Thoughts and Prayers…Then What?

 

Dear Las Vegas,

I can’t tell you how deeply sorry I am, how much my heart hurts, how horrified I am, at what happened Sunday night at a country music festival on the Strip.

At how some nitwit 32 floors up in a hotel room opened fire on the crowd, killing, at last count, 50 people and wounding over 400 others, making this the largest mass murder in recent American history.

At how what should have been a night of fun, music and camaraderie turned, just like that, into a real live, real-time nightmare.

I can’t begin to imagine how chaotic, unnerving, terrifying and ultimately senseless the whole scene was as it unfolded. People knew they were in danger, but had no idea where to run, as this monster continued his all-out assault, motivated by who knows what.

It’s heartbreaking. It’s sickening. Unfortunately, though, it’s not especially shocking.

It’s simply our modern-day culture. Somebody kills a bunch of innocent people. Again.

 

We all know what happens now.

“Thoughts and prayers” come in from well-meaning people around the world. Which is entirely appropriate. After a tragedy such as this, many of us feel too helpless to do anything other than let the victims know we care, but that’s important for them to know.

Then, the gun control advocates and the National Rifle Association and its acolytes have a shouting match over what the proper response should be. About all I’m saying about that is, “Guns don’t kill people; people do.”, definitely ranks in my Top Three for single most asinine statement I’ve ever heard in my life.

Then, ultimately, nothing changes, the story becomes old news in our 24/7 news culture, and things go on as before, until the next mass shooting.

Lather, rinse, repeat.

Somebody, please, prove me wrong. I would love for someone to break this cycle, and soon.

I know you’re hurting really bad, Las Vegas. I wish you comfort, healing and strength.

And one other thing. To those of you whose compassion and courage moved you to rush to the aid of victims before the first responders could reach them: you were, by far, the brightest lights on the Strip last night.

A Ray of Light, Part 4 (Yes, Cain, You Are)

 

And the Lord said unto Cain, Where is Abel thy brother? And he said, I know not: Am I my brother’s keeper?

Genesis 4:9

 

For Cole

 

As I alluded to before, suicide has made its presence felt in my family, a few times.

One family member completed it.

Another attempted it. More than once.

Another decided, at the last second, to choose life. (Fortunately)

And I came really close once to attempting it. And have thought about it many times since.

So, that’s why this issue is rather close to my heart. When I discovered that this was National Suicide Prevention Month, I knew I needed to do what I could to raise awareness, and to erase some of the stigma attached to suicide. Most of us aren’t comfortable talking about it, so we don’t. Unfortunately, we may be paying much too high a price for our silence; too many precious lives lost.

Well, we need to start talking about it, folks. Especially, parents, to your kids. Suicide is occurring more and more among teenagers, as well as elementary school kids, some as young as five.

Think about that for a minute. Five. How heartbreaking is that?

The Bible verse I started with features Cain lying about Abel (who he had just murdered), then passing off any responsibility for him. The truth is, we are all our brothers’, and sisters’, keepers; one of the reasons we’re here is to look out for each other, showing care and compassion.

And that includes a health care system in this country that provides adequate care and support to anyone with a mental illness. Because, while most mentally ill people do not kill themselves, the majority of suicides are completed by people with some mental illness.

There are many homeless people who have a mental illness, but can’t get access to the treatment they need. There are many veterans who, because of snags in the system, are not getting the treatment they need, which is criminal. Who will fight for the ones who willingly fought for us?

Fortunately, there are several mental health advocates in Congress, including Tim Murphy of Pennsylvania, John Cornyn and Eddie Bernice Johnson of Texas, and Chris Murphy of Connecticut, who deserve our thanks for their efforts to effect positive change in mental health care in America.

I know, a lot of people won’t seek help for mental illness, because it’s so stigmatized that they won’t admit they might even have one. And that needs to stop.

If you have a mental illness, you’re not crazy, you’re not a nut job, you’re not cuckoo, or psycho, or looney, or any of the other derogatory terms commonly used.

You’re simply ill, and you need help. Please, don’t be ashamed to ask for it.

 

If you’re thinking about killing yourself, please read this first:

We may not know each other, but I love you. I care about you. I’m sorry you feel like that. I’ve felt like that. And I want you to know, you deserve to be alive.

You absolutely deserve it.

It’s something I have to remind myself of, often. My depression puts me through round after round, fighting the feeling of complete worthlessness, the feeling that all I ever do is screw up, so maybe, I should just put a stop to it, for good.

But no; I deserve to live. And so do you.

I know, sometimes, life just SUCKS. It’s confusing, frustrating, unfair, tragic and cruel, offering no explanation whatsoever as to why.

But, fortunately for us all, it’s also full of beauty. And wonder. And laughter. And love.

I promise you, it’s there.

Call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline, at 1-800-273-8255, if you need to talk to someone. Please.

And let me recommend one more amazing website to you: http://livethroughthis.org/

Here, you’ll find stories from 95 different people about attempting suicide – and surviving. People who were molested. People who were bullied. People who were body shamed. People with depression. People with addiction.

I’m willing to bet, one of their stories matches up pretty closely with yours. Because, you’re probably sitting there thinking that nobody has ever been through what you’re going through, but I’m pretty sure you’re wrong about that.

So, let’s live, okay? Let’s live, and see what happens.

I wish you healing, peace, love and life.

A Ray of Light, Part 3

 

For Cole

 

Recently, I’ve written some posts regarding suicide, as September is National Suicide Prevention Month. It’s a major public health issue, and it’s on all of us to do what we can to prevent it.

In my previous post, I’ve presented the warning signs of a suicidal person, and some steps you can take to help someone who exhibits one or more of those signs.

And, once again, the National Suicide Prevention Hotline number is 1-800-273-8255. The call is free, and the line is open 24/7.

Today, I want to pass along some information from the World Health Organization, regarding some popular myths surrounding suicide, along with the facts that dispel them.

MYTH: “Once someone is suicidal, he or she will always remain suicidal.”

THE TRUTH: “Heightened suicide risk is often short-term and situation-specific. While suicidal thoughts may return, they are not permanent and an individual with previously suicidal thoughts and attempts can go on to live a long life.”

MYTH: “Talking about suicide is a bad idea, and can be interpreted as encouragement.” (I believed this one.)

THE TRUTH: “Given the widespread stigma around suicide, most people who are contemplating suicide do not know who to speak to. Rather than encouraging suicidal behaviour, talking openly can give an individual other options or the time to rethink his/her decision, thereby preventing suicide.”

MYTH: “Only people with mental disorders are suicidal.”

THE TRUTH: “Suicidal behaviour indicates deep unhappiness but not necessarily mental disorder. Many people living with mental disorders are not affected by suicidal behaviour, and not all people who take their own lives have a mental disorder.”

MYTH: “Most suicides happen suddenly, without warning.”

THE TRUTH: “The majority of suicides have been preceded by warning signs, whether verbal or behavioural. Of course there are some suicides that occur without warning. But it is important to understand what the warning signs are and look out for them.”

MYTH: “Someone who is suicidal is determined to die.”

THE TRUTH: “Fact: On the contrary, suicidal people are often ambivalent about living or dying. Someone may act impulsively by drinking pesticides, for instance, and die a few days later, even though they would have liked to live on. Access to emotional support at the right time can prevent suicide.”

MYTH: “People who talk about suicide do not mean to do it.”

THE TRUTH: “People who talk about suicide may be reaching out for help or support. A significant number of people contemplating suicide are experiencing anxiety, depression and hopelessness and may feel that there is no other option.”

Did you see any myths you thought to be true? That’s why it’s important for us to learn what the real truths are, so that we can clear up the misunderstandings in our society regarding suicide.

I hope I’ve passed along some valuable information to all of you. You can find much more at http://www.bethe1to.com/ or https://suicidepreventionlifeline.org/ or several other terrific websites related to suicide prevention. It’s something we all need more education about, so that we can be better equipped to help family members, friends, co-workers, who we see all the time, yet may not have a clue how badly they hurt inside. Knowing this information just might make a difference.

I’ll wrap this up next time with some personal thoughts and observations. Wishing you all well.

 

A Ray of Light, Part 2

 

For Cole

 

(This one’s long, but bear with me. It’s important.)

Hey, friends, I’m back to remind you that September is National Suicide Prevention Month, so I hope to, in my own small way, help in doing exactly that by writing about  it. Suicide is a very important public health problem, and I’d like to see us all have a part in preventing it.

First, a reminder from my last post, courtesy of http://www.bethe1to.com/

 

Do You Know the Warning Signs?

Some warning signs may help you determine if a loved one is at risk for suicide, especially if the behavior is new, has increased, or seems related to a painful event, loss, or change. If you or someone you know exhibits any of these, seek help by calling the Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255).

Talking about wanting to die or to kill themselves.
Looking for a way to kill themselves, such as searching online or buying a gun.
Talking about feeling hopeless or having no reason to live.
Talking about feeling trapped or in unbearable pain.
Talking about being a burden to others.
Increasing their use of alcohol or drugs.
Acting anxious or agitated; behaving recklessly.
Sleeping too little or too much.
Withdrawing or isolating themselves.
Showing rage or talking about seeking revenge.
Displaying extreme mood swings.

 

So, be mindful of these signs, folks. How many times have you heard the people closest to the ones who kill themselves say, “I wish I’d known”, “I should have seen it”, “Why didn’t she tell me she was hurting?” Perhaps, knowing these signs, you can be more aware if someone is at risk because, chances are, they’re never gonna just tell you.

Realize, too, this is something that affects children, senior citizens, teenagers, veterans, men, women, straights, gays…no segment of society is left untouched by suicide.

So, what do you do if you notice any of these signs in somebody? Again, I refer to http://www.bethe1to.com/ , an excellent, informative website, and their Five Action Steps. You can get more complete, detailed information on each of these steps on the website; I’m just introducing them to you, here.

ASK

This one can be tough, I know; just initiating the dialogue with a direct, non-judgmental question. But, studies show that asking someone who is at risk can reduce the likelihood of that person actually following through on his or her thoughts. Remember, though, if you’re going to ask, be prepared to listen. Take what that person says seriously, but – and this is important – do not promise to keep his or her suicidal thoughts just between the two of you.

KEEP THEM SAFE

This step is about, after having the conversation and determining this person has had suicidal thoughts, asking more questions about if he or she has thought about the how and the when, if it’s already been attempted before, if there is easy access to the gun, the pills, or whatever he or she was thinking of using to commit suicide. If the answers indicate this person is in imminent danger of killing himself or herself, then you see about separating him or her from any easily accessible, potentially lethal methods of carrying it out. This is a good way of demonstrating your support for this person, taking action to make his or her environment safer.

BE THERE

Pretty self-explanatory; just be present for this person. Help him or her feel connected; reduce the feeling of isolation. Be supportive and encouraging.

Someone I knew committed suicide a few years ago, after dealing with intense physical pain for a long time. Later, I discovered, he had confessed to someone before killing himself that, had he received any words of encouragement from someone, anyone, he might have fought harder to keep living.

That’s how important this step is. Let people know they’re not alone. Tell them you’ll be there for them, but only if you’re actually going to be. Don’t say it, then not follow through.

HELP THEM CONNECT

Provide him or her with a safety net, made up of people and organizations, local and otherwise, to reach out to in times of personal crisis, like the Hotline, or https://suicidepreventionlifeline.org/ . Speaking to someone trained to deal with these crises can reduce the risk of someone going through with a suicidal act.

FOLLOW THROUGH

Again, pretty self-explanatory. Once you’ve talked to someone about his or her thoughts about suicide, and provided a safety net of people to contact, stay in touch. Don’t just forget about him or her. Show you still care. Ask if there is anything more you can do to help. The need to feel connected doesn’t go away once a crisis is averted. It’s a lifelong part of the human condition.

I know I gave you a lot to digest, here, but this is serious business, folks. We can all play a role in the prevention of suicide. Educate yourself on what to look for, and how to help. Let’s all look out for each other. Life – with all its pain, tragedy and injustice – is still worth living.

More to come…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Like it Was Yesterday

 

(A year ago, I submitted this post in remembrance of the events of 9/11. Today, I offer it again, updated to mark the passing of another year since that horrible day. Never forget…)

 

Sixteen years ago…
The brilliant cerulean skies over Manhattan
Suddenly, shockingly were interrupted
By the smoke from a misguided burnt offering,
Offered by impassioned false prophets
To a Prophet they never really knew.

Sixteen years ago…
A throng of innocent, ordinary faces
Stared in utter horror and disbelief
At the face of death, approaching them swiftly
In the guise of a great, winged demon,
Its once perfectly resplendent skin
Now engulfed in the flames of Hell,
The air redolent of burning flesh and jet fuel.

And then – this time, before a captive audience – it happened again.

Sixteen years ago…
Desperate, hopeless, sorrowful voices
Left tearful, heartfelt goodbyes
On cold and sterile answering machines
For the ones they would leave behind
To play back again, and again, and again,
Frozen in their grief, their loneliness, their rage,
With merely a voice to hold through the long, sleepless night.

Sixteen years ago…
Knights in shining armor ascended,
Disappearing into the smoky blackness,
Staring down fear, resolute in their mission
To rescue those who were helpless,
Only to become helpless, themselves
As the once proud and mighty towers
Crumbled spectacularly to the ground,
And we witnessed the Baptism of Dust.

Sixteen years ago…
Another winged demon crashed into a Pentagon,
And still another into a pastoral Pennsylvanian field,
And we all shook our heads in shock and bewilderment and terror,
As we helplessly watched what we believed
To surely be the beginning of The End.

Sixteen years ago…
I saw grown men weeping openly:
Television news anchors, stoic and detached,
Now utterly flattened by the sheer relentlessness
Of report after stupefying report
And image upon horrible, graphic image;
Police and firefighters, hearts irreparably shattered
By the overwhelming number of fallen comrades
Who sacrificed everything in upholding
Their sworn, sacred duty;
Business executives who lost scores of dedicated employees,
Just ordinary people, going about their ordinary work,
Gone, all gone;
Office workers, pained with guilt
Over deciding not to go to work that day,
And resolved to earn every subsequent day of life given to them.

Sixteen years ago…
I heard “The Star-Spangled Banner”
Played, of all places,
In front of England’s Buckingham Palace
At the ceremonial Changing of the Guard,
In a remarkably touching display of sympathy and solidarity.
I heard Congressmen, gathered on the Capitol steps
Performing an impromptu, earnest and defiant rendition
Of “God Bless America”…

And I felt the embrace of the world.

Sixteen years ago…
So many other things happened that September day;
So many acts of courage, of strength,
Of sacrifice, of compassion.
Of Love.

And sixteen years later, I remember it all,
Just like…

 

 

This One’s For the Cowards

 

It happens every time.

Anytime a suicide makes the news, such as Linkin Park vocalist Chester Bennington, you get these folks who disparage the act of suicide as “the coward’s way out.”

Well, if you’re one of those folks, I want you to shut up. Right now.

The reason anyone commits suicide, I believe, is because that person has completely run out of hope. He or she feels as though there is no other option left.

That isn’t cowardice; that’s the lowest depth of despair.

The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that suicides occur globally at the rate of one every forty seconds. It is predicted that by the year 2020, the rate will be one every twenty seconds.

Every. Twenty. Seconds. Someone is taking his or her own life.

And, also according to WHO, depression, substance abuse, or some other mental health issue is directly related to over ninety percent of all suicides.

These aren’t cowards afraid to face life. These are people not equipped to face life. They need help. They need treatment. They need someone to talk to. Yet we continue to stigmatize mental health disorder, as if everyone who has one is some kind of nut job.

Which is absolutely not true.

Having a mental illness doesn’t mean you’re crazy, and killing yourself doesn’t mean you’re a coward. Those are two severe misconceptions that need to be addressed and, eventually, removed from the public consciousness. The sooner, the better.

 

Now, for all you brilliant minds out there who maintain that suicide is “the coward’s way out”, let me present to you a few more stats, courtesy of militarytimes.com:

“Roughly 20 veterans a day commit suicide nationwide, according to new data from the Department of Veterans Affairs…

“In 2014, the latest year available, more than 7,400 veterans took their own lives, accounting for 18 percent of all suicides in America. Veterans make up less than 9 percent of the U.S. population.

“The problem is particularly worrisome among female veterans, who saw their suicide rates rise more than 85 percent over that time, compared to about 40 percent for civilian women.

“And roughly 65 percent of all veteran suicides in 2014 were for individuals 50 years or older, many of whom spent little or no time fighting in the most recent wars.”

These are veterans.

People who served our country. People who put themselves in harm’s way to protect us. People who look the enemy in the eye and don’t back down.

So, tell me how cowardly you think they are.

Then shut the f### up.

Turn That D### Thing Off

Alright, folks, look…

This is just getting really ridiculous.

I sit in my shuttle van five days a week, watching in the morning as employees walk into their office building, their heads down and their eyes firmly fixed on…wait for it…their smartphones.

So many of them walk right into my path, I could run them right over and they would never know what hit ’em; they are that oblivious to anything other than what is on their smartphone screens. Or they could walk right into a brick wall, totally unaware of its existence until impact.

And they certainly don’t acknowledge the presence of other people, let alone actually speak to any of them.

And it always leaves me wondering the same thing: What the devil is so crucial that you can’t even afford to not take your eyes off that phone for the two to four minutes you spend walking from your car into the office? Do you really have to look at it every bloody second?

I submit, ladies and gentlemen, if you do, you have a serious problem.

Full disclosure: Apparently, so do I, only with my tablet. My wife accuses me of being addicted to it, and she may very well be right.

I know we all like to keep up with the latest news, weather, sports, friends’ Facebook posts, emails, Trump tweets (good lord, why?), etc. And modern technology is a wonderful thing…

…except for sucking the life out of us all.

Where this is leading, folks, is: I’m gonna unplug for awhile, and try to reconnect with family, friends, nature, books, and move the smartphone and tablet to a lower priority in my life. So, this will be my last post for the near future. I recommend you try to do the same, and rediscover life, and the world around you, and try to remember back to those primitive, pre-computer-in-your-hands days.

We’ll meet again down the road, I promise. Hopefully, I’ll be a little healthier when we do.

‘Til then, I wish you all well. Much love to you. ❤️

 

Google Doodle Dandy

 

So, if you get on Google today, you’ll notice the “Google doodle”, an occasional alteration of the regular, iconic, multi-color logo. The Google doodle is used to honor special events and people.

Today, the doodle is a drawing of Richard Oakes, who would have been 75 years old today.

It’s okay; I didn’t know who it was, either.

Mr. Oakes, who grew up on a Mohawk reservation, was an influential activist for Native American rights in the 1960’s and early ’70’s, until he was shot and killed in 1972.

Give yourself a little history lesson today. Look up Richard Oakes and read about his life and efforts toward advancing social justice. In an era when peaceful protest is increasingly viewed by some as a “terrorist act”(!!), take some inspiration from what he accomplished with it.

Oh, and next time you see a Google doodle, tap or click on it. Never know what you might learn!

My Old School

 
College football teams should make news headlines for winning games and competing for national championships.

Not for this.

According to Phillip Erickson, of the Waco Tribune-Herald, “Baylor University on Tuesday night was served with a seventh Title IX lawsuit, which alleges as many as eight football players drugged a student and took turns raping her in 2012.”

This, mind you, is on the heels of a nine-month investigation by Pepper Hamilton, LLP, of Philadelphia, into allegations of sexual assault at Baylor.

Where I went to college.

Erickson’s report is chock full of vile, repugnant details, but let me just bring up a couple for your consideration:

“According to the suit, the football team had a system of hazing freshman recruits by having them bring freshman females to parties to be drugged and gang-raped, “or in the words of the football players, ‘trains’ would be run on the girls.””

Let that soak in a minute. Part of a freshman football player’s initiation to the team involved being part of a gang rape. With a woman that he brought!

Has the gravity of that hit you yet?

Let’s continue:

“Considered a bonding experience by the players, according to the suit, the rapes also were photographed and videotaped, and the plaintiff confirmed that at least one 21-second videotape of two Baylor students being gang- raped by football players had circulated.”

A bonding experience!!

Guys, you really feel closer as teammates after raping a drugged woman together?

The report goes on to say the alleged victim and her mother met with an assistant coach from the team, gave him the names of the players involved, and never heard from him again. She was subsequently harassed by several players via text messages, discouraged by the school from taking any action, required to still attend classes with two of the players, and burglarized by members of the football team. (The items were later returned with the understanding no charges would be filed.)

Oh, and there was this:

The head football coach, Art Briles, had this to say after learning the names of the players involved: “Those are some bad dudes…why was she around those guys?” (italics mine)

Hear that, ladies? That’s why this girl was gang raped; she was around the wrong people! Never mind that she was brought to them! Even around males of questionable character, it still must be her fault somehow.

(Ladies, does that surprise you? I think I know the answer.)

 

Erickson’s report also describes the total institutional failure of the university in handling this incident, references another lawsuit, alleging 52 acts of rape (fiftytwo!) by no fewer than 31 players, and updates the status of some of the players in the legal system. There is no update on the victim, other than as the plaintiff in this lawsuit. To the school’s credit, it has taken, and is taking, important steps to assure a safer environment there for all its female students. Perhaps someday, I can look on my alma mater with pride again.

But not today. Definitely not today.

How did it ever come to this?, you wonder.

Well, the fact is, my brothers, it all comes down to how we view and treat women. Period.

I honestly don’t know how but, guys, we have got to have a major attitude adjustment in this matter.

We have got to understand, women aren’t just sex toys. They’re not college hazing props, or a “bonding experience.” They’re not a bunch of filthy sluts, just waiting for a much deserved pounding.

They’re people, guys. They’re human beings. They are entitled to respect, and dignity, and equality.

And, none of them – I mean, none of them! – ever “asks for it.”

So, fellas, let’s hold each other accountable. You hear one of your buddies talking $#!t about a woman, call him on it. Yeah, you’ll probably catch all kinds of grief for it, but this is the time for, to borrow a movie title, A Few Good Men.

Change has to start somewhere, guys. Look in your heart and start there.

Salt That Rim

 

Today is Cinco de Mayo, or literally, “Day of the Margarita Binge.”

No, actually, that means “the Fifth of May”, and it is actually a significant date in Mexican history.

Here’s a little background, courtesy of History.com:

“In 1861, Benito Juárez—a lawyer and member of the indigenous Zapotec tribe—was elected president of Mexico. At the time, the country was in financial ruin after years of internal strife, and the new president was forced to default on debt payments to European governments.

“In response, France, Britain and Spain sent naval forces to Veracruz, Mexico, demanding repayment. Britain and Spain negotiated with Mexico and withdrew their forces.

“France, however, ruled by Napoleon III, decided to use the opportunity to carve an empire out of Mexican territory. Late in 1861, a well-armed French fleet stormed Veracruz, landing a large force of troops and driving President Juárez and his government into retreat.

“Certain that success would come swiftly, 6,000 French troops under General Charles Latrille de Lorencez set out to attack Puebla de Los Angeles, a small town in east-central Mexico. From his new headquarters in the north, Juárez rounded up a ragtag force of 2,000 loyal men—many of them either indigenous Mexicans or of mixed ancestry—and sent them to Puebla.

“The vastly outnumbered and poorly supplied Mexicans, led by Texas-born General Ignacio Zaragoza, fortified the town and prepared for the French assault. On May 5, 1862, Lorencez gathered his army—supported by heavy artillery—before the city of Puebla and led an assault.

“The battle lasted from daybreak to early evening, and when the French finally retreated they had lost nearly 500 soldiers. Fewer than 100 Mexicans had been killed in the clash.

“Although not a major strategic win in the overall war against the French, Zaragoza’s success at the Battle of Puebla on May 5 represented a great symbolic victory for the Mexican government and bolstered the resistance movement. In 1867…France finally withdrew.

“Within Mexico, Cinco de Mayo is primarily observed in the state of Puebla, where Zaragoza’s unlikely victory occurred, although other parts of the country also take part in the celebration.

“In the United States, Cinco de Mayo is widely interpreted as a celebration of Mexican culture and heritage, particularly in areas with substantial Mexican-American populations.

“Today, revelers mark the occasion with parades, parties, mariachi music, Mexican folk dancing and traditional foods such as tacos and mole poblano.”

And, of course, margaritas.

So, Happy Cinco de Mayo, everyone! Enjoy some tasty Mexican food and, if you imbibe, a margarita or two, in a salt-rimmed glass. (Just have someone ready to drive for you later! 😉)