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 Musings and Reflections

Depression 1.13 – The 8 Slash 6 Cylinder Man

I have come to the conclusion that I fire on six cylinders.

The issue is that I am an eight cylinder man.

I can’t remember the last time I was firing on all of them.

They aren’t knocking yet, but it’s just a matter of time. There’s a lot of miles, hard ones, on the odometer.

It’s a wonder six are still firing. It makes it rather miraculous that I can make it through the day, let alone accomplish anything.

It seems I am pulling off on the side of the road to doze more often now. My mind knows where to go. I am just so tired and it takes so much fuel to figure out how to get there.

Others race by. Their exhaust exhausts me. Death is the end to this race. Why try to get there quicker?

Elegiac grips me until my mind spins.

Lethargy holds me down.

I am captured between the two, racing, yet going nowhere.

I am a six cylinder body with an eight cylinder mind.

Come close and you will catch the faint scent of burnt oil.

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

Posted in Longreads and Essays, PEACE GROOVES

You Scratch My Back – The Pacifist Itch

Pacifism is like that itch on your back in the place that you can’t reach no matter how hard you try.

I have found only three ways to scratch the itch.

1) I can rub my back against the nearest wall.

Pacifism begins with me. It is important that I take initiative and develop a conviction that peace is the way. But if all I do is rub my back against the nearest wall, then invariably the itch will return.

2) I can extend my reach with a backscratcher.

My conviction must lead me to discover the tools I need to be a better pacifist. Training and education in the ways of peace can extend my capacity to scratch the pacifistic itch.

3) Even better is having someone scratch that place for me. I can point them to the exact spot and they can tell me what is causing the itch.

My personal conviction and a full toolbox are not enough. Pacifism is best practiced within a community. I need to be in relationship with others with this same itch.

Together we can help each other discover the places that need our attention and in so doing become better pacifists.

Then we can give our full attention to this war-weary world and place our healing hands on its big broken back.

Midweek Essays are posted every Wednesday. Please see the publication schedule page for more info.

Posted in Longreads and Essays

Geometric Peace – I Seek to be a Parabola

Mathematically speaking the parabolic curve reflects any beam striking any place on the curve to a focal point. Parabola.

“Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words are worse.”

I have three choices:
A) Receive Pain – no response = bitterness growth, delayed psychotic reaction
B) Receive and Return – “an eye for an eye” – consciously open or subtly, demeanation = broken relationships, friendship alienation
C) Parabola – Receive, Reflect, Focus – acknowledge pain, transform into love action – “a way out is always provided” – attitude adjustment = health, healing, and transformation (inner and outer).

May 21, 1995

Posted in Longreads and Essays

True Acts of Valor – Biting Off Buttons

A MIDWEEK ESSAY

In past postings I have called attention to the troubling trend of merging entertainment with the military.

(see https://peacegrooves.wordpress.com/2012/02/02/going-past-midway-dont-tread-play-sing-dance-on-me/ and  https://peacegrooves.wordpress.com/2011/11/11/817/ )

Not too long ago a movie came out that featured Navy Seals in action – I guess as a way for the media to continue the Special Forces love fest so fresh after the killing of Osama Bin Laden. I have wanted to write something about the movie when it came out but wasn’t able to. It seems fitting to do so on Memorial Day.

I have many problems with the movie, but I will simply whip the same dead horse I seem to do so often. Such “entertainment” glorifies violence, trivializes the sacrifices of soldiers, citizens, and their families, and diminishes the enormous human and monetary costs of war. On this day, when we honor those who “serve” or “who have paid the ultimate price for our freedom,” I felt it was important to highlight those whose acts of valor are not memorialized, who in some cases gave their lives rather than kill others, and whose sacrifice paved the way for more democratic freedoms for citizens whose conscience objects to them going to war.

The following is an excerpt from an Amish Country News Article by Brad Igou http://www.amishnews.com/amisharticles/peopleofpeace.htm

The “war to end all wars” spelled problems for the Amish and Mennonites, whose Pennsylvania German dialect made them suspect in some people’s eyes. By this time, Amish dress and customs also made them more distinct from average Americans. The Amish declared conscientious objector (CO) status. As Albert Keim writes in THE AMISH AND THE STATE, “CO’s were drafted into the army and posted to military camps with the hope that they would enter noncombatant service.” The question then became one of how much to “cooperate.” Their resistance to wearing uniforms rather than their plain clothes, and their refusal to bear arms, resulted in harassment, beatings, and humiliation in many cases.

A book recounting these incidents called NONRESISTANCE PUT TO THE TEST was published in 1981. Particularly shocking were the experiences recounted by Menno Diener at Camp Taylor, Kentucky, where he witnessed the bayonet stabbing of one Amish boy. During the course of his stay, Menno protested having to wear a military uniform and take orders. Here is how he describes what followed…

So the commander got a broomstick and beat me across the legs till he broke his stick. I had streaks and swelling on my legs. Then he got a 2×4 about three feet long that had four spikes in one end, and threatened to hit me in the face with it. He put it near to my face and then back again like a ball bat and said, “If it weren’t for the law, I would like to see how far I could sink these spikes into your face.”

A few days later another boy, his face black and blue from beatings, was placed on display by a public road. Someone placed a sign on him that read, “I refuse to fight for my country.”

When camp officials were court martialed for their actions, the Amish refused to testify against them because “it would be helping to punish them and cause ill feelings between resisting and nonresistance, and be a poor light of Christianity in our church and background.”

The book contains stories of suffering in many other camps, including one where a boy was pulled for half a mile on the ground by a horse. At another camp in Georgia, a man was hung by a rope until unconscious.

According to Steven Nolt in his HISTORY OF THE AMISH, “Officers occasionally ‘baptized’ Amish COs in the camp latrines in mockery of their Anabaptist beliefs.”

In Kansas, Amish bishop Manasses Bontrager wrote a letter urging his members not to buy Liberty Bonds, and urging support of the Amish youth serving in the camps. In his words…

Many people can’t understand why we don’t want to defend our country. Christ said, “Render unto Caesar that which belongs to Caesar, and to God that which belongs to God.” Caesar protects our property, for which we should willingly pay our taxes as Christ asked us to…. But our coming in this world, our intellects, our physical powers — these do not belong to Caesar. If he claims them to defend him, Christ’s laws strictly forbid our yielding to such a claim.

A few months later, Bontrager was arrested by a U.S. Marshall and put on trial for Violation of the 1917 Espionage Act and was fined $500 for “inciting and attempting to incite subordination, disloyalty, and refusal of duty in the military and naval forces of the United States.”

When I was in college, one elderly gentlemen told me a story from WW I involving Amish as well. Amish Mennonite men imprisoned for their beliefs would take the buttons off of the clothes they were forced to wear. When they were handcuffed to keep them from doing so, they would bite the buttons off. I also read that some men were then forced to stand naked in their cells. The image of simple men behind bars with lips bloodied rather than wear clothes that resembled  a military uniform is one that shames and inspires me.

Contrary to popular belief, the military does not have an exclusive corner on fighting for one’s beliefs. Acts of valor have been occurring every day throughout the history of this country. Countless times, citizens (pacifists and others) have put their lives on the line to help, rather than kill others. Yet we do not see fit to memorialize this “army.”

My forbears, some of who are mentioned above, would not want to be recognized.

Yet doing so perhaps will redefine within the body politic such terms as: valor, freedom, sacrifice, service.

Then and only then will our country truly live up to the ideals it was founded upon and be a nation that exports life rather than death.

Originally posted May 28, 2012