiencing her condition as we speak. The evidence exists. This cannot be considered weak, it needs to be understood as dangerous and fact.

The other piece even more frightening is the practice of using pot, or THC to be hidden inside the wonder of a Juul. People laugh about it – they can walk anywhere and hit their Juul without being detected. The reality their body is impacted matters far more than a hidden treasure in the midst of a public audience.

So today, as I watch this phenomena in its still early stages, not even peaking with intrigue, I think of the young people whom are so easily drawn to the dangers of vaping. We know lung cancer is what it is, rather than directly connected with smoking or not. Imagine what will become common knowledge or memory for the lives of so many people caught up in the seemingly safe and potentially life threatening rave that is vaping.

Yes, as much damage as cigarettes did and do over the long term, vaping in any regard frightens me to no end. Those that have lost their livelihood, their health due to such an unidentified habit, my heart goes out to all and I only pray for their strength to overcome the medical consequence that may lay ahead of them.

We just don’t know.


© Thom Amundsen 2019

juulclaims.com

 

 

Days Beyond Surgery

Ok, so I will begin and acknowledge a heavy dose of narcotics did prevent me from writing for days. Tonight, I am sitting a week away from surgery and there has been a story I wanted to tell, just haven’t found the right words. This procedure I experienced has had a major impact on my life, more so than major heart surgery seven years ago.

When I first imagined this surgery I looked at it as rather simple, an in and out of the operating room and back to my world. I even planned to return to work two days later. Much to my chagrin my doctors and family both disagreed, and suggested I take the week off. As it turns out, they were all quite right, and tonight I’m sitting a week later preparing to return to my job after the weekend. What interests me the most though is how much I took rest seriously, rather than taking it for granted and soldiering forward, a preference of mine on previous occasions.

In my head, I figured this hospitalization would be routine. So what is it about this experience that has changed my thinking? I cannot think otherwise, beyond the notion I am aging, and now more than ever I need to actively take care of my body, and my state of mind.

This summer I experienced a great deal of lows, times where I felt exhausted, and seriously wondered how I might endure the next 30 years of my life. I certainly contemplated justifying my desire to not live out those years, imagining that people would be better off, after exhausting those I am closest to with all of my trivialities, my personal demons, my neediness. Those were dark moments in my life, I wouldn’t wish upon anyone, though I know we all have had our times. I chalked it to having too much time on my hands, and figured the school year would quickly bury all that vague ambivalence I walked around with every day. There are people I am close to that helped me work through some of those personal fears, and to them I will be forever grateful.

So, now I look at aging and my second major surgery in less than ten years. I am walking away from this one realizing there is a purpose to continuing to find care with my physical needs. This event in my life was not life-threatening, beyond perhaps complications down the road if I hadn’t gone through with it. So why am I so impacted? Only one reason.  I continue to have a purpose in my life.

I received excellent care when I was in the hospital. I’m always rather embarrassed to be in the hospital. I don’t want to be defined as somatic, or having needless medical care. When I really feel that I convince myself I’m taking someone’s bed that needs it more than I do. My diagnosing Doctor told me he disagreed on Friday morning. He said there wasn’t anything somatic about an enflamed gallbladder, and I did the right thing coming in. Suffice it to say walking around with pain for the last six weeks convinced me to be seen, and rather than finding a mass in my abdomen they found something tangible. They removed it, and now I go forward. But my perception is different.

The self-persecution seems much less relevant, and the need to live my life in as positive a manner as possible is now my goal as I move forward. Like I said earlier, my experience with the medical staff was incredible. They all were filled with compassion. In fact, I encountered three of my graduated students and I looked at them and their positive energy, and I truly believe they were brought into my life for a reason.

That reason at this writing is only to suggest we have a lot more ahead of us. All of us.

Moments Before My Surgery

The many thoughts that go through my mind before surgery. Why did I walk into the ER? I wasn’t losing a leg, losing my sight, losing my mind. I’m only going through a minor procedure, though some would say it is major. I’m not asking for something to be removed that is going to thrive in the next few weeks, months, years. I’m told it will only worsen. I know now the pain I was feeling is something real, and not my imagination, though it took a couple of days in the hospital to figure that out.

I guess that is part of my dilemma. What if I don’t go in? Then I walk around thinking of some mass in my body that is only going to worsen. Some condition that goes undiagnosed. Then I believe that because I already have an identified heart condition, that shortness of breath isn’t anything to take for granted. Then I wonder what would it be like if I lived in a society where I didn’t have nearly the medical benefits I have in my own world today? Would I just have to tough it out? Yes, unfortunately there are worlds where my conditions would not be resolved and my longevity as a human being would be shortened. 

So maybe that is the biggest question. What is our responsibility when given chances to maintain or extend our lives because of medical prowess. Shouldn’t we just let ourselves be in God’s hands? There are many factors that preclude that natural outcome with our mortality. Think of the things we lose when we are taken ‘before our time.’ We each have those bucket lists that apply to our own lives. We then are often brought to mind those that take their lives in their own regard rather than through the natural course of the human condition. So many factors are evident.

Today, minutes away from surgery, I wonder how important it really is. I am told the organ being removed is no longer functional and that it is not a dire loss to my body chemistry. Though there is a healing process, adjustments and recovery, and a somewhat lifestyle change. 

I guess my quick conclusion before I am drugged into anesthesia is that there is a purpose in maintaining our health, if the tools and devices are there and readied for our welfare. I suppose it gives us opportunity to again look at the bigger picture and understand theses choices are meant not to be in our own hands.

What I have ahead of me is a minor surgery in the greater scheme of things, but yet still a learning moment I cannot pretend is non-existent. 

The Notion of Giving Up

I’m in a bit of a crisis, so I’m going to write from my heart. I don’t really know where this will take me, if only to let me vent some of my fears, and find some peace. I recently came to a conclusion about important aspects of my life, and a need to make significant changes. We sometimes are forced to make those decisions only because we have to go on with trying to become who we are meant to be.

I struggle with depression, I have all my life. In different periods I used self destructive measures to deal with my anxiety and the fears that came along with not feeling good about myself. My self confidence has always suffered, and there have been rare times when I could look in a mirror and be happy with what I might see. I find that to be part of the human condition that we all carry around with us. It is ironic, because I know people that will clearly say to me, I don’t understand depression because I have never experienced it, and I find myself walking away, feeling envious. I have to believe though it is true, and they are part of a fortunate lot.

In my life, I have been vulnerable to my own insecurities. There are things that bring me happiness, probably the greatest one I can reveal here, safely enough is the birth of my children. They are truly the most beautiful gift in my life, and I am blessed. My wife has been the caregiver throughout our marriage, and together we raised our children to be wonderful contributors to our society. I am proud of them and feel fortunate that we have been given this miracle of a healthy disposition in our family.

It wasn’t always like that. My own struggles with addiction have weighed heavily on the fabric of my marriage, my relationship with my children and my colleagues and friends. I have been lucky to find a supportive environment that helps me discover stability, but I have to admit, I sometimes need that 24/7 and when a significant moment occurs in my life, I become shaky and wish for negative outcomes, only those that would apply to me, no one else, I would pray would be impacted by my own faults.

This leads me to speak to this current crisis I am experiencing. I have found that my validation that I grew comfortable with for a period in and around nearly two decades has become a bit of a false pretense. I have no regrets, I just believe I have to move forward, and rather than smile at the fear I have when I am around people, I must find peace within my own mind. I think that is a difficult process when fighting with anxiety and depression. I think we tend to connect with those people that understand our moods, our emotions, our challenges. I think those people are important in our lives, and they sometimes come from unique avenues in our world that we choose to live in. I think our fear of losing that can really shake a person up.

I’ve wanted to give up so many times in the last 50 years, it actually has become a rather comical curse for me to carry around. I’m not suggesting humor necessarily as much as I am speaking to the circle of deceit I have left myself living in, rather than foraging forward to find a solution to my fears. I have had occasion where I really did want to check out, and I looked for ways that might be possible. Ironically today, the first thing I thought about when I was experiencing self-defeating ideas is my two children, my son in particular – his vulnerability seems a bit more apparent having suffered through the loss of people he has been close to in his life. I thought of my own impact being parallel to what he has already struggled through and the message that would leave him with being horrific.

Tonight, I read on my twitter feed a person who has pledged 22 days of doing 22 daily pushups to represent support for our military who live in a constant struggle with their own lives. The 22 represents the number of military personnel that take their lives every day. I thought about that and applied it to myself. I have not been in the military, I have not suffered to the degree that so many people around me have. I have only struggled with my own addictions and self-loathing but it really is nothing when placed side by side with someone that has had to endure far more challenge than myself.

So tonight, I am reflecting. I have been forced to move forward. I will not let depression continue to enjoy a stranglehold on my well-being. I experienced something this evening that literally tore me apart and left me feeling sick to my stomach. I will practice humility and grace as I move forward beyond my own self-aggrandizing behavior. I have a responsibility towards a world outside my own rollercoaster of emotion, and I might well jump on board and own myself.

I hope you have been listening, and for those of you that made it this far, I appreciate you. Thanks for coming along on the ride.


© Thom Amundsen 2019

 

Another Lovely Summer Day, another shooting.

In El Paso, a gunman used an AK-47, walked into a crowed Walmart on a Saturday afternoon, and took 20 lives before being arrested by surrounding law enforcement.

So on a day when people are celebrating summer, barbecues, bicycle rides, recreational sports, boats on a lake, our country has become immune to the reality of another mass-shooting in America. All the news outlets are 12 hours later showing the same initial video of the incident, and we will watch that for the next few days.

Meanwhile society will react, the same agencies will argue for gun control, the same politicians will fill the air with empty promises, the same gathering of empathetic souls will react all of the country. The same has became no different than the first horrific past of a massive shooting in a public venue.

Its not in my neighborhood, who wants a brat. The waves are perfect today, I could layout in this sunlight on my boat sevens days a week. Baseball, America’s game, tonight when we get home.

Wait, twenty people’s lives ended today, including that of a young child. Another lovely summer day including a mass shooting, like any other day. When or where will be the next one?

Another tragedy will rock America. Polarization of cultures will continue, and yet a blatant ‘manifesto’ exists with this evil person’s philosophy behind the cowardice of an assault weapon and a lost mind.

While we wake up tomorrow and continue planning our cabin drives, fishing trips, golf games, tea parties, happy hours – please! Let’s not forget our voice can be heard!

Our voice needs to be heard. We need to be okay with wanting to save lives by changing laws that give allowance for safe measures in our society, so that people from all walks of life will not gunned down for the color of their skin, in America.