Friday, August 22, 2014

Going to the Doctor

New York State requires physicals for each youth that is entering the tenth grade. It's the final time that the state takes an interest, as such, in the well-being of the children it requires to attend school, mainly because kids can drop out within a couple of years of the time they can enter the tenth grade. I've had health insurance for Sabrina for a long time now (I think I added her to my insurance less than a year after I started working for my employer, well over a decade ago), and so going to the doctor with her has never been a problem or a hassle, as far as access to care.
What I struggled with in the beginning was finding a regular pediatrician for her. I wanted to take her to the doctor my two older daughters have gone to for the length of their lives, but when Sabrina was a preschooler, her mother was more involved in her care, and her mother was adamant that Sabrina was not going to go to the doctor her half-sisters were--MOTY had all sort of issues with anything to do with my ex-wife, and it often manifested itself in silly ways like this. When MOTY was with Fiance Number Five when Sabrina was in the first grade, she moved, for a year, to Chenango Bridge, and ended up setting Sabrina up with the same pediatrician as her other two (at the time) children, less than a mile from where she was living at the time. I was dubious, given MOTY's usual acumen at making decisions, whether this was going to turn out well.
But even a stopped watch is right twice a day, and Sabrina, all this time later, is still a patient of Dr. Mullen (MOTY's problems in the decision-making arena have manifested themselves in the fact that her other children are no longer patients there). Dr. Mullen is a bit of a strange duck; he has hippie-length gray hair, and has the aura of Seventies Party Guy With A Real Job. He also is apparently disorganized; he is forever late. We usually make appointments for first thing in the morning, and he still is twenty minutes behind schedule even then. I just found out on this most recent visit a possible reason why; he has six kids of his own, and some of them are apparently still in the home. But the six kids point to an essential quality of his that helps him in his job--he genuinely cares about and loves children, which one would think is a prerequisite for being a pediatrician, but oftentimes does not seem to be the case. This last appointment, a few days ago, was at 3:30 in the afternoon, and I didn't even bother getting to the office until 3:35, because I knew he would be running way behind by that time of the day. Even knowing this, though, did not prepare me for the wait we eventually endured; it was 4:45 before the nurse took us back, and then it was another forty minutes before the doctor actually came in. I am not the most patient of people in the best of circumstances, and I was really aggravated by the time he came through the door, vowing that this was the last time I was going to deal with this chronic lateness, that there was no good reason to have to devote 2 1/2 hours to a doctor's visit.
And then twenty minutes later, I left the place all smiles again, remembering why we've come back all these years. Dr. Mullen is a throwback to an earlier era, the doctor that actually sits down with a patient and gets to know them on some level. The reason he is always running real late is that he takes his time when he is in the room and finds out what's going on with the kid he's seeing. I have been to countless walk-ins and dealt with a few regular practitioners in my life, and the only other doctor I've seen that actually does this is my own personal doctor--the big reason I've stayed with her for two decades. And while he was going through the form, he asked a bunch of questions of both of us, actually paid attention to the answers, and gave Sabrina some information regarding some of her sports-related concerns that was helpful. He also, as he has done every time he has seen her since she was about nine, told her that she is welcome to call his office should she have concerns that she is not comfortable sharing with me, and also that she should keep me informed as much as possible about physical issues, even if they are 'women issues'. He's well aware of what has happened in our lives regarding her mother in the last few years, and has discussed prevention and coping strategies together with us and also individually with both of us--and not in a cursory fashion, but in a way that tells me he has some experience with dealing with families where addiction is present and also that he knows that addiction is more than just dealing with the drug use.
It's very good to know that when you take your kid to the doctor, that you know that you're not just a chart number, or that the doctor is merely doing what he/she does for a living. I understand that not everyone brings the passion to their vocation all day every day--but I have seen too many doctors that are obviously in it for the money, and too many doctors and nurses that are totally burned out on dealing with other human beings for a living. For whatever reasons, I've been very blessed to find two doctors--three, counting the nurse practitioner that was stationed in the clinic that was based in Sabrina's elementary school--that were and are still passionate about what they do after years in the field, and that their passion shows up in the quality of care that they provide. Does it make it any easier to sit in a waiting room for two hours? No, it doesn't make it easier--but it keeps me in the waiting room. Sabrina is as healthy as she is in no small part because of Dr. Mullen, and it's really unthinkable at this point that I would switch providers for her. This is how medical care is supposed to work, and in our family, at least, it has had the desired effect.
And with this out of the way, Sabrina is nearly ready for the tenth grade. Which doesn't seem possible, but time marches onward; in a few years, she will not even be eligible to be seen by a pediatrician. I only hope that when she is an adult, she finds her own version of Dr.'s Mullen and Susarla for her and her children.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Book Review: ORR

One of the hallmarks of maturity is appreciating players on teams that played for teams that were the rivals of your own favorite team for how good they were and are. My passion for the Rangers is well-known and of long standing; I have been a Ranger fan literally as long as I can remember. The team's main rival now is the Flyers, but that was not the case throughout the course of my life: when I was a teen and in my twenties, it was the Islanders. And when I was a little kid, back when I first started watching hockey, it was the Bruins. The best player on the Bruins at the time was Bobby Orr, and, naturally, I hated Bobby Orr because he was the biggest reason why the Bruins were better than the Rangers. Most people that do not know hockey well naturally assume, because of the attention he has received over the last 35 years or so, that Wayne Gretzky is the best hockey player of all-time; while that is a reasonable position to hold, it's not necessarily true. And one of the three other players that are part of the discussion for GOAT (Greatest Of All Time) is Orr. There has never been a defenseman quite like him; he was the greatest offensive force on the blue line that has ever lived, and one of the best skaters the game has ever seen. His numbers seem otherworldly now, as the game is much less freewheeling than it used to be, and even looking through the old You Tube clips available doesn't really give justice to how good he was. When he was on the ice, it seemed like it was his puck, and if he got a head of steam in his own end, chances were a great scoring chance was going to happen in about three seconds.
I can say all these things now because it has been 38 years since Orr played in Boston. He retired 35 years ago, after three very shortened seasons in Chicago; Orr's knees gave him trouble throughout his career and eventually sidelined him at the age of 28 for practical purposes and at age 30 formally. And given his unassuming and rather quiet personality, he has faded into the recesses of history much more than the other three contenders for GOAT (Gordie Howe, Gretzky, and Mario Lemieux) have. Orr: My Story is the first time I have seen a book about him in print, and a good portion of the book is devoted to his struggle with writing it--essentially, he didn't want to because he didn't believe anyone wanted to hear what he had to say. As sports autobiographies go, this is middle of the pack; Orr said on the first page that he wasn't going to be controversial or rip people, and he kept to that, even when he wrote the chapter on Alan Eagleson (who is worthy of a post of his own. Eagleson was a player agent/head of the players union/most powerful man in hockey for two decades, and his empire came crashing down when it became clear he had shamelessly ripped off and stolen from virtually all his clients and the players' union. And the one he stole the most from was Orr). But this is a full-scale biography--his professional career is only half the book, and both the childhood/teen section and the post-career sections are actually pretty interesting material. I was a little disappointed in his appraisal of today's game--I think it is obvious that the biggest differences between the hockey of Orr's time and today's hockey are the overall talent level because the NHL talent pool has expanded exponentially due to the European influx, and the ubiquity of shot blocking in the regular season no, and I can't believe he didn't say a word about either. But some of his other observations are more penetrating; he says several times that had he been coming up today, he would not be the Bobby Orr people remember because no coach today, from pee wee on up, would allow him to play the way he did. Defensemen today are not only taught to just chip the puck out of the defensive zone, it is demanded that they do so; hardly anyone skates the puck out like Orr (and a host of others from decades ago) did fifty times a game in his heyday. Orr's propensity for joining the play also would give coaches strokes today; Orr scored most of his 30 or so goals a season from less than twenty feet away from the net, not from the blue line.
Orr devotes a few pages to the most iconic image of him, one that there is now a statue of in front of the TD Center in Boston--when he was airborne, tripped, just after putting the goal that won the Stanley Cup in 1970 in the net. Watching the play on clips from You Tube, it is a goal that would never happen today--first of all, the play began when he pinched down the boards all the way to the faceoff circle to keep the puck alive, and then after getting the puck to a teammate in the corner, he went right to the front of the net, not back to the blue line. Orr did this all the time, which is why he scored a hundred points a season and thirty goals a year. And I can name the number of times I have seen defensemen do this on one hand in the last decade... Orr's thoughts on some other subjects mirror my own--especially the specialization of young athletes at an early age. Orr loved to play baseball, and did it until he was on a junior team; he makes the point that it made him an athlete, not just a hockey player, and I couldn't agree more with the sentiment; I am very disappointed that my daughter, good as she is at softball, already at age 15 does nothing else, because she is not as good an athlete as she could be or even was when she was playing basketball, too. Orr also is a huge fan of Don Cherry the man, not necessarily all of his opinions, which is also how I feel about him (Don Cherry was a successful coach that has been an institution on CBC's Hockey Night in Canada for over thirty years now; imagine John Madden in garish suits and a willingness to state what he thinks no matter what and without the tendency to gush over favorite players, and you have some idea of what Don Cherry is like). And most of all, Orr's basic decency comes through this book loud and clear. It is rather refreshing to read one of the best players ever in his sport talk about how special it was to be a part of a great team, and how he never felt like he belonged on the pedestal of other Boston sports idols like Ted Williams and John Havlicek and, later, Tom Brady. And the closest he came to taking a shot at someone in the entire book was his refutation of Charles Barkley's assertion that "I am not a role model."
If your kid grew up to be like Bobby Orr the man, you'd be a very happy and lucky parent. Forty years onward, my teenage dislike of Orr seems so petty and wrong, because he was a class act even then. And it doesn't seem right hat he is now 66 years old; in my mind's eye, he's the boyish looking guy flying down the ice umpteen times a game.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Book Review: THE GODS OF GUILT

No one loves Michael Connelly more than I do. But The Gods of Guilt further emphasizes two things that have been becoming more apparent in the last few years: 1) He is much, much more immersed in Harry Bosch than the other main characters that feature in his career-long arc, and 2) He is no longer at the top of his game. This book features his secondary character of the moment, attorney Mickey Haller, and Connelly simply has not developed Haller as well as Bosch or as he did the Terry McCaleb character. I could live with the flaws surrounding the way Haller is drawn, though, if the plot lines in the Haller novels were a little better drawn, and in this installment, Connelly takes a lot of liberties with the reader. The body count per novel is starting to reach into Steve Berry territory, and that's not a compliment. The crooked-cop-that-breaks-down-on-the-stand angle that is a staple of other writers in this genre, but Connelly had never stooped to that--until now. Unlike virtually every other Connelly novel to date, the eventual plot resolution can be seen coming hundreds of pages in advance. And Connelly did something he has never done before in this book; introduce a vital piece of the eventual puzzle two hundred pages into the book.
Having said all that... this is still a hell of a yarn. I read it in a day and a half, while a whole bunch of other stuff was going on in my life. Even when not at the top of his game, Michael Connelly can write a suspense novel like hardly anyone else. He clearly is more comfortable exploring the vagaries and recesses of the minds of cops, not lawyers, but Haller is not a completely unbelievable uber-Perry Mason wannabe; the touches of humanity in the portrait keep the flaws in the premise at bay to keep the reader's attention.
I also have to say that the axis that the plot revolves around--a well-intentioned man badly misreading someone who cannot get out of The Life--hit real close to home, as I am only a couple of weeks removed from the latest sordid developments in the Nightmeredith saga in my own life. I am sure that this colored my perceptions of the plot; if I had read this six months ago or six months from now, I probably would have been a little more capable of an honest assessment of Haller's character.
This is a little disappointing for Connelly connoisseurs, but for the average reader that enjoys a good suspense thriller, this is high-quality stuff.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Water Park

It frankly was harder than it had to be--I never dreamed it would be so difficult to get twelve kids together on the same day to go to an amusement park at no cost to themselves or their parents--but today I am going to go to a water park. It's not all that close--nothing is that close, it seems, to Binghamton--but it will be enough to be within the confines of a work day. I like water parks, and have never been to this particular one, so I am kind of looking forward to it. It's supposed to be sunny, if not quite steaming hot, so that's a relief, and I always enjoy it when I am around kids that I know that are having fun. I'm bringing my bathing suit and towels, and I imagine I am going to indulge myself, as well, even if the fitness kick I started last week isn't showing any obvious results yet (it would help if I would stop doing things like this and wasn't eating away from home every few days, but I imagine once school starts, it will become easier).
I admit to feeling some nervousness, even distress. But one thing I have trying to overcome recently is the tendency I have to think "why bother?" when it comes to doing just about anything that isn't routine and ordinary. It's been pervasive in most areas of my life for some time now, and I'm realizing it is going to take a conscious effort to overcome it. And you get your inspiration and motivational fuel from all around you; I woke up and checked out Facebook, and last night a young friend of mine from the fellowship had posted something that started "TAKE CHANCES" and detailed a number of rut-busting activities. Just what I needed to see this morning. Thank you, Bobbie Jo.
I have a house full of Sabrina's girl friends, and we need to get awake and get ready to go. If I'm not quivering with excitement, at least I am glad that the hassle part of this experience is almost over. When we all depart for the park, I'll start to relax completely, and hopefully tonight, we will sleep the sleep of the blissfully exhausted. And I can turn my attention to the next "fun" event that takes all kinds of time and effort to organize and bring off.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Book Review: DANUBIA

I love books like Simon Winder's Danubia: a history that focuses more on culture and anecdotes than on battles and political developments. The sharper of you out there might have figured out that there is no place on the map known as "Danubia," and indeed there is not. This is the interesting story of the Habsburg Empire from the fourteenth century until its dissolution after the end of the First World War, with the spotlight on the quirks and features of the rulers, but with an equal emphasis on the towns and cities, the lives that the populace led, the stories surrounding both, and the culture of Central Europe. Winder doesn't linger on any subject overly long, and indulges his own interests shamelessly along the way--and the result works like few books in recent memory. There is a fair amount of geopolitical history mixed in, but the book's emphasis is more on things like the story of the famous composer Haydn (who was privately employed by one family, and as a result has a canon that dwarfs most contemporary rock bands), the mystery of the Asiatic tribe the Avars (that ruled Central Europe for centuries, but left no real written records and thus left no impact or memory), the physical handicaps resulting from inbreeding among the Habsburgs, the practical results of the centuries-long struggles with the Turks (a border region devoid of people), the best account of the Holy Roman Empire I have ever read, and the ephemeral and recent development of national ideologies in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.
When I first learned about World War I as a kid, I was fascinated by the participation of Austria-Hungary; the two countries still existed, but they were so small and insignificant that it was hard to believe that they were one country and major players only (at the time) sixty years prior. And if there was ever a candidate to become the United States of Europe, it was Austria-Hungary; we will never know if it would have happened, but if Franz Ferdinand had become Emperor instead of the cause of World War I, he had serious plans for turning the Empire in fifteen federal states. The fact that the Habsburg Empire and the HRE existed for as long as they did has determined the shape of modern Europe much more deeply than is commonly supposed, and the ethnic cleansing of the twentieth century is a reaction to both. There are some places in Central Europe that have seen at least ten changes of political control since 1914, and with the unrest and uncertainty that is occurring in the Ukraine right now, more changes are not out of the question. American sensibilities of "Europe" have been shaped almost exclusively by ideas of Western Europe, but those of Europeans themselves have been shaped by other factors. Except for citizens of Great Britain, Sweden, and Switzerland, there are people alive in every single European country that lived under regimes that were not democracies even in name, much less in fact. And while the Habsburg Empire may be a century in the past, its influence lives on over a huge swath of the continent. Their legacy wasn't one of horrid repression or bestial violence; this was a culture that lasted for centuries and still is being felt and experienced today.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Ferguson, Continued

The era of good feeling in Ferguson, Missouri, lasted about a day. Last night, the riot gear and gas canisters returned--there was some dispute whether tear gas or merely smoke bombs were used--after a midnight curfew was imposed by the governor, and the problems really don't seem to be anywhere near an end. The culprit remains the local police department, which late in the week released a video of a strong-arm robbery in which Michael Brown allegedly stole a box of cigars shortly before he was killed--then two hours later had to issue a clarification that the cop who killed him didn't know about the robbery. This is standard police procedure all over the country and probably the world for that matter--justifying all sorts of police malfeasance by painting those that were on the receiving end as deserving of what happened to them. To some extent, it's understandable; it's called cognitive dissonance in psychological terms, and it allows human beings to circumvent their consciences and justify the unjustifiable. But understanding it and finding it acceptable are two different things, and it is unacceptable. Nearly everyone, even avowed law-and-order types in the national media, instantly called "Bullshit!" on the news release.
I don't know if it has always been this way, but some of the things that have surfaced in this news cycle coming out of Ferguson are very familiar, because the police forces in this area say and do the same things. I have heard Binghamton cops refer to blacks (and white drug users) as "animals" and "subhuman." I have experienced the type of petty harassment that many that have talked to the media in Ferguson have detailed--from 1999 to 2005, I was pulled over three times and accosted while parked at gas stations on two other occasions by the same cop, a figure familiar to me from my active addiction, and had my license checked and (on two occasions) my car searched for totally spurious reasons, because he remembered my past and refused to believe that I wasn't living that sort of life anymore. I am reliably assured by my friends that have darker skin than me that this is a much more regular occurrence in their life, and still is. It doesn't happen to me anymore, by the way, not because he became convinced that I had changed, but because he got his ass fired for doing that sort of nonsense to a whole lot of other people, too, and ended up taking liberties with a woman on the streets that would have gotten someone not wearing a uniform a lot more serious consequence than merely losing a job. I have seen with my own eyes totally arbitrary and illegal behavior by corrections officers inside the jail walls; I don't know about now, but fifteen years ago there was a rift within the jail itself between the officers that played by the rules and those running amok. I have been told by some that have been incarcerated recently that behavior such as guards entering female prisoners' cells and engaging in sexual activity in exchange for favorable treatment of those inmates still occurs regularly--and good luck trying to file a complaint. Teens that I have worked with over the years at my job have told me of a dozen occasions in which Binghamton, Johnson City, Endicott, and state police officers have faked incidents and charges in order to arrest or harass teens, all but a couple of them African-American youth (I have not been told of any incidents involving the sheriff's department; that doesn't mean it doesn't happen with them, but only that I have not been told of any).
And I'm not seeing any real signs that any long-term improvement is going to happen, either locally or across the country. With all these SWAT teams now in place, all these fancy weapons, and the mindset that this is a big war zone just like a video game out there, how is it going to change? I remember a couple of years ago when I got pulled over in the neighborhood near my office while looking for a teen in my program that hadn't showed for an appointment, and one cop that couldn't have been wearing the uniform for more than six months was convinced that because I had been arrested for drug possession thirteen years prior, I was cruising the neighborhood looking for drugs that day, despite the fact that I was wearing my badge and hadn't even gotten a traffic ticket for the previous six years and hadn't been arrested for anything since 1998.
I really don't know how this is all going to end up. The portrayals of the cop that killed the kid are starting to leak out, and of course they're sympathetic and exculpatory. There have been several instances over the past twenty years here when police officers have lost their lives, either while on the job or off-duty, and without exception the media portrayals were saccharine. I understand that no one wants to speak ill of the dead--but in at least one case, the deceased was a flaming asshole that was a dirty cop. My point is not that that information should have been put out there publicly, but rather that one should not buy wholeheartedly into the PR that is put out there, either. Very little in this world is black and white, and I am very aware that sometimes people do things that aren't necessarily in character.
But that doesn't mean they should get a free pass on the consequences of doing those things. Or that, flipping the coin, that someone that may have been engaging in unsavory behavior deserved to die for it. If I was in Ferguson, I would be on the streets at midnight. There comes a time where you have to fight the madness and stand up and be counted. I'm at a point in my life where the balancing act between standing up for principles and fear of losses for doing so has shifted. My kids are old enough to largely fend for themselves, and I've seen the American Dream that I was sold as a youth taken away from me, piece by piece, as an adult. There is no comfortable retirement awaiting me; there is little reason to passively accept Bullshit anymore, and there is less reason to by the day. And if authority were smart, they would take into account that factor. Because when people feel like they have little or nothing to lose, if they feel like the unknown is preferable to the known--well, that's when changes occur. It can be a positive development--but this is also how revolutions get started.
And lasting changes start at moments like this. We did not get a revolution out of the Occupy movements a few years ago--but the terms of debate and the national frame of reference changed, and the change sure looks like it has roots. The rich getting richer may still be status quo, but it is not unquestionably accepted, and certainly been painted as morally wrong much more so than in, say, 2009. And changes are occurring. There is no way that the nationwide trend of raising minimum wages would have taken place without Occupy. Mitt Romney spent his entire Presidential campaign on the defensive because of it, and it was a big factor in his loss. There is a lot more talk and interest about trying to reverse the income inequality that has destroyed our preeminent place in the world, and while I don't think any substantive change is going to happen, I do feel that Corporate America isn't getting everything their own way without any resistance anymore, either.
And I'm hoping that Ferguson turns out to have a similar effect. In some ways, it's a lucky confluence of events. While Ferguson is largely black, it is not entirely so; it would be easy to dismiss what is happening there as some sort of "ghetto" issue if it were 98% black instead of 70%. There are white people, plenty of them, on television and on social media that are corroborating what a mess it is there, and how Fucked Up and Bullshit the police forces have been long before the shooting of Michael Brown. And the white people on TV have been pretty vanilla--there haven't been any Goths or tattooed-covered leathers or enormous stereotypical welfare recipients or stoners on TV, but couples with babies, people in work attire, and most importantly, people, black and white, in their own homes, not squalid tenements or crappy-looking apartment buildings. These are people that the average, half-ignorant, inclined-to-casual-racism white suburbanite from New Hampshire to California can actually half-identify with, or at the least cannot lightly dismiss as somehow "different" and therefore somehow "deserving" of police in riot gear patrolling the streets. Ferguson is a suburb of, or at least close to, St. Louis, which is a storied American city without a long and notorious reputation for racial troubles. St. Louis is where Yogi Berra is from; where the Cardinals play; where the Gateway Arch is; where Lewis and Clark started from; where the most American of rivers defines the town. St. Louis has not been entirely free of racial ugliness over the years--but those things that have happened, at least the ones that have intruded on national media consciousness, have happened on the Illinois side of the river, in East St. Louis and Alton. It not only is in Middle America, it looks like Middle America, or the image of it we have been sold since the day we were born, on TV. The houses, the McDonald's, the shopping centers, even the convenience stores--Ferguson could be Binghamton, or someplace like Manlius around Syracuse, or someplace like Latham around Albany, or someplace like Mineola around Queens. It doesn't have the feel and image that mark it as instantly a different sort of America than the average white person watching knows. And to be blunt, if anything substantive is going to change as a result, a whole lot of "average" white people have to be on board with it. We've seen fifty years of various eruptions of black people protesting and worse over their atrocious lots in life--but from Watts in the 1960's to Boston in the 1970's to Liberty City in the 80's to Los Angeles in the 1990's and beyond, this sort of stuff was always happening in places that were different than the places that most of white America was living in.
Ferguson isn't. Not on the surface, anyway. And for that reason, it has really gotten white America's attention.
Granted, I don't move in conservative circles much. I've grown up to be, much to my dismay, much more liberal and progressive than most of the people that I grew up around, and so I've learned that talking politics and society norms with people I've known all my life tends to be a disappointing at best and infuriating at worst experience. But the little bit I've seen and heard on social media from my generation about Ferguson quite clearly indicates that they're shaken by it, that the Prussian-style response to the outcry raised about a clear injustice has caused a pause in the blind obedience and acceptance to Corporate American values that the majority of those that grew up in the quintessential American company town still espouse. We grew up watching responses like the one we have been watching on television for a week--in places like Prague and Gdansk and Tiananmen Square, not in the God Bless The USA. And that might be the ultimate significance of the death of Michael Brown. IBM fucked this town over six ways to Sunday, poisoned us and abandoned us and told us it was our own damn fault and that they're going to fight in court about it until we've all died, and we've watched more or less passively as those that have remained behind have carefully and totally refused to accept the new reality and instead wish for a return to a society as dead and gone as the Roman Empire--and people still clung to the notions and mythology that they were immersed in around here, all that bullshit about hard work and conformity and apple pie values somehow being the answer to everything. I have seen people of my generation and our parents' generation bewildered and angered over the realities of what this area has become, and blame the newer population demographic for the changes. Every time something happens around here, the troll comments section of the media is full of less-than-enlightened, willfully ignorant finger-pointing.
But this has their attention. This is our generation's Selma or Birmingham moment. This is where people who desperately want to believe otherwise are having to confront their conscience on open, holy ground--where what they are seeing with their own eyes is telling them "all those complaining and protesting are right." There is no reason for riot squads marching down streets that look just like Wendell Street in Endicott or Ackley Avenue in Johnson City or Ely Street in Binghamton or Watson Boulevard in Endwell. We have a tough time identifying when the scenes on TV are in South Central LA (like the Rodney King riots). We have a hard time identifying personally with even different flavors of official injustice; as disturbing as the post-Katrina footage was to watch on TV, it was hard to imagine, for most viewers, themselves as part of the Superdome/Convention Center crowd. Even in the post-apocalypse footage of 9/11, most viewers were very aware that Lower Manhattan was a much, much different venue than the one they lived in.
But Ferguson is not. Ferguson looks like your town or city--maybe a few more darker-skinned people on-screen then you're used to, but the environment looks just like yours. And there are SWAT vehicles and cops in riot gear marching down streets with cars parked on them, firing tear gas into people standing behind the chain-link fences of their own property, cops running up on people sitting in chairs on the porches of their own homes. And maybe for the first time in their lives, white people are sitting up in their recliners and saying, "hey, that look like it could be happening here."
And that sound you hear is that of a whole lot of formerly closed minds creaking open.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Not Struggling, For Once

I've learned to take these periods of my life for the blessing that they are. I could be getting hung up with a number of different things, but I'm not really feeling very badly about anything. I'm learning, very belatedly, the benefits of sitting still, of not acting on impulse, and to try as much as possible to keep principles up front when interacting with the world. No, everything I've done recently has not necessarily met that standard, but most of it has, and the results show. For someone with my history to be regarded as a voice of reason is kind of different--in a good way.
This week, the suicide of Robin Williams has brought mental health issues squarely into the public eye. And it has also emboldened, or maybe scared, several of my friends that normally don't talk about their bouts and struggles with depression to open up about their struggles. One or two I knew deal with this on occasion, but several were saying so to others for the first time to a group. I'm not going to drop hints or anything like that, but it opened my eyes a bit, that a lot of us walk around carrying, as Bob Dylan once sang, "burdens too heavy to be yours." I have been depressed before, but it has always been situational depression--I've gotten down because my life at those periods has been depressingly bad. I don't really know what it's like to deal with inner blackness in the way others suffer with. I am profoundly grateful that I do not this morning.
But it has opened my mind up to what others may be going through. And it has just reinforced a commitment I've already made in recent weeks to find reasons to cut others a break, to try to understand more or judge less. And paradoxically, the better I am at doing that--the happier and less angry I am, and the less down I feel when I'm home by myself with no one else around. The outside circumstances don't matter, really, as much as what I am feeling about myself--when I act in a manner that I can live with, the rest tends to take care of itself. I can empathize with those around me, even those I don't particularly like, and not fuel whatever fires of self-destruction are going on with others.
It's a good day.