Put the “Human” in Humanity

Humanity is a word. As with any other word, it lumps everything into one category. But our society is anything but one anything. We are wildly different in a myriad of ways. In this country in particular we are hopelessly divided. Politics and self-interest are everywhere. In many cases people are angry and hostile. I posted a meme about people hoarding supplies and one of my friends commented “Fucking Democrats” as a response. I told him that there is no room for that on my page, he’s a Freemason like myself. Inappropriate, unacceptable and unnecessary. But very common these days.

I was mortified…then inspired.

I re-watched Schindler’s List today.You may think it is an odd choice given its horrific content but it was exactly what I needed on a day otherwise filled with doom and gloom, stories of people behaving badly and charts showing rapidly spreading red spots on the maps of our country and the world. I needed a dose of Humanity. Is there a better movie or topic to remind us of what we are and what we can be if left to our own devices?

There a lot of people doing a lot of good things. People helping their neighbors, donating vital supplies to medical professionals, donating their time. But there are a lot of people behaving badly and they put me in the mood for a refresher.

Right now there are people with a 6 month to a year’s supply of toilet paper and disinfecting supplies. More milk and bread than they can ever consume. Vital supplies have been hoarded to “stock up” or sell at tremendous markups for personal gain. All while others, especially the elderly who aren’t fast enough to race in the store and strong enough to fight the mobs, go without. Many now have too much while others have none at all.

Enter Schindler’s List. A critical scene (one of many) is of a boy selling caramels in a crowd of people who are fairly aware that they are going to either die or suffer tremendously. The boy sells the tiny candies at a tremendous profit and one of the people remarks “What is he going to do with the money?”

Is it worth it to take a “Fuck everyone” mentality? Was it really the first instinct of a LOT of people to hoard and deny? Are we ok with the most vulnerable among us going without?

Bad situations bring out the best and the worst of us. Schindler’s List is a sobering and wonderful reminder of what we are capable of doing and also what we are capable of not doing. The German people were capable of being spectators as murder on a inconceivable scale occurred. The Jews were capable of banding together under horrific circumstances to save each other. If you have seen the movie there is a scene in which some women, pre-physical by the Nazi’s, cut their fingers and shared their blood to wipe on each others face to look healthy. To avoid execution. Some shared tiny hiding spaces in walls and floors.

And some didn’t

Some had room and turned people away. Many Jews sold their souls to save themselves. They took jobs to help the Nazi’s in the form of liaisons. Under the guise of “helping” with lists and other horrific housekeeping they were complicit in sending their own people to their deaths as they stood and watched. I always wondered how they lived with themselves. Even though I know the answer. When faced with terrible times, sometimes people make the wrong decision.

Oskar Schindler made the right one. He tried to help. He is an extreme example because he gave his actual everything to save as many people as he could but the fact is that he thought of others when he could have easily only thought of and protected himself.

I am as high risk as humanly possible in the face of this virus. I’m immunosuppressed and on dialysis. I shouldn’t even leave the house but I will if I find that there is someone who needs assistance in shopping, getting medications or other needs. My first instinct is of course to protect myself, but not so powerful as to forget other people. We’re not Democrats or Republicans. We’re not gay or straight. We’re not Millenials, Gen X or Z’ers. We’re not those who believe Pineapple belongs on pizza vs. those who don’t. We are all people and we have to come to one critical realization.

We’re all in this together.

Humanity. It’s not just a word. Let’s be human.

political toxicity and the great epiphany

About a week ago I read a FB post of a dear friend. This particular guy is a fellow blogger whom I have a lot of respect for. As I prepared to read his post I braced myself for about 800 words that I would only agree with about 100. And that’s OK, I believe it’s good to expose yourself to material you don’t agree with. It’s called being open-minded and I really, truly strive to be just that

Or so I thought.

As it turns out…my self-proclaimed open-mindedness needs some work.

He brilliantly wrote about the Democratic field, his take on who he thinks is his favorite (s) and why. I bristled and bit my tongue as I read it but I kept reading. I disagreed so vehemently, with him and with the candidates and policies in general, that I reacted. I acted hatefully, intolerant and totally out of character. I surprised and embarrassed myself.

In fairness, my response was along the lines of being surprised at his left-leaning tendencies because I have always, mistakenly, thought that he was a moderate. But in the process of composing my response I attacked the candidates he supports. I even made a very unfair gay comment about Mayor Pete. Well, he called me on it. Not just the gay comment but my attacks on the candidates. I was surprised at the fury of his response because, as I said, my overall intent was to question how far left his beliefs were. Having said that, I got what I deserved and more.

I was told that my gay comment was out of line. He was right.

I was told that I was wrong in my assessment of the candidates he endorsed. We’re both right because this is still America.

He told me that I didn’t understand Democratic Socialism, Socialism or Communism. I didn’t agree at all, if nothing else I never speak of something that I don’t know of. I called him on that.

Then came the one thing that I strongly disagreed with, a topic that I didn’t challenge him on, a topic that is instead the topic of this post…he said that I didn’t understand people.

He couldn’t be more wrong.

Here’s the deal. We live in a toxic political environment, one that has permeated almost every crack and crevice in society and we have devolved from disagreement with civil discourse to digging trenches and taking sides. These sides have divided friends, couples and society in general. Now, if you hold a viewpoint that someone disagrees with it is personal and in some cases you are attacked.

As a conservative I have formulated a defensive attitude about my politics because I and people who share my beliefs are being attacked. Daily. It is an absolute true statement that if you support our president than you are believed to be one step away from shaving your head and donning a white hood. When your beliefs are constantly attacked, it is almost impossible not to be defensive. It feels personal and when we are personally attacked we lash out.

Unless we have the ability to control our initial, knee jerk reaction and take a deep breath. I needed to do that and I didn’t. I regret it.

I can’t change today’s political environment but I can change how I react to it.

My friend, if you’re reading this please accept my apology for my unwanted sentiments and I hope you read and appreciate my rebuttal.

I disagree with but respect your opinions. Above all else I respect any informed opinion and deeply believe that our political process requires, dare I say demands differences and a consequent civil exchange of ideas with tolerance of different viewpoints. I truly and profoundly dislike the entire pool of Democratic candidates because they don’t share my vision for my country. For you, they do and I need to respect that. But is it wrong to ask the same of you?

If I may circle back to the comment you made about my not understanding people…I want to thank you for that because it gave me something to think about. My question, after days of pondering it is as follows; is it possible, despite being on exact opposites of the spectrum politically, that in the end we want the same things?

Democrats and Liberals, there was once a distinction but not anymore (change my mind), have always held a grip on being the champions of the poor, the marginalized and downtrodden. I have always disagreed with that, I believe many people of my ilk, the dreaded “conservative” also care deeply about the same demographic.

I know I do.
I want an end to poverty, hunger, and homelessness.
I wish for a stop to endless wars.
I wish everyone had health care
I want a balanced budget and to eliminate the burgeoning deficit.
I wish for an end to institutional racism.

I understand and care about people more than you will ever know.

There are so many issues that our current administration is not addressing but overall, I supported the candidate that most shares my beliefs. This doesn’t, and shouldn’t, disqualify me as a compassionate person. I volunteer at food banks, I help old ladies with their shopping carts, I donate money I don’t have and I am always on the lookout for an opportunity to commit a Random Act of Kindness. So I am curious why my behavior didn’t reflect that. Fortunately, I had an epiphany and I learned once and for all that I need to do and be better.

My friend, I do care about people and I hope that my future behavior supports that. Thank you for putting me in my place. With the exception of the lectures questioning my education level, I got a lot out of it.

At the end of the day, everything is about people. And my, let’s face it, everyone’s politics should be ultimately about people. Regardless of who you support, no one, including myself has the right to tell you that you are wrong. We’re both right, we’re both wrong but we’re all brothers and sisters.

That is one thing that will always be a wonderful thing about this country that we both call home.

3,2,1…Hope

I have again been invited to participate in a quote challenge. My participation in such challenges is spotty at best but I want to introduce you to Lisa @ All About Life. She has a great blog. She’s very positive in her posts, interesting, a loyal follower, great commenter and a all-around cool chick. If you read her, you will want to follow her. Thank you Lisa for the challenge.

Today’s topic is Hope. A perfect topic for me to discuss. My entire life centers around it. I walk this earth with the belief that things are one way or the other. I have been called “Black and White” many times in my life and it wasn’t a compliment. I never backed down from it. I believe in absolutes, especially in matters of attitude. One thing that has always sustained me, that has drawn the respect and admiration of my peers, is my optimism.

When you are chronically ill you really have only 2 choices in how you approach life. Negative or positive. You either dwell on your situation and ask “why me”? or you deal with it by getting through the hard days, rejoicing in the good days and always, always look forward to the time when you will feel better every day. Even if that day never comes…live life as if it will.

I can think of no better way to discuss hope than to showcase my favorite movie, The Shawshank Redemption. If you haven’t seen it, the nuts and bolts of it is a innocent man sentenced to life in a brutal prison. Can you imagine being innocent, jailed for life and screaming with all of your being that you don’t belong there? How long must a day be, what motivates you to get up and live with that crushing weight on you?

To start things off, the best quote of the movie is
Quote # 1

Andy Dufesne

Doesn’t this say it all? While it doesn’t explicitly have the word hope in it, it is the true essence of hope itself. This is my philosophy in a nutshell. Negative vs positive, backwards vs forward. Optimism, hope itself is a choice. The choice you make will determine your path and how others perceive you. I choose to get busy living because, even if I was in prison, I would always believe that I would be vindicated eventually. The truth always reveals itself and I would want to be there when it does. I choose to get busy living.

“Red”


This is the flip side of hope. When you look at your situation and determine that it is indeed going to define you and therefore hope is fruitless. In this case Red has resigned himself to being institutionalized for life. The walls he used to challenge had begun to give him security. The idea of a life outside of those walls became a fantasy, one that became dangerous. It challenged his reality. My only challenge to this, and again I have never been faced with such circumstances, is that one never knows the future. If you aren’t open to the possibility that tomorrow may hold a surprise then you reduce the likelihood of it happening. In this case, Red was paroled and he was suddenly faced with a whole new set of “hopes”. Ones that were once impossibilities became his new reality.

“Hope springs eternal” is a popular saying. There is a caveat…you need to be open to it. Choose hope. Don’t complain. Noone needs to hear it, it accomplishes nothing, and at the end of the day that may be how you are remembered. 

You don’t want that.

I’m not going to nominate anyone, but feel free to play along. I’d love to see what you come up with.

Sold!

“Would anyone else like to speak?” the moderator asked as she peered around the room.
I raised my hand, she acknowledged me and I went to the podium.
“Hi I’m Bill.”
“Hi Bill!” the many members in attendance roared in unison.
I paused to collect myself. “I’m addicted to American Pickers.”

Of course, this hasn’t happened in real life, I just wanted to get your attention. But if such a group exists, I may have to grab a meeting someday. I am completely and utterly captivated by the show. Ok, addicted.

Mike and Frank are “the pickers”, antique enthusiasts that cross the country in their signature white van chasing the next great “pick” based on leads from Nicole, who holds the fort down at the shop and fields calls from people who want Mike and Frank to check out their collections of all things old, retro and vanishing from the American landscape.

There is so much for me to love about this show. I love old things, I am a history buff, a seasoned negotiator and I love a good story. I think I am a lot like Mike and Frank. Where most see junk, we see memories and a glimpse of days gone by. We live by the mantra “one man’s junk is another man’s treasure. “

Mike and Steve go to houses, museums, warehouses, barns, storage containers and open fields in search of the next old/new thing. They get to know the owners, they get the backstory of why they collect or how they came across their forgotten treasures. Cars, toys, signs, shoes, juke boxes, photographs, truly anything can be found. When others open a barn door and retreat when greeted by the smell of mold and decay, Mike and Frank roll up their sleeves, put on gloves and climb over heaps of clutter in search of unique items that they can sell for a modest profit. As they do, I find myself captivated at what they may come up with.
pickerspickers4

I love the stuff. Seeing old Gas Station signs, board games, a rotting “Bob’s Big Boy” statue, a ’37 Harley Knucklehead with a sidecar, Flintstones lunchbox or a vintage Coca Cola sign really brings out the nostalgic side of me. And I get off on the enthusiasm, knowledge and respect Mike and Frank show the objects and owners alike.

It’s fun to find out who is a seller and who isn’t. Who is willing to let their stuff go and who will cling to it. The Pickers are wholesalers, they need to pay wholesale in order to sell for a profit. Some people are so sentimentally attached to their items they just won’t sell. The Pickers don’t get mad if they don’t get their item. They understand and respect it. They may leave just happy to have held that vintage GI Joe doll or Easy Bake oven. They love the process.

Maybe it’s the old auction guy in me but I so enjoy the negotiating process. They know what stuff is worth but never try to underbid and take advantage of the seller, and most know exactly what their stuff is worth. The Pickers offer a fair price and the real treat is when they tell someone that an item that they thought was worthless is actually worth serious money. And the Pickers pay it, if they agree to sell. You still have that guy, like on Pawn Stars, that wants 50 bucks for something, gets offered 10,000 and then counters at 11,000. You originally wanted 500! But, that’s human nature. Most items start at a fair bid, a chin scratch from the collector, a high counter offer and then a concession from the pickers. I’ve been around such transactions for decades in my career but I still watch in fascination. More often than not it ends up as a sale and the trademark handshake and verbal exclamation of “SOLD.” If they but 50 items, they shake on it each and every time. An old fashioned-gesture in a modern world.

All of the above are solid motivators to make me come back to the show week after week. But there is a much greater draw for me and that is the people behind the junk. It is the backstory behind the item and the tales of the collector. I have seen people that I would give anything to meet, to sit in their glorious, dusty personal museums and listen to their stories.

Oh, the stories. There is the man who finally agreed to open his late father’s garage to reveal a collection of all that is the motorcycle and talks fondly about his dad. There is the couple that once ran with Andy Warhol and have hundreds of pictures to prove it. There’s the elderly man selling rusty, abandoned pieces of his old amusement park who tells with a tear in his eye of the joys of seeing the smiles of the children as they rode in the Rocket Ship cars and miniature trains so many years ago.

Almost all of the collectors have one thing in common, they are middle aged to elderly and are connected to their treasures in a way that most in our throw-away society cannot relate. They come from or have a deep respect for the generation that knew how to build things that lasted. The generation that fixed things instead of discarding them. These collectors, as well as Mike and Frank, recognize that their belongings serve as a time capsule and a representation of a generation gone by. They hold onto their belongings until the right guy comes by, and it feels like the right time to let it go. Not to a junkyard or a landfill, but instead to someone who loves it as much as they and will promise to share it with the world so that the magical memories will live on. That someone is The Pickers. They are the Archeologists of Antiques, the enthusiasts of other’s crap, the curators of curiosities, and they are dedicated to preserving yesterday for the sake of tomorrow.

The show stirs up a wonderful memory of my Grandfather’s garage. It was a converted barn and I spent hours fishing through it when I was a child. He had so many old coffee and oil cans, tools, posters and auto parts to fit cars that weren’t made anymore. He never threw any of it away. I still have a license plate of his from 1929 on my wall. It was on his first car. I wish he was still around, so that we could drive the back roads of NH and Maine. We would drive by barn after barn and nod at each other, because we would be thinking the same thought…what treasures are behind those doors?

hipster

I see you there
with the skinny jeans
your Che Guevera shirt
surplus military jacket
and silly wool hat
In the summer heat
You’re so delightfully ironic
Take another selfie
The world is waiting
Holding its breath
To LIKE your pic

You reject all that is
the status quo
Just one thing?
Do you know
what it is that you don’t?
You talk the talk
You’ve learned your lines
Your indoctrination complete
but can you speak for yourself?
You challenge
Rebel and dispel
Then expel
the lies you are fed
As easily as you reject
Those that know the world
Yet it would be odd
If the young had wisdom

Free thought is still free
But you join the sheep
grazing on the grass
that was planted for you
yonder meadow calls
if you have the goddamn balls
to put down the phone
and try some of its own
different
controversial
unpleasant
real grass

Youth is wasted on the young

The Reunion

When the 5th Reunion invite arrived I immediately discarded it. Likewise with the 10th. I wasn’t ready. The scars were still fresh and sore to the touch. When I opened my mailbox to see the invitation to the 15th, I decided I would go.

I arrived, with my wife of three years on my arm and a bad attitude. I had caustically joked to her in the elevator that “the same people that didn’t talk to me in HS can have the luxury of not talking to me tonight.” I left that night not knowing if I was right or wrong, her father had a heart attack and we hurriedly left after only an hour.

I skipped the 20th. And the 25th. I was too busy, too tired, too fat, too poor, too unsuccessful…let’s face it…too full of excuses. I just wasn’t in a good place. I wasn’t prepared to talk to people about my life because I felt like a failure. I had visions of regaling people with details of my remarkably mediocre life and then sit in the corner and drink until it was time to slip out the door.

I went to the 30th with a slightly better attitude. I reconnected with a few old friends and made small talk with quite a few people. But I confirmed that I was still largely a Ghost. The people that didn’t talk to me in HS didn’t talk to me then, my caustic joke  of 15 years before had proved correct. It would later occurr to me that I didn’t talk to them 30 years ago either. It was a sobering, powerful lesson. You get what you put into things. I decided that I hated reunions and would likely not attend another.

My terribly negative, yet persistent view of Reunions had clearly stemmed from my HS experience, or lack of therein. I left HS unfulfilled and unhappy. I had few friends, few prospects, and few memories. I tried too hard to fit in. When I failed to, I drew within. I walked the halls looking at my feet instead of making eye contact. I worked a lot. I dropped out of clubs and quit teams when I got the slightest bit of grief from classmates. I ran Cross-Country because it was a solitary sport.  For years to come I blamed others for my lack of fulfillment because I wasn’t yet mature or aware enough to put the blame squarely where it belonged, on myself.

It was liberating to stop casting blame. Reviewing my High School years with a clear, honest eye, I realized that it was mostly a giant missed opportunity. A regrettable one at that.

When I received the invitation to the 35th Reunion I immediately decided that I would go. It was time to cast the monkey off of my back once and for all.

When I arrived at “The Shoe”, the place was full. I took a deep breath and walked in. I wasn’t concerned with “measuring up” against others, and I was genuinely interested in the lives of my peers without the burden of jealousy or envy. Fully prepared to say, if asked:

“Hi, I’m Bill. You probably don’t remember me. I was the color of the walls in HS. I went on to have a unremarkable career and a failed marriage. I’m on Disability. I lost almost everything to End Stage Renal Disease and I may not be alive for the next one of these. But I have 4 amazing children that I live for.
It’s goddamn good to see you though. Hey, where are you going?!?!?!?!?”

I never had to say that. Here is what happened instead.

Everyone looked great. Everyone was happy. Drinks flowed and conversation roared. The people that I recognized, I talked to.  I had a few conversations with people that I didn’t know so well. I saw most of the people that I had hoped to and definitely missed opportunities to chat with some that, after 35 years, were still strangers to me. I mused to myself, as I sat in the corner nursing a beer, the old proverb “A stranger is a friend you haven’t yet made.” As true as it was, it was a bit late for that with most in the room. I needed to be OK with that.

I left early. I didn’t feel well and was struggling with light-headedness and headaches all night. But I’m glad that I attended. For so many years I actually thought that I was the only one who had struggled in HS. That everyone else loved High School and would all grow to be happy, well-adjusted adults but me. It was when I realized that life maybe didn’t turn out for them as planned, that they maybe struggled in HS, and life after as well, that I finally gave myself a break. Life doesn’t always turn out the way you planned. All I can say is, I struggled for years to find myself, until I realized I was me all along.

It was great to see everyone. I wish I knew you all better. I wish I had made more memories to laugh and reminisce about. Alas, as the saying goes…there is no second chance to make a first impression.

 

The End of Faith? — Tom Being Tom

Faith. Many of us have struggled with it our entire lives. Many of us will never truly reconcile the notion of a higher power. Unfortunately, we also fall terribly short in being able to discuss our differences on this complex and polarizing subject.

And then Tom of Tom Being Tom wrote this. Which I will now share for your reading pleasure. Do you follow Tom? If not I only have one question…why wouldn’t you?

I don’t believe in gods. Those of you who know me know that well, and those of you with even a passing sense of who I am probably understand that, too. 38 more words

via The End of Faith? — Tom Being Tom