Gratitude, like love, is bound only by our choices. The more we give, the more we keep.
I tried to ignore Ferguson today, but I glanced at Twitter hashtag #Ferguson a moment ago. The first tweet I read inspired this post. Someone wrote that “being able to be thankful after #Fergson is a privilege itself.”
I understand how someone could feel that their “gratitude privilege” had been revoked. We lost our daughter just before Christmas in 1994, about four weeks after I got out of the Navy. I cursed God, of course, and life and everything.
Within minutes of that tragedy, though, I was already thanking people. A high school classmate was the EMT supervisor who responded to the call. Bob Geigel drove me to the hospital and stayed with me until my dad arrived. I have never thanked him publicly. Until now.
My Aunt Jane was beyond wonderful that day. Aunt Mame, too. The priests of St. Gabriel. The people of St. Gabriel. Strangers. The Kutis family. Anonymous donors who paid for her funeral.
In my greatest hour of despair came the greatest surge of gratitude I ever felt, before or since.
Gratitude is a choice. It’s sometimes an obligation. But gratitude is never a privilege. Anyone can feel grateful anytime they wish.
Even Michael Brown’s mother and father have an infinite number of reasons to be grateful. They have received love from strangers. They have been flown to Europe and given a stage to present their grief and their hope. They have memories of their son.
Gratitude and grief are not opposite ends of single line. They coexist as perfectly as turkey and stuffing. For those who believe in redemptive suffering, such as Christ went through on the cross, grief can be the reason for gratitude, even when we suffer for the sake of others.
Yes, Michael Brown’s family has reason to grieve. And the privilege to grieve. They also have the capacity to thank, and I have no doubt they have thanked many people and felt remarkable gratitude in the last 90 days.
On this Thanksgiving, I am most grateful that, by God’s grace, I overcame the thought I had in December of 1994—that there is nothing left to be grateful for. I pray for the author of that sad tweet that he, too, overcomes the silly idea that gratitude is a privilege reserved for a few.
What did you think when you first heard reports of violence in Ferguson? I mean, after the shooting death of Michael Brown?
Did you ever for a moment think, “this is about more than just Michael Brown?”
I hate to say that. It’s embarrassing to admit that I’m so jaded as to think “that’s all” when a young man dies. Sorry. I’m just being honest.
I understand community grief and anger. I worry every time my son walks out the front door. I worry every day about son who lives with his mom. And endlessly about my son serving in the Navy. I’ve lost a child to disease, not violence. I don’t know which is worse, and I hope I never find out.
Still, I wasn’t the only one who thought, “there’s more here than just the shooting.”
Today, St. Louis police shot and killed an African-American man just 10 miles from Ferguson. A crowd formed, but it didn’t lose control. At least, it hasn’t yet. Granted, Chief Dotson and Mayor Slay handled this sad case elegantly. I know “elegantly” is an awkward adverb when talking about a man’s death, but that’s the first word that came to mind. The chief addressed the crowd shortly after the incident, explaining everything that happened, as he knew it, and expressing his regret. Via STLToday.com:
Afterward, Dotson said, “I want this message to be out as quickly and truthfully as possible.” The tension on the street seemed diminished.
Props to Alderman Antonio French, too, who helped the crowd hold its judgment while the chief spoke.
If relations between St. Louis government and the people were really bad, would Dotson’s and French’s words have satisfied the crowd?
There seems to be a fundamental difference between the relationship of people to government in St. Louis compared to the same relationship in Ferguson. And the two candidates for County Executive better be prepared to deal with it. Fast.
(Speaking of which, one of those two candidates might want to get in front of this issue. Just sayin’.)
In the past 24 hours, I’ve receive unsolicited stories of remarkable abuse at the hands of North County police and municipal courts. Yeah, I know: you’ve been hearing it from the protesters in Ferguson and from Senator Maria Chappelle-Nadal, too. You’ve heard it til you’re ready to puke. It’s same old tune of the man beatin’ down blacks.
Only, the two stories I got came from middle- to upper middle-class white, middle aged white men.
Maybe some of the protesters have a point. And maybe it’s time someone listen. And act.
To give you a feel for what the police/community relations are in North County, I’ll give you the two stories I heard last night—from middle-aged white men.
First, a friend of mine who lives in West County told me of a ridiculous ticket he received from a police officer in Bel-Ridge, Missouri. The ticket was for “pausing before making a left”—an offense I don’t remember reading in the handbook. So this gentleman showed up in court to challenge the ticket. He observed police officers acting like rogue guards in a Turkish prison, treating the people who’d come to plea their cases like dirt. He commented to the person sitting next to him, “I don’t like the way they’re treating people,” whereupon he was dragged into a jail cell and charged with contempt.
The judge did not charge him with contempt; the police did. Again, this is a white, middle-age, middle class man from West County. Just a hunch, but I bet a 22-year-old black male from Ferguson would have been treated no better.
Next, I received an email tonight from Dan, a middle-age white man (and Tea Partier), in response to a blog post on stlouisteaparty.com calling for a 10-second warning before opening fire on the crowds. Here’s what he wrote:
I was down there the last 3 days.
1 Almost all the “protesters” are upset about the draconian treatment of them by police. The problem is that draconian police behavior [started] long before the shooting. The abusive municipal courts. And the attitude of “them”.
2. The protesters were peaceful, and often festive. They kept talking about the cockroaches crawling out from the city at night causing trouble. The people are concerned not bad.
3. Saturday the churches had planned to provide security for the businesses for saturday night. But they put in a curfew and the police did a poor job protecting the businesses.
Unlike many of my friends passing judgment on the people of Ferguson, this gentleman was there. Not once, but three nights. Notice the pattern developing here:
Poor police-community relations.
Municipal courts that abuse their authority and sponge off the accused.
A huge discrepancy between what’s reported (chaos) and what’s witnessed (peaceful assemblies interrupted by thugs from outside the neighborhood.)
As I said, my dad was a cop. I have a lot of friends on police forces or recently retired. I was a couple of months away from being a cop myself in 1995. The police in my part of St. Louis County treat us exceedingly well. The municipal police in the cities around me are wonderful—even when issuing me a speeding ticket. And I’m sure the men and women who patrol in North County are good people, too. That isn’t the point. The point is about changing attitudes and perceptions.
Somehow a lot of people who live and work in the area feel that there’s a huge wall in society. On one side are police and judges. On the other side, a bunch of people, mostly trying to get through life the best they can. No one trusts anyone from the other side of the wall. To the people, the legal side is looking for reason to ruin their lives. To the law side, there are only two kinds of people: victims and perps.
Perhaps, as Dan later pointed out, the Missouri Supreme Court needs to investigate the municipal court system, and he’s willing to work with an attorney who would like fight the corruption, abuse, and incompetence he sees in the North County courts.
Then, as my friend points out:
5. It is clear this was the proverbial scary traffic stop…. The cop did not know it but he was stopping either a thief or a robber…a fight ensued, and someone got shot.
And Ferguson exploded.
Sure, out-of-state agitators descended on the scene. But they didn’t get here Sunday. The looters, I’m guessing, are local hooligans who will use any sad situation as an excuse to steal and destroy. The bottle-throwers and looters don’t give a hoot in hell for Michael Brown or anyone else. Like you, I hope they’re identified and prosecuted. But they’re actually not central to what’s going on in Ferguson. They weren’t here a week ago, and they won’t be here for long.
The dedication of the peaceful protesters, though, tells me that this story began before Michael Brown’s death. The question is, will it continue after the protests subside?
Which brings me back to the question of the day: what follows?
What follows depends on how we resolve this and what we want to follow. If we take the fast, emotional, “easy” way out, the wall between Law and People will be taller, thicker, and less penetrable. The next incident will spark more violence. Eventually, St. Louis County will look a lot like Gaza.
The other solution is a lot harder, looking at it from today’s perspective. It means justice won’t be as swift or certain as our frayed nerves wish. It means peace won’t be secured as finally and violently as our sensibilities demand. It means people will have to show trust before they feel trust in their gut. It means politicians will have to stop throwing bones to poor neighborhoods and start charting real solutions that return business to a region in economic decline. (Yes, St. Louis City and County are falling fast on almost every measure of economic well-being.) It means political people of all stripes will have to spend less time schmoozing the rich and famous and more time building a real community.
I know. It sucks. I like hanging around with the powerful and rich, too. It’s a lot more fun than actually solving real problems.
Lasting solutions to big problems with sordid histories never come easy. Tearing down walls of distrust and dislike takes cooperation, planning, patience, and sweat.
The alternative is to shoot it out and hope you’re the last one standing.
I’d rather tear down that wall.
P.S. Point number 4 that my friend wants everyone to know: Many of the businesses with broken windows are OPEN FOR BUSINESS. Look for OPEN spray-painted on the plywood. Go ahead and shop. They need the business.
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story mistakenly identified Bel Nor as the venue.
It was 2010. St. Louis was the epicenter of the Tea Party movement.
Tea Party Patriots picked St. Louis to host the Gateway to November rally under the Arch. Unlike our rag-tag events, this one would be professional all the way: live music with Sounding Fathers, speakers you heard of before the movement began in February 2009, and real security.
The guest speakers began rolling into town on Friday the tenth. As one of the hosts, I offered to meet them at the Hyatt downtown. It was a long night.
I hadn’t met most of the crew, but I did know Mike Flynn of BigGovernment.com and Scott Boston. And my buddy Ben Evans was there.
It took of thirty seconds to become friends with Andrew Ian Dodge and his wonderful wife Kim. For the rest of the evening, we plotted insane things to make Sunday’s event memorable and crazy. We wanted a feature that would make people say, “huh?”
I can’t remember whose idea it was or when it hatched, but the concept was simply brilliant. When my turn to speak rolled around, Andrew, dressed in his customary black, would walk onto stage just ahead of me. And he’d have a goat on a leash.
Yeah, I said goat. On a leash.
I would do my shtick without looking at the goat or at Andrew. I’d play it straight, as if Dodge and the goat were part of my personal security force–or some avant-garde symbolism that the most penetrating minds could not solve.
“Let them make up their own story,” I remember Kim or Dodge saying.
We realized most of the live crowd would miss it entirely. But the TV cameras would catch it. CNN would find it irresistible The left would play up big, ascribing their own meaning to the animal and its dark presence onstage with a co-founder of the St. Louis Tea Party.
“He’s crazy,” they’ll say. “It’s some sign to the right-wing conspirators to launch a killing spree,” announces a confident and satisfied Michael Holmes on CNN.
That was the goal: virality. Get people talking. And we figured the libertarian crowd would get a kick out of it.
The next night, Saturday, a friend of ours actually rounded up a goat! He brought it downtown to our guest reception. Everything was ready to go. Until . . .
Until someone a bit more media savvy spooked me.
“It’s supposed to be hot tomorrow, Bill. The animal rights people will tear you apart if anything happens to the goat.”
Then more voices of reason chimed in.
“What if the crowd scares it and it has a heart attack?”
“What if it breaks loose and hurts someone. There’s gonna be a lot of kids and old people there.”
“What if . . .”
I didn’t have much time to deal with this. I realized I’d need someone to bring the goat to the stage just before my appearance, then take it to a safe, cool place immediately after. But everyone I know would be at the event. And they’d want to stay there.
So I punted. I wussed out.
“Ed,” I said to the guy who secured the goat, “never mind. I’m sorry, but they’re right. This could ruin the whole event.”
I did have Andrew Ian Dodge walk onto the stage with me and stand there silently, wearing dark sunglasses. It was an honor to have him there. It was an honor to meet a man who was willing to do something crazy for a cause only minutes after meeting me.
I still regret my decision to strike the goat from the scene. Andrew and Kim and everyone else who thought it would work were right, I’m convinced. My cowardice was wrong.
I guess I thought I’d get another chance to do something crazy with Dodge Ball–something so crazy it kicked the whole liberty movement into a new gear.
But time was not on our side.
Andrew Ian Dodge passed away on Friday. With his death, liberty lost a creative and defiant soldier, the kind who would solve problems in war by simply running straight into the enemy, expecting their shock to still their weapons until he’d planted the charge and returned safely to press the detonator.
I regret, and I’m sorry, that I denied him his head-on, defiant dream of tending a goat at a tea party.
Angela and I and the St. Louis Tea Party Coalition pray for his rapid entry to paradise and for peace and comfort to his wife Kim and their families.
When I write about freedoms lost, I don’t itemize the freedoms. I don’t feel too bad, though, because almost no one does. Itemizing sucks.
First, it’s hard work. “Losing freedom,” takes about three seconds to type and less time to read. Listing freedoms,on the other hand, takes that much time just to highlight all the freedoms and click the un-ordered list button. God forbid I find myself working in straight HTML and have to hand-type ”
. . .” etc.
But there’s also the problem the founders ran into—the problem of omission. Some of the founders worried that mentioning some rights by name would let adventurous Congresses claim those were the only rights that mattered. So Madison (I think) dashed off the 9th Amendment which said that, just because the Constitution doesn’t mention a right doesn’t mean it’s not a right.
The same problem exists for freedoms. What if I fail to mention a freedom that’s under assault? Does that mean it is not under assault? Does it mean I don’t care about that particular freedom? Does it mean I’m just stupid? (When in doubt, go with the last.)
I was at a Republican meeting one time and a participant mentioned that our freedoms were being taken away from us. I asked him which freedoms he was referring to and after stumbling around for five or ten seconds he said he couldn’t actually think of any at the moment.
It’s a line I hear on a regular basis – our freedoms are being taken from us.
What are your thoughts on the subject – what freedoms do you think have been taken from us, and which do you think we are in danger of losing?
My knee-jerk response to the question “which freedoms are we losing, exactly” is: “all of them.”
I’m sure Blake and you will find “all of them” as unsatisfying as simply announcing the assault on freedom, so I’ll go a bit deeper.
Let’s begin with my favorite definition of freedom (actually, of liberty), which I first heard from William F. Buckley, though someone else likely said it first:
Liberty is freedom from the arbitrary rule of other men.
You may accept that definition or not, but if you continue reading you must accept it as my definition. You’re free to offer a better definition in the comments below.
What does arbitrary rule look like? Well, when banking regulators threaten banks who lend to gun stores and gun manufacturers, that’s arbitrary rule. When your organization can’t get 501c4 status because it has “liberty” or “tea party” in its name, that’s arbitrary rule.
In short, the arbitrary rule of other men is what happens when a society abandons the rule of law and the principle of blind justice. It’s when the only thing that matters is who you know and how connected you are and how much you donated to the people in power. It’s the way the US Chamber of Commerce does business. It’s ugly and tawdry and destructive of innovation. It’s Berlin in 1939.
Immediately, you should see the problem Blake’s Republican friend encountered. The question “which freedoms are we losing” is unanswerable because freedom is a condition, not an enumerated set of rights. (Republicans, by the way, are terrible at recognizing a question that can’t be answered, so they fumble around, as Blake says, coming up with nothing.)
The correct answer to the question, “Which freedoms are we losing?” is the one I gave above: all of them. (Okay, I lied. “All of them,” wasn’t my knee-jerk response. I’ve thought about the nature of freedom for at least 30 years.)
The Republican fumbler and I make the same mistake. We misstate the issue. It’s a bad: set-up. We are not losing our freedoms. Instead, our freedom is being compressed.
Alexis de Tocqueville described in 1838 (or so) what freedom-compression might look like if it ever arrived in the New World.
He begins by describing the social condition necessary for freedom-compression in America:
The first thing that strikes the observation is an innumerable multitude of men, all equal and alike, incessantly endeavoring to procure the petty and paltry pleasures with which they glut their lives. Each of them, living apart, is as a stranger to the fate of all the rest; his children and his private friends constitute to him the whole of mankind. As for the rest of his fellow citizens, he is close to them, but he does not see them; he touches them, but he does not feel them; he exists only in himself and for himself alone; and if his kindred still remain to him, he may be said at any rate to have lost his country.
watching the ridiculous music video Gangnam Style. In that time, we could have built four new great pyramids in Egypt, three additional USS Gerald Ford aircraft carriers, 20 exact replicas of the Empire State Building, or watched God knows how many cat videos.
I believe our Gangnam Style viewing perfectly meets Tocqueville’s requirement of “endeavoring to procure the petty and paltry pleasures with which they glut their lives.”
And how many of your neighbors you can you name? (Facebook friends don’t count.)
Tocqueville goes on to explain what happens when we live only to fill our lives with goofy music and cat videos: the compression of freedom:
Above this race of men stands an immense and tutelary power, which takes upon itself alone to secure their gratifications and to watch over their fate. That power is absolute, minute, regular, provident, and mild. It would be like the authority of a parent if, like that authority, its object was to prepare men for manhood; but it seeks, on the contrary, to keep them in perpetual childhood: it is well content that the people should rejoice, provided they think of nothing but rejoicing. For their happiness such a government willingly labors, but it chooses to be the sole agent and the only arbiter of that happiness; it provides for their security, foresees and supplies their necessities, facilitates their pleasures, manages their principal concerns, directs their industry, regulates the descent of property, and subdivides their inheritances: what remains, but to spare them all the care of thinking and all the trouble of living?
While some consider Social Security, AFDC, Food Stamps, Obamacare, and many, many other government entitlement programs good, to me they’re the stuff of evil. Evil because they spare human beings “all the care of thinking and all the trouble of living,” depriving people their chance at life.
A recent Census Bureau report showed that Americans watch 2.7 hours of television a day. We spend nearly as much time watching cat videos on social media.
I hate to break it to you, but passively watching others work as we get fat and die of sedentary diseases isn’t living. Living requires much richer blends of emotions, activities, and sufferings than you can get from HBO. Living means making something of your life. Creating, comprehending, improving the world we’re given. It involves trying and failing and trying again and again and again. To have lived a good life means you can recount some bad times of your own making. The person who never suffers never feels true joy. Or relief.
So what happens when this “immense and tutelary power” has taken over the running of our lives?
Thus it every day renders the exercise of the free agency of man less useful and less frequent; it circumscribes the will within a narrower range and gradually robs a man of all the uses of himself. The principle of equality has prepared men for these things;it has predisposed men to endure them and often to look on them as benefits.
That goddamn (pardon me) television. Those rotten entitlements. Those were the grappling hooks that ripped through your eye sockets and ripped our your free agency. You’ve been robbed of all the uses of yourself. How horrible. Even a convict serving a life sentence might have some use of himself, but not the modern man or woman dissolving into a bonded leather sofa to watch the Real Housewives of Istanbul whilst eating cheese popcorn bought with an EBT card at Mobil On The Run. That’s not life anymore than sex is love.
But Tocqueville wasn’t done. He saw our future more clearly than we see our present.
After having thus successively taken each member of the community in its powerful grasp and fashioned him at will, the supreme power then extends its arm over the whole community. It covers the surface of society with a network of small complicated rules, minute and uniform, through which the most original minds and the most energetic characters cannot penetrate, to rise above the crowd.
Equality. Enforced equality. “Spread the wealth around,” we’re told. “Some have too much.”
Why has this recovery created so few jobs? Because the web of rules—small and complicated, minute and uniform—prevents the most original minds and the most energetic characters from penetrating to start a business.
But recent research shows that dynamism is slowing down. Business churning and new firm formations have been on a persistent decline during the last few decades, and the pace of net job creation has been subdued. This decline has been documented across a broad range of sectors in the U.S. economy, even in high-tech.
The state has succeeded in breaking our will to rise above the crowd.
Looking for good news? You’ll have to check back tomorrow. Back to Tocqueville:
The will of man is not shattered, but softened, bent, and guided; men are seldom forced by it to act, but they are constantly restrained from acting. Such a power does not destroy, but it prevents existence; it does not tyrannize, but it compresses, enervates, extinguishes, and stupefies a people, till each nation is reduced to nothing better than a flock of timid and industrious animals, of which the government is the shepherd.
There’s that word: “compressed.”
We are not losing enumerated freedoms. We are losing freedom from the arbitrary rule of other men. Our sphere of freedom has not been punctured, yet; it’s been compressed, like a submarine at test depth.
So we are free to do whatever the government tells us to do and prohibited from doing all else. And our sphere of freedom depends on the favor we find with the prince. That ain’t America.
It’s the opposite of freedom. It’s the absence of liberty. It’s the abandonment of the rule of law. That life is hardly worth living. And it’s a life many have died trying to escape.
Back to the original question: which freedoms are we losing?
When a Republican invokes “Reagan’s Sacred and Holy and Inviolable Eleventh Commandment,” (in nomine Patris et Filii et Spritus Sancti, Amen), you can rest assured you’re witnessing a frightened establishment type trying get himself out of trouble.
It’s actually comical to watch these guys: shaking with rage, forcing one of those pained, contraindicative grins as they wag a hostile finger at a woman a quarter their size. “Thou shalt NOT speak ill of a fellow Republican!” they declare. “Reagan, chapter 19 verse 66.”
And ignorant. (Not to mention ill-mannered, about which more in due course.)
Every student of 20th century American politics knows, for instance, that Reagan never claimed the 11th commandment. While Reagan mentioned the Commandment in his 1966 campaign for governor, he attributed it then and later to Gaylord Parkinson, former chairman of the California GOP.
Moreover—and I love Reagan, so this hurts a little—while Reagan claimed he obeyed it, he didn’t.
Another lesson from 20th century American politics 101: Reagan challenged the sitting Republican US President, Gerald Ford, in 1976. He took his campaign right into the Republican National Convention that year, damaging Ford’s chances of re-election in November. Is any speech more ill than declaring, by your candidacy, that the Republican in office is unfit for the job?
Reagan also mounted a late “favorite son” campaign against Nixon in 1968. Again, not exactly a ringing endorsement of the sitting Vice President.
And Reagan wasn’t the only conservative hero to challenge his own party. William F. Buckley ran for mayor of New York City as a Conservative against Republican John Lindsay in an attempt to throw the election to the Democrat. Buckley later ended Republican Lowell Weicker’s career in the US Senate by forming “Buck-PAC” to support the Democrat nominee Joseph Lieberman. (I am still proud of the $25 I sent to Buck-PAC at a time when I couldn’t even afford a cigarette pack at the Navy Commissary.)
And what about Winston Churchill? I know, he wasn’t a Republican—or an American for that matter—but he abandoned the Tories and joined the Liberals in 1904 for what Jefferson might have termed “light and transient causes.” He didn’t return to the Conservatives until the 1920s. (My internet is down right now, so if some of these details are wrong, please correct them in the comments below.)
I’ve observed that people tend to invoke the 11th commandment to avoid due censure. For example, failing to RSVP for a Republican Picnic, then showing up with 15 mouths to feed. (I’m looking at you, Rick Stream.)
Let’s admit that Reagan’s use of Gaylord Parkinson’s 11th Commandment was—politically convenient. And let’s create a new 12th commandment: If you don’t RSVP, don’t friggin’ eat.
I knew it was getting late. I was leaving work, walking to my car, when I got a text message. My nephew scored two tickets to Game 2 of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.I texted my son, Patrick, to see if he was home. I planned to fly home, put on my Blues sweater, grab Patrick, and fly down to the Scot.
But Patrick didn’t need a ride or a ticket. He was already on his way to the game with a friend. He bought his own ticket and drove his own car.
May 24, 1993, was a cold, gray day in New London, Connecticut. The winter had been mild but damp, as had the previous summer.
My wife had an appointment with the OB/GYN at 9 am. I don’t remember if it was a routine exam or if she’d asked to see him. I assume the latter, because I stayed home to go with her. I was on shore duty, so getting a few hours off wasn’t the hassle it had been when I was attached to a submarine.
“It’s time,” the doctor said.
That day was long. Someone was watching our other three–Amie, Jack, and Benjamin. Probably Patty Fellows or the Emblidges. I wasn’t concerned about that.
The other kids had been born in shiny new hospitals, but Lawrence and Memorial Hospital was old, like the older parts of St. Mary’s where my mom used to work. Compared to those modern hospitals, this one had more wood and marble, less metal and carpet. The walls of the delivery room were hospital green, the floors institutional marble. The ceilings were high–probably twelve feet. Heavy oak framed the lone window.
The television looked out of place in this ancient room. It was a hulking Zenith from about 1979, mounted high in a corner of the room where everyone could see. Everyone except the patient, my wife. Well, she could were she in a condition to twist her body to the right and hang off the side. But not on this day.
As my wife sucked on ice chips, I looked through the window at the nondescript afternoon. Though summer was right around the corner and the school year was almost over, everything about the day looked like a winter scene in a Dickens novel. I looked down, expecting to see men in stovepipe hats and bridge coats pushing carts of coal up the cobblestone street, dodging horse dung on their way. Instead, I saw Toyota Camrys and Dodge Omnis cruising down smooth asphalt.
Another difference between this birth and the others: all the doctors were men. The OB/GYN, the anesthesiologist, the nurse assistants. Maybe one woman came into the room the whole day, but that was it. And they didn’t stay long.
Thinking back on that day, time flew. Probably not for the woman in labor. But I remember glancing at my watch and finding it was already 6:00. Julie was stuck at seven centimeters. The anesthesiologist, who looked like Dick Butkus, was administering an epidural to ease the pain in hopes of accelerating dilation and delivery. And I hadn’t eaten since breakfast.
Since my wife was semi-conscious between medication, epidural, pain, and endorphins, the doctors and I decided hockey would be the best diversion to relieve some of the tension in the room. The New York Islanders vs. Montreal Canadiens in game 5 of the Wales Conference finals. I was pulling for the Canadiens, but I kept that on the down low.
After the epidural, Julie fell asleep. A nurse sat by the bed monitoring the machine that goes BEEP. The doctors and I huddled in the corner under the TV so we could hear with the volume set low. Late in the second period with the Habs pulling away, Julie woke up and the nurse beckoned us back to the bedside. The baby was on his way.
Patrick Conor Hennessy was born during the second intermission. He was big, remarkably healthy, and seemed to be happy. His mom was out like a light shortly after Patrick was born. So after he was cleaned up, APGARed, and dressed, the nurse handed him to me to hold. To bond.
I knew he’d want to watch the end of the hockey game. So I carried him over to the TV. His eyes were closed–mostly–but I knew he was listening as the Canadiens scored two goals in six seconds to ice the game and the series.
Later, as the teams shook hands after the game, Julie woke up and asked to hold the baby. I transferred the bundle. And missed him for the first time.
How, Lord, could Patrick be a man already? Is it possible that he’s driving himself to hockey games? He’s my baby.
Then again, his brother Jack is a Petty Officer Second Class in the Navy,closing in on the age I was when Jack was born.
And Ben just got a new job. I’m so proud that he’s getting his bearings.
But the youngest. Damn.
Getting older doesn’t scare me. Seeing my hockey buddy on the verge of striking off on his own does.Our children depend on us for so much for so long that we miss the moment when we become dependent on them.
And the regret. I can’t tell you how many times I left them. “If I make more money,” I thought, “I can afford to take them all over and buy them all kinds of things.” “If I don’t help save the country,” I rationalized, “they won’t have an opportunity.”
So fast. Those evenings I chose to work instead of reading to them. The nights I went out with friends instead of watching the game with them. They never complained, of course.
They just got in their cars and drove themselves.
It’s not fair, I know, to whine like this. We have to let them go. Let them go so they can keep making us proud as they do better than us. Jack made Second fast than I did. And we’re so happy when we do the math and realize they’ve outdone us in every way. We cheer when they finally beat us at one-on-one hoops.
But when we realize that the last one is a man or woman ready to leave our home and start their own, it’s not mortality we feel cloying at our souls–its loneliness. A loneliness no friend or spouse can fill. They’re not our kids. When they come into the world, we don’t know how we’ll find the room for another one. When they go, we don’t know what to do with the space.
Happy Birthday, Tiger. I love you. And thank you for being my friend. You’re a fine man.
Every day when I get to work, I go through a thirty-minute routine. I write down the 3 things I want to accomplish that day. I write down my appointments. I write down a one-sentence prayer. I copy a quote to guide me. With the time remaining, I learn one new thing.
Today that one thing I learned was humbling. Shameful, actually.
I found a video of a commencement speech by Admiral William H. McRaven, USN, at University of Texas-Austin. Admiral McRaven’s title is Commander, US Special Forces Command. He’s the HMFIC of the Navy SEALs. He gave a short speech, which I’ve embedded below. He told the Class of 2014 how to change the world in 10 easy steps.
Stupid people don’t make Admiral. Misguided people don’t make SEAL. Admiral McRaven’s frist tip on changing the world is so simple and so obvious only a brilliant man with impeccable bearing could recognize it.
Here’s the transcript of the first tip, via Business Insider:
Every morning in basic SEAL training, my instructors, who at the time were all Viet Nam veterans, would show up in my barracks room and the first thing they would inspect was your bed.
If you did it right, the corners would be square, the covers pulled tight, the pillow centered just under the headboard and the extra blanket folded neatly at the foot of the rack—rack—that’s Navy talk for bed.
It was a simple task—mundane at best. But every morning we were required to make our bed to perfection. It seemed a little ridiculous at the time, particularly in light of the fact that were aspiring to be real warriors, tough battle hardened SEALs—but the wisdom of this simple act has been proven to me many times over.
If you make your bed every morning you will have accomplished the first task of the day. It will give you a small sense of pride and it will encourage you to do another task and another and another.
By the end of the day, that one task completed will have turned into many tasks completed. Making your bed will also reinforce the fact that little things in life matter.
If you can’t do the little things right, you will never do the big things right.
And, if by chance you have a miserable day, you will come home to a bed that is made—that you made—and a made bed gives you encouragement that tomorrow will be better.
If you want to change the world, start off by making your bed.
I didn’t make the bed this morning. And, yes, I was the last one up.
Over the years, I’ve gotten into the habit of leaving the bed unmade. No one ever sees it. Who cares?
When I heard Admiral McRaven’s reason for making the bed every day, I cried. I’m worthless. I’m too lazy to make a bed? Seriously?
I watched the rest of Admiral McRaven’s incredible speech. The best commencement speech I’ve ever seen Ever. I watched it again. I cried more. Admiral McRaven needed only about 10 minutes to expose every one of my character flaws.
WWII Veterans asked the White House for permission to visit the World War II Memorial in case of a shutdown. The veterans are part of the Honor Flights program that helps aging veterans visit the WWII Memorial.
Even though there’s no cost involved, the White House chose to dishonor the veterans’ request. It send forth “goons,” in Senator Paul’s works, to erect barricades around the memorial. The White House posted armed guards to keep the veterans at bay.
A Republican member of the House of Representatives went out and removed a barricade. The veterans flooded in. Some in wheelchairs.
Only a contemptible, loathsome snake of a man would use WWII veterans–in their late 80s and 90s–as political pawns in his game of dictator.
This is a man who brags of being a “Constitutional Scholar,” then tells the American people that Congress is not allowed to choose what it funds. He knows better; he’s lying.
This is a man who brags of being a “Constitutional Scholar,” but insists that laws upheld by the Supreme Court can never be altered or abolished. He knows better; he’s lying.
Democrats should realize they can reject Obama’s reptilian ways without leaving their party. They can, for once, put human decency before party loyalty.
And Republicans should take note. When a leader of our party exposes himself as a poisonous snake, run away.
Imagine that you’re in a large field. Dust swirls around your ankles. Only an occasional weed interrupts the rocks and sands. Every step threatens to sprain your ankle. Rocky hills surround you on three sides.
And these hills have eyes.
You slowly look around the desert and white shards of light catch your eye. Reflections of the sun off lenses of cameras mounted on poles about every every 30 degrees around the perimeter of the field.
You’re being watched.
They gave you vague instructions. Not guidance or tips for travel, but warnings. “Don’t leave the safe zone.” “Stay in the perimeter.” They told you what not to do, but you have no idea what’s expected of you.
You feel smothered.
Before you is a creek. On the other side of the creek, the terrain is completely different. Green prairie grasses and wildflowers cover the ground. Lush trees dot the landscape. Birds float above the field, and squirrel chatter in the trees.
When you look across the creek into the field, you feel . . . freedom.
You start to walk toward the creek, but after only a dozen paces, a flash hits your eye. It’s the cameras. They’re watching you.
You stop for a moment and look around. No one. Nothing but rocks, dirt, and electric eyeballs.
You start again. You can hear your heartbeat. And your breathing. You feel sweat beads forming on your forehead and across the bridge of your nose.
You walk toward the water. Those vague warnings—those prohibitions—run over and over in your mind. Every step you take feels awkward and uncertain, as if the dusty, rocky ground my give way and leave you face to face with the entity that monitors those electric eyes.
But you keep going.
Your pace picks up a bit, because nothing’s happened. Yet.
The voice in your head subsides as get closer to the creek.
The water gurgles over rocks. You can see the water and the creek bed now. You can smell the fresh air from the field.
You’re jogging. You reach the edge of the creek and your heart sinks. The water is wider than you thought, and deeper. And faster. Very fast.
Crossing the creek will be risky. You’re not a bad swimmer, but it’s been awhile since you’ve forded a creek like this.
The warnings come back to mind. “It’s deeper than it looks.” “You’ll be washed away.” “The under tow will get you.” “Don’t swim after a meal.”
You turn around and look at the hills. The cameras seem closer to you now—as if the poles uprooted themselves and followed you while you focused on the creek.
But the birds sound so sweet. The water looks so refreshing and cool. The field so inviting.
What do you do?
You know you belong in the field, free from the spying eyes on the hill. They said the cameras protect you, but now they feel menacing.
You kneel to touch the water. It feels like ice.
You turn around and look at the cameras—closer still, and bigger than before. Or so they seem.
Your heart bangs away. You’re panting. Freedom is thirty yards away—if you make it.
You stand and take a deep breath. At once you smell wildflowers and dust.
“This is why I came,” you say, and step into the ice-cold water.
You hear a click behind, but you don’t look back. You step into the stream with high, careful steps and begin your escape from the protective custody of the barren, watchful field.