Posted in Longreads and Essays

Salvation From The Depths

There is a bridge in Washington DC that is named after an unlikely hero, a man who quite literally gave his life to save others.

Thirty-eight years ago, on January 13, 1982, Air Florida Flight 90 Boeing 737-200 crashed onto the 14th Street Bridge and into an icy Potomac River, killing all 73 passengers and crew. Four passengers and one flight attendant were the only survivors.

At least four of those people owed their lives to the “sixth passenger” as he became known.

After the plane crashed and began to sink into the ice-strewn river, six people could be seen clinging to the plane’s tail fin. A US Park Police helicopter arrived on the scene and immediately began trying to rescue the survivors. The helicopter rescued one person and then returned to the tail.

Arland D. Williams Jr. caught the rescue line and instead of wrapping it around himself, he passed it to flight attendant Kelly Duncan. When the helicopter returned to the wreckage a third time, it dropped two lines because the crew feared that the remaining survivors would succumb to hypothermia very soon. Williams caught one of the lines and passed it on to a severely injured Joe Stiley, who also grabbed Priscilla Tirado. Patricia Felch took the other line and was towed to safety along with the others.

When the helicopter returned, Williams and the tail section of the plane were gone. After the bodies from the crash were recovered, the coroner determined that Williams was the only passenger to die by drowning therefore he had been the “sixth passenger,” the one who gave his life for others.

Ninety-one years ago today a man was born who would give his life to rescue his people from the dark depths of racial segregation and discrimination. Fifty-two years after his death, the life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. is honored and acknowledged through his monument on the National Mall.

I will probably never have a bridge named after me, but I want to be a bridge between people. I may never have to pass a rescue line to another, but I want to daily live my life in service to others who may need a helping hand.

I will probably never have a monument highlighting my deeds, but I can make my life a monument that honors an ordinary hero like Williams and the extraordinary life of Dr. King.

Perhaps I can be the one who keeps someone from slipping beneath the surface into the cold depths of despair.

Originally posted January 15, 2012, dates updated to reflect present.

Posted in Longreads and Essays

The Invisible War – A Veteran’s Day Reflection

While our society seems to go out of its way to honor those who serve, have served, or died while serving in the military, the facts speak otherwise.

It is one thing to add another patriotic song to sporting events, donate a computer to a soldier’s family, or feature a wounded warrior on a jumbo tron. It is quite another thing to recognize the devastating effect war has on soldiers and provide them with the resources they need to heal.

Suicide: “Be All That You Can Be – Then Kill Yourself.” A new study by the Center for a New American Security (CNAS) reveals some stunning statistics – a service member commits suicide every 36 hours. For veterans, the rate is one every 80 minutes. By comparison, the worst month for American casualties in Iraq came during the Fallujah operation in November of 2004 when 137 were killed. The suicide rate for veterans in any given month is almost 4 times that – at 540!

Unemployment: “It’s Not A Job, It’s An Adventure – Trying To Find One.” The current unemployment rate for the general population in the U.S. is 9%, the highest it has been since 1983 and up from 6% in 2003. The unemployment rate for soldiers? A whopping 12% – which according to the same report above is one of the stressors that could lead to suicide.

Homelessness: “The Few, The Proud – The Homeless.” According to the VA, veterans make up one fifth of the homeless population. The VA also estimates that 107,000 veterans are homeless on any given night. In comparison, that is close to the current levels of U.S. troops in Afghanistan.

The above does not begin to describe the family stress and high divorce rates due to deployments, occurrences of PTSD, homicides, alcohol and drug use that are the battles that soldiers continue to fight every day. War is Hell and often the Hell doesn’t stay on the battlefield – it comes home to roost.

This country needs to face up to the fact that for many the war is never over – the enemy simply becomes intangible. And like the really tough adversaries of society, it can’t be killed by bullets. We need to do better to help heal the wounded, provide resources for their care, and end the glorification of war that destroys so many.

I am sure recruiters for the armed forces conveniently forget to mention any of the above to potential enlistees. Why should they?

The truth is always bad for the war business.

November 2011

Posted in Longreads and Essays, Musings and Reflections

Depression 1.6 – Tough Enough To Talk About It

(From November 9, 2011)

Recently my wife asked me what book I was reading.

“I Don’t Want To Talk About It,” I said.

“Oh,” she said, somewhat taken aback. “I was just curious . . .” Her voice trailed off.

“I Don’t . . .” I started to repeat, then I smiled. “That is actually the title, it’s a book about depression.”

We both had a good laugh.

We can laugh about it now although that wasn’t always the case. I am on medication, reading books like the one with the title above, and actually, I DO want to talk about it. Or actually, talk more openly and honestly about it. As I look back over my journals, I realize that I have been talking about it. But I was talking mostly to myself and resisting what was staring me in the face.

I was depressed.

And wonder of wonders I am not alone. According to psychotherapist Terrence Real, the author of I Don’t Want to Talk About It: Overcoming the Secret Legacy of Male Depression, depression among men is a silent epidemic that we don’t want to talk about or deal with because it isn’t “manly.” He differentiates between overt depression and covert depression, the different symptoms of both, and how both can destroy lives and relationships if not acknowledged and healed.

While I have found the book generally very helpful, there are a couple of things in particular that have jumped out at me so far. Early on, the author describes his learned understanding of men as “wounded wounders.” I resonate with this idea. In a sense I have been very adept at recognizing and dealing with my pain. My plethora of writings reflect this. However, it is only recently that I have begun to move from the narcissism that such inner work can lead to and into the more transformative power of letting my vulnerability out, through the same power of writing.

Real also describes the relationship between depression and violence, namely the violence men perpetrate on other men, especially as boys. I understand this as well. I was a smart and sensitive boy, gifted with near sightedness and thick glasses. My peers teased me mercilessly about my lack of manhood whatever that means. I was called Gay and Queer as if those terms make one any less of a man. At that time it still hurt deeply. One guy even told me something like I might get good grades but he got the girls. Typical misguided macho stuff. But I believed it. It was only later when I looked back from the relatively safe vantage point of adulthood that I realized that girls and women were attracted to me mainly because I was a man that they felt safe with and could trust.

There were worse things done to me which for now will stay between me and my Maker. Suffice it to say that I have received more trauma than I have given. But I am not innocent. I have seen the monster within. I wrestle with him daily while at the same time comforting the boy who still cowers in pain nearby. It is a struggle but I must do so if I am to survive and be healed.

It seems that the only way left open for men and boys to prove their manhood is through violence. But we are not made to be this way. Depression arises out of the helplessness we felt when we were victimized by other men. It also arises out of the guilt we feel from when we victimize(d) someone else, man or woman.

But there was One who did not walk this way. He took the pain perpetrated upon him by other men; their abuse, their torture, their injustice, their hate, and He did not respond in kind. Even more astounding, He transformed it into new life, a way of love that encompasses everyone and everything.

That, my friend, is HOPE. I have never found a Man tougher or more tender. It takes a real man to face his pain, not throw it back in someone’s face, and come out on the other side striving to be a better son, brother, father, husband, and friend.

So Man Up. I mean, really. You, your loved ones, and the world deserve it. It’s time we made this crazy orb a safe place for everyone, especially other men.

Man Up Campaign

Man Up Ministry

The Meaning of Man Up

Posted in Longreads and Essays

Mothers of Peace

Today is a day set aside to honor mothers. As is the case in this country with most holidays that have been overtaken by rampant commercialization, it is easy to lose sight of the significant roots of Mother’s Day.

While we celebrate the mothers in our lives and the world over, we owe the prevalence of such a day to some amazing women who saw the day as a time for reconciliation and peace.

Women’s peace groups were the first to attempt to commemorate a “Mother’s Day,” primarily as a way for mothers from both sides of the Civil War who had lost children to gather together. Sporadic events were held throughout the next several decades. Ann Jarvis and her daughter Anna Jarvis are the two women credited the most with continuing the practice of a “Mother’s Friendship Day,” with the purpose of reuniting “families that had been divided during the Civil War.”

In 1872, Julia Ward Howe started a Mother’s Day of Peace as an anti-war observance in New York City which lasted a decade before it fizzled out.

Eventually in 1908, Anna Jarvis was able to officially observe a Mother’s Day at Andrew’s Methodist Episcopal Church in Grafton, West Virginia, the church where her mother taught Sunday School. Jarvis then campaigned for the day to become an official national holiday. West Virginia and other states passed legislation to do so. In 1914, Congress followed suit by passing a law whereby the second Sunday of May would be declared Mother’s Day. President Woodrow Wilson then issued a proclamation for citizens to wave the flag to honor mothers whose sons had been killed in war.

So Mother’s Day is rooted in the twin seeds of peace and reconciliation.

Let us never forget that.

Or our mothers.

May 13, 2012

Posted in Longreads and Essays

Freedom and the Fear of Death: Words from Dr. King

Dr. King once said “Until you conquer the fear of death, you don’t know what freedom is!”

I must admit that I am not free and have not been free for a long while. I have allowed Death to keep its sting. On this anniversary of the assassination of this great man, I am reminded that there is still a long way to go in this country and the world before we achieve the Dream. On this day with this faith I commit myself to change beginning with myself and with my fear of death. In other words, in a paraphrase from Gypsy Smith, “If you want to have revival, draw a circle around yourself and have revival in that circle.”

So I am drawing a circle around myself. I am stepping out of my comfort zone beyond talk into places and experiences that make me uncomfortable into an engagement with people different from me. I am not expecting people to come to me. I am not expecting change to knock on my door. I am going to change. I am opening the door to difference and walking out. I am going to face my own mortality and cease to be afraid of what might happen if my changing causes others to change, to be uncomfortable, and so strike back against that change and me.

Who am I to think that I must not suffer when I do anyway if one person in this world is suffering? Who am I to think that I must not hurt when I do anyway because one person in this world is hurting? Who am I to think that I must ignore death when my brothers and sisters the world over are giving their lives day in and day out because they cannot live as I do?

I do not know where this path will take me, but I do know this:
I am not alone and
I will not be afraid.

January 21, 2008

POETRY – Spring, When A Young Man’s Fancy Turns To . . . War

1 Comrades, leave me here a little, while as yet ’tis early morn:
2 Leave me here, and when you want me, sound upon the bugle-horn.

3 ‘Tis the place, and all around it, as of old, the recruiter’s call,
4 Sharp eyes gleaming, sugary voice calls me from my study hall;

5 This high school, my years of study here, I am done with it.
6 Now a uniformed friend has a proposition for this graduate.

7 Many a night, after homework, I dreamed ere I went to rest,
8 Of his words extolling me to rise up and fight for the West.

9 Many a night I saw the Pleiades, cutting the sky like a brand,
10 Glittering like my dreams of the exotica of foreign lands.

11 Here about the campus I wander’d, nourishing a youth sublime
12 With the fairy tales of math and science, and the long result of Time;

13 I thought of the years before me like a fruitful land reposed;
14 When I clung to all the present for the promise that it closed:

15 When I dipt into the future far as human eye could see;
16 Saw the Vision of the battlefield and where I would be.

17 In the Spring a fuller crimson comes upon the robin’s breast;
18 In the Spring a similar stain shall grace my broken chest;

19 It is Spring and the recruiter gestures me towards an open door;
20 It is Spring and a young man’s fancy lightly turns to thoughts of War.

Editor’s Note: Alfred Lord Tennyson’s poem Locksley Hall (1842) was used as the basis for this adaptation.

Posted in Stories and Fiction

Weekly Serial Book 1 Chapter 5: Witness Unseen

(Author’s Note: Early on in my blogging, to honor the old pulp magazine serials, I began a weekly serial series of my stories. I have decided to repost those stories in serial form. Each Friday will feature a new chapter until a story ends. Then I will begin a new story. Enjoy!)

Witness Unseen

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5 – The Final Chapter

I reach down with my mind and find him, lying there in the weeds. Thick mud settling, closing over his head. I wrench him free. Caress his tiny blue face and the life-beat throbs again. Rise to the surface with the child and set him free.

The child breaks through the surface of the lake with a rush of water and the father stares in disbelief as his son floats to him and falls into his arms.

Alive.

A life.

Trembling.

Puzzled.

Joy.

Father carries his child up from the lake to the house.

Wonder. And I?

I watch them go and slip back down into the depths.

To sleep.

My birth premature.

Sleep.

I am broken.

Sleep.

I will not awake.

Death.

Sleep.

Joy.

Posted in Stories and Fiction

Weekly Serial Book 1 Chapter 4: Witness Unseen

(Author’s Note: Early on in my blogging, to honor the old pulp magazine serials, I began a weekly serial series of my stories. I have decided to repost those stories in serial form. Each Friday will feature a new chapter until a story ends. Then I will begin a new story. Enjoy!)

Witness Unseen

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Closer.

I am waiting for my revenge.

Face turning blue and eyes wide closing.

I am waiting for my revenge.

Struggle, thrashing in the water about me, then stillness. A twitch.

I am waiting for my revenge.

Heartbeat throbbing and slowing. One beat. Two. Three ragged chords of life. Silence.

I am waiting for my revenge.
And then, a scream, not unlike one I have heard before. Of such pain and agony. Loss of one’s own. Pain. Helpless, hopeless loss and pain.

Scream of a man for his child.

She had cried thus. Scream. Piercing my soul like a thousand needles and ripping from me that unknown emotion. Scream.

And I know.