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Saturday, May 23, 2020

What's really important: one person's opinion and a soulworm.


We are now well into the pandemic season that has shut down much of the U.S. and the world.  States and countries are starting to relax their restrictions and life is to a degree getting back to normal.  However, we are still far from in the clear.  Regarding pandemics, I've always thought of them in terms of an out of control contagion literally striking down everyone it comes across.  In other words, I hadn't really thought about it much.  What I thought was more like the Hollywood depiction of it.  What I've come to realize is that like earthquakes, there are magnitudes of disaster in pandemics.  Just like each earthquake isn't the 'big one' like the 1906 one that destroyed San Francisco, every pandemic is not the Spanish Flu or Bubonic Plague.  Covid-19 may not be the Spanish Flu or Bubonic Plague, but it is a game changer in some ways for sure.  Hopefully, it will be seen as a warning shot that we heeded for that day we might face an even more deadly and contagious flu or plague. 

What got me to think about all this was the movie Contagion.  It depicted a deadly pandemic originating out of Hong Kong.  By the end of the movie, we are told that it would infect 12% of the world with a 20-30% fatality rate before a vaccine would be widely distributed. In other words, deadly on a scale worse than WW2.   The movie opens up with Gweneth Paltrow's character exhibiting a rough cough.  She was on her way home from Hong Kong.  A few days later in dramatic fashion, she literally dies before her husband's eyes.  Her son--his stepston--dies also passes on from the deadly virus shortly thereafter.  This was just the opening sequence.  As we see during the movie, people are dying left and right.   This leads to chaos erupting--stores, pharmacies, banks, ect. are looted, mobs forming, fighting breaking out for limited supplies, states totally shutting down their borders and the government hiding out from the virus.   While, this is happening, her surviving spouse--played by Matt Damon--and his daughter are navigating their way through survival.  He's immune, but his daughter may not be.  So, it is his responsibility to protect his daughter's health and survival.  That means her and her boyfriend can see each other until there is a vaccine as he could theoretically pass it on to her.  

By the end of the movie, the vaccine had been developed and slowly being distributed.  Shortly after they receive the vaccine, Matt Damon's character relents and lets his daughter and her boyfriend get together at his (Damon's) place.  It is prom season and the we see that the family room is decorated for the occasion.  The young couple is in their prom finest.  In any case, before the boyfriend arrives, Damon's character notices on his camera pictures of his late wife and finally breaks down.  The movie closes out to the young couple dancing in the family hauntingly to All I Want Is You by U2.  It was the perfect close.  

Literally society and they in particular were impacted by the pandemic and their world was changed forever.  They lost loved ones close to them and a cross section of the population was gone forever.  There is no telling what all they lost during the pandemic:
  • Part of their family and likely friends.
  • Freedoms
  • Relative sense of invincibility.
  • Everyday things we take for granted.
  • Loss of the life they knew it.
The time before the vaccine was hard and they lost a lot. However, the remaining family--the dad and the daughter and the daughter and her boyfriend--had not lost each other.  It was a bittersweet time, but hey had kept their dignity, sense of right and wrong and most importantly kept each other.


Anyone who has experienced tremendous upheaval in their life, realizes that eventually that they following can be survived or replaced:
  • Job loss
  • Friend loss
  • Pat of your income.
  • Much of your material belongings
  • Bankruptcy.
  • Loss of part of the family
What ultimately matters is that we find ourselves left with ones who love and value us and that we keep our faith throughout it all.  They likely lost a lot, even part of their immediate family, but they hung in there and didn't lose each other.   I've heard that people are a social creature.  We aren't meant to be alone and unloved.  Heck, even in the Bible, God saw that Adam was lonely and made him a mate.  Now, there were problems in that relationship that led to the loss of Eden, but still the point remains.  Adam needed a mate.  So, I think what really matters is keeping those we love close, striving to treat each other well, valuing each other and the time we spend together and appreciating that we all are God's children. 

I've heard a song that you just can't shake to be an earworm.   Contagion and the way it ended were like a soulworm for me. I can't shake it.  The song it closes to, All I Want Is You, is desperate pleasing by Bono of really matters: You*.  An earworm, is a just something that captures you ear.  But, sometimes stories, events and circumstance just capture your imagination in a profound way, which to me is a soulworm.

During this pandemic, I hope and pray my loved ones and my readers and their loved ones keep are safe and keep remembering what is really important.

Peace out.

-- Rich
* It was a love song to his wife.

Friday, May 8, 2020

Nostalgic for the good times I never had.

Recently I watched Days of the Future Past.  It was a very intriguing X-Men movie with humankind and mutants fighting for their very survival against an Sentinels determined to wipe them out.   One of the mutants is able to project the mind of a mutant into their body in the past.  This would allow the mutant whose mind was projected into the past to effectively alter the past.   The idea was to project a mutant 
mind's back fifty years before the Sentinel program started.  Effectively, knowing what the future held, that mutant would try to halt the program in its tracks.  The Wolverine got projected around fifty years into the past into the body of a younger Wolverine.   In trying to change the past, The Wolverine needs to help from other mutants.   One of the mutants he needs is Quicksilver.  As you might guess has name implies that he can move at superspeed.   They need this power to get past security at the Pentagon where they were breaking out Magneto to help them on their quest.  During the rescue, the mutants are confronted by armed security who fire on them.  Quicksilver uses his superspeed to outrun the bullets and knock them away harmlessly and to disable the security.  This scene was played to "Time In A Bottle" by Jim Croce.

Later I looked up the song on YouTube and was looking at the comments.  One of the posters said the song made him "Nostalgic for the good time I never had."   That first struck me as funny, but then kind of bittersweet and tragic in a way.   I thought about it a bit more and realized what he might have meant.  The poster probably misses the 'old days'.  Not because they were perfect, but because he had his future ahead of him.   In other words, though the old days had their dysfunction there was a sense that there also opportunities, there were chances.  In other words, the future lay ahead of him.  What I hear in an echo of his words was a regret that things didn't turn out like they could (or should) have.  So, he's nostalgic for when he felt like his whole life lay ahead of him.  Mix that in with a little conflict that perhaps that maybe within the middle of the dysfunction, there were some good times in the distant past.

Future (looking forward from the past)
  • Is uncertain but there is plenty of opportunity.
  • Is something that we can look forward to hopefully when the present isn't satisfying.
  • Is limited only by our ability to dream.

Past  (looking backwards from the present)
  • Is something we grade based on what we thought we should have done or accomplished.
  • Is how things actually turned out rather than how we hoped they would.
  • Is limited by our inability to see good even when it appears none existed.

I think it's important to remember a few things about nostalgia.  Things weren't as good or bad as we remember them.  There may be good that we failed to see because we were focused on the hard times.  Alternatively, we may have failed to see that things may have turned out as good as (or even better than they should have).  You can speculate on what is the proper path, but you speculation is only as good as the information you have.  Similarly, you can speculate on what obstacles you may have to overcome, but life has a funny way of throwing you unexpected curveballs.  Just like at 2020 so far...   So, it is best to look for the hidden positives when looking back.  Similarly, it is best making the best decisions that you can with what you know and turn it over to your Higher Power.  With additional information that makes itself evident over time, you may realize there was a better way.  However, it is pointless to focus on it after the fact.  Beyond that, decisions and events don't happen in a vacuum.  Even if you could choose the other seemingly better path, there is no guarantee that the new path will not have new and harder obstacles.  For example, the car wreck you avoided might now be the car wreck you get into due to timing.  
So, like everything else, nostalgia can be a good thing, just don't live in it. 

Sunday, May 3, 2020

A Welcome Back: Finding your roots

Recently I stumbled upon the song "Welcome Back" when searching for another show's theme song.  Now I've heard this song literally probably one hundred times, but when I heard it, I was overcome by a wave of nostalgia.  Longing for the memories of times I never had--hat tip to a sarcastic comment to a YouTube commenter about Time In a Bottle.  But I digress.  At that time, as imperfect as it was, my nuclear family was together.  My parents and my second oldest brother were still alive.  I still had my whole future ahead of me, even as troubled, uncertain and not secure as it was at the time.

I had spent so much time trying to escape the shadow of my childhood and my early adulthood.  I don't necessarily blame anyone for it (as dysfunction often or usually has generational roots), but I was raised in a very dysfunctional family.  My dad was an alcoholic and my mom struggled with esteem issues.  With each parent, the issues had a generational root.  This dysfunction hurt my socialization and hindered my ability to fit in.  Furthermore, due to the times and issues my own parents faced, I was subjected to childhood sexual abuse by a "church camp counselor" and someone else whom I similarly held trust for.  Furthermore, my parents divorced when I was 15, leading me to effectively be the second parent in the household.  If that wasn't bad enough, I had a severe generalized anxiety disorder take hold when I was 17.   What could have been a time for me to savor, learn, and thrive was instead mostly a time to 'survive'.  The good times I held on tight to as I know they were a reprieve from the dysfunction.  As the good times came to a close, I dreaded and then mourned their passing.  Though I'd always had a firm set of beliefs, I didn't truly start to find myself until I was in my mid to late 20s and began the process of healing at that point.  It wasn't truly healing so much as effectively covering the wounds from being exposed.  Though I remembered my childhood, in some ways, I pushed it and my early twenties away as a time to forget.  I got married in the middle of this process and completed a process of starting a new life.  Though I remembered my childhood, I continued to push it away.

You can only escape your past and roots for so long before you have to come to terms or peace with them.  As long as I had my 'new life' up and running, it was easy to just ignore my roots.  But, just like lunch and recess end in grade school and you have to get back to class, life has a way forcing you to 'get back to class'.  For me, my 'get back to class' moment started in 2011 with my divorce & all that went with it, my job loss and my brother's suicide.  I started to really process backwards at that point, but was I was still fighting to survive until 2013.  In 2013, my divorce was finalized and my job situation stabilized.  This allowed me to shift more towards process mode.  I had my "Welcome Back" moment on flight out to Salt Lake City for training.  I was all alone heading towards a city I didn't know anyone in with only my iPod to keep me company.  I had started to listen to the music of my childhood and my early adulthood leading up to my marriage.  As I was listening I was overcome by a wave of nostalgia and sadness.  I was literally remembering where I was and what I was doing during at the time that I embraced each song.  I had built a new life starting in my mid-twenties and had largely pushed aside my old life, without having effectively processed it.  I wasn't that my new life was a fraud so much as it was a new chapter in a story, where the old chapters were not completed or built up properly (processed).  But, it was just me, a plane full of strangers and my music.  This was a very bittersweet moment.  I could have put away the music, but I knew that wasn't the answer.  So, I continued the search.  I realized that the 'old days' though not perfect had their moments too and that they shouldn't be shunned.   Really, it was like another turning point.   I was in the beginning the long road to learning to embrace the past without the weight of the hurt.  I had been able to move forward much earlier with some level of healing, but some or much of deep healing wasn't there yet.

After my divorce, I'd moved back to my hometown and though it had changed a lot, the memories were still there.  Shortly afterwards, it became clear that dad was no longer in a position to take stay  at home, even with help.  He kept falling and no one could be there 24/7 to help him.  After his final fall at home, the staff a the hospital and I encouraged him to move to a nursing home.  But what to do with his place, my birth home?  He would pass away within the next two years, but in the meantime, it need a caretaker.  I eventually moved back there to watch over it, manage it and his affairs in the last year of his life.  I had literally moved in the room of my teens.  As a teen, my education was my 'ticket out', but 25-30 years later I can come face to face with the place of childhood and specifically.  Once again, bittersweet, but it gave my time to see the place (and maybe my childhood and teens) in a different way.

In Welcome Back, Kotter, the man character, Kotter, was a remedial student in a group called the "Sweathogs".  Life had brought him full circle and now he was a teacher at his high school.  Ironically enough, he was teaching a new group of "Sweathogs".   But, instead of being a troubled teen, he was now a man who had learned from and could now impart knowledge and hope from experience to the same type of kids he used to be.   Just like Kotter, I saw the old 'hangout' from a different perspective.  I didn't 100% embrace it like Kotter, but I was able to look at it more objectively.  It's been 5 years since my dad passed away and since that moment ended.  But, I still look at it as learning experience.

So, what can we learn?

Embracing the Past, finding your inner Kotter
  • Realizing that the 'old days', even as rough as they may have been, still had there moments.  (Jewels in the Darkness).
  • Realizing that you can push back on processing the hard times, but eventually it is healthiest if you face them.  You don't have to face them on their terms.  As an adult, with life experiences, we don't have to see things as we used to.   The bully of your childhood might have been a jerk, but he may have been dealing with his own inner demons at home, for example.  Time and wisdom can grant you that clarity.  
  • Realize that that was a different time and place and you faced hard times as best as you knew how at the time.  Sure we can look back and think, I should have reacted differently, protected myself better, etc.  But, that's looking at things from an 'adult' perspective.
  • Realizing hard experiences you faced early on have
    • Given you the confidence or strength to face adversity throughout life. 
    • Given you the ability to pass on hard-earned wisdom.  

Aspects of the past or your roots may not be pleasant to face.  But, instead of avoiding them or pretending them it is best if you are able to welcome them back and consider them part of who you are.  You don't have to live in that place, but you it is best if you are able to mentally able to 'visit' it without living in the hurt.  Just because the roots were imperfect doesn't mean they can or should be ignored.  Just as with a tree, treating or addressing damaged roots, can improve our long term health (physical, emotional and spiritual).  So, just like Kotter, welcome your roots back.

- Rich 


Saturday, May 2, 2020

Knowing when to smile at ignorance and when to fight it.

I was searching for a song or video via Google and YouTube the other day and I ran across a song and lyrics that I hadn't listen to in a long time.  Many moons ago, Sting wrote and sang on his second album a song called An Englishmen in New York.   One line that stood out in that song was "It takes a man to suffer ignorance and smile".   I've never forgot that line.  As a kid with low self-esteem, a dad with a dominant personality and four older siblings, I was trained to accept ignorance. Now I didn't smile, but I accepted it, but never forgot it.  As I left my family of origin, got older, got success under my belt and became a parent, I became more assertive and advocated for myself more.  I've detailed how 2011  was a pivotal year in my life.  I lost a long-time job, my first marriage crumbled, I was well on my way to bankruptcy and losing my house and probably most importantly my closest sibling took his own life.  The last event as much as anything broke the dam in terms of me having any serious reservations about standing up for myself.  I realized he never truly stood up for himself properly which cost him the possibility of healthy relationships (and a family of his own), career and financial success and most importantly his dignity.  It's been nearing 9 years, but I still miss him.  I digress, however.

My brother's death, along with the hardships I was going through at the time woke me up to something: The cost of not advocating for one's self properly.   He'd been ridiculed as child, had been take advantage/abused as a child and an adult, had been overlooked as a possible companion and been overlooked as a valuable contributor for a job that suited his intellectual gifts.  All of this weighed on him heavily.  When financial hardship that threatened his ability to 'make it' came, it was just too much for him.  It cost him his life.  I'd been subjected to much of the same thing he had and yet I some how 'made it'.  However, as I previously mentioned, it was not a banner time for me either.  It woke me up.  The old Rich that tolerated any ignorance, slights, being minimized, ignored or shut down and/or being taken advantage of, disappeared quickly.  I was angry for my brother and I realized my role as a dad, especially that I hoped my daughter could be proud of was at stake.  Some that had known me for a long time were surprised by the transformation.  Some were not ready to accept it and I had to 'remind' them that the old me had been sent packing.  This was good and bad.   Obviously, this had been long in the making and had been long overdue.  However, the anger at what happened with my brother, my slights and the slights to my family--including family of origin--drove me.   If I were honest, I'm still processing some of it.  The toxic political climate of the past decade (or two) hasn't helped either, but I digress.  

This all leads to a question.   What is the proper balance between suffering ignorance and fighting it?  I'm not going to pretend I have the right answer or that this is not a work in progress for me.  But then again, that answer may be different for different people.  So, I'm going to explore this subject a little bit, throw out a few ideas and leave it up to the reader to figure out their sweet spot.

Before I delve further let me define ignorance.
  • Slights
  • Insults/Slanders/Libels/Taunts
  • Threats
  • Negative actions

Continuing on...  When should I smile and when should I refrain from smiling?

  • Does the ignorance harm you only?
    • I believe many people will tell you they can roll with punches.  However, when the ignorance is directed at their loved ones, especially their children, it seems to be a different story. In that case, I believe most people push back more.
    • I believe when it is directed at the ones you love, especially where they are looking at you for protection, it is more permissible to engage it to defend on their behalf. 
      • I would consider however, if I am undermining them jumping in. 
      • Sometimes, they need to practice or learn how to defend themselves.
  • How much harm would tolerating the ignorance cause?
    • Will the person delivering the ignorance be seen as petty, insignificant and harmless?   If so, it may not be worth the trouble as you could literally get caught up with these types every day.
      • Put another way, is the cause even worth it?
    • Could the ignorance undermine your authority or cause harm to you, loved ones or your 'neighbors'.   If so, challenging the ignorance may not only be a tolerable course of action, but actually the responsible course of action. 
  •  How much harm could fighting the ignorance lead to?
    • Is the ignorance too strong to fight at that point?
      • Sometimes the timing just isn't right.  Considering fighting the battle another day. 
    • Will fighting the ignorance put an end to it have little impact or could it just make things much worse.  
      • Sometimes the person who tailgates you and then cuts you off won't learn anything if you lay on the horn.  It won't stop him or her from cutting you again or others.
      • Sometimes engaging the idiot driver who cuts you off, could cause further problems on the road.  He or she might get pissed off that you are 'calling them' out and slam on their brakes.

In the Bible, my Higher Power (God) states:
There is a time for everything,
    and a season for every activity under the heavens  (Ecclesiastes 3:1)

So yes, there is a time to suffer ignorance and smile and a time to call it out.  A man (woman) will tend to have a better idea of the timing.  In society today, we could literally spend our time stewing in or dealing with the ignorances we are subjected to every day, but that doesn't move us forward.  That keeps us stuck in the anger and/or resentment.  So, it is best to consider the cost/benefit of suffering ignorance quietly vs. the cost of engaging it and calling it out.

Just some thoughts. 

-- Rich